Kreller accuses mayor of ‘inflammatory rhetoric’ to pressure council; says city already has emergency ‘plan’
Update: Saturday, May 29, 2021, at 6:10 AM: Expands coverage, adds quotes, updates ‘disaster recovery’ to ‘disaster response and recovery’ in all references.
Original Flash: Thursday, May 27, 2021, at 7:58 PM
MANDEVILLE — The City Council approved Mayor Clay Madden’s pick for the city’s disaster response and recovery contractor at its May 27th meeting, despite a contentious back-and-forth between the mayor and District II Councilman Skelly Kreller.
A vote had been deferred from the May 13th meeting because a majority on the council wanted more time to review the contract. This was Kreller’s first meeting back since early April when he took a leave of absence to recover from a medical procedure.
Resolution No. 21-18, which authorizes the mayor to contract Richard C. Lambert Consultants LLC to manage the city’s disaster response and recovery efforts, was adopted on a 3-1 vote, with Kreller standing alone in opposition. District I Councilwoman Rebecca Bush was absent.
Kicking off the hour-and-fifteen-minute debate that preceded the vote, Kreller said the City of Mandeville already has an emergency plan that was created in the year 2000. “Seems to me… why do we need to reinvent this whole thing, and spend $99,000 initially and other moneys? I just can’t get ahold of that…”
Kreller asserted that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) updated the state’s plan in 2016 and provided training to then-mayor Donald Villere and other city officials. “They brought everybody up to what is needed in an emergency preparedness situation. What is this new consulting firm going to add to that? I can’t see it,” he said.
Madden rebutted by telling Kreller that the two men have a “deep philosophical difference” on what emergency preparedness means to the city.
“Talking about plans being updated every year — that is false. That is absolutely untrue,” the mayor added.
Kreller also said he felt that $99,000 for the first year was over-priced to which Madden countered: “I disagree with you on that… I don’t think that’s a lot of money… I think we owe it to our constituents…”
Kreller interrupted the mayor mid-sentence, “You see, you bring that up ‘we owe it to our constituents’… Our constituents have been safe for years, and I think when you use that rhetoric, it really is inflammatory.”
He accused the mayor of falsely alarming people via social media: “And the posting that you did on Facebook, it almost looked like you were trying to influence the council … and you were stirring up the residents of the city.”
Kreller was referring to a post made to the official Mayor Clay Madden Facebook account on May 25th, where Madden makes his case for the need for a better disaster response and recovery plan. The post read in part:
“We need an up-to-date plan, specific for Mandeville that can really protect our citizens and their families. It is critical that this be in place BEFORE an emergency, not when or after it happens. We need to do this now because unfortunately there is currently no real, functional, up-to-date plan in place for Mandeville. We cannot rely on old plans that identify deceased/retired persons as responsible for functions related to search and rescue, road clearing, and utility restoration. We cannot rely on plans that were cut and pasted from the internet. We need a real plan, put together by experts. Isn’t that what you expect?”
We need to do this now because unfortunately there is currently no real, functional, up-to-date plan in place for Mandeville.
— Mayor Clay Madden
The post in question seemed to mirror the points the mayor made at the May 13th council meeting when the resolution was introduced. Public officials often take to social media to explain their positions on issues and ask voters to urge their elected officials to vote a certain way, however, in this case Madden did not ask readers to take any action such as contacting their council members, but instead provided his own contact information. The only reference to the City Council was to specify when the vote would occur.
Editor’s Note: You can read the mayor’s Facebook post here or see the entire post at the bottom of this story.
Responding to Kreller’s accusation, Madden again reiterated his reasons for asking for the contract. “We need subject matter experts,” the mayor said, emphasizing why Lambert Consultants had been selected over two other firms.
Ben Plaia, representing Lambert Consultants at the meeting, said the current plan that Kreller was referring to was basically full of holes and incomplete.
Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman said he was in favor of hiring Lambert Consultants, but the one concern he originally had with the contract was concerning the non-disaster years, where the city could spend up to $99,000 the first year and $76,000 each subsequent year. He said when the matter was introduced May 13th, he wondered why the contract didn’t just have a lump-sum agreement but instead a task-order agreement.
“Now I kind of understand that, because we don’t have to spend all that… We may not not necessarily spend the money … in years two and three,” he said.
City Attorney Elizabeth Sconzert confirmed that the City Council would have to approve task orders to spend any of the “up-to” amounts specified in the contract.
Plaia said he would like to have Mandeville’s emergency preparedness plan completed in 45-60 days.