Keith Conley cited personal financial reasons in January
when he resigned as Kenners city attorney, so his entrance one month later
into the race for the City Council Division B at-large seat was unexpected. Upon
resigning, Conley said he was returning to private law practice, to earn enough
money to support four college-age children.
He didnt mention then that he is in the midst of Chapter 13
bankruptcy proceedings, a fact supporting his statement that he left City Hall to
make more money. But why then would he suddenly take on the challenge of
campaigning for office and, if successful, the responsibilities of a councilman
In an interview Friday, Conley said he is passionate about
the projects on which he worked with Mayor Mike Yenni. These include the $37
million Kenner 2030 beautification and infrastructure plan, as well as
redevelopment in Laketown and Rivertown.
Some people hunt. Some people fish. Some people golf. My
passion has been the city and these projects, Conley said. I can still build
my practice, and still serve the city. To me its a win-win situation.
Certainly I can understand the surprise, but its like the stars lined up for
Conley said he had no intention of seeking public office, at
least in this race, when he resigned Jan. 15 as city attorney, which came with
a salary of $95,926 last year, according to Conleys financial disclosure. It wasnt
until a Valentines Day lunch with his wife, he said, that he made up his mind
to run, and he formally qualified that day, the last day he was allowed to do
so for the April 5 election.
His opponent is 5th District Councilman Kent
Denapolis, who has not been a strong ally of Mayor Mike Yenni. But Conley said
neither Yenni nor anyone else recruited him to run.
Conley was clerk of mayors court when Mayor Ed Muniz named
him city attorney in 2007. Yenni was Munizs chief administrative officer at
the time, and when Yenni ran for mayor in 2010, Conley donated $1,500 to his campaign,
through Keith Conley Attorney at Law LLC. Yenni won the election and retained
Conley as city attorney.
The contribution occurred two months before Conley filed
bankruptcy. In his bankruptcy filing, Conley lists his financial interest in
the law firm as zero. Asked whether he drained the last of his business account
on the political contribution, Conley said he cant recall. If there was ever
$2,000 in it, that was a lot, Conley said.
Given that reality, Conley said he probably made the
contribution without recognizing his dire straits. At the time I did it, I
honestly didnt know how bad of a financial situation I was in. To be honest
with you, I dont think that amount would have made a big difference, Conley
said. If I had to do it all over again, there are a lot of things I would have
Conleys bankruptcy petition listed $745,203 in assets and $819,804
in liabilities. He is on track to exit bankruptcy in one year.
Hes now working at the New Orleans offices of The Michael
Brandner Law Firm, where he shares space and resources. Conley and Brandner
have been affiliated for years, but Conley moved into the Baronne Street office
only this month.
Conley said he didnt have time as city attorney to have
daily contact with clients of his private practice, and he referred a lot of
potential work to Brandner. To be
successful at something you have to do it 100 percent, Conley said. You have to be at the office.
Serving as councilman at large would not distract from that
focus, Conley said, because it all kind of meshes. I think its your second
job, Conley said of the public office he is seeking. If I thought I could not
do it well, I would not have qualified.
Being a Kenner councilperson is not necessarily a full-time
position, said Conley, who noted that Councilwoman Michelle Branigan has served
at large while maintaining a career as a real estate agent.
The council position pays $27,791 this year. Conley said he
hasnt given the salary much thought.
Conley served 21 years in the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs
Office and obtained a law degree from Loyola University in 2002 while still
working at the Sheriffs Office. He then served as a law clerk in the 24th
Judicial District Court before moving to Kenner city government..
He said he struggled financially as he launched his legal
career, culminating in his 2010 bankruptcy filing. One factor, he said, was law
Another, he said, was bad investment decisions. These
include residential property purchases in Mid-City New Orleans in 2005 and in the
Gabriel subdivision in Kenner in 2007.
Conley said he intended to rehab the Mid-City property for rental
income from the federally subsidized Section 8 program. But he said he couldnt
find the labor force, and Hurricane Katrina-related damage six months later set
him back further.
He held onto the property and bought the one in Gabriel two
years later. We kept throwing money into a pit and eventually it caught up to
us, Conley said.
Saturday morning you turn on the TV, and there are all
these people with no effort flipping properties or renting properties out, he
said. I thought I could give it a shot.
He said bankruptcy has been trying for his family, but he
was lucky we all stood together on this. Conley said he doesnt want to hide
from the bankruptcy and is eager to show hes learned from it. Future personal
investments will involve only his law practice, Conley said.
Im not sitting here to say Im perfect, Conley said. But
Im out in front of it.