Monday, October 7, 2019

Planning for #NBV100

For the last week, the Village staff, the mayor and several groups of residents have been at Village Hall participating in a strategic exercise to imagine and create a Strategic Plan that will balance the needs of the current residents, the plans for the future, incorporate resiliency in response to climate change and finally get us unstuck.

The hands on sessions, facilitated by the excellent Galina Tachieva of DPZ Design Consultants, ranged from the prosaic to the very ambitious, and actively sought the residents input while also proposing ways that we may not have thought of. 

The sessions were filled with many viewpoints from old timers and it was exciting to see the involvement by newer residents.

DPZ will be presenting the summaries to the commission at their regular meeting next month. 

And it's a good thing they are because none of the four commissioners could be bothered to show up at the sessions or the nightly summaries.

Wait.  We Already Had a Master Plan

That's true.  The Village, back when we were a City, went  through this exercise in the 2000's.   

The plan, as put into action, called for thinner, taller buildings on the north side of the causeway, wider safer sidewalks on the causeway, parking, even a pedestrian bridge to cross to the proposed BayWalk.   It lacked any mention of the resiliency issues but that was normal at that time.   

The costs for these improvements were to be based on impact fees from new buildings, increased balanced tax revenues from new businesses, federal and state moneys and the projects were to be designed to improve economic activity in North Bay Village and in turn generate more money.    

The plan was well thought out and very popular.   

In fact work started on the Causeway beautification project and the only decent sidewalk in North Bay Village was created in front of North Bay Island.   

The Plan Died Quickly

Remember the taller thinner buildings with open bay access?  That was the first casualty.  The Yellow Building, hulking over Treasure Island near Benihana's.   Instead of tall and thin, we got short and squat and although the plans called for bay access, the building was for some rea$on allowed its certificate of occupancy with bay access blocked off by concrete walls.  Similarly, the Bridgewater, a nice looking building did build a bay walk but has been allowed to block it off from public access, as has the Fortress 360.  

As far as commercial projects, the  Storage Unit place was deemed the highest and best use for rea$ons and dominates the south side.  

The contractor for the JFK Beautification project went bankrupt and whoop$, it turns out the Village never required a performance bond so the work stopped.   

In the meantime, the proposal for the waterfront quickly devolved into a proposed strip club and the restaurants one after the other were allowed to be torn down by people holding the land for later profits.   

What About This Time? 

Based on the workshops last week, I see that DPZ has a very clear  view of the potential for North Bay Village.  The preliminary ideas inculcate the same values as the previous master plan - walkable streets, businesses of value, residential development that addresses the environment and the city rather than walls it out, and has the additional benefit of understanding resiliency needs in the middle of the bay.   

My only concern about DPZ is that they do not seem to have a clear idea of who lives here now, why we live here and how we are using our environment today.   We have people walking on all islands.  You can see it around 7PM every day - walkers, bikers, strollers, dogs, joggers, even skaters, and they take over the street.  People do patronize local businesses such as the Presidente even if that is not the preferred business.   The parks are well utilized.   It's important to build on what you have, not just plan for what you hope to have.  And our population has increased by 16.1% in 9 years.  That means people want to live here.   

The preliminaries though are very encouraging.  I particularly liked the idea of using Pirate's Alley as a pedestrian walk.   They incorporated green space design and ambitious use of the causeway.   Every bit had a recognition of the climate dangers and how we can respond.   

So It's Going To Happen This Time...

Not so fast.  

  1. Our commissioners were pretty much no shows for the sessions as I mentioned at the opening.   I realize they were busy doing stage shows for captive senior audiences, moderating best practices for people they don't represent and other more interesting things but they missed the damn hard work and discussions that the Mayor and the  residents did to carve this out.   Here's a "Best Practice", show up and do your job. 
  2. Several of the same people who derailed the last Master Plan and their lobbyists were lurking around.   We need to watch our wallets because once again we are being told that we have to make sure the developers turn quick profits.   We saw how well that worked out. 
  3. A former faux commissioner showed up to wonder "How much will this cost?" and never asked "What is this?" 
  4. The Village has not published a clear well laid out piece on how the process will work, and what steps will be taken. 
  5. Even among the residents, there was grave danger of sub-optimization.  People, we're not getting a Trader Joe's.  Let it go.  Parking is always going to be a hassle in the most densely populated city in Florida.  Plan it and do the best you can.  The purpose of re-inventing is not just to raise property values for quick RE commissions.  It's to enhance value for people who actually live here.   
This is one of those times that I sincerely and totally hope I am wrong.  That the commissioners were secretly following the sessions and the developers want to be part of the community and the Village will publish and promote the planning in a form that residents can understand and people will look beyond their gated streets and locked condos and try to be part of a great community.  

Maybe this time?  

Kevin Vericker
October 7, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Employee Health Is Not A Cost Savings Opportunity

Our budget is a struggle every year.

Should it go up to meet the revenue available from inflation?

What should be prioritized and what should be eliminated?

How do we approach cuts in spending?

These are just some of the questions.  The budget is about what we value and I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe that without our police force, North Bay Village makes no sense.  We might as well request to be annexed to Miami Beach or Miami or unincorporate into the county.

If the residents of North Bay Village are faced with a tax hike or service cuts, the one thing you will always hear is "We will pay for the police."   Our police are local, responding within minutes, they know the community and under Carlos Noriega are reaching fully accredited national and state standards.   This is big.

Yet every new village management staff looks at the police and tries to redo the contract to squeeze some savings out of the police and this year is no different.  The Village and the FOP have not even begun to negotiate their 2020 contract and yet the Village is taking the preemptive step of discontinuing the popular health care option of a PPO.

Because it would save $64,000.  or 0.71% of our budget  Less than 1%. 

Imagine if you decided to tighten your budget at home by less than 1%, easy to do right? 

Would your first idea be to change to a less comprehensive and useful medical program?  Probably not. 

But that is what we are asking our officers to do. 

The change is from a PPO to an HMO and does not acknowledge that some of our staff have kids in college outside the area who will now be effectively uncovered, and in one case a dependent is seeking treatment out of state based on medical advice for a life threatening condition and will no longer be covered,

Our police went through a lot under the previous commission, including unjust firings, a phony police chief who was never what he said he was, and a bruising union fight which is now resolved.

It is entirely possible that there are more effective cost options for our employee coverage but our government doesn't know that.  NBV have not put it out for bid.

There may be ways that police themselves can make sure we are spending the money right.  We don't know that because this change has not been negotiated. 

If it's forced through, it's pretty clear that there will be an expensive legal fight between the union and the village as there is reason to believe that the current is a de facto part of their employment contract.

While the Village reconstructs, this is not the time to worsen the morale of the very people who have been kicked around the second most for the last 6 years (the residents get 1st place in that contest)

At an absolute minimum, the Village should continue the current coverage status, even at an increased cost, and look for savings elsewhere.  Real savings, sustainable, that move our Village forward.

The final budget hearing is September 27 and there is a meeting tonight at Village Hall of the Budget Oversight Committee.  The police have stood up for us and we need to speak up for them. 

Kevin Vericker
September 16, 2019




Sunday, September 1, 2019

In The Middle Of The Not Here Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian is not yet behind us and even though it looks like we won't get hit directly, we are in for some stormy days.  

I wouldn't call us lucky.  If we were lucky, Dorian would have faded out a week ago but that doesn't mean I can't take some time to express gratitude for how apparently smoothly things have been running.  
Our new Village administration has been communicating clearly and consistently in the run up to the storm.  Our Village Manager, our mayor, our communications director Daniela Romero and Chief of staff Mario Diaz have been clearly and consistently communicating what the Village is doing, what they know and what they don't know, and opening lines of communication and response to the residents on Facebook, in texts, on Twitter and in person.   They have been backed by our police force.  

This is in sharp contrast to Irma two years ago.  

Let me give you the clearest example.  The Village announced that sandbags would be available for Irma at 11 AM in the morning.  Then gave them all away by 9 AM and told the residents who had followed instructions to pound sand.  

For Dorian, the Village set up the distribution sites, delivered these in an orderly manner, made adjustments to the policies about first floor only when that was needed and then offered to deliver to those who could not make it due to disability or other factors.   

Our always excellent public works people were on top of the debris and the clogged drains and were out working through the last two days of the week.  

In fairness, they did this before Irma because they are that good but this time it was part of a village wide response team.  

Our mayor and vice mayor did what our elected officials can and should do.  They communicated and were present.  I know they did more but they also know when to get out of the way.  

It matters that they be the face of the residents during this and they're doing it right.  Commissioners Jackson and Alvarez are completely missing in action but that's good for us.  

We can contrast this to Irma when our elected officials went silent throughout the hurricane except for a mayoral temper tantrum.  every piece of information from the staff had to be pried loose, and the informal Facebook page was the only source of information.  

Village Manager Rosado and his staff have made sure the streets are clear of obvious objects and potential hazards and have kept the communications going. 

We are in for a wet and windy week.  There are lessons to be learned of course.   Still we in much better shape for when the next one, the one that hits, comes through and that's because of the clear vision and hard work of this administration and I am grateful.   

PS:  Okay.  I just have to tell you that I heard a rumor that a former official of North Bay Village appeared at the sand bag distribution site demanding 30 sand bags to protect her moat from overflowing into her castle and had a bucket of water thrown on her was politely told to go pound sand.  Whether her troupe of flying monkeys were sent out to get more sandbags has not been confirmed.  

Kevin Vericker
September 1, 2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Let's Talk About The Good Stuff

You probably not going to believe me and you likely will think that this is a piece of satire since I am not known for my sunny, bright outlook but it must be said. 

There's a lot of good news going on. 

First up is that we are now 100% part of Miami Beach PAL.  Our kids, from 6 to 18, regardless of where they go to school can join in the PAL activities in Miami Beach at the resident rate. 

This Is Massive!

For years, North Bay Village families have seen the lack of youth services as a major impediment to family life here and getting full access to one of the best programs in the state.  Check it out here at the Miami Beach PAL site.  

But Wait, It's On The Beach Right?

Yes, it is.  And many of the activities are in North Beach.  So getting there's a problem, isn't it?  

Nope, the Village has expanded the Island Hopper service to connect to North Beach.  From 10 AM to 7 PM.  It's pretty straightforward, Call them at 786 390-3386 and arrange a ride over or back.  

Yep, our transit is growing, for free.   And soon will be augmented by additional service from Freebee on Demand, a free ride service that will pickup and drop you anywhere in the Village.  

More Good News?  Yep

Green space, parks for people and dogs, is hard to come by but the Village has a plan, the Village has partners, and the Village is getting some money.   Our seed money is $417,000 from the state that our State Rep Michael Grieco and State Senator Jason Pizzo got in the budget for us.  Mayor Brent Latham  is working with the school board to harmonize the TIES elementary field with the overall plan and through the fall the plans should emerge.   

The Dog Park is taking a long time to plan and in my view is being over complicated but the plans should be on the agenda and finalized in September according to Village Manager Ralph Rosado.  

Work is continuing on the Baywalk now renamed the Island Walk, although Kimley Horn is still involved so it might take longer, cost more and be less than promised as is their custom, but that's cool, right?  

The streets are planned to be repaved.  According to Village Manager Ralph Rosado, the bidders will be qualified in October, the contractor selected in December and we will at least know the by the end of the year when they will be done.  

Thing That's Happening But You Might Not Notice

Under Carlos Noriega, our police department is back.  The PD is on track to accreditation, which opens up for more grants and standardizes our professional standing in law enforcement.  This had been derailed by our previous police chief and it matters to be back on track.  Further, there is a return to the professionalism under the new Village Management and the reinstatement of the command staff under Carlos Noriega is already achieving results such as increased marine patrols, community outreach and the previously mentioned PAL.  

The Village Staff now includes a professional HR manager, a communications professional, a deputy village manager who acts as chief of staff and analytics specialist.

So It's All Good, Right?  

Nah.  There's a lot to be done.  Lawsuits need to be settled.  The Village staff has to start responding.  Our communications are poor.  There are no performance measures.  For some reason Kimley Horn continues to show up around the Village to collect more money.  (I have an idea why but this is my positive post so I'll cover it later), residents are still kept in the dark about the construction and the Village still has to deal with building the Village Hall and there's a lot be done on resiliency and other issues but for right now:


Kevin Vericker
August 28, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Blocking the Future

From Saturday's Miami Herald, here is a short summary of the latest news in North Bay Village. 
After a year in office as a North Bay Village city commissioner, Douglas Hornsby was told he was ineligible for his post and removed. Citing 30-year-old felony charges that brought his voting rights into question, commissioners voted him out in January 2018.Last week, a Miami-Dade circuit court found that his dismissal was illegal, saying he had been denied due process because he wasn’t given adequate notice of the meeting.
According to the same article,  "the former city attorney[Powell] who advised the commission to dismiss Hornsby, stands by his January 2018 recommendation, arguing that Hornsby, as an ineligible commissioner, was not entitled to due process."
That's pretty strong stuff.  An attorney willing to state publicly that anyone is not entitled to due process.  It's at best a novel legal theory but more likely a completely inaccurate understanding of how the law works. 

Anyway, we are well rid of him. 

Except We're Not


The Village still has to clean up the aftermath.  While the court simply said the removal was illegal and did not prescribe a remedy, the Village now has to work out a fair settlement with Hornsby.  Since Hornsby is a reasonable man and we (finally) have a reasonable majority on the commission, we can expect a reasonable discussion with a reasonable outcome.   At a minimum, in my opinion, it should include rescinding the removal from the public record, living up to our obligations to pay for Hornsby's legal defense and reimbursing on whatever level reasonable people can agree for the damage done to Hornsby's reputation.

Then we can forget about it, right?

Not really.

Why Are They Still Here?


Commissioner Andreana Jackson
 There are two commissioners still on the dais until November 2020. They are Andreana Jackson (Treasure Island) and Jose Alvarez (Mary Kramer's Law Office) who both voted to remove Hornsby and who should have known that the due process as laid out in the charter was not being followed. 

Both Jackson and Alvarez were busy enabling an increasingly confounded mayor's demands while doing nothing of value for the community.

Since Kreps left office and possibly the Village, Jackson sits sniping at the current mayor and vice mayor at meetings, blocking legislation when she can and attending Galas. 

Commissioner Jose Alvarez
Alvarez just sits there. 

Both were conveniently unavailable to attend when the Village had to settle with Carlos Noriega and again at the second meeting where Detectives Columbano and Bejar reached their settlement.  All three of these gentlemen had reasonably settled their cases and neither Alvarez nor Jackson were there to acknowledge and help the Village move forward.

Now when the Hornsby settlement comes to a vote, ethics will require that they recuse themselves.  They were the critical supporting cast in this fiasco and should have known better.  They have nothing more to add.

Ignorance is Regrettable. Arrogance is Foolish. The Combination is Deadly

Incredibly, in spite of her complete lack of a constructive record and her unwillingness to even talk to her constituents, Andreana Jackson has paired up with another of Norman C. Powell's close friends, one Mayor Claudia Cubillos of El Portal, to get herself nominated to the Board of Directors for the Miami-Dade League of Cities.   The League of Cities is the umbrella organization that provides insurance to its member cities, something North Bay Village has had to use extensively to resolve the legal issues Jackson helped bring on, and provides legal services to untangle the web of legal challenges cities have faced.    

Mayor Claudia Cubillos, perhaps Connie Leon-Kreps' only ally, took a page from the Powell Kreps book and tried to have, you guessed it, one Norman C. Powell appointed permanent legal counsel for her town, El Portal.   Stephanie Kienzle writes about that try and its failure in her blog.  

And guess what?  Cubillos is joining Jackson on an attempt for both of them to be elected to the Board of Directors, the group that has control over things like hiring attorneys.   

It seems like these two, Cubillos and Jackson, have similar views on and tight relationships with a municipal attorney.   This is something to worry about.   

Given their unhealthy past and present with a lawyer who does not believe some people are entitled to due process because reasons, who negotiated his own contract and severance directly, and who has left a legacy of problems, it would be amazing if the League of Cities members agreed to this.  

Alvarez and Jackson Should Resign

They are of no use to their constituents in the Village.  They both brought about mass disruption by their collaboration with the extra legal shenanigans of the previous administration.  There are even suggestions in the current Velken case that Alvarez was aware of the attempt to get around the FRS rules very early on.   

We can't afford another year of them.  They should leave.  

It's the decent thing to do.  

Kevin Vericker
August 8, 2019






Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Court Finds That Doug Hornsby Was Removed Illegally

As any competent municipal attorney could have seen, the courts have ruled that the removal of Doug Hornsby from the commission on January 29, 2018, was illegal. 

Following the advice of then Village Attorney, Norman C. Powell, the commission violated Sunshine, disregarded the actual legal process of forfeiture of an office and that Norman C. Powell's "theory" that Hornsby's appointment was not valid ab initio and therefore did not have to follow due process was wrong.   
Doug Hornsby served as Commissioner At Large, appointed by the commission to fill the seat in 2017 and was embroiled in a controversy over extortion attempts on him made by political opponents.   This set off a chain of events that led to 
  • The firing of the Village Attorney Robert Switkes to be replaced by a strip club lobbyist with no experience as a municipal attorney but whose singular devotion to the Mayor was beyond question.  
  • The resignation of the Village Manager, Deputy Manager and Executive Administrator the same night they became aware that they were to be terminated in a "special" commission meeting.  
  • The firing of Police Chief Carlos Noriega and two detectives investigating the extortion matter.  
  • The hiring and then forced resignation of Village Manager Martell.  
  • The hiring through a third party of Chief Police Lewis Velken who was then put in as Village Manager.  The use of a third party was presumed to be a way around Florida Retirement Systems rules and has resulted in an attempt to revoke Velken's pension for misrepresentation.  (Case is under appeal.)   
  • The appointment of Laura Cattabriga to a seat not legally vacant.  
This is the mess the Three Useful Commissioners walked into and have to deal with.  

So far, the police chief was reinstated, the two detectives rehired and now this.  

The court did not recommend a specific remedy, such as reinstating Hornsby, but the finding provides a strong basis for Hornsby to reclaim the substantial legal fees he incurred, sue for damages to his business and reputation and other avenues.   

The Two Useless Commissioners, Andreana Jackson and Mary Kramer's Husband, are still on the dais but will need to recuse themselves from any involvement in settlements or restructuring going forward.  They should just resign.  They barely show up anyway.  It would be best for all if they left. 

Andreana Jackson
Jose Alvarez

From the previous administration, we are blessed that Connie Leon-Kreps is reportedly no longer dwelling in North Bay Village and I sincerely wish us the best in her decision to move. 

But that still leaves the festering issue of the many bad decisions taken on the legal advice of Norman C. Powell.  Powell is still lurking around municipal governments looking for work.  Just yesterday, my blogging colleague Stephanie Kienzle published a piece on Powell and El Portal entitled El Portal: The shady alliance of Claudia Cubillos and Norman Powell 

Powell left here in a nasty meeting earlier this year at which he negotiated his own settlement, something the Commission on Ethics recommends against and the courts have found illegal, but just going away has not resolved the costs to the Village from his inexperienced legal advice.   

There will most likely be further repercussions from the shambolic mismanagement and it might be North Bay Village that has to take care of this.  

Kevin Vericker
July 31, 2019





Friday, July 12, 2019

I Got the Dog Park Wrong

Yesterday in the blog, I wrote about the dog park and 

got

it

wrong.  

Specifically, I wrote:
Dog Park:  The money for the dog park planning was approved.  It will cost about $35,000 to create the plans, then another $120,000 to $200,000 to build a dog park.  The commission voted to move ahead.  
My view:  Just put up a fence, call it an open space and let the damn dogs run.  Also, the dog park proponents mostly weren't there.   
What I Got Wrong:  Shortly afterwards it was brought to my attention that the proposed space for the dog park has flooding issues, is not accessible for handicapped or older people, and could actually hurt the dogs and their owners if not properly planned.   
The first step, getting the plan, is the key and that's what the commission was voting on.  Once we have that, the dog park can start and that should be very soon.   

I should have paid better attention and now I'm updating my view:

My view:  Plan it right and get it going.  Also, dog park proponents - start showing up.  

Kevin Vericker
July 12, 2019