Friday, February 26, 2010

Two Comments You Must Read

This is the conversation I had hoped for. Although I wish these comments were not anonymous, I think they are important enough to merit their own posting. note: I added paragraph breaks to improve readability.

First on the red light posting, the commenter writes:

Anonymous said...

About the Red Light Running: I think the camera thing is a great idea, however, I too, must stop and think of the legality of it all as it pertains to Code Enforcement. The cities are saying that these tickets will be handled under Code Enforcement Proceedings thereby allowing for a fine to be imposed by a Code Board or a Special Magistrate without putting points on a person's license. Florida Statute 162 is the Code Enforcement Statute that every city, municipality, ect. follows. Florida Statute 162 specifically states that as part of a persons(alledged violator) right to due process (remember under Code Enforcement Statute FS 162) is the "right to cross-examine a witness" there is no way to cross-examine a camera.

That right there would violate a persons due process rights (in code enforcement)there must be an officer there to observe the violation. If there is no officer to observe a violation in Code Enforcement, the Officer can obtain a sworn affidavit from someone else, but that is not generally a practice accepted by the Board or Special Magistrates and is used as a last resort, but again, a camera cannot make a sworn affidavit.

Also under the due process of a violator under Code Enforcement they have to be given a "reasonable" time to correct a violation. So how do undue or correct running a red light, once it happens it happens and I agree that it is illegal to run a red light, it may just have to be handled by a Traffic Magistrate in a different form or venue so it will not fall under Code Enforcement.

Again, just my opinion and you may want to look into this. This is why there is so much controversy about the red-light camera issue, I think most people agree, as I do, that no matter it is still illegal to run a red light whether you get caught or not.

My take: - Very good points. I understand that the witness in these cases is the officer who reviews the video, so I believe it does actually conform to code since there is a witness but I will research this further.

Then onFebruary 25, 2010 11:12 AM:

I just want to make a few comments, not here to initiate war or anything like that.

On Oscar's house:

First, he did submit plans and obtain a Building Permit for the addition on his house.

Second,if this structure did not get inspections or pass inspections, that falls on the Building Official who should have been following up on the building of said structure.

At this point, it is my opinion that this issue is beyond code enforcement as far as the structure goes and I will explain why: If the structure is deemed unfit or unsafe (which must be done by the Building Official) or Miami-Dade Unsafe Structure Board-NOT Code Enforcement Officers then it is up to The Unsafe Structure Board to order it be brought up to standard or order the structure to be removed. The cost of the removal of the structure would probably be placed upon NBV to do this and then a Lien would be filed against the property for the amount of such removal of the unsafe structure.

Now, if it is true that a Foreclosure proceeding has already begun, it negates all Code Enforcement Fines and Liens on or to be placed on this property because it is in Foreclosure by the bank or basically it runs in favor of the first lien holder which would be the bank/mortgage company.

Secondly, it is against the law to place a Lien against a Homesteaded property, in the first place and like I said, even if it were done, it would be wiped clean in favor of the first mortgage holder in a Foreclosure proceeding.

Next, the IRS IS THE ONLY OTHER ENTITY THAT CAN TAKE POSSESSION OF A HOMESTEADED PROPERTY OTHER THAN A BANK IN A FORECLOSURE PROCEEDING. So, if there is an IRS Tax Lien, as reported, more than likely the IRS will get possession of this property at some point in time. So, be that as it may, one of two things will happen, the First Mortgage Holder will take possession by Foreclosure or the IRS by Tax Lien. Either way, all Liens due or owed NBV will be wiped away, so essentially there is no avenue for Code Enforcement fines or liens at this time, its a waste of time to go that avenue.

Also, if NBV takes the burden of the expense to remove said structure because it is deemed unsafe by the Miami-Dade Unsafe Structure Board, chances are they will NOT re-coup these monies.

In any instance, Oscar Alfonso appears to be losing this property and has no reason to try and fix it up or clean it up and more than likely will not fix it or clean it up. It is a shame that he does not want to have a nice property and leaves it a mess, but the reality of it all is that it is beyond Code Enforcement actions at this time. Code Enforcement on this property at this time, will do no good.

I may be incorrect and you can correct me if I am wrong, but this is just one opinion and an opinion only. You may want to look into this, as these reasons may be the reasons why Oscar just does not care and will live there without paying his mortgage or taxes, ect. until he is forced to leave either by Foreclosure or the IRS.

Also, since it is really illegal to place a Code Enforcement Lien against a Homesteaded property, there is also no reason for him to go out and clean up the yard area (front and rear) either. Its really a shame that there is nothing that can be done right now and basically the Manager giving him 30 days to clean it up means nothing because in reality nothing can be done about it.

My Take: I really don't have one. This is a very compelling point and not one I had heard before. I will look into it.

Thanks. Just so you know, you are not "starting a war", far from it. In fact, if you are comfortable with not being anonymous, I would love to turn a post over to you or collaborate on one.

Kevin Vericker

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Press and North Bay Village (plus Red Lights)

Francisco Alvarado, of the Miami New Times, wrote another post about North Bay Village. This time it was about the mayor's house and numerous code violations. Click Here. I haven't been a big fan of Alvarado's reporting on North Bay Village but I have to give him credit here. He did call and seek comment from the city manager and it appears that Oscar Alfonso has until March 19 to get this in order.

It's time. The house itself has become a distraction from the real issues facing North Bay Village and it needs to get fixed. So by the way do several other houses, including the three story code breaker on South Treasure Drive and the abandoned houseboat by the West Drive Park

We've grown so lax in North Bay Village enforcing code that it's beginning to look like a chaotic slum around here.

On the red lights, you may have seen in today's Herald that Aventura's red light program was set aside by a court decision. The court in essence said that towns in Florida do not have the right to levy traffic fines. The towns in response are saying that these are not traffic fines but code violations, similar to parking tickets. It's bound to be appealed and we'll see how that sorts out.

One thing is clear, follow the money. The plaintiff was represented by Bret Lusskin, owner of Ticket Cricket. That's right "Ticket Cricket" whose motto is "Don't Pay That Ticket."

Look, I actually defend trial lawyers as they are often the only ones out there supporting the civil rights of people who get pushed aside but...

"Ticket Cricket" is part of the mass Florida scam designed to keep otherwise unemployable lawyers in cash and bad drivers on the road. Haven't you ever wondered why there is near zero traffic enforcement in Florida? The Ticket Crickets and their ill conceived ilk make sure there are no consequences.

Heck, I don't even know why the cops stop people for traffic violations, putting themselves in danger, for someone who is going to write a check to Ticket Cricket and speed on.

So Bret Lusskin, Mr. Ticket Cricket, and his friends are going to continue to ensure the inalienable rights of morons running red lights are protected.

Special note: A study done at the University of South Florida, also known as the Harvard of the Greater Tampa area, has been thrown about as conclusively showing that red light cameras increase accidents, particularly rear ending. It was done in 2008 by Barbara Langland-Orban of the Public Health School at USF and she assures us all that her study was in no way related to her traffic conviction for, you guessed it, rear ending a car stopped at a red light.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The City Manager

Francisco Alvarado, who blogs at the Miami New Times, posted a piece today about North Bay Village residents unhappy with Matt Schwartz. You can read it by clicking here. Predictably, it was about the police and alleged conspiracies and dark doings. But as I've said before, it's always about the police and it's never about the police.

Look, North Bay Village carefully earned its reputation over the years for shady behavior and nefarious governance. It's been a long hard slog to clean that up and the people who lost control of the city when Joe Geller and later Oscar Alfonso took office are predictably bitter about their loss. So they scream about the police and never stay around for the answers.

Matthew has become their favorite target. And I call foul about that.

Let's talk about Matthew Schwartz.

When Schwartz started here a little over a year ago, I was appalled to find out that the city could only account for $35,000 of its reserve. NBV was $35,000, or one good rainstorm, away from bankruptcy. I was appointed to the Citizens Oversight Board at that time. It turned out things were even spookier than I thought. We found the reserve and it now sits at about $1.2 million but the legacy accounting was so bad that it was entirely possible to misplace 1/4 of the city budget. Remember, we could have just as easily gone the other way and have been $1.2 million in the red, meaning NBV would be in receivership right now.

Matt took a lot of heat from the board and citizens. He opened the books, corrected errors, listened to (and maybe didn't like) criticism and instituted numerous common sense changes and critical reforms to our accounting procedures. We can now confidently understand and plan based on real numbers. I know this is dull stuff but it is the life blood of our city.

The second critical issue was the deteriorating infrastructure. During the condocraze, NBV did not seem to be aware that there is a limit to what a 60 years old infrastructure can handle. Now I knew about the >$35 million in bond issues and was somewhat aware of the plans, but did not see how these projects could continue during the worst downturn in living memory.

But Matt did. He was able to take the carefully constructed and thought out plans from the Geller administration, when we all wrongly believed that the rise in property values would pay for these improvements , and get large portions funded under the ARRA (Stimulus) money. Instead of collapsing, we are moving forward.

These two issues, for me, are the highest priorities for North Bay Village. Without sound accounting and without good sewer systems and traffic controls, cities collapse. Don't believe me? Just walk the once lovely neighborhood of Forest Hill in Newark, New Jersey or the empty malls of Colorado Springs, Co. Cities can and do die.

Matt has excelled at dealing with both of these issues with an attitude of complete transparency. He's not always right but you never wonder what he's thinking and why. In fact, sometimes I wish he would hold a thing or two back.

Now the classic North Bay Village issue is up again - the police. No disrespect to the police or to my fellow NBV'ers, but third place is the right place for the police department issue. To be clear, I am not saying that our police department is third place, but the other issues had to be priorities for us to survive. First, Schwartz had to stop the bleeding on the finances and get the city moving again, and he's done it.

Not by himself I might add. Matt has aggressively involved the Oversight Board on the accounting issues and the Community Enhancement Board on the projects, has his door open to any citizen and has carefully gained the support of the commission on lobbying and other key issues.

Now the long problem of the contentious North Bay Village Police Department is coming to a head. Poor labor relations, intradepartmental conflict, different citizen priorities, lawsuits,etc have wrought havoc on the police department.

And because it makes for easy sound bites, the NBV PD situation has become the flash point. But easy sound bites don't make good public policy and every mother's son has an opinion on the police from the wannabe cops to the apparently crime plagued denizens of North Bay Island, but the solutions are not so obvious.

I don't know what Matt's plans are for the police. I don't know if Matt knows what his plans are for the police. But if they follow his previous patterns, they will carefully involve all the stakeholders - citizens, police themselves, city administration - and will not be the easy answers but should be the right ones.

So far from me and others, the City Manager gets top marks for prioritizing the problems, approaching them openly, involving the citizens and stakeholders and quickly responding. He has earned the confidence that the police problem will be resolved.

It's a shame that the screamers and conspiracy theorists can't see this, but then again, they don't really care, do they? You never see them doing the hard, boring work on the city boards or spending their weekends researching best practices. In fact, they seldom even stay at the commission meetings past the ironically titled "Good and Welfare". They don't seem to like to hear the answers so maybe it's best they are not involved.

Kevin Vericker

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And The NBV Award For Over The Top Performance Goes To...

Last night's commission meeting, Feb 16 2010, covered a variety of issues facing North Bay Village, displaying a diversity of opinions and viewpoints, and was as always about THE POLICE, THE POLICE, THE POLICE.

In North Bay Village politics, the police are used to disguise every other motivation. Don't like Oscar Alfonso? Yell about the police. Don't like the City Manager? Scream about the police. Don't like getting a ticket when you run a red light? Cry about the police. Don't like the budget cuts and fear taxes? Shout about the police. No matter what your political position is in this city, always frame it as about the police.

And in this drama, oddly, we always manage to forget the police or at least the real issues facing the PD.

A few particulars then I will get to the entertainment:

Red Light Runners of North Bay Village Get a Reprieve - Yep, the city is refunding the paid tickets received by residents who were caught on camera rolling through red lights while making a right turn. The complaint from the citizens caught is, "I knew it was illegal but nobody told me I might get caught." Not only are we refunding that money by unanimous vote of the commission, but the city is contractually obligated to pay the provider of the cameras, ATS, for those tickets. See what happens when only the crazy people show up? Please, Reality Basers, start coming to the meetings!

The Police - The situation has become so politicized and polarized that there is no obvious solution. Give the Chief a medal! Fire the Chief! Fire all the cops! Leave the cops alone! Eliminate the Department! Build up the Department! and the shouting goes on.

I proposed and continue to propose that we see this as a chance to unify. There is an old Washington DC cliche, if you want to kill something, study it. It has truth to it but sometimes you just have to take a step back and toward that end, I have proposed that an tripartite commission comprising citizens, police and city administration be sponsored by the commission with the clear goal of reporting back within 90 days to the commission their findings and recommendations on the police situation. Not supervise the cops, but look at this coldly and rationally to balance the different pressures.

I am not so naive as to believe this approach will be above politics or separate from ideology, but it will give us a chance to take a deep breath and look at the reality we are facing.

Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo expressed his support in general terms last night. Mayor Alfonso has discussed this idea with me, but not committed and the three other commissioners have not responded. I'm still hoping for the right result.

Now on to the crazy stuff.

Last night, Fane Lozman, longtime civic gadfly in North Bay Village and Riviera Beach, crossed a line. For months, Lozman has been advocating that the city fire Matt Schwartz. Well last night he took it up a notch.

During his many turns at the public comment section, he accused the CM of "lining his pockets", a clear accusation of corruption during the public comment section of a resolution to restore contractually obligated longevity bonuses, a bonus by the way that the CM does not share. Schwartz responded, calmly and well. But this was way over the line.

Similarly, Lozman has also begun refusing to disclose his place of residence, asserting that the CM is "stalking" him. This led to the mayor calling a recess while it was decided whether or not to remove Lozman from the meeting. He was not removed although the city would have been well in its rights to do so since it is essential that name and address be stated as part of public comment.

So we don't know where he lives, we don't know what he wants really, but once again, as he has done in Riviera Beach he has disrupted our commission meeting.

He's not alone.

Good and Welfare, the section for open public comments, has turned into The Jerry Springer Show but without the intellectual rigor. The dominant theme last night was the popular sentiment that any restructuring of the PD should leave the local dispatchers in place. The feeling seems near universal, but instead of expressing it calmly, we went all North Bay Village on the subject.

Several citizens got up and expressed their view in the strongest possible terms, including one who demanded answers from the commission assuring her that the dispatchers would be kept. Then of course did not stay for the response time from the commission. This is part of a larger pattern.

Show up, scream, leave.

The dispatch question is part of a much larger issue with the police restructuring in response to budget cuts. I am inclined to agree that we should protect dispatch and several citizens who have closely studied the finance and budget have come to that conclusion. But for the others, who never show up when the real work is done, stop breathing my air.

Kevin Vericker

Sunday, February 14, 2010


This is a quick post. I promise a more detailed one shortly.

Let's just talk about two of the infrastructure that are going to change the way we live here in North Bay Village, one lovely to look and one we will never gaze on.

1.) Lovely to look at is a bayfront walk in North Bay Village. I've seen the plans. A walkway connecting all the businesses and residences along the north side of Treasure Island is exactly the sort of unique recreation and economic development initiative we need.

2.) Less lovely to look at but critically important is the rebuilding of our sewer system. Our 60 year old pipes are costing us a fortune. Outside water leaks in and we get charged for it. This is exactly the sort of unglamorous and useful project we need to keep the city sound.

There's a lot more to say about our infrastructure and you know I will, but I am out of time right now.

Kevin Vericker

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Update Regarding My Last Post on the Police Issues

In my last post, I wrote about the circumstances of the arbitration case facing the city. In that post, I stated, regarding the arbitration:

And we are going to lose it not because it was wrong to dismiss Sgt Abramson, but because our own NBVPD screwed up the investigation.

In this statement, I was referring to information I had gathered from the public commission meetings. As I understood this, the timing of the complaint and the internal affairs investigation exceeded the 180 day limit under the Policeman's Bill of Rights (state legislation.)

Lt. McCready of the North Bay Village PD and I had a conversation about that today and according to the record of investigation, this is wrong. The IA investigation was started in December, 2006 and completed by March 2007, 109 days after the IA complaint was filed, well within the rules.

I did speak with Matt Schwartz, City Manager, about this today, and Matt is reluctant to comment since this is an ongoing court matter, other than to say that counsel has recommended against proceeding.

I stand by my belief that the city should not be risking an expensive court battle at this point, but I need to withdraw the statement "our own NBVPD screwed up the investigation." I don't know this and I appreciate Lt. McCready calling me out on that and apologize for the presumption.

Kevin Vericker

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Police Again

It looks like Tuesday,February 2, North Bay Village once again blew a good opportunity to actually take steps to fix the Police Department. The vote to fight the rehiring of Steve Abramson, who was fired for cause, turned into a referendum once again on whether or not a group of citizens like Oscar Alfonso.

There are lots of political reasons not to like Alfonso and while I worked for his election, I am not entirely pleased by some of his actions. Nevertheless, bankrupting the city because you don't like Oscar Alfonso is just stupid.

The Abramson controversy presents North Bay Village with a golden opportunity to involve citizens and professionals and members of the PD to review and fix the problems that led to this whole sorry mess, but neither the mayor, nor any member of the commission took that approach.

This is really sad.

Today's blog by Francisco Alvarado in the Miami New Times predictably takes the easy route on the North Bay Village Police settlement decision. You can see it here: Miami New Times on North Bay Village Police Department.

The New Times, an advertising give away specializing in ads for prostitutes, mediocre restaurants and sub prime properties, does not pretend to be a serious journalistic enterprise but this was bush league even by their standards. Francisco Alvarado could have picked up his phone and called NBV City Hall to ask the question, "What's up with this?" But he didn't do that.

What Alvarado would have found out had he called is that the issue here is about the risk to the city of losing $400,000 fighting a dismissal that our labor attorney has advised us we are going to lose. And we are going to lose it not because it was wrong to dismiss Sgt Abramson, but because our own NBVPD screwed up the investigation. So we are caught between a rock and a hard place. Being North Bay Village, we went to crazy town instead.

Here's what needs to happen. The Commission needs to authorize the city manager to create a panel to fully review the NBVPD and make recommendations back on policy and legislative changes to ensure that NBVPD is free of political influence, that procedures are followed rigorously and policies enforced fairly.

Oscar Alfonso needs to stop hanging with the police. Rey Trujillo needs to refrain from empty threats about reporting the city to the DOJ. The police need to stop hanging out at the Hess and Joey's and seriously ignore Happy's.

Kevin Vericker

Next: North Bay Village Days - A Modest Proposal to Sell the City

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NBV is going to court

Again. The commission voted last night 3-2 not to settle with Officer Abramson. The votes were Kane, Trujillo and Vogel NO and Alfonso and Rodriguez YES.

The estimated costs of the trial are somewhere in excess of $400,000.

I am returning today and should have more detail later this week.

If anyone who was at the meeting would like to write to me and let me know how it went, I will gladly publish.

Kevin Vericker

Monday, February 1, 2010

Special Commission Meeting About The Police Tuesday Feb 2

From the North Bay Village Web Page.



Now this will prove to be a really intriguing meeting. The subject is whether the city will rehire a fired police officer as a temporary employee funded by forfeiture funds. Since this is North Bay Village, nothing is quite that simple.

Here's what I know. An NBV police officer was dismissed for cause. He contested the dismissal and the city agreed to arbitration. Then it gets sticky.

Apparently, the rules were not followed in filing the complaint that lead to the dismissal. The Internal Affairs investigation did not file the complaint within 180 days and there are suggestions (I don't have a fact on this.) that the paperwork was botched.

NBV's attorney and our labor attorney do not believe that the city will prevail in arbitration, which looks only at process and not merit in deciding the case.

Therefore, the city has proposed rehiring Officer Abramson to a new temporary position. The total cost would be around $16,000 additional.

If we fight this, according to legal advice, the city could be on the hook for as much as $400,000 (40% of our reserve) and would likely lose, having to reinstate the officer with full back pay.

This was complicated by some very stupid behavior on the part of our detectives who held an impromptu interview with a citizen in the early hours of the morning. You can hear the interview on YouTube. Just put in North Bay Village posted by Scanman (Fane Lozman) It's a rambling mess.

Tomorrow, the mayor is proposing that the city settle. Not to oversimplify, but his reasoning seems to be that the city is going to lose this case and this way we don't spend the $400k. The Vice Mayor objects and has written a memo to the other commissioners saying that he will report the city to the Dept of Justice if the city goes ahead.

This should be pretty contentious. I can't go as I am in New Jersey.

Here's my take though:

I understand the city believes the case will be lost. This is unfortunate since the officer was fired for cause. The undisputed facts are that he minded the bar at Happy's Stork Lounge in uniform, transported inventory for the same lounge and a very weak complaint that he drove some patrons home who were too loaded to drive. On the first two, that's enough for me that we don't need him. I don't mind the driving drunks home part - it might be against the rules but it's better than letting them drive themselves.

It seems to me that the whole mess is a Keystone Kops farce. It sucks that North Bay Village police, who are not that busy, couldn't do a proper investigation. I hate that politics are involved in this internal matter.

The decision comes down to this. Do we take a Quixotic stand against the rehire, risking our already too low surplus and the possibility of loss?

Our Vice Mayor's argument is that the rehire cannot be paid out of federal funds. This contradicts the NBV legal advice. I wish I could post the memo but I don't have the ability. It's kind of weird.

First the Vice Mayor states "I am not an attorney" and then shows the result of a web search which he says supports his belief that the money cannot be used to fund a new position.

Well, you know what, I am not an attorney either but when I need legal advice, I consult one.

In the same vein, I'm not a surgeon so when I need surgery, I consult one.

The Vice Mayor is well within his rights to insist that other legal opinions be sought but when he says, "If at any time the settlement takes place and forfeiture funds are used I personally will contact the US Department of Justice with the complete investigation file." that's not governing. That's just a threat.

Finally, my opinion is that we should not risk the reserve. In the meantime though, the PD needs to be reviewed top to bottom. The only reason this came to this sorry pass was mismanagement.

Your thoughts?

Kevin Vericker