Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Delusion of Progress - A Reply to Jorge Gonzalez

Commissioner Gonzalez, currently running for re-election put a long, articulate post on his Facebook page about what are the key issues in the North Bay Village Campaign.  You can see it on his Facebook page.  You can but I can't, Gonzalez blocks his page from people who might disagree with him but he thoughtfully put it up on the group North Bay Village Residents Speak, a page that I run and where I don't block anyone.   So go on over and read it and then come on back from there as I have something to say about it.  

Gonzalez points really come down to saying:
  • The streets are neither dirty nor unsafe.  
  • Dr. Vogel Park is almost complete and the Tot Lot will be done next. 
  • Treasure Island Elementary is under county control, not village, but that the village has advocated for improvement.  
  • It is an insult to the staff to ask for accountability.  
  • Finanical Transparency is not a problem because we can get accounting reports.  
Now Gonzo's posts are definitely truthy in that they contain correct words, but are really unrelated to the issues brought up.  Let's unpack those.  

Dirty Streets/ Clean Streets/ Unsafe at any Speed:  The criticism of the dirty streets is absolutely correct.  It's been four years without being swept at all and it is only in the last few months that the street sweeper is back in action.  And the only reason it's back is because we kept complaining about the dirty streets.  So they are cleaner.   

SFM since 2012 has been obligated to pressure clean the sidewalks and the walls twice per year.  We pay them for it.  They've only done it once.  It was nice, but if you pay for something six times and they only do it once, you usually ask for a refund.  Not here.  

The dirty streets meme is also about the sidewalks overgrown with shrubbery and impassable.  It's better but you still can't walk the sidewalk for a full block without at least once having to step into traffic to avoid blockages.   

Then Mr. Gonzalez paints the safety concern as though it were about armed gangs in the street.  He didn't listen.  It's about speeding and bad driving.   That's the safety issue and when the police chief was questioned directly at the commission meeting about the speeding and lack of enforcement, he replied testily that he was busy keeping the homes safe and didn't have resources for the speeder.  

Mr. Gonzalez claims he see families and young couples and children rolling hoops in his daily jog/walk/bike around the islands and on the Causeway but I think those are in his head.  He has never done a systematic, on the sidewalk complete walk around the  village.  He would have noticed that most people who are out are walking in traffic and no one is strolling the causeway.  

The Parks:  Mr. Gonzalez describes the Vogel Park as a work in progress.  It's more like the construction of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose Ca.  When will it be done?  He puts up pictures of the trees but really, why can't this just be done with?  The Tot Lot doesn't need renovation.  It needs cleaning and that should be top of the list.  It's like saying, I won't bother dusting because I'm going to have a new house someday.  

The School:  In 2013, the school fell from a "B" to a "C".  This was a huge warning sign that something was not right.  The new principal came in and busted up the furniture, criticized her subordinates, alienated the community who supported the school enrichment programs, refused to provide the village with progress reports on the program we are funding, Jorge Gonzalez himself became outraged when a simple request for reports on performance be made to the community, dismissing the request as an insult.   

In 2014, the school fell to a "D" with the largest FCAT point drop in the county.  

It's nice that he's had meetings "private and public" but we are now two months into the school year, the principal is on indefinite leave, the School Board has an emergency school improvement program in place, and we are 2 months into the school year.   There has been no public presentation at the commission so far.  Last week, not one of the sitting dais members mentioned school progress.  Instead of asking us to "stay tuned", he might explain what he has learned in his "private" meetings. 

Accountability:  It is not an insult to hold people accountable, and by the way that does not mean fire them if there's a problem.   Here is a partial list of things that have happened for which the commission has never requested an accounting:
  • The move to the 1666 chambers was passed when the commission was told it would cost a net $9,000.  It did not.  It cost $49,000.   
  • Breaking the lease at the Lexi cost over $100,000.   It was never established that there was an environmental problem.   
  • In 2013, it took 3 tries to comply with state law on the process of how to pass the budget.   
  • This commission hired then fired village manager Dennis Kelly and gave him a severance of $80,000 even though state law limits severance to 3 months pay.  
  • Jorge Gonzalez negotiated the legal contracts terms with our village lawyers and then less than a year later, claimed he didn't remember the terms and pressed our attorneys to leave.  
  • The village illegally monitored employee phone calls for a period, then current staff hid the evidence, and nobody is accountable.  
It's not an insult to say that in any private company, the behavior above would be noted, discussed and the employee corrected for the problems their own inaction or poor actions caused.  It's called "Management"

Which brings me to the grand finale:

Our Finances Are Not Transparent, They are Balanced.  

There is an enormous disconnect here.  The accounting records are open to all but neither the commission, the village manager and certainly not the public get anything remotely resembling an operational report.   Don't believe me?  Ask Commissioner Gonzalez the following questions:
  • How much  has been spent on Vogel Park in the 2 years you've been on the dais?
  • What is the cost to the village of issuing a code permit for a single family house project? 
  • How much of that cost is recovered? 
  • How much money was spent on two lawsuits since 2012?  All costs specifically related to 2 cases where fired police officers were reinstated with full back pay and benefits long after the village had been advised that we would lose these cases.   Under which category was the money - nearly $1m - charged to?  The police department?   What is the dollar amount, Mr. Gonzalez?  We don't know.
  • Do the utility bills rise only by the billed amount from Miami or do they rise proportionally?
That list goes on but the point about Transparency is that accounting balances don't show why you're spending what you're spending.  Most cities have gone to performance costing which is a simple operational method that says "Show me all the money involved in an outcome, regardless of source." so you might show "One police patrol costs (salary/time, overhead/ time, training/number of trainings, cost of uniforms, etc)"   When you look at it that way, you know what you're spending on.  Gonzalez won't know because he never asked.  

Finally, this race is about the issues.  Why have our taxes gone up 35%?  Where is the money being spent?  Why did the school decline so dramatically?  Why do we pay for sidewalk cleaning and not get it?  How much does all this cost and can we do it better?   These are the questions Gonzalez can't answer.  More importantly, he doesn't even think these are legitimate questions. and that's why he does not deserve his seat.  .  


Kevin Vericker
October 22, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Last night at the Commission Meeting

Last night was sad.  Truly sad.  Yesterday, a mailer, a filthy one, showed up the mailboxes of North Bay Village voters demeaning Commissioner Chervony and the candidates Jorge Brito and Mario Garcia.  It was sent from an ECO, a shadowy organization, to debase political dissidents.  I'm not going to spend much time on it since Stephanie Kienzle did such a great take down of the whole sorry situation at her blog - Voters Opinion - and you should read it here.   Dark Princes, Puppetmasters and other Fairy Tales from the Crypt.  Go now.  I'll wait.  

Our mayor looked just like a kid who knew she had done something bad and only then realized how bad it was.  She was more than usually disorganized and confused.   Like a child caught in a lie, when she was given the opportunity to disown this filthy attack, she prevaricated and ducked.   

To her right was Vice Mayor Eddie Lim.  As the evening wore on, she tried consistently to shut Vice Mayor Lim down every time he spoke and to his great credit, he did not allow himself to be cut off.

Nothing he said was particularly controversial but she was so edgy that she had no intention of tolerating any even slight loss of control.  Let me be clear.  Vice Mayor Lim never brought up anything controversial.  He was asking questions about items the commission was considering and looking for clarity.  Questions like "How would those new plants affect our plans for native planting?" and "Will the village have more input to the causeway project?"   Not hardballs or politicals, but the kind of questioning that we have lacked from the dais.  And Kreps couldn't stand it.  
On her left, was Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez.  For his report, he played a YouTube of a little girl who wrote a song about being bullied.  It was sent to him on Facebook and he took time from his own efforts at cyberbullying a resident who dared to question him on his platform.  Read about that here

When he discussed his proposal to create a Board For Special Needs Citizens, Kreps shot holes in the plan and was speaking over him.  He scolded her testily and told her to stop interrupting him.  It was like a scene from a bad "Real Housewives" episode.  

He seemed pretty testy too.  Probably because of the revelations online from the Miami Herald about his bankruptcy, the nearly $1 million judgement against him 2012 and his own unpaid taxes.  If you haven't read it yet, click here for the Miami Herald story.  Go ahead.  I'll wait again.  

Okay back now?  

The evening ended on a grand flourish  Commissioner Chervony gave me a chance to once again ask the commission to repudiate the filth that is going around in this campaign.  Rather than making even a token statement, the mayor announced that such a statement would be a resolution and would have to be advertised for the next meeting.  A pure lie.  Cara dura.

I'm tired and disgusted.  Jorge Brito and Mario Garcia have run their campaigns on the record and on issues.  Connie Leon-Kreps and Jorge Gonzalez are running their campaigns via sleazy strip club lobbyists under fake organizations.  We have enough sewage in our streets.  We don't need it on the dais.  

Kevin Vericker
October 15, 2014




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taxes Are For Little People

Pompous ass and smug twit Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez is currently cyberbullying a resident over on Facebook.  Gonzalez answered her questions about his platform by refusing to answer and then demanding to know if she pays taxes in North Bay Village.  She does.  Three times as much as Gonzalez in fact, about $11,000 in property taxes alone.  Why is he doing that, you wonder?  Because he's a condescending phony, I answer. 

Gonzalez doesn't pay his taxes.  When Bluestone Holdings didn't work out, like so many of his other adventures, he bailed.  Just left and has been leaving the debt accumulating since 2010.  

Remember last month at the commission meeting, when Gonzalez said, "If people don't like our taxes, they should move."  I do.  I was there.  But he doesn't pay his.  

The Miami Herald asked him about his bankruptcy in 2010 and a $1 million judgment against him in 2012.  His reply.  
Well, it kind of does.  After all, he's in charge of spending other people's money, doesn't pay his own taxes, lives large while leaving others on the hook for his bad business decisions and now he won't talk about it because it's irrelevant.  

Gonzalez took a gift of a nearly $6,000 for an all expense paid trip to Turkey after he set up negotiations with a Turkish investor to buy our waterfront properties cheaply.  Don't know what he got out of it, besides the all expense paid trip to an exotic locale, but we wound up twinned with Isparta, Turkey and our brother mayor is really popular as a member the pro-Islamic, ultra-nationalist Turkish party, the MHP.  They're even listed in the Encyclopedia of Terrorism, but hey, travel is fun. 

On another theme, as President of the 360 Condo, he summarily shut off public access even though it is required by code.   This leaves his fellow owners at high risk of a lawsuit by residents shut out.  As commissioner, he says about the matter, "I have no solutions."  

Gonzalez kind of does have solutions - Borrow too much?  Go bankrupt.  Don't like the public?  Ignore the law and close the street.  Don't want to pay taxes?  Don't.  Want to see the world?  Give them someone else's money.  

It just that we can't afford his solutions.  

Kevin Vericker
October 14, 2014


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Who's Behind The Hit Piece on Jorge Brito?

Like clockwork, the dark, negative attacks on Mayor Kreps' opponent, Jorge Brito, have started effusing into local mailboxes.   

This week's special is a flier sent by Floridians for a Strong Future, an electioneering Communication Organization, which started earlier this year and is exclusively funded by people who have a financial interest in keeping Kreps in office.  As of October 3, 2014, they had raised $37,600 to support keeping Kreps in office by any means possible.  

So their first contribution to the political discourse in North Bay Village is a letter darkly calling Jorge Brito a bully because when the people who were under investigation at the Kennedy House tried to intimidate him into stop asking questions, he refused.   In fact, his questions led to an arrest of the property manager at the Kennedy House and ongoing investigation.

Who sent this out?  Well according to the public records available at Florida Department of State, the mailing was done by a strip club lobbyist.  (click here, then choose Finance Activity, then choose Expenditures on the bottom).  And who funded it?  For that, click on the contributors button.

You'll see motley crew of Real Estate developers who want or got major variances on their projects and a contractor (CAP) with the village who wants to keep their current contract.   This is the old school  "Pay To Play" financing.  

Here's the Breakdown:

Developers are the bulk
So if you think this election is about making sure that people making money from the Village make even more money from the Village, then you know how to vote.  

But if you think what matters is getting it right for the people who live here, then vote for Jorge Brito for Mayor and Mario Garcia for Commissioner.  They're not afraid of questions and they won't back down.  

Kevin Vericker
October 9, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jorge Brito, the Kennedy House and My Endorsement

Jorge Brito faced some tough decisions in his 30 years law enforcement career. As a beat cop, as a detective, and as a part of the Miami-Dade public corruption unit, sometimes decisions had to be made in the blink of an eye.  But particularly as a detective, what mattered most was getting the decision right.

The toughest decisions are the personal ones. The decisions that affect your home, your community and your wallet.

Brito had to face that decision last year at his home, the Kennedy House. Condos are famously argumentative and emotions can run high but it's a safe bet to assume that every owner has their own best interest at heart and want the maximum benefit for the larger association. After all, if the condo is poorly run, the residents' homes and their most important investment deteriorate.

As president and later treasurer of the Kennedy House, Brito saw there was a lot that could be improved and approached it as a simple question of process and priorities. Jorge Brito took the time to figure out what the owners wanted, educated himself and the owners on what the condo needed, created a realistic plan and worked with the management company to execute on what was doable and affordable.

Still, things weren't going right. The money didn't add up. There was more money being spent than planned and there were fewer results than expected. Bad management decisions were vigorously defended by some residents even when they were shown to be causing damage to the building and their own home values. It didn't make sense.

That's when the detective in Brito came out. When something doesn't work the way it should, it's time to see what else is going on. Brito didn't fly off with accusations and half baked conclusions. Instead he methodically and carefully investigated the management company running the Kennedy House.

It became obvious that something was very wrong in the finances. That discovery led him to the conclusion that there was something very wrong going on with the management company. The deeper he investigated, the clearer it became that this was not a management issue.  It looked more like an actual crime.

A cop is a cop and when enough evidence had accumulated, he brought it to the North Bay Village Police Department. Brito came in with the books, the photos, and the witness list that all pointed to serious criminal activity in his own building. He did this knowing that a condo scandal would have a direct hit on his property values and his closest neighbors, the people with whom he shares a common roof. Still, this looked criminal and the biggest lesson of 30 years on the force is that if you ignore the criminal, we are all the next victim.

The North Bay Village Detective Bureau did not seem particularly interested. They took notes, held meetings, agreed there was a problem, lost files, made promises, but nothing was moving. And the money kept leaking out of the Kennedy House.

Finally, Brito took the information he had to the Miami-Dade Economics Crime Unit who took the same information, analyzed it and decided there was probable cause for an arrest.

The building manager was arrested on August 29.

I don't know how this story turns out but I wonder how many of us would have done the same? Earning the enmity of your neighbors, knowing that the story would get to the press and affect your home values, being President of an already contentious building and knowing that your neighbors and co-owners were looking to you for guidance through that storm, knowing that a sleazy political process might even try to use it against you, I probably would have just sold and been done with it. Not Brito.

As Mayor, Jorge Brito may not find the same type of patterns in our Village that led to this situation at his condominium. But I do know that with all the issues, Jorge Brito is not afraid of the tough, uncomfortable decisions that have to be made. Brito won't allow the streets to go uncleaned while we are paying for maintenance that doesn't happen. Brito won't let taxes go up another 35% without shining a light on where the money is being spent. And I do know Brito won't be afraid to look under the rocks and see what's really happening.

That's why I'm supporting him. When you do things the right way, you do the right things. I can guarantee you that I won't like all his decisions and I certainly won't like what's underneath some of the rocks, but we can finally know that we finally have a Mayor who's not afraid of the hard truths and the tough decisions, one who has the experience to understand what needs to be done and the integrity to do it right. 

Kevin Vericker
October 6, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy New Fiscal Year

Last night, the commission approved the budget for FY 2015, which takes effect today.   It's a bigger budget than last year and continues to shortchange services that residents want in favor of spending that employees want.  But it went through.  

The presentation on the budget was about two hours long.  Most of that time was taken up with a subject that is not covered in the budget, the catastrophe that is our sewer system.  It is crystal clear that our muddy waters require a full rebuild.  No words were minced last night.  The situation is dire and will lead to county sanctions in the form of a building moratorium and another sharp plunge in property values.   The cost to fix this won't be cheap.  Like Miami Beach, we could easily wind up doubling our utility bills and we will have to live with a long period of disruption.  

It took foresight for the village manager to bring up a message that nobody wants to hear and everyone has to.  The descriptions were graphic and clear.  One dismaying surprise is that some of the damage is straight up vandalism, people prying open manhole covers and dumping metal and concrete in our stormwater system.   

But the good news for the two members of the dais running for election is that there is no action being taken now so they can continue their cognitive dissonance of saying "we really didn't raise taxes other than to raise them last and this year but why do you care?"  

First the campaign treasurer for Jorge Gonzalez got up to speak by proxy for the candidate and said that he didn't know where all this talk that the commission could be coming from since he looked at his bill and it didn't go up much at all.  He then explained that in his experience sometimes there were costs that were too much for some people and they should move.  

Since I know he religiously reads this blog, let me explain again.  

Last year, taxes went up 22% in total.  This was the highest rise in Miami-Dade County and is reported by the Florida Department of Revenue here.  

The effect is different for different types of ownership.  If you own and live in your house, you protected by Homestead to a 3% increase.  If you own but do not live full time in the house or condo, you get a 10% rise.  If you rent it out, you are raised at whatever the full amount might be.  In North Bay Village, 16% of the property tax bills went to homesteads.   61% went to non-homesteads and the bulk of these are rental units and is a big reason rents which disproportionately affect lower earners are going up.   Not made up.  It's on the Department of Revenue site here

This FY 2015, the millage rate stayed the same but since property values rose, this same 61% or so will see a 13.5% raise in their taxes.  It's simple math.  

There's no point in arguing this yet Gonzalez and others seem to think misleading leads to credibility. 

Then the campaign treasurer for Connie Kreps got up to warn against setting the millage rate too low because when during his administration (really, he said that) they set the millage rate too low in the expectation that the new buildings would cover the difference and then they didn't and he voted against it and then when we wound up paying for two city attorneys, two police chiefs and two city managers because he didn't they communicated good the city couldn't afford it.  And I swear I cut that sentence in half it was that long.  

From the dais themselves, there were only two questions, one really was a statement of dismay at the sewer vandalism and I don't remember the other.  Then with one amendment, they passed the budget.  

I'll post about the amendment later but it funded PAL.   So that's good.  

Kevin Vericker
October 1, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

ROBOCALLS - Coming soon to a phone near you!



Mayor Kreps is planning a series of recorded calls to be sent to a phone near you in which she - 
  • Will claim that she alone saved North Bay Village from bankruptcy by strengthening our reserves.
  • Will warn darkly that her opponent wants to give North Bay Village to the city of Miami. 
  • Will instruct you to vote for her.  
 That Connie and Cohort spent all the money in the reserve on wasteful lawsuits,  moving city hall three times, hiring and firing a city manager, and in a grand flourish, giving away our recreation funds to design an Under-Bridge to Nowhere, then had to raise our taxes to pay for these decsions will probably not be mentioned.  

Nor has anyone, let alone her opponent, suggested that North Bay Village dis-incorporate to become part of Miami.  Nobody.  Well, except her.  She's been in early talks to have Miami Beach take over our police department according to several police sources.   

But when your record is that you wasted $1 million on a losing lawsuit, paid $80,000 because you thought you made a hiring mistake, spent another $100,000 or so on an unnecessary move of the city hall, I guess you just have to make stuff up.  

On the plus side, I bet Robo Connie sounds good on the phone. 

Kevin Vericker
September 26, 2014