Thursday, April 11, 2019

Doing The Right Thing

Photo Joost J. Bakker
Last night, there were several highlights of the commission meeting.  I'm listing them in order of importance here.  

Colleen Moriarty has joined the administrative staff of North Bay Village.  Ms. Moriarty came to us through the Best Buddies Program which as one of its many functions matches people living with disabilities with job opportunities.   

Commissioner Julianna Strout sponsored the participation and the commission welcomed her at the meeting.   

North Bay Village's own WSVN Channel 7 covered the event in their newscast.  Click here to see the broadcast.  It has been ages since we've had any positive coverage and this is something to celebrate.  

The Storage Facility Was Not Approved.  This may be the most unpopular project in North Bay Village since the strip club proposal.  The Planning & Zoning Board rejected the project and the commission rejected the project.   There are a lot of reasons against it, most importantly, it's not the sort of business we want in North Bay Village.  These storage units are ugly and do little or nothing to stimulate the economy.   

The issue may not be dead.  There could be legal challenges.  

It seems like a good time for North Bay Village to build up the positive by creating a vision of what types of business North Bay Village wants to attract and how to attract them.   The parking problem presented by the GrandView and the amount of cars on Treasure Island, which should incorporate shared public parking for the Baywalk needs to be addressed.   Defeating something is not the same as progress but it is a good first step.  

The Community Support for Carlos Noriega.  I'm just going to link to this about the Noriega matter.   Bring Back Carlos Noriega.

The community has not been heard on the settlement offer for Police Chief Noriega and judging by last night's turnout, the overwhelming majority want to be heard and want him back for very good reasons.   Mostly because we had a police force that worked with and for the community while Noriega ran it.  

Among the speakers last night were several colleagues of Noriega from Miami Beach and Surfside and they reminded the commission that Noriega brought us into close cooperation with our neighbors and discussed their experience of his leadership and ethics.   The Assistant Chiefs of Miami Beach and Surfside spoke, along with the State Rep for the FOP also a Miami Beach cop, and Officer Art Martineau head of the Miami Beach PAL.   

Residents one after the other spoke about the professionalism and close contact with the community that Noriega brought to our village and gave examples of how they and our families have been made safer in our homes and lives.   

And I spoke.  Although I was glad to see the turnout and agreed with all of the sentiments expressed, I think this commission needs to differentiate itself from their secrecy prone predecessors and while I fully understand why legal sessions must be done privately, the commission is now going to hold at least one executive privilege session, not open to the public, and I think they should have a portion where this is specifically a topic of conversation with the public.   I hope they will.   

North Bay Village and the Dramatic Arts:  Finally, there was a piece of Performance Art dedicated to the new commission's policy of openness.  

North Bay Village Performance Artist
Like most good comedy and all good tragedy, it loses much in the retelling.  You kind of had to be there to get the joke but I will try.  

A local resident who had previously run for mayor and lost by a huge margin decided to workshop her one woman show at Good & Welfare.  The piece with the working title of "I'm Really The Victim Here" is equal parts satire of public process and an exploration of self delusion.   

Authoritatively taking the microphone, the artist first posed a question, "How would you feel?" and then led the audience through a well structured monologue in which she spoke without self consciousness about how she sent a public email filled with half truths and falsehoods about the fired police chief and then was shocked, appalled and shocked again when the public email was publicly read and she received an email disagreeing with her.  

The only spot where the performance went a bit flat and got lost in bathos was when the artist added a bit about how her email was even published on the Dark Web For Idiots.  For those familiar with her body of work, they will know that on her satiric social media site, the artist enthusiastically links to the same Dark Web For Idiots and that made the performance feel a bit manufactured.  

Still, the audience was left to ponder about how we would feel if our concerns were discussed and even disagreed openly and held up to critical thinking.  The piece was a poignant commentary on lost power, futile redemption and an apologia of the artist's own suppression of disagreement.   With some rework this could be the surprise hit of the season.   

Summary:  Tuesday night was another step forward on the bumpy road to reconstruction and the difficulties of transparency.  The public was heard loudly and clearly on the two major issues - the police chief and the storage units - and the commission did the right thing on the storage units.  

The next test will be the commission decision on the reinstatement of Noriega.  My view is they should do it but the critical issue is that regardless of the decision they make, it must be transparent, with full consideration of the community, and with the best interests of North Bay Village.  Any decision will have its detractors but does the commission want to cater to the Dark Web for Idiots anonymous trolls or the public open discussion of the best course?    

Kevin Vericker
April 11, 2019

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Gaslighting the Police Discussion

Tonight, the North Bay Village commission does not have a discussion item on the agenda regarding the proposed settlement with Police Chief Carlos Noriega.  They should.  The public deserves to be heard.   

Instead, they will be scheduling an Executive Session (alarmingly called a "Shade Session") to consider the best course for North Bay Village in the matter.   

The two real options on the table are reinstatement of Noriega, whose firing last year resulted in the lawsuit, or a financial and legal settlement with Noriega that will cost the village a great deal of money and will leave us once again in the position of finding a police chief willing to take on the highly politicized North Bay Village Police Department.  

Many residents want to see Noriega rehired.  

Their arguments are plainly laid out.  
  • Noriega had the PD on track to professional certification, an effort derailed by his successor, Stephanie Leon PA and her third party employee, Lewis Velken.  
  • Noriega restored the community programs that had been eliminated including PAL, the marine patrol, bicycle patrols, Crime Watch, 
  • Noriega developed and implemented a plan to keep our Village safe in the event of a Parkland or Pittsburgh like terrorist attack.  
  • Noriega reached out to all dimensions of the community.  
And I will add, that in politically charged criminal investigations, Noriega and his staff went where the evidence led.    

There are very good reasons to reinstate Noriega.  Legal reasons, financial reasons, organizational reasons, even political reasons as in the community worked well with him.   These may not be enough to convince the commission and I am very annoyed that there is no formal consideration of the community in this discussion.   It reeks of old school, closed door political shenanigans.  

Still, we have the opportunity to be heard during Good & Welfare, because unlike the last mayor who shut down Good & Welfare when residents attempted to express their concern about the investigations cut short by the Noriega firing.  

On the other hand, there is the old school rumor mongering and half truths being hysterically presented in two sparsely read sites, one a group on Facebook disingenuously called North Bay Village Rising and another on an anonymous troll site called LEOAFFAIRS*.  

Both of these echo chambers relitigate Noriega's tenure on the Beach with sensationalist claims that were well debunked during Noriega's hiring in North Bay Village and further making dark allegations that support for his rehiring is backed by shady group of residents who are motivated by, well, something.  It's not clear what.   

These self same pundits of positivity are also using a lawsuit filed by suspects in a criminal case, the same people who were squatting at the Moda, to discredit Noriega.     

This is typical of the old dirty politics of North Bay Village and it needs to be noted that the few public faces of this efforts are closely tied to the very people who faced investigation and the cops who fear that their disciplinary findings will be acted on.   

The commission has a straightforward, difficult decision to make this week.   I hope they will not allow themselves to be led astray by the people interested only in exempting themselves from the consequences of their actions.  

We all need to be at the commission meeting tonight.  We should not be left out of the process.  

Kevin Vericker
April 9, 2019

*I'm not liking to these sites.   Google them if you want.  

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Police and The Lawsuit and The Community

The commission should be looking to the community for our input on the resolution of the Carlos Noriega lawsuit.  Noriega from a community perspective was a forward thinking, community involved leader who restored our police after years of bad leadership.  

But that does not seem to be the plan.  There is no discussion scheduled on Tuesday.     

Marvin Wilmoth has not answered mails and concerns expressed to him by community members.  

Andreana Jackson and Jose Alvarez have reportedly refused to consider settling and reinstatement out of concern that Alvarez's spouse, Mary Kramer, might be investigated if the evidence leads to her.   

This is bad.   

There will be a executive meeting, from which the public is barred, for the commission to consider the settlement offer of reinstatement and unless we change the narrative, the decision will be made free of public comment.  

While the commission will hear from the lawyers, the cops, the village management, they will not hear from the public.  Again, there is no public hearing on this matter.   

There should be.  

On Tuesday, April 9, at 6:30 PM, the regular commission meeting is in place and during Good & Welfare, we will have a three minute opportunity to express to the commission why the benefit of the community should be in front and center.   

For background, among the most obvious side effects of the last year is that our police department is once again a political football, with no clear path forward and no real relationship with the community.   

After Marlen Martell fired Carlos Noriega to bring the police in a "different direction" and then proceeded to replace him with Lewis Velken, who was never even a village employee and who was paid through a third party, allegedly to avoid complying with FRS rules, ad the police have been in a holding pattern ever since  (Side note, after dispatching Noriega, Marlen Martell was fired for failing to provide an ordinance and explosives show to usher Connie Leon-Kreps out with a bang.  You can't make it up.  It's on video.)

The accreditation process was ripped out by Lewis Velken and outsourced to a profit making third party and is pretty completely derailed right now, which means that we can't qualify for grants and make our police budget that much more expensive.  

The police department is facing three lawsuits for wrongful dismissal, and a fourth claiming age discrimination from an officer who was facing discipline for allegedly stealing the sergeant's exam, then in spite of that clear advantage, failing the exam, and now claiming that it's because he's old.   

Now that the dust is settling, the commission has to face the best way to settle these lawsuits, whose totals could run well into the millions.   Of our money.   

In January, during an executive privilege session, not open to the public, it has emerged that the reason that two of the commissioners, Andreana Jackson and Jose Alvarez, would refuse to do the simple and the right thing, that is reinstate Carlos Noriega, a move that would have the side effect of resolving at least two of the other lawsuits.   

According to the now public record from the Commission on Ethics, published here.  It seems Jackson gave as her reason to not consider reinstatement of Noriega is her concern that he might pursue the investigation into Alvarez's spouse, Mary Kramer, and according to the document, Alvarez agreed.   

This is what is known as "particular benefit."   If an elected official will directly and uniquely benefit from a vote, she or he must recuse themselves and exempting your spouse from legal investigations sure seems to fit that bill.   

The commission has been dealing with complex legal, financial, HR and management issues one shattered piece at a time.   And have chosen deliberation over speed, to my frustration but probably to our benefit.  

Now it's time for the commission to assume its rightful role.  It's clear that Jackson and Alvarez cannot vote on this in good conscience.  The motivation is too strong.   

Marvin Wilmoth has to stop playing coyly with the constituents and engage fully in the conversation about how to right the system.  

And Latham and Strout need support in their efforts to do the right things the right way.   

The shadowy, morally bankrupt players who got us in this mess are making their voices heard and it's up to the decent people of North Bay Village, those of us who don't make money from the village or fear investigation of things we've done, to make sure we are present and let the commission now that it's our future they need to be concerned about.   

Tuesday, April 9, at 6:30 PM.  Village Hall.  

Kevin Vericker
April 7, 2019

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

North Bay Village - Who We Are

Photo By Marc Averette 
Sometimes it's good to stop and take a look at what the data tell us about where we are and who we are.  Maybe because it's tax season and I have to review last year but I thought I would put out some interesting (to me) information about North Bay Village and to do that, I went to the US Census Figures for some information.  

First of all, their last population estimate for North Bay Village was 8,317 people crowded into an area less than half a square mile total.  (.37 of a mile square) making us the most densely populated city in Florida and the 13th most densely populated city in the US. 

Let's Talk About Numbers!

Foreign Born - 50% of us were born outside the United States and 67% of us speak a language other English at home.  

Above the Median Income - North Bay Village is better off than the county in general with Median Household Income of $55,308 compared to the county median of $46,338.

Our Poverty Rate Is Lower - 12.9% as opposed to 16.1% countywide.  

Low Homeownership - 67% of us are renters, as opposed to 52% countywide.   

The median home price is $271,600 and the median rent is $1,733. 

Rent Is Too Damn High - Median rent is $1713 as opposed to $1,195 countywide

We Are Young -  Only 9.8% are over 65, as opposed to 16% countywide.   

But 20% of us are under 18, as opposed to 16% countywide.   

We Work - 62% of us are in the workforce as opposed to the county at 70% (not surprising given how many kids live here)

We Are Well Educated - We are very well educated with 50% of the adults having a bachelor's degree or higher.  

We Drive - Of those in the workforce, only about 400 commute by public transit.  

We Don't Walk So Well - Among people under 65, we have a disability rate of 4.1%.   

We Move A Lot - 21% of us were living at another address the year before.

We Have a Low Crime Rate - According to Best Places, our violent crime rate is less than half the metro average and property crimes are a full third less.

We Have Veterans - 208 according to the census.

We Have A Visible LGBT Presence -About 1.6% of the households are headed by same sex couples.   According to the Pew Statistics, we hover around 6% of the adult population.  


I don't have any strong ones.   It reinforces for me what I have always thought about the people who live and rent here.  They are people on their way up in the United States and in the community.  It's a good place to live.

I do worry about housing. 

The mean price for a condo or house means for the median earner in North Bay Village to buy a home, assuming they were saving at 10% per year for the down payment, it would take them nearly 10 years to save up the down payment.  (20% of $271,600 is $54,200, 10% savings rate on $55,308 is $5,530 per year)

So we have a housing gap. 

We hate our traffic but not enough to take the bus.   The Village should probably work on that.

We need to focus more on our young people.  We have a lot of them and even casual observers see this as a good place for kids.

Kevin Vericker
April 3, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Carlos Noriega Reinstatement Is Definitely On The Table

Last January, in a frighteningly named "Shadow Meeting" our commission met with the attorney from the League of Cities, as well as then Village Attorney Norman Powell and Lewis Velken, a contractor posing as Village Manager, to discuss the Noriega Lawsuit in a meeting excepted from Sunshine.   

These meetings are supposed to be confidential until the matter is resolved, although at least two of our commissioners seem to believe they are under the seal of the confessional.   The meetings are not and become public record once the matter is litigated.  

Anyway, this town is a porous as our sewer lines and very little stays confidential.  According to second hand and third hand reports, the commission was told that if the matter goes to jury trial, Noriega would prevail and the village could be on the hook for both reinstatement and punitive damages.   

The commission was asked about settlement options including reinstatement and rejected the option of reinstatement, based on one commissioner's concern that Noriega had investigated the spouse of another commissioner, and on two false narratives presented to them, both now debunked, about Noriega.   

Well we all know what happened next.  It was uncovered that the Village Manager position was being paid through a third party.  The Florida Retirement System opened an investigation and the manager resigned, and after initially denying any knowledge of the payment scheme, emails emerged showing that the Village Attorney knew at least as long ago as September 2018 that this was going on and he resigned.   

The Village went into negotiations this week with Noriega and according to third hand reports, started out with the firm position that reinstatement was off the table.   A deal not including reinstatement was proposed and the Village Commission needs to vote on this offer April 9.   

"Shadow Meetings" suck.  The firing of Noriega and the dismantling of the North Bay Village civic structure was done right out in the open by former Mayor Kreps and her colluders, ruining reputations and leaving the village to a group of self interested incompetents but suddenly fixing this must be confidential?  I will continue to fight for the information to be public.   

The worst part about this super secret negotiation this week is that the commission's position was highly influenced by two provably false allegations.   

There has been no follow up meeting with the commissioners to lay the evidence out that the allegations of insubordination and improper searches may not have happened as presented, and so the January position stood. 
Our current Village Manager Ralph Rosado, and our current Village Attorney, Dan Espino, had an absolute obligation to call a second meeting as the new information became available to inform the commission of the facts they now had so the commission could make an informed decision.   That did not happen.   
Our commissioners are citizen volunteers and rely on the professional and legal advice of the people who are paid to provide it.   The net effect of failing to inform the commission is that now obsolete information informed a bad decision and a bad faith negotiation.   

The commission should listen to the community, who were very pleased at how Noriega reconstructed the police department, and the commission should demand that the staff they hire ensure that they have all relevant information at the right time.   

The deal as reportedly negotiated stinks.  It was done in bad faith, without a properly informed commission, it did not take into account the community desires which should count for something, and restated a position that neither our current attorney or current manager had been part of.  

The vote is April 9 but before then, the commission should hold an open meeting to discuss the deal on the table, get the community input on the settlement, lay out the accusations and decide based on the best information available if Noriega should be reinstated.  

Otherwise, it's just the same dirty self serving politics that brought this village to its knees.  We'll be stuck.  

Kevin Vericker
March 28, 2019 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mediation and Restoration

Image result for picking up the pieces

The new commission walked into an intentionally complicated mess left by the previous mayor and commission.  This week, their ability to clean it up will be tested as the mediation for Carlos Noriega's lawsuit is on the calendar.  Noriega, our former police chief, is suing for reinstatement to his job in North Bay Village.  

The lawsuit comes as there is a search on  for a Village Attorney and a Village Manager and it seems that the commission have selected a new Village Clerk, pending a final contract.  

Noriega filed suit after his dismissal, stating that he had been fired in retaliation for a whistle-blower complaint against then Village Attorney Norman C. Powell among other allegations.   

Noriega is not looking for money but rather reinstatement to his position and even the Village's defense team concede that the Village is not likely to prevail in a jury trial.   The evidence is very strong that the firing of Noriega was motivated by fear of investigations into what may be criminal acts.  

Since any settlement will ultimately have to be approved by the commission, in this case it is the commission that will have to make the decision to rehire Noriega or to offer a financial settlement,  most likely well over $1 million.  

Noriega is firm in his stance that what he wants is not the money but his position restored and himself made whole.   

And there's no good reason not to in my view.   

Noriega built the police back up in the community, always acted with integrity with his employers, restructured the department to be focused on police services, not personnel fights, and most importantly did not let politics get in the way of where the evidence in investigations are leading.  

It's important to know that North Bay Village's system of government is based on the weak commission/strong administration structure.   In that structure, the elected mayor and commission act as a board of directors setting general policy, legislation, funding and is responsible for only three direct reports - the Village Attorney, the Village Manager and the Village Clerk.  

The idea behind this is that the work of governing is carried out by professionals with experience and knowledge to execute the direction set by the commission and in particular, the Village Manager is responsible for all personnel decisions including hiring and firing, with the narrow exception of department heads who must be approved by the commission.   

It's a good idea but under the chaotic tenure of Connie Leon-Kreps, it fell into bad company and the structure was turned on its head by a series of ill advised and executed hirings and firings of the three principal positions.   

Following the revelation of an extortion attempt on then Commissioner Doug Hornsby and the subsequent criminal investigations into the same, Kreps and her cronies fired the Village Attorney and replaced him with one who had no experience of being a municipal attorney, hired and then fired a Village Manager, and drove the longest serving North Bay Village employee, Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton, to resign.  

Among the many intended consequences of this descent into chaos was the firing of Police Chief Carlos Noriega and the two detectives who were working on the extortion case and other issues.   

The sole reason given to Noriega was that the then Village Manager, Marlen Martell, wanted to take the police department in a "different direction."  

The manager then hired Lewis Velken to be chief of police before being fired herself for failing to provide fireworks to celebrate Kreps.   

Velken in turn had to resign as it became public that he was not technically a village employee and is under investigation for an attempt to skirt the Florida Retirement System rules.  

So as I said, it's a mess and the commission needs to do the hard work to clean it up.  

There are naysayers.   Several police employees and at least one previous charter officer have been going around town and to the media to claim that two incidents that happened under Noriega demonstrate that he was a terrible leader.  

The first one is easily disproved.  There was a hiring freeze announced while the police were recruiting and the claim has been made that Noriega was insubordinate and continued to recruit anyway. 

Noriega didn't and part of the evidence in his suit is documentation that he stopped the hiring interviews when directed to. 

So half a fact - there was a hiring freeze - with a little lie - Noriega ignored it is one big reason. 

The second one is even worse.  There was an investigation into a murder suspect that led to the police entering an illegally occupied apartment.   No one was harmed but the squatters claimed that it was upsetting.   The entry had been approved by the State Attorney, carried out under strict protocol and approved by the owners of the unit.    There is simply nothing there. 

But that hasn't stopped this last minute slandering trying to present Noriega as bad for the Village.

The commission has to right the wrong done to Noriega and now, more than ever, they need a police chief we can trust.  Brian Collins has done a heroic job keeping the force intact but does not want the job and never did, so it's only sensible that the commission get the PD back on the right track. 

I hope they understand this and offer a reinstatement quickly, like tomorrow.   The commission was elected to do the right thing and this is clearly the right course.

Kevin Vericker
March 25, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

An Exciting Cloud of Dullness

Well, I'm not going to go so far as to say I miss the old days of two weeks ago when our commission meetings were straight up exercises in unrestrained temper tantrums punctuated by brightly colored strutting egos flailing up against each other in a non-mating ritual designed to establish dominance for its own sake, but I can't say I don't miss it either.

Tuesday's meeting on the surface was an exercise in solid, rational governance.  

Let's go through the highlights.  

Women's History Month:  For the first  time, North Bay Village took the step of recognizing Women's History Month and acknowledged the struggle, the successes and the simple fact that women in North Bay Village are the key in every level of civic life.   Among the women honored were Anne Baskt, Rivien Murphy, Doris O’Hare, Jodie Wilmoth. Julianna Strout, Andreana Jackson and the  North Bay Village Staff.

Well noted and well discussed was an event sponsored by Commissioner Julianna Strout last Friday in honor of International Women's Day.  I wasn't there but from all reports it was an exceptionally intelligent and well received panel discussion on the lives of Miami women in 2019.   

Strout has committed to keeping this event, monthly if possible, to keep women's issues inculcated into North Bay Village's civic life.   And when Commissioner Strout makes up her mind, there is no barrier to getting it done.  

Personal Hero:  Ms. Sissy Shute of North Bay Island, who I've named Hurricane Sissy because of the force of her personality, was overlooked and she should not have been.  Sissy has dedicated time, money, resources, her home and her passion to improving the lives of all North Bay Villagers and always spotlighting and supporting the women leaders of our community.   I hope the commission takes a step to acknowledge her singular efforts to improve life for all of us.  

A Taost To Sissy Shute
The Sustainability and Resiliency Task Force:  Led by Deni O'Brien, the task force has begun focusing on the global issue of climate change and the local North Bay Village response.   

We hit the jackpot with O'Brien.  A retired international worker with UN, O'Brien brings the right global perspective with the knowledge of local issues and they are off to a good start.   

The Dog Park:   a simple straightforward coding change frees up the Village to place a dog park on the Sakura lot while construction is evaluated and allows for the Village to use our land for this purpose in the future.   It's funny how doing the right thing is boring and obvious.   But this has been on our list of needs for almost 8 years and doing the right thing the right way actually moved it forward.  

Charter Positions:  Our Interim Clerk Graciela Mariot has taken another position.   The commission voted to enter into negotiations with Elora Rivera, deputy clerk of Surfside, who comes well recommended by the search committee headed by Pamela Latimore, city clerk of North Miami Beach.   If the contract is successful that's one office filled.  

As regards the Village Attorney, we are being supported in the interim by Dan Espino of Weiss Serota and what a difference it makes.   Espino competently guided the commissioners through the legal implications of their legislation and acted throughout as a counselor.  A stark contrast to the last year.  

In a discussion item, Brent Latham put forth that the search committee should continue their search even though the first deadline had passed.  

His reasoning was simple since there are two new important factors here.  

With the drama and meltdowns of the previous administration, it's likely that otherwise qualified and interested firms backed away, not wanting to be the latest powder keg in a badly managed government but now that there is a restoration of sanity, we might be able to attract a wider pool.  

The second factor is to consider the idea of the village hiring an attorney on staff, which has much merit.   It would put the role inside the Village HR, allowing for things like proper background checks, performance evaluations and most importantly, the attorney can respond to changing needs in the Village and not be bound by contract.   There may be downsides but the commission agreed to consider this.   

The Projects:  Now it gets a little less enthusiastic.  Kimley-Horn is nearing the end but in spite of the pressure from the dais and the residents, remains weirdly reluctant to open, simple communication.   Following a long layout of the facts, there was no simple answer to when the project would be finished, even a good estimate, and no commitment to informing the residents 24 hours in advance of water shutoffs.   This is a major issue and I hope the commission considers this failure in future dealings with Kimley-Horn.   

Storage Facilities:  There is one proposed on the lot next to Happy's.   It will come before the commission in the near future.  It needs to be rejected and I hope it will be.   

But the mayor did propose and the commission passed a resolution putting a moratorium for 6 months on any new storage facilities.   They hope during this period to review economic and community impact of all new projects in order to clearly favor those with a positive impact. 


Kevin Vericker
March 15, 2019