Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Civil Conversation At The Community Forum

Dr. Dario Moreno, head of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, facilitated a city presentation and community discussion last night. The subject was the budget and the ongoing revenue shortfall. More to the point, the subject was looking at options for increased revenue and getting community input on what are considered essential services.

The turnout was disappointingly low - my count was around 40 citizens - and most were the usual attendees. That's a shame because the discussion bears directly on our future as a city and our present operations.

Nevertheless, the thing that struck me was the civility of the conversation. Our commission meetings have been sorely lacking in decent behavior. I don't need to revisit that.

This meeting had a different tone. Citizens put forward their ideas, defended their viewpoints, stated disagreements, asked questions and made suggestions. These are being compiled and will be distributed by the city. There was very little new or radical in the conversation and I won't review these in this post.

What continues to strike me was the civil tone among the same group that always seems to be in a near frenzy of rage. That rage was not on display last night.

I asked some of the residents about why they thought this meeting was calmer than usual and the answer back was all a variation on, "The police weren't there." The acting police chief, Lt. Brian Collins, was and I was impressed at how well prepared he was, considering the short time he has held the interim position.

But the police who have packed the commission meetings, pressured our commissioners, and intimidated the citizens, did not show up at the meeting last night. One resident told me that for the first time of attending these meetings, he was not intimidated by the phalanx of police in front of the building. I saw it myself.

I wish there were more people. I hope this forum is repeated in other venues with other groups, maybe at some condo meetings, maybe in the park, and that we continue this. We need more people involved, particularly the younger homeowners, the ones who bought the houses at $500,000 or more and saw their value drop right away.

Last night was a good start to creating a civil, civic discourse. As we go through the next choppy months, I hope this tone continues.

Kevin Vericker

Monday, April 26, 2010

Community Forum Tomorrow Night

The long planned community forum is being held tomorrow night May 27 at the Lexi, 6th Floor at 6:30 PM. This forum is designed to provide transparency to the city budgeting process, explain the impact of the reduced revenue on our services and give an idea of the city direction for the projects.

It is being facilitated by Dr. Dario Moreno of FIU's Metropolitan Center.

Below is the agenda as of Monday, April 26, 2010:


City of North Bay Village
COMMUNITY FORUM AGENDA
April 27, 2010 ~ 6:30 to 9:00 pm
1666 Kennedy Causeway, 6th FL
North Bay Village, FL 33141


1. Welcome and opening remarks –Bob Pushkin, Acting City Manager
a.Acknowledge Elected Officials
b.Introduce Alvin Blake, Budget Committee Chair

1.Acknowledge Budget Committee Members

2.Introduce City Staff

3.Describe Purpose and Format of the Forum

4.Introduce Moderator –Dr. Dario Moreno

2.Opening remarks - Dr. Moreno
a.Understanding issues faced by municipalities today
b.Cost of Services - Summary by Department

i.Finance Department – Gerard Pirri, Finance Director
1.Financial Update
2.Overall Cost of Services
3.Options For Increasing Revenues

ii.Police Department – Lt. Brian Collins, Acting Police Chief
1.Summary and Overall Cost of Services
2.Impact to Personnel

iii.Human Resources- Jenice Rosado, HR Manager
1.Summary and Overall Cost of Services
2.Impact to Personnel

iv.City Clerk – Yvonne Hamilton, City Clerk
1.Summary and Overall Cost of Services
2.Impact to Personnel

v.Capital Projects–Arleen Weintraub, Capital Projects Manager
1.Status of Capital Projects

vi.Public Works – Sam Zamacona, Jr., Public Works Director
1.Summary and Overall Cost of Services
2.Impact to Personnel

c.Summary and Citizens’ Input

d.Staff Input

3.Conclusion and Next Steps - Dr. Moreno and Al Blake

Kevin Vericker
April 26, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A City of Shacks


An overlooked item on the commission agenda from Tuesday, April 13, was this. A dock was constructed behind one of the McMansions arising on So. Treasure Drive. This was not just any dock but one that required a full vote of city commission to approve the variance.

The neighbors, residents since 1977 Dr. Joshua Furman and Jeannette Furman, came to the commission to explain that the dock, already constructed, encroached on their view. The commission established that the permit was wrongfully issued.

During the tedious hour dedicated to this, one highlight was when the real estate agent representing the owners got up and spoke.

Dressed nattily in denim three quarter length pants and a formerly white t-shirt (seriously,is there any worse look for a chubby man than capri pants?), he explained that we North Bay Villagers, who live in a city of shacks (his words, not mine.)should be grateful to his clients for putting up this expensive house.

That's an interesting PR move, try to persuade the people whose permission you need to build your McMansion by mocking their homes. The gracious new owner also got up and explained that she had the right to do whatever she wanted with her house and besides the Furmans are terrible people because they complained about workers at 8 PM in the evening, three hours after code allows.

This approach worked. Our commission voted unanimously to grant the variance! They said it was in order to avoid a lawsuit.

Code variances are routinely granted when they fit the following criteria - the variance has intrinsic value for the property owner, does not encroach on the neighbors or the neighborhood and does not present a safety hazard.. An example of a proper code variance could be a handicapped access ramp running directly to the sidewalk or a covered parking area. It does not include a view blocking boat lift or a deck designed to peer into a neighbor's bedroom. The City Charter is quite clear on that.

The Furmans should go to court to stop this in my opinion. Not only is the dock out of code and improperly built, but the quasijudicial hearing at the commission was dominated by irrelevant self appointed witnesses and the issue deliberately obscured.

But they are not going to court. Jeannete Furman told me that they are not litigious people. This stands in stark contrast to their new neighbors who began screaming lawsuit the minute they were notified of the problem. I respect the Furman's decision, but hope they reconsider. There is a point where bullying needs to be stopped.

In the meantime, this same overpriced addition to our neighborhood puts a broken fence with exposed sharp ends leaning into the middle of the sidewalk every night. See the attached picture.

Kevin Vericker

Four Days Later

What does NBV look like four days after the commission voted to fire the City Manager?

The Police - Sgt. Beatty has been reinstated. You might have forgotten the story as there are so many about the police in our little town, but his stands out. He conducted an unauthorized Internal Affairs investigation by dressing up in a combat vest complete with a recording device, and conducted the investigation at 3 AM. When he was reprimanded on this, he decided the thing to do was to pull over the same citizens he was interviewing at 3 AM, and harass them after being instructed to have no further conversations with them.

In 2009, the commission instructed the police to find $350,000 in permanent cuts owing to the budget crisis and set a deadline of March. Well March came and went, with no such cuts.

Next week, the rumor is that Roland Pandolfi will be hired back to be police chief. Pandolfi resigned earlier this month and the commission action to fire Schwartz was provoked by his resignation.

The Projects-In their condescending lock step speeches, both our new vice mayor George Kane and the man he replaced former vice mayor Rey Trujillo took great pains to praise Schwartz for his ability to construct, promote and find revenue for the project from outside sources. In fact, out of a total bond indebtedness of $35 million, the taxpayers have saved $11 million in one year.

Well, now our grant writer Arleen Weintraub, the one who does all the boring work like making sure the money is available and able to be used for the purpose intended has resigned.

Maybe we'll get the further grant money we are seeking. We no longer have the experience, the connections or the high level of professional grant writing available, but still maybe it will rain money.

The Budget - It's shot. Gone. As of March 1, our revenue shortfall was $200,000. Plus the planned cuts of $350,000 never materialized. We are at high risk to lose a $400,000 lawsuit that could have been settled for $16,000 and we are now facing the legal bills to defend ourselves against new lawsuits, in particular one about the commission violating section 3.06.8 of the City Charter in this week's coup.

We have a reserve of $1.2 million, about a 1/3 of the reserve we need if we get hit by a hurricane, which happens from time to time in Florida, and that will be spent to cover the budget shortfall.

Just a reminder, we run on a balanced budget system in NBV, so we are out of money, that's it.

Review - In one fell swoop on Tuesday, our commission ended our long civic nightmare of development, transparency, fiscal discipline and police restraint.


Kevin Vericker

Friday, April 16, 2010

Police Reinstatement

From: "Bob Pushkin"
Date: April 15, 2010 4:10:53 PM EDT

Subject: Sgt. Kevin Beatty



Today Sgt. K. Beatty was instructed by me to return to active duty. This decision was based on the findings of the Interim Police Chief investigation that there was not substantial evidence to the charges against him. Mr. Jim Crossland agreed and advised me to advise the Interim Chief to re-instate Sgt. Beatty. Mr. Crossland will be forwarding me an e-mail so stating this.



Bob Pushkin

Robert "Bob" Pushkin

Cell: 786-877-1678

Fax: 305-756-7722

Email: bob.pushkin@nbvillage.com


My prediction: This is the first of many rollbacks to ensure that the police exert an inappropriate influence on the city.

Corrections -

1.) I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had misunderstood how the demotion of former Vice Mayor Trujillo came about. Just to be clear, he did not propose it or vote for it. It was proposed by Frank Rodriguez and our new vice mayor cheerfully accepted the post.

I have learned from this mistake. When I am tired and at a meeting, I will in future always check the official record before I write anything. I've removed the posting as errors have a way of sticking around.

I wonder if Mr. Trujillo learned from his mistake regarding with whom he allies?

2.) An odd email went out from ADIOSALFONSO@HOTMAIL.COM, an address associated with Fane Lozman's site. I spoke to Lozman at the meeting and he explained that his email had been compromised, apparently he had shared it with others.

I have been the object of the childish "dog on the internet" fraud myself so I am not surprised.

Remember, I only send signed emails, as I believe in disclosure.

3.) Finally, I am removing the "anonymous" comments from the blog. Some have been good, most have been illiterate rants, but some have threatened violence. I won't be party to it. If you want to comment, you need to open a Google account and provide your contact information. Or email me.

I am in New Jersey again this week. I probably won't catch up until Monday or so.

Kevin Vericker

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

North Bay Village Commission as a Criminal Enterprise

The North Bay Village Commission voted 3 - 2 to fire the City Manager tonight. Voting for the illegal firing were George Kane, himself no stranger to illegal commission actions, Rey Trujillo, who apparently based his reasoning on the city manager's communication skills, and most disappointingly, Dr. Paul Vogel, who told me that he had to vote that way as he had "so much pressure on him".

Following this illegal act, former vice mayor Rey Trujillo was removed as vice mayor, then voted against the motion, then George Kane became vice mayor.

What didn't get done tonight: no interim chief, no software system, no full consent agenda.

But the commission did manage to squeeze in time to approve a code variance for a boatlift on a dock at 1570 S. Treasure Drive, a boatlift that is clearly outside of the spirit and law of the code. The commission did this "to avoid a lawsuit." This is complete nonsense - the neighbors whose home is being ruined by this unsightly project have every right to sue to stop it.

Now, the firing of Schwartz won't stand. It's clearly illegal under the city charter, but now we are broke and going to add to our list of lawsuits. If the people next door to the McMansion with the code busting dock don't sue, I'll be shocked. And there are more in the pipeline.

I'm tired, disgusted and I'm going to bed. More later.

Kevin Vericker

Email Oddities

Yesterday, I sent out an email discussing what NBV Reality is about. Within a few minutes, the same email was sent out from a Hotmail address adiosalfonso@hotmail.com edited with the last few paragraphs (including my name and link to this blog) removed.

I didn't send the second email, the one from Hotmail. Adiosalfonso@hotmail.com is not my email address. It seems to belong to the website WWW.ADIOSALFONSO.COM.

I don't mind my stuff being circulated, really by any means, but it should be attributed. This is all very strange.

Here's my original email. The from line reads "North Bay Village Reality Base" with an email address of "nbvrbc@gmail.com" and you can see that it is longer and contains contact information:

North Bay Village is facing the same crises that towns and cities nationwide are facing – falling revenue and increased demand for services. The issues are complex and controversial. How North Bay Village deals with these problems will affect our community for years to come.

The North Bay Village Reality Base is an ad hoc group of citizens concerned about the future of our city. We are diverse and represent a broad spectrum of opinions with a few unifying points of view.

But one view consistently held is that civility has died in North Bay Village politics. You see it in the paper, hear it on the streets and worst of all see it in the commission. Rudeness and shouting have replaced discussion and we believe this is self destructive. It's time for the stakeholders, the citizens, to show up and have our voices heard, calmly and clearly, over the cacophony of the police union, the complaints of people who don't live here, and the shouting of those who simply don't like the result of the 2008 election.

Tomorrow night, there is a critical commission meeting at 7:30 at Treasure Island Elementary. Come to it and urge your neighbors too as well.

One item planned to be discussed is the firing of the City Manager. (Item 12 A on the attached agenda). The story is short. The City Commission is prohibited by our charter (our local constitution) to interfere in the personnel decisions of the police department. Two commissioners disregarded this and gave specific instructions to the CM, which he would not agree to follow. Now they want to fire him.

You may not like the mayor, your commissioners or the city manager, but he's done nothing illegal. In fact, North Bay Village is one of the few cities in Miami-Dade still moving forward in our economic development and our CM has reduced our bond indebtedness by close to $11 million, taxes we don't have to pay. Please, get interested and show up. Remember elections are this November for Mayor and that's the time to decide on the administration.

On April 27, there is a special Community Forum to cover the issues of the revenue shortfall and discuss the needed cutbacks. It's at the Lexi at 6:30 PM on April 27. Come and learn and speak and influence. If our city goes broke, all our investments suffer.

As I mentioned, North Bay Village Reality is ad hoc, not a formal organization, just a group of citizens who want the discussions civil and the issues clear. I have a blog at http://www.nbvreality.com/ Feel free to peruse it – it's highly opinionated and is designed to lay out positions based on facts, not rumors.

But most of all, start getting involved. If we don't get the people who live here and care about the city in the mix, we're all in trouble. Cities can and do decline. The need is urgent.

If you can't go, write your commissioners – their email addresses are in the TO line and you just have hit reply all. Tell them to stop fighting and get back to work.


Kevin Vericker


Then a few minutes later, this email:

From: Adios Alfonso [mailto:adiosalfonso@hotmail.com]
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2010 6:50 PM
Subject: ADIOS MATTHEW SCHWARTZ AND OSCAR ALFONSO‏



North Bay Village is facing the same crises that towns and cities nationwide are facing – falling revenue and increased demand for services. The issues are complex and controversial. How North Bay Village deals with these problems will affect our community for years to come.

The North Bay Village Reality Base is an ad hoc group of citizens concerned about the future of our city. We are diverse and represent a broad spectrum of opinions with a few unifying points of view.

But one view consistently held is that civility has died in North Bay Village politics. You see it in the paper, hear it on the streets and worst of all see it in the commission. Rudeness and shouting have replaced discussion and we believe this is self destructive. It's time for the stakeholders, the citizens, to show up and have our voices heard, calmly and clearly, over the cacophony of the police union, the complaints of people who don't live here, and the shouting of those who simply don't like the result of the 2008 election.

Tomorrow night, there is a critical commission meeting at 7:30 at Treasure Island Elementary. Come to it and urge your neighbors too as well.

One item planned to be discussed is the firing of the City Manager. (Item 12 A on the attached agenda). The story is short. The City Commission is prohibited by our charter (our local constitution) to interfere in the personnel decisions of the police department. Two commissioners disregarded this and gave specific instructions to the CM, which he would not agree to follow. Now they want to fire him.

You may not like the mayor, your commissioners or the city manager, but he's done nothing illegal. In fact, North Bay Village is one of the few cities in Miami-Dade still moving forward in our economic development and our CM has reduced our bond indebtedness by close to $11 million, taxes we don't have to pay. Please, get interested and show up. Remember elections are this November for Mayor and that's the time to decide on the administration.




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Commission Meeting Tuesday April 13

There a couple of items of strong interest on the agenda. The first of course is the illegal continuation of the threats to fire the city manager. That would be a foolish act and I hope that the commission will not fire the CM.

We're in too deep a crisis to let egos get in the way but I do understand that at an undisclosed North Bay Island meeting Thursday night, more plans were discussed to bully the city into creating a circular firing squad and dismiss the City Manager. The plans sound like the usual fist shaking and temper tantrums and I am sure the citizens involved will be disclosing them shortly in anonymous emails and anonymous postings on LEOAFFAIRS.COM.

We are facing another round of cash shortfalls. The anticipated revenue collection is falling short compared to actual - down by about $230,000. The police cuts in the budget of $350,000 are nowhere near completed and the realized reduction of $172,000 is mostly going away due to the resignation of Chief Pandolfi. So that means to get through the year without major cuts, well... we really can't do it. I hope the commission is prepared to be working on this issue.

One new item on the agenda is a very interesting one. An interim police chief is being proposed. It will add costs - about $70,000 this year and that's a concern, but there does not seem to any obvious other way to go. The police are deeply divided, the cuts have to be made, the contract has to be negotiated and bringing on an experienced hand is an investment designed to guide the PD through the crisis.

So it should be an interesting night.

On another subject, there is scheduled community forum on April 27, 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm at the Lexi. There are many misunderstandings about the budget and how the city has to operate a balanced budget from the tax revenue base. We can't exceed that budget. The surplus (reserve) should be at about $3 million and it's not. The projects by law come from a different pool of money.

The forum is an attempt to lay out clearly what money is coming in, what is used for, what it produces, and what may need to be cut. It will be facilitated by Dr. Dario Moreno of the FIU Metropolitan Center (Urban Studies.)

Kevin Vericker
April 11, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Miami New Times Article April 8, 2010

A local advertising circular for real estate, restaurants and adult services, The Miami New Times, squeezed another article in about North Bay Village and our police. Click here for the article. The purple prose intro by Francisco Alvarado (a Jacobean drama? Seriously?) starts the story with "It all began about a year and half ago..." and then jumps back six years to 2004.

The story itself is a rehash of the ongoing argument in the NBVPD between the two unions, the FOP and the PBA. Some don't like the other union. Alvarado deserves some credit here, for the first time, he decided to talk to the City Manager, from whom he learned that the complaint about promotions was taken seriously and the plan was dropped, the CM took action on cops initiating an informal internal affairs investigation without proper authority, suspended a cop who was witnessed assaulting another cop, suspended the assault victim for not reporting the fight and suspended a cop for inappropriate behavior towards a citizen.

Now all of this stuff is troubling. It points to a department that needs major changes, but Alvarado still tries to spin this like it was somehow a problem with the city administration and not with the police. Armando Aguilar's statement, "It is total mayhem over there.", is near true but the issue is with the unions fighting, not the city.

Years ago, I was involved with a program for homeless teens. The first lesson I had to learn in dealing with these kids, who had real problems, was not to get drawn into the teen drama. They may have even been right in their complaints but required adult supervision. Our police department has reached this point. The next chief has to be able to say, "I don't care who started it. It stops now. Let's get back to work."

Unions are valid. They are needed to protect civil and police employees from the vagaries of political processes and poor management. The unions however are not the business of the citizens and they don't run the city. We don't need or even care about the drama.

It looks to me like the cops have too much time on their hands here. You know, time they might spend patrolling, stopping cars as they roll through stop signs, catching speeders on the causeway, checking the place out, getting out on the bicycles and seeing what's going on. You remember, police work.

Kevin Vericker

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Next Tuesday at the Commission Meeting

So when we last left the commission, they decided to postpone discussion of the City Manager's employment until the regular commission meeting, which is coming up next Tuesday, April 13, 2010.

Let's review the essential complaint here. One of the commissioners, George Kane, very specifically instructed Schwartz to stop being involved in the PD, which clearly by the charter reports to him. When the CM refused, Kane introduced a motion to fire him, which died unseconded.

In March, Commissioner Trujillo joined the discussion again warned Schwartz not to take any action on the police. There was no motion.

So then the police chief resigned, voluntarily and amicably. I know that as he told me that and I know Chief Pandolfi as a man of his word. In fact, I think it's pretty nasty of the people claiming to support him to assume he was either bullied into a resignation or being dishonest about his choices. Me, I'm just glad that he is sticking around through the negotiations and the budget cuts. We need the help.

My reason for not firing the CM is pretty clear. The city is going broke. We are down 20% more than expected in tax collection revenue and more cuts are coming. This is the crisis we are facing. Schwartz has led us through it so far and if we let him go now, this could be the one that sinks us.

But it turns out there's even a better reason to keep him. When Commissioners Kane and Trujillo put their threats on the dais, they were breaking the law.

Section 3.06 of the City's Charter provides:

Limitations of powers of the Commission.

All powers of the City and the determination of all matters of policy shall be vested in the Commission with the following limitations:

G. Appointments or removal of city personnel prohibited. Neither the Commission nor any of its members shall in any manner dictate the appointment, retention, or removal of any city employee (other than the City Manager and the City Attorney, as provided herein), or any person who is duly appointed by the city manager, in accordance with
Section 4.0 1(G)(2) of this Charter.


Read it again. The specific complaint that the two commissioners have is that Schwartz did not follow their directions about "the appointment, retention, or removal of any city employee". Now it might seem a little circular here, but firing someone because he did not accept your imposition of an authority you are specifically forbidden to have is illegal.

Alfonso put the item on the commission agenda. I have no clear idea why but it needs to be removed before we once again wind up with FDLE all over the city and we run out of money.

Elections happen Nov 2, 2010. There are 210 days to change the administration if you don't like what's going on.

Kevin Vericker
April 6, 2010