Friday, July 30, 2010

July Winds Down

I'm heading out on vacation, digging deep into the ancestral roots. It's an epic journey, starting in Long Island City, the neighborhood in Queens, NY where I was born many years ago. I will actually being staying there because the hotels are a 1/3 of the price in Manhattan and I want to visit some relatives in Queens. Then I head to Ireland for a cousin's wedding. But I'll be back and snarking by August 10.

In the meantime, I thought I would give a little plug to the new restaurant that opened next to the Food Giant. It's called Kabobji, and it's not surprising that it serves Middle Eastern food. It's good, very good.

I ordered Beef Kafta Pita Wrap from the lunch menu,for $6.49. It was delicious, fresh and well seasoned. If you would like to check out their menu, it's the same as their North Miami Beach location and you see it by clicking here.

The place itself is clean, modern and pretty well decorated. Since it only opened Tuesday, the service was still a bit spotty but any new place has that and the manager was quick to apologize for the delay.

I miss Edy's, the predecessor in this space, and still long for the Bagel but it's nice to see a new, high quality casual dining place here in North Bay Village.

It worth checking out. In the meantime, try not to let the commission spend too much more money and I'll be back in 12 days or so. I will be checking in.

Kevin Vericker
July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Budget Workshop That Wasn't

This should have been a long thoughtful post on the implications of the proposed budgets as presented last night. It can't be. We didn't learn much.

The presentation last night was not worthy of the subject at hand.

The interim city manager was apparently ill and the presentation was handed off to the new police chief, Robert Daniels, on short notice. Chief Daniels acquitted himself admirably. He did not attempt to speak to what he did not know, spoke clearly and precisely to what he did know which was the important part about the impact of the cuts on the police, and forbore the obnoxious and ignorant stream of consciousness speechifying put forth by one of our long term residents.

From the commission, neither the former vice mayor, Rey Trujillo, nor the current vice mayor, George Kane, were there to listen to the concerns of the assembled citizens. Now that was probably to the good, since Rey Trujillo likely would have introduced more positions to double pay as the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax continues to consume our dwindling resources and George Kane, like the cast of the Jersey Shore, prefers to be paid for his public appearances. But still the absence was notable.

From the police side, the news does not look good. If the current tax rate is maintained, there will be a layoff of 5 police officers and dispatch will be eliminated. With a .5 increase in the millage, that number should drop to 3 police officers with dispatch maintained.

If the tax rate millage is increased from 4.2772 to 4.7772, then the layoffs are less severe. But the effect of the tax increase will be felt exclusively by the longer term homeowners. Cliff Friedland (aka Mr. Penelope Friedland) summed it up well when he commented that a millage rate increase is "against the spirit of the Homestead law."

Now beyond the fact that two of the architects of the cash crisis, Trujillo and Kane, did not show up, there were some critical pieces of information missing.

  • There was no revenue sheet included. That is there was no clear statement that showed the anticipated revenue and the assumptions for next year. You can't present a budget without that. Every household knows that you need to see the income before you can decide the spending.

  • The budget is not expressed in services. If the police are cut, what can we expect for response time? What is the response time now? How does response time differ between local dispatch and county 911? We need to know this and I hope this information is available to us for the next workshop.

    William Bratton, former police chief of NYC and widely credited with the crime reductions of the 1990's there, famously said that every manager at McDonald's knows what the workload will look like for each shift and can immediately show the statistics supporting the staffing decisions. Our police department can do the same.

  • There was nothing quantifiable about the non police layoffs and personnel changes. We don't know what services will be cut in operations and planning. There was a discussion of outsourcing the sanitation. What if we outsourced finance and code instead? These are scenarios that have to be presented.

The citizens who showed up last night were ill served. The crisis resolution should not depend on one man; every experienced city professional should be able to discuss these questions; Chief Daniels two weeks into his new position did better than we could have reasonably expected but the people around him, who brought him in, left him hanging out there.

The next budget discussions are:

August 12 at 4:30 PM in City Hall with the Citizens Budget and Oversight Commission. It's a public meeting.

Probably August 28 for the second budget discussion which I hope will be done seriously.

Then the two commission meetings in September to agree the final budget.

Kevin Vericker
July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Budget Meeting Tonight July 28 at 7:30 PM

The full commission will be meeting tonight, Wednesday, July 28 at 7:30 PM, to discuss the plans for the 2011 budget. Most of the topics regarding the budget seem arcane and highly technical. That's because they are. That doesn't make them less critical to understand for the average North Bay Village.

The process will break down into roughly two categories, short term and long term. There is overlap but a useful way to look at this is short term refers to the revenues and expenditures to keep the city functioning day to day in fiscal year (FY) 2011, while long term refers to the development efforts to stabilize and improve the city in the future.

Short Term: by now, I think everyone who has been paying attention knows that North Bay Village is predicted to drop 26% in ad valorem tax revenue, the second worst decline in the county. Homestead had the worst. Overall values have fallen, new sales are lower than they have been in years, according to Trulia.Com there are 258 units for sale in various states of foreclosure, homes bought during the construction boom have been significantly reduced in value. This drop is likely to result in at least a 20% reduction in money available to the city to keep running.

Local services, principally the police but also maintenance and other city services, will be reduced, and taxes on homesteaded older homes will probably rise. The question tonight is what services and how much will be the new taxes be.

Three of the five commissioners, Rey Trujillo, George Kane and Dr. Vogel, have demonstrated a scandalous lack of fiscal discipline and these three constitute the majority.

George Kane saw nothing wrong with proposing and lobbying for a personally profitable deal to move city hall to the Lexi, a move that will bring zero value to the NBV taxpayer, but entitled him to a commission. This action remains endorsed by our full commission, all five members, since not one has offered even a token resolution of disapproval.

Rey Trujillo's impulsive actions of firing then doubling the cost, have brought the current strained budget to the breaking point. The North Bay Village Trujillo Tax is hurting us now and if it continues, will drives us to bankruptcy.

Dr. Vogel has sadly gone along with these shenanigans.

These guys need watching to make sure they get it right. They have not demonstrated that they understand fiscal restraint in a relatively tight situation. It's going to get worse as the revenue deteriorates.

Long Term-We are in this mess for two big reasons. Our tax base is out of balance. We rely too heavily on one source, property taxes. Over 70% of our revenue comes from property and relatively minuscule 10% from businesses. This model is unsustainable. We can see it now. A downturn in property values has a dramatic effect overall on the revenues.

The second reason is that North Bay Village's biggest current investment, the police department, is not controlled for spending. You know all the examples.

The commission again needs watching since they have shown little inclination to bring the PD back to reality. A simple cut of $350,000 ordered by the commission has not been met and this does not bode well.

I think the same troika does not get the balance between the short term and the long term. If you remember the firing of Matt Schwartz, these three spoke in glowing terms about Schwartz's ability to create the critical capital projects that we need to keep us out of the exact sort of dilemma in which we find ourselves. It was clear that they did not find building the future nearly as important as their current annoyance with the CM, over the police, at least publicly.

Finally, and of grave concern to all of us, remember that there is somewhere over $30 million dollars about to flow through North Bay Village. We already know that we have a vice mayor who sees no ethical conflict in helping himself to a profit out of city funds; we know that our city commission does not consider this worthy of censure; we have a former vice mayor who feels entitled to double our expenditures every time someone displeases him. This does not bode well for proper oversight.

Two bright spots in all of this are the new police chief, who is showing clearly that he understands the need for fiscal and departmental discipline, and the interim city manager who is trying mightily to pull all of this together to a comprehensible presentation. Two alone are not enough to keep the tide in check though. Citizens have to be there. It's our money.

Kevin Vericker
July 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CFD Mailing on the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax

A special shout out goes today to the Citizens for Full Disclosure who forwarded this article from today's Miami Herald North Bay Village Contracts With Second City Attorney.. I am often at odds with the CFD over specifics but I am pleased that they are sharing this information with the community. If you did not get the email, click on the link to view the article.

In the same email, there was another Herald article about the taxes North Bay Village proposes a higher tax rate for next year. The article presents the information about the maximum TRIM and its effects very concisely. Again, well done and thanks for getting this out there.

I do have one small complaint with the first article( North Bay Village Contracts With Second City Attorney..). Quote from the article - "At a June meeting, Commissioner Reinaldo Trujillo ordered the interim city manager to negotiate the terms of Geller's firing." Trujillo didn't "order". As a commissioner, or even in his former post as vice mayor, he does not have that right. Only the commission by majority vote can order something from the city manager. I know this is a quibble and I am sure Trujillo believes he did indeed issue an order, but he has no such authority.

But such concerns aside, the fact that the CFD sent this information out confirms my long held belief that we want the same things for the city - fiscal responsibility, transparency - even when we disagree on the means. Good job.

Kevin Vericker
July 27, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Slander, Libel, Gossip - It's Campaign Season

Since I started this blog in January, there is a standing offer to turn over the blog for other people to post their points of view. Now it's not an open offer. I put three conditions I consider reasonable on the offer.

  • The posting needs to be signed.
  • Any information presented as factual must be verifiable.
  • It may be edited for clarity but only after those edits have been agreed by me and the poster.

This offer was and is open to all. I particularly welcome such postings from people who don't agree with me, of whom there are several. The only person who took me up on this offer was Tim O'Regan who wrote about his experience when he was proposed to be interim police chief. You can read that post by clicking here in case you missed it.

Last week, there was a second submission, by someone with whom I often disagree. (Oh, what the heck, let me put in an exclamation point, two in fact.) !! I want this and I think the readers (300 per week and rising) do too. After reviewing the submission and offering suggested edits for grammar, spelling and clarity, there was one sticking point. Something damaging about an individual was stated as fact. The problem is that there is no way to prove or disprove the statement, nor is there any legal way for the writer to know the truth.

I responded to the request asking that this one sentence be removed since it fit the legal definition of a libel, that is a damaging, unproven assertion printed about an individual. Not an interpretation but an unsupported fact. I do check with a lawyer on these issues, paid for out of my own pocket, and he was quite clear that this should not be published without either a source named or a document. After some back and forth, the poster did not comply, I could not verify the information with the target of the information, and the original poster requested that I not publish his submission.

I am respecting that, although I am not bound to. Later this week, maybe tomorrow, I will frame the arguments in the post about what constitutes suitable qualification for holding public office in North Bay Village. Probably after that, I will write about what's happening now as we enter campaign season and the race for mayor starts out ugly. But right now, I am just writing about my deep disappointment that even simple discussions about North Bay Village politics so quickly degenerate to unwarranted mudslinging.

Dialogue and strongly voiced disagreement matter, and I encourage the readers to send their own views, as long as they conform to the conditions above, but no made up stuff or stuff you can't prove.

This is probably as good a time as any to remind readers on the comment policy. I don't allow anonymous comments and you need to have a Google account to comment here. I didn't want to do that originally but the comments quickly degenerated to personal insults against people not even in public life, threats of physical retaliation and incoherence. There are a lot of places that enable this - LEOAFFAIRS.COM for one but not here. So if you want to comment, get a Google account and be open about it.

Kevin Vericker
July 26, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tax Rate Changes (Warning - Long Post)

President George Bush (the first one - usually referred to as "Bush The Elected" to distinguish him from his son, who was appointed in 2000.) famously said in 1988, "Read my lips - no new taxes." As the economic effect of massive deficit spending in the Reagan years weighed the country down, Bush The Elected had to back off from that promise and raise taxes during his term. There are still many who think it was breaking this promise that cost him the 1992 election.

For what it's worth, I disagree with that view. People understand that conditions change and that taxes change to match them. Government has a role, a big one, in economic recovery and during hard times it can counter-intuitively have to raise taxes. During the Clinton years, when the American economy saw the greatest growth in history, the Reagan stimulus tax cuts (You thought this was the first stimulus?) were allowed to lapse and the country saw record growth while the deficit was on track to zero out in ten years. Well, we know what happened next.

On January 8, 2008, North Bay Village had its own "No New Taxes" moment when the commission voted to maintain total taxes at the then current rate as a matter of policy. Resolution 2008-1 was passed 4-0 by Oscar Alfonso, George Kane, Rey Trujillo and Joe Geller, with Paul Vogel absent that night. This resolution was never repealed and very well may remain in effect in July 2010.

We know times changed and this week the commission took the first step in setting the millage for 2011. The commission voted 3-2 to set the maximum millage rate at 5.9. The current millage rate is 4.277. Now the word maximum is very important here. It is not the new millage rate but the upper legal limit that the city can work with for budget purposes. It's not likely to be the new millage rate. I believe that number is decided in September.

With a 26% decline in property values, our tax revenues will most likely fall below a sustainable level in 2011 without some raise. Given the lack of financial discipline on the dais, with Rey Trujillo, George Kane and Dr. Vogel spending money we don't even know if we have like it grows on magic money trees, the tax raise will probably be higher than it should be.

I created a large spreadsheet which I will share with anyone who wants it if you email me at nbvrbc @ (remove the spaces, I don't want bot mass mailings) to show the effect of the following on three comparable houses bought at different times:

  • House 1 purchased in say 2000 valued at $200,000 and currently homesteaded
  • House 2 purchased in say 2007 valued at $500,000 and currently homesteaded.
  • House 3 purchased in say 2007 valued at $500,000 and not homesteaded.
Assumptions for the first scenario are that Miami-Dade raises the county millage rate by 12% as reported in the Herald this week, that North Bay Village raises the millage rate to the maximium of 5.9, and that the two owners who bought at the top of the market ($500,000) have their values reduced by 26% and the owner who bought ten years ago has the assessed value increase by 3% as per Florida Homestead Law, still below market value but a raise.

The assumptions for Scenario 2 are the same except the North Bay Village millage rate is set at 4.95, which is just below the middle and about where I expect it will end up.

Constants for both scenarios are that the NBV Debt Service Millage rises to .8326 as it must by law.

Scenario 1 - NBV Raises Millage to 5.9
  • House 1 will see an overall increase total tax of 15.14% in 2011 (+$490)
  • House 2 will see a decrease of total tax of -20.23% in 2011 (-$2014)
  • House 3 will see a decrease of total tax of -17.42% in 2011(-$1,889)

Scenario 2 - NBV Raises Millage to 4.9
  • House 1 will see an overall increase total tax of 10.64% in 2011 (+$344)
  • House 2 will see a decrease of total tax of -23.44% in 2011 (-$2334)
  • House 3 will see a decrease of total tax of -20.83% in 2011(-$2259)

Now remember, House 1 increased value (3%) and increased millage, while Houses 2&3 dropped value by 26%, which is why the lower millage increase brings them even more dramatic tax relief.

Again, if you write me, I will send you the spreadsheet in Excel or OpenOffice format and you can run your own numbers through. The one thing I will ask is that if you find an error in the calculations, let me know.

My Opinions - I warned you it would be a long post and if you've read this far, you've gotten the point and if you are thinking "I could live without this part." I won't be offended if you leave now.

On Resolution 2008-01 and "No New Taxes" - I hate this kind of resolution. It hobbles government, is never something you see in well run companies (Imagine a corporate mission statement: We Vow Never To Raise Prices No Matter.) and is generally meaningless. Had I been writing this blog in 2008, the whole commission would have heard about it. Never make a promise that you can't live up to.

My concern about this at the moment is that without repealing 2008-01, North Bay Village may once again be open to expensive lawsuits and challenges as it is not clear that without the repeal, the commission has the right to set a combined millage rate above the January 2008 level. It's a stupid resolution anyway.

On the political positions of the commission - Kane, Trujillo and Vogel got it right when they voted to give the city maximum flexibility in creating the budget. Rodriguez and Alfonso got it wrong. And I'm glad it passed. I think most NBV taxpayers, not all, agree with that.

Alfonso has remained consistent on the subject of keeping taxes flat, so he gets some political points for that consistency. Kane and Trujillo lose some for having voted for this when it looked like no big deal and then not acknowledging that they were wrong and stating that in future they will consider the implications of such pandering more closely.

What we've learned - When I hear people say about the property bubble, "Who knew?", or "There was no way to predict this.", I feel like smacking them. I don't smack them but I do lose respect instantly for them. In 2006 and 2007, we all knew that it was fantasy. We didn't want to know as our property values made us feel really rich and a lot us got in the game, hoping to get out before it fell, many borrowed large sums against phantom equity, banks goaded us on, and we didn't want to know. Like all gamblers, the ones who timed their departure right made money, but for the rest of us, the house won, as it always. Anyone with a high school level grasp of economics, statistics and history knew it wouldn't last.

There were never enough people to buy all those condos that we approved. The city looks like crap now with looming, empty buildings, 7525 E. Treasure Drive alone looks like the third world.

We do need to learn from this. The basic lessons of not gambling more than you can afford to lose still stands. Our government should not rubber stamp all construction projects. Our commission should not hobble us with resolutions that restrict the government from responding to new circumstances.

And the next time a politician says "No new taxes.", don't listen to whatever follows.

Special Note - I expect as always to be bombarded with remarks about local pols and taxes. Watch for a posting coming up on the subject by someone who disagrees with me on just about everything. I am thinking Monday as there is some editing to agree.

Kevin Vericker
July 23, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

North Bay Village Doubles The Size Of Its Legal Staff

Trujillo Tax Update from July 21 - Last night at the very special meeting of the North Bay Village Commission, Rey Trujillo won half a battle or maybe double a battle. It's all very confusing.

The former Vice Mayor has found that our City Attorney displeases him. Naturally he wanted to fire him. But there was a bit of a problem. Our City Attorney doesn't displease everybody. His legal advice has been consistent and transparent, even when it's not good news. Especially when it's not good news. The former Vice Mayor doesn't like not good news.

Trujillo explained his actions by laying out his reasoning. This is a quote: "The city attorney has taken certain liberties with certain actions in certain cases." This leaves a little bit to be desired in terms of clarity.

Well, anyway, since it would have been stupid to have fired the city attorney on those grounds, George Kane crafted a clever compromise. Let's have two city attorneys. Joe Geller was demoted to "Deputy City Attorney" and a new firm was contracted to be City Attorney. Trujillo voted YES, along with Kane and Vogel.

Now we are paying 2 City Managers, 2 Police Chiefs and 2 City Attorneys.

We do know the cost of 2 City Managers, but still don't have a price for the additional Police Chief or the additional City Attorney.

Many budget and finance experts recommend that cities refrain from additional expenses when they don't know their current financial conditions and they don't know their foreseeable expenses. Rey Trujillo says NO to that fiscal stuff. Let's just keep on spending.

Now not all of his plans are getting passed. Last week the commission failed to pass a measure Trujillo proposed to have North Bay Village buy a lot on Harbor Island to provide parking spaces for the residents of 7904 West Drive. There's apparently a parking shortage and Rey Trujillo thought that the city should spend at least $250,000 to condemn and take over a privately owned piece of land so that some people could park a bit closer to their building.

It was never made clear exactly how much but $250,000's the figure bandied about. It sounds low. (George Kane recused himself from the dais as it was his deal and the last time he tried to get the city to pay his real estate commissions, it didn't work out so well. Click here for more information on the last land deal. ) Remember, we are heading towards at least a $1,000,000 shortfall, don't know our current deficit level and many of us are trying to figure out how to keep our cars rather than where to park them.

Rey Trujillo thought it was a good idea that every resident in North Bay Village pay an additional $35 per head or about a $100 per house to buy a few people a slightly more convenient place to park. That was too much for the other members of the commission and this ill conceived notion died an embarrassing death in front of all.

Trujillo Tax To Date:

This is the amount that Rey Trujillo has spent of our money so far.

  • $127,305 to forgive the water bill at the Grand View Palace, where he lives.
  • $57,000 in unpaid bills from the Grand View Palace
  • $40,000 in additional legals fees to add a new City Attorney (my estimate based on $250 per hour and 40 hours per month work.)
  • $115,000 in hiring a new police chief. (again, an estimate since there is no contract but it's probably in the ballpark.)
  • $80,000 to pay our former city manager.
  • $362,305 is our running total to make Rey Trujillo comfortable.

    $233 per household in property taxes for costs that produce nothing.

Last night, George Kane left early. That meant that the commission was unable to pass the plan to add a new Code Enforcement Officer and the plan to take August off for a little rest and relaxation after four months of pillaging the city coffers was not passed, so our commission will meet next month. I believe August 12 will be the day assuming that the there is not a repeat of May when coincidentally Rey Trujillo, George Kane and Paul Vogel were all unable to reorganize their schedules for a meeting.

Other Business - The commission set the maximum TRIM (property tax) rate at 5.9. More about property taxes tomorrow. It deserves its own post.

Planning and Zoning has two new members - Jorge Piedra of Treasure Island and Silvio Diaz of Harbor Island.

Still no action on the commission's part to clarify that the city is not or should not be a "Pay to Play" town. The current Vice Mayor's deal to extract $25,000 in commissions from the city, which violated the county ordinance on ethics, a finding to which he agreed and must pay the money back, goes uncensured.

And no surprise here - former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo announced he is running for mayor. He had a free lance writer interviewing people at the meeting and talked movingly about his commitment to fiscal restraint. Campaign season is upon us.

Kevin Vericker
July 22, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two More July 2010 Commission Meetings (with update)

The first is a meeting Wednesday July 21 with two purposes:

1.) Establish the Millage Rate maximum for the next fiscal year. Don't freak out. This is not to set the actual millage rate but to put the top limit for when the budget is created. After that, that actual millage rate is decided.

2.) Fire Joe Geller. This part of the Trujillo Tax, the cost to each North Bay Village resident of getting rid of people with whom the former Vice Mayor has "communication" issues. The former Vice Mayor does not want to risk that the direction of the city be decided in the ballot box next November and wants to ensure that the city goes broke first.

There are a few other things left over from last week's event. Endorse the FOP's Code Enforcement strategy. Set the September schedule for the budget hearings. Discuss whether or not the commission should meet in August.

One of particular interest is the appointment of Planning and Zoning committee members. There was much push-back at the last meeting from North Bay Island residents who want the hedge height restrictions kept in place. They had been silent at the previous meetings but now want to make sure that their voice is heard.

Here's what not on the agenda -

1.) The item regarding houseboat fees. This had been very important to Fane Lozman but no longer suits the political agenda so it has been tossed overboard.

2.) And a not single word from any of the commission members proposing even a mild censure of Vice Mayor George Kane's actions in attempting to be compensated for his proposal to move City Hall to the Lexi. Not one word from anyone. North Bay Village government doesn't object to this.

There will be a second meeting is a budget workshop on July 28 where I imagine we will be discussing how broke we are.

Update - on the July 21 agenda, the proposed date for the budget hearing, September 8, falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, which will create conflict for many of our residents. I'm sure they will propose another date.

Both agendas are below:

<html><body><h1>503 Service Unavailable</h1>No server is available to handle this request.</body></html>

<html><body><h1>503 Service Unavailable</h1>No server is available to handle this request.</body></html>

Kevin Vericker
July 20, 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grandview Palace and the Trujillo Tax in North Bay Village

Former Vice Mayor Trujillo speaks proudly of his business and civic experience. His tenure on the board at the Grandview Palace is a good example. He's managed to get civic subsidies for private bills totaling over $180,000 while the Grandview Palace currently ranks in the bottom 6% of condo buildings in Miami by

Here's one from November of 2007, when the Grandview Palace Condos, where he is a resident and is currently Vice President of the Condo Board, found itself with a water bill in arrears of around $174,000, Commissioner Trujillo organized a deal with the then city manager to forgive $127,305.59 of the bill. This adjustment, not voted on the by the commission, meant that the cost of water for the Grandview Palace was spread among the rest of the North Bay Village homeowners. I've attached the document below. Scroll through and look for yourself at the unexplained adjustment of Nov. 30, 2007.

In the matter of the Grandview and another issue, there remains an outstanding debt of $57,000 which Commissioner Trujillo has twice to get the commission to forgive. This was money that the city laid out in 2005 when the Grandview required round the clock fire marshals to keep the building habitable. There's no question that they owe it, it's just that Commissioner Trujillo doesn't want his building to pay for it. Apparently, paying for the water and the upkeep of Trujillo's condo is the obligation of the North Bay Village taxpayer.

Time for some math:

$127,305 + $57,000 = $184,305. Grandview Palace unpaid debts.

Cost per North Bay Village Household is about $200.00. And we don't even get a Thank You note?

I've been asked why I am writing about the "Trujillo Tax". Easy, because every time Rey Trujillo gets a notion, it winds up costing the North Bay Village taxpayers in real dollars. Think of it this way - the cost per person in the United Kingdom to support the Royal Family is around $1 USD. The cost per person in North Bay Village to support Trujillo's moves on the Grandview Palace is around $26. I'm no monarchist, but it seems the Brits got a better deal.

Grand View Palace Water Bill

Kevin Vericker
July 18 ,2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

New Police Chief for North Bay Village

A key item on the Commission Agenda was a resolution "confirming the appointment of Robert J. Daniels as Chief of Police". It passed 3 - 2.

Quick summary of the arguments for and against.

Supporting the resolution, Commissioners Trujillo, Kane and Vogel argued and prevailed that the NBV PD needs strong, professional leadership to resolve the existing problems and to negotiate the difficult times ahead with the budget.

Against the resolution, Commissioner Rodriguez and Mayor Alfonso argued that until we are clear on the current financial status of the city, no further hires should be made.

Citizens who spoke fell into the same general categories.

My view is that is no one should be hired until we know the financial status of the city.

Fane Lozman made an interesting point during the public comment section that he supported the hiring of a new police chief, but reminded the commission that the police take up a disproportionate share of our budget and suggested that the new chief's contract include specific performance goals and indicators. Not a bad idea.

The resolution passed and the interim City Manager has begun discussing and structuring the contract with Daniels.

If the contract is finalized, Daniels is faced with a slew of problems.


Property tax collections are going to fall somewhere between $500 thousand and $1 million, depending on whether the commission raises millage rates or not. A detailed plan by the city to cut police officers, furlough the remaining police officers 26 days per year, go to 12 hour shifts, change the take home car policy, and reduce insurance payments for family coverage, can't be implemented without the union contracts signed. They are still not signed and without union cooperation, these won't happen.

Daniels resume reads like a budget wonk's dream. He has extensive academic and practical financial background and I'm sure he is aware how difficult this task will be.

Human Resources Issues

The disputes in our police department are obvious. Some of them are union disputes, others are personality issues, and even others are differing views on the role of the department. They have reached fever pitch, with physical altercations, accusations of tainted internal investigations and complaints about officers harassing citizens. The truth is always difficult to get at but that's the challenge that the new chief faces.

My view The NBV PD needs a top to bottom HR action plan. Clear policies with consequences about acceptable behavior need to be put in place immediately and consistently enforced, including restrictions of active politicking while on duty.

I have consistently proposed and supported a Citizen's Advisory Commission to work with the police chief to ensure that police policy meet the community goals. (Note: not a Civilian Review Board. That's a discredited good idea that quickly fell into bad company.)

This is urgent.


Our last police chief, Roland Pandolfi, resigned amicably. That the resignation was with regret, I have no doubt, but he told me and the public at large that it was clear to him for personal and professional reasons that it was time to move on.

Yet Commissioner Trujillo continues to trash talk Pandolfi from the dais, stating with false sympathy that Roland Pandolfi was cowered into resigning by former city manager Schwartz. Chief Pandolfi is a stand up guy and if he was forced into the resignation, I have no doubt he would have told everybody where to stick it. Well, he would have been more polite than I am, but the message would be the same. But former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo continues to lower his reputation by painting him as weak and without backbone.

This is going to be a problem for whoever is chief. The past predicts the future and when the political situation changes, the new chief will be up against an inconstant group of politicos with a public platform and a fungible sense of the truth.

Final note: I mentioned during public comment that I admire the academic and professional qualifications and I do. The Masters in Public Administration degree alone and when combined with the host of well respected professional organizations and his post graduate training, this speaks well of Daniels' grasp of the complexities of running even a small department. If the contract is finalized, I hope he quickly and consistently begins to execute.

Kevin Vericker
July 16, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on the Trujillo Tax For North Bay Village

Former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo has sent a request for an emergency commission meeting to be held on July 19 with one agenda item - dismissing the city attorney. This is something of an obsession with the former Vice Mayor.

His stated reason from the June commission meeting was that the city attorney was slow to act in reviewing the proposed contract with Deede Weithorn to provide budget consulting to North Bay Village. Whether that's true or not has not been backed up by Mr. Trujillo, but the fact remains that the reason we needed outside help was the former Vice Mayor's successful firing of the city manager, and the commission itself could not organize a meeting in May.

I am not going to argue here about whether or not NBV should retain Joe Geller, who has already provided his resignation, but my concern is over the ongoing costs of these personal battles.

At a time when North Bay Village is going broke, Trujillo is failing to consider the cost of firing the city attorney.

Let's look at the hard costs.

The cost of the meeting itself.

The cost of engaging outside counsel to ensure that the proposed firing is done correctly.

The cost of retaining new counsel to help the city through this difficult period.

The cost of additional duplicative legal work to complete the in progress transactions.

Don't think there are any big legal costs coming up? Think again.

1.) At Trujillo's insistence, we are now in negotiations for a new police chief. That contract has to be carefully framed so that we do not find ourselves in the same position of providing golden parachutes for city executives who resign.

2.) There are several lawsuits against the city in progress that could result in non reimbursable settlements. Geller has deep knowledge of these.

3.) The dismissal itself is likely to be challenged. The grounds are at best flimsy.

The cost of firing anyone, particularly abruptly and without cause, is through the roof.

Trujillo apparently never learned this and other cost truths before, but he needs to stop wasting our time and money.

What will happen now is that a second commissioner must also request the meeting and three commissioners need to be present for a quorum. No doubt there will be a second but there may not be three commissioners. I hope our commissioners decide not to waste our time and money on this.

Here's the email.

From: Yvonne Hamilton
Subject: FW: Special Emergency commission meeting
To: "oscar alfonso" , "George Kane" , "FRANK RODRIGUEZ"
Date: Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 5:44 PM


I am requesting an emergency commission meeting for Monday July 19 to finalize the City Attorney situation. I also would like to set the dates for the budget workshop for July and August and the appointment to the P & Z Board. Please check with others Commissioners and the City Manager to see if they need to address any other subject that we did not addressed at the last night Commission Meeting. If the City Attorney is not available for the meeting make sure that we have a substitute attorney present. Please do whatever is needed to have a proper official meeting.

Rey Trujillo
City of North Bay Village

Kevin Vericker
July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Corruption And No Censure

Nobody involved in NBV Commission politics seems to have any doubt about Vice Mayor George Kane's attempt to make money from the City Hall move to the Lexi. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics found that he improperly introduced and promoted the move and although he recused himself from the final vote, that was not sufficient. George Kane agreed to plead "No Contest" and he and his partners are required to return $25,000 over the next two years to the city.

George Kane's excuse is that he was the victim here, of scurrilous lies, vindictive accusations from parties not present and the object of infamous calumnies. His "No Contest" was to make it all stop.

Guess what? When you're a public official, charged with an offense, and you plea for convenience, the matter does not go away.

Last night, July 13, the North Bay Village Commission had a chance to stand against corruption. The commission could have and should have issued a motion of censure against George Kane and equally importantly, put the move on hold until the City Attorney and the City Manager could assure the commission that the deal is clean.

They didn't do it. Not one of them. Instead, they quietly let this go unremarked, with no action proposed or taken. And I was the only citizen who spoke on the topic at last night's meeting. The silence from the dais and the public was remarkable.

I don't get it. Do we not agree that this behavior is ethically wrong and practically damaging? Are we so wrapped up in our various agenda that we can't even do the minimum to let the city residents and businesses know that we don't sanction this? These are serious questions I pose. Tell me if I am missing something. I'm pretty discouraged.

I have attached the complaints and the no contest pleas again below.

Compilation of Complaint Against George Kane
Resolution of Complaint Against George Kane

Kevin Vericker
July 13, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

How we really need to see the budget...

What if your next tax bill said:

Cost of Police Street Patrol per patrol: $300, your share $.38
Cost of Locally Run Dispatch per call: $82, your share $.07
Cost of Sideyard Garbage Pickup per pickup: $1, your share $1.00

And then if it went a little further? Say, told you

24 Patrols per day
8 Dispatch Calls per day
2 Pickups per week.

At this point, you would have an idea of what the city services are really providing, what it costs for you as a taxpayer, and a rational basis to decide what's worth it and what's not.

And it puts the taxpayer squarely in focus showing services consumed.

It's not a bad way to decide how your money should be spent, and in fact is the same way that many businesses measure their costs.

There is a popular sentiment that government should run it like a business. I admit I find this viewpoint simplistic in the sense that for profit businesses and governments have very different purposes.

Businesses exist to profitably provide a product or service to a voluntary market. Governments exist to build and maintain a social framework.

Businesses can choose to stop operating. Governments can't, well not usually.

Businesses can decide to not serve certain market segments. Governments can't.

Businesses can change their product line and services, and can pick up and move to friendlier or more profitable locales.
Governments... well you get the picture.

But that is not to say that practices and disciplines, particularly in terms of planning, investment, management and financial stewardship, are so very different and usually that's what people mean when they say government should be run more like a business. I can't argue with that.

There has been a lot of work done on Outcome Based Costing as a primary budget tool and there's a great short explanation of the subject at the American City and County Website. Particularly in hard times, we have to look at the cost and effectiveness of the city services provided.

The interim city manager, Bob Pushkin, has created a traditional, relatively easy to understand group of alternate budget scenarios. These don't go far enough. Using the police department, you can see what the total costs are projected to be, but that doesn't show what the cost per service is, or what the services provided are.

How much does it cost to have local dispatch per call and what is their utilization rate? For our money, how many patrols of the streets does this buy? How many public safety incidents are responded to and how much does it costs? Where are the community policing programs? All of these are valid questions, not just for the police but for each service the city provides. Our city commission will be deciding our budget with no objective measures of how this will impact the citizens.

Aren't the real questions we want answered things like:

1.) Will our police be able to patrol the streets?
2.) What will our sanitation look like?
3.) Can our city administration meet its obligations to citizens?
4.) Can our streets be maintained?

We need to know what services we are getting and at what price.

Now it's hard to change the philosophy of municipal budgeting. But some places have done it, including Broward County. It's a lot of work, not hard complex work, but it requires looking in depth at what the city offers, being willing to set aside partisan concerns and departmental sub-optimization to create a clear and useful view of the services provided and the money consumed. We can do it.

Kevin Vericker
July 11, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The North Bay Village Trujillo Tax

The costs of mismanagement, that is making the wrong decisions, represent a hidden tax on the citizenry and we need to address this.

The most obvious of these decisions are personally motivated firings of people the commission just doesn't like.

Firing someone is the most radical decision that a manager can make. That's not to say that it should not be done but that it is a drastic move and should not be taken lightly.

Good managers get this. They know that no employee is 100% in all areas of the job and good managers manage to the strengths. That's why there are managers.

Bad managers focus on their own dislikes and project their own weaknesses on the employee. Bad managers fire right and left without regard to the consequences.

Let's look at some of the consequences through a cost lens.

The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California, Berkeley found that "turnover costs for a manager average 150% of salary, including tangible costs of hiring new workers and relocation, and intangible costs such as the new worker's inefficiency and lost productivity while the job is vacant."

(The detailed study is available at the IRLE website.)

That's the turnover costs. It does not even begin to address the costs of payouts, abrupt departure and no reasonable transition that result from a capricious firing.

Our commission is currently dominated by a trio of bad managers. Since April, our Vice Mayor George Kane, our former Vice Mayor, Rey Trujillo, and Mayor Emeritus, Paul Vogel, have fired our city manager and may or may not have fired our city attorney. Their reasoning is specious, characterized solely by personal dislike and not the good of the city.

If you remember with Schwartz, the original reasoning was that he was managing the police department. When Kane and Trujillo became aware that this was a specific function of the city manager, Trujillo, at that time vice mayor, switched to accusations of "poor communication.", a nonsensical lie. Kane, who was busy weighing his options on how to deal with the findings of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics that he set up a deal to use city money , agreed.

They both spoke eloquently and movingly about Schwartz's ability to bring money to the city and build the projects, while firing him.

Since the instigator of this move was former Vice Mayory Rey Trujillo, let's call these results the Trujillo Tax. The Trujillo Tax includes the cost of compensation for two city managers, the additional cost to the city to pay outside contractors to create the budget, the damage done to the city staff morale (it's in tatters.) and the loss of potential grants.

It's fair to assume that the Trujillo Tax is somewhere around $200,000 right now. In hard costs.

In soft costs, the damage is worse. Our city's success in lobbying for federal and state funds depends on our reputation, and our reputation is bad again. Other cities have figured out how to make their projects shovel ready and are competing. And we have no one managing this process. So our debt service will increase instead of decrease. And our development will stop.

Our credit is at risk. Banks are skittish nowadays and when they see such obvious mismanagement, they back away.

Our foreclosures are driving down property values. 7525 East Treasure Drive still stands vacant and ugly and nobody's doing squat about that.

The Trujillo tax will cost us millions, in hard costs, soft costs and declining property values.

Now Trujillo wants to fire Joe Geller. There are lots of reasons not to like Joe Geller, I imagine. He's often long winded for one, and leans more towards protective union and employee rights stances than I might like. But as City Attorney, he has consistently provided transparently reasoned advice even when that advice was unpopular. He has done the job of trying to save the city from the commission.

Former Vice Mayor Trujillo complained in his recent surprise motion that Geller did not act quickly enough to hire Deede Weithorn so he should be fired. Well, first of all we wouldn't have needed outside services if Mr. Trujillo hadn't instigated firing Schwartz. The municipal budget is not that complicated. But "did not act quickly enough." This from a man who took the month of May off? Maybe if he had shown up in May, it would have been done. But even if Geller did not act quickly enough, that's not enough reason to put the city's legal structure at risk. We have literally millions of dollars in exposure from lawsuits, mostly around the police, and we need consistency.

We can't afford more Trujillo Taxes. I have little hope that rationality will prevail on Tuesday. I'm sure the ongoing collusion among the three will prevail so that their egos are assuaged. I hope I'm wrong. I really want to be wrong.

Kevin Vericker
July 10, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Budgets (Yeah, more about it)

The city is going through a budget crisis. In our current budget, our operating revenue, the amount funded by property taxes and other sources such as franchise fees, business licenses, permits, etc continue to drop. The property appraiser office of Miami-Dade has already warned us that next year we will see a drop in ad valorem (property) taxes of ~26%, and tax revenue collection has slowed this year. As of May 31, tax collections were 93% of target. Some of this has been offset by lowered expenses. As of May 31, the expenses were 96.4% of the projected. We still have four months to go.

The Dark Cloud in all of this is that we are currently about $195,000 in the red on our budget as of May 31. If the current patterns hold, there are no new unbudgeted expenses, and revenue collections stay the same, we might stop the bleeding here, closing FY 2010 at around $200,000 over.

That's a big if. June ad valorem tax collections were only about $7,400 instead of an anticipated $160,000. This might be just be slow payment and could be made up later.

On the cost side, the interim city manager's salary needs to be added back in and a new police chief has been hired, all of which will cost money. There are several lawsuits still pending that might require payment. Our legal services bill remains in doubt. And the new police contract has still not been finalized.

The Silver Lining is that the interim city manager, Bob Pushkin, is taking this seriously. At the Citizens Budget and Oversight Commission meeting on Tuesday, July 6, he presented a series of budget reduction proposals for FY 2011 that would save the city around $1 million, approximately the same amount of the ad valorem revenue drop anticipated. Pushkin also presented alternate versions for the commission in relatively easy to understand formats showing the effect if millage rates were changed, not a popular option but a possibility. Nothing should be off the table.

Now I am not going into the details of the plan. It will be presented in some detail at next Tuesday's commission meeting and explained better than I can here.

I have certain reservations on the budget proposal from a math perspective. The assumptions don't include any drop in non ad valorem revenues (about 1/5 of operating budget at about a $1 million) and that strikes me as an oversight worth noting.

Bob Pushkin spoke to that and I believe it will be considered in the next steps.

I have certain policy reservations too but I am keeping quiet on those as the budget is a work in progress.

In addition to the presentation next Tuesday, there will be two budget hearings to be scheduled. Once that schedule is announced, show up. It matters.

Kevin Vericker
July 9, 2010