Thursday, June 13, 2019

Memory Matters

There were two commission meetings on Tuesday June 11 and all I can say is what a difference from last year.  

The first meeting was to discuss the framework of the budget.  It was mostly technical in nature but gives general guidance to the village staff on the priorities of the commission to consider while drafting the 2020 budget.   

Parts of the meeting were pretty bumpy, particularly the inept handling of concerns about the role of the Budget and Oversight Board.  The interim Village Attorney, Dan Espino of Weiss Serota, wrote that the Board was exceeding its statutory focus and their agenda was cut less than a half hour before they were scheduled to meet, which was pretty unprofessional.  This was compounded by the  failure of the administration to actually attend the meeting and explain their actions.  

While the concerns may be valid, the Budget and Oversight Board is a volunteer group and deserves the respect of the staff.  They should have at least brought the issue live and in person rather than a summary dismissal.  Board Chair Jack Rattner brought this up and it was dismaying that there was not any acknowledgment from the administration that it had been handled wrong.   The staff need to fix this and work on the boards in general.  And it wouldn't kill them to apologize.  They were wrong.  

There were a lot of questions about the budget and a lot of work to be done, but when I contrast it to the commission meeting of a year ago, it is amazing how far we progressed.  

At least year's June commission meeting, there was zero discussion of the budget and the 2019 budget was passed with almost no questions or suggestions.  Highlights from that meeting included the first attempt to fire the Village Clerk for doing her job, the mayor berating the Village Manager for not producing a fireworks display so she could go out with a bang (actual quote)  and a shady deal to bring in private contractors to take over the police accreditation.  We've improved.  

The Main Meeting

Compared to June 2018 and really the last decade, the meeting was a great success.   

First and foremost for me, at long last the Mayor and the Commission joined together to issue a proclamation celebrating Pride Month.  This is the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall protests in New York City which is generally acknowledged as the key starting point for the modern equality movement.  

The proclamation was locally initiated and the mayor made it a point to invite North Bay Village residents, LGBT... and allies to receive the proclamation.  

This was the first time that North Bay Village has recognized any LGBT milestone in spite of the residents' asking for it.   Earlier this year, the same kind of recognition was proclaimed for Black History Month in February  and Women's  History Month in March.  We will see more of these expressions of value for the diversity and strength of North Bay Village.  

Fun trivia fact:  North Bay Village was the first Miami-Dade municipality to encode equal protection  into our charter by popular vote, back in 2002 when the rest of the county was still debating the issue.  We became the second municipality to recognize domestic partnerships for employees two years later.  There's a lot to be proud of.  

The commission also acknowledged the loss of Roy Martayan, a longtime resident and community supporter and philanthropist and there was a special presentation by the talented young man who was the recipient of the Bruce Patterson Music and Art Scholarship, established this year in honor of the late Bruce Patterson, an active member of the Optimist Club of North Bay Village.   

This matters.  It shows a commission engaged with all the community and its many groups and individuals.   

On the business side, the commission agreed to raise the fines on Short Term Vacation Rental owners who violate our clear rules.  This was also considered as part of the enhanced coding and policing of the Short Term Vacation Rentals.   

There were discussions and plans made for Scooter Rentals, a special election to finally get the bonds right for the infrastructure projects, Miami Beach cooperation to get resident discounts for the recreation services in Miami Beach, a North Bay Village Foundation to create a local group dedicated to the betterment of the Village.

There was controversy.  

  • The Village Administration needs to work out the board communications and expectations.  
  • The electric scooter thing didn't generate much enthusiasm as it doesn't go to the beach or Miami and the idea of people scooting aimlessly around the Village and on the Causeway was a little hard to grasp. 
  • The Short Term Vacation Rentals do not really solve the problem but that's at the state level and the Village is doing what they can.  
  • The damn streets.   

These are the normal disagreements and concerns of a normal city.  They will be more and they may get heated but when we think back to 12 months ago, we're in a new place.  

Kevin Vericker
June 13, 2019

Monday, June 10, 2019

Does The Future Float?

ArkUp Floating Home
Here's something you never heard me say before.  "Maybe I'm too optimistic?"   

I kind of can't help myself as solutions big and small seem to be the currency of the day in North Bay Village.  

This time, this weekend, I saw something cool and our Mayor and Vice Mayor saw an opportunity to learn.   The Ark Up House is a floating, self contained, self propelled home currently anchored in Biscayne Bay off the coast of Miami Beach.   

The house itself is right off the set of Ballers, top end everything and the sense of isolation and privilege a $6 million dollar home should provide but it's more than that.  It's a vision of what the future could be here in Miami.  

Brent Latham, Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth had the opportunity to tour the house this weekend because our Village Manager asked the owner if they could.  And I got the chance to tag along.   

Looking beyond the high end finishes and the furniture that would require a better wardrobe before I could spend the day there, the owners were particularly proud of the engineering.  The house is designed to stand a direct hit by a Cat 4 hurricane, can anchor itself through four corner poles, only draws 5 feet and has an 8,000 gallon fresh water tank filled by filtered rainwater.  On top of that, it's completely solar powered and can move to safer harbor on its own power.  Finally, it can raise itself up to 20 feet above the water to avoid storm surges.  

The developers intend to take this prototype home and scale it down to affordable level "townhomes" and offices.  The concept is that they would be anchored or docked together to share the main needs but able to take off singly as need be.   It's some time away but it seems like a better idea than fighting the water.   

Vice Mayor Wilmoth with his extensive background in affordable housing was quick to question and understand the model proposed.  Not join it, but ask the right questions.  

Mayor Latham for his part wanted to know how this idea would work in North Bay Village.  I just asked questions about the technology because that's what I do.   

Apart from letting you know I saw a cool house, I want to share that I also saw cool leadership.   It's been a long time since we've had a discussion about innovation in North Bay Village that was not "no can do" and much more about "should we do it and if so, how."  

The Ark Up affordable version is not coming to us anytime soon but the idea is so good that it will come.  And we have leaders who are asking the right questions and looking at the right things.  North Bay Village is ready.  

Kevin Vericker
June 10, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019

Police Work Is Boring Until It's Not

Major announcement from the North Bay Village Police Department.  

Following a report of a stolen BMW from a local resident, the North Bay Village Police Department detective bureau began what looked like a routine investigation.  Det. Brent worked with the victim to establish information channels and by tracking down the previous owner of the car, was able to activate the car's tracking device.  Det. Cassais took that geo data and coordinated with the other police departments to track and arrest the suspects.

The three arrests made as a result of this detective work are allegedly connected with over 60 open cases.

Good news from a police department that knows how to do its job.  

Wait! It Was Nowhere Near That Boring...

The rest of the story is amazingly cool and belongs on a cop reality show.

The BMW owner reported it stolen on May 16 and had some video.  Detective Brent asked if there was a tracking device on the car and there was but it was not turned on by the current owner.  Rather than wait two days or so to reestablish the tracker, Brent did some shoe leather work and found the previous owner, in Michigan.  After first convincing the previous owner that Brent was not a scamster, they activated the tracker and the car showed up around LeJeune and 40th.

Det. Cassais then got on to the other police agencies in the area and in the early morning (like 0'Dark Thirty early) North Bay Village police along with the City of Miami and the M-D County police followed the pings and watched the driver as he moved around the neighborhood.

What happened next was described to me as "like a goshdarn* movie".   The Miami police helicopter was tracking the car through the neighborhood and several units were on the BMW.

Figuring out where the driver was going next, Brent changed direction and came on to him from the west.  The driver decided to make a run and took off toward LeJeune where instead of turning, he plowed across traffic and smashed into an oncoming car, really messing up the car* but fortunately not the occupants, then because the suspect's a genius* tried to climb out the sunroof and run away.  That plan didn't work and he was quickly apprehended.

Turns out that this was not one isolated incident.  This arrest closed 60 separate stolen car incidents.  Allegedly, confessions were flying yesterday morning and all because after 59 successful heists, it looks like they made a mistake.  They came to North Bay Village.

*footnotes:  the cop describing the scene did not say "goshdarn" or "messing up the car."  He used an older Anglo Saxon intensifier but I don't want to drop F bombs in the blog.  Also, the driver is not a genius.  

Nice, But What The Heck Was Ceasar Costa Doing?

You know Ceasar Costa.  He's got hands the size of baseball mitts and talks really slow?  Seriously, I finish my taxes faster than he finishes a sentence.

Turns out he's the Columbo* of North Bay Village.

Costa was recognized by the US Attorney's office for his 2018 help in convicting a businessman for his extra legal activities.

He was at the US Attorney's office to receive the certificate pictured on the right while the above incident played out.

You might wonder about the crimes?  I did.   Well, it turns out that Costa worked with the DEA agent while on loan from North Bay Village and was a major player in bringing down MI SANGRE, one Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, a 47 year old Colombian who was convicted last year in Miami.  According to the prosecution "Lopez Londoño was involved in moving tens of thousands of kilos of cocaine into the United States between 2006 and 2012 and ordered assassinations, kidnappings and extortion."  MI SANGRE ratted out his coworkers and wrongly thought that this gave him immunity from all future crimes as well.  It didn't.  

Anyway, our small town Columbo* Costa was doing some pretty big league stuff.   You can read more about the case here.  

In most cities, this would be a big deal.  A major car theft ring busted, a cop puts away a Colombian drug lord.  I'm really glad our police are back because for the North Bay Village police, it's Thursday.   

*For my younger readers, Columbo was a fictional detective made famous by actor Peter Falk.   

He was known for talking really slow (like Costa) and getting it right to the point when it mattered (like Costa)

Hope this clears things up.  

Kevin Vericker
May 31, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Vote Thrice - Execute Once

If you know me in real life, you probably know that I am obsessed with the madness of Brexit. Apart from the sheer wrongheadedness of the Brexit referendum, it fascinates me to watch the utter failure of an established government to do even their basic job of implementing the decision.   
Theresa May was much more interested in winning the top spot than she was in being Prime Minister and when your only allies are Northern Irish fanatics and you have to talk to Jeremy Corbyn, you know you been outclassed. 
I can hear you now wondering if I've suddenly decided to go international in scale with this blog.  Nah.   I only bring this up because we are facing the same issue here in North Bay Village.  
North Bay Village has voted twice on referendums to fund the burying of the power lines and to fund a new civic center.   First in 2008 and then again in 2016.   
There's been no concrete progress on either one of those issues, to no one's surprise.  
The problem is not that it is clear what the residents want but the votes to tax ourselves were just guesswork since there was never a clear plan in place for either of these issues.  
Burying the power limes is the best example.  Both votes show that the residents want this outcome but neither one laid out a true estimate of the costs involved, including the fixed costs to all buildings and the special costs to older buildings who would need to update their electricity.   
The only thing agreed is that whatever the cost. the current amount will not cover it. And that assumes that FPL will go along with the plan which they say they are not obligated to do and don't plan to.  
The civic center is also still a big question.  Although the more ridiculous and excessive desires have been pared out, it is not clear how much the new construction will cost and what its principal focus will be or even where to put it.  
Before either of these projects move forward, it is critically important for the North Bay Village government to create a detailed plan of how these projects will be executed, what the results will be, the impact on the village and in the case of the buried power lines, the impact on the homes and businesses including the additional costs of hooking up to the new power grid.  
Once the detail is in hand, the commission should vote to hold a special election this November for a final vote on the issues, a vote where we know the real costs and the real impact.   It matters to get it done and get it done right.   
There's some concern that the new election would cost about $35,000.  Actually it would cost more because we would expect our government to plan and accurately lay out the costs and implications so the voters are fully informed, and then to proceed with the realistic implementation.  But that's a small amount in order to ensure we spend the $35 million or so correctly.   

As part of the Looney Tunes parody that passed for government under the previous commission, there were a serious of truly terrible charter amendments passed in November.
These included a prohibition on allowing the Village Manager to delegate functions, so the Village Manager is technically responsible for doing all the Village work.  Code Enforcement was moved from the Police Department to directly report to the Village Manager.  "Nepotism" which was always prohibited now extends to a third degree of consanguinity or relationship.  This means nothing and should be restored to its previous second degree.  The election can be used to fix this.

I hope this is a topic at the June meeting and we get back on track.

Kevin Vericker
May 30, 2019

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Flood Waters Recede - North Bay Village Today

North Bay Village After Irma
Trigger Warning:  This is a really long post about Tuesday's Commission Meeting.  For a good short post, go to Richard Chervony's summary here.  It's less dull.  

In 2017, North Bay Village got hit by Irma and the immediate picture after the landfall was pretty bleak.  We still see some damage and changes but looking at us today, we don't look like South Treasure Drive did that day as pictured above.  
Almost simultaneously, a human caused storm engulfed our islands as our commission began a nearly year long rampage to destroy the infrastructure of North Bay Village and cover up the failed legacy of a an 8 year rule during which the only accomplishments were detrimental to the village.
Previous NBV Commission
The village attorney was fired without explanation and replaced with an inexperienced municipal attorney whose missteps are well documented, the police chief was fired and replaced with a contractor who is now being investigated for violating the laws around retirement, a sitting commissioner was removed without the due process set out in our charter and replaced via a process that is not in our charter with an ambitious friend of the mayor.   In the meantime, the village manager, deputy manager and executive administrator left hours before they were to be put on the chopping block.  A new village manager was brought in and then fired when she failed to provide the fireworks the mayor wanted.    Well, you know the story.   

Righting the Course

The newly elected members of the dais, Mayor Brent Latham, Commissioner Julianna Strout and Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth, along with the holdovers from the crew of the Exxon Valdez, North Bay Village edition, voted to bring in the consulting firm of Marsal & Alvarez to create a definitive assessment of where we are now and deliver recommended course corrections to get us back to rights.  
On Tuesday, they presented their results.  You can review them at this link, starting page 10, or watch the presentation on the North Bay Village web streaming site.  
Spoiler Alert:  A&M found that the Village was badly managed under the previous administration and the interim status of key positions is not helping.   
And that was the point.     
When you're in the middle of the storm and busy building the rudder, you can't stop to assess where you are.  
Alvarez & Marsal came into to act as a navigator, establishing where we are and plotting the course to go forward.  Their report is a success.  

But First What They Didn't Find

The previous commission was famous for their use of casually placed slanders to discredit people who might point out the real problems their actions were causing.  There were two major ones.  
A completely unfounded slander that there are large amounts of money unaccounted for or misappropriated.  A second slander that Village employees were not reporting for work or doing their jobs.  
The assessment found no evidence of either one of these things.  Nor by the way did the previous commission members but that hasn't stopped them from spreading these lies.  

What A&M Did Find - InterimVille

I'm not going to go all through the report.  Again, here's the link and it starts on page 10.  Most of the recommendations are technical or procedural in nature.   
What jumps out at me and jumped out at the commission was how dysfunctional our departments have been while we are run by a team of "interims" replacing a team of inexperienced political hires. An interim Village Manager, an interim Attorney, an interim Police Chief, a vacancy at the head of the building department, outsourced planning, an unfilled procurement position and a recently hired Village Clerk replacing an interim clerk.   
This overview was exactly what the commission needed to truly assess their next steps and they took action quickly.  
The same night, the three useful members of the commission voted to fill the interim manager position with Dr. Ralph Rosado and made him permanent, they filled the interim attorney position with Weiss Serota, they approved the contract with Patrick Slevin to run communications, and approved the hire of a new public works director, Jose Olivo.  
The next step is to create a strategic and tactical work plan to get us back on track and Rosado is already on it.   
The public was largely supportive of the assessment and several added their own view on how to proceed.  
Except for one.  Someone from the previous commission wondered why we spent money on this when anybody could see how badly the Village was deliberately broken by the previous commission.  It was a good question.  Let's ponder it.  
Oh, yeah.  Even the vandals on the dais last year didn't know how bad the damage they were inflicting was so the current dais needed to know. 

The Rest of the Meeting

After the A&M presentation, the three useful commission members swung right into their regular session...invocation, kids singing, awards, plaques, Good & Welfare, something about invasive species, a long rambling presentation by our village lobbyist, the above mentioned permanent positions, an update from Kimley Horn on the CLK Walkway to Nowhere, there's progress on the Dog Park but there's not a Dog Park yet, very little on STVR's but a plan to move more aggressively on the subject will be presented and so on.  It went late and ran smoothly.  


That's right.  In the Game of Thrones knockoff edition that passed for governance in the last year, one of the victims was Carlos Noriega, our well respected chief of police.  In a turn of events that any competent, experienced municipal lawyer would have seen, Noriega took his case to court to show that he was fired for investigating criminal complaints and reporting a potentially illegal data breach to the state authorities.   
The Useful 3 voted unanimously to reinstate him.   The place went wild.  You see the public has long known that not only was the firing unjust, but the police department needs to move forward and Noriega has the skills and experience to do just that.  
Noriega graciously accepted a settlement for far less than he could have gotten had the trial gone to jury, an outcome any competent, experience municipal attorney would have seen,  and is back probably next week.  I'll keep you posted.   

Good days in North Bay Village!

Attendance Report:  Both meetings were attended by Mayor Brent Latham, Commissioner Julianna Strout and Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth.   Commissioners Jackson and Alvarez were otherwise engaged and sent their regrets.  

Kevin Vericker
May 16, 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Guest Blog by Richard Chervony

Today I am posting a guest piece by former commissioner Richard Chervony.   Enjoy.

WHO EVER SAID that the money spent on the Alvarez and Marsel LLC report revealed nothing new is terribly wrong. After a grueling incompetent two years and dismantling of every position at Village Hall a nice size crowd sat attentively and listened to this National Firm not only state our deficiency but give us a plan to act and effectuate change.  

This kick in the butt along with three committed COMMISSIONERS who listened, acted and started implementing the recommendations is the result of an 8 hour marathon spearheaded by Mayor Latham, Vice Mayor Wilmoth and Commissioner Strout.

With a break in between meetings for a sumptuous feast courtesy of Halal Market the ENERGIZED Commission Meeting Started to a full packed house.  The Children from TIES feted us with the No Room For Hate Choir, followed by strong words from our State Senator, Jason Pizzo and State Representative, Michael Grieco.  Our State Lobbyist, Ron Book followed with a call for action to ensure our monies get funneled to North Bay Village.  Then in Good and Welfare the same words were heard over and over again “ERADICATE THE WORD INTERIM”. 

The suggestion from Alvarez and Marsal to fill the needed positions with the proper leadership had resonated with the residents.  We were ready for action and the COMMISSION of Three were listening and acting to our needs as they have proven over and over again in their six months in office.

In a quick flurry of action and by the end of a very busy and long Agenda, the Village has named Dan Espino and his firm of Weiss Serrota as our PERMANENT Legal Counsel (pending contract negotiations).  They further filled the TRIUNVURATE of Charter Officials by naming Ralph Rosado as PERMANENT VILLAGE MANAGER (pending contract negotiaitions).  The important vote for me was the righting the wrong of the past commission and REINSTATING CHIEF CARLOS NORIEGA in another unanimous vote of confidence for the direction that will mark the NEW NORTH BAY VILLAGE.  To see Chief Noriega walk back in to Village Hall and keep his promise to his men that he would fight and return to the job and Village he loves was a highlight of the evening. This was followed by the introduction of our PR Director and our new Public Works Director, Jose Olivo.

Let’s not be so quick and overlook the word INTERIM.  Special thanks go to Dr. Ralph Rosado and Dan Espino for stepping into those interims shoes and proving that they are the right fit for the role.  Special Thanks go to that one hero that has served possibly longer as INTERIM CHIEF longer than any other Chief in the History of North Bay Village.  Every time there is a falling out and we replace a Chief, Lt. Brian Collins steps up to the plate and fill the position with dignity, courage and devotion.  Interim Chief Collins (for now and soon to be Lt again), there are no words of gratitude for a job well done.

North Bay Village wakes up this Wednesday morning to a NEW DAWN of action and a plan to move forward.  To soar to new heights of greatness and accomplish the vision we the residents voted for last November.  Several key positions are to be created and everyone needs to get in sync.  But there is a great sense of renewal and commitment coming from the dais and the administration and as the song says…………  THERE’S NO STOPPING US NOW!

Richard Chervony
May 15, 2019  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Right Track - This Simple Reaction Speaks Volumes

Maybe getting North Bay Village on track to run as a transparent, effective city is not as hard as it has been presented.  
Maybe it's just a simple case of doing the right thing at the right time.  
Yesterday, there was a problem at Vogel Park.  An exercise station fell over.  (Insert joke here.) A resident posted on Facebook, another reached out to Village Manager Ralph Rosado and within minutes on a Saturday, the area was cordoned off and the repair plan publicly posted on Facebook.  
This is the new normal in North Bay Village.  Residents, elected officials and Village employees working together to do the right thing at the right time.  
For years, our city has been restrained by elected officials interested only in their own priorities and frightened of public discussion, residents frustrated with the lack of response and employees under constant threat for responding to the public.  
Then 2018 happened.  North Bay Village had enough and put in a mayor and two new commissioners who have no reason to fear the public and replaced the double dipping handmaid Village Manager with a professional and the results are showing.   When a simple thing breaks, a simple solution is proposed and advertised, and then done.   Simple and useful.  Who knew?  Besides all of us?

Kevin Vericker
May 12, 2019