Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Litter of Lunacy - Commission January 12

It's taken me a full three days to feel like I could write about the new and special kind of crazy that our commission is operating with.  Tuesday, January 12, was one for the books.  The mayor was sniping at the village manager, the village manager was passively aggressively cutting down the Community Enhancement Board, one commissioner dropped two F bombs and referred to assholism on the dais.   Jorge Gonzalez suggested that the village acquire police dogs to chase off  the village cats (he may have been kidding) and nothing got done.  

It wasn't all bad.   It started out with two good things. Andreana Jackson of Treasure Island was sworn in to the commission replacing Wendy Duvall.  She's bright, engaged and willing to ask any question that needs asking.  
Carlos Noriega was ratified by the commission unanimously as police chief.  Noriega's a good choice, in my view, and we did well.  

But the rest?  Holy spinning nutballs it was crazy.   How crazy you ask?  Let's break it down. 

Mayor Kreps  does a terrible job of chairing the meetings.  She frequently loses her place, talks to herself in front of everybody, misunderstands procedure and is just generally a mess.  Kreps usually melts down about an hour and a half into the meeting but on Tuesday, she screwed it up right out of the gate and forgot to swear in the new commissioner which would have made the whole meeting illegal.  The Village Clerk reminded her and it was right on the printed agenda in front of her.  

Well, that part was just stupid and nobody ever accused Mrs. Kreps of overthinking but it set the tone for the night.  

Consistently throughout the meeting, Mrs. Kreps tolerated someone sitting in the audience catcalling, laughing loudly, and talking over the dais.   Kreps encouraged a rambling seven minute discourse from someone who made no sense.   Kreps interrupted her fellow commissioners and in one the rudest moves, turned to the village manager during his report and said, "Oh, are you still talking?"  It was that kind of night.  

Not to be outcrazied, the Village Manager, one Rootin' Tootin' Straight Shootin' Son of A Gun Rollason gave a manager's report that was little more than a litany of incompetence and complaint.   Among other things, he mentioned that the village was now reimbursing the cat ladies for the food they litter on the sidewalks nightly, that he was well aware that 7525 East Treasure Drive is coming online in the next 2 months with 160 apartments and 98 parking spaces and no, he had no plans to deal with it but he could definitively say that the owners had no plans either, he asked for pile of emergency funds from the reserves for things he had not put in the budget, and had no comment at all about the visitor parking morass on Harbor Island.  

Then they all joined in a singularity of cynical catfighting, no, not about the actual cats, but about the boards.  The Mayor, the Vice Mayor, the Village manager have systematically destroyed all the active boards except for one, the Community Enhancement Board.  Now the mayor has been using the CEB as sort of an alternative commission to talk about every issue under the sun and to try very hard to get Frank Rollason fired. 
Rollason for his part regularly reports nonsense back to the CEB and tells them things that are not true.  Jorge Gonzalez is now planning to run against Kreps for mayor this year and ignores the board entirely.  

There are two separate complaints about this board in front of the Commission on Ethics - one about sunshine violations against Kreps and the other about misrepresentations made by Rollason.   The CoE will of course decide who they want to support in this year's mayoral election Kreps or Gonzalez and will find accordingly but this is bad.  

Because he is cunning where competence is called for, one Rootin' Tootin' Straight Shootin' Son of A Gun Village Manager Frank Rollason decided to put an item on the agenda with all the things that the CEB has been discussing.  This is legal but incredibly inappropriate.  It was a punk move on Rollason's part and it failed.  

Two members of the CEB gave their report, the mayor lost her thread, nobody on the dais slammed down their hand and said, "This is Bullshit", although I did hear a distinct "assholism" from one.   The commission had no idea what to do with the item and it just died.  Then they took no action on the Animal Control Board, called it a night and went home.  

Here's what they didn't cover:
  • The Visitor Parking program on Harbor Island whereby anyone who wants a visitor pass has to go in person to the police department with the license plate number of the car who will be visiting and proof that they are visiting a legitimate approve resident of Harbor Island.  
  • The lack of a Parking Plan for Treasure Island where 7525 E. Treasure is coming online with 98 parking spaces for 160 apartments.  Conservatively, that will result in 150 to 200 cars looking for street spots in an area that has few.  
  • The deteriorating sewers.  
  • The fact that all the properties on the north side of the causeway are letting their site plans and building variances expire meaning there is little hope of them being developed in the near future.  
Kevin Vericker
January 16 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016

Carlos Noriega Sat Down With Me

On Tuesday, the commission will vote on whether to confirm the contract for the proposed police chief, Carlos Noriega, the former police chief of Miami Beach.  Noriega took some time in his interview schedule on Monday to meet with me.  In my last entry, I expressed my concerns about his record of interacting with the community based on the very negative reports in the press.  

I was pleased then when one of the commissioners suggested a meeting that Noriega agreed.  I found him to be open, willing to talk, and not at all condescending like the last police chief, the disastrous Robert Daniels.  To read about the concerns, you can see more here, where the Miami New Times wrote extensively about his handling of three separate incidents in Miami Beach.  

My main question was framed around the Flamingo Park incident and why it took six months to respond.  A simple question that got a simple, verifiable answer.  There was no civilian or police complaint filed after the incident.  It was not until the ACLU served Miami Beach with a lawsuit that the PD was even aware of the incident.  

Side note:  my BS shields were at Yellow with this answer but Noriega explained (and I later verified) that the investigation comes under a state law which prohibits a police investigation if the report is older than 180 days ~6 months.   And I looked up the report and it's true.  

In the aftermath of the incident, Noriega and crew worked tightly with the community to bring Miami Beach to the 21st century.  

The conversation shifted then to community in general and Noriega talked about his record with the PAL, the community outreach, the homeowners associations, crime watch and other subjects.  Noriega has a strong verifiable record in that area.  

This combination, a solid record internally at the Miami Beach PD and a strong outreach to the community will serve us well.  

Robert Daniels destroyed morale in our PD, deliberately cut out the community and left the police department in a shambles.  It won't be easy fixing it and Noriega has his work cut out for him.  But he looks like he's up to the job.  

Kevin Vericker
January 8, 2016

Monday, December 21, 2015

Carlos Noriega As The Next North Bay Village Police Chief

The Village Manager has made his recommendation for Police Chief, Carlos Noriega, the  former police chief for Miami Beach.

For those who don't know the history, the North Bay Village Police Department are recovering from one of the worst police chiefs the village has had, Robert Daniels.  During his tenure, Daniels deepened rifts in the police department, alienated the cops, systematically disengaged the cops from community involvement including eliminating the PAL, refused to engage with the criminal and security issues at the condos, and never met with the community.  An all around poor chief who the village finally bit the bullet on and fired him last year, costing us nearly $200,000 in severance due to his most likely illegal contract.

Now that this sad chapter is closed, residents have noted that the cops are talking to the public again and that there is better enforcement of our traffic laws on the Causeway.  Internally, the personnel problems are not gone away but have calmed down noticeably without the ongoing drama of constant arbitrary disciplinary actions and we're not getting new lawsuits.

The interim chief Brian Collins is in large part responsible for this and he has diligently and intelligently guided the police department through the transition.  Collins shows up prepared at every commission meeting with facts, figures and answers.  Collins does not promise things he can't do and does the things he promises.  

If you're wondering why Brian Collins is not the natural choice for police chief, me too.  I've asked him and his answer is pretty straightforward.  He doesn't want to.  He did not apply and he's not going to.  Which is a shame for us.

In the meantime, after a search with the committee headed by the village manager and two long serving police officials from other cities, the recommendation came down for Carlos Noriega.

In Miami Beach, Noriega was known as a strong administrator who made sure the police were treated correctly.  His work was cut out for him there as the Miami Beach PD had historically operated like a small town police force and the Beach had changed so much that it needed professionalization and to get the cops out of the politics.  People who worked for him and with him have nothing but the best things to say about his skills as an organizational leader - bright, realistic, flexible and hard as nails when faced with unprofessional behaviors.

So it should be good, right?  But there's another side to being a police chief and that's serving the community, all of it.  Noriega's public record in this area is worrying.

Noriega left at the end of 2011 after some very bad years for the Miami Beach Police Department.

These issues included:
  • Two policemen, later fired, who beat up a tourist near Flamingo Park.  The cops were in plainclothes, making an arrest in the park of someone who was identifiably gay.  The suspect was handcuffed and the two men were beating him.  The tourist, not knowing they were cops, called 911 and in turn the two cops arrested the tourist and reportedly beat him.  

  • During Urban Beach Weekend, the police were criticized for aggressive and hostile behavior with the implication being that it was racially motivated.  It culminated in a civilian killed by a cop.  Now the guy killed was behaving dangerously but the strangest thing about the case is it was 3 full days before the police found the gun he allegedly had, in the dead guy's car.  

  • Three beachgoers were run over by an officer who was joyriding an ATV with a woman he just met while on duty.  The subsequent internal affairs investigation found 5 other officers had falsified time cards and other records during the night in question.  
The Miami New Times is one of my least favorite news sources but you can see these and other incidents at this link:  Miami New Time Articles on Noriega

Reading through the incidents, what stands out was the amount of time and apparent resistance to engaging the community when these incidents happened.  

The LGBT community was forming an important part of the Miami Beach but had long complained about overly aggressive police tactics targeting the community and when the incident at Flamingo Park came down, it was a lawsuit and six months before Noriega met with the community to discuss these issues.   

Urban Beach Weekend markets directly to African American tourists, a group long made to feel unwelcome on the beach and regardless of the lawlessness that might be associated with any gathering of hip hop and parties, there was little attempt to engage the community, including the organizers, and the aftermath seemed like closing the gates.  

North Bay Village is not Miami Beach.  I doubt that there would be much reason to be concerned about large scale segments of the community being targeted by our police.  They know us too well.  

But we have suffered much from the antipathy former Chief Daniels showed towards the community at large and with a new police chief, these questions have to be addressed.   The new chief needs to discuss his plans to re-engage the community and how he will deal with community needs.  I would love to hear him talk about:
  • The PAL
  • Create a condo investigative unit.
  • Promote outreach to the elderly and disabled. 
  • Really support the Crime Watch initiative.  
  • Develop relationships with the residents on the street and with the businesses.
  • Work with the community on the troublesome parking and short term rental problems  
If the search committee, or even the administration overall, had involved the community in talking about what we want from our police, these questions would have been raised, but that's not how this village manager works. There should have been workshops on the subject, and certainly there are talented residents who could have could have been part of the group.  

The commission will be discussing the proposed hire at the January 12 meeting and the community needs to turn out.  These questions have to be asked.

Kevin Vericker
December 21, 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14 - P Day

December 14, 2015 Today begins the next chapter in the ongoing saga of Harbor Island Parking.  According to sources, at 6 PM tonight the police will start issuing actual citations to cars parked on Harbor Island not displaying a parking permit.  

The fine is rumored to be $28 and after 4 violations the car may be impounded.  

In order to qualify for a parking permit, you must live in a building that does not provide off street parking, or does not provide enough off street parking to meet your needs, and live on Harbor Island, or maybe work there or possibly another reason.  

The whole procedure is helpfully explained by the many signs that have been put up on Harbor Island (two? I've only seen one) and if you dig through the web page and download the PDF with the program and read it through.  Here's a link if you can't get all the way through it.  

Question 1:   What about Visitor Parking?  I sometimes have visitors.  

Answer:  Once you know you are having a visitor, first dust the place and put on a clean t-shirt.  I cannot overstress that.  Then you should contact the police at 305 758-2626 and give them the license plate number of  the visitor's car and how long you expect the visit to last.  They will note this and try not to ticket your visitor. You can also email them but the address is not yet decided.  

Page 7 of the document:
(3) Visitor Parking Permits;Visitor Parking Permits will be free of charge and will authorize parking for a maximum of three days. Visitor Parking Permits shall be available 24 hours per day/7 days per week at the Police Department Dispatch Center located at 1841 Galleon Street/second floor. Residents may either apply in person with proof of residency or they may apply electronically by providing required residency documents to: (e-mail address & procedure to be determined).
Question 2:   I live here part time or my kids have a car or my health care overnight assistant needs to park here or my it's so complicated boy/girlfriend sometimes stay with me ...

Answer:  Call Village Hall at (305) 756-7171 and ask to speak with the Village Manager and explain your situation and hope you get a permit.  

Question 3:  I live in 7904 West Drive, the Bayshore Yacht Tennis and Club.  We are being evicted from the rented parking lot across the street in 4 days which doesn't matter since I could not get a permit anyway as there are 179 units and only 120 or so spaces.  Do I get parking?  

Answer:  No parking for you.  

Question 4: Seriously!  No parking for me just because I live at 7904 West Drive?  

Answer:  Yes,  you see, this whole program was designed to force the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club to find or create off street parking.  The BYTC used to have off street parking but during the bankruptcy period stopped paying the owner of the lot and so they were evicted.  Now it's not clear if the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club was ever actually legally obligated to provide off street parking, and nobody can find the original documents that the BYTC needs to provide that parking.   But the program is going ahead anyway, with the village hoping that the punishment will effect a change and force the private owner of the lot to rent against his will to the building.  

Question 5:  Is Al Coletta, the owner of the parking lot, legally obligated to rent it to the 7904 West Drive building for parking?  

Answer:  No.  He is not.  And it's not necessarily in his best interest to do so.  There is a long conflict between Al Coletta and the building over a variety of subjects - an illegal zoning of the penthouse, his rights to the marina, and the fact that the building stopped paying rent on the parking lot last time and many landlords prefer not to rent to people who stiffed them in the past.  
He still might do it.  In spite of the fact that he is being painted as the worst human being in North Bay Village, Coletta actually gives a damn about the place.  He has helped many times with municipal issues, been a voice for beautifying the village and supported causes that brought him no direct benefit.  Coletta just doesn't like getting knocked down, kicked in the ribs and then being told that he should give up his assets for free because it would be a nice thing.   Strangely, I suspect he might cooperate in an arrangement to fix the parking at least temporarily because basically, for all his gruffness, he's a pretty good guy and our mayor asked him to please, please consider the spirit of the holidays and not throw the cars out on the street.  So there's that.  

Question 6:  Well, I'm just glad I live on Treasure Island where parking can be a little funky but we still manage.  That's cool right?  

Answer:  No.  7525 East Treasure Drive is coming online shortly with 160 renovated apartments and 98 parking spaces.  Conservatively the demand will be for 240 spaces (1½ cars per unit) so that means 142 cars will need a place to park.  There is a rumor that the Grandview may not continue its lease with the flooded parking lot on the JFK Causeway so that will have an impact.  I'm sure the program will be equally well thought out several years after the crisis.  

Question 7:  I've noticed that in other places, like South Beach and Midtown Miami, where permit parking has been implemented that there is an established procedure for getting a parking permit online, that they provide residents with visitor decals and have a mix of street parking and municipal parking and commercial parking lots in walking distance from the destinations.  Also many of the large buildings were required to add a public parking component as a condition of their variances.  Did North Bay Village give any thought to making this a full scale parking plan to balance out the conflicting needs?  

Answer:  No. 

Kevin Vericker
December 14, 2015 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Politics and Parking

Commissioner Andreana Jackson
Andreana Jackson was appointed by the North Bay Village Commission to serve as Treasure Island Commissioner to replace Wendy Duvall, who resigned last week.  

Andreana will serve until November 2016 when the Treasure Island Commission is back in the election cycle.  As a practical matter, appointing her saves the Village the cost of a special election.  

As a political matter, Andreana is a natural for the position, able to understand complex issues, willing to work with disparate interests and has been deeply involved as chair of the Community Enhancement Board in North Bay Village.  

Full disclosure.  I like Andreana and we are friends, even though she has this irritating habit of not agreeing with me all the time.   I've noticed a lot of people have that habit.  

Welcome, Commissioner Jackson.  

Harbor Island Parking - It's still a mess.  Last night, Michael Hyman, attorney for the Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club, Steve Reeves, VP of the owner's association, and Al Coletta, landlord for the rented parking lot spoke about a current impasse and the village attorney Robert Switkes spoke about the village's position.  

It's all very unclear but seems to come down to several points:

  • The Village is implementing a Park by Permit program that excludes 7904 West Drive's 179 units from getting street parking permits.  Ticketing is due to start any day now.  
  • The current temporary arrangement of the 7904 Building renting the Al Coletta owned lot ends December 18 and those cars will not be allowed to park there after that.  
  • The building is trying to create  more parking on the tennis courts but needs more time.  
Mr. Hyman asked the commission to postpone the ticketing portion of the permit program for a month.  The commission said no, after a lengthy explanation from the Village Attorney that said both parties are being unreasonable.  

Our Village Attorney offered to mediate, which Al Coletta accepted but it was not clear to me if the building accepted the offer.   

There was some discussion from the dais about postponing the implementation if there is no progress on the parking situation but that was left undecided.   

Where it stands is that they will continue to work on resolving the problem, and we will probably wind up with a special commission meeting next week if they don't come to a resolution  

Kevin Vericker
December 9, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Two Meetings This Week

On Thursday night, 7:30 PM Dec 3, there is a meeting at Village Hall.  It is billed as a workshop to discuss the pros and cons of outsourcing our sanitation services.  For some years, there has been a movement to turn it over to a private collection service and in fact, the commission just recently voted to void a contract written in 2010 and go back to the drawing board.

The savings are not clear.  During the 2010 attempt to privatize the pickup, the then city manager told the commission that the savings would be $500,000 per year and that the vendor would most likely hire our workers.  The savings were nowhere close to that and once sideyard pickup was factored in, they disappeared entirely.  

The only advantage to outsourcing our sanitation for single family home pickup is that it would avoid some capital investments later on.   These can be heavy.  

My own opinion, (well you knew I have one) is that outsourcing is a bad deal for us.  
  • Eliminating side yard pickup is major.  It means our streets will be littered with garbage cans twice a week.  Just look at recycling days.  
  • We are small potatoes.  In the event of a natural disaster, we would not be at the top of the list to restore services nor should we be but if we have our own sanitation, we can make our own priorities.  
  • We have a loyal and hardworking sanitation team.  They serve us well and a village is about more than cost cutting.  

On Saturday at 9 AM, there is a meeting in Village Hall where the Community Enhancement Board and the Youth Services Board will meet jointly to discuss possible sites for a pilot dog run.

This victory was hard fought and dog owners need to show.   If there are no dog owners there, no dog run.  It's that simple.  

Kevin Vericker
Nov 30, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Short Term Rentals and North Bay Village

 AirBnb and other short term rental companies are in North Bay Village now.   In case you're not familiar with them, these companies broker short term rentals of rooms in private homes or entire homes as an alternative to traditional hotels. In fact, AirBnb has taken its place as the largest providers of lodging in the world, bigger than Marriott and the others.  This is not without controversy.  

In Florida, the legislature passed a pre-emption law in June 0f 2011 that removed the right of municipalities to regulate this activity.   Our neighbors, Miami Beach, Surfside, Bal Harbour and North Miami had seen this coming and passed regulations to contain this issue so they are grandfathered in.  Here in North Bay Village, Mayor Kreps had taken her seat as commissioner with the single purpose of running the elected mayor off the dais and in the January 2011 Commission meeting, when the then mayor broached the subject, she was shut down by Kreps and crew.  So we lost our last chance to regulate this.  

State Rep David Richardson was there and talked about his efforts in the legislature to repeal or revise the law to give increased local control.  

The mayor was there as was commissioner Chervony.  Village Attorney Bob Switkes was there to explain the legal bind North Bay Village finds itself in due to the lack of commission foresight in 2011.  Village Manager Frank Rollason was there to preemptively explain that his hands are tied for some reason.  

Let's talk about the state legislation.  The difficulty is that it will probably not be repealed.  AirBnb is a politically savvy company.   Many AirBnb hosts have saved their homes from foreclosure or themselves from financial difficulties and are easily and well mobilized and there are good arguments to keep the short term rentals legal.   Maybe there will be changes but we can't depend on that.  

On the local level, in North Bay Village, Rootin' Tootin' Straight Shootin' Son Of A Gun Your Village Manager Frank Rollason explained that there was nothing he could do because he works for the Commission and the Commission needs to tell him what to do so there's nothing he can do.  Also, the mayor is leading a campaign to fire him so he's not going to help her.  

But there are things that can be done, today, with no risk and with immediate returns.
  • The Village can compile a list of all the properties in North Bay Village on short term rental sites.  Google works.  
  • Notify the owners that the Village is aware of the short term rentals and send them a letter reminding them of Village rules regarding noise, commercial transactions, parking (if we ever get any) and other applicable requirements.  
  • Each Friday, have the Village leave a "Welcome to North Bay Village" packet at the door of the rentals.  It might include restaurant recommendations, services, transportation and the same information about rules and regs that the owner has received.  
  • Enforce the ordinances.  Put each house on a watch list and between 11:30 PM and 12:30 AM, have the code officer or a police officer measure the noise beyond 150 feet from the house and note any other violations.  Ticket the owner.  Repeat.  
If the village would do these simple things, the internet would do what the internet does best - share information.  People wanting to rent short term would see reviews that noted that after 11 PM, they got in trouble for parties, or for parking on the  lawn, or for charging admission fees.   Two things would happen.
  • Thing 1:  The houses would become less attractive to prospective party renters and more attractive to families and old people like me who usually shut down well before 11.  
  • Thing 2:  Repeated violators (the owners) of village regulations could be shut down.  
That would take a village manager who sees the job as more than snarling folksy reason why he can't do anything so my guess it won't happen.  (I should note that Rootin' Tootin' Straight Shootin' Son of a Gun Your Village Manager Frank Rollason is proud of his ignorance of social media and all things online.  Seen our website recently?)  

Right now, everybody's talking through their hats on the subject.  I hope that the residents attending last night are willing to step up and force the issue because the manager surely won't.  We'll see.  

Kevin Vericker
November 10, 2015