Monday, November 29, 2010

Florida Power and Light - Treasure Island

At each of the city improvement meetings NBV has held in the last few years, the subject comes up of putting the power and phone lines on Treasure Island underground. This is years overdue.

Above ground power lines in an urban hurricane zone were a poor choice to begin with. The poles themselves have blown over in storms increasing the risk to our homes. On the one behind my house, the transformer exploded a few years back, starting a fire. The poles rot. Vegetation grows on them. All in all, a bad design choice.

Now FPL has been very careful to say that even if we put the wires underground, we cannot expect that the days long blackouts following a hurricane will improve in any way. According to FPL, there is no relationship between strong winds, downed power lines lying in flooded streets and power outages. They are FPL so they must know what they're talking about but it just seems obvious that underground wires don't fall over a lot.

I bring this up today because I had a classic FPL encounter this morning. A guy with heavy wire-cutters knocked on the door and announced that FPL would be cutting some palm trees behind my yard. This is an improvement over the last time five years ago when they used pliers to destroy the lock on my gate and enter, while I was in the house.

Anyway, after a half hour or so of desultory hacking away at my neighbor's palm tree, removing the lower branches but leaving the ones covering the power lines intact, the FPL crew decided it was a day's work well done and took off.

Except that they left a wire dangling about two feet above the pool.

Dangling power wires and water make me nervous and I went out in search of the truck. No luck. I called FPL at 1 PM, they told me someone would call me. I called back at 3 PM. FPL told me someone would call me. At 5 PM, I called again and as the customer service person was telling me that someone might call me, the truck pulled up.

The wire is now back where it belongs. It took about five minutes.

So my story ends well enough. Nobody died, or got shocked, or anything really other than inconvenienced but none of this would have happened if the city listened clearly to the residents and had the project to put the wires underground underway.

Kevin Vericker
November 29, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Process and the Commission

The first business meeting of the new commission is being held Tuesday, November 30, at 7:30. The very detailed agenda is attached below. It's 66 pages long and contains all the supporting detail.

Mayor Esquijarosa is a process wonk. No question about it and that's exactly what we need. What the agenda mostly contains are items designed to make sure that the government of North Bay Village is more transparent and accessible. In reading through these, there's nothing radical being proposed but there is a central theme of doing it better, smarter and more transparently.

Two things stood out to me. The emphasis on decorum for the commission and the public, and a proposed timing change to Good & Welfare.

Let's start with Good & Welfare. This is built into the charter and our code of ordinances as an opportunity for any North Bay Village resident or business owner to bring before the commission issues and concerns. Many times these issues are actually addressed in the commission meeting itself during one of the staff or commissioner reports or on specific pieces of legislation before the commission. In other words the answer is in the meeting, yet Good & Welfare often takes up more time before the real issues are addressed.

Frankly, many of the rants and complaints brought up during this time are not particularly sensible and those who attend the meetings to be better informed or more involved in the city politic have to sit through a lot of bad behavior to get to the real issues.

There is a proposal for a simple, effective change to move Good & Welfare to the end of the meeting. This would allow the commission to go through the city business first, residents with particular concerns can speak during public hearings, and those who want to speak at Good & Welfare will be able to. It makes sense.

Decorum though is key. Decorum on the dais matters and equally important is public decorum. Personal attacks unrelated to the issue being discussed are routinely hurled. Two weeks ago, Fane Lozman used his time during sworn testimony at a hearing on a zoning matter to cast aspersions on my personal life. I joked about it but the more I've considered the matter, the North Bay Village Commission has allowed this foolishness to go on too long.

Fane Lozman has consistently been allowed to violate the basic rules of decorum in his speech and behavior. It might seem innocuous that he refuses to give a legal address when speaking, just a cowardly preference not to be accountable for his deliberate actions, but it has a real effect when his spouting slanders publicly in order to disenfranchise others who disagree with him. It makes it sort of an in person anonymous attack.

The Commission of North Bay Village needs to regain control of the meetings for the residents of North Bay Village. Not to do so allows this systematic bullying to continue to alienate the residents with legitimate issues.

Kevin Vericker
November 27, 2010

11-30-2010 City Commission Meeting Agenda

Monday, November 22, 2010

New City Manager? Rey Trujillo? What?

The big problem with trying to keep in the reality sphere in North Bay Village is that this city is a very weird place. The latest rumor, and I do stress rumor, is that Rey Trujillo who lost the election for mayor of NBV, is letting it be known that he would like to be city manager. I normally wouldn't even bother writing up about this but this is the sort of crazy stuff that has gone on in the past.

I really hope this is just a malicious rumor people are spreading to annoy the decent citizens of North Bay Village. Please let that be so. We've suffered enough. As commissioner, he led the charge to raise our taxes, cut our services, fire our staff, write sweet deals for the police chief and make us the laughing stock of Miami-Dade. He didn't get elected in spite of a six month head start, running against an unknown opponent and having a well financed campaign. It's time to go away for a while.

We need to watch this very carefully.

Kevin Vericker
November 22, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November in North Bay Village

November in North Bay Village is my favorite month. The heat has broken which makes walking and biking fun again, there's lot to do around town, the elections are over, and of course the Miami Book Fair is on.

I love the book fair. I love that Miami has the largest book fair in the United States and that Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, understands that alongside the superficial bling of Miami there is an intellectual life. I volunteer each year if I can and this year so far has been great. There's always several writers I must see and each year, there are writers that I never heard of before and need to know about. You should check it out at the MFI Website. There's still time.

Insider Tip about the Book Fair - The main events at Chapman are sold out through the weekend but the standby line almost always gets you in. I know. I worked the line this morning for the Dave Barry presentation and everyone was accomodated. Just be patient and have a Plan B if it does truly fill up.

On the photo above, my friend and neighbor Lyng-Hou Ramirez, a journalist and a very good photographer has been taking pictures around NBV and the bay. This picture, from her online album, is my favorite because it combines a beautiful shot of the bay looking east, with a sign about manatees who are by far my favorite marine animal. I'll be publishing more and linking to her site as I figure out how.

Finally, Thanksgiving week is here. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. The idea of taking a day to be grateful and aware of life around us is radical in the best sense. I know Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do it on a Monday in October so I'm not sure it counts. Beyond that, I can't think of any other country that espouses gratitude as a value. Plus you get to really push your eating skills. This week always puts me in the best of moods.

In case you think the blog has been hijacked with all this uncharacteristic display of enthusiasm, gratitude and appreciation, nah. It's just sometimes, you got to get a little intense.

Kevin Vericker
November 20, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The First Commission Meeting

Last night, November 16, three new members took their places on the dais. Mayor Corina Esquijarosa, Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps, and Commissioner Eddie Lim were each sworn in following valedictory remarks from Rey Trujillo and Oscar Alfonso. I find these ceremonies moving, reminders that we live in a time and a place where we have the privilege of changing our government without violence, without coercion, and small town democracy is the embodiment of these ideals.

Each of the new members made an opening address and Commissioner Lim's stood out. His call for decorum and respect at the meetings evoked a strong response from all present. It was a clear, concise statement of changing the tone of the discussion, long a goal of mine. Mayor Esquijarosa spoke about her dedication to getting the process right and to listening more than speaking, a near revolutionary concept for an elected official. This combination strikes me as powerful.

Almost immediately, you could see the new tone of the commission when sitting Commissioner Rodriguez brought up his belief that there should be another commission meeting this month. Although the city attorney told him that a motion was not necessary, any two commissioners can make such a request and the city clerk can manage the details, Rodriguez wanted the discussion done in public. It took very little time for the group to agree on November 30. I hope this spirit of transparency pervades in our new commission.

Finally, there was some talk from outgoing Commissioner Rey Trujillo about a plan to recall Dr. Vogel, North Bay Village's longest serving elected official. I don't know where that's coming from. It's no secret that Dr. Vogel voted consistently with whatever Trujillo and Kane said in the last year and that was painful to watch. The best outcome would be for Dr. Vogel to engage more and let the new commission avail itself of his long experience, broad knowledge and wisdom. It seemed kind of nasty of Rey Trujillo to use his last speech to spread rumors that needlessly upset Dr. Vogel. Let's hope the new commission moves beyond the rumor mongering and grandstanding. Dr. Vogel has served too long and too well to be treated this, and besides, he's a great guy.

All in all, there was a good start last night.

Kevin Vericker
November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oscar Alfonso

To say that outgoing mayor Oscar Alfonso is controversial might seem like an understatement. It's not. It's about the right level. His term as mayor brought out much heat and passionate opposition, but at the end of the term, it's important to remember that North Bay Village saw improvements that had only been talked about for years. We saw great improvements in transparency of government, progress on the projects and a more open commission.

In fact, it's safe to say that for the most part, North Bay Village residents have been pleased with the administrative style brought in by Alfonso. In conversation I have found that most people like the visible changes to the city, those who are aware of what is going on like the openness that Alfonso brought to the office. And then there's the big "but".

The "but" is always followed by two things. His own house is a mess and Alfonso is wordy and overbearing. These are both part of him. Most people I have spoken to wish they weren't true, as do I, and at the same time do not see these personal issues as essential to what's been accomplished as mayor. A small group made these their principal issues but they never gained much public support. Let's look at two of the major accomplishments. This is not an exhaustive list but more than any, they changed our city.

Projects - We who live here know that this an exceptionally beautiful geography. The location in the middle of the bay is impressive. We also know that the community combines the best of the suburbs with the best features of urban living. But we're out of balance.

We have never properly used the bayfront location to bring the city to the next level. We are not a destination for other parts of Miami-Dade, which means our businesses are not prospering. Our less visible residential neighborhoods suffer from neglect.

The projects to improve the infrastructure, create a baywalk to bring new businesses and life to the city, improve our transportation and get us a real civic center, were conceived before Alfonso was elected. Alfonso and the commission brought the projects from conception to execution by bringing in one of the best city managers we have had, Matthew Schwartz.

The projects kicked off and we can see the repaving, the new sewer lines, the trees, and the park, all in motion. The grant money was flowing in and our long term tax indebtedness shrunk. It mattered.

Transparency - various citizens during the 2008 campaign proposed that the city form a budget oversight commission, a small step to bring transparency to the finances here in North Bay Village. And that's exactly what happened. With the full support of the city manager, the books were laid open, and criticized.

Regardless that we have gone several steps back, North Bay Villagers expectation of transparency have been set higher and clearer than before.

There's a lot that has gone right in the last two years, and when the voters spoke two weeks ago, they were speaking against what is going on this year, the random firings, the tax hikes, the lack of transparency on the new hires and on the waste management, the ethics concerns.

As the new commission moves forward, they need dedicate themselves to the principles of transparency, development and citizen involvement. That's their mandate and we expect nothing less.

Kevin Vericker
November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Day After Tomorrow...

Tomorrow night is the swearing in of the new commission. The commission meeting which certifies the results starts at 7:30 PM at Treasure Island School and traditionally is not a very long meeting.

I wonder what happens next. The new mayor, Corina Esquijarosa, was elected less for what she stood for than as a response to what is going on. Our property values continue to fall out of proportion with other places of similar demographics, our tax millage went up, our garbage collection is being privatized under false assumptions, our police and legal services are way over budget and our projects all seem to be stalled.

The problem will be that the North Bay Village mayor has limited power. She is an equal among equals whose primary function is to preside over commission meetings. The real power lies in the combination of the city commission and the city manager. And if the city commission doesn't step up its game, and if we don't find a professional city manager quickly, we are likely to continue along the same path of spending money we don't have and cutting services we need.

I hope the new commission will be different than the old one. It's time to end the alliances and the secret deals that prevailed. The big difference this commission can make is to commit to do everything in the open, no matter how controversial. Treat us like adults and stop the backroom politicking.

Once that's out there, things can get on track.

Kevin Vericker
November 15, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tuesday Night

I have been delinquent in posting owing to a busy week. So just to get caught up:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 is the Commission Meeting. The agenda is very straightforward. It gives the opportunity to three outgoing commissioner members, commissioners George Kane and Rey Trujillo and mayor Oscar Alfonso, to make valedictory remarks, then affirms the election results followed by a swearing in of Corina S. Esquijarosa as mayor, and Eddie Lim and Connie Kreps as commissioners.

It will be a great chance for the citizens to meet and see our new commission in action and to celebrate the changes.

There is a lot of work to do, and a lot of work to undo, and the new commission will have its hands full, but Tuesday seems like a good time to see the start. It should be fun.

Kevin Vericker
November 13, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Housing Crisis

A headline in today's Miami Herald reads Slide in South Florida home prices continues. The story is familiar - there's no quick recovery on the horizon for real estate. And recovery when it comes is going to look a lot more like return to the prices of 2006.

This crisis is affecting all our lives, whether we own or rent, and even if we have no intention of selling. The lower taxes collected from properties hurt our budget. Abandoned houses and condos degrade our quality of life. And it's worse in North Bay Village than most other places in Florida.

An unscientific look at the properties on the market in North Bay Village at shows that of the 321 residential properties on the market, 186 are in some stage of foreclosure. That's 53% of the properties on the market. Compare that with Sunny Isles which also suffered from a gross overbuild of condos and yet has a rate of 38% or Surfside at 42%.

Creating a city wide effort to deal with this has to be the commission's top priority. We are sliding and it's getting worse. The real estate professionals who sell in the city need to be included; the finance companies need to be involved; property owners in danger of foreclosure need help, now. The Commission and administration have been too passive. Not only is our property tax decline worse for this, but we have much lower collections from other tax sources such as commercial properties than most other cities. If North Bay Village doesn't take this problem on now, there may be no North Bay Village in the future. It's that serious.

Kevin Vericker
November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Next Week...

The new commission will be installed most likely next Tuesday, November 16. The votes are in, the election is certified.

Our new commission will comprise two members, one former commissioner, and two sitting commissioners.

The new members are:

Corina S. Esquijarosa - Mayor
Eddie Lim - Commissioner (Harbor Island)
Connie Kreps - Commissioner (At Large) who served on the commission five years ago.

The sitting commissioners are Paul Vogel (North Bay Island) and Frank Rodriguez (Treasure Island).

The three most controversial commissioners - Alfonso, Kane and Trujillo - are all leaving.

We have a chance now to bring a new level of rationality to the commission. But it can't be done alone. Citizens have got to be involved and vocal about what's needed to keep the city running and move it forward. What happens in local politics affects our lives more profoundly and more quickly than most of what happens on the national level. Voter turnout overall was a little over 50%, far too low considering how easy it is to vote in North Bay Village.

Apathy is our main enemy.

Kevin Vericker
November 9, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fishwrap

Well, the week is winding down and of course the big news is the election. Eddie Lim won election as the Commissioner for Harbor Island. I congratulate him - he wasn't my first choice but that was over policy, not competence or respectability, and I know Eddie will serve the whole city well.

Corina Esquijarosa won as mayor. The Elections Department completed the final count last night. This was not supposed to happen. She's a newcomer not very well known in North Bay Village and she defeated a sitting commissioner who announced for mayor from the dais six months ago. Her opponent was well financed, with good name recognition and I would say a better campaign organization if Corina actually had a real campaign organization. And still she won.

North Bay Villagers want things done differently and they rejected the status quo this week. The election was a repudiation of the personal politics that have dominated the Commission, most famously the Trujillo Tax as our decreasing coffers were spent on paying people to go away if Rey Trujillo didn't like them. It was a call to the Commission to act on the issues that affect us on a day to day basis. It was a statement that the city belongs to the residents, not the commission.

Corina won and it's going to be a long hard two years to confront this collapsed economy, to undo the damage that has been done in the last year as Trujillo, Kane and Vogel consistently voted against the interests of the city and in favor of their own.

Corina will face the insults, lies and innuendos from the old guard that our previous mayor did. I hope she doesn't face the same Sunshine busting cabal of three votes already made long before the public hears about an issue. She's not a saint or a miracle worker, and a mayor can't do it alone, so it's time for all of us to reengage in the politics.

See you at the next commission meeting. I'll let you know when it is scheduled. I'm taking the weekend off.

Kevin Vericker
November 5, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Changing the Tone

I can't believe this blog is only 10 months old. It seems both brand new and like I've been doing this for years. This post election Thursday seems as good a time as any to assess what's the same and what's different.

I started with the hope and the belief that the reason the discussion had deteriorated was that the art of political discussion had been lost. I still believe that.

In one of my first posts, on January 16, (click here for a trip down memory lane), I wrote about the nasty tone of the civil politic, in particular the antics of Fane Lozman and Connie Leon-Kreps. I am very worried about Kreps, the secretary of the Citizens for Full Disclosure, being on the Commission. Her childish and erratic behavior does not bode well.

I had hoped that the Citizens for Full Disclosure was an organization looking to improve the civic dialogue. It's not. It's merely a group of self serving cyber bullies hiding behind anonymous emails. I had come very close to publishing a piece by their president, Richard Chervony, in the hope that a public dialogue would help the citizens of NBV evaluate our politics in the light, but Chervony refused to remove a casual, unprovable libel from his piece. Chervony simply did not see that libel, stating a false fact about someone, was different than opinion.

I was inundated by emails from the CFD and Chervony himself with unflattering histories of candidates, both real and imagined, who did not suit the CFD agenda. Reluctantly I came to the conclusion that the CFD was no more than it seems, a mendacious cyber collection of people looking to advance their own personal good and incoherently angry people being exploited by those who always know how to direct useful idiots.

I did not start though mainly because of the crudeness, but rather to get more people in the process. There's been success. I now get over 300 readers per week as measured by Google Analytics. I am hearing from people who agree or disagree with me and want to know more. I believe I have brought clarity on the issues to the electorate in this cycle.

I want to see our city face its problems head on. Citizens need to be involved all around. More people have to attend and speak up at the commission meetings. We all have to watch the process. We have a new commission, less than ideal, but let's assume the best and give that commission the chance to hear rationally and openly our concerns.

I will keep writing. I enjoy it.

Kevin Vericker
November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Results

Corina Esquijarosa is the new mayor of North Bay Village. Corina won the election by a razor close margin of six votes and the votes were finally posted at around 2 AM on the Miami Dade Elections. Eddie Lim was elected Harbor Island Commissioner with a margin of 110 votes.

Kevin Vericker
November 3, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Voting Time

I'm writing this at 10:45 PM on November 1. Tomorrow is Election Day. Many have already voted and I believe most have made up their minds. I've explained why the choice is clear for me, the pain of staying the same far outweighs the pain of changing, and our choices have real consequences.

I stand with Corina Esquijarosa for Mayor and Silvio Diaz for Harbor Island Commissioner. My choices are not simple adulation nor driven as some would say by my distaste for the current commission, but rather based on the fact that what we are doing now is not working. Our tax base declining, our city planning is incoherent, our garbage pickup is being eliminated and yet our taxes are going up. The old guard has failed.

Even tonight, as the hysteria of the so called CFD continues, blaming Corina for a meeting that was held against the advice of city attorney, shows the panic of the old guard. The prospect of real transparency frightens the CFD. Strangely, considering how publicly I have discussed my dislike of Rey Trujillo and his behavior in the past, I have to say tonight he was right. If the meeting about the 7904 property did not have proper notice, it should not have been held.

But Trujillo could not make that clear, easy objection. Trujillo began shouting about "debts being paid." and that he was not there, although we could still see him, rather than finding out what had happened with the notice. It was a tantrum, not political leadership.

The Citizens for Full Disclosure, mendacious hypocrites that they are, sent out one of their many email blasts citing Alfonso and Rodriguez, never mentioning that George Kane also voted with them.

Trujillo had his chance and proved that he can't manage himself, let alone a commission. So vote tomorrow, vote for change, vote for sanity, vote for Corina and Silvio. Let's finally own our city.

Kevin Vericker
November 1, 2010