Friday, January 11, 2019

It Looks Like A Duck

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

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

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

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

Except...

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

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

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

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

I even made a table of the payments.



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


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

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


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

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


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



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

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

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

Kevin Vericker
Jan. 11, 2019

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Norman Powell Dragged Through The Sunshine - North Bay Village Loses










On Broadway, there is a thing called the 11 O'Clock number, the big dramatic song or monologue that stops the show.  And like any good show, this one had an 11 O'Clock.  

Presenting Commissioner Andreana Jackson weeping loudly in her hit number "Don't Cry For Me, North Bay Village."  Watch as Ms. Jackson enraptures the audience with her simulation of a frustrated, decent person.  



This critic would have found her performance more powerful except that leaves unexplained her own role in the savaging of former Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton, former Village Attorney Robert Switkes (although in a stunning new development, Jackson speaks for the first time publicly about why she voted to fire him), her fabricated allegations against a resident of threats and her knife in the back to Eddie Lim.   Perhaps in the sequel?

Anyway, three members of the commission courageously aligned themselves with the right of former strip club lobbyist Norman C. Powell to collect the $204,000 plus extras annually and run rampant over the Village.  They were unelected Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth, along with Commissioners Mary Kramer's Husband and Andreana Jackson, who clutched their collective pearls and voted to keep Norman C. Powell in place on the grounds that:

  • It's ever so mean to talk about these things in public.  Why can't the elected officials do like previous administration and discuss the problems out of the public view and against Sunshine Law, you know like the way politics really should run?  It worked really well when the previous commission got rid of Switkes, Hornsby, demoted Lim and lynched Hamilton.
      
  • What will the neighbors think?  Seriously, this was Wilmoth's big concern.  That potential employees watching this public discussion would say, "Oh, me, oh, my, I don't want to go to North Bay Village.  I mean I keep reading about how awful their Village attorney is in the Herald but that they are discussing it?  The nerve.  Well, it's Opa-Locka for me."

  • Julianna Strout has an exhaustive, well researched list of missteps and straight up bad moves since the "probation" was announced.     But you know, she's blonde...


The meeting went past midnight, again, just to prove that Norman Powell is untouchable.

It was no surprise that Mary Kramer's Husband voted to keep him on the dais.  Nor that Ms. Jackson did.  Given the extent of their political debts and Norman Powell's assistance to Ms. Jackson on resolving her credit card debts, they owe him big time.

But it was a surprise that Marvin Wilmoth who as a candidate and as member of the dais argued passionately that the Village needs to get beyond all the drama and move forward, did not share  his reasoning on why he thought keeping Powell was a good idea.  He simply voted not to fire him.  So the Village is stuck.

That's not to say completely.

Commissioner Julianna Strout was well prepared with the list of issues Powell has created since the last meeting. 

The director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics was there.  He had written a personal opinion that Powell needed to recuse himself and the commission needed independent counsel to discuss his employment.  Mr. Arrojo emphasized "personal" as the CoE is still working on a formal position. 

Mayor Brent Latham brought up that the recent confusion over the firing of Bryan Miller Olive and the retention of Weiss Serota as labor counsel had resulted in several contradictory explanations from Mr. Powell. 

These were all well presented and discussed by Ms. Strout and and Mr. Latham. 

But it was clear that it fell on deaf ears.

After the refusal to fire Powell, the three, Wilmoth, Jackson, and Mary Kramer's husband, tried to stonewall against putting any conditions on Mr. Powell's probation but Latham and Strout kept at it until they reluctantly agreed. 

Remember, the key objections to this process as stated are:

1.)  It's being done publicly as required by Sunshine.  Jackson found this to be "coming at you with daggers."

2.)  It's being done publicly and people might not want to work here.  Wilmoth was most concerned about this but there were at least three attorneys present willing to work so I think it won't be much of an obstacle. 

My take.  Unless Marvin Wilmoth steps up and acts like the reformer he claims to be, we're doomed.  It may be time to just shut the Village down.   We're so far in a hole, I don't see how we climb out.

Kevin Vericker
Jan 10 2019




Saturday, January 5, 2019

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

The most positive thing North Bay Villagers did in 2019 was to soundly reject the shrill inept administration of the past.   After years of the commission being led by resentful and incompetent leaders, supported by people out to make a fast buck, after all the chaotic hirings and firings and purges, after a campaign that sharply contrasted the vision of Brent Latham and Julianna Strout with the negative  and substance free campaign of Laura Cattabriga, the self identified protege of Kreps, the voters said overwhelmingly "Enough."  and kicked the old guard out.  

There is now an ongoing row over how to fix the toxic administration the previous commission put in place, but that's for another post.  

The important thing is the voters said "Enough."  

Laura Cattabriga, who got less that 1/3rd of the vote in last election, has not gracefully accepted the referendum on her style and cronies.  This is surprising because during the mayoral debate, where Laura spent most of her time making false claims of residency fraud against her opponent, Brent Latham, Ms. Cattabriga took time out to compliment herself on her "critical thinking abilities."  

You think she would apply that now to understanding why she lost so severely.   But like her mentor, Connie Kreps, Cattabriga (CattaKreps?) is now skipping around the Village announcing that what she heard during her disastrous campaign was the people only want to hear bright shiny news about North Bay Village and she is taking on the task by creating an all good news blog and Facebook site to disseminate bright shiny information and not the dank, nasty information she sees elsewhere.  


Here's a link to the Facebook group:  https://www.facebook.com/NBVRising/

Now it's not clear in her first post on the new blog if it is a singular or group effort because she/they write "We decided to start this newsletter to fill a void in North Bay Village life." I can't tell if Laura is using the Royal We, The Kreps Multiple Persona We, or is referring to herself and her backers, but Cattabriga then goes on to extol the virtues of positivity in the Facebook group rules and announces that anyone not meeting this measure of positivity will be banned.   

False positives actually can hurt
As readers of this blog may have discerned, I am not a big fan of "positive thinking."  I find it tyrannical, as the kids say, it's gaslighting

It's bullying practiced by people who are doing harm and then announce the real harm is that you don't look on the bright side of things. When you point out issues, they find themselves "offended" by your negativity.  

The way to create positive news is to do the right thing, something Cattabriga demonstrably did not do during her short tenure nor in her disastrous and expensive campaign.  
But doing the right thing has not really been at the core of the Cattabriga universe.  

Still, I'm a reasonable person and while there is no question that this blog is not a place to come to for Sunshine and pictures of kittens, I regularly look at the Facebook group North Bay Village Residents Speak, which I moderate, with a critical eye.  Is the group doing more harm or good?  What are people saying and how are they saying it?  Should I intervene or let the sometimes combative discussions play themselves out?   

And here's what I find, and I believe an honest look will bear this out.  

The group is mostly discussion, some complaints and criticisms, but overwhelmingly it breaks down broadly into Information like when the  next village meeting is, recommendations like what restaurants have opened or where to find a housecleaner, photos of life in North Bay Village, and a lot more on pets than I ever expected.  This has been true for years.  

Don't believe me?   I just went through the last 40 posts on the site and this is how they broke out:

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CategoryCountPercent
Information1025.00%
Recommendation1025.00%
Humor or Inspiration717.50%
Complaint512.50%
Nature37.50%
Review37.50%
Pets*25.00%

*Pets:  I think this is an anomaly.  There are more posts about pets as you go further back.  

Yet I know that there is an impression that is a small group of malcontents.  It's not.  With 1,839 members it follows the usual social media platform patterns with about 5% of the members posting actively and most reading the posts.  And these conversations are often from different perspectives, except everyone agrees on the manatees and dolphins.
North Bay Village Spirit Animals

The group has for years been the only regular source of information in North Bay Village covering school events, road construction, power outages, bridge and traffic closures, public safety and village events and reaching out to the residents.   

That in a large, and largely unmoderated group, there are people who would rather blame the messenger than read the message is not the fault of the group.   

Ms. Cattabriga will find that out.  People want news they can use, not puffy pieces with a one way slant.  But still, I wish her luck.  

Kevin Vericker
January 5, 2019

  


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 In North Bay Village

'You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.'


E.L. Doctorow

It's a New Year and North Bay Village is on the verge of getting the overhaul it so badly needs.   

The new administration came into a chaotic mess, with an interim village manager and an interim village clerk and a village attorney who just can't seem to stay out of the papers.  

It's not going to be easy.  The chaos has resulted in some people making serious amounts of money for very little work vigorously defending themselves, and there is a well founded fear of previous and current commission members that they could get caught up in the legal consequences of their misfeasance.   Still, keeping focused, this commission can reclaim our government for and by us.  

As we go forward into 2019, I hope our commission remembers that they can only see as far as the headlights and they need to keep steady on the path forward.   

Kevin Vericker
January 1, 2018 2019!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Strip Club Lawyer Attends Christian Retreat, Packs Gun, Turns Out Badly

Former Mayor Connie Kreps sent around a letter around today about yesterday's Herald article regarding North Bay Village Attorney Norman C. Powell's oopsie where he forgot that he was carrying a gun and tried to bring it through airport security at MIA.  

Powell was fined an undisclosed amount but it turns out he did disclose the issue - to former Mayor Kreps according to this surprisingly well written letter to the editor of the Miami Herald.  

Dear Editor
           Your article on Village Attorney Norman Powell contains errors. First, you did not contact me, the Mayor of the Village at the time. I was in fact fully aware of the TSA citation. Attorney Powell was not arrested and taken into custody, but stopped and issued a citation. While he had a valid concealed firearm permit, in his haste to catch a plane for a Christian retreat, he forgot to put the handgun in his under-the-plane luggage. In so doing, he became one of the 3,896 authorized gun holders who were stopped for the same mishap during 2017.*  The regulation at 49 C.F.R. 1540 precluding firearms on board the passenger-area of a plane does not involve the element of knowledge of illegal activity or the intent to commit a morally wrong act. It is a strict liability prohibition that does not reflect on a person’s character.  As for disclosure, there is no relevance between a citation of this nature and the position of Village Attorney. It does not affect his law license or legal abilities. Mr. Powell has served our Village well during difficult times, saving us millions of dollars on Village projects and reinvigorating important enforcement priorities. The only ethical failure revealed by your article is the complete lack of journalistic integrity of reporters that choose to use their position to play silly political games to further the ambitions of their friends and families. Senior Reporter Miller’s spouse works for a law firm vying for two lucrative positions with our Village.
Sincerely,
Connie Leon-Kreps
Past-Mayor, North Bay Village
So you see, it's okay.  

One of Kreps's personalities was well aware of this common, common mistake.  I mean I once tried to go through airport security with an oversized toothpaste tube so I see how you could forget a Glock.  

And Norman was in such a hurry to get to his Christian retreat, where apparently you are expected to be armed,  that he totally forgot he was packing heat.   

Which makes me wonder what caused him to forget.

I must admit, I am surprised to see that this version of Kreps writes so clearly, with actual numbers and figures and verbs.  It seems that having time off the dais has improved her abilities.   With her detailed knowledge of fancy legal terms like "The regulation at 49 C.F.R. 1540 precluding firearms on board the passenger-area of a plane does not involve the element of knowledge of illegal activity..."  surprise and delight me.  This could have been written by a lawyer.  

I do wish she would explore more about the motivations of Mr. Powell in attending the unnamed "Christian Retreat."  Was he perhaps seeking guidance on his history of lobbying for strip clubs?  Because I admit my theology is a bit thin on the subject but I don't recall anything in the New Testament about promoting adult entertainment with its well documented human trafficking implications as a vocation.   Was Mother Teresa a stripper?  Were the Apostles pimps?   

But then, in classic fashion, Ms. Kreps takes it off the rails and explains that the subject is not about:
  • Powell's judgment in keeping arms in his carry on. 
  • Powell's failure to publicly disclose the issue. 
  • Her failure to share the information.
Nope, it's about how "Senior Reporter Miller’s spouse works for a law firm vying for two lucrative positions with our Village."  A question nobody asked but thank Jesus Kreps answered.  

Now that's the Connie we know and well, really would like to see less of.  

Kevin Vericker
December 20, 2018

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

And Once Again In The News...


Norman Powell - North Bay Village Attorney
who left a gun in his airport carry on
In today's Herald, North Bay Village once again shines as the Herald reports that our village attorney, one Norman Christopher Powell had a bit of a run in at the Miami Airport in February.  

Seems he was sending his carry on through the scanner and the TSA noticed that he had a gun in the bag.  

When asked why he didn't disclose this to the commission during his contract negotiations, Powell is quoted  saying 

“I don’t believe I mentioned it because I didn’t really think it was important,” said Powell. He said he has had a concealed weapons permit for years. “Basically it was simply the weapon was improperly stored. I paid a fine and moved on.”

But you know a lot of people do think it's important.   You know, bringing a gun on the plane.  The TSA usually fines the carrier about $3,000 and can be up to $13,000 and Powell says he "paid a fine" not mentioning the amount and "moved on."   

This same man, an attorney, has an interesting timeline with just such lapses.  Let's review.  

Earlier this year, at his direction, the police force began scanning attendees at commission meetings for weapons because Powell thought it was important not to bring a gun into the commission chambers, even though it is legal.   Was Powell the only armed person in the room?  

BUT HE DIDN'T THINK BRINGING A GUN ON TO A PLANE WAS IMPORTANT.  

In February, Powell added a new condition to the application for commission appointment requiring people who wanted to be considered for commission appointment to sign a form that would allow disclosure of all police and legal issues, including expunged and sealed records.  Our charter would need to be changed for this to be legal but Powell made sure it was a condition of application because laws be damned, the commission has a right to know.  

BUT HE DIDN'T THINK IT WAS IMPORTANT TO DISCLOSE HIS OWN LEGAL PROBLEMS.

In September, he took a complaint about a routine video diary, which incidentally showed a public figure doing public work, and tried to make it an FDLE case.  The end result of this non-issue was the intimidation and eventual resignation of Yvonne Hamilton, our longest serving and best public servant in what looked like the classic definition of a hostile work environment, led by Andreana Jackson.    

BUT HE DIDN'T THINK FORGETTING ABOUT HIS GUN AT THE AIRPORT WAS IMPORTANT

Then, unrelated to the weapons charge, Powell filed a personal ethics complaint against a lawyer from Brant Miller and Olive and now has contracted high priced attorney Ben Kuehne to litigate it.  There is a big question as to whether or not this is a personal complaint or a Village complaint.  Actually, by its nature, it's a personal complaint.  If there is cause to believe that Village ordinances have been violated, then the Village needs to prosecute under its own statutes. 

DID POWELL FORGET HOW THE LAW WORKS?

Powell also fired our labor attorneys, claiming authority under the Village Charter without explaining where, but which is specifically excluded from his contract which reads 
The Attorney’s services do not include Labor Relations services, employment and personnel issues, labor arbitrations or collective bargaining. These services will be provided by the Village’s Labor Counsel. 
 MAYBE HE FORGOT ABOUT HIS CONTRACT LIKE HE FORGOT ABOUT HIS GUN?

So to summarize:

  • Norman Powell tried to bring a gun through airport security, got caught, paid an undisclosed fine.  
  • Norman Powell never disclosed this issue to the commission even while he was at the same time creating and negotiating his own contract.   
  • Norman Powell imposed extraordinary disclosure requirements without Charter support but didn't follow his own.  
  • Norman Powell created and implemented a security protocol designed for exactly the same purposes he ignored and dismissed as "not important."  
  • Norman Powell fired attorneys in spite of his own negotiated contract removing him from that area.  
Now Norman Powell is suing me for bringing his shortcomings up, issuing subpoenas that have the net effect of punishing people he does not like, does not recuse himself when the subject of his own employment is considered by the commission, and we should continue to pay him why?  

I forget.  But don't forget to check out Stephanie Kienzle's blog for another perspective on the issue.  

Kevin Vericker
December 18, 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The First Commission Meeting

The first commission meeting of the new administration, held on Tuesday, December 11, was a failure. 

The newly installed commission members, Mayor Brent Latham and Commissioners Marvin Wilmoth and Julianna Strout need to get some slack for it being their first day on the job and facing a hostile, paid professional staff is never easy, but they failed to coalesce to restructure the Village administration to one that works for the residents and not the highly paid Village attorney. 

In the end, it was clearly Marvin Wilmoth's fault.  In what he presented as an attempt to reasonably evaluate the attorney, he joined with  Andreana Jackson and Mary Kramer's Husband to protect the Village attorney by proposing that instead of firing Norman Powell, he be put on a "probation" period without specifying what the terms of the probation are, what the results might be, and what actions should happen next.  It was sad to watch this. 

It's probably important to note that last September, in Andreana Jackson and Connie Kreps' attempt to fire Yvonne Hamilton, our longest serving, highly respected civil servant, Wilmoth was caught in the cross fire and the same attorney he is now "evaluating" forced a complaint implicating him in a criminal violation of state law, long after it had been established that no such violation existed.  This could have derailed his political ambitions and hurt his career. 

It's not "rising above" to propose keeping the same attorney, it's driving off a cliff with political expediency to avoid a difficult decision. 

Wilmoth needs to step up.  We don't have time for political games. 

If there was any doubt about how bad the situation with Powell is, watch the video of the consideration to terminate him.  Powell acted as both counsel to the commission and as opposing counsel to defend his position.  

In most people's eyes, this would be a serious violation of ethics.  We'd expect our attorney to advise the commission that they should seek different counsel because of the obvious conflict of interest, not act on both parts to his own benefit. 

Then yesterday, Powell fired our labor attorneys.  The people we rely on for advice about things like "probation" and "legality of contracts."  Whether this is legal under the Village ordinances is an open question, but it sure looks like a retaliatory firing.  You know, to the untrained legal eye that most decent people have.  But the result is that we do not have an independent labor attorney to help us with the issues around Powell.  

If He's So Bad, Who Supports Him?

Well, the list of supporters at the meeting was scant but loud.  

Laura Cattabriga got up and explained that during her unsuccessful election bid, a crash and burn operation, the message she heard from the voters was "Don't fire Powell."  That may be why she lost.  The voters were saying "You destabilized the administration."  

Powell's longtime partner in strip club lobbying, Mitch Edelstein, attested to Powell's abilities and pointedly reminded Commissioner Andreana Jackson that she owes him since he pulled off the miracle of getting her elected.   Jackson obligingly paid her political debt.  Edelstein also lobbies for every developer in North Bay Village.  

Some out of town guy whose multiple North Bay Village Code violations were magically erased expressed that he doesn't like me so Powell should stay.  Also, apparently I terrify him.  

Former mayor Connie was sitting ominously in the back row, looking like someone just dropped a house on her sister, letting us all know that she is still here.  

And that was about it.  

Nevertheless, money and legal impunity are great motivators and for the moment they prevailed.   

What Happens Now?

I understand that one commissioner, Julianna Strout, has called for a special meeting to fix the broken resolution by at least doing the minimum of establishing the terms of the probation.  

It requires another  commissioner to also request and in the end three have to show up.  

I hope Wilmoth has the intestinal fortitude and integrity to be there.   I hope he doesn't weasel out under the guise of "being busy."  He broke it.  He needs to fix it.  

And Now For Your Amusement and Pleasure

Heavily edited because that top
makes me look fat...I mean because
it's obscene.  
An anonymous video, always the best kind, was circulated yesterday to various unwilling residents, mostly in the Bayswater, under the subject "What's Really Wrong With North Bay Village" where my face is superimposed over a clip of a surrealist ecdysiast doing a strip tease.   

Yeah, that is the best place to get your news.  

I'm not sure what fever-driven demented mind thought this was somehow relevant but it's part of the nasty pattern of anonymous attacks that have prevailed in this Village since 2010, when Connie Leon-Kreps first sued her way on to the commission and then bullied her way into the mayor's seat.  

Unfortunately, you can no longer see it on YouTube as they have judged it obscene.  But like the incels over at LeoAffairs (no, I'm not linking.  Find it yourself), they shroud their identities under anonymous IP's and names and then have the chutzpah to criticize their betters, who post with names, dates, pictures and contact information, to spread their lies and filth.  

In other news, Marvin Wilmoth was selected as Vice Mayor, nominated by Andreana Jackson, and is poised to step into the mayoral seat if the attacks on Latham succeed.  

Kevin Vericker
December 15, 2018