Kenner City Councilman Kent Denapolis will introduce an ordinance Thursday that would require the council to sign off on all legal settlements negotiated by Mayor Mike Yenni’s administration.
Denapolis said that under the current policy, the council is notified of legal settlements only sporadically, and often when they’ve already been reported on in the news media.
He said he thinks settlements should be treated just like any other expenses — such as new street lights, road repairs and other contracts — and require approval by the council.
“We’re the governing authority,” he said. “One of our duties is that we have oversight of the budget for the city … and if we have to fund a settlement, that’s where the council has to get involved. We’ll do it by ordinance, and everything will be public and transparent.”
Yenni could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the administration has indicated it doesn’t think the council should get involved in whether the city decides to settle a suit.
Denapolis said he doesn’t think the ordinance would insert the council into the process beyond its statutory responsibility to approve the spending of taxpayer dollars.
“It’s nothing about telling him and the city attorney not to negotiate and settle these lawsuits,” Denapolis said. “It’s just that when they do settle, bring it to us and we’ll vote on it.”
He conceded that the power to refuse to fund a settlement could prevent it from happening, but he said any settlement that can’t get the support of a majority of the council probably should be reconsidered.
Denapolis, who will leave the council at the end of the month after withdrawing from a runoff election against former City Attorney Keith Conley in April, said the idea for the ordinance has its roots in a sex-discrimination lawsuit the city settled last year.
The suit, which was filed against the Kenner Fire Department by a woman who said she was illegally denied a job based on her gender, was settled in September for $25,000. The woman, Tanya Virgadamo, has since joined the department.
The settlement came to light earlier this year and briefly became the subject of another lawsuit by resident Jack Ziwi, who sued unsuccessfully to get public records related to the settlement.
Denapolis and fellow outgoing Councilman Joe Stagni became upset they were never told about the lawsuit or the settlement.
Denapolis said he found nothing particularly egregious about the Virgadamo settlement, but that it convinced him the council should be more aware of, and involved in, legal settlements.
The ordinance would require that the council be notified of all lawsuits filed against the city within 30 days and be informed which fund any settlement would draw from.
Since the ordinance is only being introduced Thursday, it will not be debated until the June 19 meeting. The council meets at 5 p.m. Thursday at City Hall on Williams Boulevard.
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