Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Commission Takes Charge

Sunrise North Bay Village

The Bright

In an open, collaborative meeting on Tuesday night, the North Bay Village Commission took charge of the administration chaos.   

The big issue was the departure of Lewis Velken, the interim Village Manager, who is enveloped in a scandal alleging that he was paid through a third party to get around Florida Retirement System payment rules.   

Velken had served as police chief then village manager since April of last year but had been paid through a third party, Stephanie Leon PA, a real estate agency.  The circumstances of the arrangement are murky, with then Village Manager Marlen Martell explaining in sworn testimony that the arrangement was made with the participation of the Village Attorney Norman C. Powell. who denies all knowledge.  

The Herald article here is probably the clearest explanation.   

So with that background, I approached the commission meeting expecting it would be a replay of the last two meetings where the popular attempts to move the village forward were throttled by the ghosts of the past.  I was mostly wrong!  

First The Awards And The Proclamation

There was moving awards ceremony for people whose contributions to the community were ignored by the previous dais, a proclamation recognizing Black History Month read by Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth, and then moving quickly into the agenda, a resolution put forward by Commissioner Julianna Strout to support the Workforce Inclusiveness Act to support protections for LGBT workers in Florida and later expanded to also support the Workforce Competitiveness Act which covers public accommodation.   In a great move, the other four members of the dais agreed to cosponsor Commissioner Strout's Resolution.   It was a nice moment.  

Then they got to the serious business of hiring an interim village manager.  There were three strong candidates to choose from and  they unanimously selected the best, in my opinion.  Ralph Rosado, Phd. who runs an important consulting company in Miami-Dade and who has direct experience in municipal management.  He's also familiar with North Bay Village and has a sterling reputation.  

For the most part, the commission moved the agenda items to next month to give the Village Manager time to familiarize himself with the issues.   

Rosado started yesterday.  

The Murky

How Can We Miss You When You Won't Go Away?
During Good & Welfare, former mayor Connie Leon-Kreps took to the podium to ramble for a bit about how she was not popular as mayor, and she didn't have any support, and so on.  

Clearly she was working up to something and then it came.  

As regards the Velken matter, where she signed the checks for Stephanie Leon PA believing for some reason that the police chief/village manager was now an outsourced position to a staffing agency she never heard of, she is completely innocent and was completely misled.  Kreps attributes her deep unpopularity to her having asked questions, many questions, while she was mayor, but in this instance, she never asked a question, like, "Hey.  This is new.  When did we outsource the police and the village manager?"  

So there's that.  

Then she went into a full throated defense of Norman C. Powell.  Much like her previous outrage when the Herald reported on Norman C. Powell being cited by the TSA when he attempted to bring his emotional support pistol on a flight with him to a Christian retreat, her oration sounded lawyerly, citing precedents and other things.   It just didn't sound like her.  

But then Crazy Eyes came roaring out and said unequivocally that the previous attorney, Robert Switkes, knew and approved of people in the village being paid for no show jobs and that she "wonders" if Norman Powell were a different race, would he be facing the same questions?  

She offered a benediction to the newly elected commissioners "Don't Trust The People Who Elected You.  You shouldn't listen to them."   

Then she stomped back to her sitting place next to her second favorite strip club lobbyist and  glared at the rest of the meeting, while cackling at her own remarks about everything she heard.  

I really think we have upgraded since our last mayor.  

There's a lot to get done and there will continue to be a lot of fallout from the venal incompetence and self interest of the Kreps era but it was great to see the leadership of Julianna Strout, Brent Latham, and Marvin Wilmoth take form.   

I think their hardest get along challenge will be three bright young leaders bumping into each other's enthusiasms and visions.  They'll work it out.  All our problems should be that!  

This has success written all over it.   

Kevin Vericker
February 14, 2019 


Monday, February 4, 2019

Considering The Velken Matter


The North Bay Village Commission faces a stark choice on Tuesday night.  

The Commission has to decide if the Village is run for the convenience of people making money from the taxpayers or for the benefit of the residents.  

Given the Commission's record of ignoring the legal and ethical requirements of employment practices in favor of cronyism, tomorrow night does not look hopeful.  

Here's one of the two matters under discussion.  

Our Village Manager, Lewis Velken, is paid through a third party, Stephanie Leon PA, of Miami Lakes.   

This makes him a contractor, not a village employee.  A contractor relationship is very different from an employee.  A contractor is not a temporary employee.  

According to the IRS definition of a contractor if a worker is paid a fee for a work product, and the organization does not significantly direct how and where the work is done, that's a valid contractor.  

On the other hand, if there is no defined work product and the hiring organization significantly controls how, where and when the work will be done, that's an employee.  

See the IRS explanation at this link.  

Velken is in place to work, as police chief and then as village manager.  There is no beginning, middle or end.  

Velken is an an employee by all common definitions, yet someone else is paid for his work.  

This means that the Village is at risk of facing audits, fines and penalties from the IRS.   

The complaint about the the situation has already been filed with the IRS and it is unlikely that they will understand the arrangement as a contractor.   

Why and how was this done?  


According to a deposition by former Village Manager Marlen Martell in the Noriega case, the payment arrangement was done casually and to solve the "problem" that Velken faced with the Florida Retirement System rules which would otherwise have required Velken to repay his pension benefits and suspend further payments until such time as he fully retired.  

There may not even be a written contract to make these payments.

In her deposition, Martell describes the timeline, the decision to pay off the books, and the involvement of the Village attorney.   

  • April 16, 2018 was the first time Velken's name appears as candidate for police chief after the preferred candidate, John Buhrmaster, unexpectedly turned down the position.  

  • April 18, 2018, less than 48 hours later, was when Velken was selected and sworn in as police chief.  
There may have been no background check.  

Martell says there was but according to one source, the investigator only verified employment.  

In the background check I got through Public Records, serious things are missing from what the village gathered on Velken, such as his name change from Luis Velasquez, his address in California, the results of his internal affairs investigations.  They simply are not there.  

Still this payment arrangement went into effect at that time.   

According to Martell, Village Attorney Powell and Velken were quite clear that the purpose of the contractor arrangement was to evade the FRS rule which requires an employee who retired and then takes a job with another FRS agency to suspend their pension and pay back the Deferred Retirement Option Payment, in Velken's case several hundred thousand dollars, or face stiff penalties including criminal investigations and possible loss of pension.   
The rules are very clear and unambiguous.  They read as follows:

You must meet the definition of termination by remaining unemployed by any FRS-participating employers for the first six calendar months of your retirement or the first six months after your DROP termination date. If you return to work during this six calendar month period, you will void your retirement and must repay all benefits received, including your DROP accumulation payout. 

Click here for the rules.

This is not kosher that the village manager, the village attorney and the police chief find that the clear, unambiguous laws would inconvenience the police chief and agree to evade them.  

What's just as puzzling is that neither Martell and later Velken understood that before entering into an informal, unwritten agreement to pay >$10,000 per month ($130,000 per year) to a vendor for any reason, the commission must approve.    

Further, the first payment was July 11, nearly three months after Velken started work.  It shows this on the register. That's odd.  

By July, Martell had been fired, and Velken was appointed interim police chief.   I made a public records request (ignored) for his compensation as he was asserting that his compensation was $40,000 less than Noriega's.  None was forthcoming nor was the amount questioned as the budget was rushed through.  

Since then, after August, Stephanie Leon has received payment each month for "Velken Labor Services"   Again, check the payment report starting on page 106.  These payments were unquestioned until January of this year.  

The issues:


Was Velken a valid police chief?


The presumption is that law enforcement authority comes from either the employer of record (e.g. the police department) or deputization.   It seems odd because Velken  was presented as a cop, but the law is clear.  A civilian contractor without special deputization cannot carry a badge, a gun and direct police matters but he did all of these things.     

From an HR point of view, any disciplines, promotions or other internal actions are questionable and from a legal point of view, any arrests or investigations that he was involved with can be challenged.   

This needs to be investigated and addressed.  

Why did Velken arrange a third party payment?


There's no question he did.  It's clearly laid out in Martell's deposition under oath and several sources confirm that conversations have been held with Velken and no one is denying that the motivation was to avoid FRS penalties.  

The FRS Inspector General is investigating this as a fraud case.  OIG Case # 2019.74   
  • The FDLE have according to what I have been told opened an investigation.   

  • The IRS has accepted and filed a complaint about fraudulent representation as a contractor and possible money laundering.  
The implications of a fraud finding are bad for the village.  We may be subject to penalties and fines from the IRS.  The FRS can go after the village to collect the moneys owed as well as go after Velken, who risks losing his pension.   Technically, the FRS could remove the village from the FRS system incurring millions in obligations.  

Who knew and when?


According to Martell, Powell knew, Velken knew and former mayor Kreps knew as she was signing the checks.   And now everybody knows.   

What the commission is probably hearing.  


This part is speculation .   Obviously neither the Village Attorney nor the labor attorney speak to me.  But I bet, I think, they are probably saying:  
  • "Don't worry.  It's legal.  It's just the usual malcontents (Vericker) who are making a big deal out of this.  It's done all the time."  

  • "Worry.  So the best bet is to regularize Velken's employment in March so it all goes away and hope no one notices.   After all, Velken could sue us." 

  • "And most importantly, it was somehow Bert Wrains' fault."   (Yep.  I've heard that.)
Now, each of these is wrong.  
  • It is not done all the time and it's not legal.  There is not a single other city in Florida that pays their police chief through a third party.  The few who contract out Village Manager services do so based on legislation passed by their commissions. 

    Among the people who are concerned are the IRS, the FDLE and the FRS.   

  • Regularizing the employment, that is hiring Velken as of March 1,  may mean that FRS penalties do not apply to the new job but does not remove the fraud investigations or what happened over the last year.

  • Bert Wrains, our finance director, should not be the scapegoat in this mess.  He neither arranged it nor approved it.  

So what to do now?

  • It is incumbent on the commission to protect the village, not the employee. 
     
  • Velken should be suspended until the investigations are done.  Then and only then should he be reconsidered in light of his actions.   

  • Powell cannot be the legal advisor on this. He is named in sworn testimony as participating in the questionable actions and we need competent independent legal advice.  

  • Our Labor Attorney Weiss Serota needs to participate in the meeting to give a full, open opinion on what happened and how to proceed.   

  • Finally, I would warn the mayor and the vice mayor that given the nature of this arrangement (never passed by the commission, no existing contract, the acknowledged motivations, and the uncertainty of validity of the appointment), neither of them should sign checks for Stephanie Leon.  Given the situation, there could be criminal consequences.
This commission has shown a reluctance to take action so far, mostly out of an understandable but misguided concern that action would be a continuation of the insane behavior of the last commission.  

In fact, the voters want the damage fixed and the village focused.  The Commissioners have an absolute obligation to get this matter resolved for the benefit of the Village and not to protect a single employee for the consequences of his actions.  

Kevin Vericker
February 4, 2019




Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Project Update - Dig We Must

The Good News - The four projects that have disrupted the streets around North Bay Village, mostly on Treasure Island, have an end date in sight.  The goal is to have the projects completed in March and the streets restored to their previous condition by the end of March. 

WARNING - The March date is the plan but throughout the project new information and unexpected issues have delayed them before so it's more likely to be May, in my view. 

Still, this information from tonight's Town Hall, which can be viewed in its entirety at this link came as welcome news to the 7 residents and 2 dais members who attended and should be welcome news to the thousands of Facebook group members who have been following this seemingly eternal project.

Overview of the Projects - 

There are actually four projects. 

Repair and update the water main lines, the ones that bring water to our homes.  Most of the lines were either lined or replaced depending on their condition and that part is completed.   

Repair and update the sewer lines, the ones that bring waste from our homes.  Like the above, most of the work has been completed and when the pump stations are reconfigured and replaced, planned by March, we will have a functioning village sewer system.  

Repair and update the stormwater outflow and install new catch basins.  This is the system that carries away the water in rains and other floods.   Most of the work has been accomplished and is on track for March.  

Replace the water meters with smart water meters.  This will not only bring greater efficiency and accuracy in measuring water usage for billing, it will allow the consumer to view their water usage over time and understand their own impact on this.  It's the last step and can't be done until the rest are signed off and more good news, the asphalt patches on the sidewalks will be replaced.  

No.  Not yet.  

Some important things to know is that this is one project designed to get the water system to a stable, level point.   It will not repave the streets, improve resiliency, bury the power lines, address the parking issue, or eliminate many of the issues we had with the road surfaces before.  

It won't get us a dog park.  

There is a lot to do for North Bay Village to move to the future but at least we seem to be reaching the end of the project to give us a solid foundation.   

The Remaining Issue - Communication

The Village has been missing in action in communication about the project.  Nearly completely.  A few feeble attempts in the last few months to update on the Village Facebook page, occasional updates at commission meetings and weirdly an invite to attend a weekly meeting on the project during working hours.   

Even tonight, when I brought up that it matters to be proactive and the Village at least once should send a mailing to every household with the project status and where to get more information, it was met with condescension and a refusal to commit, peppered with excuses that "it's hard."   

Bullshit.  There are ~4000 housing units in North Bay Village.   The cost for such a mailing on a critical subject that affects every aspect of our lives, including our ability to sell our homes or attract new residents, and understand what our tax money is doing, would be about $1 per household.   A simple update.  This piece took me about an hour to write and will reach some people.   The Village Facebook page will reach others and some will even check the website, but a project of this magnitude deserves an active communication plan that people will see.  

I hope our administration finally gets it.  We're tired of being the last thought in this Village and I look forward to seeing a little more useful work on this.  

Kevin Vericker
January 29, 2019

  


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Why Not Hire Carlos Noriega To Be Police Chief?

In April of last year, North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega was called into then Village Manager's Marlen Martell's office and abruptly fired.  The only reason given was that Martell wanted to "take the police department in a different direction."  

Noriega felt differently and quickly filed a federal lawsuit alleging among other things that he was fired at the direction of then mayor Kreps, who wanted him out for not squashing investigations involving herself, her friends and political allies, and for filing a complaint against Village Attorney Norman Powell alleging that Powell had  copied and kept possession of criminal justice and homeland security information through a third party without obtaining permission.  

The lawsuit is in the deposition phase.  

Following Noriega's dismissal, the Village found Lewis Velken, a retired Miami-Dade lieutenant and installed him as police chief two days after he applied, in an arrangement whereby he is paid through a third party so as to not interfere with his pension, for which he would be otherwise ineligible.  

This possibly illegal arrangement is under investigation by the Florida Retirement System and law enforcement agencies.  According to sources, the village manager and the village attorney approved the arrangement but the contract was never brought forward to a commission vote as required by law.

In the meantime, Martell herself was fired for apparently failing to deliver fireworks that Connie Leon Kreps wanted, and the role of village  manager has been temporarily assumed by Lewis Velken who still remains outside the village payroll.  

In the meantime, the police department is run by a competent, pleasant interim chief who has no eye on being permanent police chief.  

The 2018 election was a clear statement from the voting population that they want an end to the drama.  

Yet the drama continues.  The lawsuit has been a parade of people deposed, including me.  The village has spent tens of thousands of dollars embroiled in the suit.   Most of the police just want to do their jobs and few people in the public understand why this is going on.  

The village attorney and commission on Wednesday held an executive session, closed to the public, to evaluate the village's position in this and while I have no direct knowledge of the meeting, it is clear that they did not make an offer to meet Noriega's terms.  

And what are those terms?  

Noriega wants his job back and his termination rescinded.   

That's it.  

On the one hand, we seem to have a village attorney and two commissioners who will not and cannot provide any reason in public (or in private) for continuing the lawsuit.  The village is headed by a third party contractor under investigation for the way he chose to be paid.   The police are at a standstill.  

And yet the lawsuit continues.  

During his tenure, North Bay Village saw the restoration of the community programs abandoned by the previous police chief, had a police department headed towards accreditation and in spite of then mayor Kreps' attempt to smear the cops about the hurricane party, had a police chief who took legal and quick action to discipline bad behavior among the officers.  

Carlos Noriega has detractors in the police department but virtually none in the community.  

Marlen Martell herself was axed after 90 days, and a $127,000 settlement, for failing to anticipate the mayor's whims and the only reason she has ever given is the "different direction." and it seems like she was tossed aside as soon as she did the dirty deed of firing Noriega.  

There is no credible dispute that Noriega properly served his whistleblower complaint when he felt that the laws had been broken or even a hint of other scandals.  He is entitled to that protection.  

The risk of the lawsuit prevailing and Noriega being reinstated is extremely high.  

Pursuing the lawsuit will cost the taxpayers easily $200,000 or more in legal fees.  If the court orders Noriega re-instated, the cost to the taxpayers will likely exceed that number as the court will find for back pay and legal costs in addition.   If the Noriega prevails but the court does not re-instate him, the cost could exceed $1,000,000 and we would still be stuck in the bad decisions of the  past.  

But if the commission follows the voters and puts an end to this ill advised firing, reinstates Noriega, lets him run the police department, the risk goes away.  

The only people who would be unhappy but not in any way harmed, seem to the be the ones who dragged the village needlessly through this and being unhappy is just part of life.  

If you agree, now is the time to contact the commissioners and let them know to drop the  matter, fix the administration and move along.   They can be reached by clicking on the captions their pictures. 
Commissioner Jose Alvarez
Andrea.jpg
Commissioner Andreanna Jackson

Latham_Brent_IMG_0852_00004.jpg
Mayor Brent Latham

Strout_Julianna_IMG_1025_00008.jpg
Commissioner Julianna Strout 
Wilmoth_Marvin_IMG_0848_00002.jpg
Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth

(Special note:  the incels, 4 of them, plus one very lawyerly sounding troll, will start posting their filth at LEO Affairs about this.  But anonymous haters don't qualify to signify.  Have at it, kids.)

Kevin Vericker
January 25, 2019

Saturday, January 19, 2019

North Bay Village Causeway Redevelopment

Rendering of the Proposed Boardwalk
On Thursday, January 17, there was a Village meeting to present the proposed development plan for the north side of the causeway.   The key part was the unveiling of the concept drawings of the Boardwalk, a walking structure designed to be built over the water.  This is different than the "Baywalk" which is the section of waterfront that is on solid ground and is part of the widely ignored public easement requirements for any new waterfront projects in North Bay Village. 

You can see a detailed rendering here

Clearly, it's a great concept and what we've been waiting for since what?  2008? 

I love the curved design which serves the dual purpose of preserving the needed sunlight for the seagrasses and the coral rocks being put in to help the shoreline, while creating an interesting walking space with different views.   I'm a little less crazy about the height variances since these could be obstacles for people with mobility impairments and don't really match the Florida flat landscape of the islands but that might work out well.  It was a bit hard for me to envision. 



The Boardwalk will be open to the public through walkways to be constructed between the new buildings.  
The design company, Coastal Systems, has experience in this type of project and seems very confident that it can executed. 

Financing:  Coastal Systems is working with a very ballpark estimate of $4 million, the bulk of which should come from impact fees from the new buildings and grants. 

I am skeptical of that number.  Paul Vogel Park cost $4 million and it's crappy.   The cost for digging out the small strip of land between the Grandview and the Causeway is apparently nearing $1 million to prep for a park under the bridge that will not and should never be built.   God and Kimley-Horn only know what the sewer "project" is going to finally cost but it is certainly going to be notably more than we planned. 

Still, it's a good project and it's good to see forward motion on the development. 

But the Boardwalk alone is not enough. 

There has been a lot of talk about the new Unified Land Development Ordinance that was rushed through by the developers when they saw the inevitable defeat of their preferred commission candidates. 

There was a new, modified proposal presented on Thursday night, less of an overstuffed wish list and more focused on getting two proposed projects on the north side of the Causeway launched. 

There is a summary description here and there needs to be a lot of detail explained when the commission considers it. There are some things in the plan that I think people might be concerned about: 
  • The plan reduces the requirements of parking spaces for a hotel and for three bedroom units.
  • The plan allows for smaller hotel rooms than our current code. 
  • The plan requires thinner buildings with greater height so it will alter the landscape. 
For whatever record there may be, I don't see any of these as impediments.  The current requirement for 1 space per occupied hotel unit leaves too many vacant parking spaces that could have other uses and I don't think a three bedroom unit requires three parking spaces.  If that's wrong, the market will quickly correct the problem.   

Of more concern is the height.  Potentially at least one of the buildings could reach 400 feet, more or less 40 stories, and that strikes me as out of proportion to the rest of the development.  I would prefer low rise buildings along the waterfront to maintain an old school, waterfront feel but the argument of economics in construction is against that, and after say 5 floors, the view impacts are nearly imperceptible to most people.  Making the buildings thinner is a good solution, not a perfect one, but realistic and respectful of the landscape.  

It's what not in the plan that concerns me.  

  • From a commercial aspect, the lack of a requirement for shared public parking is a serious problem.  The goal of the boardwalk and the baywalk is to create a destination area in North Bay Village.  That goal will be quickly undermined if the parking problem is ignored.    

    The success of Lincoln Road, Wynwood and other destinations around Miami is based on the ability to wander.  If we create a parking situation whereby all parking is privately controlled and linked to one specific commercial establishment, the area won't thrive.

    The Village had always conceived of the lot next to Happy's as the likely site for a public parking structure to meet the needs of the Grandview Palace and have a place for people to put their cars while they explore the new Baywalk area.  

    In September, 2018, our commission inexplicably changed the zoning on the K-Lot to remove the court ordered restriction which required that it be used only for parking.   This decision should be reviewed by competent legal counsel and seriously considered for repeal.

  • Pedestrian access and sidewalks are only dealt with sketchily.  While the proposal for the new hotel, where the Best Western is, shows a sidewalk that is separated from the causeway traffic, it was not clear if it would be free of obstacles and if the concept would continue through the rest of the causeway.  Our sidewalks, except for a short stretch in front of the apartheid wall gating in North Bay Island, are a disaster. 

    Similarly, the plan for 5 easements to access the boardwalk does not include improved pedestrian crossings.  This is under FDOT but the Village can and should begin demanding that pedestrian crossings be improved.  It needs to happen. 
The plan is slimmed down and things like the setbacks are not addressed in this new version.   

I guess the other thing to talk about is the change in impact fees.   Right now, the fees are not due at approval and for the "resiliency" fee, it would be due in 90 days under the new ordinance.  That's a good thing.  

It also restricts the ability to extend indefinitely, which has been the problem with the vacant lots and should give significant incentive to start construction.   

Of course, we are once again presented with the magic of impact fee moneys and increased tax base but we've been there before.  Every new project was going to fund parks, pay for our infrastructure upgrades, and create a healthier tax roll with lower rates.   None of them did and we need to be skeptical of the current claims.   

I have other concerns.  

There is the fact that 11 buildings in North Bay Village were required to open their baywalks to the public and they have simply ignored the easements and closed them off, while the village did nothing, the reaction was "let's not re-litigate the past" but it's not the past.   It's happening today and the false concern that the Village might be found without rights to the easement will bolster and embolden the new projects to cut off the Village.   

This happening now problem needs to be addressed now.   

I do understand that "behind the scenes" and without public notice, the Eloquence on Harbor Island has agreed to comply with their legal obligations, but that is just a rumor and not posted anywhere publicly.   

And my other concern, my suspicion is this.  

The only two projects presented, a rebuild of the Best Western hotel and the project behind Channel 7, did not vary significantly from their original plans yet there seems to be lot of pressure to get this done quickly and without close examination of the implications.  

Frankly, the lobbyist and the developers owned the commission outright for the last 8 years and never approached them about this suddenly urgent need.   It was only when it became clear that the residents were on to the scam that this redo of the ordinance became urgent.  


Mayor Brent Latham led the workshop, with Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth in attendance.  Latham is both enthusiastic and optimistic on getting this done right.  I share his enthusiasm but not his optimism.   History is our best predictor and we've been here before.  


I hope the commission approaches this new legislation transparently, thoughtfully and with as full a perspective as possible.  I hope they understand their role in this is not just to react but to ensure that the current residents' needs are met and the whole picture, including parking and access, are part of the plan.  

Kevin Vericker
January 19, 2019

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Our Village Manager Stephanie Leon PA Miami Lakes Realtor

Our Interim Village Manager, Lewis Velken, apparently cut a deal with the North Bay Village Administration in April of 2018, when he was appointed Police Chief in North Bay Village.
The deal was that he would not be directly employed by the Village but rather work under a contract with one Stephanie Leon, a real estate broker in Miami Lakes.  And this arrangement, whereby Lewis Velken was never an actual employee of North Bay Village, has continued during his tenure as Interim Village Manager.  

This came out last week and I am still waiting for a non-fraud based explanation to emerge.  So far none has. 

Here's the likely scenario.   


In February 2018, Lewis Velken retired with a full pension from the Miami-Dade Police Department.   

According to the Florida Retirement Plan, retirees who go to work for an FRS entity within 6 months "your retirement will be voided and you will be required to repay all the Pension Plan benefits you have received, including any DROP payout"  

Lewis Velken went to work 2 months after his retirement.   

But rather then comply with the clearly stated FRS rules, reports are that the Village Manager, the Village Attorney and Lewis Velken concocted a scheme to pay Velken through a third party, a real estate broker with no staffing agency.   

The Village did not report his re employment to the Florida Retirement System and Velken did not return his collected DROP payment and pension checks.  

In fact, he continues to draw on his pension, according to several people in Village Hall.  

Think about the implications.  


Without the commission's knowledge, the village administration entered into a $130,000 per year contract with a third party, violating all our procurement laws.   

The village police chief of record and then village manager of record was Stephanie Leon, not Lewis Velken.  There's this:

A police officer, including the Chief, gets their police powers of arrest and use of deadly force from the State through a lower governmental agency or tribal council for a State Certified police officer via the Fla Dept of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and those powers only exist when the individual is duly employed by said governmental agency.  You cannot be a certified police officer who can act ‘under the color of law’ unless you are so employed by a governmental agency (state, county, municipality, or tribe).  If you are not an employee of the governmental agency, but rather an employee of an outside private agency, you have no police powers. 

So our police chief was not even a cop.   That calls into question any actions he took as police chief, including internal affairs investigations, any arrests he authorized or access to criminal justice systems.   A smart lawyer could probably challenge any actions taken during that time.   

Then, moving along to the Interim Village Manager appointment, how is he an agent of the Village if he does not work for the Village?   Isn't it Stephanie Leon who can sign contracts, approves hires and terminations, sponsors legislation and administers the Village?  What are we paying her for?

But it's no big thing, right?  


Well, considering the Village is currently paying off a fine for the improper employment of another FRS retiree, and considering that the penalties can range from a fine to the Village for the clumsy attempt to get around the rules to a decertification of North Bay Village as an FRS employer.   

Not to mention the myriad possibilities of legal challenges by people unhappy with their interactions with the village.   

And let's not forget that this was never brought to the commission.  In fact, it appears to have been hidden from them.  And our laws are clear - the Village Manager does not have the right to enter into a $130,000 contract with anyone without Commission Approval.   

And think about the implications.   


North Bay Village reached a point when the administration saw no problem with creating a side deal to assist a new employee in getting around the law.   

Our Chief Law Enforcement Officer saw a law that was not beneficial to him and agreed to the scheme, perhaps even proposed it.   

Former Village Manager Marlen Martell told me that Village Attorney Norman C. Powell was aware of this from the beginning and did not raise any objections.  

Our previous mayor and at least the finance manager, issued and signed checks to a Real Estate company and never expressed any public doubts about the arrangement.  

According to two sources, our current Labor Attorney, Weiss Serota, have reviewed the situation, agreed that it's bad, and advised that we regularize the employment and hope that no one reports this to the Florida Retirement System. 

What will happen next? 


First of all, it's too late to sweep it under the rug.  And nor should it be ignored.   It's an appalling lack of ethics and possibly a crime.  

I do know that the State Attorney's Office is involved, the Inspector General of Management Services and others are aware.  We can't hide this. 

But three members of our dais have shown a strange reluctance to investigate the sketchy doings of our Village officers and if history is any indication, they will try to minimize this.   What they should do is suspend Velken pending an independent, outside investigation.   They won't.  

I hope that our mayor, Brent Latham, refuses to sign any further checks for Stephanie Leon, and that Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth refuses to as well.  Remember, there is no commission authorization for such payments and the payments are illegal.   

How Did You Find Out?


Is this a case of "Fake news" or "coming at people with daggers" or racism as Commission Andreana Jackson claims whenever well documented evidence emerges?

No.  It is right there in the payment reports for 2018 and 2019.   Plain as day and never questioned.  Right there on Page 125 for 2018 and Page 25 for 2019. 

The only fake news was the lack of news reported to the FRS.  


Kevin Vericker
January 17, 2019


Friday, January 11, 2019

It Looks Like A Duck

During January 8th's Commission meeting, something struck me and some others as odd.  The discussion about two charter officers, the Village Clerk and the Village Manager, included the phrase RFQ, which generally means Request for Qualifications, something you write when you are requesting a service, not when planning to recruit an employee.

The Manager and Clerk positions are both going out for advertising as they are filled with interims.  Graciela Mariot is filling the role of Village Clerk after Yvonne Hamilton was viciously savaged by Commissioner Andreana Jackson, and "Police Chief" Lewis Velken has been acting as Village Manager.   

The commission announced their intention to permanently fill these spots and so the question came up as to why the Village was not talking about job postings for these two positions historically filled by permanent Village employees.  And the answer was that the RFQ was a mistake and of course we were looking for full time employees.   

The only other charter position, Village Attorney, has to my knowledge always been contracted out so an RFQ seems about on course.  

Except...

It turns out that Lewis Velken, appointed as police chief in April of last year, then dual appointed to the role of interim village manager and police chief in July, then unappointed as police chief the following morning since dual appointments are against Florida law, is not for payroll purposes an employee of the Village. 

His services are contracted through Stephanie Leon PA, a real estate agency in Miami Lakes.  

Now I'm not a strip club lobbyist municipal attorney, but it seems like an arrangement whereby our police chief, now acting as a charter officer, is actually employed by a real estate agent named Stephanie Leon in Miami Lakes is something that would require a commission resolution, you know to agree to and understand the contract with the real estate agency.

But to my knowledge, this was never discussed on the dais and I am willing to bet that the members of the commission were unaware of this unusual arrangement.  

I even made a table of the payments.



Date
Payee
Notes
Amount
10/5/18
Stephanie Leon PA
10/05/2018 Regular 0.00 10,153.84 7934
$10,153.84


18-704 Invoice 10/04/2018 LABOR WAGES- 8/31-9/27/2018 LEWIS VELK…

11/5/18
Stephanie Leon PA
11/05/2018 Regular 0.00 12,692.30 8122
$12,692.30


18-705 Invoice 11/05/2018 LABOR WAGES- 09/28/18-11/14/18 LEWIS V…

12/4/18
Stephanie Leon PA
12/04/2018 Regular 0.00 10,153.84 8278
$10,153.84


18-706 Invoice 12/03/2018 LABOR WAGES FOR L. VELKEN -11/02-11/29…



For what it's worth, I asked for an explanation of Mr. Velken's salary as long ago as August 2018 but I have never gotten an answer.  Now I understand why I did not get that answer.

I hope our commission gets to the bottom of this.  After all,

If it looks like a duck.
If it walks like a duck.
...

Kevin Vericker
Jan. 11, 2019

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