Monday, January 31, 2011

The Police and The Community

Last Friday I received another anonymous letter and opened it wearily. I get letters about once a month, old fashioned snail mail ones, filled with lunatic ramblings and misspellings common to one of our less literate civic activists and I fully expected this to be the same, but it wasn't.

It was a coherent, well written copy of a letter to the City Manager pointing out that while our police chief has been given $5,000 in city funds to attend a formal banquet, the Seven Islands Chiefs Dinner on February 24, neither he nor his command staff could find the time to represent North Bay Village at the funeral last week of the two slain police officers.

Unfortunately, it was anonymous. I wish it had not been for two reasons. People have to start stepping forward and be willing to put their names to things. The second reason is that there are a number of people who will assume I wrote it. I wish I had but I didn't. I would have signed it. In any event, the letter is at the end of this post.

The City Manager replied very quickly to my inquiry about this letter and told me that the Chief was in an arbitration hearing that day, and that two officers had represented the city at the funeral.

The more I read this letter, the more I realized how much this contrast, the money to go to a social event and the no show at the funerals illustrates the problems with Chief Daniels. He doesn't seem to understand that as chief, he has a duty to the community at large.

Attending the funeral and paying the department's respects to these two slain officers is not just a "nice" thing to do. It reinforces to our own police that when bad things happen, including the very worst, that the department cares and represents. The absence speaks loudly in a way that sending lower ranking members of the PD does not. At a bare minimum, it should have been the command staff who represented.

In North Bay Village, the conspicuous absence of the chief as a member of our community has been much commented on. I am aware that our vice mayor has been hearing voices telling her that the police are doing a terrific job, but the people who have spoken to me say different things. "Why are there no community meetings?" "Isn't he supposed to present at the commission meetings?" "Six months after the Meet The Chief was cancelled, why wasn't it rescheduled?" Probably the most common question I hear is "What are we getting for our money?" and that question has never been answered by the Chief. He's never published or presented the monthly statistics from the Uniform Crime Reports and any activity reports.

Within the police department, there is growing concern over trivial investigations designed to punish perceived enemies, a lack of transparency in decision making, and unnecessary promotions. A common refrain is that the chief is tied in very closely with his perceived support base on the commission and anything that contradicts these political ends will be punished. This is not just one or two cops, almost weekly someone from the PD has a quiet conversation with me, the gist of which is "You don't know the half of it."

See, the thing is, North Bay Village really exists at all because the residents like and respect our police department, even when we get tickets or the kids get in trouble. We see our city as safer and more livable because of the police and I would venture to say that if a serious effort were proposed to eliminate local policing, the politician who supported the effort would wind up being the one eliminated. I'd probably be the one leading that charge to eliminate the politician.

We ask a lot from our police. We expect them to be vigilant about crime, quick to respond, able to use their judgment to keep our city livable. We expect them to be friendly even when they're not having the best day. And we expect them to protect us. Regardless of the strife in the police department in the past and the current climate of secrecy, the NBV PD has always come through for us.

As citizens, we owe the police a good working environment with a chief who leads by respect, with a chief who understands the difference between "gotcha" investigations and discretion, with a chief who stands proudly as his department's symbol and who stands humbly as the community's servant. Instead, it seems like we have a remote force, alienated from the community being served.

Another thing I hear from citizens is some variation of the police are paid too well or treated too generously to which I always respond, "Not true and not true." Residents need to understand that we ask a lot of these professionals, including our expectation that we will have professional and dedicated officers We will attract the kind of individuals who could work elsewhere but choose to be here. This costs. I don't want cut rate security.

As regards the salaries and benefits, a long time budget trick with all public employees was to promise future benefits against current raises. The pensions and the benefit packages grew while wages stood stagnant. The police agreed to go along with this promise. There is an issue, locally and nationwide, over the price of these deferred costs in tougher times. It's a real issue but it is not a police issue. It's our issue as taxpayers and voters. We are the ones who agreed to this and we are the ones who need to find a way to live up to our commitments. The social contract demands this. In the future, we have to be more prudent but these are promises we made, and like an individual, a community is only as good as its word.

Finally, I would remind the chief, a newcomer to this town, that the same group loudly praising him now are the same people who cut the pensions, cut the benefits, voted to lay off cops rather than dip into the red light funds, praised and defended Roland Pandolfi and are now disparaging him. This is not a support base you want to cultivate.

Kevin Vericker
February 1, 2011

Police Chief Complaint About the Funeral

The Politics of the Synagogue

About two weeks ago, I got a call from Steve Bogomilsky, a former North Bay Village commissioner and the current president of the Harambam Congregation, the owners of the synagogue on Hispanola Avenue. What he told me sort of surprised me. In a nutshell, when the commission passed a resolution supporting the designation of the property as an historic site, the owners, the Harambam Congregation, were never notified that this would be on the agenda and only found out month's later.

This is my summary and views of what happened, followed by Steve's:

On October 19, 2010, the NBV commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting the designation of the synagogue on Hispanola Avenue as an historic site. The county are the ones who decide but based on the discussion at the October commission meeting, it would appear that the designation was universally popular in North Bay Village. There was no one speaking against the resolution.

There was a good reason that no one spoke against it – the congregation who owns the building were not informed of the pending resolution and consequently had no idea that this was even being considered. The commission voted on the resolution without the salient information. There was no justification of what makes the building itself historical and the implications on the congregation who own this property of this designation. Instead of being a fully rounded discussion about an important institution in North Bay Village life, it was a feel good statement designed to support one party in a complex dispute.

Put simply, the dispute is a classic landlord – tenant disagreement, one that is currently being heard in accordance with Jewish law by a rabbinical court and where both sides have agreed to settle the dispute there. The city had no interest in either declaring an religiously important building an historical landmark when it does not have any historical implications. But once the city made the decision to get involved, the commission chose precisely the wrong course by not ensuring that the property owners had the chance to offer their views on the designation. It was a simple case of pandering for votes.

Steve added the following comments:

The commission was misled by a group of individuals including the Rabbi of Ohr Menachem congregation, a tenant in the building. He represented himself as having the right to speak on behalf of the ownership of the building - Harambam Congregation.  The tenants told the commission that the building was being sold to a church.  When that story didn't stick they changed their story and said that the owners were selling to a Mosque.  Both are not true. 

The building has been listed for sale for a number of years and can only be sold to another Jewish institution as per the Deed. 

The dispute is being heard in rabbinical court and normally in such cases neither side is to cause damage to the other until their case is heard. 

It seems that some of the people involved even promised a commissioner votes to help in the election campaign. 

However it is pretty obvious that in this case so far the Owners, Harambam, have not taken any action that would be contrary to the benefit of the building and the Other side has evidently been acting underhandedly and in violation of their own agreement to be heard in Rabbinical court.  They have attempted to cause the building to lose its value by the commission action. 

Kevin Vericker
January 31, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Attorney General Investigates North Bay Village Again

The State Attorney General's office is investigating Commissioner Eddie Lim for a possible Sunshine violation during the October 7, 2010 Planning and Zoning Board meeting to consider the construction next to Channel 7, WSVN. I don't have too many details but I do know the city attorney has advised members of the commission and members of the Planning and Zoning Board that they may be interviewed about this matter.

For the details of the October 7, 2010 meeting click here.

Kevin Vericker
January 30, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Commissioners Should Talk to Each Other

For Sale on Treasure Island

I photographed this house on W. Treasure Drive, today, January 28, 2011. Look at the listing agent. Eddie Lim.

At the commission meeting on Tuesday, Rodriguez was discussing an ordinance to limit the size of boats allowed to dock in North Bay Village. He was against it for many reasons, and for one reason where he does not have experience, he addressed a question to commissioner Lim. He asked Lim if as a realtor in North Bay Village, Lim thought this would have a negative effect on property values, a valid question.

Instead of engaging in the discussion, commissioner Lim seemed annoyed and felt singled out and said, "I don't do that anymore. I am working in business brokering now."

That's a bad attitude. We have citizen legislators and their unique backgrounds and abilities need to be part of these discussions. If this were a health concern, I hope Vice Mayor Kreps would use her medical experience to shed light on the subject and not be offended if asked her opinion. Similarly, mayor Esquijarosa has extensive government experience and I hope her expertise is sought. Our commission needs to work together and be willing to have the conversation front and center. It's not hard. It's the right thing to do.

Don't be so quick to find offense where none was intended. You might have no opinion or knowledge on the subject, but don't complain that someone sought it.

In the end, the commission voted for the ordinance after dropping the size provision.

Kevin Vericker
January 28, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday Night at the Commission

It's not looking good for North Bay Village. On Tuesday night, there were two contradictory resolutions.

1.) Put together a full, open search for a city manager.
2.) Put together a contract to keep the current city manager.

Both failed for lack of a majority which means they will come up again.

The issue here is the difference between doing things in the light of day and doing them in the dark.

There was nothing in the first measure that would have stopped consideration of the current city manager. But it would have allowed the city to evaluate his credentials, experience and plans and see if there is a better match out there.

The second item was designed to shut this down.

Indications are that the commission is going to remain in its previous lockstep, we discuss nothing, attitude.

I was particularly disappointed the Commissioner Lim appeared to take offense at a simple request from Rodriguez, who asked him on a different item if Lim thought a docking ordinance could affect property values. This does not bode well.

The meeting was the old style mob garbage. Fane Lozman continues to give a fictitious address of 7918 West Drive, a vacant lot, because of his fear of "death threats", various CFD'ers got up to praise Bob Pushkin.

Probably the most shocking thing was when the Sergeant at Arms, Bob Daniels, ignored a direct request from the chair to restore order. His level of contempt for our government is appalling.

In personal news, I received a nasty email from the president of the CFD, a deceptive fellow who poses as an MD, righteously indignant that I had written that vice mayor Connie Kreps is the secretary of the CFD. He petulantly informed me that this is a lie as Ms. Kreps resigned in November.

I did get my information as regards the CFD from a very unreliable and untruthful source - the CFD website. Here's a picture of how it looked on January 25, 2011. Click to enlarge.
I should know better. You can't trust these people to tell the truth about anything.

Update - 3:19 PM 1/27 - Following this morning's posting, the CFD did clean up their website to remove Vice Mayor Kreps. I quote here the email I received at 2:42 PM from the President of the CFD.

Subject: Lies!!!!!!
Dearest Kevin:

Just correcting your lies. No harm done to your credibility..........I hope.


The Lewd and Lascivious "DR" Richard Chervony

This is what passes for discourse in that sad group.

So we're back in Crazy Town. The projects are dying, city hall moved for no good reason, our taxes are up, and our commission is still a mean girls clique. See what happens when you don't show up at the meetings?

Kevin Vericker
January 27, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Agenda for The January 25 Commission Meeting

The subject of the city manager will dominate tomorrow's special meeting of the North Bay Village commission. There are two items on the agenda regarding a permanent city manager.

The first is a clear, publicly laid out process to evaluate the role and qualifications for city manager candidates and to bring an open process to seek a permanent city manager.

The second is an attempt to write a permanent contract for the current interim manager and bypass public discussion and scrutiny.

The resolution to hire in the dark was put forward by Connie Leon-Kreps, vice mayor. In her return to the commission, Kreps has misunderstood the nature of a representative democratic government which does things in the open.

In the first meeting after the installation, she proposed a resolution to reject a bid protest on the garbage contract. Then she voted against her resolution as she clearly had not read, understood or been paying attention to the proceedings.

Then in the next meeting, she proposed a resolution to reject the protest without a hearing, in and of itself the wrong way to do things. First you hear the protest, then you decide to accept or reject it. Well, when that resolution came up, she once again had not been paying attention to the process and instead of discussing why she put this on the agenda, she reread the resolution, which had just been done by the city clerk and offered no public explanation of her reasoning. This confused the rest of the commission and the resolution was voted down.

Now, Ms. Kreps is stating that she wants the position of city manager filled without a search, without public input, without commission consideration, without process. Just draft a contract and sign it. Ms. Kreps may have good reason for her position. She may have carefully weighed all of the alternatives, come to the conclusion that we now have the best possible city management and that North Bay Village should think no further about it.

But that is unlikely.

There are really two possibilities. The first is that she is fundamentally unfamiliar with the power of the city manager and the need to ensure that the hire is done publicly. This is possible. Two resolutions in a row defeated because you didn't know what they were and what to do? That's a problem.

The second possibility is more disconcerting. Ms. Kreps might very well believe that the commission is not bound by the norms of democracy and process, nor is it accountable to uphold our city charter and our state's Sunshine laws. I sincerely hope that when Commissioners Lim quickly jumped in after Ms. Kreps reread her resolution saying "I support this." it was an exclamation of surprise and not a previously agreed statement of support agreed outside the commission chambers.

But I fear the worst. Ms. Kreps, as the secretary for the Citizens for Full Disclosure, a shadowy group of residents who never sign or take responsibility for their publications, sent out another distorted email blast this weekend, in this case regarding what the CFD ignorantly calls the "Commission of Ethics" when even a cursory view would show that it is the "Commission on Ethics and Public Trust." I will be writing more about that later this week. But as a founding member and current secretary of this group, she betrays her own disdain for doing things the right and democratic way.

Please, if you can, come tomorrow night and insist that the position of city manager be approached openly, without preconception, and correctly. If you can't come, then call and let your elected officials know that you expect them to openly discuss and evaluate the most important decision North Bay Village will make under their tenure.

The city phone numbers are as follows:

Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps (786) 877-1163
Commissioner Eddie Lim (786) 877-1694
Mayor Corina Esquijarosa (786) 999-2816

I understand that Frank Rodriguez and Paul Vogel do not have city issued mobile phones but messages for both can be left at City Hall (305) 756-7171

Correction - Last week I wrote about John Quincy Adams returning the Senate after his term as president. I was wrong. It was the House of Representatives, a fact I have not only known since the sixth grade, I double checked before I wrote the piece and then for some reason, I typed "Senate". Thanks to one of my smarter readers (which is most of you - 279 of you last week!) for pointing the error out.

Kevin Vericker
January 24, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Try It Before You Buy It - The NBV City Manager

Bob Pushkin stepped into a mess. Last April, Rey Trujillo, George Kane, and Dr. Paul Vogel voted to fire Matt Schwartz in order to punish Schwartz for doing his job with the police department. The message sent to the city was ominous and strong - no matter what else is going on, the commission will not risk unpopularity with its core supporters.

Pushkin came in as acting city manager and from the beginning made clear to the commission that he was planning to work part time and temporarily to hold down the fort while the city made the necessary moves to bring in a city manager who could perform all the duties. Something changed, I don't know what, and now there is an effort on the part of Vice Mayor Connie Kreps to jump over the selection process and even the discussion and summarily contract Bob Pushkin as the permanent city manager.

This is a bad move for many reasons. The city is in the worst financial crisis in history and the budget restructuring has been disorganized, anemic in its scope and laden with political expediency rather than real fixes. Virtually no cuts were made to anyone but the Sanitation group, and even that outsourcing has been poorly managed and greatly delayed by the ineptitude of the administration.

North Bay Village has in place an ambitious plan to develop our economic base so that we are less dependent on residential property taxes and have a wider, stronger more diverse economic base to help us survive the hard times. That plan is to be mostly financed by bonds, taxes on ourselves, that we voted on in more flush times. Circumstances in this deep recession are such that much of what we intend to do is exactly what Congress had in mind in the stimulus package and under Schwartz, we quickly took advantage of this once in a generation opportunity to get what we needed built with federal rather than local money.

That process is dead. We are not seeking any grants at this point and it seems that even those grants we had started have died for lack of attention.

The new commission was put in place precisely to right the course and in a weak commission, strong city manager government the selection of the City Manager is the most important function of the commission. We expect the commission to operate in sunshine, discuss the goals of the city, realistically assess the current situation and move the city forward.

To be fair to Bob Pushkin, he never claimed to have the expertise, education or experience that the position requires, although his willingness to go along with the resolution for a contract now seem to indicate differently. By his own admission, he's not a numbers guy. To be fair to the residents of North Bay Village, we need more than someone to hold down the fort. We need someone who can build the fort.

On Tuesday, the City Commission will take up two items.

The first is a detailed criteria for a city manager search, enumerating the goals of the city, specifying the demonstrated experience a candidate is expected to have and laying out the process of making the decision.

The second item is a resolution to just say no to open process and contract Bob Pushkin.

Ask yourself, are you happy with the direction of the city? Do you feel that the administration is being open and clear on the issues? Do you believe that the right processes are in place for recovery? Are you willing to believe that millage rates needed to rise while garbage services are cut? Are you comfortable that the claim of a $500,000 annual savings will be achieved by outsourcing sanitation even though the approved budget does not show that savings? Are you comfortable with a city manager and a police chief who do not provide even basic status reports to the commission to the residents?

If the answer is no, then come Tuesday. Help the commission see the need for open discussion to define the city manager role. It's our money.

Kevin Vericker
January 21, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Red Light Cameras

First of all, there is a commission meeting next Tuesday, January 25. The agenda can be found here. More about the meeting tomorrow.

As most of us know North Bay Village has a program to capture red light runners on film. We don't know how successful it's being. Of course, any program in the city is now kept as walled in as North Bay Island. Initially, I was really in favor of it, regardless of the revenue benefit, as running red lights is dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists. I had hoped it would increase safety on the causeway.

It may have. I don't know and you don't know. No statistics are published.

But there is controversy on the fairness of the program. This article from Palm Beach calls into question the basic rules of evidence used in the ticketing, and regardless of how you feel about red light running, the law should be respected by enforcers as well.

Another article, from the computer geek site Gizmodo explains how traffic lights can be manipulated. I have heard around town that many residents are convinced that since the advent of the red light cameras, the yellow lights have been shortened. I haven't noticed it myself but I am not a daily driver.

Still, it would be interesting to find out more about the red light cameras and how it's working out here.

Kevin Vericker
January 20, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bad Things Happen in the Dark

In the last administration, our commission meetings were to put it kindly free wheeling, more often resembling the Jerry Springer show than a deliberative body. The loudest voices, and often the nastiest, dominated the meetings. Several times it was obvious that some of the commissioners had not only made up their minds on critical votes, but they were not going to share their reasoning with the assembled citizens or one another in a public setting. A favorite tactic was to ambush the commission with a sudden resolution proposed at the meeting rather than on the agenda and pretend the matter was urgent, precluding the opportunity for consideration and deliberation.

The November election was a message to change that. There was no specific issue that dominated the election. It was a more general sense of not wanting to do things the old way, in the dark. Eddie Lim and Corina Esquijarosa were elected for that reason.

The meetings since then have been mostly boring which is a good thing. It's clear to the casual observer that three members of the commission, newly elected Eddie Lim and Corina Esquijarosa along with incumbent Frank Rodriguez, are trying to get this process right. There's resistance to the changes and the meetings have not always run smoothly. There has been confusion over the proper order of resolutions and the way to proceed, which is to be expected. But the commitment of the commission to do things the right way will go a long way.

There are two things that would help the meetings run more smoothly. The City Attorney is also the Parliamentarian of the Commission. The role is to ensure that the meetings run according to city code and Roberts Rules of Order. The City Attorney needs to be more actively involved in guiding the commission and not wait until asked. In the November meeting, we had a substitute who did an outstanding job of precisely that. I would urge the Mayor as chair to request more of the city attorney.

The second is less formal. In Dr. Paul Vogel, the commission has an incredible resource. Dr. Vogel is the institutional memory of the city. He was mayor for 18 years and returned to the commission as a commissioner. (Kind of like how John Quincy Adams was elected to the Senate after being President.) Public service is in his blood and although sometimes his health issues seem to preclude more active participation, I hope the commission takes advantage of his deep knowledge and wisdom. Ask him questions, solicit his opinion and viewpoints. He's not one to put himself forward but don't mistake that for nothing to say.

For now, the big job is to take back the process. To quote the political philosopher, Will.I.AM, "This is your chance. I wanna own it, wanna wanna own it."

Kevin Vericker
January 18, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

City Government By The Numbers

Numbers matter. Numbers quantify how organizations plan to execute, how well the plan has worked and where to form a new plan. The most obvious quantification of desired results is the amount of money set aside in a budget for activities and goals. This is not exactly rocket science or complex mathematical reasoning. Everyone does it, whether with detailed financial plans or a casual look at the wallet to see if there is money for basic needs and then some left over for optional purchases.

Individual consumers exchange money for goods and services. At the supermarket, the customer hands money to the cashier in exchange for the items in the cart or at the movies for the right to sit in a seat and view the film. Companies exchange money for employee services, for new computers, for accounting services and so forth. Again, this is not complex.

Our city is no different. Residents are taxed and pay taxes in exchange for basic services and how that tax money is apportioned is the clearest indication of what the community values. In North Bay Village, close to 70% of our budget has been dedicated to police services. This is a clear indication of the high value that North Bay Village puts on having a local police department. North Bay Village is justifiably proud of being an exceptionally safe community.

Police services are not a single entity. When a city pays for police services, the city is paying for a full package of services and part of fiscal stewardship is quantifying the services delivered and the quality of the services delivered.

For at least a year, several commissioners and citizens have been asking for the basic statistics on the police department, not just the crime reports (UCR is the acronym) but the actual activities of the police department. This is a routine and normal reporting function for most American police departments. These reports vary in what they quantify, but a typical report is attached below and it includes a good summary of the police activities.

We need this basic information to manage our money. We need to know what the police are doing. Look at the attached report below from Sunny Isles for the month of October 2010. It's simple, understandable and shows what the police did, not just crimes committed. This basic quantitative measure can be further explored for answers to critical questions such as "Are we having a new problem with traffic violations?" or "What is the cost per dispatch call? How many were duplicates?" and "What skills do our police need?" It doesn't provide the answer to these questions but brings them forward.

At the meeting on Tuesday night, the chief could not tell us the arrest stats. Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps and one of the residents talked about how pleased the residents are at more visible patrols but no one can quantify how many patrols there are. A commission can't make policy based on anecdotes. The commission needs verifiable and agreed information.

It is the chief's job to provide that, regularly. The chief spoke about benchmarking, which is a qualitative measure of how one group performs compared to goal. An organization cannot get to benchmarking without first deciding what it is to be measured, measuring it and then comparing. It was a good answer but not to the question posed. A better answer would have been, "I'll provide the requested information."

I urge you to look at the Sunny Isles report. There's nothing hard in here. This is information that the North Bay Village PD have currently and it would be unimaginable if the police chief did not have these numbers. It would mean all of the PD's decisions were guess work and the NBV PD is better than that. This will continue to be an issue until the police chief makes the information public.

Kevin Vericker
January 14, 2011

Sunny Isles Police Statistics Oct-2010

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Commission Meeting Tuesday 1/11/11

Yesterday I wrote about the confusion over how to manage a resolution on the garbage and the exemplary clarity of the code enforcement activity reports. The two themes, confusion and clarity, continued through the meeting.

City Manager - Bob Pushkin deserves a great deal of credit for allowing our Code Enforcement Officer to publish his stats giving a clear picture of the job he is doing. Pushkin's decision to include these stats in the agenda for the commissioners is a good move towards the transparency we are all seeking.

But that same transparency did not extend to the rest of the agenda. The finance report covered the highlights of the operational budget. The projects were not included. Nor was their any voluntary discussion on the part of the city manager of the police department reorganization, a major move.

From the City Charter:

10. Make such other reports as the Commission may require concerning the operations of City departments, offices and agencies, subject to his direction and supervision;
11. Keep the Commission fully advised as to the financial condition and future needs of the City and make such recommendations to the Commission concerning the affairs of the City;

The information on the projects, the status of grant requests, number of foreclosures, sales in the city, and other metrics have been requested every month by the commission. It's not optional. The commission once again directed the manager to start providing this information at every meeting.

My take: I don't think he's holding back. Bob Pushkin was brought in on an interim basis, without a financial background, without projects background and without the breadth of experience required by our charter. He's held it together but if the city is ever to move forward, we need a seasoned professional with a strong track record of turning around a city. Bob Pushkin has held the city in place since the ill advised firing of our last city manager and for that he deserves our thanks, but holding the city in place is actually dragging it down. We need to move forward if we are to recover from this downturn and we need a permanent manager to do that.

On a related subject, Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps thought she would use Rey Trujillo's favorite tactic and ambush the commission meeting by introducing a resolution under New Business for the city to make Bob Pushkin permanent. The attempt failed but it deeply worrisome, both the content and the style.

The City Manager is the single most important position in North Bay Village. Filling it requires deep deliberation, discussions of what the city needs to be and how it should proceed and clearly defined goals and expectations. It deserves a great deal of open and transparent consideration.

During the last commission, one of the most destructive and demagogic aspects was the constant series of "emergency" meetings and the constant introduction of unscheduled items. The voters spoke clearly against this in November and the Vice Mayor needs to fall in line. She should introduce the item on the agenda and be prepared to explain her reasoning and the need to the public.

Kreps has screwed up her first two resolutions and needs to get with the program. Like any new member of the commission, these can be considered rookie mistakes, although she has been on the commission before. But we don't need this ambush nonsense.

Fun fact: Rey Trujillo texted one of the sitting commissioners during the commission meeting saying "Bob Pushkin wants a contract to become City Manager and will bring it to the commission". Kreps obviously had spoken with Trujillo about this and given Eddie Lim's quick statement of support, it had been discussed with him too.

Bad things happen in the dark, Ms. Kreps. Try doing it right.

Tomorrow: What the Police Chief didn't know...

Kevin Vericker
January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Confusion and Obfuscation at the Commission Meeting

A lot happened last night at the commission meeting and I don't have time today to review each in detail. Here's a quick summary of two things that stood out and I will get to the rest when I can.

Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps put an item on the current agenda to reject the protest of Choice Environmental Systems over the contract to outsource our garbage and eliminate side yard pickup.

At the December meeting, the Vice Mayor had placed an item on the agenda to reject a request to waive the protest bond for Choice Environmental. When the item came up for a vote, she had clearly not read the resolution she herself proposed and voted against it. Following her vote, she began asking out loud, "What did I just vote for?"

Last night, the Vice Mayor was once again befuddled. She had placed a new resolution on the agenda to reject the protest and when the resolution had been read by the clerk, she became confused and read it again out loud instead of the more usual procedure of discussing why she put the item on the agenda.

More confusion followed regarding in what order people are allowed to speak and what the item itself was. In the end, Dr. Vogel voted along with Esquijarosa and Rodriguez to continue the item to the regular February meeting. This was a sensible move and perhaps we can gain some clarity before the next meeting on the Vice Mayor's intentions.

The second highlight of the agenda was the Code Enforcement Report. Maurice Murray, our new code enforcement officer, has been pretty busy. The results are starting to show on Treasure Island. Murray also provided the commission with a detailed activity report that gives a clear picture of what activities he is pursuing and the city manager included this in the agenda. Very well done.

Mayor Esquijarosa and Commissioner Frank Rodriguez both used this detailed report as a basis to question why we are not getting the same transparency from the police and the city manager. The police chief did not know or share the number of arrests, patrols, dispatch calls or other key indicators of activity and merely deferred the question by saying he is looking into benchmarking. The city manager did provide a report this month on the finances but none on the projects.

Maybe the city manager and the chief could spend some time with our code enforcement officer to learn how to create useful activity reports.

More to follow.

Kevin Vericker
January 12, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Garbage Contract

The protest by Choice Environmental Systems against the awarding of the garbage pickup contract to Waste Management is scheduled to be rejected tomorrow night. Seriously.

Normally the way a protest is handled is that the deciding body resolves to hear the protest, then discuss the merits of the protest, and then decides to accept or reject the protest.

Not here. Item 9A on the Commission agenda available here is a resolution "rejecting a protest of award of contract" and was introduced by Vice Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps.

So no motion to review the protest, no motion to discuss the protest, just a motion to reject.

This garbage contract has been dirty since the beginning. Side yard pickup is a valued service among North Bay Village residents and we were not given the opportunity to express that. The City Manager on September 28 stated that there were $500,000 in savings to be realized from the outsourcing, even though the savings were estimated at about $80,000. Then Mayor Oscar Alfonse ran the meeting out.

It was not done in the open and transparent manner we need for such a critical decision.

I hope that the City Attorney, as the Parliamentarian for the Commission, reviews the correct process, that the motion to reject is withdrawn and replaced by a motion to review, and that this time the questions about the savings, the impact on the neighborhood and our long term strategies are discussed fully and honestly.

After all, a motion for a summary rejection of the protest without discussion of the merits of the protest would certainly be a violation of the spirit and perhaps the letter of the Sunshine Law. Government works best in the open.

Kevin Vericker
January 10, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

Next Commission Meeting Jan 11 2011

The Commission Meeting will be held at the Lexi Commission Chambers on Jan 11 at 7:30 PM, not at the school. City Hall has not yet moved but the commission chambers are ready. The chambers are small and crowded and as we discovered in December, unheated. Bring a jacket.

On the agenda are the following items:

Item 9A: Connie Kreps proposed an ordinance to reject a protest from Choice Environmental Systems on the garbage giveaway. This time she will probably remember to vote as she has been instructed. Last month, she failed to grasp the resolution she proposed and voted against herself. This may be a good time to call the City Manager to account for his statement on Sept 28 that the privatization would save between $500,000 and $600,000 per year on sanitation services, a complete untruth. Also, it may be our last chance to retain side yard pickup.

Item 9B: A new auditing firm is to be confirmed for the city. This has been needed for a while and common practice is to change auditors once per three years. It seems like a good deal.

Item 9C: An authorization for the city to use the remaining federal forfeiture funds to pay the rent on the police trailer park and for the chief to attend the Seven Islands Chief's Dinner. Don't know what that second one is.

Item 9D: Authorizes the city to release an RFP to tear down the old city hall.

Item 9E: Updates the certification process for buildings older than 40 years.

Item 9F: An authorization regarding investments of cash on hand, using our Finance Director's recommendations to ensure better returns.

Item 13A: The Post Office at 1841 Galleon St is moving out. There is talk of putting a holding cell for prisoners on the site probably owing to its ideal location between a school and the Tot Lot and in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Right now, when the NBV PD has to hold a prisoner during processing, they take the prisoner to El Portal who rents their holding cell out. The PD Chief has decided this may not be convenient and he is not to be interfered with per his contract, but the commission is a little interested in the effect of a jail on the Tot Lot.

The agenda is long and I am uploading it. Check back Monday for the rest of the story.

Kevin Vericker
January 7, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Questions for the City Commission Meeting

What are the current crime statistics for North Bay Village? How do these compare to a year ago?

How many patrols, calls and on site activities do our police respond to per month?

How many citations for traffic violations are issued?

How many of those are not from the red light cameras?

Why do we have a command structure in the police department with 8 patrol officers and 11 supervisors?

How many calls are made to dispatch in North Bay Village by residents/businesses and how many come through county 911 per month for the last 12 months?

Will there be a holding cell at the Galleon St. facility?

What is the status of the projects?

How many grants has the city pursued since April 2010? How many have we received?

How have the forfeiture funds been spent and how much remains? What happens when these run out?

Which departments are over budget for the period of October through December 2010? Why? What's being done about it?

A speaker at the commission meetings claims 7918 West Drive as his home address but the Miami-Dade property appraiser's office lists this address as a vacant lot owned by Scott Greenwald. Will Code Enforcement please verify that there is no illegal structure on the site or houseboat moored there?

Our web page shows that the police department is at 7903 East Drive, Harbor Island, a location that has not existed in several years. Our web page also provides tax information from 1999 - 2000 under the tax header. Are there plans to update this?

Now that Reflections has been discontinued, what is the communications strategy to the residents?

City Manager Bob Pushkin stated four times during the September 28 commission meeting to contract with Waste Management Systems that the savings to the city will be $500,000 per year. Can he specifically identify these savings bearing in mind that the sale of a capital asset is not a savings?

There are lots more, but let's start with these.

Kevin Vericker
January 6, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Diffusion of Responsibility

The risk of bureaucratic paralysis is highest when there are needless layers of organization.

Yeah, it's about the Police Department again.

In our new structure, with a command ratio of 1.25 superiors for every 1 on the street officer, and with that command structure ensuring four layers between the patrol officer and the chief in a department smaller than the Aventura Mall Security Force, North Bay Village enters Kafka's territory.

A small example, fictional but it will happen: If a patrol officer sees a pattern emerging and has an idea of how the PD might respond, that patrol officer must first present the problem and the proposed solution to her or his immediate superior. Assuming that superior agrees, the first line supervisor then has the job of convincing her or his superior that the concept has merit. It could die there, but if it does not, the next in line is the executive officer, who must be convinced and finally the chief. I don't know about you, but if I were on patrol, I wouldn't bother.

This absurd structure actively prevents community responsiveness by diffusing responsibility and delaying decision making. If four people make the decision, who's accountable? That may be one of its purposes.

There are other reasons. In times like this, it's a political disaster to hand out raises. But by creating an unnecessary and fictitious command structure, the police chief circumvents this by asserting that the new structure requires different salary structures, not a raise but simply putting the position in line. And by doing it through the abuse of reorganization, people perceived as allies are rewarded.

So innovation is silenced, submission is rewarded, costs rise, effectiveness drops.

Finally, the further away from the execution a decision is made, the less responsibility the decision maker takes. A bad decision made at the top, communicated through four layers of command and executed on the street, does not have a clear path to accountability. Was the decision wrong? Was the communication wrong? Was the execution wrong? It provides the high ranking officials with cover. It will be the patrol officers who will bear the brunt of poor decisions and the command who claims the credit. It's the nature of the beast.

The more complicated an organization, the more difficult it is to pinpoint responsibility and accountability. Large, bloated organizations provide lots of cover for mistakes, errors in judgment, and are not able to respond quickly and effectively to new circumstances if they respond at all.

In private enterprise, especially in this era of globalization, companies have been struggling for decades to find the right balance between the traditional vertical organization, a structure optimized for performance at a single point in time which runs the risk of being inflexible, and a flat organization, which has few layers of decision making and can run the risk of being incoherent. Some organizations succeed in bridging this gap, Southwest Airlines comes to mind, while others fall miserably.

The US military spends much intellectual energy and capital moving between a traditional "command and control" centralized strategy and a more agile approach to local tactics on the ground. It's not an easy balancing act and there is ample reason to believe that getting this balance wrong made the Iraq war longer, harder and nastier than it needed to be.

For North Bay Village to take the opposite tack, to make the PD more complex, less transparent and less effective, shows a dangerous contempt to even the appearance of good management.

Kevin Vericker
January 3, 2011