Article reprinted from Kenner Star December 2017 Edition – “Kenner state of the city address given
by Mayor Zahn”
On November 16, 2017, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn addressed a KBA luncheon meeting regarding the state of the city. Below are the highlights of Mayor Zahn’s speech.
We’ve been in office almost a year and we’ve done a lot. But we can’t take the credit – and when I say we, I mean myself, my administration, the Kenner City Council and Kenner Police Chief Mike Glaser. We’ve had good leadership from the past two past administrations who did a lot of things that put us on the right track. At a past Kenner Business Association meeting, you had a speaker who said things were terrible in the city of Kenner. I don’t know if you remember that. I’m here to prove it’s not terrible in the city of Kenner. There’s great relationships with the Kenner City Council, the police chief and parish government. We will continue to have those relationships.
When we first came in we organized an administrative team that included parish, state and federal experience. Deborah Cunningham Foshee is our chief administrative officer and Kriss Fortunato is our deputy chief administrative officer. It is important to have the type of experience they bring to the table to make sure Kenner continues on the right path. We revived the internal auditor position with Adam Campo and he’s doing a great job with that. We have a cultural diversity coordinator, Rafael Saddy. He is reaching out to the different cultures in the city of Kenner and making sure everyone realizes they are welcome and we are moving forward. As we look at Williams Boulevard, there are some issues that need to be addressed and Rafael is working with the businesses and helping us do that. Our legal department is still led by Leigh Roussel, our city attorney, with Ed Rapier and Eric Mund. They are making sure we stay out of trouble and on the right track for the city of Kenner. Of course, we are led by great directors in the departments throughout the city.
Quality of life
Quality of life is a major issue, and we need to make sure our code enforcement department is well-funded and working closely with the administration, with the city council members and our police department. As you see, we have done a lot with code enforcement to make the city attractive.
The cleanup effort was boosted when we acquired a new street sweeper because the sweeper we had was too often in the shop. I went to the city council, and with their support, we were able to purchase a new street sweeper.
We organized a “Task Force Cleanup” crew led by Jimmy Dennis and they addressed all the medians in the city of Kenner, making sure they were edged and cleaned. We added new mulch to trees and beds and repaired numerous broken curbs throughout the city – and that process is continuing. I appreciate what the Kenner Public Works Department, led by Tom Schreiner, our deputy CAO, does with that.
We have had about 20 code sweeps throughout the city. With the help of Rick Walther, our code director, we are addressing blight on residential and commercial properties. We have had more than 1,700 violations written in the past 11 months, including 88 at the Pavilion Shopping Center. It’s not perfect there, but the shopping center had been neglected for a while and that is no longer the case. The owners have hired a real estate agent and they are now working to get new businesses there. There is a lease sign in every window. All property owners and residents in the city need to know that the code sweeps will continue.
This extremely important department was formed when I was a city councilman. After going through three potential storms, we have gotten a tremendous amount of practice on our emergency plan. It is led by former Kenner Police Department Captain Doug Dodt. The department handles more than storms, including other events such as the oil and gas platform explosion. Even though the platform was not in Kenner, it was important to keep our residents informed and up to date on the status of the levee and homes in the area.
Kenner Police Department
Crime is down 11 percent in the city and that’s because of the leadership of Mike Glaser and everyone in his department. There’s only been four murders in the city of Kenner this year and there have been arrests in all of those cases. That’s a great job by our police department and I appreciate what the chief does for us. Let me talk for a moment about an early release program that the state passed recently. I call it the “catch and release program” because I don’t agree with it and I think it’s a problem. Recently, police arrested a 24-year-old Kenner man for robbing two people in Kenner in the middle of the day. The robber, who had a 40-page criminal record, had been released less than a week earlier under the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Reform. He had been serving a 12-year sentence at hard labor for a burglary conviction in 2014. This is what the state put back on the street and what our Kenner Police Department put behind bars.
Kenner Fire Department
The fire department has handled nearly 1,700 calls so far this year, including 48 structure fires. In addition, the department has conducted 24 fire drills so far this year and 900 pre-plan calls working with local business. The fire department is now led by Ryan Bergeron, interim fire chief, who explained to the administration and the city council that we have a great need for new bunker gear. The uniforms were nine years old and they have been replaced at a cost of $275,000. It is important that our firefighters are properly protected when they go in to fight a fire.
With Adam Campo leading the way, we are performing a citywide compliance audit to review all of the city’s financial practices. That includes inventory and payroll accountability to ensure tax dollars are well spent and we are doing a great job with that.
Working with Jefferson Parish
In my campaign for mayor, I talked often about the importance of maintaining a great working relationship with Jefferson Parish. Why is that important? Because when I walk back into the parish council chambers, I need to be able to look at council members Dominick Impastato, Mark Spears and the rest of our friends on the council, along with the parish president and his administration, and walk out with funding. And right now that is being done.
West Esplanade turn-around
We have a turn-around being done on West Esplanade Avenue between the Highway Park subdivision and Driftwood. That is helping the developer of the shopping center there add on to that development. They are working on a second phase now and a third phase is planned. That turnaround is working between the Jefferson Parish Council and the city of Kenner. I actually started that project while I was a parish councilman with then Mayor Mike Yenni and now I’m working on it with Dominick Impastato.
We also received numerous surplus vehicles through the help of Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears and Jack Rizzuto, the District 4 councilman at the time. That’s about $700,000 that we don’t have to take out of the general fund or the capital fund for vehicles. That’s another example of the good working relationship between myself, Jefferson Parish President Mike
Yenni, Councilman Impastato, Councilman Spears, the parish administration and the rest of the parish council. We definitely appreciate the help we get from Jefferson Parish.
Attractions and events
We like putting on parties. We like having events. When you see what’s going on in Kenner District 5, now led by Kelly Hand, but previously led by Dominick Impastato, it is quite impressive, along with other districts of the city.
A skate park has opened, a 2,400-square-foot facility that I can take no credit for – that was the work of Dominick Impastato and a previous administration. We are getting 25 to 50 skaters a day and providing a great recreation outlet for kids, which I believe is very important.
The new dog park opened recently and it represents a $160,000 investment to date. But we are not finished. There is more to do.
“Trunk or Treat”
In Kenner District 4, we hold an annual “Trunk or Treat,” which is a very popular and widely enjoyed event for Halloween. We had at least 3,000 attendees this year and we attracted about 22 vehicles to give out candy to the kids. If you haven’t enjoyed this event, please come out next year.
We moved it from the parking lot on Williams Boulevard to LaSalle’s Landing. It’s a much better location, more centrally located and we’ve opened a butterfly garden there. It looks great, and it’s one of the many great things going on in Rivertown.
We’ve taken the popular Christmas Village, which has been around for decades, to the next level and moved it to Kenner City Park in District 5 where it can undergo a very big expansion. The highlight is a synthetic ice skating rink, something we’ve never had before in the city of Kenner. There is nothing like this offered anywhere on the east bank. There is just a very, very small fee to use the skating rink. In the Christmas Village, we have a Bavarian Biergarten, different shops, pictures with Santa and snow every night. It will be open Wednesday through Friday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8:00 p.m. We’re going to have fun this year for Christmas. Also, not too far away on Williams Boulevard, we’re doing Christmas lights up and down the street, along with banners in different areas of the city, to let people know we celebrate Christmas in the city of Kenner and everyone is welcome here.
I don’t think Laketown has had an event since I left the city council. So it was time, both the city council and I agreed, to have an event there. Freedom Fest attracted people from at least 20 different states. This will be an annual event. We’ll work with the new Jefferson Parish District 4 councilman to make sure we have a great, premier event every year. I appreciate the support from the Treasure Chest, the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Friends of Rivertown and of course Kenner’s Recreation Department, led by Director Ken Marroccoli.
Outreach to the public
We continue to have great outreach and communication with the public. It’s a great effort of transparency. We’ve increased the use of Kenner TV, we’ve increased the use of social media. We’re providing services and programs throughout social media. We list everything we do – ribbon cuttings to
events to visiting schools. Our Facebook Page has increased its visitors. We have a 100 percent response time, we are keeping the public notified and I think that is a great way to do it.
Future of Kenner
There’s a lot going on. As we have seen, a lot of businesses are opening up in Kenner, so much so that we’ve probably cut a ribbon every week for the last three months.
Ochsner Wellness Center
One business that came to Kenner a while back and a business that continues to improve Kenner and is increasing its footprint in the city is Ochsner Hospital. We appreciate what they do. Ochsner recently built an $8.7 million facility on Williams Boulevard. It’s a rehab center and that’s great. They have 764 employees working in the city of Kenner and 124 of those employees live in the city. So I appreciate what Ochsner does with that and I thank Ochsner for its investment in Kenner.
East Jefferson Urgent Care
We’ve seen other healthcare industries enter into the city of Kenner’s market also and we appreciate them being here. East Jefferson Urgent Care has recently opened a facility on West Esplanade and also Access Health in The Esplanade mall. With these three health facilities, that shows there’s an investment in our city.
Fleur de Lily
Businesses in Rivertown include Fleur de Lily, which will be opening soon. Gendusa’s has been open and I think he is planning on increasing his footprint.
Planet Fitness and John V’s Salon, along with other businesses, have opened up right before you enter
into Laketown. That’s impressive – we have four new buildings going up in Laketown Center where Planet Fitness is located.
Kenner Market Center
The Kenner Market Center is increasing with two more developments. We also are attracting car dealerships. CarMax is coming and will offer upscale used cars right when you go into The Esplanade mall on 32nd Street. Lamarque Ford, not too far from that, is building a Lincoln dealership and I don’t think there is one in this market, but we’re going to get one. Peake BMW is expanding their facility. At the old Rite Aid by Burlington shopping center, a Foot Locker shopping center, not just a shoe store, but a full facility with clothes and everything is coming. And of course we’ll have Habitat for Humanity on Williams Boulevard right by the brake tag station. A lot of good things are coming for our future.
New airport terminal
This is a $1 billion investment in the city of Kenner. Construction started in 2016, and the project will feature 35 gates and a 2,000-parking space garage. This will be an extremely helpful development for Kenner, and we are working very closely with airport officials, as is the city council, to make sure the traffic is addressed because we need a flyover for that.
Kenner 2030 Plan
This beautification and infrastructure improvement plan was started by past administrations and includes 10 projects throughout our city. You see some of them started and some of them will take a little while, yet. There will be improvements on Williams Boulevard where we have a median in the southern end and get rid of those suicide lanes and try to improve the aesthetics. You are seeing some things on Williams Boulevard already in Laketown that were done. Those are the beautification projects we need to continue that will attract more businesses and more residents to our city.
Streets millage renewal
Voters recently approved a 10-year renewal of a millage that generates about $2.7 million a year. We will repay Jefferson Parish for the major streets in Kenner by the end of this year, which allows us to use some of that money next year in the spring to make sure we continue to improve our streets. We held dozens of meetings throughout the city with civic and business groups and put out messages on social media and KTV and I’m happy to say the renewal passed with a 75 percent approval rating, so I think we did our job, working with the council, to make sure the public was informed.
In our future, Laketown is very important. I always talked about Laketown when I was a Kenner District 3 councilman in the city, working with that administration, and I continued to work with the administration when I was in the parish, because it still has something to do with the parish. I think that’s important to our future – developers are interested. Two are looking at it right now. What’s most important is we’ll be able to build a stage, paid for by Jefferson Parish. That was a little gift I gave to Kenner on my way out as a Jefferson Parish councilman – $400,000 in BP money with $100,000 of engineering fees that has been supported by the parish administration and the past parish councilman.
Why is that important? It will bring people to Laketown. It will make developers want to come to Laketown. I believe we are putting that stage, like I did in Lafreniere Park, where people can come and enjoy Freedom Fest and maybe we can have a revenue stream for the future. It will help the Treasure Chest Casino, it will help the Pontchartrain Center and it will help the hotel there. We will work closely with the JCVB to make sure that gets done to bring people into the city. Instead of 20 license plates from different states, maybe we’ll see 30 different license plates and maybe we’ll see 30,000 people at Freedom Fest and other events. I think that’s the future we need to look at.
In closing, as you see, things are good in the city of Kenner. Our relationship with the city council, our relationship with the chief of police, our relationship with the Kenner Police Department, our fire department, our fire chief, the administration and our directors and our legal department is excellent. We are working for you. We’re working with our Jefferson Parish Council, we’re working with our Jefferson Parish administration. We are going to work very closely with Dominick Impastato – he just doesn’t know yet how closely we are going to work with him! They have $600 million in their budget and we have $60 million. So we are going to visit the Jefferson Parish Council quite often. It is relationships that build the city of Kenner to make sure the city moves forward. I did that as a parish councilman – I had a great relationship with the two mayors making sure Kenner was taken care of – not forgetting the rest of the district, but making sure Kenner was taken care of. Kenner needs to be treated like the other municipalities. I think there’s a great working relationship with the other mayors – in fact, Mayor Belinda Constant of Gretna is here today. We have a good working relationship with other mayors to make sure everyone is treated the same.I want to thank the KBA for putting this on.
This has been a great event, and I think we explained today what is going on in the city of Kenner. We’re going to continue to move forward. I think we’ve done a great job working together with most of the council, making sure that everyone is informed and kept informed. Before every council meeting we hold agenda meetings with the council to make sure there are no problems, no issues or we can address those, instead of airing our laundry publicly. Like I said, we’re not fighting, we’re moving ahead. And you’ve seen it here today. So don’t listen to other people who say anything different. Let’s keep on moving ahead and let’s keep on being the city of Kenner and being “Kenner Proud.”