Monday, December 10, 2018

Clean Up At Village Hall

The election in November sent one resounding message.  North Bay Village is stuck and it needs new policies, new ideas and most importantly new people to get moving.   

Brent Latham, Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth were elected to do exactly that.  Each of them has strengths and experience that can be of immediate benefit.   

But all of this could run off the tracks if they don't have an administration that they can trust to execute on their policies.  

And North Bay Village does not have an administration in place that can deliver.  

Tomorrow night at the regular Commission meeting, there is an item to discuss replacing the Village Attorney, Norman C. Powell.   Doing this is critical.  

Powell was never a good choice for Village Attorney.  The previous attorney was fired in a sneak move in the dead of the night in November 2017, Powell was brought in as interim with no discussion, the commission never issued an RFP for legal services and with next to no discussion directly negotiated an outstandingly generous contract with Powell who had never worked as a municipal attorney before.  The contract included a 4 year commitment on the Village's part which is not the norm, as well as substantial penalties for terminating the contract early.   

There's very little point in reviewing all of the areas that Powell has not performed for the Village as I have detailed them through the last year but I do not believe that his contract is valid.

Powell's lack of experience as a municipal attorney and his questionable actions could be the grounds that the commission needs to fire him for cause.   

Regardless of their approach, whether it be another painful payoff to go away or a stand to dismiss for cause, Powell has to go.   Now.  

The Village employees are unwilling to perform even basic functions without the specific go ahead from Powell.  This has meant depriving citizens of our rights and services unless this one unelected official decides we deserve them.  

All of our zoning decisions up until October are at risk because the property parliamentary procedures  were not followed, presumably due to ignorance of the law.  

Most important is the trust.  In what looked like a highly political move, during the election Powell brought a video diary recorded by now Commissioner Julianna Strout to the Commission on Ethics claiming that the video was a de facto endorsement by the Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton and may have constituted a crime by Commissioners Julianna Strout, Marvin Wilmoth and Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton.

Powell then insisted on bringing the video, which did not contain any such endorsement, to the FDLE and speaking about it publicly at the commission meeting.  You can read more about it here.  

Powell's associates donated to Latham's opponent, a legal but questionable ethical move, and a company for which he is the registered agent also donated.  

However the commission does it tomorrow, it's imperative that he be replaced.  

There will be people against it.  

Police officers unhappy with being held accountable for their behavior support Powell.  

Powell and the main developer lobbyist Mitch Edelstein worked together for years lobbying for strip clubs in Miami and the developers know they have a friend in Powell.   Oddly, they also have a friend in the new commission but they probably don't see that.  

The former mayor and her cronies are probably worried about their legal exposure when Powell is removed and they are right to worry.  

The Village has been in trouble for a while and the solution is painful but necessary.  

Get rid of the principal in the bad decisions and build it right.  

The voters could not have been clearer and anything less will hobble the new commission right out of the gate.  

Kevin Vericker
December 10, 2018

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Commission Thinks Out Loud

Last night, newly elected Commissioner Marvin Wilmoth tried an innovative approach to bring better and more effective communication to the residents of North Bay Village by doing a Facebook Live event with the other commission members - Mayor Brent Latham, Commissioner Julianna Strout, Commissioner Jose Alvarez, and Commissioner Andreana Jackson.  

Wilmoth's approach was to use the forum, properly noticed and in compliance with Florida Sunshine Law, to have informal conversations regarding what they see as the priorities for the new commission and their approach to governance.  Apart from some technical issues, there was a lot of dead air, it seems like a good idea and I hope it evolves into a regular channel of discussion among our legislators.  The public needs to know not just what they are thinking but how they are thinking and with all four of the commission members, you could see their styles.  

Julianna Strout was up first and she talked some about her priorities of infrastructure and education.   The most important thing I heard from her about her process was that there will be disagreements.  She's not afraid of them and unlike the previous commission, doesn't see them as attacks but a piece of the discussion to get to the right outcomes.  

Andreana Jackson followed and expounded on her view that residents speaking about their concerns during commission meetings were simply distractions to be dismissed, that she has taken an interest in the cat problem after 3 years of ignoring it because the builders of the McMansions on South Treasure Drive might be allergic to cats and then discussed the never ending construction on Treasure Island, cheerfully noting that the project will not be complete in December as promised but will be another three months.  Since there is an administration embargo on news about the project, this was welcome information.   

Commissioner Jose Alvarez was next.  Alvarez spoke at great length about his experience on the dais over the last two years.  His concern that small minded contention has overwhelmed the ability to govern was apparent and Alvarez laid out step by step his vision of how North Bay Village can rise from the rut it is in and turn things around by laser like focus on the goals.  

Nah, just yanking your chain.  Alvarez didn't show.

Brent Latham, Mayor was last up and he actively engaged Wilmoth in discussion about their mutual goals, most specifically the need to create a Strategic Plan, focus the Budget so that it supports the planned outcomes, measure success and fix failures quickly.  They discussed the need for zoning to include resiliency for climate change and I think I heard that Wilmoth is very eager to go forward with the Unified Land Development Ordinance, a subject I have some disagreements on but would like to hear more about it. 

Overall, it was a refreshing and open view of the thought processess of the commissioners.  I hope the technical issues and the structure don't discourage them from figuring out how to do this regularly.  I'm really pleased to see Marvin Wilmoth taking the lead on this.  

Of Course, None Of It Will Work If We Don't Fix The Government Infrastructure

It doesn't how well thought out the plans of three commissioner members are, and make no mistake they are well thought out, if the administration is unwilling or incapable of carrying them out.  Worse, if the administration is actively fighting the commission.   

North Bay Village has three key Charter officers - the Village Manager, the Village Clerk and the Village Attorney.   The Village relies on this trio to create policy, administer the government and run the daily operations of the Village.  If the commission cannot rely on them, and if the residents can't trust them, it all falls apart.  

The Village Manager and the Village Clerk offices are both filled with interim appointments.  Interim Village Manager Lewis Velken is experienced in police work and that was what he was hired for.  The manager gig is a fill in position and Velken is the first to note that he has little experience in this area and that he has to rely on others who are more experienced in the arena, which is a humble and good thing to do, but we can't afford to be a training ground.  There's too much to do overall and the police department, where Velken was hired to be chief, is drifting again.  Velken needs to get back to the PD before it goes completely inert. The commission needs to address the position and start a full search for an experienced and innovative Village Manager.  

The Village Clerk which in spite of its title is a powerful executive position, is currently run by an interim who seems to be unfamiliar with some of the basics of procedure and research.  The clerk matters as she is typically the village historian, the archivist and the keeper of form.  We need an experienced Clerk who can prevent us from doing stupid things.  

And of course, Village Attorney Norman C. Powell.  Powell was brought in without an RFP by previous mayor Kreps and while he fiercely advocated for her, his tenure has been controversial and the Village continues to be hampered by his decision making.   I will also note that his law partners, Neil Kodsi and David Raben, contributed directly to the Laura  Cattabriga campaign while a company for which Powell is the listed agent contributed as well.  It's might seem his loyalties lie more with individuals and less with North Bay Village.  

The commission has to get the right team in place as their first priority or nothing will get done.  

I know it's a cliche but it has never been more true in North Bay Village.  

By the way, Einstein never said this.  It was Rita Mae Brown.

Kevin Vericker
December 4, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What If We Just Say No?

In October in a poorly advertised special meeting, the commission passed the first step of an all encompassing ordinance that would make significant changes to the Unified Land Development on the northern side of the JFK Causeway, along with changing the way the commission can spend the impact fees and for some reason, changing the dock lifts.   

The ordinance has a lot in it and it's probably a good idea to review our whole building code but it's important to remember that the ordinance as structured takes only into account the needs of the people who own the property and want to build there.  There is much left out.  

  • While the standards in building meet state and county requirements, there is nothing further about the unique resiliency requirements of our man made islands.  
  • The traffic impact is not quantified.   
  • The change to the setbacks - distance from the roadway - from 60' to 30' might improve parking but it does nothing to enhance the pedestrian experience or the use of transportation.
  • The parking proposals are reasonable for new construction but nowhere is the need for shared public parking explicitly addressed.   
  • The amount set aside for commercial use is too small for a vibrant commercial community.  
There was a workshop, poorly presented but well attended, to discuss the need for these changes.  

There is a need for most of the changes, but not all of them, and the workshop did not address the civic benefit of allowing higher buildings with a lessened setbacks nor the concerns about the impact on the village.  

Instead it seemed to be the accepted wisdom that we "need to develop the land and it needs to be profitable for the current owners."   

But what if we don't?  What if we don't change the ordinance?   What will we, the residents here in North Bay Village lose?   

Tax Base:  I've been hearing that tired argument for 20 years.  Each new project, the Lexi, the Fortress 360, the Bridgewater, the Yellow Building, all the way the back to the Grandview were going to expand the tax base and keep our taxes low.  

But they didn't.  Our taxes have gone up year over year and we rank right in the middle of Miami-Dade tax zones, with very low service - small parks, no big community activities, no real livability plan.   We are a high tax, low service village and the addition of the new condos didn't help that.  Maybe it made it worse?

Home Value:  Does the introduction of a new strip of high rises along the causeway bring up our home values?   That's questionable.  Probably it will overall but we have not seen the growth in value that Miami Shores (no high rises to speak of) or Surfside (controlled midrise buildings) have seen.  We've barely moved on the needle and our inventory does not turn over quickly.   

Enhanced Open Spaces for Community Access:  Really?  Of all the bullshit we've been fed, this is the worst.  Each of these new buildings, with the sole exception of Moda, flat out stole our bayfront access and have refused, with the collaboration of the village, to open their legally required easements to the public.  This land grab has happened in plain sight and with the soft corruption of the administration.   The public land is for private purpose only.  

The Developers Can't Make a Profit:  Oh.  The people who sold the land did and it's not our civic issue that knowing the rules, the developers bet on a certain willingness to change them.   

Back to the Question:

What if the commission simply rejects the new ordinance?  They should regardless because it is deeply flawed and at a minimum needs to be broken out into its constituent parts for consideration.   
Well, the developers still have zoning to build, just not as high as they want, and not as close to the curb as they want, and not as small as they want, and without the parking reductions they want.  

That's probably not optimal but it could give the Village some breathing room to focus on fixing the infrastructure, on opening the existing walkways, on updating the code to match the hyperlocal challenges of sea level rise, and I don't see where it would have any negative effect on the current community.   

Back to our neighboring cities - Miami Shores has increased notably more than North Bay Village.  Controlled development has been a net good for them and Surfside, which has seen a midrise construction boom, is thriving.   It seems what really brings value to the existing community is open spaces, access to places we want to go and proper planning.   So maybe we should consider it.  

Kevin Vericker
November 28, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Now The Hard Work Begins

The biggest issue for our new commission is how to move the Village forward.   

To do that, we need a shared vision 

It was deeply evident in the workshop last night on the Causeway redevelopment project that the shared vision is no longer in place.  

Equally evident is that it is very possible to get it right with some effort.   

The developers (understandably) want a simplified, unified code that will facilitate the construction on their properties.  

The village administration want a new tax base and increased revenue.  

The residents want the access to Bay that we were promised and a plan to fix the broken infrastructure.   

At points these are in conflict.  It was unclear what the traffic impact and visual impact of new building will be.   There is no laid out plan for parking and traffic improvement and in my view, too little attention paid to pedestrian access and the types of businesses we want to attract.  

The developers did themselves no favors last month by participating in the sneaky "special" meeting with the previous commission which passed everything they wanted with remarkably little discussion and our planning team need to seriously step up their communication skills.   

The new commission will have a chance to address this.  

The first thing they should do is reject the ordinance as written and instruct the planners to create several separate ordinances.  

There needs to be an ordinance governing mixed use residential and commercial projects, an ordinance addressing the requirements of hotel construction, another ordinance dealing with how impact fees can be spent, and a unifying ordinance requiring and enforcing bayfront access.  

The several other points brought up the ordinance regarding fence sizes on corner, boat lifts, sign sizes and other issues need to be separate, amendable pieces of legislation.   

The commission needs to focus on the issue of shared parking.  The developers and planners envision a parking process that is solely focused on each individual project - the retail store, the restaurant, the office, the hotel, the condos - will all have required parking but if we are to make this a destination competing with the likes of Miami Beach or Wynwood, we also need shared parking, a place to put the car for people who want to wander around.  

The intention of the village in 2007 was to develop public parking on the lot shared by the Grandview next to Happy's.  Build a structure that will fit the court mandated requirements for the Grandview parking and create a space for paid, casual parking to alleviate the pressure on the proposed projects.   In an ill considered move last month, the commission removed the covenant that required only parking for this lot and laid the groundwork for yet another ugly storage facility.  

The new commission should seek competent legal counsel and repeal the illegal resolution as a top priority.  The previous commission never had the right to set aside a court settlement and this has to get fixed.  

Then the administration needs to have a focused, truly informational workshop with the residents.  It needs to include visual samples, traffic studies, and clearly laid out development recommendations.  

Further, the administration needs to present the projected financial impact on the Village and the projected use of the funds generated by the impact fees.  

It would be a good idea to bring in some actual urban planning so that issues not of concern to the the developers are on the table as well to ensure issues like recreation, parking, and what kind of businesses we look for are included in the plans.  

The residents for their part need to take the developers' promises with a grain of salt.  We've been lied to before and it's important to remember that the previous commission was entirely funded by the developers.  Their needs matter but do not overrule ours.  It's our bayfront, not a private profit center.  

There will be a lot more on this so watch this space.  

Kevin Vericker
November 21, 2018

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New Administration, New Boards

No.  Not these.
Tuesday November 13, there was a workshop on the North Bay Village Boards.  

The discussion was led by Graciela Mariot, the interim Village Clerk, and attended by about 30 interested local residents.   

While the presentation from the administration was mostly a summary of what's on the website, with some glaring errors, the very cool thing, what makes me optimistic, is that the residents there were clearly bright and engaged and eager to help reconstruct the village.  This is exactly the kind of involvement the boards need.  

For a complete list of the boards and applications click here.  

Purpose of the Boards:

The Boards exist as advisors to the Commission and with the exception of Planning & Zoning, have no policy or legislative powers.  Each board is appointed for a 2 year term running concurrently with the commission term and the members are appointed by a commission majority vote.  

Boards are expected to review issues related to their charge, investigate current status, evaluate best practices and provide recommendations back to the commission through resolutions and reports.   The Village staff is available to the boards to assist the boards but neither takes direction from the boards nor decides what the boards will recommend or execute.  

In some instances, at the request of the commission, a board may directly become involved in the execution of village events such as Animal Control sponsoring adoption or TNR programs, but the board has neither budget nor authority to create events or execute policy.  The commission decides.  

How to Apply:  

Go to the village website and download the application.  Our website is bad so ignore the Submit button, it doesn't work with Firefox or Chrome, and needs to printed out or copied so that it can attached to an email to Graciela Mariot.  You should attach a copy of your voter registration card if you have it, otherwise be prepared to show your eligibility in person.  

The commission will vote on the application and decide the appointments then.  

How it Works After That:  

All board members are required to take a 4 hour Ethics training course offered in North Bay Village.  The course must be completed every 2 years and is mandatory.  It covers issues such as Sunshine Law, engaging with interested parties outside the board's scope, the roles of the board members.  It's not onerous and is quite interesting.   

Then the boards meet, select a chair, vice chair and secretary.   The meetings are usually monthly and about an hour or two in length.   They follow Roberts Rules of Order and each agenda item is expected to be noticed publicly, considered and voted on.  

The board presents their recommendations to the Commission at the monthly regular commission meeting.  

It's all pretty simple really.  

Why The Boards Went Silent - A Short History

Collateral damage from the toxic administration of Connie Leon Kreps and her quisling collaborators on the dais have included the boards.  The few boards that remained active were ignored and sometimes used as an alternative government.  This was done deliberately  as good ideas made the mayor feel bad.  Month after month, the mayor dolefully read the list of board reports and noted no meeting or no report.   

Even where the boards were active, they were ignored.  The Animal Control Board did an excellent job of laying out their recommendations for dealing with the feral cat problem and were completely ignored.  

The idiotic charter amendments that were on the ballot were the result of the commission nearly completely ignoring the hard, detailed work of the Charter Advisory Board and substituting the notions of our mayor for policy.  

Just last week, there was an "emergency" meeting of the Community Enhancement Board, not to recommend anything to the commission but to approve a decision on the mural already made and in progress.  Four members of our village staff were there for this community improv theater which meant nothing.  

What Has To Happen Now 

The Commission should in a workshop consider what boards are necessary and then follow up with legislation.   

My recommendations are:  

Keep Planning and Zoning.  It's required by law.  

Keep Animal Control because they are ready with a full legislative agenda on the cat problem.  They just need to be heard.  

Abolish all the other boards in December and replace them with boards focused around the key strategies of the village.  The following are examples but will need to change as Village strategies are developed.  

Resilience - Matters having to do with sea level rise, hurricanes, public safety responses to natural disasters and social disasters e.g. infrastructure failure, mass shootings. 

Economic development - fold the business board into this and add the enhancement functions to create a vision to attract the right mix of businesses and the right development for a livable community.

Resident Services - fold the Youth Services and functions from the Arts and Events and Enhancement to a board that focuses on developing a vision and practical actions for quality of life services.  

Accountable Government - expand the scope of the Budget Oversight to ensure that we are conforming with best practices of budgeting, communication, permitting and practices.  

Create ad hoc committees as needed.  They can be subcommittees for specific projects like undergrounding utilities, the village hall project, transportation changes etc.   

The qualifications should not insist on being a registered voter since we have a large non-citizen population.  Being an interested resident could be enough.  The commission should have the discretion to decide if they want to waive the requirements.  

This will mean repealing and replacing the ordinances that govern the boards.  Again, the commission  can't touch P&Z but they could do a large scale board ordinance and include language allowing the commission by resolution to appoint advisory committees for limited scope projects. 

I have faith that the new commission will approach the boards reasonably and intelligently .  The days of fearing different ideas may be over.  

"Bad Administration Can Destroy Good Public Policy" *Adlai Stevenson

This was pretty clear last night.  

The Interim Village Clerk mistakenly stated that Planning & Zoning, and the Youth Services and Education Board, were both indefinite appointments.  This is not so.  The establishing ordinances are both clear that these are 2 year appointments and the mistake was noted not by the Village Attorney who was present but by public participants.  

Further, the Village Clerk explained that the Village Manager decided which of the board recommendations would go to the commission.  Again, going back to original ordinances, it is clear that the board makes that decision and the role of the Village Manager is to provide requested support.  

Finally, in the best example of what is going wrong in the village, the Village Clerk said that she was unable to find the appointment dates of the Planning & Zoning members so there was no defined end to their terms.  Per Section 6.01 of the Charter "Advisory Board members shall serve a two (2) year term concurrent with the regular scheduled election of the Commission." so it was irrelevant but the members of the public suggested that she might ask the P&Z members when they were appointed, which she agreed might be a good idea, and that since the commission voted on the appointments, reviewing their minutes might yield a clue or two. 

UPDATE:  The missing appointments to P&Z have been found.  

Petra to Build, a member of the Facebook Page, North Bay Village Residents Speak, found the minutes from January 2017 with the confirmation of the P&Z members.  Here it is:

So That's Solved.  
All the seats will be open next year.  Petra usually charges $75 per hour for research but donated her services in this case because our clerk was befuddled.  

This is the inevitable outcome of the commission's decision to drive away all the experienced people in the administration and replace them with an inexperienced village manager, attorney and clerk.  They don't know what they are doing.  They may be fine people (at least one of them is not) but that's not good enough.  If you can't find the minutes, call your predecessor.  If you see what you think is an anomaly in the terms, read the ordinance.   But don't just present it as fact.   

The new commission has to deal with the competence issue first and I hope they know that.  The new commission was elected in a landslide to change the toxic culture of our government and they have their starting point - involve the residents, get competent administrators.  That has to be their priority.   The message was clear last night.  Residents want to be involved and now the commission must move to make that possible.  

Kevin Vericker
November 14, 2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Last Commission Meeting


Following the well deserved defeat of Laura Cattabriga and the repudiation of the insanity of the tenure of Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps, you would think the commission would gracefully accept the will of the people and move along.  In the past, the commission has cancelled the regular November meeting in favor of allowing the new commission to be sworn around the middle of November and then holds their first meeting a day or two later.  

But nothing has been normal about this commission and there is a regular meeting scheduled for next Tuesday night at 6:30 PM where they will run a full, routine looking agenda.  For the detail on the agenda, click here.  

But nothing is normal about this commission.   Mayor Crazy Eyes, "Vice Mayor" Andreana Jackson, and self appointed commissioner Laura Cattabriga, are the masters of the last minute new business items.   Among them they have included:  

  • The surprise firing of previous Village Attorney Robert Switkes unnoticed and late at night.  
  • The illegal removal of Doug Hornsby, advertised as a "discussion" but with a fully prepared agenda item. 
  • The massive change to the height limits on the Causeway passed in a special meeting with little public notice. 
  • The vicious attacks on Yvonne Hamilton coming out of left field, laden with false accusations.  

The list goes on and we just can't trust them.   It is entirely conceivable that at this meeting they will introduce new items, such as:

  • Making permanent the appointment of Graciela Marriott as Village Clerk without a proper search. 
  • Making permanent the appointment of Lewis Velken as Village Manager without a proper search.  
  • Deepening the poison pill contract with the Village Attorney to prevent his dismissal.
  • Even attempt to mess with the election results (the idea has been discussed).  
Cattabriga and Kreps are out but the fallout from their shambolic actions on the commission could still have consequences and Andreana Jackson is simply not trustworthy.   

They need to cancel this meeting.  It's time to go away with at least a little dignity.  

Kevin Vericker
November 8, 2018

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Real New Day In North Bay Village

The results are in. 

Mayor - Brent Latham 1,299 votes versus Laura Cattabriga 872  (60% to 40%)
Commissioner At Large - Julianna Strout 1,396 versus Robert Alvarez 735 (66% to 34%)

The message is as clear as the results are decisive.  
  • Stop the petty corruption.  
  • Stop the self serving grandiosity.  
  • Run the city for the residents. 
  • Clean the streets.
  • Fix the infrastructure.  

This was always very clear but it took Strout and Latham a huge amount of work to get the message out there and right up until last night it was not clear that enough people were listening.  Laura Cattabriga tried to carry her lie about Latham's residency all the way to the end and yesterday at the polls was still talking to voters about her false claims.  

The new few months will take a lot of hard work.  The damage wrought by Connie Leon Kreps and her sycophants was not just simple legislation.  Over the last year, they have wrecked the structure of the Village and that will not be easy to fix. 
The administration is saddled with an interim village manager, acting police chief and interim village clerk.  We have a village attorney who has interfered in every function of government and demoralized city staff.  The voters passed a number of Charter Amendments that make no sense and we are facing several lawsuits.  Untangling this will not be easy.  

But fortunately, we have three people on the dais who are clear eyed, transparent and ready to work.  They are going to need a lot of help but I have little doubt about their ability to get it right.  

Kevin Vericker
November 7, 2018