Friday, September 30, 2011

The Recall Campaign and Other Lies

You've seen the emails from the electioneers about recalling Corina Esquijarosa.

You may even have read them.

What you will note is that they are filled with BLOOD RED CAPITAL LETTERS INFORMING YOU THAT THE MAYOR IS GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY. of something.

Except she's not. The real story is so much duller. A foreclosure, a mishandled tax claim, and the mayor herself bringing the issue to the tax office for resolution.

Not a penny of city money was taken. All this happened before the 2010 election, and the situation well known at the time.

No fraud, no malfeasance, just a stupid tax error and an attack for trying to resolve it.

This weekend will be the final noise-making campaign on the histrionic recall of the Mayor. Led by the North Bay Village's secret cabal the CFD comprising Richard Chervony, Alvin Blake, James Carter, Jane Blake and Gloria Carter, founded by Connie Kreps, and supported vocally by out of town grifters, this campaign is not about the mayor's financial issues.

Don't believe me? Why should you really? Well put aside what you've heard for the moment and look at the mayor's record.

Esquijarosa campaigned on a platform to bring children's services to North Bay Village and to restore transparency to how our city spends money. And guess what? She's done that.

In the first part, improving services for kids which has the net effect of improving our community quality and value, the mayor identified and pushed for a Children's Trust Fund grant. For the first time since the Children's Trust Fund was established, North Bay Village is receiving a direct benefit back from the taxes we've been paying.

We have an after-school program and summer camp open to NBV kids, just like a real town, and best of all, at nearly no cost to the city.

Other people mattered in this grant, most of all Jenice Rosado and also the interim city manager Robert Daniels deserve credit for structuring and managing this through.

The mayor has also been working hard along with the school board to create an international baccalaureate program at Treasure Island Elementary, which would turn our local school into an internationally recognized elite school.

The Vice Mayor and founding mother of the CFD, who has not once introduced or supported a program to improve the children's services, let alone one that would claim the money we have all paid all these years to make this a vibrant, family friendly community, reacted to this by quoting Whitney Houston and saying, "I believe that children are our future" and then ruined it by saying "but not if the North Bay Village taxpayer has to lay out money." I'm not making it up. Review the DVD from the 9/20 meeting. Then Vice Mayor Lim Kreps tried to shut down the discussion by complaining that the mayor had too many questions.

Still, Esquijarosa promised to work on youth programs and in less than a year, has delivered, in spite of the Lim Kreps opposition.

Then let's look at the transparency issue. North Bay Village passed a budget holding the operating millage at 4.8. Now the city has tightened some areas but the mayor took apart the budget, noting raises at a time of fiscal crisis, car allowances for people who do not regularly use their cars for city business, longevity bonuses to people who don't work here, and questioned the size of the legal budget, nearly all of which related to labor management issues.

Questioning this sent the Lim Kreps twins into a fury. They don't want the money questioned. Not in public and not by the mayor and certainly not by us. So a bad budget passed, one that remains far too generous to non productive services and tightens those services we residents actually care about.

Again, you don't believe me? Just look at how the projects money has been spent. Millions to create a landscaped wall on North Bay Island, millions for that stupid useless park and not a penny for sidewalks to get there. Could it be any clearer?

So when they ask you to sign the recall. When people tell you that the mayor "stole money from the city." When the "open government" secretive CFD CAPITALIZE their emails and scream at you about how the mayor must be removed, ask them how they intend to maintain the youth services progress? Ask them why they never question a budget item? How come nobody but the mayor asked any questions on the budget?

Finally, when they write about the number of state agencies supposedly investigating the mayor, if they have any proof? (Hint: they don't.)

Then decide. Who do you trust here? The mayor who has delivered on her promises? Or the people who have contributed nothing to the city while trying to hide the budget?

Kevin Vericker
October 1, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Citizens for Full Disclosure?

Local group Citizens for Full Disclosure comprising Richard Chervony, Alvin Blake, James Carter, Jane Blake and Gloria Carter, sent out a mailing last week entitled ELDER ABUSE. The email is reprinted below, with the permission of Richard Chervony, Alvin Blake, James Carter, Jane Blake and Gloria Carter. I also sought and received permission from Nancy Sonnett-Selwyn.

The email refers back to my posting of June 14, 2011 where I discuss the ongoing bullying on Dr. Paul Vogel. You should read that posting here for full context.

Before getting to the email, I have two brief comments.

The mistake in the letter regarding the circuit court is mine. I filed the papers with the Miami-Dade Clerk of the Courts, the governing authority on recalls.

All grammatical and spelling errors in the email belong to the writers of the email and Ms. Sonnett-Selwyn gave her permission contigent on my noting that she would never have used the word "infirmed" as there is no such word.

Finally, you will find the letter referred to below the quoted email text.

From: Citizens for Full Disclosure of North Bay Village Inc. <>
Date: September 23, 2011 8:12:48 AM EDT


The actions in the last months committed by a group of individuals in our City may border or may be considered as ELDER ABUSE. This has been reported to the proper agencies and their investigation and admonitions are sure to follow.

First and of most impact is the behavior and accusatory tones used by our Mayor in her attempt to intimidate, Dr. Paul Vogel. Her illegal request to have him barred from the dais for a vote and to accuse him of having missed four consecutive meetings unexcused is reprehensible lie and a low attempt to usurp the power of the City. Must we remind the Mayor that North Bay Village does not subscribe to a STRONG MAYOR form of government. Furthermore North Bay Island Commissioner, Dr. Paul Vogel also known as the Mayor Emeritus of North Bay Village has served this City for 20 plus unselfish years. He has given of himself at all times with respect and dignity and at no time has insulted or belittled a fellow commissioner, no matter what the offense they committed.

Secondly, the Mayor's mouthpiece and community mis-blogger, Kevin Vericker, stated on his rant of June 14, 2011, " Well, today I want to speak about the more grotesque bullying happening on the dais and in plain sight. I refer to the way Dr. Paul Vogel, a man who served the city long and honorably, is being exploited." He further states "It's sad. It's sad that age and sickness have struck this fine public servant and a hell of a guy, and it's made even worse to see how those who claim to respect and even to love him, don't hesitate to exploit him, in public, in front of cameras and in front of the city he served so well."

He continues, "What's happening to Dr. Vogel fits the definition of elder abuse. Those surrounding him are isolating him, keeping him uninformed, directing his behavior for their own personal gain and punishing him with withdrawal if he does not comply. We are all complicit when we allow this to happen. We are all bullies if we do not protect our elderly. "

Attached you can find a letter written by Mr. Vericker a couple of weeks prior to his rant. In it he states that "today I filed paper with the county circuit seeking you recall." His actions demonstrate the elder abuse by threatening the Mayor Emeritus into thinking he was being recalled. No recall has ever been filed in the circuit court nor is this the process for a recall as our charter reads and we all know it.

The last person from this group, Ms. Nancy Sonnett-Selwyn who at the Commission meeting in April 2011 accused Mayor Emeritus Vogel of being "too old and infirmed" therefore he should resign or she would seek his recall. Ms. Sonnett-Selwyn attempted to create a recall based on the Carlos Alvarez documents. Being such a long time resident of our City, being involved in numerous Boards yet she doesn't know the charter of our beloved City nor the "GROUNDS FOR REMOVAL OF AN ELECTED MUNICIPAL OFFICIAL"

Nowhere in the Florida Statutes does it list age or illness as grounds for removal. The actions of these individuals with their cohorts merit an investigation of not only ELDER ABUSE but AGE DISCRIMINATION and ABUSE OF POWER.

As Mr. Vericker blogged "When we are called to account, I firmly believe that the question we will have to answer is "How did I treat people who were weaker than me?" The longer we let this go on, how will any of us be able to answer that question?


This information was sent to you by Citizens for Full Disclosure of North Bay Village, Inc., whose purpose is to help the citizens of North Bay Village obtain full and complete disclosure in all matters of government of the city of North Bay Village.

President - Richard Chervony
V. President - Alvin Blake
Secretary - James Carter
Director - Jane Blake
Director - Gloria Carter

Now the text of the letter referenced that I wrote to Dr. Vogel.

April 29 2011

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Vogel
7801 Beach View Drive
North Bay Village, FL 33141

Dear Dr. and Mrs. Vogel,

It is with genuine sadness that I write today. Today I filed recall papers with the county circuit court seeking your recall. It was not an easy decision and one I had hoped never to make.

Wednesday night was a travesty. The issues around reforming the purchasing processes, the taxing, the non umion employment processes were simple. Put them before the voters. Not pass it effective immediately. Not vacate the existing contracts. Just put the reforms before the voters.

Connie Leon-Kreps and Eddie Lim were fundamentally dishonest in their “concern” that the whole charter needed revision and it was better to not do anything and maybe in 2012... etc. That's a load of crap. Were their concern genuine, somebody would have proposed a motion to move the charter review up, but no one did.

I have for several months, and particularly since the Alvarez recall, kept the lid on the whole talk about recalls. But last night, a simple request to put the issues before the voters was rejected. I had promised those calling for a recall that you would openly listen and engage in the reform discussions. When that didn't happen, I did what was necessary.

This leaves me wondering if either it is more important to please the Lim-Kreps team than do the right thing or if perhaps you just didn't understand it? Our city can't afford to be run this way. We are almost broke.

Dr. Vogel, it would be best for the city if you ended your distinguished career with an honorable retirement. In the current political climate, following the Alvarez recall, for the same reasons we are facing - increased taxes, reduced services and generous private contracts – North Bay Village will see the same result as the 90% vote to recall Alvarez. My hope is that for the good of all, you will consider that.


Kevin Vericker

For more about the Citizens for Full Disclosure, check their website at or email them at

Kevin Vericker
September 27, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Budget Meeting Was Missing A Certain Something

The Final Budget 2012 meeting was held on Tuesday night. The commission by 3-2 approved the same operating millage (4.8) and the new debt millage (1.2). So the city tax rate is now 6%, up from 2011 where it was 5.3%. At the same meeting, the 2012 budget was adopted. It was a remarkable meeting, actually two remarkable meetings.

The first part was a special meeting of the commission to decide five items. Originally it was to be a consent agenda but two items were separated for discussion. One of those items was the decision to continue advertising with the Miami Herald. That item was discussed by the commission, with Frank Rodriguez asking if a more economical approach might be found. Eddie Lim stated his objection to considering the New Times as it is filled with ads for sexual and quasi-legal activities. For what it's worth, I actually share Commissioner Lim's view of the New Times but do think that the Biscayne Times which has universal circulation in the city should have been an option. Things got a little heated with Lim saying that this was an old issue and Oscar Alfonso did not want the Herald because of unfavorable personal coverage. Not much of an argument since the New Times coverage of Alfonso was much worse. Notwithstanding that disagreement, our commissioners were able to pass all five items and move along to the budget.

But something was missing. There was a strange calmness over the whole thing.

The commission took a short break and then reassembled to do the main and most important job they do each year - the budget. It all began well enough. There was a presentation by the interim city manager, then by the finance director. The floor was opened to public comments.

Former former vice mayor Rey Trujillo spoke about how there is a misunderstanding among city residents who for some reason believe that the commission actually has something to do with the budget and the commission doesn't and it's the city staff who do it and the commission sees it and the commission has to approve it and that's why he wasn't the author of the Trujillo Tax last year and that was totally unfair so there and ave Maria, that sentence was long but believe me it was short compared to the actual sentence. Hint: the commission decides the budget.

Some out of town guy got up and made some noise and then left but nobody really understood him. He was quite confused and believes he lives in a house that no one else can see on a vacant lot. Anyway he left.

Then the mayor had many questions she put forward to staff. The other commissioners not nearly as many but still that was good. Several residents talked about some line items that bothered them. (My issue is that I don't see the support for achieving a $2.4 million dollar reserve as required by law. I still don't.) Some were bothered by the car allowances and wanted to know why not go to the more standard reimbursement for mileage. Similar questions were asked.

Then the fires of hell rose up and consumed the chambers dragging all the charred, damned souls to the eternal pit where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

No, wait, the fire alarm went off. The chambers were evacuated in an orderly manner, the source was identified and the meeting resumed.

But still something was missing. The atmosphere was stiflingly civil and nobody speaking was shouted down or insulted. What was missing, we all wondered?

Around 8:50 PM, the vice major began to wonder aloud why the major had so many many questions. Why didn't she ask them in private instead of being all public about her questions? The major - oh, did I say "major", I meant "mayor" but my notes say "major" for some reason - the mayor calmly explained that she had studied the budget in detail and felt it was best to ask questions in public. The vice major mayor didn't like this answer as she dislikes public displays of curiosity but decided to let it go.

And the vote was called. The commissioners were polled one by one and when the clerk got to Dr. Vogel, his wife Mrs. Dr. Vogel told him loudly how he was to vote and he obliged.

Then it started.

The mayor brought up the issue of whether there was an inherent conflict with the charter in Dr. Vogel's vote. Referring to the charter which states that a commissioner missing four consecutive regular meetings has forfeited his seat and the mayor asked the city staff if there was a conflict.

The something that was missing became clear. Vice Major began shrieking "How dare you ask a question about the charter and the process? Dr. Vogel was sick." The Vice Major kept increasing the volume and called upon the demons of hell to come to her aid. And they did.

You see, that's what was missing from the meeting. The CFD, the loud, ignorant, bullying cabal of demonic haters had chosen to sit out the budget meeting. But hearing their mistress's call above in the night, several flew to her side. Well, not really flew since they are a pretty portly bunch but gathered in a portly but infuriated way. There was even a miracle. One member who had explained to me that she spoke no English less than a year ago now speaks perfectly fluent English, or perfectly fluent enough to blame me.

Of course by then it was too late. The question had been asked and still remains out there as there was no answer offered. In the meantime, the budget passed and as I left I heard the Vice Major wailing to the heavens she rejected so many eons ago, "that major has balls. Do you believe her balls?" (The CFD is obsessed with testicles and confused about the biology of them. If only they had a doctor who could educate them?)

So after a well run, interesting meeting about the fundamental issues facing the city, the pressure was too much.

For those of us who have not sold our souls to darkness and hate, the question remains. How best should the commission deal with Dr. Vogel's absences and his wife's ongoing abuse of her husband and her manipulation of our city politics? Must we allow the bloodless demons of the night to fully destroy us?

Let's see what happens next.

Kevin Vericker
September 22, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fire the Commission and the City Management

We have a government of laws and the Charter is serious about that. It allocates the power to decide commission procedures solely to the commission. That matters.

The City Charter was violated by the city manager's unauthorized inclusion of Dr. Vogel by phone at the last meeting.

It's the commission who decides how to grant the request for extraordinary accommodation, not the city manager.

Section 3.09 of the City Charter B. clearly states "B. Rules and record. The Commission shall determine its own rules of procedure and order of business and shall keep a record of such proceedings open for public inspection.

Interim City Manager Robert Daniels broke the law last week when he summarily and arbitrarily put commissioner Vogel on the phone. This was illegal.

The commission should have voted on two resolutions for this to happen.

1.) A resolution setting the procedures for remote participation.
2.) A resolution allowing remote participation in the specific meeting by Dr. Vogel.

That didn't happen. There was no such resolution on the agenda and the city manager put the commission on the spot.

Now we are going into the final budget hearings without these resolutions.

The irresponsibility of the city manager and the commission are putting us at serious risk.

According to Section 3.07 of the city charter, when a commissioner has missed four consecutive regular meetings of the city commission, he has forfeited his seat unless his absence was excused by motion. Well, guess what, that motion hasn't happened, so is Vogel off the commission or what? He missed four regular consecutive meetings without a motion so maybe he is or maybe he's not? Does his phone in appearance count even though the commission did not approve it?

Here's what should happen. On September 20, the commission should pass a continuing resolution of the current budget until October 31, fire the city management staff, request emergency intervention from the state and then resign. Oh, and an apology for wasting our time and money would be nice.

But they won't. My guess is they will all show up and keep fighting.

Kevin Vericker
September 16, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Enough Already

If I were reviewing last night's commission meeting as a book or more likely a TV "reality" show, I would have dismissed it as straining belief. But proving that truth is stranger than fiction, it did happen. Here's what.

As you know, Dr. Vogel has been absent for some time from the commission meetings due to his declining health. He has missed the last three regular commission meetings - June, July and August 2011. Since last night would have been the fourth consecutive regular commission meeting, Section 3.07 of the City Charter kicks in. This states that unless the commission by majority vote excuses the absences, the commissioner in question has forfeited his office, meaning he is off the commission.

Dr. Vogel made a request for a special accommodation that would allow him to attend by phone. State law requires a physical quorum (majority of members must be physically present) for a meeting to be valid. There are two Attorney General opinions which state that if the board procedures allow, exceptions can be made for extraordinary circumstances, typically health related.

The opinion is stated in the AG opinion 2003-41. It should be open and shut except that our charter requires that changes to the commission procedures be approved by resolution. And current commission procedures require physical presence.

The city attorney, from what I gather, provided the correct advice that this is permissible under state law but never provided an opinion on whether this was permissible under commission regulations. They should have.

And certainly such an extraordinary move should have been put on the agenda for a commission vote. It was not.

When the commissioners arrived, the communications link had been set up to Dr. Vogel. There had been no commission discussion of the circumstances, no resolution put on the agenda to allow the procedural change and as far as I know, no prior discussion.

Commissioner Rodriguez arrived, saw the setup and left. I have not spoken with him - he hasn't returned my calls - so I don't know his reason but I assume he was unwilling to participate at that point.

The mayor delayed the opening of the meeting while she discussed the issue with the city manager and the city attorney. The meeting began at 8:03, after routine presentations, one item was considered - a technical change to our five year plan - and the mayor left. There was no longer quorum and the meeting could not continue.

It was
a goat rope as a good former Marine friend of mine says. Well that's the clean version.

If Dr. Vogel is to continue on the commission and accommodation needs to be made, the commission should follow the law scrupulously, ensuring that the commission approves the accommodation and ensures that basic rules are in place - e.g. that the person on the phone is who he says he is, that the remote participant provide indicators of presence. I would go so far as to ask for an affidavit from all persons present with the remote attendee. The potential for abuse is high. We have already seen the manipulation of Dr. Vogel when he is present.

The city attorney should have provided a full opinion to the commissioners including the laws of North Bay Village.

The city clerk to whom I understand the request was addressed should have with the city manager prepared a resolution or called a special meeting to ensure that the commission would make the decisions as to how this extraordinary accommodation should be handled.

When this didn't happen, Dr. Vogel as the longest serving member of the commission should have brought this forward himself. But we know he is not well enough to do so.

The four present at the quorum should have held a vote to decide how to proceed and if deadlocked, so be it.

But hindsight is 20/20 vision as the saying goes.

The city attorney, clerk, manager and the commissioners did not do what they should have.

How do we go forward? I don't think we can. Since there is no resolution allowing remote attendance at the meetings, I suspect Dr. Vogel is no longer on the commission.

Can Eddie, Connie, Corina and Frank pull this together and pass a budget next week? I hope so but I'm kind of doubting it. What I would like to see now is for the commission, all of them, to get together and hammer this out.

The City Attorney should prepare a full opinion including all the laws that are affected by this, including our local laws, and clearly lay out areas of conflict, definite and potential.

The City Manager should prepare a resolution for the commission that would specifically allow such participation if the commission approves with significant and serious safeguards against abuse.

The commission should discuss and vote on how they want to proceed.

Any bets from any that will happen?

I didn't think so.

Kevin Vericker
September 14, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finally, The Commission

This week we've talked about the primary influencers in the city – the police union, private developers and a disingenuous secretive citizen's group. I think I've shown that the problems with each of these come not from their participation in the process but from the type of influence over our commission.

The police union has taken an internal union battle and used it to change our city's management by promoting political agendas unrelated to union issues.

The developers and one in particular have used generous contributions to sidestep zoning and tax compliance, while bearing an outsize influence on our budget processes.

The tightly organized self described Citizens for Full Disclosure have used the anonymity of the internet for murky purposes.

None of this is strange. None of it is a peculiar “North Bay Village” crazy concept. Every city, every county, every state and at the national level, we see all these types of groups trying to push the boundaries of influence. Heck, you even see it in condo and homeowner associations, churches and other places where people of different needs gather.

What does seem to be peculiar to North Bay Village is the lack of balancing influence. Usually, there are counterbalancing civic and business organizations that bring discussion and balance to the political agenda.

Ensuring this balance is one of the main jobs of the legislature, in our case the city commission. The commissioners need to be aware of the influences, transparent in their decisions and most importantly, strike the balance between free expression and suppression. Ours is failing miserably at that.

The commission continues to allow, under the guise of free speech, residents and non-residents to engage in outlandish attacks on those citizens who have different points of view. In fact, Vice Mayor Connie Kreps founded the very organization that leads the assaults. They sit making legislative decisions without explaining their reasoning or asking questions about what they are intending to vote on. A three vote majority has effectively blocked any discussion of the critical budget reductions needed and a clique of secrecy surrounds the increasingly frightening lawsuits the city is facing.

Now a new and disturbing pattern in emerging, commissioners simply refusing to meet when they are not assured of a majority. It started with the twins, Connie and Eddie Lim Kreps, being unavailable during Dr. Vogel's health crisis, and now seems to be spreading to Frank Rodriguez and Corina Esquijarosa. The Lim Kreps twins missed three meetings since June, without providing any reasons to the commission. On Tuesday, Esquijarosa and Rodriguez were absent at the commission meeting approving the tentative budget. After an attempt to have Dr. Vogel present by phone, which is not allowed under state law, Dr. Vogel was brought and clearly instructed how to vote.

This is bad. When our own commission doesn't show because they lack the means for the brute exercise of power, which is what was motivating the Lim Kreps absences (their ruthless exploitation of the increasingly frail Dr. Vogel has been discussed here before), or because they are so frustrated with the arrogant lack of transparency on the part of the ruling troika, we are in deep trouble.

Small digression: you probably saw an email from one of the morally deficient members of the CFD about my lack of comment regarding Tuesday's night absence by the two members. It's not clear which one wrote since they all sign it and certainly that tripe doesn't require five minds.

Well, for the record, I'm pretty discouraged at this point but I do think Esquijarosa and Rodriguez should have been there. But then again, why bother? If the whole purpose of the commission meeting is bullying and deception, they get pretty worn out.

Add that to the noise generated by the “recall”? Let's be clear, malfeasance is abuse of office for personal gain, not private tax issues. And where exactly does the CFD get their email addresses? I noticed that I never signed up for their list but still get the emails.

On the commission are two members who won fair and square in the last election, Eddie Lim and Corina Esquijarosa. Eddie has shown that he can be a reasonable guy when not overly emotional, Corina has tried hard to find a middle ground on issues. That leaves three others.

Dr. Vogel's health is bad. He has served long but in the last two years, it is obvious that he is being manipulated. His agenda is marked up with how to vote. If he loses his place, he becomes confused and audience members remind him of how to vote. Dr. Vogel no longer engages in discussion.

Frank Rodriguez has served well for three years now. He ran unopposed for the position and has been diligent in fulfilling it. His frustration with the commission antics shows, more and more at each meeting.

Connie Kreps, founding mother of the CFD, fundamentally misunderstands democracy. She was installed rather than elected when the city supported her bid to remove a previously qualified opponent from the ballot.

Okay, to the point at the beginning of this series. Let's get radical.

Why don't the three members who did not win an election in 2010 resign? That would be Dr. Vogel, Frank Rodriguez and Connie Kreps. On October 1, after the budget battle is over, all three submit their resignations with a 60 day notice, and let's hold a special election for all three seats.

Lim and Esquijarosa, having recently won, should serve out their terms. Besides, I think they could learn to work together, not always agreeing but respecting one another.

Now I don't think they'll do it. Rodriguez is too diligent, Kreps is too venal. Allowing the citizens to replace a dysfunctional commission would frighten the strong vested interests in North Bay Village. But still, it would be a graceful way out of an increasingly ugly deadlock.

We need a way out. North Bay Village cannot survive this.

Kevin Vericker

September 12, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Astro Turf - The Fake Public Participation

So far I've talked about two major pressure groups on the city government – the police union and the developers. There are good reasons for public employee unions and business people to promote government policies for a city to survive. It's the balance that matters. Government has to play by the rules and so do unions and private business interests. It seems clear that in these cases, the influence is out of balance.

There's another trickier area of influence that also needs to be balanced – citizen interest. I am writing this from Washington DC where the proliferation of false citizens groups have been distorting the national debate for years. You know the ones, with high sounding names like “Americans for Prosperity” or “People for our Children's Future” who sponsor commercials asking you to write your congress critter to oppose legislation that would reduce pollution or close tax loopholes. There's even a name for them – Astro Turf groups, fake grassroots organizations - and they are dismally effective.

North Bay Village has its own version of this. I refer of course to the Citizens for Full Disclosure. A high sounding name and when I first started writing this blog nearly two years ago, I was confused. I saw a lot of anger but no clear reasons for it and assumed that I just wasn't understanding the reasoning. After a few false tries, including an open offer nearly realized,to open the blog as a place to print their viewpoints. an effort that failed because I refused to print an unproven libel. It became obvious that the CFD was not driven by a desire for good government but a desire to control through intimidation.

There are many examples, most of them too tiresome to list here and you've heard me before on the subject, but their favorite tactic is to “reveal” public information about people they don't like and extrapolate wild accusations of criminal behavior. You see the emails. You see the campaign to recall the mayor which is based solely on personal financial problems which have nothing to do with the city or any criminal action.

Early on, when a resident who for some reason that CFD didn't like was appointed to one of the boards, they sent out to the city email list (do you remember signing up for their email list? I don't.) attaching an IRS settlement. The story was simple and usual. The citizen in question disputed an IRS bill, had a hearing, was ruled against and settled the bill. It happens every day and is part of the honest process of small businesses. Recently they sent out an attack on someone who posted on my blog that she didn't want the mayor recalled with wild accusations of mortgage fraud and abandonment. And until I called them out on it, the CFD never even signed their emails.

Although they are registered in Tallahassee as a Political Action Committee, they have in fact been electioneering for well over two years now, actively supporting Trujillo and the twins and actively working on the faux recall. Connie Leon-Kreps was only removed from their masthead in January of 2011, after I called them out on that. They show up in lockstep at the commission meetings, baiting and encouraging personal attacks on other residents, and their president, who used to pose as a doctor (until he was called out on that) has sent me vile emails which he signs “the lewd and lascivious”, a reference to his own arrest record.

Recently, a pseudonym “Pepe Jueves” has joined in the fracas and with all the false courage of an internet sock puppet, has been sending out random insults designed to intimidate open expression of opinions. The strange thing is that this anonymous sender uses the same email list as the CFD.

Here is the sole ideological point that the CFD and their sad allies have managed to do. They got the wall built on North Bay Island. Remember the whole causeway beautification project? Well, it's pretty much dead. Except for the wall. That made it through. And that millage raise for 2012? That's to pay for the wall. Treasure Island, well, we got some trees. Harbor Island doesn't even have sidewalks. But there is a lovely wall on North Bay Island that we get to enjoy.

Look, citizen participation matters. It's the heart of the process and North Bay Village is desperate for real citizen participation. People need to go to the commission meetings, express their opinions, disagree, agree, learn and teach. Residents need to step up.

When an idea is put forward, it is open to criticism and even derision. But the vicious personal attacks, supported by lies and innuendo serve only one purpose – to stifle discussion. So many of you have told me you don't go to the meetings because you can't stand the nastiness and because you are worried about retaliation if you speak. Some have even shared their stories of intimidation from other residents.

The CFD is nearly expert at that and abuses the open and democratic nature of our government to bully and silence.

They are in no true sense a good government group, holding their meetings in secret, dedicated to the election of people who will not take an open position on any of the issues. There's too much history of mendacity and slander to trust them, but I do offer one challenge to them.

Where do you get your email list? Nobody I have spoken to can ever tell me that they signed up for it. I am on it two times – I know you erased the address that has my last name but two others are still there. I wonder if the city staff provides this list? (I have no proof to offer on that and so make no accusation, but it's a question worth posing since I can see no other source.)

So in North Bay Village we have three out of balance political groups – a police union who overreach to city policy and hiring, a developer or several who use money to sidestep city rules and a secretive group of citizens who claim to represent full disclosure yet lead efforts to shut down any discussion.

How's a city supposed to control all that. Through the elected officials, of course.

Next up: Why the commission doesn't work.

Kevin Vericker

September 8, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Developers

Yesterday, we talked about the police unions and the unhealthy relationship they have with the city. It's a problem and one that needs fixing. But you can't save your way out of poverty and a city also needs revenue to balance the budget. And that comes from two major sources - homeowners and businesses. We'll deal with businesses later. For right now, let's look at the development.

North Bay Village agreed to more high rise condominium construction than any other area of its size. The infrastructure - sewers, parking, parks, sidewalks - was not in place so a large campaign was held to float bonds to build the infrastructure out. And it passed as promises were made that the new tax revenue would pay them back. But it didn't. We know what happened and many of the new units sit vacant, not producing money for the developers or the city. We're stuck with the bill to pay for infrastructure that the market didn't want.

In hindsight, it's easy to see that this frenetic development should never have been allowed. It was out of scale to the city and most everyone knew that the market demand was not there. We're stuck now and owe a debt. Maybe the market will recover.

But the developers, and in particular one, Scott Greenwald, continue to hold an outsize influence on our city commission. We've already discussed how the move of city hall to the Lexi had only one real beneficiary - the company controlled by Scott Greenwald - and cost the city an additional $80,000 for less space while destroying the possibility of renting the retail space. There was a second beneficiary, the late George Kane who planned to collect a $25,000 commission on the move until the M-D Ethics put the kibosh on that.

Scott Greenwald wants to put a strip club at 1415 Kennedy Causeway, a property he owns and owes $917,826 in back taxes on. I was told by two board members of the Lexi that over 30 of the units there were finished without permits and without inspections and can see from public records that the Lexi Development Corporation owes at least $341,000 in property taxes on the unsold units in the building. There's more - $216,756 unpaid taxes for 7914, 7916, 7918 West Drive. The conservative total is $1,475, 582 in unpaid property taxes.

Yet he continues to have strong influence on our city government. Greenwald contributed the maximum amounts to Eddie Lim and Rey Trujillo, who both continue to champion his causes, was appointed to our budget commission by Eddie Lim, and Greenwald allows his address at 7918 West Drive to be claimed by an out of town pseudo-activist as a base to attack the commission.

Rey Trujillo even attempted to use eminent domain to give Greenwald a parcel for so called affordable housing on West Drive. It failed, embarrassingly, but with all the problems facing the city, why this one developer? It seems like a classic "follow the money" situation.

Now there are other developers. Al Coletta has been trying for years to get the city to rationalize the zoning at 7904 West Drive so that the building and his property is no longer split down the middle, but with no success. For this he has been vilified by the ruling troika. Well, for this and for not paying to play.

The new buildings on Harbor Island never did the landscaping that was promised and many of those building sit vacant as the developers hope for a return to the boom days. Parking on Harbor Island is a nightmare particularly since the association at 7904 sold their garage and believed the city would build them a new one with our tax money.

None of these developers live in the city or have long term stakes in our future. These are not rental apartments, nor are they business centers. The profits are short term and their view is short term. That is not to say that they should not be looking out for themselves, but the city and those of us who live here are more important and that's where the balance needs to be.

You and I are supporting private gain with our tax dollars, pure and simple. The properties were developed, owe money particularly on the debt service, and are not paying. Once again, a small contribution to the right campaigns has paid off in big bucks for developers at the cost of the North Bay Village residents.

Kevin Vericker
September 6, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Who Benefits?

Last week, I asked the question, "How does it benefit the residents of North Bay Village to be a separate city?" That question is radical but it comes down to asking what unique government services do NBV's three neighborhoods require and is our structure of government meeting the needs? In other words, who benefits from NBV being its own city?

One answer is the police. North Bay Village's budget officially calls for 66% of the budget to go to the police in 2012. If we add in the $190,000 increase in legal fees for internal police matters, that number jumps to 70%. Remember our millage rate, even if it holds to 2011's rate, is as high as Normandy Isle or Surfside. So it's fair to say that mostly what we pay for are the police.

North Bay Village police gained a reputation as being a third tier department, staffed by new police officers eager to get some experience, a pre-retirement job for older cops and unfortunately, a place where well connected union members from other cities could find employment after being dismissed from other departments.

The unions, previously the PBA and now the FOP, work on elections, endorse candidates, give generously at times and provide a high level of unofficial support to favored candidates. The currently popular union, the FOP, endorsed Trujillo and Lim in the last election and have made no secret that they controlled the firing of the last city manager and the hiring of the current police chief.

Public sector unions are unique, different than private sector unions, in that they also engage in attempts to be the management of the organization which employs them. Their political influence is strong and not surprisingly, is singularly directed for the benefit of their members, not the community at large. In their endorsement process last fall, the FOP did not consider which candidate had a vision for North Bay Village, who might be best at judiciously balancing the needs of residents, businesses and employees, or other aspects of good governance. They found a candidate in Rey Trujillo who was willing to put aside other considerations and they endorsed him.

Lately this seems to be something of an unholy alliance, since Rey Trujillo has been calling for the layoff of cops, while his electioneering support organization is headed up by the person who eliminated the police pension program and their most vocal supporter from out of town has long proposed the abolition of the local police force.

Even though Rey Trujillo lost, Eddie and Connie Lim Kreps carried on the blind support of the FOP, aided by pressure on the increasingly frail Dr. Vogel, and for the second year running, are raising taxes so the police do not have to make any cuts.

What do we get from the police department?

We have separate dispatch, that is a local number to call when we need assistance. That's a nice, underused feature. Although the police chief does not measure or share statistics on response time, casual observation shows pretty fast response. We used to have community programs like the PAL and Crime Watch. We don't anymore for some reason.

But let's look in more detail. The local dispatch handles an average of 8 calls per day. That is according to the statistics the chief does provide. That less than three calls per shift and we know that these are not evenly distributed. Whole days go by with no calls at all. The majority of service calls are through county 911, and there seems to be no difference in response time. That's a lot money for low return.

There has been no attempt to restart the crime watch, an effort that must be led by the police, and the PAL has dissolved.

In the meantime, the fight between the PBA and FOP, a fight that has at times been physical, rages on in the police department, expensive and unnecessary outside investigations are in place against PBA members, and the chief has not been able to even sustain a minor adjustment in schedules as a cost cutting measure. We never see the police on foot or bicycles anymore and patrols appear to be more scarce than they were. Even then, the cops pass by with the deeply shaded windows rolled up. When was the last time you saw a car pulled over on the causeway compared to the last time you saw someone driving 50 miles per hour on the causeway?

North Bay Island, in spite of our already high tax rate, still feels the needs to remain gated and those few remaining local businesses hire private security.

It is plain that the police department is not working at anywhere near full capacity and that begs the question, why even have a local police force? I like it, and you might too, but when it is such a disproportionate part of our budget, are we getting value for the money spent? Could we safely go to county or ask Miami Beach to take over our patrols? Do people in Country Walk or Miami Lakes suffer from excessive crime and poor response times? It doesn't seem like it.

This question, what is the value of our police services, would be much more easily answered if we had monthly police statistics like other cities released to the public. Number of calls for service, average response time, crimes committed, crimes solved, number of patrols, number of resident contacts, community programs, visible police presence, but we don't have that. Without it, we're left to wonder why.

North Bay Village does have options. We can declare a "Fiscal Urgency" that would allow us to renegotiate our police contracts. The police chief could manage the department with the goal of resolving the personnel conflicts rather than prosecuting them. North Bay Village could dissolve the police department, enter into an agreement with the county and try that for a while. The current situation is not sustainable.

Special note: an anonymous internet sock puppet stalker sent out an attack today on a resident who disagrees with him. Not only is the email untrue, it's just creepy that anonymous stalkers have access to the citywide mailing list.

And here's my favorite quote from the electioneering organization, Citizens for Full Disclosure, "
We will not be brought into the gutter to argue the merits of the recall. " Arguing the merits of a recall is "gutter" in their august opinion. It's what I've told you all along, the CFD is nothing more than a group of bitter demagogues who can't and won't argue the merits of anything.

Kevin Vericker

September 5, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

History of Radical Questions

I got quite a few responses to my previous post and will be publishing those in upcoming posts. But the biggest single question I got was a variation of "how did this happen?" and today I want to address one part of it - the city manager.

The city manager is a difficult position. It's a full charge, CEO position that oversees every aspect of the city government. With our weak commission form of government, the city manager gets general policy direction from the commission and he makes the decisions.

Our last full time, professional city manager was Matthew Schwartz. Schwartz came in and had one major goal - to get the city to a stable tax base. That meant developing the businesses on the causeway, enforcing code, and fixing the accounting systems. And in about a year, we were well on our way.

Schwartz brought in millions in grants, negotiated better construction prices, pulled the planning into the 21st century and attempted to solve the problems of our police force. And that was his downfall.

When the police force degenerated into a schoolyard brawl over union issues, the Fraternal Order of Police turned against Schwartz.

At the same time, the county began investigating the move to the new city hall and the role of the late George Kane. You see, the move to the Lexi was for his benefit - he was set to receive a $25,000 fee from Scott Greenwald on this. The move cost the city $80,000. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics put a stop to the payments to George Kane.

So Schwartz was up against the police union and refused to play ball with George Kane. The FOP now lined up against him, and promised Rey Trujillo that the FOP would support him for mayor if he agreed to fire Schwartz. George Kane was furious that his illegal commission was taken away when Schwartz refused to lie for him so he joined in.

It all came together when the electioneering organization, the shadowy Citizens for Full Disclosure, run at that time and long after her appointment to the commission, by Connie Kreps and dedicated to electing Rey Trujillo joined in. At the fateful meeting, Dr. Vogel told me that he had never "been under such pressure" when the FOP and CFD decided Schwartz must go.

It was a perfect example of private interests profiting at the public good. Schwartz was fired. We lost millions in grants. The FOP proposed and pushed through the illegal contract by which Bob Daniels was hired. (His contracts violates the charter by exempting him from supervision by the city manager.) The CFD used the opportunity to further their own interests.

Now, two years on, we still have no full time professional manager. Our accounting is a mess. Our projects are dead. We've lost millions in grants and the commission policy is maintained only through the abuse of Dr. Vogel.

Some however have profited. A lot. You see, making sure that grant money is not used means looser supervision and looser accounting standards. Developers continue to run rampant without code supervision, the FOP turned on the city to eliminate the one modest cost reduction the police had realized, city disbursements are still signed in the dark by the Vice Mayor against the charter, and now they want to raise our taxes.

Next post will be about who benefits and how. Not surprisingly, it's not the residents.

Keep the emails coming. I want your views.

Kevin Vericker
September 1, 2011