Friday, July 12, 2019

I Got the Dog Park Wrong

Yesterday in the blog, I wrote about the dog park and 

got

it

wrong.  

Specifically, I wrote:
Dog Park:  The money for the dog park planning was approved.  It will cost about $35,000 to create the plans, then another $120,000 to $200,000 to build a dog park.  The commission voted to move ahead.  
My view:  Just put up a fence, call it an open space and let the damn dogs run.  Also, the dog park proponents mostly weren't there.   
What I Got Wrong:  Shortly afterwards it was brought to my attention that the proposed space for the dog park has flooding issues, is not accessible for handicapped or older people, and could actually hurt the dogs and their owners if not properly planned.   
The first step, getting the plan, is the key and that's what the commission was voting on.  Once we have that, the dog park can start and that should be very soon.   

I should have paid better attention and now I'm updating my view:

My view:  Plan it right and get it going.  Also, dog park proponents - start showing up.  

Kevin Vericker
July 12, 2019

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 9 2019 Commission Meeting

I'm going to try make this brief.  

Tuesday night at the commission meeting.  

The main points:

Dog Park:  The money for the dog park planning was approved.  It will cost about $35,000 to create the plans, then another $120,000 to $200,000 to build a dog park.  The commission voted to move ahead. 
My view:  Just put up a fence, call it an open space and let the damn dogs run.  Also, the dog park proponents mostly weren't there.  

Treasure Island Community Park:   Mayor Brent Latham discussed the progress made so far in planning the green space use of the Treasure Island Elementary field in non-school hours.  The planning is well underway and should cost about $1,000,000 once it's ready.  

My view:  This is huge and opens up new space all around us.  

For Profit Prisons for Children in Homestead:  The commission voted 4-0 to express their concern about the inherent contradiction of for profit prisons in this government space.  One commissioner was in the ladies room for the vote.  

My view:  Prisons should never be for profit.  Ever.   

Discussion Item:  Advisory Board Interactions with the Commission.  The Mayor led a discussion about what the commission should expect from the boards and vice versa.  The boards are very active and bright, and were suppressed under the previous regime, and the commissioners spoke about what they would like to see.   

My view:  The commission should hold one joint session per year with each board to lay out the annual goals.   

Operational stuff - New Auditor, FPL Vault removal at the Sakura Lot, Parking Study for Harbor Island.    These were commission approval for doing what the village needs to do.  

Animal Control Advisory Board Feeding Registry:  The Animal Control Board has created a detailed and well crafted program to register and control the feeding of the feral cats, bearing in mind the needs of the cats, the sensibilities of the property owners, the control of the population.   

It was tabled.  

My view:  Seriously?  A group of intelligent concerned citizens under the government aegis does their job and the commission lets it slide again because a scuttle bug lobbyist now believes he's a cat expert.  Big failure.  

Scooter Rentals:  Never even made it to a vote.  Nobody wanted to own it.  

My view:  It's a stupid idea.  We are less than one square mile and we don't need people scooting aimlessly about.  

Unified Land Development Code:  Fixes the fencing rules so that 5 foot is the height limit for corner lots and temporary fences can be used in dog parks if we ever make one.  

My view:  How was this not part of our code already?  

Unified Land Development Code #2:  Allows administrative approval of dock variances within certain parameters rather than commission approval.  

My view:  Yeah, sure, why not?

Unified Land Development Code #3:  This is a change that as initially proposed would have changed the due dates on bonus height payments from approval time to building permit time, would have made the payments refundable if the developer did not develop, and approving mechanical parking lifts for fancy people with valets.  

It got whittled down and the refundability portion was removed but the two other parts stayed in.  

My view:  The refundable fees were always a flipper's delight so I'm glad they pulled it.  I'm sick of developers whining that they can't make money building in North Bay Village.  That's true but the people who sold them the lots made money.   They knew the rules.   The only developers with skin in the game are the Best Western.  The rest of them need to shut up and build.  And our Village Attorney and Planning Contractor should show up with some support for their claims that North Bay Village is somehow out of step with the cooler towns.  You got to qualify to signify and these guys are not giving the commission even the basic information.   Step up or step aside.  

Florida Friendly Fertilizer:  A carefully crafted proposal by Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth to stop people pouring polluting fertilizer into the bay while not harming the economic activity of landscapers was derailed by one lawn festishist and two commissioners who had clearly not read the ordinance.  The whole thing was cuckolded when the main provision, stop pouring pollutants on your lawn during the rainy season, was removed just because.  

My view:  Wilmoth did his homework, found the sweet spot, and for some reason having nothing to do with the ordinance, it was rendered useless.  A real low point.  

Ordinance Banning Single Use Plastics in the Village:  This was a straightforward ordinance banning the sale of single use plastic in North Bay Village.  After some discussion it was passed.  

My view:  Wilmoth again was reasonable, detailed and focused.  While there was a half hearted attempt to derail this one, the  other commissioners got bored and let it pass.  This was super unprofessional of them but lucky for us.  

7700 Miami View Drive:  The tenant, not the landlord, at 7700 Miami View Drive showed up to say his Short Term Vacation Rental License should be reinstated because he didn't know, he was putting in noise meters, and then used the Shaggy Defense on advertisements for the property  (Uh Uh, wasn't me.)  He was denied.  

My View:  Wow!

Kevin Vericker
July 11, 2019

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Right Way to Give

Who could possibly be against stopping AIDS?  Helping blind people navigate a world not designed for them?  Including people with intellectual challenges?  Ending world hunger?  and a myriad of causes.   
No decent person I'd dare to say.   

There is an entire industry to raise money for well intentioned philanthropic causes in the US and last year alone, Americans gave over $410 billion to support these efforts.   

But giving, especially with other people's money, has to be done judiciously. 

In the case of North Bay Village, we are a generous people and much of our $25,000 activities fund was directed at seemingly worthy causes.   

One donation was $7,500 for the AIDS Walk, an annual event to raise money to fight AIDS.  There were many organizations to whom we could have directed the donation, including Care Resources which actually provides services to NBV residents with HIV but instead the money was donated through SAVE, an organization which has never done anything for the North Bay Village Gay community although they have fund raised here and donated to elections.   
In addition, the money was supposed to be an activity for our residents to participate in the AIDS walk yet none were invited.  In exchange, all we got was an invitation to The Gala That Went Terribly Wrong and it seemed more of a personal branding exercise than a Village activity in support of a good cause.  

The Best Buddies walk, an amazing organization that has in fact helped place a valued new employee in the Village, was similarly not used for Village participation when it could have been.  

Other expenses have included Polo match tickets that I don't see how they build community or bring benefit to North Bay Village.  

We need to ask the question about what we want to accomplish.  Yes, supporting good causes financially matters and a sharp eye on how this builds up our community needs to be one facet of that equation.  

Before approving the moneys, the individual commissioners proposing the donation have an absolute obligation to ask and answer the questions.  
  • Does this organization actually effectively provide the services they are asking us to support?   In the case of SAVE, they do not provide any direct HIV services and the money should have been directed elsewhere. 

  • Does this donation enhance community life?  We have many residents with many needs.  It's not unreasonable to expect that organizations we support support us.   The Village recently paid airfare for a commissioner to attend the Daughters of the American Revolution conference in Washington DC.  It's hard to see how the DAR enhances our lives. 

  • Does community input matter?  Our commissioners have discretion on these funds but the community should matter.  Otherwise, it's just personal branding and advantage.
Finally, we need to follow the money.  If the major purpose of an organization is political and not services, the entire commission should cast an eye on the proposed donation.   There are many great advocacy organizations but those organizations need to work from grass root support, not government sponsorship.   

We really haven't seen much overreach on these donations until now.  As the Village approaches next year's budget, it is incumbent for the administration to create a framework based on effectiveness and benefit as they decide how our tax dollars are distributed.   


Now is time to ask those questions.  

Kevin Vericker
July 6, 2019

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

SAVE and The Collateral Damage

SAVE, one of the longest established organizations advocating for LGBT equality, has flamed out in a spectacular fashion.  The now former director, Tony Lima, chose to showcase four men accused of bashing a same sex couple at last year's Miami Beach Pride.  This was after honoring the victims at last year's SAVE Gala and using the incident as a fundraising tool for SAVE.  

Whatever motivated Lima is unclear and he made something of a half apology on his Facebook page but the board took the step to fire him on Monday night.  In my view, this was the right decision.  

The whole sad story is well covered here in the Miami Herald.  

In short, the victims were three gay men, a couple and a Good Samaritan who tried to intervene.  According to the allegations against them by the state attorney, the three victims were set upon by these four SAVE honorees in a four to two "fight", really an attack, that put them all in the hospital and left one unemployed.  The alleged attackers are said to have used the common Spanish anti-gay slur "maricones" during the beatdown.  

It's on video here.  Note, the video is disturbing and the state attorney has added hate crimes to the charges.  

The victims have been clear that they feel betrayed by Lima's strange actions.  

This is also a North Bay Village story


North Bay Village and SAVE have a long and controversial relationship.  SAVE first endorsed in our local elections in 2014, choosing a candidate for mayor who did nothing for the local LGBT community over a candidate who actively sought the input and participation of the gay community. 

In a foreshadowing of the Gala incident, Tony Lima and SAVE refused to condemn a PAC mailer that attacked their endorsed candidate's opponents by associating them as puppets of an evil gay man.  Lima doubled down and cut me off when I asked him for help in getting such things as a contractor compliance ordinance in place, Pride acknowledgment, support for the LGBT youth in North Bay Village.   

These things are going forward here in spite of SAVE's resistance.  

But in the meantime, SAVE raised a lot of money in North Bay Village, provided small campaign contributions and endorsements to candidates, and acted as a channel for the Village's donations to the AIDS Walk, getting the credit while ignoring the North Bay Village community.  

So this sad chapter is drawn to a close and we'll see what's next.  

I have enough faith in North Bay Village and our current administration, in particular our mayor, our village manager and our police chief, that I know that they will continue to fight for all members of the North Bay Village community.  

I know that there are many straight allies who were taken in by the SAVE hustle, including Commissioner Strout.  Maybe it's my fault because I was unable to explain to the well meaning allies how toxic SAVE had become in our village.  Or maybe it's their fault for not wanting to listen.  

Even now, there are several self proclaimed straight allies loudly "straight splainin'" how Lima is a victim and spending no energy on the real victims, the couple and the good Samaritan who tried to intervene.  

This is wrong.  You cannot call yourself an ally while adopting the position of explaining away the real concerns of the community members affected as trivial in comparison to concerns about someone facing the consequences of poor judgment.  

It's a good time to listen and learn.  It's not about you.  

This incident also calls into question how we as a Village decide what community organizations and charities to support.   No matter how well meaning the intentions are, it matters to use discretion and judgment in making that decision and to be very careful that the support is not about personal branding or virtue signaling, but is about moving North Bay Village forward.  I'll be writing more about this later in the week.  

For now, I hope the Village understands the need to move forward.  Progress is not about one person or one organization and there is still much to be done.  I hope we can learn from this and move on. 

Kevin Vericker
July 2, 2019 


Friday, June 21, 2019

We Got The Green!

Conceptual View
Want to know what we need in North Bay Village?  

Green space and green money.  

Want to know what we're getting?

Green space and green money.  

Let's Start With The Green Space

You look at any aerial view of North Bay Village and you see that the largest green space is the yard behind Treasure Island Elementary School.  Now hanging around school yards is creepy and you shouldn't do it but this land is used about 180 days per year for school purposes.   
The mayor, Brent Latham, approached our school board member, Dr. Marvin Karp, and they have agreed a deal in principle (not principal but that would be funny) to open the school yard for use by the residents when not in use for the school.   This means we can have access to the fields, the track, a place to walk out of traffic.  
I want to tell you that it was very complicated, and executing this will be work, but the fact is that the school board has done this throughout the county and the previous mayor refused to just ask.  Not only that, but she joined forces with one of the least competent bureaucrats I have come across in a long career to shut down the informal access that had been in place for decades.   
Watch this space and the village group on Facebook for details as this comes together.   


The Other Green - Dollars


Last year in March, State Senator Daphne Campbell came to our commission meeting to joyously announce that she had gotten $0 for North Bay Village in the state projects and remind us that "there is always next year."  and "God is good."  
Our then mayor, she who will not be named here, was effusive in her thanks for this information and then both insisted on applause.   
I'm not making that up.  
Well God may be good but She is pretty insistent that you have to get off your ass and make your own money.   
Our new commission, all of them, went to Tallahassee and along with our newly elected State Rep, Michael Grieco, and our newly elected State Senator, Jason Pizzo, they got some serious money for serious projects in the state budget and today it was announced that the governor signed them into the budget.  
The two projects are:
  • ADA Compliance on our sidewalks.  
  • Water and Flood Management.
It's not a lot by project standards, about $427,000, but it addresses the sad lack of accessibility on our streets and is great first step.  You will hear me talking about "beyond ADA" in the future but we have to get to the baseline before we can truly be an inclusive community.  This is a good day.  

The Takeaway

We have to elect people who are, you know, not bat guano crazy.   Daphne Campbell and our previous mayor were both punchlines to jokes not yet written.  Neither had the vision or the skills to bring simple projects to fruition.   
Our new team does.   It's hard but it's not complicated.   It takes focus and sometimes taking "Yes" for an answer as in the case of the school yard where all we had to do was ask and have a concept.  
This bodes well.  

Kevin Vericker
June 21, 2019





Thursday, June 13, 2019

Memory Matters

There were two commission meetings on Tuesday June 11 and all I can say is what a difference from last year.  

The first meeting was to discuss the framework of the budget.  It was mostly technical in nature but gives general guidance to the village staff on the priorities of the commission to consider while drafting the 2020 budget.   

Parts of the meeting were pretty bumpy, particularly the inept handling of concerns about the role of the Budget and Oversight Board.  The interim Village Attorney, Dan Espino of Weiss Serota, wrote that the Board was exceeding its statutory focus and their agenda was cut less than a half hour before they were scheduled to meet, which was pretty unprofessional.  This was compounded by the  failure of the administration to actually attend the meeting and explain their actions.  

While the concerns may be valid, the Budget and Oversight Board is a volunteer group and deserves the respect of the staff.  They should have at least brought the issue live and in person rather than a summary dismissal.  Board Chair Jack Rattner brought this up and it was dismaying that there was not any acknowledgment from the administration that it had been handled wrong.   The staff need to fix this and work on the boards in general.  And it wouldn't kill them to apologize.  They were wrong.  

There were a lot of questions about the budget and a lot of work to be done, but when I contrast it to the commission meeting of a year ago, it is amazing how far we progressed.  

At least year's June commission meeting, there was zero discussion of the budget and the 2019 budget was passed with almost no questions or suggestions.  Highlights from that meeting included the first attempt to fire the Village Clerk for doing her job, the mayor berating the Village Manager for not producing a fireworks display so she could go out with a bang (actual quote)  and a shady deal to bring in private contractors to take over the police accreditation.  We've improved.  

The Main Meeting

Compared to June 2018 and really the last decade, the meeting was a great success.   

First and foremost for me, at long last the Mayor and the Commission joined together to issue a proclamation celebrating Pride Month.  This is the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall protests in New York City which is generally acknowledged as the key starting point for the modern equality movement.  

The proclamation was locally initiated and the mayor made it a point to invite North Bay Village residents, LGBT... and allies to receive the proclamation.  

This was the first time that North Bay Village has recognized any LGBT milestone in spite of the residents' asking for it.   Earlier this year, the same kind of recognition was proclaimed for Black History Month in February  and Women's  History Month in March.  We will see more of these expressions of value for the diversity and strength of North Bay Village.  

Fun trivia fact:  North Bay Village was the first Miami-Dade municipality to encode equal protection  into our charter by popular vote, back in 2002 when the rest of the county was still debating the issue.  We became the second municipality to recognize domestic partnerships for employees two years later.  There's a lot to be proud of.  

The commission also acknowledged the loss of Roy Martayan, a longtime resident and community supporter and philanthropist and there was a special presentation by the talented young man who was the recipient of the Bruce Patterson Music and Art Scholarship, established this year in honor of the late Bruce Patterson, an active member of the Optimist Club of North Bay Village.   

This matters.  It shows a commission engaged with all the community and its many groups and individuals.   

On the business side, the commission agreed to raise the fines on Short Term Vacation Rental owners who violate our clear rules.  This was also considered as part of the enhanced coding and policing of the Short Term Vacation Rentals.   

There were discussions and plans made for Scooter Rentals, a special election to finally get the bonds right for the infrastructure projects, Miami Beach cooperation to get resident discounts for the recreation services in Miami Beach, a North Bay Village Foundation to create a local group dedicated to the betterment of the Village.

There was controversy.  

  • The Village Administration needs to work out the board communications and expectations.  
  • The electric scooter thing didn't generate much enthusiasm as it doesn't go to the beach or Miami and the idea of people scooting aimlessly around the Village and on the Causeway was a little hard to grasp. 
  • The Short Term Vacation Rentals do not really solve the problem but that's at the state level and the Village is doing what they can.  
  • The damn streets.   

These are the normal disagreements and concerns of a normal city.  They will be more and they may get heated but when we think back to 12 months ago, we're in a new place.  

Kevin Vericker
June 13, 2019



Monday, June 10, 2019

Does The Future Float?

ArkUp Floating Home
Here's something you never heard me say before.  "Maybe I'm too optimistic?"   

I kind of can't help myself as solutions big and small seem to be the currency of the day in North Bay Village.  

This time, this weekend, I saw something cool and our Mayor and Vice Mayor saw an opportunity to learn.   The Ark Up House is a floating, self contained, self propelled home currently anchored in Biscayne Bay off the coast of Miami Beach.   

The house itself is right off the set of Ballers, top end everything and the sense of isolation and privilege a $6 million dollar home should provide but it's more than that.  It's a vision of what the future could be here in Miami.  

Brent Latham, Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth had the opportunity to tour the house this weekend because our Village Manager asked the owner if they could.  And I got the chance to tag along.   

Looking beyond the high end finishes and the furniture that would require a better wardrobe before I could spend the day there, the owners were particularly proud of the engineering.  The house is designed to stand a direct hit by a Cat 4 hurricane, can anchor itself through four corner poles, only draws 5 feet and has an 8,000 gallon fresh water tank filled by filtered rainwater.  On top of that, it's completely solar powered and can move to safer harbor on its own power.  Finally, it can raise itself up to 20 feet above the water to avoid storm surges.  

The developers intend to take this prototype home and scale it down to affordable level "townhomes" and offices.  The concept is that they would be anchored or docked together to share the main needs but able to take off singly as need be.   It's some time away but it seems like a better idea than fighting the water.   

Vice Mayor Wilmoth with his extensive background in affordable housing was quick to question and understand the model proposed.  Not join it, but ask the right questions.  

Mayor Latham for his part wanted to know how this idea would work in North Bay Village.  I just asked questions about the technology because that's what I do.   

Apart from letting you know I saw a cool house, I want to share that I also saw cool leadership.   It's been a long time since we've had a discussion about innovation in North Bay Village that was not "no can do" and much more about "should we do it and if so, how."  

The Ark Up affordable version is not coming to us anytime soon but the idea is so good that it will come.  And we have leaders who are asking the right questions and looking at the right things.  North Bay Village is ready.  

Kevin Vericker
June 10, 2019