Thursday, September 30, 2010

Extortion is such an ugly word

On Tuesday, September 28, 2010, commissioner Rey Trujillo speaking from the dais at special commission meeting accused former city manager Matthew Schwartz of extortion.

The Hobbs Act defines "extortion" as "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right." 18 U.S.C. S 1951(b)(2).

Put simply, Rey Trujillo in trying to deflect criticism of the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax, offered the following explanation for why at his insistence North Bay Village is paying two city managers while the city is going broke. According to Trujillo, "Mr. Matthew" (as Mr. Rey refers to Matthew Schwartz) forced the police chief, Roland Pandolfi, to resign. For this offense, "Mr. Matthew" had to be fired.

According to Trujillo, Schwartz then initiated a lawsuit and the then city attorney, Joe Geller, recommended a settlement which was passed by the commission. Because of this recommendation, Geller had to be fired too and North Bay Village then doubled the legal outlay.

So you see, it's not Trujillo's fault.

Except that it is.

Here's the timeline.

On March 17, 2010, Roland Pandolfi, the Police Chief, resigned. It was no secret that he had a contentious relationship with Schwartz. Pandolfi has never said publicly that he was forced to resign as Trujillo continues to say.

March 17, Trujillo and George Kane requested a special meeting of the NBV Commission for March 19 to fire Mr. Schwartz for interfering in the police department. The meeting was held and the item postponed.

During the next week, it was pointed out to the commission that the city charter is very clear that the city manager is in charge of the police department and the commission is specifically prohibited from firing the city manager because of his personnel decisions. Specifically prohibited. Right there in Section 3.01 of the charter.

So in the April meeting, Trujillo introduced a resolution to fire Schwartz citing vague and unspecified allegations of poor communication. This passed 3 to 2. Trujillo, Kane and Vogel voted for it. Rodriguez and Alfonso voted against.

The real reason for the firing, Trujillo and others did not approve of Schwartz's decisions regarding personnel policies in the police, had been publicly stated and written. Schwartz's suit objected that his firing was based on a violation of the charter. He had been defamed and seriously injured by the bogus excuses later offered.

Geller believed there was a fair chance that the city would lose in this case and recommended an alternate settlement. Schwartz agreed.

And now, as late as six months later, Rey Trujillo under fire for his authorship of the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax where we are paying no fewer than three duplicate salaries, continues to state that Schwartz needed to be fired for his "interference" with the police department. Then Trujillo ups it one more and makes accusations, on public record and from the dais, of "Extortion".

Trujillo better be prepared to defend his claim under the definition of extortion as noted above. If not, he and our whole city may be liable under the definition of another crime, SLANDER, defined in Florida as "may be defined as the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business or means of livelihood. When the words published concerning a person tend to degrade him, bring him into ill repute, destroy confidence in his integrity, or cause other like injury, such language is actionable per se."

Kevin Vericker
September 30, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Parents Speak

Police Chief Daniels suspended the PD's participation in both programs on September 15 without any notice to the parents or the community. His reasoning was that he needed to evaluate the programs and with budget cuts coming, he could not spare the officer assigned to the DARE program.

Last night, the parents, the kids, the community turned out to show the commission the deep support of the community for the DARE and PAL programs and to express their deep frustration at being left out of the decision to suspend. A special presentation, led by Jean Pankey, and supported by parent after parent, citizens without kids, and the kids themselves, got up to tell the commission how much this successful program meant to them individually and as a group. Many talked about the fierce dedication and practical administration that North Bay Village Officer Lisa Gittner brings to the program.

North Bay Village DARE and PAL are especially successful programs. The goal of reaching out and involving the community in positive education and activities is shared nearly universally in North Bay Village and Lisa Gittner has woven this program fully into the fabric of North Bay Village civic life.

The commission itself showed their support for PAL. Rey Trujillo has worked hard with the city manager to find $25,000 in a budget stretched near the breaking point to support PAL. George Kane asked the Waste Management Systems rep for their support of PAL and Mayor Oscar Alfonso understood the importance of listening to the community so well that he put a special presentation on an already overcrowded agenda.

It's clear that the community wants and values these programs.

The Chief's abrupt suspension of the programs without parental and citizen involvement or even a place to air their concerns was a misstep. As late as yesterday, he was still dug into an authoritative stance that he did not need to reach out to the community on this. This does not bode well for his relationships with the community.

The truly ironic thing about last night's special presentation is that this is the meeting that the Chief should have had two weeks ago. The information would have been the same but he would have been in front of the process, not dragged there against his will.

The community is watching closely now. Chief Daniels has to act quickly and decisively to regain the community's trust. The citizens expect a quick restoration of the programs. The parents expect to be involved in the evaluation of these programs and part of any future decisions.

There's a lot more from last night but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

Kevin Vericker
September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste" is a quote attributed to presidential advisor Rahm Emanuel in 2009. He was talking about the financial meltdown in the United States and was referring to the opportunity to make long term structural changes in response to the crisis.

North Bay Village is doing the same tonight with the budget presentation. There is a crisis. The projected revenue for next year cannot stretch to meet the demand for services. There's no serious question that spending has to be cut and revenue has to be enhanced.

The problem is that the cuts, a response to a current situation, have long term impact.

During the month of August, and throughout the year, the attempt to match revenue with the spend had several components, a key one being the furloughs, whereby all city employees, police and civilian, would have one unpaid day per pay period. Both August budget workshops included this.

In September, the interim city manager said that since the unions would not support the furloughs, they were no longer on the table and the cuts would be found elsewhere.

Before we go to those cuts, there is an important point here. Union support is not the critical factor here. In March of 2010, then City Manager Matthew Schwartz sought and received a legal opinion from our labor counsel, Atty. Crosslin, that clearly explained that the furloughs were legal if applied to all. In other words, it's our city management, not the unions, who have made the decision to take this off the table. That should be very clear and it's not.

Instead of the furloughs, the cost cutting will mostly come from privatizing the sanitation services. There is an agenda item tonight to outsource the sanitation to Waste Management Systems. This will be a three year contract and includes selling two of the three trucks as part of the savings. It will also end side yard pickup and city control of the employees, three of whom will face layoffs.

This is deeply unpopular. Residents like the current service and it creates a long term change to a short term problem.

Another part of the cost cuts involves the police. The new budget will most likely mean the permanent layoff of three sworn officers.

Both of these are fundamental restructures of our city governance and their effect is permanent.

I've posted about the devastating effects of the unnecessary spending this year - we are paying two police chiefs, two city managers, two city attorneys, replacing the code enforcement office and laying out money for excessive advertising.

All of these are permanent structural changes to the current crisis. Our city administration should be concentrating on recovering the tax base, eliminating waste, involving the citizens and building up our business community.

Instead, the administration is using the revenue shortfall as an excuse to create long term, fundamental change in our city governance and still leaves us near broke with little hope of recovery. But it does serve the narrow interest of consolidating power.

Three commission members tonight, vice mayor George Kane, former vice mayor Rey Trujillo and commissioner Pasul Vogel, will vote in lockstep once more to effect these changes. There will be no meaningful discussion on the subject from them. The decisions have already been made.

Kevin Vericker
September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Race

Mayoral candidate Corina Esquijarosa plans a community meeting of October 15, 2010 at 7601 E. Treasure Drive (The Grand View Palace) Suite 23 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

Esquijarosa is running on a platform of "More about People, Less about Politics". She holds a Masters of Public Administration and is employed by the City of Miami. I spoke with her at some length over the weekend and found her to be a refreshing change from the current political climate. I recommend checking her campaign out at Facebook.

In other news, the court still has to decide if Marta Lorenzo and Rene Alonso are qualified for the race and that is expected this week. You may have read previous news reports that they were out, but that is not the case. What happened was that an emergency injunction was not granted but the hearing on the merits has not yet taken place. Watch for more news.

Don't forget tomorrow night is the final budget hearing at 6:30 at the Treasure Island School. The hot issues are the garbage privatization and the end of side yard pickup. The PAL / DARE program suspension is sure to provide some fireworks.

Come see for yourself the effect of having to cover the almost $500,000 the city has been forced to spend in non value added costs at Rey Trujillo's behest. Higher taxes, lower services, fewer grants, more lawsuits. Maybe even take a moment to tell him how you appreciate his stewardship. Oh, also, Mr Trujillo is on the board at the Grandview Palace. Maybe we can find out when that board plans to pay the city the $57,000 in firewatch bills? You know, that have been sitting there since 2005?

Kevin Vericker
September 27, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

An October Surprise?

Our commission has done many odd things in response to the budget crisis. Three of the commissioners, Kane, Trujillo and Vogel, have looked at the numbers and responded by proposing even more spending. I've detailed this spend out in other posts but it's safe to say that at least $500,000 have been spent unnecessarily, that is on things that produce nothing, in the last six months.

With all the reckless spending going on, there was one peculiar and seemingly small issue of contention that came up last week. The commission voted unanimously in August to implement a hiring freeze until the new budget was in place in October of this year. A two month hiring freeze, one that allowed for exceptions to be brought to the commission, is normal, prudent financial management. If you don't know what you'll have, you don't make new commitments. Less than a month later, Kane, Trujillo and Vogel voted lockstep to revoke the hiring freeze. Why?

Here's one scenario. If you want to make sure that you have access to the large amounts of money floating around the city with the projects, the key is not the commission but the city manager's office. The city manager by charter is our CEO.

I suspect that in October, there will be a lockstep move by the three to install a new city manager from the current employee pool, who will then hire a Projects Manager, and promote to fill the position left vacant by the new city manager. A current commissioner will be the "go to" real estate guy, either as a contract employee of the city Community Redevelopment Agency or a well connected independent, so he can continue to flog his listings for the new public safety complex. The contracts for the key positions, City Manager, Projects Manager, and Police Chief will include the same charter busting clause giving the individuals “sole discretion” in the running of their specific areas and providing the absurdly generous severance that if they leave for anything other than a criminal conviction, they will have six months “notice” and three months additional “pay”. This will effectively lock in the new commission to the contracts as the cost to undo this would be at least $400,000 that we don't have.

Think about it. If what you're after is the money, the commission is just a useful tool. When you've locked in the administration of the city, now you have the access and lack of transparency on which North Bay Village has traditionally operated.

The key word in the above is “suspect”. I really hope I'm wrong. But what other reason was there for the urgent repeal of the hiring freeze? Let's see what October brings.

Kevin Vericker
September 24, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quick Updates

I'm a little under the weather today so I'm just going to make a few quick updates.

DARE PAL Suspension-We are now full week later with no announced transition plans. In the meantime, the parents are out gathering signatures demanding the reinstatement of the programs. Police Chief Daniels and interim city manager Bob Pushkin continue to stonewall the parents and have never responded to direct requests for meetings with the parents.

The whole mishandling of this and the continued refusal of the city administration to even speak to the citizens are a disastrous preview of what this crowd has in store for us. It looks like the budget cuts are being used to attain entirely unrelated outcomes. It's particularly surprising that a new hire like Chief Daniels would be so tone deaf about the community he has been hired to serve.

Planning and Zoning Board Meeting - I will say it loud and say it proud, Penelope Friedland is my hero of the well run, get it done, meeting. She is sharp, crisp, makes certain that all who are participating have a chance to be heard, controls needless rambling firmly and tactfully and her questions clarify and seek information.

You really should attend one of these meetings - they're a model of civic participation. I went to last night's meeting.

The two resolutions they discussed were controversial.

The first, a resolution to make 7904 West Drive a fully zoned commercial building, was opposed by the homeowner's association and recommended for rejection by the city planner. On the face of it, that would make sense but there's something weird about that building.

7904 sits on two lots - one zoned commercial and one zoned residential. The penthouse is split right down the middle which means that on one side of the apartment you can have a business but an invisible line means you can't on the other.

The owner, Al Coletta, wants to rent the penthouse for a business but can't since he can only operate one half of that space as such.

This is a big zoning mess and someone has to give.

The P and Z Board split 2 - 2 on the recommendation and this will come before the commission next week.

The second resolution was to make the building at 7910 West Drive commercial as well. The problem with that resolution was that nobody who proposed it was there to talk about why. A lawyer from the phantom Indigo Lofts got up to express his objection to the rezoning. In other words, the board had a resolution for change from someone who never showed up and opposition from a project that never got built. It didn't seem like a very good use of their time but it was interesting.

The board recommendation 3 - 2 was to deny rezoning.

Kevin Vericker
September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

North Bay Village Police Chief Daniels Has No Time for Parents

Monday night there was an emergency board meeting of the PAL. The board unanimously passed a resolution condemning the suspension of the PAL and DARE programs without notice and requested that the suspension be revoked.

Chief Daniels sudden suspension of the police department with no notice to the parents or the commission has not gone down well. Several parents have tried to contact him about the issue but he has refused to meet or speak with them.

This situation is escalating. It is not acceptable for a police chief in a small town to simply shut out the parents of the city.

He did however find time yesterday to meet with candidate for mayor, Rey Trujillo, whose patronage was instrumental in securing the police position.

Time to meet with the politicians but not the parents and citizens? Looks more like politics than policing.

Kevin Vericker
September 21, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Using the Budget Crisis for Political Gain

Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. There is a difference between the imposition of authority and true leadership.

True leadership attracts by laying out the problem, proposing the solutions, transparently informing the stakeholders of the situation and leading the adoption and implementation of the solution.

Imposing authority is inherently a closed loop type of decision making. The authority listens only to what she or he chooses to hear, makes a decision and unilaterally imposes it.

In North Bay Village where the budget crisis is worse than most, we are suffering under the imposition of authority and the lack of leadership.

Two of the major changes to deal with the budget crisis are being imposed with virtually no citizen input.

The first, the police chief suspended the PAL and DARE programs on September 14 unilaterally, without notice to the parents or kids and with no public plan for what happens now.

The second, the privatization of the garbage pickup, is being presented as the only possible way to get the budget under control.

The citizens are angry. We understand that moneys must be cut but not why these two programs.

Let's look at the PAL/DARE programs. In a community where there is no publicly available space for children save for an obscure park across a busy highway which has no athletic facilities, PAL activities filled a much needed role for the parents and kids of North Bay Village.

Chief Daniels has made no attempt to engage the parents of NBV. When there was a "Meet The Chief" day at the school, he canceled his appearance for personal reasons and never rescheduled. He has consistently refused to meet with the parents affected by his suspension of both programs and does not explain himself beyond "I need to review the program."

This is a classic closed loop. The Chief is not only not seeking information and support from the stakeholders, he is blocking it. This does not bode well for our community.

In the case of the sanitation privatization, this is a radical change. In comes on the heels of the unions' objections to furloughs and the savings are estimated to be about $350,000, which includes the sale of capital equipment and a three year contract. Instead of a temporary emergency measure, a whole new system will be imposed on North Bay Village.

In contrast to the chief's decisions, this proposal has been put out for public comment at the September 14 Commission Meeting and again before the final budget adoption on September 28. Frankly after three public budget workshops, all of which have included the furloughs as a key element in the budget crisis, to suddenly change direction without a great deal of publicity and without building support is a concern. And it remains unclear as to whether the decision to not use furloughs is grounded in law or is based on a desire to not alienate the unions, at a cost of alienating the citizens. This must be clarified.

There's more coming as this unfolds.

Running total of the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax, the amount that Rey Trujillo, former vice mayor and current candidate for mayor, has caused North Bay Village to spend unnecessarily in the last year - $317,000

Cost of Duplicate Employees:

City Manager $80,000
Legal Service $40,000
Police Chief $115,000

Other Costs

City Advertising $27,000
Revoking the Hiring Freeze $55,000

Cost Exposure

Unnecessary Severance for the Police Chief $81,750 is not included in the total.

But we can't afford garbage pickup?

Kevin Vericker
September 20, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Last on the Sept 14th Commission Meeting

Any given North Bay Village commission meeting has so many aspects that it's possible to write about them forever but I need to wrap up about what we learned at this week's meeting.

  • The assumptions about the furloughs on which previous iterations of the budget have been built are no longer operative. The unions have said that they will not voluntarily cooperate with the plan.

    There remains a question as to whether the union opinion matters. In February of 2010, then City Manager Schwartz sought the opinion of outside legal counsel before implementing the furloughs and the opinion was that if the furloughs were equally spread among all city employees, they were legal regardless of union objections. Other cities are doing this based on the same information.

  • The interim city manager, Bob Pushkin, has been working very hard to find new ways to balance the budget, including a creative concept of deferred compensation. The details are a bit fuzzy but instead of furloughs, it may be possible to defer certain compensation until the end of the fiscal year 2011 (Sept 30, 2011).

  • There is a proposal to privatize garbage pickup that may save around $350,000. It would mean layoffs of the current staff, selling some of the capital equipment, going to curbside pickup instead of side yard, and entering into a three year contract. This proposal is less controversial than I thought it would be. It will be included in the final budget presented on September 28.

  • In response to a significant reduction in funds available for police overtime, Police Chief Daniels suspended the DARE program and police participation in the PAL program on Wednesday in order to use the officer assigned for other duties while he reviews the city participation in these programs.

    This is probably the most controversial point at the meeting. The parents feel abandoned that these programs, directly run and supported by the NBV police, were suspended without notice or consultation with the families affected.

    Special note: one of more vociferous citizens actually made the comment "If you need babysitting, hire an immigrant at minimum wage." I would not recommend taking child rearing advice from this speaker.

  • Vice Mayor George Kane casually and deliberately slandered the former city manager and the previous grants administrator when he blamed delays on the Tiger grants to them "walking off with the passwords." Former Vice Mayor Rey Trujillo grandstanded during his report by playing a recording from the 2008 commission followed by handwritten charts proving decisively that property tax projections were wrong, even though he voted for them, and this proves he is not a higher tax advocate while simultaneously promoting a millage rate increase. As mentioned, the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax is about his reckless spending, close to half a million and counting.

This is the sort of insanity that passes for fiscal responsibility when citizens don't show up to learn, discuss and make their needs heard. The final budget is scheduled to be debated and adopted on September 28. After that, it's too late.

Kevin Vericker
September 17, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vice Mayor Kane Slanders

Vice Mayor George Kane casually slandered former City Manager Matthew Schwartz and former NBV employee Arleen Weintraub last Tuesday. Schwartz and Weintraub were in charge of the grants for the city. The slander occurred during his commission report when he specifically and deliberately said the grant process would be further along "if the former City Manager and the former grants administrator had not walked off with the passwords."

This immediately set off my bs alarms. I have a long career in technology and if an organization is held hostage by private passwords in this day and age, there is a profound problem with its IT management. North Bay Village does not have this problem. All information on all computers on the network is available. It's almost impossible to imagine how it would not be.

I went a little further. I called Matthew Schwartz and Arleen Weintraub on the phone to ask them about this. Both were very clear that they had provided all passwords, including on the latest technology, handwritten on Post-it™ notes to ensure that the staff at City Hall had them, including George Kane.

Arleen then explained to me how each grant was bound, filed on her book case containing hard copies of all pertinent information in alphabetic and date order. Her city computer organized its folders in exactly the same way.

The passwords for the PC on the network were available to all city management and the IT network administrator. There was and is printed hard copy of each step of the process. And finally, both are easily reachable by phone. Any questions could have been resolved by a simple phone call.

George Kane is said to be in the middle of his campaign for a post commission situation as the city's hired lobbyist and project manager, and this slandering of his predecessors looks like part of that rumored campaign. For many reasons, he would be a disaster in that position including his propensity to lie about people he does not care for.

Update on PAL - I am hearing from upset NBV parents who are angry at the abrupt withdrawal of PD support for the after school Police Activities League. What they are saying to a woman (no dads have called) is that they understand the PD needs to look at everything in bad financial times but the unilateral withdrawal of support leaves the parents without the possibility of smoothly transitioning to a citizen run organization. I understand there is an emergency meeting of the PAL Board to ask for a reasonable transition time and I hope the Chief listens carefully. It's about working with the community.

Kevin Vericker
September 16, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kids and the Budget

Last night's commission meeting covered so much territory that I could spend the rest of the week writing about it. But I don't have the rest of the week so I want to concentrate on two aspects of the meeting, getting to the other subjects tomorrow and Friday as I can.

PAL (The Police Athletic League) is the only organization in North Bay Village that provides activities and structure for the kids here. We offer so little - the main park is in a remote location, the tot lot is inappropriate for older kids and there's no other publicly available open space.

The PAL has been a big success with the parents of North Bay Village. The primary director is Lisa Gittner of the NBV PD.

At 5 o'clock last night, word went out that the NBV PD participation in PAL and DARE has been suspended, leaving the organization in the lurch. Cheerleading practice is scheduled to start this week and now is off.

The Chief last night shared his reasoning, saying in essence that he could not justify assigning an officer to an unofficial organization during a budget crisis and he needed to review both programs before committing NBV police to the programs.

However realistic and well intentioned Chief Daniels is as regards the PAL suspension, he failed to take into account that NBV parents and kids depend on the PAL program and have come to rely on it for constructive after school activities. Shutting down the NBV PD participation without notice is poor community relations.

There are options, including a more aggressive effort to fund the program on the part of parents, but they have been unceremoniously cut off. The chief should at least have provided some reasonable notice period, say 60 days, to give the citizens a chance to transition this popular and needed program. He didn't.

The parents don't get off scott free either. I know there was very short notice and a few parents showed at the commission meeting last night, but where are the rest of the parents? Your kids are at stake and showing up at a commission meeting is key to ensuring that a consituency is represented.

I mentioned some parents were there and spoke about the role that PAL plays in their NBV life. They deserve recognition and their concerns should not be summarily dismissed.

For the most part, NBV Commission Meetings are a wrinkle fest. The attendance skews older (and I include myself in that crowd - I have a mirror.) I know parents with young families are busy but showing up once a month to ensure the quality of life you need in North Bay Village is not that onerous. I am certain that had there been a large bloc of parents at the meeting last night, the sudden decision would have been revisited.

Budget Cuts - They are big and they are controversial. Beside the PAL, the proposal is to go to a privatized sanitation with curbside pickup. It may be time to do that and I was pleased to hear that Bob Pushkin was able to consider the needs of less able residents who will have side yard pickup if they request it.

There's a lot to cover on the budget cuts, and as I said I will come back to it.

Let me finish up today by highlighting one of the more bizarre commissioner reports last night.

Commissioner Rey Trujillo chose to play a seemingly endless audio from a commission meeting in which he and Oscar Alfonso are discussing the millage rates. As one of the few audience members not lulled into a near coma by this stunt, I cannot understand the point. It seems that he and Alfonso had a discussion that the tax projections for the new projects scheduled to come online in 2008 carried some risk since they were not yet online.

Trujillo followed this by putting up handwritten charts representing three weeks of work on his part that showed that of five planned buildings in 2008, two were never built and the others have suffered precipitous value drops. I hate to tell him this, but we already knew that and he could have saved three weeks of his life by simply calling the Miami-Dade Property Appraisers Office and requesting the report in Excel format. They provided it to me and I spent all of an hour on it.

When the former vice mayor got to the end of this presentation, I hoped, I truly hoped, that he might tell us what the point is. And he did. Here it is.

"This proves that I am not in favor of taxes like some have said." No, it did not prove that. It proved, well, nothing. It was a campaign stunt from the dais.

Trujillo still has not comprehended the basic fact that the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax refers to his ongoing proposals to spend unnecessary money. The North Bay Village Trujillo Tax has so far resulted in us paying for two city managers, two city attorneys, two police chiefs, a premium for advertising in the Herald, a repeal of the hiring freeze, a contract for the Police Chief that provides six months of salary and three months severance should the commission decide to let him go. This doesn't include his proposal to buy everyone at 7904 West Drive a parking space, which failed.

The money doesn't grow on a magic tree. It comes out of the taxes and that unnecessary spending represents a real cost to the residents, a surcharge to meet the whims of Rey Trujillo. That's why it's called the North Bay Village Trujillo Tax.

More later this week.

Kevin Vericker
September 15, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Censure Action on the Sept 14 Commission Agenda

There is a resolution on the agenda, Item 13A under New Business, introduced by Mayor Oscar Alfonso, to formally censure the Vice Mayor, George Kane, for his inappropriate promotion of the City Hall move. The details of this are at this July 14th posting but the short version is that Kane both promoted the move and negotiated on behalf of his company to represent the Lexi. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics found this in violation of the law and Kane pleaded no contest.

This matters. The Commission and the citizens of North Bay Village have to send a clear message that North Bay Village does not approve corruption. Our economic recovery depends on it. It's not about Kane, who's already agreed that the moneys will be repaid but about transparency in government and citizen trust in our elected officials.

How the commission votes will tell us all we need to know about how they govern. They must vote to carry this through.

The full agenda as of 9:33 AM, September 13, 2010 can be found here. NBV Commission 9-14-10 George Kane Censure

Kevin Vericker
September 13, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

NBV Elections and Mail Fraud

Arriving in at least five mailboxes last week were envelopes postmarked August 30, 2010. Inside, they each contained a copy of the Miami Herald article about the problems Mayor Alfonso is having with his house.

As a cover, each one of these envelopes had personalized notes saying different things but each containing crudely printed warnings to the candidates along the line of "THINK LONG AND HARD ABOUT RUNNING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE EXPOSED TO (sic)." These notes were unsigned.

Now anonymous notes are not worth the paper on which they are written. If you get your information anonymously, you will often be fooled.

But these were not entirely anonymous. No. The envelopes had my return address on them. Not my name, just my return address.

I didn't send these. In fact, for what it's worth, the day they were sent from North Bay Village, zipcode 33141-4123, I was in California and had been there since August 28.

There's no surprise that declared candidates for public office receive negative information. Sadly, even in the most cooperative communities dirty politics is part of the game and there was nothing to my knowledge in the notes that would constitute a crime.

What is a federal crime is using a false return address, in this case mine, and a state crime to impersonate a third party in elections. I am not running for anything. The reason this was done was to intimidate me and prevent me from speaking on public issues. I am the true target here.

I have to confess to being embarrassed that people have received something purporting to be from me and I hope that others who may have received this illegal mailing know that I didn't write it. If you have received the mailing, please contact me at nbvrbc @ gmail. com (remove the spaces) and I will give you the USPS Inspector's contact and the Metro Dade Public Corruption contact.

There are two ways that you can know that I wrote something - I sign what I write and the words will be spelled correctly. If there is any doubt, contact me.

Unlike those who fight their battles in the dark, I will always put it out publicly.

Kevin Vericker
September 10, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Getting Cut for 2011

Before I get to the big news about the cuts upcoming in city services, there is a court case going on right now about the candidates for Mayor and Commissioner at Large. You may have read about it. The courts have denied an emergency injunction to instruct the city to put the candidates' names on the ballots pending the outcome of further litigation. This does not mean that the case is over, far from it. This will unfold over the next month and I'll be writing further about it.

Service Cuts - The budget for next year has been presented in two workshops so far. The budget as presented presumed that labor costs would be reduced significantly by employee furloughs, whereby each employee would have an unpaid day per period. The FOP, the police union, has rejected this and I understand that the non police employee union has as well. So what happens now that the city is heading towards broke under the North Bay Village Trujillo tax?

Sanitation - Garbage pickup is being proposed for outsourcing to Waste Management Systems, under a three year contract. The estimated savings is $350,000. It means that the people picking up our garbage are no longer criminally checked by the city, we will have curbside pickup not side yard, and we will be bound to this contract for three years.

As part of the deal, the city will sell off the sanitation equipment so if we should find that this service is not to the citizens' liking, we will have large capital expenditures and rehire costs.

Police - Rather than accept using traffic light funds to prevent layoffs, the administration and the FOP are eager to lay off cops. At tonight's Citizen's Budget and Oversight Committee meeting, the CBOC well overstepped its boundaries and resolution intent by voting to support 4-1 to recommend that the ATS funds not be used to prevent police layoffs.

Dispatch - Gone.

This will all be presented next Tuesday at the commission meeting. It matters and it's the last chance to stop this nonsense.

By the way, if you have no plans for September 11, the Citizens for Full Disclosure is hosting a pot luck at the Bridgewater Condo. Here's the email. I was surprised to get it and won't be attending.

Sent: 9/3/2010 12:00:11 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time







Kevin Vericker
September 8, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Wrapup

I've been really busy this week and so have not had the time to update this blog very much. Just a few notes:

The investigation into the mail fraud committed this week seems to be moving along well. That's where someone decided to use my return address on an anonymous piece sent out to intimidate candidates in the general election. Turns out it's not that hard to trace and I expect full disclosure of the citizen who did this will be available soon.

There is more on economic recovery and North Bay Village, specifically what issues are preventing us from developing the business base we need but it will be next week before I get to that.

In the meantime, have a safe and sane Labor Day weekend.

Kevin Vericker
September 3, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Cost of Corruption

I put up a posting last week on how overall the housing market is likely to work out. Click here for the posting.

In it, Yale economist Robert Shiller shows the macro history of pricing for housing over a full century and the logical conclusion is that the market will return to its historical patterns.

In real estate though, it's the micro, the local, that concerns us here. There is a cliche that three most important factors in real estate are location, location and location. Cute, and true, but what makes one location more valuable than another? Why do some areas prosper while others of the same terrain, structure and similar demographics don't do as well?

Consider North Bay Village. We are beautifully located, surrounded by the bay, have our own police force, enviably low taxes, a very low crime rate, an A rated school and are located close to all the major points in Miami Dade. Why have our property values fallen harder than the rest of the county and why historically have our home values been lower than similar communities such as Miami Shores or Surfside?

All other factors being equal and considering the advantages North Bay Village has, there is one glaring difference. We have a reputation for tolerating corruption and poor governance stemming back to the 1950's. We occasionally show perverse pride in the number of arrests that have been made in our city and from our commission.

Even now, we have a sitting vice mayor who set up a commission for himself on city business. We have Rey Trujillo pushing deals to condemn public property for private use and who operates in a dual capacity as commissioner while sitting on the board of one of the city's biggest debtors, the Grand View Palace. North Bay Village has a reputation as a "pay to play" town. Maybe we are no worse than others but we certainly more obvious about it.

Corruption has real costs. When a place is understood as a corrupt place, businesses hesitate to invest as they now have an unpredictable cost burden. People don't buy at the same prices as they are concerned about the instability. These are not benign side deals. There's a good study at America.Gov about this cost.

We know that we dropped more than anywhere else in the county, save Homestead. It's not really a mystery. We have some oversupply of housing but what we really have is weak demand for the quality housing that exists here. And that low demand is for a big part the result of a sense that this is not a decent place to be. Our press coverage is terrible, our commission ignores the corruption of its own members, even our politics are threatening and dirty.

When the market finally settles down, and that house I wrote about last week is at its natural price of say $250,000, it will probably sell for 10 - 15 % less than the same house in a less corrupt city. When we tolerate this, it costs us in real dollars in our home values.

Many people have told me that they are so turned off by the politics in this city that they simply don't participate, but that's exactly the wrong thing. When the decent people who have the most to lose stay away, the thieves and their useful idiots run the city. They win, we lose. It's that simple.

Kevin Vericker
September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Anonymous Hate Mail

It's come to my attention that an anonymous piece of mail is being sent to residents using my home address on the return box. You know I don't do that sort of thing. It's a point of pride with me that I stand behind what I see and write. This is a childish attempt to bully me into silence. If you have received such a letter, please let me know and keep a copy. Mail fraud is a federal crime and I am treating this very seriously.

Kevin Vericker
September 2, 2010