Mike Yenni, the third member of his family to win the job of Jefferson Parish president, was sworn into office Wednesday, joining other newly elected officials in pledging to restore Jefferson’s status as a premier destination for the region’s best and brightest.
Yenni, who had been Kenner’s mayor since 2010, assumed his new office during inauguration ceremonies at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center.
He takes over leadership of a parish that ended 2015 an estimated $185 million in the black and where deputies last year responded to the fewest reported crimes since the early 1970s, according to Sheriff Newell Normand, who was sworn in Wednesday for a third term.
In other good news, the parish’s public school system recently received a B rating from the state, which is two grades better than it was earlier this decade.
And, thanks in part to policies adopted over the past five years under Yenni’s predecessor, John Young, Jefferson enjoys a much better reputation than it did following the corruption scandal that sent former Parish President Aaron Broussard to federal prison.
Yet, as Yenni and the Parish Council members with whom he’ll be working noted after being sworn in Wednesday, all of that will mean little if Jefferson can’t retain or attract younger-generation residents for whom neighboring communities — such as New Orleans, despite its notorious crime problems — also are competing.
To further that goal, Yenni promised his administration will ensure that spending remains under control and government services stay reliable without redundant, wasteful staffing.
He also said he plans to prioritize investing in attempts to increase both the quality of hotel options and the number of recreational activities available in Jefferson, which if successful would encourage both visitors and locals to spend more time and dollars in the parish.
West Bank-based Councilman Mark Spears said it is essential for the parish to provide new housing options to supplement or replace part of its aging stock of homes.
He said he would do all he can to encourage projects such as the 1,800-acre community that the builders of Lafayette’s Village of River Ranch are considering building in his district on a wide swath of undeveloped land near the West Bank end of the Huey P. Long Bridge.
If eventually built to its full scale, Spears said, that development could house some 30,000 residents and make Jefferson the state’s biggest parish. Its present population of about 430,000 is second only to that of East Baton Rouge.
Councilman Ricky Templet, whose district encompasses lower Jefferson, said he would contribute to efforts to keep residents in the parish by continuing to advocate for improved flood protection and coastal restoration around communities such as Lafitte, Barataria, Grand Isle and Crown Point.
“Our job is to convince people that Jefferson is where people want to invest,” at-large Councilman Chris Roberts said.
At a meeting immediately after the inauguration ceremonies, the council elected Cynthia Lee-Sheng as its chairwoman, succeeding Roberts as the presiding officer. Lee-Sheng, who had represented a Metairie-based district since 2009, was sworn in Wednesday as the council’s first female at-large representative.
Templet was elected vice chairman.
Also taking their oath of office Wednesday were the other council members — holdovers Paul Johnston and Ben Zahn and newcomer Jennifer Van Vrancken — and two other returning parish officials, Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich and Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer.
Yenni often has mentioned having two distinguished role models for the job he won in October: his grandfather, Joseph S. Yenni, and his uncle, Michael J. Yenni, who were popular parish presidents from 1980-1987 and 1987-95 before each died in office.
Yenni on Wednesday alluded to the influence they had on him, but he indicated that he understood the challenges before him are different from the ones they faced.
“I respect the past,” he said, but “I revere the future, because I see just how impressive Jefferson Parish will be.”