Friday, January 16, 2015

New Year, Old Commission

The first commission meeting of 2015 took place Tuesday night and while it was mostly a routine agenda with no real action, there were several important topics discussed. 

Treasure Island Elementary School - For four years TIES has been on the decline.  It went down a grade year by year on the FCAT rankings and its most recent grade was "D", a short step above failure.  

The village has been funding the International Baccalaureate program for the second year in a row and there is a lot of concern that the school itself has become unstable and looks like it's on the path towards failure.  The village commission have refused to address this issue publicly and in fact had no plans to discuss the academic performance as of last month.  Still, after they were pushed into the discussion, the new principal, Dahlia Villar, spoke at the meeting on Tuesday.  

It was impressive.  Her presentation was short and to the point.  Ms. Villar discussed the new tutoring programs in place, the enhanced support for the teachers, the district monitoring of student progress and the variety of measures that are being used.  She alluded to the upcoming shift in how schools are ranked under Florida standards and made no promises but the impression was clear that the turnaround, the real one, is on the road to recovery. 

She mentioned in passing a very telling performance indicator - teacher absenteeism is down drastically from October when she  took over.   In October as many as 15 teachers were out "sick" on a given day to 1 this month.   This matters.  Unhappy employees have more illness and use more sick time and this is a clear indication that the school is on the right track.  

I wish she had been more detailed in her presentation but I have to say, Ms. Villar is clear, to the point and shows the confidence of competence.  These were all lacking previously and I am more comfortable that our school will recover under her leadership.  

Harbor Island Parking - Last February, the village held a workshop on the Harbor Island Parking situation.  The take away was that the village administration did not have the facts or stats and a further workshop was promised.  It's still promised a year later.  Village Manager Frank Rollason said it will take place sometime in February.  Let's wait and see.  

The Village Bus - according to the Village Manager, the bus now connects to the Miami Beach Trolley system.  He said that the information was on the village website but as of today it is not.  Mr. Rollason often claims credit for what has not been done.  

Bus Map as of January 15, 2015.  No mention of the Trolley Connection

The Tot Lot - while money continues to pour into the bay at Paul Vogel Park, the Tot Lot on Treasure Island has deteriorated to the state it is in today.  Mr. Rollason says it will be renovated by the end of the fiscal year.  Let's see.  

The Boards - There are only two boards currently in North Bay Village - Community Enhancement and Planning & Zoning.  The chair of the Community Enhancement Board spoke about the frustration of not even knowing if the commission had heard their recommendations, let alone  plans to act on them.  This is absolutely true and the direct result of the Mayor's venal hatred of disagreement.  Lip service was paid to listening in the future.  

There was also a final vote on Mr. Gonzalez's project to create an advisory board to address the needs of residents with disabilities.  It will go forward without a clear mission, without the mayor's support and without known participants.  

Finally, the issue of why people don't apply to boards was brought up.  Nobody mentioned that since the village manager does not seek information and the mayor and commissioners ignore or actively attack board members who take their positions seriously so the commissioners continue to scratch their heads and wonder what went wrong.  

The Baywalk - The private developers on the Causeway want to take over the planning for the Baywalk.  The commission voted unanimously to let this happen.  In fact in today's Herald, Jorge Gonzalez is quoted as saying, 
“I think it is a generous offer,” Vice Mayor Jorge Gonzalez said. “All we are doing right now is investigating. I don’t see any downside.”
Since Comrade Gonzalez is also President at the 360 where he summarily shut down legally required public access against the law, was also quoted in regards to the illegal shutdown, saying in the Herald
"At this point, I don’t really have solutions."
We can assume that Comrade Gonzalez is completely clueless about how public access should work.  

Facebook - There is a group on Facebook called "North Bay Village Residents Speak" and it gives a space for residents to discuss things about the village.  It does not pretend to be an information outlet.  In full disclosure, I run that group.  Residents bring up issues there regularly.  

Since the Village has no social media presence, the meetings themselves are televised but without sound and there is no printed media, it is often the only place to find out what is going on.   Among other successes, this month without any formal requests, the group raised over $500 for the care of an injured cat, discussed the parking issues and possible solutions for Harbor Island, worried about the abrupt closure of the Food trucks on Pelican Island, discussed the school issues, and shared a good deal of information about cultural events including a local Optimist Club essay contest.  

I have long recommended that the village create a social media page on Facebook to improve communications with the residents.   Mayor Kreps and her consort Vice Mayor Gonzalez hate this.  

The Mayor heard from "people" that sometimes "people are blocked on Facebook" so it's no good.  If "people" told her that, she does not have the  right information.  I have only blocked two people for bullying and trolling.  I am never sure if she is simply dumb or if she is dishonest.  Perhaps both.  

Regarding Gonzalez, however, I am sure.  I did block him finally after several warnings.  Gonzalez was bullying local residents, posting while blocking comments from others, and using the site to troll.  If he had simply allowed comment on his postings, he would still be on there today but he would not.  So he's out.  Mr. Gonzalez is an authoritarian bully and he's not welcome on any page I host.  His style of bombast is more welcome in Cuba or North Korea than on an American site. 

Still he is on the commission.  I know that he, the mayor, the village manager and most of the administration regularly read the group.  It would take them a half hour to set up a group more to their liking but their liking is to keep the residents in the dark.  Nothing threatens a poor government worse than an informed citizenry.  I intend to keep informing them.  

So that's your first month wrap up.  Tune in for further information and join the conversation at "North Bay Village Residents Speak". 

Kevin Vericker
January 15, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things In North Bay Village

Remember last year?  2014?  We had the Food Trucks once per month and the Farmers Market each week, both of which were pretty nice.  We liked them.  

We also didn't have Shuckers for most of the year, which stunk because we all like Shuckers a lot.   

So when Shuckers re-opened, we were all pretty happy.  Now we had Shuckers, Food Trucks and a Farmers Market.   Starting to look like a real place here.  But that was too much.  We are not allowed to have three nice things simultaneously. 

We stood by Shuckers but when they opened, they said "Nah-hah" to allowing the  Farmers Market and the Food Trucks on an adjacent lot.  Now there's an argument that gathering people in one spot is good for a restaurant and an even better argument that since the community and city supported the heck out of Shuckers, they could return the favor by allowing their overflow parking to be used one Wednesday per month for the popular Food Trucks and Saturday mornings for the Farmers Markets.  But they didn't and the village manager said, "Well, that's that.  Only one nice thing at a time for you."  

The Food Trucks packed up their covered wagons and moved west to Pelican Island, beyond the grip of our failed local government and created a new popular event on the Causeway.  Problem solved, right?  Nope.  It's North Bay Village adjacent and that means North Bay Village Crazy™ spreads.

Someone complained to our mayor that somehow this event hurted their business on Wednesday nights and our mayor whose best attribute is that once bought she stays bought went to the county on her own to get the food trucks shut down.  Or maybe it was just another voice in her honor's head.  And the county, who have not yet learned that our mayor's has barely a passing acquaintance with reality and the voices in her head cannot always be heard by others, shut down the Food Trucks temporarily while trying to figure out what radio frequency our mayor is tuned to. 
Add caption

After several meetings and email exchanges, in which nobody knew what the hell anybody was talking about, it was agreed that the Food Trucks could continue to operate outside North Bay Village Crazy™ three out of every four Wednesdays.  Why this schedule is not known but apparently it had something to do with calming down one of Mayor Kreps personalities.  So we got a 3/4 solution.  

Isn't it fun having a lunatic for a mayor?  

Kevin Vericker
Jan 10, 2015

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ending the Year on a High Note

After three years, the Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa lights stayed on and the Baby Jesus has not been kidnapped.  It's a holiday miracle and I feel bad for my cynicism about how finding Three Wise Man and a Virgin in North Bay Village would never work out.   

Time for the year in review:

January - The Commission decided to start the year out by taking the month off.  Nobody noticed except me because I didn't have anyone to laugh at.  

February - Relaxed and refreshed from their January vacations, the Village decided to spend the small surplus to rent the bottom floor of the building at 1666 JFK Causeway

Then they tackled the parking issue head on in a large community meeting.  The police chief totally forgot to get the statistics and no more was heard on the subject.  

March - In order to streamline the commission meetings, the order of public comment was changed so that it  comes first, allowing the mayor to melt down as soon as item discussion begins.  

April - The rising concern about crime led the police department to approve the purchase of magic water to baptize our appliances so that when they are stolen, if they are sold to a pawn shop that may use the magic decoder ring, they will totally be recovered.   The police chief took the rest of the year off.  

The Village Manager made an oopsie and it turned out that the move from the school to the 1666 JFK Building was $49,000, not $9,000 as he said.  But hey, it's not his cash.  

May - The Barry Survey came out and discussed that the citizens want better parking, cleaner streets, a plan for flooding, and access to the bay.   The commissioners ignored the survey since it also said that they broke election promises and that's negative.  

The Mayor did not attend the May Commission meeting on May 13 since she had a trip planned two weeks later.  

June - Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez told us all about his May trip to Isparta Turkey, which was paid for by Turkish lobbyists, and where he represented North Bay Village.  Actually, he didn't bother explaining much other than to mention it.  He forgot to bring a projector.   Gonzalez did propose that we become sister cities with the pro-Islamic regime of Yusuf Günaydın, the mayor of Isparta, and the commission thought that was a splendid idea.   

The Village Manager assured the commission that he was making a plan to make a plan to clean up the Tot Lot.  

July - The commission voted to give $102,000 of taxpayer money to plan a plan for a park under the metal gate bridge to connect the Bay Walk that they are not going to build.   No report back yet on that.  

Shuckers reopened.  

Treasure Island Elementary fell to a "D" rating, its fourth grade decline in four years.  The mayor used the opportunity to blame "blogs" and the budget meeting on July 17 was derailed by a histrionic defense of the failed bureaucrat Sherry L. Krubitch.  No plans were presented or requested for the improvement of the school and when it was finally impossible to ignore, a presentation was set for September.  In the meantime, Jorge Gonzalez refused to add money for the PAL program or any youth services to his budget requests.   

August - exhausted from months of doing nothing the commission took the month off.  Fortunately the Village Manager was in charge and he did not try to persuade Shuckers to open their extended parking lot once per month to keep the food trucks, so they went away.  Scott Greenwald allowed his property to be used as a dog park and the village had only to provide help at no cost but the manager said, "No way." 

He was able to run an extension cord to the sign on Hispanola and there was a ceremony to light it.  

September - The election campaigns for Mayor and Commissioner At Large got into full swing.  The mayor went back to her roots and hired two strip club lobbyists to run her campaign and Jorge Gonzalez simply lied about his record.  

In the meantime, the budget passed almost unquestioned except, miracle of miracles, the commission decided to put $20,000 in the budget for the $76,000 PAL program.   As of December, the commission is surprised that this is not enough.  Still, taxes are up another 13%. 

The commission was annoyed at the many gifts they were receiving under the table being reported to the Commission on Ethics and so decided to raise the limit to $100 before they have to tell anyone about them.  That took care of that.  

October - It's all about the election.  Mayor Kreps could not find anyone to endorse her so she faked an endorsement from me,  sent out a filthy flier on her former bestie Richard Chervony and lied face to face to the voters.   

Jorge Gonzalez continued to dodge well documented facts about his bankruptcy, multiple judgments for unpaid debt, his lobbyist paid trip, his ignoring youth services, his arbitrary closing of the public walkway at the 360, his unpaid business taxes, his property taxes being sold at auction for two years in a row.   Oh, and he finally got the confused Mayor of Isparta on Skype so the twinning was complete.  

Developer and special money continued to pour into the campaigns.  

November - the voters decided that Jorge Gonzalez and Connie Kreps were the best they could do.  Both won the election.  

The commission celebrated by having an installation and no regular business was done.  

December - The parking problem on Harbor Island and coming soon on Treasure Island remain ignored.  The PAL program is postponed because there never was enough money.  The School has not reported on progress if any.   The 360 and other buildings continue to illegally seal off public walkways.   The sewers continue to rupture.   

But the lights.  At long last, the  lights have stayed on through Christmas.  

Happy New Year

Kevin Vericker
December 29, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Mayor and the Commishes.

 I usually don't like Christmas letters but this year's from our Commissioners were so good I thought I would share them with all of you. 

First from the Mayor:

HO HO HO!  Merry Christmas to all except to my Jewish friends.  To them I wish a Merry Channuckar.   And to my gay friends, Happy New Year!  Well what a year it has been.  

First the big news!  I won an election!   Did you know that most elected officials are elected?  Neither did I but it's true!!!   It turns out that getting your seat by lawsuits and intimidation aren't the only ways to become mayor, but they're the ways this gurl haz alwayz dun it (as the kids would say, or should I write "kidz".  LOL.)  Sometimes you actually have to run and I don't mind telling you that I was a bit nervous.  Talking to all those people who may not even know who I am?  What if they ask me questions?   

Well, don't worry about that.  It's easy.  You just hire a strip club lobbyist or two to run things and when you talk to the voters, you just straight up lie to them. For instance, if they ask about a park, you tell them "Well, I am building one.  It's under a bridge and no one else can see it yet but if you vote for me, I'll show it to you." or if they ask about the failing school, just lower your voice and whisper that it's really the kids from Miami Beach who are failing but ours are doing super.  Also, be sure to claim endorsements by people who never lived here or who are dedicated to getting you out of office.  And viola!  You're Mayor.  Watch out Hillary!

The second biggest news - a little sad and a little glad.  Eddie and I have gone our separate ways.  I would like to say it was mutual but these things never are, are they?  Anyway, I had outgrown him and the time had come.  I wish him luck and hope someday we can be friends like Richard and I!  

But I did say a little glad?  Well, yes, you know me.  I'm like Elizabeth Taylor (except for the talent and the looks.  ha ha ha.)  I got a new Vice.  His name is Jorge and he's everything I was looking for.  Tall, willing to say anything to get elected, doesn't really give a darn about the formalities of position.  He's a bit of a fixer upper - a bankruptcy, several debt judgments, tax arrears, broken promises - but they say a good woman makes the man, or they should say that anyway,   In fact he presented to an International Congress in Turkey.  I think it was about parking issues on Harbor Island but they paid him to do it.  So "Maybe This Time"? 

I've been a busy girl as you can see.  In fact, so busy, I only show up for 75% of the meetings but it's not like anyone misses me.  So what's new with you?  Happy 2014 2015 all!
From Vice Mayor Jorge Gonzalez:

 Yeah,  What she said.  Hey, Merry Whatever, Happy Something.  Look I really don't have time for this.  I'm gonna sue that blogger and I need to call my lawyer so, uh, yeah.  Whatever you want to hear.

From Former Vice Mayor Eddie Lim:  

Happy Christmas.  That's it!  That's all I have to say.  Nothing else.  I don't need her.  I never needed her.  She can go to hell.  They can all go to hell.  I'm not quitting. 
From Commissioner Chervony:  

Enough already with the Christmas.  Enjoy.  Have a ball.  Sie gesund. You think you're the only ones with a December holiday?  I lit a giant menorah last week and only the goyim showed.   I don't expect any credit or gratitude but it would kill you to notice? 
Commissioner Wendy Duvall was absent.   

And from my blog to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Kwanza and a Happy New Year to most of you.  

Kevin Vericker
December 22, 2014


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Commission Back in Town

Last night I ventured out into the Arctic 62 °F cold and went to the commission meeting.  It was the first since October where the old/new commission were addressing regular business. 

Four of the five commissioners were present.  Wendy Duvall was not but was excused by motion for reasons she never stated. 

As is now the custom, awards were given to those who have pleased the mayor and this was the first item.  

First up was an award to the Miami Beach ROTC for helping out at the Halloween Party.   Since they didn't show up, it was decided to mail it to them.  

Second was the Keepout Award to the 360 for the most attractive landscaping blocking legally required public access to the bay. 
Locked Access to the Bay

Then an award was given to a North Bay Island resident for some plants and finally everyone else on North Bay Island was given an award for some reason or another but no one was there to collect. 

From there the meeting proceeded to Good & Welfare.  There were three people who spoke during Good & Welfare, Al Coletta, Rey Trujillo and your local blogger.

Mr. Coletta spoke strongly about the need for the village to make progress.  He talked about the obstacles to business, his frustration with the high rents and vacant spaces and the village's obstacles put in front of local businesses.  Love Al Coletta or not, (and it's possible to do both) he is spot on about the problem.   

Mr. Trujillo agreed in general terms and pointed out that the Planning & Zoning Board is working with the revision of the Village Code.   

Your Local Blogger then got up and reminded the commission that moving forward is based on completing past and current tasks noting:
  1. The School Improvement Plan and progress made it on it need to be reported back to the commission and the community. 
  2. The Kimley Horne Proposal for the plan to make a plan for the park under the bridge is now two months overdue.
  3. The sidewalks are supposed to be cleaned twice per year but only have been cleaned once.  When can we expect the next cleaning? 
  4. In February 2014, the village promised to hold a second workshop on Harbor Island Parking with the correct statistics.  As of December 2014, there is none scheduled. 
  5. The Causeway is going to be torn up in mid 2015 for a repaving project that will last longer than a year.  It would be a good idea to plan for that now. 
The commission then moved on to Board Reports.  P&Z  Chair Rey Trujillo informed the commission of the two approvals they made this month and that they would be on the January agenda.  The Community Enhancement Board was not present.  There are currently no other boards.  More about that later.  

I stuck around through the Commissioner's reports.  Highlights included the Mayor, looking smart in her new Rick Perry frames, asked about the illegal dumping all over the place.  Frank Rollason explained that it was really hard to enforce the anti dumping laws so they don't.  

Then she asked about PAL and when told there was no real money appropriated to the program, decided that the program should be postponed until "residents" come up with the bucks.   

Finally Mayor Kreps noted that there is a Menorah Lighting scheduled for next Tuesday and that the voices in her head unspecified residents wondered why there was no Christmas Tree lighting.  It was suggested to her that perhaps she should have organized one.  Mrs. Kreps looked confused.  

Former Vice Mayor Lim explained that businesses don't come here because we are an unattractive demographic and some other stuff.  

Commission Vice Mayor  Gonzalez then jumped energetically into his new role and tackled the tough issues.  

On Harbor Island parking, he established that maybe sometime in the future there might be another workshop.  He also pointed out that MODA, the new rental project will increase traffic.   

The Gonzalez was concerned about the lack of a shelter for kids waiting for the school bus and the Village Manager explained that a shelter under a tree was dangerous in lightening storms and no one talked about moving the bus stop except to say that might be hard so why do it?  

Then he assured the assembled residents that he, The Gonzalez, had spoken with the developers of the new projects on the Causeway and they remain steadfast in their commitment to provide unicorn farms public access to the Bay. 

The Gonzalez made no mention of his own illegal blocking of bay front access at the 360. 
 So after that,  your local blogger decided to leave since I will only live so long and it's clear that if you combined the intelligence on the dais, you'd have a half wit. 

But I checked in online later and the Commission was discussing the boards.  Specifically should there be a board to evaluate services for residents with special needs?  The Gonzalez wants it and Chervony backs it and the Village Attorney says we accrue no special liability by studying the services required but the most public of our special needs residents, Mayor Kreps, would have none of it but eventually she was instructed to vote for it so it passed 3-1. 

The Commission was then SHOCKED to discover that the other boards which they have spent the last two years abusing, ignoring and running people off if they were not "positive" for some unknown reasons are not attracting residents willing to serve and be ignored and berated by them.  So they are going to combine their collective wisdom and study the problem.  We should see action in about two years.  

So that's the news. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The New North Bay Village

North Bay Village is building again.  At the P&Z Meeting on Tuesday night, two projects were approved on the Causeway, one with 70 and the other with 45 new condos, making the total of new condos proposed since 2011 about 735 new units, plus 285 new rental apartments at Moda (formerly Blue on the Bay) and another 150 units coming back online at 7525 E. Treasure Drive.  That 1,150 new housing units in the next few years.   Assuming 2 people per, that's a 30% increase in our population.   

In the past, each time a behemoth new project was approved, we were promised that the increase in the tax base would fund needed improvement.  We were promised open access to the waterfront.  We were promised that impact fees levied on the buildings would fund the expanded infrastructure.  We were promised that North Bay Village would become a "destination."   

The promises were lies.  

As the Village careened towards broke under the mismanagement of the Commission, the only workable solution to financial stability was to raise our taxes 35% in 2 years. 

Only one of the eleven buildings ever provided the bay access.  The rest simply never opened it or as is the case at the 360, where Comrade Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez is President while sitting on the Village Commission, arbitrarily shut it down without consequence.   

The impact fees were wasted on overinvestment in the Vogel Park while Treasure Island's Park, an open air litter box next to the Public Works facility, continues to rot and our rec money went to pay for a plan to make a plan for a park under the bridge to Miami Beach which should not and will not ever be built.  

In the meantime, our water infrastructure is collapsing, operating at over 100x capacity on outflow and the state is about to tear up the Causeway for a year or so starting in mid 2015.  

As far as being a "destination", our once popular restaurants are mostly closed and the Lexi ground floor remains abandoned.  

But hey, maybe this time the commission will get it right.  After all, a promise is a promise.  Delivering on the promise, well that takes work.  

Kevin Vericker
December 5, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Commission on Ethics Overrules the Commission on Ethics In a North Bay Village Special

Last week, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics overruled the former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court Gerald Kogan, while tossing aside the carefully crafted Voluntary Fair Campaign Practices Procedure. This Fair Campaign Pledge is designed to allow candidates who feel their opponent has engaged in unfair campaign practices to lodge a complaint with the COE through an expedited process. Both parties have to choose to accept the complaint heard for probable cause within 24 hours.

It's a good process. It means that complaints can be dealt with quickly and not overshadow a campaign. It prevents frivolous or baseless complaints from being used as a campaign tactic and in the case that probable cause is found, puts that information in the public view.

That's what happened in North Bay Village in the November 4 election. Incumbent Jorge Gonzalez complained that a flier challenger Mario Garcia put out unfairly represented Gonzalez's involvement in a bankruptcy, debt judgments, a paid trip to Turkey, and Gonzalez's voting record.

Gonzalez made the complaint (C14-51) and Garcia agreed to the expedited process. Hearing officer retired Florida Supreme Court judge Gerald Kogan evaluated the complaint and the response and found “No Probable Cause.”

In the meantime, Gonzalez won the election against Garcia.

In every single one of the election complaints, the Commission on Ethics Board has followed the recommendation of the hearing officer, referring those where probable cause has been found for further action and dismissing those where no probable cause was found. In fact, neither Joe Centorino, the COE Executive Director, nor anyone else can find a single example of the Board overrruling a “No Probable Cause” finding in any complaint ever filed in the COE history. Until now.

This brings up a host of questions without answers.

Why was this complaint uniquely passed to an entirely separate process? What fault was found in the hearing that justified that? The hearing on November 17 offers no clarity on that question because they are held in secret, behind closed doors. No members of the public are allowed although Commissioner Gonzalez was invited to stay.

What value does agreeing to the Voluntary Campaign Practices Ordinance bring a candidate if the COE staff decides they don't like the result and will arbitrarily continue to pursue the complaint after the finding? It seems like none.

Finally, why this unique decision on this one complaint. Well, again, the COE does not hold public hearings on why they would overrule a hearing officer. But there is a long and cozy relationship between the Advocate Michael Murawski, a resident of North Bay Village, and one side of the politically active North Bay Village community, a group that strongly supported Gonzalez's bid for election.

In the past, the COE has already treated North Bay Village differently. When the COE established that a commissioner and his wife had both their mobile phones paid for by North Bay Village over the course of 7 years, they said it was “done with good intentions” and refused to pursue repayment.

In another complaint against Mr. Gonzalez for not reporting a gift of tickets to the Miami Heat, they redacted their own press release to remove references to business relationships in North Bay Village and imposed no fine, just a $100 penalty to cover the COE costs.  

The list goes on. So maybe this is peculiar to North Bay Village. Maybe North Bay Village is so unique that the Commission on Ethics needs to invalidate the Voluntary Fair Campaign Practices Ordinance and summarily overrule the finding of one of the most respected jurists in the state.

Or maybe it's simply a case that local North Bay Village resident who also happens to be the Commission on Ethics Advocate didn't like the outcome and so decided to toss aside the process to get the outcome he wants? I think it's that one. 

Kevin Vericker
November 25, 2014