Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Police Chief?

When government lacks transparency, rumors fill in for information. The latest rumor about North Bay Village is that a new police chief is being actively recruited and interviewed, and shortly will be hired.

Let's look back. When two of our commissioners, Vice Mayor George Kane and former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo, first began their push to remove Matt Schwartz as City Manager, they were openly stating that the reason was that they felt he was "micromanaging" the police. They declared an emergency meeting on Passover because the chief had resigned, not been fired resigned, and they could not allow this to go unpunished.

When it was brought to their attention that managing the police is part of the city manager's charter duties, they switched to a "well, he doesn't communicate so well."

It was important to both to end the year and a half of transparent, open government that Schwartz brought to North Bay Village. After all, it's difficult to use your office for personal financial gain, as Vice Mayor George Kane was found to do by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, if there is transparency. Of course, former vice mayor Trujillo's communication skills are poor at best, and transparency is the enemy of incoherence.

I hope the rumor is false. We can't afford to hire anyone - consultants, assistant city managers, new police chiefs until we have dealt with the budget crisis. And we are not dealing with the budget crisis. At least not in any transparent way.

Let's do some arithmetic:

$65,000 We are paying to our former City Manager.
$55 per hour to our interim City Manager.
An as yet unpublished amount for consulting fees to Randy Hilliard for city management functions.
An as yet unpublished amount for budget consulting.

Approximately $70,000 in 2010 for our former police chief.
A new salary not disclosed for a new police chief.

We can't solve for the unknowns because nothing is coming out of city hall on these.

In the meantime though, we're supposed to be grateful that Matt Schwartz is gone. Remember the days when we only paid one city manager? And he actually told us what he was doing?

Kevin Vericker
June 24, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

North Bay Village's New Sister City - Maywood CA

I propose that North Bay Village should enter into a sister city relationship with Maywood, California.

We have a lot in common. North Bay Village is a small, overlooked city (~7,000 people) in the middle of the Miami urban sprawl. 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.

There's something important we can learn from Maywood - how to go broke. Maywood got there first and in order to avoid bankruptcy, the city commission dissolved all city departments, including the police, and outsourced the services to surrounding communities, who need the cash. Read the LA Times article here and it's like looking in a mirror.

Maywood's $10.1 million General Fund has a deficit of $450,000. Our $5.9 million has a deficit around $600,000. Maywood ran into insurance problems because their police department was wracked by lawsuits. North Bay Village has the same lawsuit problem. Will an insurance problem follow?

One of the criticisms of Maywood is that during this crisis, the city failed to maintain a permanent city manager.

Now there are differences. For example, read this quote from the LA Times article, "In the last decade, shouting matches have erupted during council meetings, election campaigns have been marked by political hit pieces, and even an accusation was made that a city clerk tried to have a councilman killed." At least, we're not that bad in that to my knowledge, no city employee has put out a hit on an elected official.

But this story is North Bay Village's story. And this could easily be our next step.

Kevin Vericker
June 23, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cities Going Bankrupt

The headline from the Washington Post on June 21st is Downturn and Debt Swamp Cities. You can read the article here.

Cities across the country are facing the same issue - steeply declining tax revenues after the property bust are making the once unthinkable municipal bankruptcy a looming possibility. North Bay Village needs to be thinking the same thoughts right now and how to avoid it. The city still can avoid bankruptcy but it will take dedicated leadership, a stop to the petty infighting, and strong public will.

The effects of municipal bankruptcy are drastic. What happens when a municipality enters bankruptcy is that all financial decisions fall to a court appointed oversight board. The oversight board operates outside the political process and makes decisions independent of the citizens' wants. An oversight board could make the decision to end all garbage collection. The board could void the union contracts and dissolve departments. The board could sell the water and sewer operations. Our elected officials can't stop them.

Our commission would only be able to vote on matters with no financial impact, essentially reducing the agenda to plaques and commendations, code clarification, and other non essential matters. If it matters, it costs.

The reality of North Bay Village is that we are not on anyone's radar. No state or federal representative depends on our votes to remain in office and North Bay Village already has a bad reputation. North Bay Village would be the perfect city to make an example of.

A large part of the current crisis has to do with the "balanced budget" movement over the last two decades. Simply described, as government was borrowing more and more to run day to day operations, and continued to create unfunded mandates, a bipartisan concern that spending was out of control took center stage in the 1990's and is now coming back.

The balanced budget movement broke down roughly into two camps. The "pay as you go" crowd who hold the position that if the government doesn't have the money on hand, the government can't spend the money. The other group takes a little longer view and allows for government borrowing (deficit spending) as long as it is within a realistic range, that is that there is strong reason to believe that the money can be paid when revenues are back on track.

In Florida, the first view won out. Florida is a "pay as you go" state. When a city in Florida can't meet its current obligations with cash on hand, it's bankrupt. The courts take over.

For some, that may seem like a reasonable idea. I often hear people tell me that the "city needs to run like a business." but cities have restrictions that businesses don't. North Bay Village can't lay off a group of citizens. North Bay Village can't downsize our assets. North Bay Village can't borrow its way through a short term crisis.

North Bay Village is stuck right now with a fiscal crisis looming and needs to take action now, and not half hearted action.

Our commission should be holding emergency meetings to detail out the expectations to the city manager on how the budget process should proceed. The city management should be working full time on creating the full range of scenarios on how to avoid bankruptcy. Citizens need to show up and demand answers. The web page should be hosting forums soliciting ideas. We need to ask our county and state officials for help on how to approach this.

This is not going away.

Kevin Vericker
June 21, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

It Was Only $3000 and Other Mendacious Excuses

The documents released by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics regarding their investigation of Vice Mayor George Kane detail that our Vice Mayor pleaded no contest to the accusation that he used his office for a personally profitable deal, specifically the move of City Hall to the Lexi.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics found that the proposal by a sitting commissioner (Kane), putting the item on the agenda (Kane) and promoting the move while standing to gain a commission from the deal was illegal. That Kane recused himself from the final vote does not change that.

Accordingly, the Commission on Ethics agreed to accept the amount of the commission estimated at $12,500 per year for two years (total $25,000) paid to North Bay Village instead of Beach Realty in lieu of prosecution. The documents are in this posting.

The whole affair is classic. A sitting commissioner uses his office to propose a move that will personally benefit him. When caught out, Kane agreed to give back the money.

This is like getting caught shoplifting. I understand most retail outfits do not press charges if the shoplifter returns the merchandise and signs a statement to not go back to the store. The excuses "oh, it fell in my backpack." or "I could have sworn I paid for it." don't hold water.

George Kane needs to do the same. He got caught, agreed to the charge, and now should go away.

The two excuses given by the way were classic. It was only $12,500 (yeah, per year) and Mr. Kane himself that he would only see about $3,000 (yeah, per year.) It's at a point where he doesn't even bother to lie.

There was more at the Commission Meeting June 8.

Maybe my favorite was once again Good & Welfare. Those righteous residents who scream corruption at every turn had nothing to say about George Kane's deal.

The interim City Manager who has been on the job for two months had no report. Apparently apart from the projection of a 26% decrease in ad valorem taxes, the budget overages, the police union negotations, the decision to hire a consultant to run day to day operations, the zoning issues, the plan to bring in yet another consultant to manage the budgeting, nothing happened in the last 60 days that the commission or citizens need to know about. Just to stay calm, folks, it's all under control.

We are a city without government.

Kevin Vericker
June 13, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010


Here's a multiple choice quiz for the end of the school year. Which of the following presents a serious risk to the future of North Bay Village?

1.) A projected 26% decline in property tax revenue?
2.) The failure to cut the $350,000 from the police budget?
3.) The current over budget spending by the PD and city manager?
4.) The lack of a strategy to get federal, state and county funds?
5.) All of the above?

None of the above if you are former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo.

Here is the recap of the former Vice Mayor's Commissioner's Report.

Mr. Trujillo wants new grass with the trees because the current grass makes him sad.

Mr. Trujillo explained that last month's meeting was canceled because he wanted to reschedule it but some people didn't and the other dates weren't good for some people and so on and etc.

Mr. Trujillo was very, very upset because he wanted to spend money to bring Deede Weithorn in to fix the budget and it hadn't happened really quickly. never mind that he took last month off.

So what's the solution? Per Trujillo, the city should fire Joe Geller, our city attorney. I didn't catch all Mr. Trujillo's reasoning as a former commissioner sitting behind me kept shouting over the people on the dais.

Screening out the noise, the commissioners finally managed to tease out what Trujillo's point was. The resolution instructs the acting City Manager to enter into discussions with Joe Geller to see if Geller would fire himself and not charge a lot of money to do it.

Commissioner Rodriguez summed it up nicely when he stated to Rey Trujillo "What you are asking is to once again give someone money to go away."

Current Vice Mayor George Kane tried to get to whatever the resolution was by saying, "I'll support it if we don't get rid of him until October." which only makes sense if, well, it doesn't make sense.

A vote was taken and it was agreed 3-2 that interim city manager Bob Pushkin should ask the city attorney for advice on the right way to fire himself.

This would be comic if it wasn't for the fact that while the city is running out of money, Rey Trujillo once again adds to the deficit and the crazy reputation of North Bay Village politics.

Then later in the evening, the commission decided that Matt Schwartz needs to be brought back at full salary and benefits to be a consultant and leaving in place the interim City Manager at $55 per hour. Now on the surface that would seem like a bad deal.

If the commission had not fired Matt Schwartz for doing his job, we would have no need of an interim city manager and would not be driving up the cost by having two people doing that job.

But since it's North Bay Village, the first stop on the express train to Crazy Town we need to go a little deeper than just the surface.

Since one interim city manager is not enough, NBV has now added a consultant to the city manager. Randy Hilliard will be managing non police related issues.

We have three people doing the job of one. Not enough since it turns out that among the three city managers we are now paying, nobody can do the budget. It's not that big a budget by the way but the answer is hire someone else.

Deede Weithorn is being proposed as a "budget consultant". Now, Ms. Weithorn has an excellent and well earned reputation in civic matters, in budgeting, and deep experience. But she doesn't and won't do it for free.

North Bay Village now has four people being paid for the job of one city manager.

And we're heading towards broke.

I complained last month about the commission taking the month off. We'd probably be better off they just took the rest of the year off.

Separate note: The North Bay Village Police Athletic League had a problem. The school was planning to charge for use of the facilities and they don't have the money. They brought the problem to former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo who offered to rent them space in the Grandview. He didn't quite get that the problem was the PAL have no money. After all, North Bay Village has no money and he keeps spending that.

Oscar Alfonso was able to get the space restored at Treasure Island School for $0.

Kevin Vericker
June 11, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Last Days

Former Vice Mayor, Rey Trujillo, introduced a motion tonight to direct the city manager to fire Joe Geller, but not like right away. He seemed to propose that the interim City Manager talk with Mr. Geller to see how much it would cost the city to have Geller walk away by July. It was a confusing ramble.

After about 15 minutes of trying to figure out what exactly the former Vice Mayor was proposing, current Vice Mayor George Kane and Mayor Emeritus Paul Vogel voted to do so.

In the meantime, the city is facing a $1.4 million shortfall for 2011. But the important thing is that former Vice Mayor Trujillo got what he wanted.

Our next election will be about whether following the dissolution of North Bay Village, if we will be annexed or an unincorporated Miami-Dade district.

More detail tomorrow.

Kevin Vericker
June 8, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

How The Money Gets Spent

In simple terms, the city budget shows the amount of money dedicated to each department or functional area and then tracks expenses by each. For example, we can see in the financial report for April 30, 2010, the Police Department's numbers:

Total 2010 Budget$3,474,119.00
Expected Spend by April 30, 2010$2,026,569.00
Actual Amount Spent$2,150,887.00
Percent of Planned106.10%

Now here's the problem. This does not explain usefully how the money is spent. There are breakdowns Salaries $xxxx or Benefits $xxx or Facilities $xxxx but these breakdowns again don't explain what is being done with the money.

To understand that, you have to look deeper. A good question to ask is "What does a department actually do and how can we measure what gets done?" Using the PD as an example, they do certain things:

Respond to Crime Reports
Respond to Emergencies
Respond to Non Emergencies
Patrol the City Streets
Educate the Community
Investigate Property Crimes
Support Prosecutions

Getting an idea of how many of each of these outcomes are done and figuring the cost of each one starts to give a new view of what the cost of maintaining a police department is and what the effects of cuts will look like.

It's called Outcome Based Costing and it is a discipline designed to uncover the actual per unit costs of work and services. When it gets more complex, it also includes the cost per unit of activity to support the outcomes. This is known as Activity Based Costing. The Federal Government has been using this approach since the early 1990's, across administrations and congresses to understand the budget and spend.

It's huge and complex when you are talking about organizations the size of the Federal Government or even at the County level, but at the small municipal level, the complexity is far lower and is a question of dedicating time and not getting too involved in precision.

The big advantage of course is that properly done, it clarifies for the final stakeholders, the citizens, what services cost. This is critical to understand when cutting services.

At the Community Forum and in previous meetings, several people spoke for example of Dispatch as being essential to their sense of well being in North Bay Village. Let's take a look at that.

In the City Budget, the annual cost of dispatch is around $250,000. The function of dispatch is to quickly answer response calls and direct the issue quickly to the right resources, sort of a local 911.

In April, 2010, dispatch handled 226 calls plus 21 walk-ins. So here's some math:

247 Dispatches (includes both call-in and walk-in.)
Approximately $20,833 for April (Annual Budget divided by 365 days times 30 days in April.)

Cost Per Dispatch Response: $84
Average Dispatch Response Per Day: 8.23
Average Dispatch Per Eight Hour Shift: 2.74 Calls per shift.

On the surface, that doesn't look like a very good investment. It's clear that to some local dispatch matters, but maybe there are ways to add local dispatch with the existing force. Maybe NBV Dispatch could handle more calls, say 3 per hour, and we could sell the service to other cities that are also facing shortfalls. The impression that 911 in Miami-Dade is a horror show is wrong. Miami-Dade, along with Los Angeles, provides training to cities across the US on how to do it right.

I am not arguing that these numbers above are finally defensible. Dispatch has other duties and sometimes a perceived luxury is well worth buying, but you always must know the cost.

In the city's current budget crisis, this information is missing. We are facing dramatic cuts, across the board but mostly with the PD as our ad valorem tax revenue falls and it's time to take every serious effort to understand what we are cutting.

Kevin Vericker
June 6, 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Time for Some Math

While Vice Mayor Kane, former Vice Mayor Trujillo and Mayor Emeritus Vogel were off last month, relaxing from their arduous April of ending North Bay Village's long run of good government and transparency, the city continued spiraling towards broke.

By now we've all seen the Herald article on the fall of taxable property in Miami-Dade. 2011 promises to be a pretty grim year.

Time for some math. With a projected decrease of 26% in North Bay Village, this means that our current budgeted revenue from Ad Valorem taxes of $5,006,940 will drop to $3,474,119.

Current Budget: $5,947,867
2011 with no changes: $4,415,046.

The city has to find $1,532,821 in new revenue or reduce the budget by that amount.

Given our track record in 2010, this is probably not going to happen.

In October last year, the Police Department was given a direct mandate to cut $350,000 from their budget. That's hasn't happened. In fact, as of April 30th, was $124,318 over budget.

There's no real room elsewhere. The project money doesn't come from the ad valorem taxes, so there's not much cutting can be done on that. Raising millage is difficult, if not impossible, as enough people are already struggling to pay their bills.

It's time to look at the police from top to bottom.

Kevin Vericker
June 3, 2010