Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best Supervised Police Department Ever

With the restructuring of the police department, we now have the THE BEST SUPERVISED POLICE EVER. Seriously. Check it out.

We have:

1 Chief
2 Lieutenants
4 Sergeants
4 Corporals

11 Total Command Staff (Gold Badge)

8 Patrol Officers

Ratio of Supervisors to people being Supervised 1.25:1

And let's not forget that we have 5 detectives, who in North Bay Village investigate property crimes. Now we don't know how many property crimes there are since the PD does not publish crimes stats but I'm sure there must be a lot of them. Of course, if it's a violent crime, it goes outside North Bay Village.

Another important thing to remember is that each of the so called "command" and "detective" positions come with a financial benefit for the increased responsibility, typically 5% for sergeant, 5% for detective and 3% for corporal.

Where is the money coming from? The PD did not budget for raises in 2011 and did not save any money in 2010, in spite of being directed to make cuts.

Maybe if Chief Daniels feels well enough, he might explain this to us at the next commission meeting.

Kevin Vericker
December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Cost of Privatization

Earlier this year, I wrote about the city of Maywood, California. Maywood has several important characteristics in common with North Bay Village. From June 23, "Maywood is a small, overlooked city (~28,000) in the middle of the Los Angeles urban sprawl. North Bay Village is the most densely populated municipality in Florida. Maywood is the most densely populated municipality in California. The demographics are similar in that both are younger, predominantly Latino cities. Both have a fairly high number of recently developed properties that remain unsold."

Maywood went broke. Years of poor administration, corruption, lack of open government resulted in the city shutting down all its services and outsourcing to private companies and other municipalities. The news was surprising to most, but there were some who thought that privatizing city services is an inherently good idea and the solution was obvious and beneficial.

But it turned out not to be. Maywood is now facing a situation where the town to which they had contracted their police services has dropped them without notice. The private companies have jacked up rates and the residents are facing even deeper cuts and more expensive services.

Privatizing is not a magic bullet. The belief that private enterprise can always provide better, more efficient and cheaper services is naive at best. There are times when it makes sense but at all times it needs to be carefully and most importantly professionally monitored.

Our garbage is a classic example of privatization done wrong. Our City Manager provide the commission with false information by saying that the savings of privatizing would be at least $500,000 per year, when he should have reported that the best case is around $80,000. The commission approved the contract without even knowing what the savings might be.

It continues. At the December 14, 2010 meeting, Connie Kreps introduced a resolution to waive the protest bond for companies who believe the contract was unfairly awarded. The Vice Mayor did not seem to understand the resolution and voted for it while explaining that she did not want to waive the protest bond.

We are in a delicate situation. Our City Manager lacks financial acumen during the worst financial crisis in our history. Our police department never made any cuts and is promoting and increasing salaries like there was no crisis. At least one commissioner, and more likely two, have no idea what they are proposing and voting on. It goes on.

Welcome to Maywood. For more information on how it's working out for them, check this article.

Kevin Vericker
December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lexi Move

The Lexi, a large new high rise as 7901 Hispanola Avenue, is a monument to the decline of North Bay Village. Developed by Scott Greenwald during the height of the condocraze in Miami, the Lexi was designed as a luxury condominium taking advantage of some truly spectacular bay views. As price rises spiraled insanely and then the market collapsed, the Lexi lost some of its luster.

The apartments are beautiful inside and the bay views from them are amazing but the ground floor of the building is derelict, looking like an abandoned strip mall fronted by an ugly parking lot. This is the face of the city today. It wasn't supposed to be this way.

The proposed ground floor plans included a variety of local businesses deemed "upscale" and was supposed to have included a Starbucks, restaurants, a spa and a useful veterinary clinic. Instead, the only restaurant, Mario the Baker, has closed, and the only activity on the ground floor is the "temporary" city hall and police station. It is at least from a commercial point of view a failure.

The City of North Bay Village is moving there next month. We had a preview of the new commission chambers at the December 14 meeting. A small, windowless room with poor acoustics will serve as our civic meeting hall. The light and the views from our current city hall will be replaced by a warren of closed in cubicles. The police station set up cannot by law include facilities appropriate for investigations and holding suspects so there will be a second facility on Galleon St. The parking lot in front of the building will get even more crowded.

The whole move was arranged for the benefit of Scott Greenwald, who had to turn to the city for this subsidy, and the benefit of former vice mayor George Kane, who pleaded "No Contest" to the charge that he used his position to promote this deal while collecting $12,500 annually as his commission for doing so. See the full report by clicking here.

So the city is going ahead with this move, at a cost of some $85,000 annually above what we pay now, in January. All so a politically well connected developer can recoup some money on a poorly executed bankrupt project. The laws of supply and demand are repealed by government fiat.

And how does Scott Greenwald repay the city's generosity? By waging a battle against the city to build his next sure to be successful project, a strip club to anchor our non existent boardwalk. The commission voted down the application but we all know it's coming back up and I predict next time it will be approved. Money has a way of doing that.

Kevin Vericker
December 29, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Trust and Openness and Democracy

"It is the government with something to hide, or thinks itself justified in so doing, that we must fear most." Thomas Paine - The First American Blogger.

There are so many bad things that happen when information is suppressed. Corruption is easy, incompetence remains uncorrected, money goes missing, decisions are made without access to inforation, responsibility is diffused.

On December 14, the City Manager had no report to the commissioners and the assembled citizens at the Commission Meeting. The Chief of Police excused himself without a Public Safety briefing.

North Bay Village has returned to closed system of government. The City Manager and the Police Chief are by omission withholding information from the commissioners and more importantly from the citizens. And that information is costing us.

It seems the projects are dead. The critical infrastructure that we need to create a well balanced community with a diverse tax base has died.

The budget may or may not be in line. We have no way of knowing.

The garbage outsourcing migh be save us $80,000 or $500,000. We have no way of knowing.

Crime may be up or down in North Bay Village. We have no way of knowing.

The PD may have needed to change the command structure and give raises to several officers now promoted. Or maybe it didn't. We have no way of knowing.

None of these critical issues were brought up by the two people who are obligated by law to bring these to the commission. And the information was omitted without explanation or apology.

The current city administration is operating in the shadows, without communication to the public, and without the openness that is the basic framework democracy.

In this environment, speculation is all we have and that's bad. We have too much at risk and too much invested to tolerate this.

The City Manager and the Chief of Police need to step up now and provide a full accounting of the finances, the crime statistics, the response times, the full explanation of the current administrative status of the city and their recommendations to the commission in detail.

Accountability is not optional.

Kevin Vericker
December 27, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Post Before Christmas

This is a very short post. The North Bay Village Police Department is continuing to create new positions and raise salaries while the city is suffering the worst decline in its history.

The question remains why. Maybe it is needed to resolve short term problems or to improve long term effectiveness. Maybe. It would be nice to know but there is no public discussion of the police issues.

I understand Chief Daniels felt ill during our last commission meeting and left. That happens. But the responsible thing to do would have been to provide a written assessment to the commission about changes proposed in the police department. His contract specifies that he need answer to no one but we do after all pay his salary and a simple memo would have been appropriate.

I'll be back next week. In the meantime, for those who celebrate Christmas, have a very merry Christmas and for those who don't, have a great day off.

Kevin Vericker
December 23, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Projects

Last year at this time, the two most visible signs of progress in our city, operational restructuring to reduce costs and grant seeking to develop our tax base, were encouraging. The various city departments were working to reign in costs and perform more efficiently, citizens were active in looking at ways to reduce costs and the projects were constantly under review. In fact, it seemed that everybody in the city administration was looking for bragging rights on who brought in more money. (This was a good thing, a very healthy competition.)

So now in December 2010, where are we? All of our grant seeking has stopped dead in its tracks. Grant requests have been allowed to expire without any action. Our economic base is getting weaker not stronger. Businesses see nothing different happening in North Bay Village. Our PD has not even paid lip service to the commission mandated cuts.

We have an unqualified part time city manager whose contempt for his bosses, the commission, is so deep that he could not even be bothered to give a perfunctory report at the first full commission meeting on December 14.

North Bay Village is still in deep economic crisis. Our revenues are down. We are exceptionally vulnerable to the projected "double dip" recession. Mortgage rates are creeping up while we are still wrestling with the effects of real estate over-development.

We need and deserve full time, professional city management. The self inflicted wound of firing Matt Schwartz because he did sufficiently condescend to three of the commission members has not yet healed.

Our commission needs to get to work. We have to find a city manager with experience, knowledge and connections to get us at least on the right track. North Bay Village cannot continue to pretend that things are going well. They're not and the evidence would have been right there if the commission had insisted on a report.

Kevin Vericker
December 20, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Restructure The Commission Meetings

I have not commented much on the fact that Corina Esquijarosa in her first three meetings as mayor has put forth a series of items designed to make the commission meetings more resident friendly. In broad strokes, these proposals are:

  • Change the governing rules from an ordinance to a resolution. This would allow the commission to try different approaches to see what suits the citizenry best.

  • Move Good and Welfare to the end of the meeting, rather than the beginning. This would allow residents who attend the meetings to comment on various pieces of legislation or commission business, not to be delayed as people simply to get up to talk. Good and Welfare matters and is intended to be a forum for residents to bring issues up to the commission and city staff that are not covered in the agenda but it should not take priority over the other business before the commission.

  • Require speakers to sign in with a name and address. This practice, nearly universally followed in other cities, would allow the city to do proper follow up and make the speakers data public. It might also help cut down on slanderous speech and absurd behavior.

  • Change the meeting time to start at 7PM rather than 7:30PM to give more time to the subjects at hand and prevent these post midnight sessions.

  • Referred to but not discussed in detail is an idea to change the meeting to the first Tuesday of the month with a second meeting scheduled the third Tuesday if needed. We have suffered from a rash of unscheduled commission meetings for almost a year now and it's clear our current model of one meeting per month is not working. This would give the flexibility to the commission to table business at the first meeting and the expectation that the second meeting is not a full month away. During the financial crisis, the commission also needs to be tightly watching the finances and setting the direction closely. The board meetings could then happen throughout the second week and report back the third week.

Pretending that our commission meetings are working as structured is a denial of the obvious. Resident participation is low. It's the same core group that shows up month after month. (I'm in that group.) Most residents attending for the first time are shocked at the disorderliness of the meetings and the lack of clarity and few have the patience to sort it out.

My view is that there should be some data, something tangible, to guide the commission. I'd recommend that we start using direct mail to the residents, email those who have shared their emails, solicit residents' viewpoints, see what it would take to improve performance and outreach and be willing to respond. Two of the commissioners were elected to bring these changes - Eddie Lim and Corina Esquijarosa, and they should lead this charge. The sitting commissioners, Frank Rodriguez and Paul Vogel know that the structure doesn't work. Let's fix it.

Kevin Vericker
December 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 14, 2010 Commission Meeting

Long meeting last night. It ran from 7:30 to after midnight and did not complete the agenda. A lot was covered but I'll just hit the highlights.

New Commission Chambers at the Lexi - Last night was the first time a commission meeting was held in the ground floor of the Lexi where the new city hall will be. The room was small with poor acoustics and no heat, which granted won't matter most of the time.

The rest of the unnecessary move to the Lexi will take place in January, bringing citizens no demonstrable benefit while providing less office space than we currently have at a cost of about $80,000. The biggest outrage is that former Vice Mayor George Kane was supposed to receive private compensation of $25,000 when he arranged this real estate bailout but now he won't. The Commission on Ethics put the kibosh on that. It turns out it's illegal to collect commissions for being a commissioner. Who knew?

The City Manager's Report - There was none. Nothing. Nada. Bupkes. Apparently nothing happened in the city during November. Certainly nothing the citizens or the commission need to know about anyway, like the financial status of the city, the move to the Lexi, the ongoing investigations in the police department, the privatization efforts etc. None of our business. Just move along here, folks.

Various Agenda Items -

  • The strip club got voted down. 4-1. Eddie Lim voted for it but nobody else did.

  • The dock at 1520 S. Treasure Drive was postponed. It turns out that our code is out of date with the DERM requirements so now we have to update that.

  • The suggestions that the mayor has to change the order of the meeting and require people to sign in for Good & Welfare were dissed by Connie Leon-Kreps but will be coming up in a future ordinance.

  • Connie Leon-Kreps sponsored a resolution to waive the protest fee, allowing Choice Environmental Systems to protest the theft of the North Bay Village sanitation services but didn't seem to know what she was sponsoring. That passed so maybe there's hope of rescinding this giveaway. She voted to waive the fee, which was a good thing, but I suspect she meant to vote to keep it. It's hard to tell. Anyway, the waiver passed 4-1.

  • Planning and Zoning members were picked. Rey Trujillo, Richard Chervony and James Carter were rewarded with seats in votes by Eddie Lim, Connie Leon-Kreps, and Dr. Vogel.

    I'm sure that Rey Trujillo will make his first order of business to fix the situation at the Grandview, addressing the unpermitted restaurant kitchen and the 24 hour kennel. Chervony can provide unlicensed medical advice.

Not really an auspicious start but it was good to see that the meeting was well run, rules respected, and Mayor Esquijarosa continues to make the commission discuss the issues in public, rather than the old sunshine busting trio.

Now if we could just get the city manager to tell us what's happening in the city, we might have a chance.

Kevin Vericker
December 15, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Closing Out The Week

This week I've written about the worsening issues of the North Bay Village Police Department.

  • Publicly paid private investigations to intimidate police officers and citizens.
  • The complete lack of community outreach and involvement in public safety.
  • The extra legal contract crafted for the police chief.
  • The refusal to reign in costs.

There's a bit more to add. There is check sitting in city hall to pay the chief a three month bonus for his insurance transition, his COBRA. This was not part of his employment agreement, not part of his contract but a "verbal" promise made to him. It seems like the grab bag never empties when it comes to the police.

There needs to be a massive change in the police department and I have no faith that this chief will make that happen. So far, any questions from the community have been met with digging in, the chief claiming annoyance at the person trying to work with him, and intimidation. Maybe he might realize that success in North Bay Village is not just about pleasing a small group in the force but his history here, and in Buckeye, AZ, are such that if he has not learned it by now, he never will.

This week, people have been warning me that I face retaliation for criticizing the police, and I probably do. I'm neither stupid nor crazily heroic and I am well aware that the NBV PD has such a history of targeting residents who speak out. I will probably at some point find that I get a ticket for oh, I don't know, unregistered sneakers or making a legal turn. But the current situation is even less tolerable.

Don't take my word for it. Call the chief at 305 758 2626. Ask to see the crime statistics and response sheets for NBV. Ask him about the investigations. Ask him about the budget cuts. Or come to the commission meeting on Tuesday December 14 and ask him in person. Tell me if you get a real answer and I'll tell the rest of the world.

Kevin Vericker
December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Budget and The Police

In 2009, then Police Chief Pandolfi was instructed by the commission to cut $350,000 from the budget. He resigned a few months later and the cuts had not yet been made. Since then, no cuts have been made. No reductions in force, no change in the pay structure, and in fact the police department has continued running over budget.

There are big examples of the costs being too high. The current police chief's contract is far too generous for the quality of service we are getting. You can see fully paid cops every morning being crossing guards at the school, an expensive deployment. The new contract protected most of the benefits and we have not gone to any furloughs. The command structure has been slightly reduced but not significantly. A detective was demoted as a cost cutting procedure but another was promptly put in. An outside investigator was brought in for no serious reason.

Dispatch became a sacred cow in the North Bay Village mostly due to the alarm that changing local dispatch caused a few citizens who call frequently for no apparent reason. This one really sticks out since $250,000 goes to maintaining local dispatch. Ask your neighbors, how many even know that there is a local dispatch to call besides 911? My guess is that about half won't know there is such a number. The police department does not advertise the service and has never conducted a simple survey to find out if the public even knows about the service.

The last month we have statistics on dispatch is March 2009 where we averaged 8 calls per day, about 2.5 per shift. That's a pretty expensive dispatch especially since we are paying Miami-Dade County 911 as well. There are options besides eliminating - we could combine with other cities, we could staff only during peak hours and use 911 for other calls, we could sell out dispatch services to other cities or even condos. But none of those have been explored and we are sitting with a large white elephant of a service.

And so we pay, about $80 per call for just in case dispatch. That's a pretty high price.

The PD is not participating in the community as a whole, not being a partner in the budget crisis, not reaching out where it matters and isolating itself from the community. I have never liked the idea of going to county or another city for police services, but seriously if our return on the amount of money we spend is this poor, why are we even paying it?

We need a police chief who remembers that he works for us, not the other way around.

Kevin Vericker
December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How The Police Got To This Point

There's a simple distillation of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes that says “If you do things the right way, you do the right things.” Hobbesian choices are not about complying with arbitrary social mores but about making sure that the seemingly small choices we make are correct and ethically consistent. The old aphorism that “the end justifies the means” is just wordplay in the moral universe of Hobbes. The means themselves create the end.

So apart from not wanting to let that humanities degree go to waste, why the heck would I be writing about philosophy from the Scottish Enlightenment?

Simple, it's a continuation of what has gone wrong in the North Bay Village Police Department in the last year. Monday I wrote about the police chief using public money to hire a private investigator. The investigation is focused on officers whom the current dominant union does not particularly care for and has the appearance of being designed to intimidate officers and citizens rather than unearth facts.

Yesterday, I covered the isolation and lack of public accountability that characterize the NBV police department.

That we are worse off than before with the new chief does not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with how he was hired and the contract he holds. That process of recruiting and hiring Chief Daniels was filled with unethical and possibly illegal steps in which he willingly participated.

Let's review. Robert Daniels was brought in through the back door. After the commission voted lockstep, Vogel, Kane and Trujillo, to not hire an interim chief following Roland Pandolfi's resignation, announcing that they felt it was better to wait until a new commission was elected to recruit the chief, interim city manager Robert Pushkin began a recruitment campaign with few applicants. Daniels was already picked.

When George Kane and Rey Trujillo, joined by Dr. Vogel, forced the hire on the city without public comment and virtually no discussion from the dais, things were done wrong.

When the contract which gives the chief “sole discretion in management of the Police force” was written in spite of its clear illegality as it directly contradicts our charter and approved in collusion with Daniel Abbott of Weiss Serota, the chief, the city manager and the three commissioners knew and should have known that this was a dirty deal. Yet they all gladly went along.

When the severance package for dismissal for anything, anything, other than criminal conviction gives six months' notice and three months' severance, you know that the conspirators are aware of how illegal and unethical their behavior is and this severance package was designed to do two things – reassure the chief that even though his contract is illegal, he will be taken care of and put the cash strapped city in a bind where we continue to employ the chief regardless of his actions or inaction because we cannot afford to let him go.

So it's no surprise that Chief Daniels feels no obligation to the public, the commission or the mayor and spends his time protecting his position and supporting his patrons. It's sad for him and a bad deal for North Bay Village.

But given his willing participation in an unethical hiring process, his extraordinary contract, it's entirely predictable. Besides, ask yourself. If you were the Chief and you came in this way, would you want to be seen in public? Would you feel comfortable under scrutiny? Better to stay in the shadow, preemptively ferreting out enemies and not engaging with the public who were cheated.

Kevin Vericker
December 8, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Isolation and Politics in the Police Department

Yesterday, I wrote about the outside investigator, Pat Franklin, who has been brought into North Bay Village to conduct investigations about "citizen complaints" that some police officers may have been involved in politics. I note the Mr. Franklin does not seem to be investigating the FOP Endorsements in our last election cycle, but spending his time questioning innocuous social media postings.

The net effect of such an investigation is to send an intimidating message to the officers and to the targeted civilians that not falling in behind the chief is dangerous. I'll write in more detail tomorrow as it has to do with the contract that was shoved down our throats.

But in the meantime, are the relationships any better with the citizens, the ones who pay the taxes and to whom the police department is here to serve? Not if you are not part of the political cabal that hired and continues to protect the chief.

Some small samplings - a "Meet The Chief" night with PAL became just a PAL meeting when the chief called in sick. He never rescheduled and never took the time to initiate any further interaction.

The police department does not publish metrics so we have no idea how many patrols are made, how many calls are responded to, what the police are doing. There are no published crime statistics for North Bay Village.

There have been no community meetings with the chief or the police since he started last July. North Bay Village has been concerned for some time that our police department was divided and not serving the community. Not a single thing has happened to change that perception. There is zero community outreach, something we had been very used to under Chief Pandolfi.

The suspension of the PAL/DARE programs was a community relations disaster. Daniels stonewalled the board and individual members, put himself in a bizarre argument with me when I wrote that "emails" had been ignored and let me know in no uncertain terms that he only ignored one email so the plural was an attack. Only when it was clear that this was a campaign issue and a liability for his political sponsor Rey Trujillo did he begin to respond.

Other residents have regularly reported that he is distant on the best of days.

We are a small town. There is a good argument that the only reason that we are a town at all is to have our own police force and we pay the bulk of our taxes to keep them.

It's time for the police chief to get out of the trailers, out of the secret meetings at city hall, and get out in the street meeting with the residents whether he likes us or not. Drop the faux investigations and stop intimidating the citizens.

Next Tuesday, December 14, the chief is expected for the first time to provide a public safety briefing to the commission and to the public. This was not his idea or proposal as it should have been, but at least maybe we will start to hear just what the heck the police department is doing with our money.

Tomorrow: Let's look at the contract.

Kevin Vericker
December 7, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Investigating the Investigators

In July, the city hired Robert Daniels as Chief of Police. His biggest challenge was to bring the police department back to a place where the department works as a cohesive unit to serve the city.

Chief Daniels has failed. The police are now working under a permanent state of investigation and favoritism. Political activities have further divided the police, community relations are bad and there is no longer even lip service to respecting the budget. In every way, our police department is in worse shape than it was before Chief Daniels was hired.

For this post, let's concentrate on one thing – the investigations. We'll talk about the other aspects through the week.

The North Bay Village PD has hired Patrick Franklin, a private investigator, to pursue politically unpopular members of the North Bay Village Police Department. Franklin has a long reputation doing internal affairs investigations for police departments around Miami-Dade and did several for the North Bay Village PD over the years. Franklin was hired in response to “citizen complaints” about social media postings that might have had political leanings and to look at publicly available records.

First problem: Why bring in an outside investigator when we have an internal affairs group in our own police department? If the PD's internal affairs is not capable of running of a preliminary investigation to see if there are grounds for a larger investigation, then that's what needs fixing. There's nothing about casual citizen complaints about dislikes of specific officers that warrant this extraordinary expense.

Second problem: Such investigations are presumed to be confidential. Yet within days, the news was all over town that Franklin was conducting inquiries about members of the PD. Now that may have been the plan, to do the investigation publicly to ferret out information, but it looks more like sloppiness than strategy.

A leader coming into the position of chief in a deeply conflicted department should be uniting the department but this looks more like retaliation than rehabilitation. Perception matters.

Kevin Vericker
December 6, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And Now, The Down Side of the Commission Meeting

While the commission did a stand up job on Tuesday night, the old guard from North Bay Island did their best to drag it back into the mud.

Commissioner Frank Rodriguez told me about an extortion threat two of these old timers made to force him to do their bidding.

According to Rodriguez, before the meeting started, Al Blake and Richard Chervony approached Rodriguez and asked to speak to him. They proceeded to tell Rodriguez that they were aware of an effort to recall Dr. Vogel. They warned Rodriguez that they had embarrassing personal information about Rodriguez and his family that they would reveal if Rodriguez did not stand against this recall.

Rodriguez then asked the two, "Are you threatening me?"

The conversation ended there but not the incident. Later Tuesday night, Rodriguez called the chief of police and laid out the situation. There is a criminal investigation going on now, much larger than the North Bay Village Police Department as this extortion is illegal under Florida and Federal statutes.

This type of clumsy extortion is the usual operating mode for the CFD. I've written before about the libels I've received from Richard Chervony. We've all seen the emails from this group. I hope this is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

One truly twisted turn in this clumsy melodrama is that Frank Rodriguez admires Dr. Vogel, was surprised and annoyed by the rumor mongering and doesn't believe in recalls for anything less than an a criminal action. Way to go, CFD'ers.

A word about the Paul Vogel "recall". This is a rumor started by Rey Trujillo from the dais following Trujillo's defeat in the mayoral election and it struck me then as mean spirited. Dr. Vogel consistently stood with Trujillo on his votes, much to my dismay. I suspect, but don't know, that it was one last attempt by Trujillo to pressure Dr. Vogel by creating a false recall rumor in hopes that Dr. Vogel would believe it and align himself against the new mayor. Since Trujillo provided no information about his source for this rumor, your guess is as good as mine.

This election was about retaking the city by the sane citizens. It's more important than ever for us to engage rationally and without the baggage of the past. These ugly old ways need to die.

When we do the things the right way, we do the right things.

Kevin Vericker
December 2, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The November 30 Commission Meeting Gets an A

Transparency was the theme of the evening last night at the first meeting of the new commission, a special session to consider several resolutions and ordinances. The meeting's civil tone, with significant discussion on the dais of the merits of each item, combined with respectful comments expressing support or disagreement from the public and lack of grandstanding, made the meeting almost boring which is what a routine commission meeting should be.

The day to day work of a municipal government is not a whole lot different than any private enterprise and it usually happens without fireworks or impassioned stands being taken. Decisions are made by presenting the need for a change, discussing the various aspects and implications of the decision being considered, new information is taken into account and the decision is made or not depending on its merits. Holding tight to a position rather than a goal and grandstanding rather than discussing ideas is the hallmark of a failed organization.

Our last city commission failed as a result of grandstanding and positioning. Every item had been decided long before it got to the public. We were used to the sight of three commissioners sitting on the dais, having long before decided how they would vote and never sharing their reasoning. The alliance was based purely on personal animosity against Mayor Alfonso, ego and a disregard for the public.

Mayor Corina Esquijarosa knows there is no chance of returning the government to the citizens if the political process problem is not addressed. Her first steps as mayor have been to fix the process and the tone. Last night, she consistently directed the commission to the subject at hand to keep the public focus where it needs to be. That's not to say that all the commissioners agreed with her or even voted with her. They didn't but they laid out why they felt the way they do.

I will be covering each of these items later this week. There aren't that many but they matter to the ongoing transparency.

The five members of the commission get an A for their willingness to engage publicly in the process of governance.

Kevin Vericker
December 1, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Florida Power and Light - Treasure Island

At each of the city improvement meetings NBV has held in the last few years, the subject comes up of putting the power and phone lines on Treasure Island underground. This is years overdue.

Above ground power lines in an urban hurricane zone were a poor choice to begin with. The poles themselves have blown over in storms increasing the risk to our homes. On the one behind my house, the transformer exploded a few years back, starting a fire. The poles rot. Vegetation grows on them. All in all, a bad design choice.

Now FPL has been very careful to say that even if we put the wires underground, we cannot expect that the days long blackouts following a hurricane will improve in any way. According to FPL, there is no relationship between strong winds, downed power lines lying in flooded streets and power outages. They are FPL so they must know what they're talking about but it just seems obvious that underground wires don't fall over a lot.

I bring this up today because I had a classic FPL encounter this morning. A guy with heavy wire-cutters knocked on the door and announced that FPL would be cutting some palm trees behind my yard. This is an improvement over the last time five years ago when they used pliers to destroy the lock on my gate and enter, while I was in the house.

Anyway, after a half hour or so of desultory hacking away at my neighbor's palm tree, removing the lower branches but leaving the ones covering the power lines intact, the FPL crew decided it was a day's work well done and took off.

Except that they left a wire dangling about two feet above the pool.

Dangling power wires and water make me nervous and I went out in search of the truck. No luck. I called FPL at 1 PM, they told me someone would call me. I called back at 3 PM. FPL told me someone would call me. At 5 PM, I called again and as the customer service person was telling me that someone might call me, the truck pulled up.

The wire is now back where it belongs. It took about five minutes.

So my story ends well enough. Nobody died, or got shocked, or anything really other than inconvenienced but none of this would have happened if the city listened clearly to the residents and had the project to put the wires underground underway.

Kevin Vericker
November 29, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Process and the Commission

The first business meeting of the new commission is being held Tuesday, November 30, at 7:30. The very detailed agenda is attached below. It's 66 pages long and contains all the supporting detail.

Mayor Esquijarosa is a process wonk. No question about it and that's exactly what we need. What the agenda mostly contains are items designed to make sure that the government of North Bay Village is more transparent and accessible. In reading through these, there's nothing radical being proposed but there is a central theme of doing it better, smarter and more transparently.

Two things stood out to me. The emphasis on decorum for the commission and the public, and a proposed timing change to Good & Welfare.

Let's start with Good & Welfare. This is built into the charter and our code of ordinances as an opportunity for any North Bay Village resident or business owner to bring before the commission issues and concerns. Many times these issues are actually addressed in the commission meeting itself during one of the staff or commissioner reports or on specific pieces of legislation before the commission. In other words the answer is in the meeting, yet Good & Welfare often takes up more time before the real issues are addressed.

Frankly, many of the rants and complaints brought up during this time are not particularly sensible and those who attend the meetings to be better informed or more involved in the city politic have to sit through a lot of bad behavior to get to the real issues.

There is a proposal for a simple, effective change to move Good & Welfare to the end of the meeting. This would allow the commission to go through the city business first, residents with particular concerns can speak during public hearings, and those who want to speak at Good & Welfare will be able to. It makes sense.

Decorum though is key. Decorum on the dais matters and equally important is public decorum. Personal attacks unrelated to the issue being discussed are routinely hurled. Two weeks ago, Fane Lozman used his time during sworn testimony at a hearing on a zoning matter to cast aspersions on my personal life. I joked about it but the more I've considered the matter, the North Bay Village Commission has allowed this foolishness to go on too long.

Fane Lozman has consistently been allowed to violate the basic rules of decorum in his speech and behavior. It might seem innocuous that he refuses to give a legal address when speaking, just a cowardly preference not to be accountable for his deliberate actions, but it has a real effect when his spouting slanders publicly in order to disenfranchise others who disagree with him. It makes it sort of an in person anonymous attack.

The Commission of North Bay Village needs to regain control of the meetings for the residents of North Bay Village. Not to do so allows this systematic bullying to continue to alienate the residents with legitimate issues.

Kevin Vericker
November 27, 2010

11-30-2010 City Commission Meeting Agenda

Monday, November 22, 2010

New City Manager? Rey Trujillo? What?

The big problem with trying to keep in the reality sphere in North Bay Village is that this city is a very weird place. The latest rumor, and I do stress rumor, is that Rey Trujillo who lost the election for mayor of NBV, is letting it be known that he would like to be city manager. I normally wouldn't even bother writing up about this but this is the sort of crazy stuff that has gone on in the past.

I really hope this is just a malicious rumor people are spreading to annoy the decent citizens of North Bay Village. Please let that be so. We've suffered enough. As commissioner, he led the charge to raise our taxes, cut our services, fire our staff, write sweet deals for the police chief and make us the laughing stock of Miami-Dade. He didn't get elected in spite of a six month head start, running against an unknown opponent and having a well financed campaign. It's time to go away for a while.

We need to watch this very carefully.

Kevin Vericker
November 22, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November in North Bay Village

November in North Bay Village is my favorite month. The heat has broken which makes walking and biking fun again, there's lot to do around town, the elections are over, and of course the Miami Book Fair is on.

I love the book fair. I love that Miami has the largest book fair in the United States and that Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, understands that alongside the superficial bling of Miami there is an intellectual life. I volunteer each year if I can and this year so far has been great. There's always several writers I must see and each year, there are writers that I never heard of before and need to know about. You should check it out at the MFI Website. There's still time.

Insider Tip about the Book Fair - The main events at Chapman are sold out through the weekend but the standby line almost always gets you in. I know. I worked the line this morning for the Dave Barry presentation and everyone was accomodated. Just be patient and have a Plan B if it does truly fill up.

On the photo above, my friend and neighbor Lyng-Hou Ramirez, a journalist and a very good photographer has been taking pictures around NBV and the bay. This picture, from her online album, is my favorite because it combines a beautiful shot of the bay looking east, with a sign about manatees who are by far my favorite marine animal. I'll be publishing more and linking to her site as I figure out how.

Finally, Thanksgiving week is here. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. The idea of taking a day to be grateful and aware of life around us is radical in the best sense. I know Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do it on a Monday in October so I'm not sure it counts. Beyond that, I can't think of any other country that espouses gratitude as a value. Plus you get to really push your eating skills. This week always puts me in the best of moods.

In case you think the blog has been hijacked with all this uncharacteristic display of enthusiasm, gratitude and appreciation, nah. It's just sometimes, you got to get a little intense.

Kevin Vericker
November 20, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The First Commission Meeting

Last night, November 16, three new members took their places on the dais. Mayor Corina Esquijarosa, Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps, and Commissioner Eddie Lim were each sworn in following valedictory remarks from Rey Trujillo and Oscar Alfonso. I find these ceremonies moving, reminders that we live in a time and a place where we have the privilege of changing our government without violence, without coercion, and small town democracy is the embodiment of these ideals.

Each of the new members made an opening address and Commissioner Lim's stood out. His call for decorum and respect at the meetings evoked a strong response from all present. It was a clear, concise statement of changing the tone of the discussion, long a goal of mine. Mayor Esquijarosa spoke about her dedication to getting the process right and to listening more than speaking, a near revolutionary concept for an elected official. This combination strikes me as powerful.

Almost immediately, you could see the new tone of the commission when sitting Commissioner Rodriguez brought up his belief that there should be another commission meeting this month. Although the city attorney told him that a motion was not necessary, any two commissioners can make such a request and the city clerk can manage the details, Rodriguez wanted the discussion done in public. It took very little time for the group to agree on November 30. I hope this spirit of transparency pervades in our new commission.

Finally, there was some talk from outgoing Commissioner Rey Trujillo about a plan to recall Dr. Vogel, North Bay Village's longest serving elected official. I don't know where that's coming from. It's no secret that Dr. Vogel voted consistently with whatever Trujillo and Kane said in the last year and that was painful to watch. The best outcome would be for Dr. Vogel to engage more and let the new commission avail itself of his long experience, broad knowledge and wisdom. It seemed kind of nasty of Rey Trujillo to use his last speech to spread rumors that needlessly upset Dr. Vogel. Let's hope the new commission moves beyond the rumor mongering and grandstanding. Dr. Vogel has served too long and too well to be treated this, and besides, he's a great guy.

All in all, there was a good start last night.

Kevin Vericker
November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oscar Alfonso

To say that outgoing mayor Oscar Alfonso is controversial might seem like an understatement. It's not. It's about the right level. His term as mayor brought out much heat and passionate opposition, but at the end of the term, it's important to remember that North Bay Village saw improvements that had only been talked about for years. We saw great improvements in transparency of government, progress on the projects and a more open commission.

In fact, it's safe to say that for the most part, North Bay Village residents have been pleased with the administrative style brought in by Alfonso. In conversation I have found that most people like the visible changes to the city, those who are aware of what is going on like the openness that Alfonso brought to the office. And then there's the big "but".

The "but" is always followed by two things. His own house is a mess and Alfonso is wordy and overbearing. These are both part of him. Most people I have spoken to wish they weren't true, as do I, and at the same time do not see these personal issues as essential to what's been accomplished as mayor. A small group made these their principal issues but they never gained much public support. Let's look at two of the major accomplishments. This is not an exhaustive list but more than any, they changed our city.

Projects - We who live here know that this an exceptionally beautiful geography. The location in the middle of the bay is impressive. We also know that the community combines the best of the suburbs with the best features of urban living. But we're out of balance.

We have never properly used the bayfront location to bring the city to the next level. We are not a destination for other parts of Miami-Dade, which means our businesses are not prospering. Our less visible residential neighborhoods suffer from neglect.

The projects to improve the infrastructure, create a baywalk to bring new businesses and life to the city, improve our transportation and get us a real civic center, were conceived before Alfonso was elected. Alfonso and the commission brought the projects from conception to execution by bringing in one of the best city managers we have had, Matthew Schwartz.

The projects kicked off and we can see the repaving, the new sewer lines, the trees, and the park, all in motion. The grant money was flowing in and our long term tax indebtedness shrunk. It mattered.

Transparency - various citizens during the 2008 campaign proposed that the city form a budget oversight commission, a small step to bring transparency to the finances here in North Bay Village. And that's exactly what happened. With the full support of the city manager, the books were laid open, and criticized.

Regardless that we have gone several steps back, North Bay Villagers expectation of transparency have been set higher and clearer than before.

There's a lot that has gone right in the last two years, and when the voters spoke two weeks ago, they were speaking against what is going on this year, the random firings, the tax hikes, the lack of transparency on the new hires and on the waste management, the ethics concerns.

As the new commission moves forward, they need dedicate themselves to the principles of transparency, development and citizen involvement. That's their mandate and we expect nothing less.

Kevin Vericker
November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Day After Tomorrow...

Tomorrow night is the swearing in of the new commission. The commission meeting which certifies the results starts at 7:30 PM at Treasure Island School and traditionally is not a very long meeting.

I wonder what happens next. The new mayor, Corina Esquijarosa, was elected less for what she stood for than as a response to what is going on. Our property values continue to fall out of proportion with other places of similar demographics, our tax millage went up, our garbage collection is being privatized under false assumptions, our police and legal services are way over budget and our projects all seem to be stalled.

The problem will be that the North Bay Village mayor has limited power. She is an equal among equals whose primary function is to preside over commission meetings. The real power lies in the combination of the city commission and the city manager. And if the city commission doesn't step up its game, and if we don't find a professional city manager quickly, we are likely to continue along the same path of spending money we don't have and cutting services we need.

I hope the new commission will be different than the old one. It's time to end the alliances and the secret deals that prevailed. The big difference this commission can make is to commit to do everything in the open, no matter how controversial. Treat us like adults and stop the backroom politicking.

Once that's out there, things can get on track.

Kevin Vericker
November 15, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tuesday Night

I have been delinquent in posting owing to a busy week. So just to get caught up:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 is the Commission Meeting. The agenda is very straightforward. It gives the opportunity to three outgoing commissioner members, commissioners George Kane and Rey Trujillo and mayor Oscar Alfonso, to make valedictory remarks, then affirms the election results followed by a swearing in of Corina S. Esquijarosa as mayor, and Eddie Lim and Connie Kreps as commissioners.

It will be a great chance for the citizens to meet and see our new commission in action and to celebrate the changes.

There is a lot of work to do, and a lot of work to undo, and the new commission will have its hands full, but Tuesday seems like a good time to see the start. It should be fun.

Kevin Vericker
November 13, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Housing Crisis

A headline in today's Miami Herald reads Slide in South Florida home prices continues. The story is familiar - there's no quick recovery on the horizon for real estate. And recovery when it comes is going to look a lot more like return to the prices of 2006.

This crisis is affecting all our lives, whether we own or rent, and even if we have no intention of selling. The lower taxes collected from properties hurt our budget. Abandoned houses and condos degrade our quality of life. And it's worse in North Bay Village than most other places in Florida.

An unscientific look at the properties on the market in North Bay Village at shows that of the 321 residential properties on the market, 186 are in some stage of foreclosure. That's 53% of the properties on the market. Compare that with Sunny Isles which also suffered from a gross overbuild of condos and yet has a rate of 38% or Surfside at 42%.

Creating a city wide effort to deal with this has to be the commission's top priority. We are sliding and it's getting worse. The real estate professionals who sell in the city need to be included; the finance companies need to be involved; property owners in danger of foreclosure need help, now. The Commission and administration have been too passive. Not only is our property tax decline worse for this, but we have much lower collections from other tax sources such as commercial properties than most other cities. If North Bay Village doesn't take this problem on now, there may be no North Bay Village in the future. It's that serious.

Kevin Vericker
November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Next Week...

The new commission will be installed most likely next Tuesday, November 16. The votes are in, the election is certified.

Our new commission will comprise two members, one former commissioner, and two sitting commissioners.

The new members are:

Corina S. Esquijarosa - Mayor
Eddie Lim - Commissioner (Harbor Island)
Connie Kreps - Commissioner (At Large) who served on the commission five years ago.

The sitting commissioners are Paul Vogel (North Bay Island) and Frank Rodriguez (Treasure Island).

The three most controversial commissioners - Alfonso, Kane and Trujillo - are all leaving.

We have a chance now to bring a new level of rationality to the commission. But it can't be done alone. Citizens have got to be involved and vocal about what's needed to keep the city running and move it forward. What happens in local politics affects our lives more profoundly and more quickly than most of what happens on the national level. Voter turnout overall was a little over 50%, far too low considering how easy it is to vote in North Bay Village.

Apathy is our main enemy.

Kevin Vericker
November 9, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fishwrap

Well, the week is winding down and of course the big news is the election. Eddie Lim won election as the Commissioner for Harbor Island. I congratulate him - he wasn't my first choice but that was over policy, not competence or respectability, and I know Eddie will serve the whole city well.

Corina Esquijarosa won as mayor. The Elections Department completed the final count last night. This was not supposed to happen. She's a newcomer not very well known in North Bay Village and she defeated a sitting commissioner who announced for mayor from the dais six months ago. Her opponent was well financed, with good name recognition and I would say a better campaign organization if Corina actually had a real campaign organization. And still she won.

North Bay Villagers want things done differently and they rejected the status quo this week. The election was a repudiation of the personal politics that have dominated the Commission, most famously the Trujillo Tax as our decreasing coffers were spent on paying people to go away if Rey Trujillo didn't like them. It was a call to the Commission to act on the issues that affect us on a day to day basis. It was a statement that the city belongs to the residents, not the commission.

Corina won and it's going to be a long hard two years to confront this collapsed economy, to undo the damage that has been done in the last year as Trujillo, Kane and Vogel consistently voted against the interests of the city and in favor of their own.

Corina will face the insults, lies and innuendos from the old guard that our previous mayor did. I hope she doesn't face the same Sunshine busting cabal of three votes already made long before the public hears about an issue. She's not a saint or a miracle worker, and a mayor can't do it alone, so it's time for all of us to reengage in the politics.

See you at the next commission meeting. I'll let you know when it is scheduled. I'm taking the weekend off.

Kevin Vericker
November 5, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Changing the Tone

I can't believe this blog is only 10 months old. It seems both brand new and like I've been doing this for years. This post election Thursday seems as good a time as any to assess what's the same and what's different.

I started with the hope and the belief that the reason the discussion had deteriorated was that the art of political discussion had been lost. I still believe that.

In one of my first posts, on January 16, (click here for a trip down memory lane), I wrote about the nasty tone of the civil politic, in particular the antics of Fane Lozman and Connie Leon-Kreps. I am very worried about Kreps, the secretary of the Citizens for Full Disclosure, being on the Commission. Her childish and erratic behavior does not bode well.

I had hoped that the Citizens for Full Disclosure was an organization looking to improve the civic dialogue. It's not. It's merely a group of self serving cyber bullies hiding behind anonymous emails. I had come very close to publishing a piece by their president, Richard Chervony, in the hope that a public dialogue would help the citizens of NBV evaluate our politics in the light, but Chervony refused to remove a casual, unprovable libel from his piece. Chervony simply did not see that libel, stating a false fact about someone, was different than opinion.

I was inundated by emails from the CFD and Chervony himself with unflattering histories of candidates, both real and imagined, who did not suit the CFD agenda. Reluctantly I came to the conclusion that the CFD was no more than it seems, a mendacious cyber collection of people looking to advance their own personal good and incoherently angry people being exploited by those who always know how to direct useful idiots.

I did not start though mainly because of the crudeness, but rather to get more people in the process. There's been success. I now get over 300 readers per week as measured by Google Analytics. I am hearing from people who agree or disagree with me and want to know more. I believe I have brought clarity on the issues to the electorate in this cycle.

I want to see our city face its problems head on. Citizens need to be involved all around. More people have to attend and speak up at the commission meetings. We all have to watch the process. We have a new commission, less than ideal, but let's assume the best and give that commission the chance to hear rationally and openly our concerns.

I will keep writing. I enjoy it.

Kevin Vericker
November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Results

Corina Esquijarosa is the new mayor of North Bay Village. Corina won the election by a razor close margin of six votes and the votes were finally posted at around 2 AM on the Miami Dade Elections. Eddie Lim was elected Harbor Island Commissioner with a margin of 110 votes.

Kevin Vericker
November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Voting Time

I'm writing this at 10:45 PM on November 1. Tomorrow is Election Day. Many have already voted and I believe most have made up their minds. I've explained why the choice is clear for me, the pain of staying the same far outweighs the pain of changing, and our choices have real consequences.

I stand with Corina Esquijarosa for Mayor and Silvio Diaz for Harbor Island Commissioner. My choices are not simple adulation nor driven as some would say by my distaste for the current commission, but rather based on the fact that what we are doing now is not working. Our tax base declining, our city planning is incoherent, our garbage pickup is being eliminated and yet our taxes are going up. The old guard has failed.

Even tonight, as the hysteria of the so called CFD continues, blaming Corina for a meeting that was held against the advice of city attorney, shows the panic of the old guard. The prospect of real transparency frightens the CFD. Strangely, considering how publicly I have discussed my dislike of Rey Trujillo and his behavior in the past, I have to say tonight he was right. If the meeting about the 7904 property did not have proper notice, it should not have been held.

But Trujillo could not make that clear, easy objection. Trujillo began shouting about "debts being paid." and that he was not there, although we could still see him, rather than finding out what had happened with the notice. It was a tantrum, not political leadership.

The Citizens for Full Disclosure, mendacious hypocrites that they are, sent out one of their many email blasts citing Alfonso and Rodriguez, never mentioning that George Kane also voted with them.

Trujillo had his chance and proved that he can't manage himself, let alone a commission. So vote tomorrow, vote for change, vote for sanity, vote for Corina and Silvio. Let's finally own our city.

Kevin Vericker
November 1, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Issue Recap

Below is the text of an email I sent out yesterday. There are some minor edits (note below*) but I think it is worth sharing.

In all the negatives flying around during this campaign, it’s easy to lose sight of the issues. As I’ve walked the streets during the campaign, a shocking number of residents were unaware that NBV tax rates are going up this year, while side yard garbage pickup is being eliminated and hardly anyone knew about the status of the projects nor the plans for a “high end gentleman’s club.”

The following is my list of the major issues facing North Bay Village this year. Please take a look.

The Facts:

Taxes - our millage went up .5 for 2011. For a $250,000 home, this is a raise of $150 per year. Other cities, North Miami, Miami Lakes, City of Miami all held the line and cut spending.

Spending – there are no pay cuts and in fact, a number of raises for city employees including the police. Their health insurance went up and there is a higher contribution but there are no furloughs, no cuts, and the hiring freeze was revoked.

Garbage Side Yard Pickup -
This service is being eliminated as the garbage is planned to be privatized. The city manager claimed this will save $500,000 per year but the real savings is $120,000 per year as reflected in the published budget.

Generous Employee Contracts –
Very few people seem to know that if the new police chief is let go for any reason other than criminal, even for cause, he collects six months notice and three month’s severance, or about $82,000 plus 9 months of benefits (another $15,000). He is entitled to five weeks vacation the day he signed the contract. The first clause, nine months of severance regardless of the reason for the dismissal, is unheard of.

Development –
the only new development in the city is a building at 1415 JFK Causeway (Channel 7). Its approval has been treated an emergency by the commission with four attempts to approve this before the November 2 election. The problem is that the lot is zoned for an “adult entertainment” complex and while the developer won’t say publicly what the plans are, on October 28 Robert Leider of WSVN testified under oath that the developer's attorneys met with his staff to tell them a “high end gentlemen’s club” was planned for the site. This will be the first building for our much needed baywalk and it's a bad choice to anchor it with an adult club.

Grants and Projects –
the grants process has slowed to a trickle. North Bay Village received $11 million dollars in grants to offset our $35 million bonds and there are more on the table but the city is not acting on these. Millions are on the table from the Federal and State stimulus money and North Bay Village is on the sidelines.

Rey Trujillo either authored or supported every piece of legislation that contributed to these problems. Trujillo supported raising the tax rate as our property values declined. Trujillo stood against the furloughs and using the red light money to save police jobs instead of raising taxes. Trujillo voted to end side yard pickup and never challenged the fictitious $500,000 savings. Trujillo negotiated the police chief’s contract and voted for it. Trujillo took the maximum campaign contribution from Scott Greenwald. Then Trujillo claimed he did not know what the building at 1415 JFK is for and voted for it, even after Leider clearly laid out the plans. Trujillo led the charge to fire the city manager who had brought the $11,000,000 in grants.

These aren’t opinions, these are the facts.

This next part is opinion:

Corina Esquijarosa, a newcomer to our politics, is committed to fixing what we can – stop the garbage giveaway, support proper development, rationalize spending and stop the generous contracts. She has experience in seeking grants.

For me, the choice is clear.

A Subject No One Is Addressing – Our Declining Values.

This entire commission has ignored that North Bay Village property values have had the second steepest decline in Miami Dade County at 26%. The whole country has declined but why are we worse than most? Why is a single family house in North Bay Village on the market an average of 10 weeks longer than comparables in nearby cities? Why are the resale prices for single family houses 15% lower than comparables in nearby communities? (source: Realtytrac) We have more homes in foreclosure or in the process of foreclosure than any other city in Miami Dade (source: US Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization Program.) We need to find the causes and fix them if we are going to recover. Our commission has ignored this problem but it’s our gravest by far.

Silvio Diaz, running for Harbor Island Commission, has made finding the answer to that question and putting the solutions in place the cornerstone of his campaign. Corina Esquijarosa has already discussed her plans to form a public private partnership to address the issue. The old guard just doesn’t see the problem – neither Trujillo, Lim nor Kreps have mentioned it. Not once. If we don’t fix, we sink.

The old guard have failed. We can't go on that way we are. It's too important to vote without the information. These are our homes at stake.

Kevin Vericker
October 30, 2010

*note: The email I sent out contained several grammatical errors and misspellings. I have corrected for those in this post. My usual writing process is to create a first draft for content, the next draft is for clarity and organization and the final is for grammar and spelling. Yesterday, instead of hitting "Save", I hit "Send". Careless on my part.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rey Trujillo And the Strip Club

Rey Trujillo lied from the dais by failing to disclose that he had received $500 from Scott Greenwald on 9/23 during the hearing on Greenwald's property on October 30, a meeting called by George Kane and seconded by Trujillo to rush through approval of the 1415 JFK Causeway project.

Under oath, Robert Leider, general manager of WSVN, recounted that Greenwald's lawyers approached WSVN and specifically explained the plan at 1415 is for a "high end gentlemen's club." Greenwald's team did not deny it.

Trujillo then bizarely asserted that it is "very hard for him to lie" and went on to claim that the commission was just voting on the "box", not the "use". Well, the "box" alone has more holes than swiss cheese. The plans as submitted are carelessly drawn and incompletely explained. Trujillo could have voted no on that grounds alone.

But let's go back to the "lie" quote. At the beginning of the quasi-judicial hearing, there is a part called "ex parte disclosure" where all those sitting in judgment are obliged to disclose any relevant conversations and dealings with the participants. Rey Trujillo certainly understands the concept of a "lie of omission", that is consciously leaving out information to create a different impression.

During ex parte disclosure, Trujillo never mentioned that Scott Greenwald donated $500 to his campaign on September 23. The donation information is relevant and deliberately failing to disclose the donation is a lie of omission.

Financial interests should be disclosed by those in sitting in judgment. It's a legal and ethical issue and Trujillo knows it.

Kevin Vericker
October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Strip Club To Be Continued

The North Bay Village Commission failed to act on the building proposed at 1415 JFK Causeway during the special session last night. They deadlocked 2 - 2 as Paul Vogel was absent owing to a family illness. Prior to that, the Planning and Zoning Board met, with only three members present. They voted 3- 0 to recommend denial of the plans, not based on use by the way, but on the number of incomplete items on the application.

This means that the subject is continued, not dismissed, and most likely will come up again at the next meeting, November 1 no less, of the City Commission, if Dr. Vogel is back. If he's not, it will be continued.

The developer's argument is that he is just asking for a building to anchor the proposed Baywalk. He has not marketed to any specific tenants and cannot speak to who would be interested. Further, the developer argues that North Bay Village does not have the right to consider use of a building when approving plans.

On the other side, Planning and Zoning is saying that there is an excessive number of items on the plans that have been left blank, including the much touted landscaping which was delivered last night, too late for consideration. The Commission had serious questions about the parking since Isle of Dreams (Scott Greenwald) and Channel 7 are currently in a lawsuit about that very subject. In other words, P&Z found the plans are not ready for full consideration, and the commission believes approval would put us in the middle of the current lawsuit.

Now, as regards the triple-D elephant in the room - what are they proposing? The lawyers for Scott Greenwald expressed shock and dismay at the rumors that this is intended to be an "adult" entertainment complex and wondered however did this vicious rumor got started.

Robert Leider, General Manager of Channel 7, was able to shed some light on that. It seems that Greenwald's attorneys met with Channel 7's attorneys a few months back and Greenwald's team wanted to know if Channel 7 had a problem with a "high end gentlemen's club" next door. Channel 7 in fact does have a problem with that as they are a 24/7 operation with over 300 staff members on varying schedules and they are not thrilled about employees leaving or arriving in the middle of the night to a parking lot full of strip club patrons.

After this clarification, the lawyers dropped the subject and returned to stressing all "legal use" and sternly warning the city that we have no rights regarding the decision to approve or disapprove the building. You know, if the glove don't fit, we must acquit.

Citizen turnout was light, which surprised me. This is a big issue. Speaking in favor of the proposal was Skipper Fane Lozman, who lives on a garbage scow west of Harbor Island. He threatened to not invest his many millions earned from lawsuits his brilliance as a financial guru, in North Bay Village.

Then he mentioned me! (OMG, he knows who I am!) In the first mention, he said I was probably hanging out at the new gay club The Bay here in North Bay Village. (Well, I was there Wednesday for disco night with Nancy.) Then he confusingly said that I had a group of young people illegally voting from my address. Later, I asked him what he was talking about but he turned and walked back to the safety of the brightly lit auditorium without explaining what he was referring to but did shout that I am the subject of a criminal investigation which is news to me. The mystery remains. Fane's like that.

Kevin Vericker
October 29, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Strip Club Tomorrow Night

In a rare series of double emergencies, the city is holding two meetings tomorrow (October 28, 2010) to force approval of the project plans for 1415 JFK Causeway, developed by Scott Greenwald. This has already come before Planning and Zoning, who deadlocked on its approval.

The P & Z attorney wrongly told the board that if the project meets code, it must be approved. This is not true. P & Z is an advisory board and the commission must decide, no one else. This was a blatant attempt to pressure the members to approve. They even held a second meeting on the spot, which had to be discarded as that's illegal under Sunshine Law.

Tomorrow night is another attempt to get unanimous P&Z approval to give the Commission cover to approve the project.

Rey Trujillo and George Kane are safe votes for the project since Greenwald has already bought and paid for them. They will combine their votes with Paul Vogel and try to ram this through. These three, for whom the sun doesn't shine, have probably already agreed it.

Here's what you'll hear. There are no definite plans for this to be an adult complex and all "legal uses" will be open. Nonsense, the only thing that makes this parcel valuable is its singular zoning as the only place in NBV where you can have a strip club. That's why it's an emergency to get it passed now before the election.

Now you might hear some bland statements from the three, asking that Greenwald consider promising that it won't be a strip club, and maybe Greenwald will, but it won't be legally binding.

We need to stop this. This project should not be approved, not now, and certainly not as an emergency.

Kevin Vericker
October 27, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Emergency Commission Meeting 10/28/2010

In order not to risk losing the three man lockstep majority on the commission, the Commission is meeting at 7:30 PM, Thursday 10/28, at the school for one item, one item only - APPROVE THE STRIPCLUB AT 1415 JFK CAUSEWAY.

The commission trio, Trujillo, Kane and Vogel, will argue that the approval is for a nonspecific commercial use but there is only thing that makes this parcel valuable. It's the only parcel in North Bay Village that is zoned for Adult Entertainment. Take special note that the plans include a swimming pool, not a normal amenity for a restaurant, but a really special amenity for an adult entertainment complex.

There is a P & Z planned at 6:30 to ram the item through, followed by this meeting. I hope P & Z votes no.

This is so transparent. Scott Greenwald gives Rey Trujillo $500, Rey promises approval, P & Z refuses and now at Rey's insistence, there will be "emergency" meetings until his money man gets paid.

10-28-2010 City Commission Meeting
Kevin Vericker
October 26, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to Vote - A Modern Civics Lesson

In 2008, Floridians voted with a 52.1% majority to retain a section of the Florida Constitution which empowers the legislature to create laws against Asians owning land in Florida. All Amendment 1 would have done was repeal an archaic provision of the constitution that was put in place to support The Asian Exclusion Act of 1924.

I don't think most Floridians who voted on this knew what it was about. There may have been some who thought it was irrelevant because the legislature never acted on it, and there may have been some with a deep seated fear of Asians, but most just saw "immigrant" in the text and voted against it.

That's a shame. If you're smart enough to vote, you probably have access to a computer and a simple search to educate yourself. My favorite source is Ballotpedia. It's easy to use and lays out the issues clearly.

Now these Amendments and retaining Judges look like boring technical issues but they often have a more direct effect on our lives than any governor, senator or even mayor can have. Looking at the ones on the 2010 Ballot, they include

  • Amendment 1, which will change the way campaigns are funded in Florida.
  • Amendment 2, which will give serving military an additional homestead tax relief
  • Amendment 4, which will change the way our natural resources are protected
  • Amendments 5 & 6, which will change the way our legislative districts are drawn.
  • Amendment 8, which will change the size of Florida classrooms.

Take some time to educate yourself on these issues and others. Again, Ballotpedia is a great resource. So's Google. I know I made my decisions on retaining Supreme Court Justices by Googling "Who endorsed fill in the name?" and saw much useful information.

Kevin Vericker
October 22, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meritorious MAST and Silvio Diaz

Silvio Diaz of Harbor Island is running a quiet, focused campaign for Commissioner from Harbor Island. Under our peculiar voting system, there are three seats restricted to residents of one of the three major neighborhoods - Harbor Island, North Bay Island and Treasure Island. The whole city votes but the standing candidate must live there, except for Vice Mayor George Kane who gives his permanent address as 1080 NE 105th St, Miami Shores, on his arrest report.

Anyway Diaz lives on Harbor Island and entered the commission race because he is a small businessman (real estate), father of two, and a long time resident of North Bay Village. He entered the race because like so many of us, he's seen and suffered the consequences of the North Bay Village politics as usual. Diaz believes it's time for a change - the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax is killing us, the rubber stamping of any requested project regardless of merit is driving our property values down, and the city's reputation is a leading economic impediment.

A citizen legislature is designed to be community governance but North Bay Village has been taken over by politicos and corporate socialists.

Diaz, as a realtor, is particularly concerned with why it takes ten weeks longer to resell a single house in North Bay Village and why our prices are 10 - 15% lower than Surfside, Miami Shores and Morningside. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers but what he has been doing, unlike his opponent, is talking and actively seeking advice from the North Bay Village Real Estate Professionals and getting our housing market stabilized is his top priority.

Along with that, he is working to prevent further foreclosures in North Bay Village, where the rate of foreclosure is nearly double that of any community in Miami Dade County. He himself was caught in the foreclosure vise and knows deeply and personally the havoc this wreaks. He will work with the city, the property owners, the federal government and the financial institutions to stop the foreclosure hemorrhaging that is destroying property values in our city.

Silvio Diaz like so many others is an immigrant from Cuba where his own father was imprisoned for political reasons, and like so many, deeply loves his adopted country. He served in the US Marines and was decorated during his time in a Meritorious Mast, a traditional Marine Ceremony that acknowledges exceptional service. Following his honorable discharge, he has successfully built the kind of business in and of our community that have brought the immigrants of Miami to the successful positions they hold today. In his mid 50's, Diaz told me "it's time to give back to the community that adopted me." and that's why he's running.

His opponent, Eddie Lim, is also a long time small businessman in North Bay Village, in real estate, and in my acquaintance with him, is a decent and honorable man who has volunteered on several boards over the years. He's also a nice guy.

But he has no plans, no platform, to change the picture of North Bay Village. In normal times, that might have been enough but not in these dangerous economic times. Lim has aligned himself with Trujillo and this bodes badly for us. We can't afford more of the same, higher taxes, lower services, strip clubs, utility bills unpaid, and it's time for a change.

Note: There has been an emailing about Diaz, filled with the usual vitriol. Who it's from is in doubt, but it's time to stop this tiresome anonymous attacking.

Kevin Vericker
October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

George Kane Employment

Last night, the commission rejected a resolution that would have prevented the city from hiring a commissioner as an employee or contractor following the expiration of his term. They voted 3-2 along the usual lines - Trujillo, Kane and Vogel. Dan Abbott cited an irrelevant case to say that the ordinance was unconstitutional, knowing full well that this type of restriction is common in most cities.

The restriction is designed to stop exactly what it going on now. George Kane is actively seeking consulting work from the city to manage the projects, which will bring him a windfall in real estate commissions, and Trujillo needs his vote. So Trujillo's buying the vote by promising Kane ongoing work at our expense.

Kane's a pretty shady character. We already know that he organized the unneeded move of the City Hall to the Lexi for a $25,000 commission while on the commission. He has no background in grants and even his most recent arrest, in 2003, shows that he doesn't live in North Bay Village and hasn't for years. (See the document below, I edited out the SSN and Driver's License # but have the original.) Yeah, sure, we can trust him with the money. Good job, Rey.

Kevin Vericker
October 20, 2010

George Kane Arrest DUI 2003

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

City Commission Agenda

Tonight is the regular city commission meeting. You'll find the agenda at the North Bay Village Website. The controversial items are likly to be 9B, 9D and 10A.

  • 9 B

    is a resolution supporting the designation of the synagogue on Hispanola Avenue as an historic landmark. There is a dispute in the congregation over the future of the synagogue and the property. Sunny Isles has a current controversy with the same issue. "Insults fly in ugly debate on temple's `historic' label". It will be interesting to hear the reasoning as to why North Bay Village City Government should involve itself in the argument over a religious institution.

  • 9 D

    would prohibit the hiring of any city commissioners as a city employee or consultant for two years after their term expires.

    I support this. In the past, I have opposed this as I dislike class prohibitions in general, but I have come to believe that it is an imperfect solution to a pervasive problem.

    Federal law and county law are both very clear on this issue and have this prohibition.

    In North Bay Village, the current Vice Mayor George Kane is already setting up his post commission real estate deals and negotiating his ongoing fees, just as he does in office. It's clear that the project money flowing through the city is of great interest and I have come to appreciate the wisdom of this move.

    It won't pass. The usual fix is in and Rey Trujillo, Paul Vogel and George Kane, will vote it down. Trujillo needs Kane's vote this month so he'll cave. Our only hope is that the next commission will not hire George Kane. But if Trujillo is elected, I'm sure he will find Kane's record satisfactory and make sure Kane gets his cut.

  • 10 A

    is the approval for a new commercial building at 1415 Kennedy Causeway, the Channel 7 property. The Planning and Zoning commission deadlocked on this one and the motion will most likely be postponed tonight.

    The property in question is the only property in North Bay Village that is zoned for a strip joint high end gentleman's club and this makes the parcel very valuable indeed.

    Planning and Zoning, which is an advisory board, could not agree on approving the site plans and a second meeting is being planned. P and Z should continue to reject the plans and force the commission to vote without a recommendation. Right now, there is a huge amount of pressure on the P and Z members to get a consent, so that the commissioners can then say "Oh, we were just following the P and Z recommendation. Who knew there would be a strip joint gentleman's club?"

    The developer, Scott Greenwald, has already donated $500 each to Rey Trujillo and Eddie Lim, so the piper must be paid, but this should be done in the light of day, not as a technical recommendation.

Finally, our commission has been too busy to read and approve the minutes for over a year. Tonight they will vote to approve or disapprove them. It will be a long night.

Kevin Vericker
October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Corina Esquijarosa

Corina is new in town but not in government. With over a decade's experience in government, a Masters in Public Administration and as a current student for a second Master in Criminal Justice, she knows how a government should run. She gets the big picture.

Corina gets the little picture too. She's a mother of two small children and knows what a good city means for the young families who are trying to make ends meet in this economy. Most importantly, she has a platform, unlike her opponent, Rey Trujillo, author of the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax.

  • Build after-school programs for our children and partner with the School District.

  • Attract businesses to the main corridor to generate revenue to the City and to its residents

  • Seek grants to bring a community center for all residents to enjoy and provide a haven for our children and seniors.

  • Renovate the tot-lot on Galleon Street.

  • Bring in all the city to the politic. Support civic organziations

  • Streamline services by the City, reducetime to start a business.

  • Pull together homeowners, renters, real estate professionals and financial professionals to tackle our city's housing crisis.
North Bay Village did not get this way overnight. Lack of transparency, downright lies, lack of citizen involvement, a core group of bitter and unhappy residents, have all combined for the imperfect storm we are now suffering.

Corina is not a miracle worker nor a saint, but she does the hard work needed to get the city back on track.

Her opponent, Two Times Trujillo, does not have the first clue about how to balance a budget (he ran the Grandview into the bottom 6% of condos in Miami) and has increased our city costs by about $300,000 in non value added spend.

I'm voting for Corina.

Another note about the Citizens for Full Disclosure - Once again, there are crazy mailings going around from the CFD and "Dr." Richard Chervony. First they sent an email out that Chervony was being held hostage in London, then an email to say he wasn't, then a paper mailing to attack Trujillo, then an email to say they endorse Trujillo, then an email criticizing Trujillo, then an email denying the email and claiming that one account is legitimate (the one from which the hostage email was sent!). These people are exhausting and really should stop their antics. You've seen some of the stuff that their president has written here but I've spared you most. It's pretty bad.

The League of Women Voters they are not. They are a half dozen disruptive older people with a rich fantasy life and a deep hatred for anyone who does not share their agenda.

Kevin Vericker
October 18, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The CFD and Endorsements

The Citizens for Full Disclosure endorsed the Trujillo Tax for North Bay Village as their preferred candidate. Rey Trujillo is now officially the favorite candidate of the lascivious Richard Chervony see post and the rest of the intellectual giants comprising the CFD. If you are known by the company you keep, we know more about Trujillo than I ever wanted to know.

Kevin Vericker
October 16, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lewd and Lascivous - Meet the CFD

I missed two days as I am on the road this week.

I want to continue with the Citizens for Full Disclosure, a local political group in North Bay Village, responsible for the recent spate of nasty mailings about mayoral candidates Corina Esquijirosa and Rey Trujillo. Yesterday, they sent out one accusing Corina of anti-Semitism because she has a meeting on Friday and never mentioned the next one scheduled for Wednesday, October 20.

Richard Chervony is the president of the CFD and regularly sends out childish unsigned attack emails, hit and run pieces. The CFD also forms a core group of residents whose misbehavior at commission meetings have dominated our discourse for years with their incessant complaints and strange antics. That's bad enough but Chervony regularly crosses the line.

Chervony regularly sends me unflattering information with not very veiled threats about anyone he thinks might not suit the CFD agenda. Some examples, when there was a rumor about one citizen possibly running for commission, Chervony sent me a copy of his tax settlement with the IRS as though this were a crime. He himself wrote to me about the candidates on 7/22/2010 “If no one else will look over [the candidate's] shoulder, because I am looking and will reveal anything that I find out.” That same email contained a libel I refused to print about a sitting commissioner.

I would ignore him but he and his group are clearly ramping up, so let's look a little closer at who runs this CFD.

Richard Chervony, MD?, He's not a Florida licensed physician and never was. Check it out at this website (go to the search function) Florida Department of Public Health. He may have a medical degree but the American Medical Association, fourteen states and general social etiquette prohibit the use of MD for a non-licensed physician. It is deceptive to use this honorific.

That might just seem a harmless pretension, but this same self appointed moral guardian of North Bay Village also carries some legal baggage, an arrest for "Lewd and Lascivious Behavior". (document below) For him to declare himself as the community watchdog is the essence of hypocrisy.

So the next time you see one of the CFD mailing purporting something to be true, whether a personal attack on Esquijirosa or a dark mailing about Trujillo, consider the source. And treat the information with the respect it deserves.


Kevin Vericker
October 14, 2010