Saturday, July 4, 2020

July 4, 2020 North Bay Village

Today marks Independence Day in the strangest year I've seen in my nearly 65 of them.  

We were coming out of a nearly 3 month lockdown hoping for a better summer but we're back with curfews and restrictions and record breaking numbers of infections spreading.   

So that's a bummer.   

However, let's look at the things that are demonstrably better than 2 years ago, shall we?  

We Have a Stable Government

Two Years Ago:  I don't want to dwell on that past but remember at this time 2 years ago, we weren't counting Covid cases.  We were counting settlements not to sue the Village.  

In July of 2018, we had already paid out more than $150,000 to 2 employees who respectively worked for 4 months and 1 month for the Village and who were not fired for cause.  The environment was so bad that we had to add in big sums of money to get them to agree not to sue.  

By the end of 2018, we had spent nearly $500,000 settling various personnel matters caused by the bumbling of the last administration.  

Our administration was spiraling out of control and the meetings were bizarre rants and personal vendettas.   

Our police chief/village manager did not even work for us and that fact was kept from most of the commission and all of the residents.   

Today: Coming into this mess, Mayor Brent Latham spent the first year fighting the old battles left behind by the strange antics of the previous administration and took the right first step of assessing where we were and how to get out of the hole.   It worked.  

We know have functioning boards, a commission that does not spend its time settling scores on imaginary slights, a legal department that does its job, and a staff that is transparent.  

It's not perfect but the arguments are public and resolvable,

We Have Green Space

The dog park was never a serious consideration for the previous administration but in less than 2 years we have a bright shiny new dog park in the neighborhood with the most apartment dwellers, a welcome community addition and a long needed space for a pet loving populace.  

More excitingly to me and others, the Treasure Island Elementary School greenspace is open to us.  A huge jewel of a field on our most populous island is available to us and plans are already underway for improvement.  For years we have struggled with the limited amount of greenspace available in the Village and the last administration did nothing to help the circumstance.   

It took a mayor willing to negotiate with the School Board and present a plan that works for all to make it happen.  

Brent Latham did that.  

The Boards

Yeah, I know I mentioned those before but this is big.  Before 2019, boards were dying or non-existent.  The Commission reached a point where it was possible to shut down residents who wanted to speak at Good & Welfare about their issues with the Village and the legal department even initiated a lawsuit to prevent their antics from being made public.  

The Village was choking on its own bad information.   

In 2020, we have:
  • A Resiliency Task Force chaired by a former treaty negotiator for the United Nations working on how we survive climate change, supported by a top environmental lawyer.  
  • An Animal Control Board that is making a difference in the feral cat problem. 
  • A Resident Services Board that is focusing the Village's efforts on helping people through the Covid Crisis.  
  • A Financial Advisory Board which includes a retired M-D County auditor, that will not stop questioning and probing until there is a clear answer on how and when our money is spent.  
  • A Planning & Zoning that the commission actually listens to.  
  • A Community Enhancement Board that actually innovates and considers the impact of community wide decisions.  

Brent Latham, along with Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth, led the way by appointing and working with serious residents to get the best advice they can.  

It's Not Perfect

Think about the quality of the arguments we're having first. 

There is strong concern about our financial planning in the economic crisis and how our money is handled.   The streets repaving project is taking too long (in my view) and should never have involved the same contractors we worked so badly with before.  The cost of the police is rising again and we need to know the value.  We are having the same argument about outsourcing waste management, a service the residents love.   Business Development is at a standstill.  

These are good and healthy arguments.  These are the arguments we should have.  But for so long we were just trying to figure out how much worse it would get under the previous administration that the sensible arguments seemed like a luxury.  

There's a Lot More to Do

If you read this as sunny and optimistic, you don't know me well.  

There's serious stuff on the table.   How do we move forward with increasing infections daily?  How do we help the residents hurting now and today while planning for a better village?  How do we deal with the inevitability of sea rise?  

There is an election coming up and I am already hearing about how we have the "worst" possible government and the people unbothered by actual facts fear mongering about micro-units and reduced traffic flows while denying that flooding is getting worse.  Instead of hearing how to make finances better, I hear accusations.   

But don't forget, before we had a mayor, Brent Latham, who we can trust, we could never have had these conversations.   

I've often said "If you do things the right way, you tend to do the right things."  and that's what Latham and the two useful commissioners, Strout and Wilmoth, have done.  

Argue on Facebook.  Make stuff up.  Grandstand.  But please get some perspective.  Compare to other cities (El Portal melting down over FEMA rejections, Surfside commissioners giving each other the finger, whatever the hell is going in North Miami Beach) and compare to where we were just 2 years ago (North Bay Village giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars not to get sued, commissioners reduced to screaming incoherence and whatever the hell the village manager was doing with his third party payment scheme) and remember who fixed this when it's time to vote.  

Kevin Vericker
July 4, 2020

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Budget Time And Questions

 Tonight at 6:30 there is a meeting of the Financial Advisory Board.  
And if you've been following these meetings, it's quite a show.  If you haven't but are interested, I try to break it down here.   
Let's dive into the questions.  

  • How much money do we have?
  • How much money are we spending? 
  • How much money will we have?
  • How much money will we be spending? 
That's actually about it.  I mean, seriously isn't that what always starts discussions about finances?
So why is it so complicated?  

First An Accounting Joke?  (Yes, Accountants Have Jokes and They Are Funny)

Get it?  It's pretty funny.  

Okay, First Questions First

In municipal government, the standard for the answers to how much revenue came in and how much spend went out is answered annually through a report called the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) which certifies the numbers from the previous fiscal year.   

In normal years, the CAFR is completed and presented by March 31st. 

This is not a normal year and the final has not been delivered.

That's a problem.   It's important for the FAB to know why the delay and what the anticipated due date is.   Once they have the report, that will give them a guide to our current financial situation.

That question must be answered.   

On the board and on Facebook posts, there is a disagreement over how much we should have in the utility reserve to repair our utilities. 

Board Members Richard Chervony and James Rosenberg point to Charter and Ordinances that show we should have around $2m in the reserves and it looks like we don't.

The administration does not accept that reserve number and says that the law is unclear.

That question must be answered. 

There are serious questions about how much revenue will decline next year as we enter the post Covid Lockdown recession.   The administration thinks it will noticeable but approximately $800k.  The Board has expressed their belief that it could exceed $2m if the reserve question is that we must have $2m in the reserve fund.

That question must be answered.

The Participants Are Talking Right Past Each Other

I've recommended personally the following.

If it's ugly or suspicious or just plain difficult, the FAB has to be able to count on village administration for clear answers to clear questions.  And the questions have been clear.  This is a time for candor. 

When you can't agree on the question or the premise of the question, the FAB has to note the importance of the answer and report that back to the commission.

In the military, there is a commonly used technique of RED, YELLOW, GREEN. 

Unanswered questions have their implications flagged. 

RED - The Mission cannot proceed without this information.
YELLOW - The Mission can proceed in its planning but the answer must available before execution.
GREEN - The Mission can be executed and the data point as it can be.

In my view, the Financial Advisory Board should code their questions.   Here are some examples.

Red Flag Question - Must we have a $2m reserve for utilities?  If yes, hold everything and restructure.
Yellow Flag Question - Why is the CAFR late?  What effect will this have on budgeting and planning?
Green - Do we need a full time CFO?

I believe this will get the unstuck and hope they follow it.

Revenues and Cash

The great Molly Ivins once wrote that in her experience, the problem with poor people is that they don't have any money. 

The Village depends on many sources of revenue - property tax, fees, State and Federal, grants and other sources.   Our revenue is likely to fall so we have to look at new ways to bring in more.

Earlier this month, I proposed that the Budget Board request an accounting of how much the Village paid out owing to the truly disastrous personnel decisions in 2018.   In a quick look, I could see $450,000 in personnel payouts.  This was not the result of taxpayer's negligence.  It was a broken commission following bad advice.   I think the Village should explore recouping that money that was spent on bad advice.   The Board did not make that request.

The Village has easements throughout the islands that are used for private purposes.  Why not charge a reasonable rent for those?  It's legal and easy and could raise $200,000 for  services annually.

That $650,000 in the next year, surely money we could use now.

My point is that the Village needs to explore every avenue to save costs and increase revenues. 

You can't cut your way to prosperity or tax your way to stability.  The people would really like to see some more creative thinking on these issues and it starts with getting the questions right.

Kevin Vericker
June 16, 2020

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Not An Isolated Island

Updates Week of June 8 2020

A lot went on this week.

  • The Curfew was lifted.
  • Pools and Gyms are opened.
  • The Beaches are open.
  • The Dog Park is open.
  • Many other services are opening.
Before we get to the details, I want to point out something extraordinary and in my view confidence building about the North Bay Village Police Department.
The day after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, May 25, our Police Chief Carlos Noriega ordered a top to bottom review of North Bay Village Police procedures.

The day after!

Before the nationwide protests, before the discussions, the Police Chief made sure to be absolutely clear that the use of force is a last resort, the Duty to Intervene when a cop sees abuse, and reviewed the many aspects of PD training that keep the citizens and the police safe. That's what kind of community we are and what kind of Police Chief we have. Noriega doesn't wait to do the right thing. Never has.
Monday - Marvin Wilmoth Harbor Island Commissioner and Vice Mayor, led the commission in a vigil remembering George Floyd. It was broadcast on Facebook Live and attended in person by 50 people or so at Vogel Park. It was a peaceful, respectful community statement against racism.
Tuesday - At the Commission Meeting, there was a lot but I thought I would break it down below.
  • The George Floyd Murder - The Commission unanimously passed a resolution brought to the dais by Commissioner Jackson condemning the killing and restating the commitment of North Bay Village to inclusion and equality.
  • The Services - The Commission instructed the Village Staff to plan for the inclusion of a services portal and a position to help North Bay Villagers struggling with unemployment, food insecurity, school, housing and other issues. The Commission recognizes that North Bay Village can't solve the worldwide problems but can help our community navigate them.
  • PRIDE - 2020 - The Commission proclaimed Pride Month 2020. North Bay Village has always been an inclusive community but for for 8 years, the previous mayor and her crew ignored Pride every year while greedily lapping up campaign money from the discredited SAVE organization. Mayor Latham promised and delivered.
  • Finances - There are long standing questions about our reserves and how we account for our utility bills, but the Commission heard these clearly and directed the Village staff to stop pretending not to understand the questions that the Financial Advisory Board brought up and to answer them. Be prepared for a long budget fight.

Wednesday - The beaches re-opened.
Things that Need Addressing -
The big one is the Island Walk. Village Manager Ralph Rosado has allowed the Moda walk to stay closed with no clear path to re-opening. Whether he has the need to do that is a question and it's time for the commission to start modifying Emergency Powers so that it is not a convenient political excuse for the Village Manager.
The next one is when or if the playgrounds re-open. Kids don't social distance and it may be a long time but now would be a good time to publicize what conditions must be met for the playgrounds to be re-opened.
The Finances need to be in order. Right now, there are serious questions about how much we have in reserve, how we are funding services from the utilities, what the real impact of the economic downturn is. I keep seeing people talking past each other and that makes me nervous.
It's going to a long hard road out of the lockdown, into the recession and through the civil unrest.  I hope we have the right people on staff to take us through this.

I do know we have the right mayor and a commission that usually does the right thing.

Time to come together and figure out this new normal thing.

Kevin Vericker
June 11, 2020

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Tangled Webs

Here's how not to run a government.  Do what North Bay Village has on the Boards and ADA Issue.

Step 1:  Create a fake crisis.

Step 2:  Don't back down from the story.

Step 3:  Set fire to taxpayer money to prop up the story.

What Happened?

Since this is the "Reality Based Community", let's talk about the known facts.  

Last Wednesday, a resident had a discussion with the Village Chief of Staff and expressed his concern that not having captions on the live broadcast of meeting could leave the Village vulnerable to a lawsuit.  The conversation was reported to the Village Manager, discussed with the Village Attorney, and then the Village Clerk cancelled all the board meetings.  

That was last Wednesday.    

When the board members reacted badly to this and the members of the commission reminded the staff that they did not have have the authority to cancel these meetings, the Village Manager, the Village Attorney and the Village Clerk refused to back down.  

They even refused to put the item on the commission agenda for nearly six days.  

Finally, reluctantly, and incompletely, the Village Manager put an item together on Monday night that was a hastily written quote for closed captioning to be installed at some undetermined future point.  

Committing To The Pretext

George Constanza Commits To The Lie

Remember the Seinfeld Episode where George lies about having a house in the Hamptons and won't back down?  Yeah, it was a little like that last night.  

The staff ran out and hired two ASL interpreters for the Zoom meeting.   This was an absurd move for reasons I will explain below.  


The item came up for discussion.  It started with our Village Attorney explaining that he heard rumors that someone might could be sending a demand letter.  He spoke with the Manager and the Clerk and he recommended that the board meetings, none of which were scheduled between then and the commission meetings, be cancelled.   He really wishes he could say more but you know, legal.   

Apparently, the Village attorney has extensive experience in this area, experience that he never thought he might share with the commission prior to this.  He regrets very much that the statement was "terse" and that people didn't understand for some reason.  

The Village Clerk then stated that it was not her intention to make it a "harsh email."  Sorry about that.  

At no time did either of them discuss whether they have the right to cancel the meetings without consulting the village commission who has the only authority to do that.  None of the dais members expressed any concern about that either.   

In the meantime, the ASL interpreters were showing on the screen, except for when the comments about the situation were read.   

Solving the Wrong Problem

An important part of a power grab is to aggressively solve the wrong problem.  Okay stay with me here.   Warning, there will be numbers.  

There are an estimated 2 million Americans with profound hearing loss that cannot be corrected with devices such as hearing aids.   The vast majority of these people lost their hearing later in life and consequently, only about 25% of the profoundly deaf community are fluent in American Sign Language.   And American Sign is a different language with different syntax, grammar, and sentence order. 

You will often see ASL interpreters at live events because that is the best way to communicate in person and live but it does not account for 70-75% of nonfluent signers.

Of the 3% of the deaf population who claim ASL as their native language (meaning language from birth), most consider themselves functionally bilingual which in the United States means fluency in written English/Spanish. 

So last night, in order to prop up the pretext to cancel the boards, the Village spent a fair chunk of change on a service for ASL interpreters.  A service that was not likely of any benefit to anyone.

What About Closed Captioning? 

Yeah, what about it?   Well here's the thing.   At least two of our platforms already have machine generated closed captioning.   Facebook Live, for example, where I was watching, was busily generating captions, for free.   YouTube Live will also machine caption the broadcast if you have more than 100 subscribers.   

Closed captioning will allow all hearing disabled people to follow the meetings, as long as they are English fluent and additionally help those with limited English.   

It's not a perfect solution.  Machine Captioning is good and if you follow our meetings on Facebook Live you can quickly turn it on to get a sense of how good it is.  Here's a quick screenshot while I was watching.  I noticed very few errors although there were omissions when the participants did not speak clearly into the microphones.  It was a lot like Voice to Text on my phone or Google Translate Live.   

In Yellow, the Manager is Talking and the text is in the lower left hand corner.   For Free.  
The estimated accuracy of Voice to Text Captioning is 85% under normal circumstances but with proper elocution and awareness that usually goes to the mid 90's.  You train the machine and it trains you.   

The big advantage is that reaching 95% of your hearing impaired audience is better than just reaching the 25% who may be ASL fluent.  

But Does That Comply With ADA Section 508?

Maybe not.  It might.  It might not.   But it is good and shows intent.  

Generally, the gold standard is Live Captioning.  That is when a stenographer captures the conversation and using a specialized machine like in the courthouse.  That same stenographer then reviews the transcript, compares it to the recording and makes any necessary updates.   That's like 99% and has consistently been regarded as fully compliant and is generally considered best for remote and broadcast meetings. 

It's more effective, cheaper, less intrusive and accessible to a broader audience than ASL.

So That's The Decision For The Short Term? 

No.  Naturally not.  That would make too much sense.  The short term solution will be to contract ASL interpreters.    

At Least The Board Meetings Are Back, Right?  

Well, probably.   None of the three charter officers brought it up, the commission did not instruct them by motion to do it, none of the commissioners clarified if the charter employees have the power to preempt the commission's rights.   

The mayor did say he thought the boards were back on and the Clerk kind of nodded, so maybe?  

As of today, at 2:54 PM on May 13, the meetings all show as cancelled.  

2:55 PM on May 13
This morning the mayor did send an email saying they were back on in due time.   The Village Clerk followed up an hour later not specifically stating the meetings were back on but that she is looking forward to them being back on.  

Of course, the charter officials may find other circumstances to cancel the boards because apparently that's their prerogative now.  


The Village Staff finds the boards irritating.   Actions must be taken:

Step 1:  Create a fake crisis.

As soon as the "lawsuit" word was mentioned, the Attorney, Clerk and Manager sprung into action and cancelled the board meetings.   The information was second hand and then third hand.   The resident being cast as the villain has stated that he never threatened a lawsuit but inquired if we are at risk of legal action.  
Even though there were no board meetings to be affected, and even though the staff specifically does not have the right to cancel the meetings, they figured it was best.   

Step 2:  Don't back down from the story.
To their apparent surprise, the volunteer members of the boards did not appreciate being treated this way and at least the mayor made clear that this seemed a lot like usurpation on their part. Insubordination is the word I would use. 
Rather than doing what responsible people do when caught up in a conflict, which in this case would have been to say "Sorry. We over reacted.  We'll put the item on the agenda and let the commission decide." they took it to a new level, ignored the commission item for 6 days, hired ASL interpreters for the commission meeting, kept the board in limbo, smirked their way through the item, did not agree until pressed to reinstate the board meetings,  and then didn't think it sufficiently important to set up the board meetings this morning until prodded by the mayor.  
 For its part, the commissioners did not assert their powers, left the over reach unremarked and in one stunning comment by one of the commissioners, expressed  that the board members should be "taken care of."  Uh, no.  The Board Members are writing the proposals for funding, creating and executing programs to help Village residents facing the crisis, trying to keep our wildlife in control and helping small businesses.   The Boards are the unpaid caretakers, but I digress.  

Step 3:  Set fire to taxpayer money to prop up the story.  
Now let's go really nuts.   The Village staff found two amazingly expensive captioning systems and in all fairness, appeared to recognize that even a commission as compliant as this one would not pay that, so they are working full steam ahead on finding a solution.  
Among the people they are not working with to find the solution are the Board Members, the resident who innocently asked the question about legal exposure, the National Deaf Center who kind of wrote the book on it, any hearing impaired individuals in North Bay Village, the Boards, The National Association for the Deaf, or any other useful resources.  
Nope.  They have just proposed useless and expensive stopgaps rather than just admit they thought they'd get away with it and focus back on the critical issues. 

My Apologies

I sincerely hope that this posting does not come across as "terse" or "harsh." and I'm very sorry if the staff for some reason feels that way.    I understand that the key to success for important, secure, well paid employees is to never, ever back down.  As long as they can count to 3 on the dais, why should they? 

To those who wonder how I got all these facts and figures, I Googled them.  Unlike our staff.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Shut It Down

The text that started it all

The Issue

As has been reported here previously, all the Board and Village meetings have moved to the Zoom platform.   

On Tuesday night, a resident expressed concern that the meetings were not subtitled to the Village management.   This is a legit concern and has been true for years.   

What happened next was a whole new level.  

Shut It Down.  Shut It All Down!

Oh no, a complaint.

Rather than simply saying, "We get it."  and noting that every single meeting has the exact same notice on its agenda that if someone requires assistance under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Village will provide that assistance, and going forward with the plan to include auto-captioning in the redeployed web site. the Village Manager, the Village Attorney and the Village Clerk got together and decided that the best solution was the cancel all the board meetings, except for Planning & Zoning because that might inconvenience the developers.  

And then just to add to the fun, the two boys got the Village Clerk to put the email under her name because ...

Now Follow This Closely Because It Matters

The Boards don't report to the Village Attorney, the Village Manager or the Village Clerk.  It's right there in our Charter, Article 6.  Just like the Village Attorney, the Village Manager and the Village Clerk report to the commission, the Boards report to the Commission.   The Boards can't fire the Village Clerk, the Village Attorney, or the Village Manager and they can't fire the Boards.  

That right belongs only to the Commission.  

But There Is An Emergency, Right?  

No.  While the staff's neglect of ADA compliance is near legendary, remember this is the group that installed trash cans to block the sidewalk and then argued that 36 3/4 inches were more than enough for a wheelchair until they could no longer keep a straight face and set them up properly, there is no imminent threat.   In fact, there is a Commission Meeting for this Tuesday and the same staff could easily have put that issue before  the commission, their bosses, and brought the viewpoint up.  

There is a general belief that they did not do this because there was grave danger that the commission might not have shut down the boards.  That would be a terrible result for the staff which prefers not be questioned or work in the sunshine.   

So shutting the down the boards, legal or not, and ignoring the commission struck them as the best option.  

But Corona Virus!  Won't Somebody Think of Corona Virus?!

This cheap trick of pretending that a simple question and concern was so overpowering didn't go over well with many of the board members.  
After all, they didn't volunteer to work for the paid staff and being believers in open and transparent government, they complained.  
  • The staff do not have the power to shut down the board meetings without commission approval. 
  • Why did it have to be done immediately when there were no scheduled meetings before the next commission meeting?
The Village Attorney decided to weigh in.  He sent an email to the Village Clerk who forwarded it to the board members.  The email contained many words. Some of them interesting.  

For example, Daniel Espino wrote "Please know that the Village Clerk did not unilaterally cancel your meetings.  She cancelled the meetings in consultation with the Manager and me."  

Well okay then.  The email the village clerk sent was signed by her but seriously, shouldn't everybody know that the discussion was done in the back rooms?  Note that this does not include anything about consulting their boss, the Village Commission.  

Then follows a bunch of words "Working Hard!"  "Corona Virus!", "Not Enough Money!"  

A Gaslight
Then, my favorite sentence from the email "As of right now, no boards (sic) meetings have been disrupted,"  

Let's all take a moment to think about that.  "No Boards have been disrupted."

You can almost hear the unspoken "you idiot" at the end of that. 

Our highly paid attorney is saying "Yes.  We cancelled all the board meetings.  But we didn't "disrupt" them.   How could we "disrupt" what isn't happening?  Stop hitting yourself."  

Okay, But Why Is This Important?

 It's important for two big reasons.  

The Village Clerk, the Village Manager, and the Village Attorney pushed aside the commission on a flimsy pretext and put the Village in danger in an ill-advised attempt to shut out the boards.  

The Commission needs to assert its authority and clearly restrict the overreach of their direct report employees.  This action is a direct attack on the commission and should not be tolerated.  

Far more importantly, the Village is in crisis.  The world is in crisis.  The slow roll virus and the fast crashing economy have turned everything upside down and at a time when North Bay Village is facing record unemployment, residents plunged into poverty, education disrupted and even food hard to get, every voice matters.  That well paid employees take advantage to shut out voices they find unpleasant is a serious warning sign that we may not have the right people employed to work us through the crisis.  

After all, they'll go on to other jobs in other cities but we live here.  And the boards need to be a full partner in getting the Village through what lies ahead.   

I have already been contacted by several of the more active board members (not from mine) who are considering resigning unless this is fixed now.  I think we should hold off and see if the commission shows the courage to take charge and then decide.   

As far as the non-existent threat of a lawsuit, let's be really clear.  Disability rights are civil rights.  They are basic and ADA is remarkably flexible in finding ways to include people.   We currently comply and in particular one board has been fighting a losing battle with the charter officers to improve our inclusivity, one of the boards they want to shut down.  The Village Manager, the Village Attorney and the Village Clerk are using this deceitful pretext to shut down the boards. This is an exploitation of handicapped residents and I hope they at least have the decency to feel bad about that.  

Kevin Vericker
May 9, 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Zooming In On The Commission

Doing It Remotely

The North Bay Village Special Commission Meeting for April was held on Zoom, the video conferencing software with a viral spread outpacing Covid 19.   

Zoom is everywhere hosting cocktail parties, weddings, classrooms and government meetings.  

It actually went okay with no major incidents.  

I am amused that the commission which comprises a much younger demographic than most of the involved residents did not seem to be familiar with some of the basic tips and tricks about tele-meetings.  Camera angles matter, people!  Lighting is important!  Backgrounds should match the theme and tone!  Digital natives, indeed.  

Seriously, when several of them were not in the dark, the cameras were jumping and the background kept shifting.   Here's a helpful article on "How Not To Look Like A Hostage" during a remote meeting.  

The Future of Meetings in North Bay Village

For the foreseeable future, the Village will be meeting on e-platforms and that was the first order of business.  Village Attorney Dan Espino reviewed the legal technicalities of complying with Sunshine, the procedures for quasi-judicial hearings, and how the Village meetings can be conducted.  

Mostly legal stuff but it is part of the "new different" as new ways of conducting government business moves forward.  

All board meetings are scheduled in May and will be done remotely and most likely the commission meetings will be online as well.  

On To The Work At Hand (In Order of Interest To Me)

My Favorite Part:  No snark.  No sarcasm.  There was an example of how well a staff and a commission can work together.   When Commissioner Strout brought up her concern that the Village Emergency Order is open ended and stated her desire to put a time limit on the order so that the commission would be in charge, it was immediately brought out that having an Emergency Order that might not be in place could interfere with FEMA funding, the ability of the Village Manager to respond quickly to new circumstances and could impede operations.   

Here's the thing.  Both concerns, Strout's that the Village Commission needs to be in charge of extraordinary measures and Rosado's that extraordinary measures need to be, well, extraordinary, could have resulted in both sides digging into position and forcing a useless shutdown.  

The Village Attorney, in his role as counselor, stepped in and helped the commission and staff get to a place that satisfied the needs.  Essentially the Commission will at each meeting review the existing Emergency Order and decide with the Village Manager if it needs to be amended, eliminated or continued.   

This was a great example of what being useful looks like and I think it should happen more.  

Not everything has as clear path to effective compromise as this issue but the first step should always be how to get the mutually agreed upon goals in a mutual process.   

Well Done!

Fiscal Uncertainty

An area that didn't go so well was the discussion about what happens now to our finances.  

The well thought out concerns of our Financial Advisory Board were brought forward and they paint an alarming picture of potential shortfalls in the money available in the next year.  

The Village has been running its own projections with identified cost savings that show substantial mitigation of the problems and potential cost cutting.   

But for the discussion on this, it felt like everyone was talking past each other.  The Village staff were focused on how the year will end up and starting to project cash inflow based on near normal projections for next year while the FAB is focused on the potential for massive economic downturns.  

In my view, the bottom line is we have no way of knowing and at this point, the Village needs to working hard with as much possible expertise as it can find to chart this out.  The Financial Advisory Board needs to understand and challenge these assumptions.   Combined they have to figure out:

  • What the Village needs to do - Keep the Streets Clean, Keep the Public Safe, Balance the Books, Issue the Permits, and so on while figuring out what it takes to do that.  
  • What the Village can afford - this scenario planning.  Once we agree what's important to do, figure out what it costs and what revenues will cover that.  
  • What the Village should do - most organizations cut the obvious first - layoff employees, cut salaries, cancel customer facing services, etc.  These cuts are like sugar rushes.  They quickly dissipate and leave everyone poorer.  Instead it's time for an honest look at where we can improve our processes and get the most for every dollar spent.   It's complex, tedious work but we need to know the value of every outcome and the effect of cuts before any decisions are made.  
  • For its part, the Financial Advisory Board needs to be less focused on specific tactics and sharper on desired outcomes.  How we get to the goal matters.  
Nothing definitive came out of the meeting regarding finances and we should worry.  

And "Jesus, God Almighty, Why Are You Wasting Everyone's Time" Moment - The Hornsby Matter

Actual Screenshot of Commissioner Jackson as she
explains her reasoning for reconsideration of the Hornsby
matter (lower left hand corner)
Last month, following the court decision that the removal of Douglas Hornsby was a straight up violation of due process rights and that the absurd justification used by  Commissioners Alvarez and Jackson that Hornsby's appointment was invalid ab initio (Latin for "sez me") was utter nonsense, the Commission voted 3-2 to approve a settlement for Douglas Hornsby that partially repays some of his legal fees in fighting this removal.   

In a weird twist, Commissioner Jackson voted Yes to settle while Mayor Brent Latham voted No.  Latham cited his concern about the ongoing cost to the Village from cleaning up the messes that these two scurrilous commissioners made.   

Anyway, Commissioner Jackson went searching for her soul following the March 12 meeting and announced on March 13 that she wanted to change her vote.  Of course she thinks she found her soul on Facebook and used that medium to announce her discovery.  Specifically she reached out to Laura Cattabriga, admin of an odd little Facebook Group and failed candidate,  and had it posted by her.  

 So the commission had to take time to deal with this shameless nonsense in the middle of important work about like lives, health and safety.  They did take the time and voted 3 to 2 to let the settlement stand.   

Naturally, the two commissioners, Jackson and Alvarez voted No because they broke it.  

The past should be past but you can't move forward without dealing with it.  

At the next commission meeting, someone should introduce a Resolution of Censure for these two.  Their feckless behavior as they presided through the chaos of the last administration needs to be noted and acknowledged.  Our government and community are still suffering the fallout and it's time for the three useful commissioners to draw a line in the sand.   

Well, that's what I got.  See you online!

Kevin Vericker
April 27 2020

Friday, April 17, 2020

It's been what... a month?

The Figures

April 15 2020 Source Florida Covid Dashboard

April 15 2020 Source

The Florida Dashboard paints a grim picture.  On March 17, 2020, there were 70 positive cases in the state.  By April 15, 2020, there were 22,897 and testing has barely begun.   The tests are not widespread, there is much debate as to how prevalent the virus is and how deadly the virus is.   But even with this sample size, and make no mistake, it's a sample, the news is pretty devastating.

The Response

North Bay Village was among the first communities in Florida to take direct action.  By March 12, 2020, the Village Manager Ralph Rosado had enacted the Emergency Powers provision of the Charter and took charge of the Village response.  Any South Florida municipal manager is used to the Emergency Powers since they are always used in hurricanes, but this was a new circumstance.  

North Bay Village, led by Mayor Brent Latham and Dr. Rosado, was one of the first to issue a "Safer At Home" directive that laid out the framework for social distancing and self isolation.   Closing the parks, the baywalk, and setting up time and space for residents to move outside quickly followed.   

In the meantime, the schools stopped meeting in person on March 16 and recognizing that the main source of food for many students was the school breakfast/lunch programs, the school system set up a meal distribution at TIES and Police Chief Noriega staffed it with school resource officer Amy Suarez.  During "Spring Break", the Village provided meals to children and instituted a food program for seniors through the county resources.  

There have been multiple food distributions for people in need, spearheaded by Commissioner Strout and Mayor Latham and executed by the village, staff and volunteers.  Even today, April 16, there is one in place at Village Hall.  

As neighboring towns and cities implemented curfews controlling traffic overnight, Police Chief Noriega decided to do the same here in North Bay Village to prevent the Village from becoming a gathering spot for people kicked out of the Beach and Miami, giving the officers discretion to not harass legitimate people outside but stopping gatherings.   

Throughout it all, the Village communications have been clear, timely and useful.  As we are buried under a torrent of orders and information that we could never have imagined would happen, the manager, the police, the staff, and the mayor have consistently been out there talking, listening, explaining and adjusting.   

And then it happened.  While the case load in North Bay Village is very low, less than 10 known cases, a worker at the Presidente tested positive, another on the administrative staff in North Bay Village did as well.  In both cases the Village put out a response that was serious and realistic.  

In response to the direct question "Are we safe?", the mayor pulled no punches and said "No.  No one is. That's why we keep reminding you to stay home."  This type of clear communication, unwelcome as it might seem, is exactly what a concerned, intelligent community needs.

In the meantime, the Police Department and our first responders were tested and according to an internal email sent out yesterday by the Police Chief, there has been one inconclusive positive and the rest were negative, which seems to be the result of instituting and strictly adhering to safety protocols early on.  

The Uncertain

According to the University of Washington models, Florida has not yet peaked.  We can expect peak hospitalizations around May 3.  That date has changed in the past and to a great extent it shows the success of social distancing and other measures, of which North Bay Village was an early adapter, and the date may move again.  

The key takeaway is "This isn't over."  

In the meantime, it's likely the schools will not reopen this year.  There are plans to plan for businesses reopening and how and nothing is normal.  

In fact, we need to rethink everything.   I am not going to use the cliche "The New Normal".  Instead I prefer to call it "The New Different"  

There is no question that business and markets will stay depressed for some time.  There are no miracles on the horizon.  

The commission meets next week, tentatively, remotely and need to have the conversation about what North Bay Village will look like in the near future (May, June...) and what it might be like if the planned projects and financial commitments the Village is counting on don't come through.   I expect we will see a vigorous plan for the next phase but it's too soon to know what that phase is, so for right now, the Village is functional, our garbage is being collected, our needs are being met, and that's not a bad foundation.  

That's It?! No Complaints, No Snark?

Who Wrote This and What Did You Do With Vericker?

Hell, yeah.  It's North Bay Village and North Bay Village Crazy™ stays strong.  

Over on the Facebook groups, you can see people are throwing their latex gloves in the street and even more stupidly are flushing them down toilets.

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez took time out of their busy schedules to snipe at each over whether the exact same order should be called "Safer at Home" or "Shelter in Place", thereby wasting space, newsprint and precious brain cells on a stupid beef.

In the meantime, it turns out that former North Bay Village Manager Frank Rollason, decried as the Devil Incarnate by the previous North Bay Village ruling junta, is running the Miami-Dade Emergency Response Center and by all accounts locally and nationally doing a good job.  The former mayor, the defeated mayoral candidate, and the two useless members of the commission all expressed their admiration and apologized for how they treated him.

And Speaking of the Useless Ones 

Neither Commissioner Andreanna Jackson nor Commissioner Jose Alvarez have been seen or heard from in the last month.  Nowhere.  I mean, Safer At Home is a good idea but the other commissioners have used the time to communicate and make themselves available to help.  Not these two.

Except Jackson claims she found her soul and her soul is telling her to pay a stupid political game on the Hornsby settlement and she wants to reconsider her vote to clean up the unholy mess that she caused because apparently her soul is leading her to Chaos , the original state.  So according to a sparsely viewed Facebook post, Jackson wants to reconsider her vote for sanity in the Hornsby matter.  
Commissioner Alvarez
Andreanna Jackson

And of course, The Alternate View

There are a number of people sloping around town spreading rumors about massive, hidden infections in the Village work staff and asking "interested questions" with no intention of getting answers.   I won't name them, because I can't afford to buy a vowel, and I have some pity on how awful it must be to have so many, many personalities in one person, but I will note that if your news sources are a disgraced Village employee and two crows living in a tree on Center Bay Drive, it's probably best to retire from public discourse.  

Kevin Vericker
April 17, 2020