Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Strip Club

The city manager, Dennis Kelly, let me know that NBV did respond with the intent to fight the lawsuit presented by Scott Greenwald.  In many ways, it's a nuisance lawsuit, claiming that under the first amendment the city does not have the right to enforce buffer zone and other restrictions on commercial establishments offering sexually explicit entertainment.

The argument is absurd.  The federal courts have found time after time that the cities have the right to restrict zoning to certain buffer zones - distance from schools, churches, parks etc. - and the plain fact is the property at 1415 JKF Causeway does not comply.  It's across the street and within 500 feet of a child care center, a school and a religious congregation.   The plans submitted were not evaluated for traffic impact, public safety impact or consistency with the city master plan.

The lawsuit is a feint, a fake move designed to intimidate the city.  It amazes me that Greenwald has the cash to pay lawyers when he can't pay his property tax bill.

The city needs to fight back, vigorously, and we need to make our voices heard.

There's more that should happen.  It's clear that Scott Greenwald does not have the city's interest at heart.   He doesn't pay his taxes.  The commission should remove Greenwald from all city boards at the next meeting.   He brings nothing to the table.

Greenwald is the city's landlord.  He got the contract in a corrupt and underhanded deal by agreeing to an illegal commission scheme for then commissioner George Kane.   The usually toothless Commission on Ethics could not avoid that one and found substantial violations that resulted in Kane being ordered to repay the money to the city.

The city should ensure that Greenwald has paid the taxes on the parcel he is renting to the city, and if not, break the lease.  Just leave.  We had a far better space before this welfare move and it never should have happened.

Greenwald has chosen to take a degrading and exploitative path as his civic contribution.  His right to do so does not include the right to be respected for it and the city should make it loud and clear, using all available legal means, that Greenwald's decisions have consequences.

Kevin Vericker
April 24, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Financial Workshop Last Night

Deede Weithhorn, a commissioner in Miami Beach and a municipal auditor in her day job, has been contracted by the city to analyze our finances. The city held an audit workshop last night. The workshop was sparsely attended by citizens, only four of us were there. That is not good.

 The short recap of the presentation is that Ms. Weithorn is reviewing the reporting and the organization of our financial statements. This is good news because the issue is not the integrity of the finances but the poor way that the information is communicated. Weithorn's experience could help get the right information at the right time to the commission and to the citizens. I hope so.

 I saw some red flags last night and the commission has to be very clear and insistent on how these recommendations are presented and kept.

 First a joke: The definition of a good accountant is one who always reports 2+2=4. The definition of a great accountant is one who replies, "How much do you want it to be?"

 That's what passes for accounting humor but it has a really clear point. Because finances are complex, it becomes easy to hide behind technical jargon and complex explanations, yet most people understand the concept in basic terms.

 A reserve is commonly understood to be a savings account. It is money that is held aside in the event of something happening. Simple enough. Now just like other savings accounts, there can be specific purposes - rainy day fund, retirement fund, new car fund, Christmas Club (remember those?), education fund. Most people with budgets and income understand that.

 The city reserve is no more complicated. A certain amount of money is set aside for disasters, another amount for capital expenses, another amount for utility issues, and sometimes an amount for unexpected operational issues.

 Ms. Weithorn's explanation was abstruse, unnecessarily complicated, and she should bear that in mind. It's not her job to educate us on complexity but to make the complex understandable. She may not be able to help it. Plain English is a second language for accountants and elected officials but I hope she does better in her final report.

 Beyond the reserve, to me it is very clear that the city commission lacks two things - timely reports on the financial status and lack of information about the impact of financial decisions.

 Let's deal with the first one - timely reports. Much has been made about the need for a new financial software system and we do need one. But that won't fix the problem. A good system will help but the issue is being comfortable with uncertainty.

 It's the job of the finance manager to give best estimate reporting quickly and not wait until every column is balanced and every account is reconciled. Each month, before the commission meeting the finance manager needs to provide a best estimate in simple terms as to the financial condition of the city.

 The second is more complex. What is the cost of buying a service and what is the long cost of ownership? Simple example - a consumer buys a new car in cash. How much should she plan on spending to maintain the new car? You have to plan for that money. Our code should require a financial impact statement for every item before the commission. This has been done by custom in the past but apparently has fallen by the wayside. There's no reason to wait. The city administration should start doing this now and the commission needs to codify it.

 New subject - Cross charging performance reports. Let me zero in on the big one. Our legal bills are out of control. This is not because of greedy lawyers but because of deliberate management decisions to force personnel issues into court. Now this is a bad move and it should stop now, but its effects are hidden when the legal services are kept as a separate budget item in the reports.

 The money that the legal services spend should be charged against the budget of the consuming department. It's only that way that the city can decide what the core issues are and either fix them, avoid them in the future or decide this is worth spending money on.

Finally, the Citizens Budget Oversight Board started with good intentions.  I resigned from it when I could not abide the insistence that the committee meet only during the work day.  They've produced nothing useful anyway.  And any board that contains the strip club developer who owes well over a $1,000,000 in back taxes as a voting member is not worth my time or yours.   It should be  dissolved.

 Kevin Vericker
April 20, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What to do about the Strip Club

As you may know, Scott Greenwald's company has filed a Federal lawsuit claiming that the city is violating the First Amendment by regulating Adult Businesses differently than other kinds of businesses.

The city is now in a position of defending in court the right to control where and under what circumstances North Bay Village can set restrictions on strip clubs. While I believe that the city does have that right, and the courts have consistently found that cities are allowed to add regulations specific to this type of business, if the city doesn't mount a strong defense, Greenwald could win.

A strip club will go up adjacent to a child care center, a school and anchoring our waterfront.

I urge you to write to our commissioners and insist that the city defend against this. Their addresses are here:

Connie Leon-Kreps: cleonkreps@nbvillage.com
Stuart Blumberg: sblumberg@nbvillage.com
Richard Chervony: rchervony@nbvillage.com
Eddie Lim: elim@nbvillage.com
Paul Vogel: paul.vogel@nbvillage.com

And copy the city manager Dennis Kelly dkelly@nbvillage.com

I'll keep you informed as I know things.

Kevin Vericker
April 18, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Scott Greenwald Sues The City

Scott Greenwald filed suit on March 28, 2012 asking the Federal Courts to rule that the North Bay Village ordinance governing adult businesses is unconstitutional. The full complaint is below.

Scott Greenwald has a years long overdue tax bill on the same property of $914,164.94 on the property at 1415 79th St. and three more more totaling $183,084.06 on his abandoned properties on West Drive (source: Miami-Dade Property Appraiser) Greenwald is also the city's landlord at the Lexi, sits on the Budget Oversight Board deciding how the taxes he doesn't pay get spent, and contributed heavily to the campaigns of Commissioner Eddie Lim and Planning and Zoning Chairman Rey Trujillo.

The strip club will be a disaster for North Bay Village. The ordinance designed to protect us was crafted so as to ensure that the any such establishment would be at least five hundred feet away from a school, have adequate parking and security, and not interfere with the development of the water front. Scott's club will sit directly across from a child care center and a school, has been designed with the loosest possible interpretation of parking and will kill any chance of creating a Baywalk.

Our city has to mount a vigorous defense in the courts. Let the commission know that we expect every possible legal avenue to prevent this from happening. And seriously, Greenwald's a deadbeat. Kick him off the city boards. Now.

The complaint is below.

Kevin Vericker
April 16, 2012

Isle of Dreams vs North Bay Village

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sex And The Village

The Miami Herald ran an article headlined NBV residents worried about nearby sex-offender camp. It was about an encampment of released sex offenders at NE 10th Ave and 79th St.

The whole issue is one fraught with concerns. What constitutes a valid response to sex crimes? I for one hate the way the state and then the county have dealt with the issue. If the purpose of conviction and sentencing is to safeguard the public from the criminal, and if the state believes that certain types of crimes are likely to be committed again following incarceration, why let the offenders out in the first place?

The boundary laws are "feel good" laws. When the offender is released, he (and the offenders are usually he) in most crimes is not deemed an imminent danger to society and although recidivism rates are high, the release does not for the most part eliminate the chances to live a basic life. Except with this type of crime.

The preponderance of evidence regarding pedophilia is that there is a high likelihood of repeating the crime. When the state acknowledges that and still releases convicted pedophiles, the state ignores its responsibility to protect the public and that's where the line should be drawn. 1000 feet, 2500 feet, it doesn't matter. If the state has reason to believe that certain crimes preying on vulnerable people are likely to not be curtailed by imprisonment, then the state needs to step up and keep the offenders in prison.

There's not much North Bay Village can do about it. The issue is a state and county one that should be resolved at that level but our city can join with other cities to demand the law be changed to provide useful and realistic protections for the public and deal humanely with the offenders, who cannot possibly be better off being forced to live on the street than they were in prison.

Kevin Vericker
April 14, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dude, Where's My Internet?

Yesterday and today have really been bad for Treasure Island infrastructure. We've been under a boil water order owing to an emergency repair. That's a little hard to do since the electricity has gone off both days and I have an electric stove. At the same time Atlantic Broadband has so far not been able to restore internet service on Hispanola which has been down since yesterday. They intermittently express confusion and claim that it's not out, but then they cop to it. At 5:30 PM, they had the repair trucks out.

Kudos to the city for the response to the city for keeping us informed about the water problem. I've received two written notices and when I got to Starbucks to check my email, I saw an email from the city on the subject.

On the power outage, not so much. When the power goes out, the traffic lights fail and the morons on the causeway speed up. It's hard enough to drive but there are actual, real live pedestrians who cross the causeway. Neither yesterday nor today was there any sign of the North Bay Village police at the major intersections watching out for us. Maybe they were busy.

For years, Treasure Island residents have expressed frustration at the unreliable power and in particular the overhead lines. While the city has spent millions on improvements like the sad park on Harbor Island, oak trees and bulb outs, and in improving the apartheid wall surrounding the inmates of North Bay Island, this has been rebuffed every time.

Yet improving the power and communications structure and burying the lines would be the most noticeable improvement. A more reliable power infrastructure with a healthy variety of high speed internet options would make the city more usable to the residents. An FPL representative told us two years ago that burying the power lines would not help the power outage problems but that was bull hockey. She could not cite any statistics on the subject.

What it would help is our property values as the power lines are flat out ugly and present a serious safety hazard in high wind storms. Let's get it done.

(written at Starbucks, 69th and Biscayne Blvd.)

Kevin Vericker
April 7, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The New Park On Harbor Island

The Paul Vogel Park opened on Harbor Island last Saturday. I went over to take a look at the place this weekend. I really wanted to like it and the park itself is a good start. The park needs some work, mostly to get some shade and to replace the portable toilets but physically, it's a nice facility.

The park has the advantage of a great water view, a nice central field suitable for lots of things but probably best used for kids to run around, and a complicated looking jungle gym kind of space for climbing and playing. For adults it has four exercise stations designed to provide a complete workout, which is pretty cool considering the cost of gyms in the area.

There are problems and ones that I hope don't result in it being abandoned.

First is the location. It's on Harbor Island and is very difficult for pedestrian access, not just from the other neighborhoods but on Harbor Island itself, there are no sidewalks. You can't walk to it and certainly your kids can't. When you drive to it, Harbor Island only parking by permit. While this is loosely enforced, you are at risk of a parking ticket if you don't live on Harbor Island.

Second is the neighbors. The lots from 7914 to 7918 West Drive, immediately adjacent to the Park, are derelict and overgrown with weeds and vermin. There is a derelict barge immediately to the south further detracting from the view. This situation presents a health and safety hazard, particularly during mosquito season, and is dangerous and unsightly. The owner of this property is Scott Greenwald, the would be strip club developer who sits on the Budget Oversight Commission deciding how our taxes get spent, owes $289, 607 dollars in back taxes on the place as of today (per the Miami-Dade Property Appraisers office). There's very little chance that he will clean it up and the city needs to get tough on enforcement.

Finally, you can't ignore the financial history of the park. The city paid $4 million for the plot, a lot more than it was worth, and this came out of the bonds we tax ourselves for each year. Something shady went on.

It's a shame, but I guess it's the best we'll do for a while and I think the city can make it work. Get the lots to the south cleared out, exempt some of the parking spaces from the permits, add some shade trees around the edges, replace the portable toilets, clean up the waterfront and we might have something. Not much, but it's something.

Kevin Vericker
April 3, 2012