Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Adult Entertainment Ordinance

It is a peculiarity of North Bay Village that unlike other jurisdictions, we allow the city attorney and the city manager to propose legislation.   It's probably not a good idea.  That is after all what we elect commissioners for.

The piece of legislation that most concerns me now is the revision of ordinance governing the Adult Entertainment establishments.  This revision was introduced by the City Attorney and the City Manager.

The changes seem to be useful.  They clarify language so that it is keeping with contemporary coding practice and clearly establishes the conditions of operation.  This revision is worth considering.  And it is important to remember that there is no active application for an adult establishment.  In all the noise, it seems to have been forgotten that Scott Greenwald never filed a complete application.

The odd situation though of the City Attorney both proposing and defending legislation is a factor here.  I hope before it comes to the commission that one of the commissioners will agree to sponsor it.  We need full explanations of the thought processes and that conflicts with the role of a legal counsel in active litigation.

Overall, I am not particularly concerned about this.  In fact, it's probably a net good. It still matters that we keep pressure on the commission though to ensure that every resource is used to maintain the city stand against this intrusion.

I'll let you know as I know more.

Kevin Vericker
May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

P&Z Recommends Changing the Adult Entertainment Ordinance

Tonight the Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously to update the Adult Entertainment Ordinance.   The Board was asked directly the following three questions:  

1.)  Why now?  Why revise the ordinance at this time?
2.)  In our attorney's opinion, will this affect the current application and lawsuit about the existing ordinance?
3.)  Does Weiss Serota have significant on staff expertise in drafting this type of legislation?

The Board Chair put these questions to the Susan Trevarthen, the attorney representing Weiss Serota tonight, and she did not answer them.   

Now this goes to the commission.  Unless there are public answers to the questions above, the commission should not consider taking any action.   The public has a right to know these answers.  

Kevin Vericker
May 29 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Proposed Changes to the Adult Ordinance

Below I have embedded the proposed changes to the Adult Entertainment Ordinance that will be discussed at the Planning & Zoning Meeting on Tuesday, May 29 at 7:30 PM. The changes are mostly to make more specific the requirements for an Adult establishment and is more precise in its language than the current ordinance. This would seem prudent and needed. My big concern is what effect changing the ordinance during a lawsuit will have on the lawsuit. I intend to ask that question on Tuesday night. Here is the full text of the item and the changes. Kevin Vericker May 26, 2012 Proposed Change to Adult Entertainment Ordinance May 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Legal Questions on the Adult Ordinance

The Planning and Zoning meeting is set for Tuesday, May 29, at 7:30 PM. The agenda is not yet published but the detail can be found here. Last week, the Miami Herald published a notice that there would be a discussion of the Ordinance governing Adult Entertainment Establishments. That item was requested by the City Attorneys. 

I had a conversation with our city attorney. Since this has to do with the strip club, I wanted to know. The goal of the discussion is to ensure that our current ordinance is well understood and establish recommendations for any changes that might be required. 

This discussion is a good idea. Planning & Zoning needs to fully understand the ordinance. I and others are concerned as to why and at the meeting, there are questions that need to be discussed.

    • What is the current status of the ordinance?
      Why does it need review and revision?
      How will these revisions affect the current lawsuit brought by the Isle of Dreams strip club developer Scott Greenwald?
  • There are other questions and I hope many people are there to ask them. This is not a wholesale change to legalize the strip club. The city attorney was quite clear on that.  But we do need to know why now and what the effect will be. The agenda should be published by Friday and I will put that up as soon as I have a copy. It matters  to bethere  on Tuesday, May 29 at 7:30. Don't wait to find out later that something happened. Citizens need to be active and concerned from the beginning. 

    Kevin Vericker 
    May 23, 2012

    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    Disinformation About Channel 7 and the Strip Club

    Someone started a rumor that Channel 7 is moving, which would make their opposition to the strip club moot.  

    But they are not moving, according to WSVN General Manager Robert Leider.  I wrote to him when I heard this and he specifically denied the move, as did one of the local reporters.   

     This is a classic PR stunt in a lawsuit that has no merit.   Put out a piece of gossip about your opponent designed to discredit their interest in the case.  It's cheap, sleazy and often effective.  And it's not true.  

    What is apparently true is that someone has introduced an ordinance to amend in some way the zoning governing Adult Entertainment Districts in North Bay Village.  At the moment it is unclear who introduced the amendment or what its purpose is but it will be heard for recommendation at the Planning and Zoning Meeting on May 29.   

    An ordinance or its amendments can only be introduced by members of the commission, the city manager, the city clerk and the city attorney.   I wrote the city manager Dennis Kelly and he had not introduced any amendment.  He promised to get me more information on the subject this Monday.   It remains an unknown who thinks it's a good idea to change the disputed ordinance in the middle of a lawsuit.  

    We need to watch this closely.  

    Kevin Vericker
    May 19, 2012

    Monday, May 14, 2012

    The Herald Covers The Strip Club

    Lidia Dinkova of the Miami Herald wrote an article about the strip club lawsuit.  It can be seen by clicking here.  The article does an alright job of listing Scott Greenwald's complaints but leaves out critical pieces of information.

    • Although former city planner Alex David did recommend approval, the measurements from the strip club to the child care center were wrong.  The measurements were door-to-door when it should have been door to property line. 
    • Neither Isle of Dreams nor Alex David noted the existence of a licensed school considerably closer than the childcare, well within the 500 feet required by law.  
    • The surveys on traffic impact, noise impact and the public safety studies were never submitted.  
    These factors alone were enough to deny the application.   That Isle of Dreams did not submit information detrimental to their application is understandable.  That the city planner was so unfamiliar with the requirements of the ordinance is not.  Something was very wrong and Alex David has since been replaced as city planner.  

    The Herald writer knew these problems but did not include them.   I understand the need for brevity but it's important to get the full story.  

    What the Herald has chosen not to write about also matters.  That is the unhealthy relationship our city has with Scott Greenwald.  He is the city's landlord and yet has never paid taxes on the property where we rent the city hall.  Over $90,000.   

    The property where he proposes to put the strip club, 1415 JFK Causeway, has never paid over $900,000 in taxes and like the city hall property, these taxes were never sold at auction.   

    In spite of that, Greenwald sits on the Budget Oversight Board with complete access to the city's financial information and plans.  He remains close with the commissioner who appointed him to that board.   

    Finally, the Herald in a side bar refers to a case that is not at all relevant to Greenwald's claims - in Cocoa Beach an existing club was in essence legislated out of business.  That's not the case here.  There are many other cases, easily found in Google, which affirm the right of cities to set distances for use.   Click here for the one closest to our situation, a federal case affirming the right of the city of San Diego to put special use conditions on adult businesses.   

    The Herald should have done a better job.   

    Kevin Vericker
    May 14, 2012

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    The Re-Formed Commission

    There are two new faces on the commission - Richard Chervony and Stuart Blumberg, Commissioners at Large and for Treasure Island respectively.  Both were appointed to fill the vacancies created by the resignations of Corina Esquijarosa and Frank Rodriguez.   

    Stuart Blumberg has shown himself to be surprisingly outspoken for a new commissioner and has in his short tenure brought the flawed city processes around purchases and other matters to the front.   In particular, he has spoken against over reaches by the boards either perceived or real on matters that should pertain to the commission.  

    He's right.  The boards are volunteer positions to study aspects of city policy and provide clear concise summaries and recommendations to the commission for their action.  Some have tried, others not so much.  I hope his efforts to focus the board's efforts are successful.   

    Richard Chervony and I have a long political history, a history of disagreement over priorities and election tactics.  These disagreements, at least on my part, still stand.  I won't go into them today but if you read here regularly, there are no surprises in what I am saying.  

    Chervony was appointed when the mayor resigned last year to fill the vacancy when the then vice mayor became mayor.  

    Like Blumberg, Chervony has been outspoken on issues that concern him, particularly the finances.  He supported Blumberg's effort to seek outside advice on the finances, a move long needed.   

    So far, not so bad.  But the reality of governance goes deep.  This commission has to take on the police chief's out of control spending or the finances will collapse.  This commission has to address the foreclosure crisis with strong action.  This commission needs to balance spend against value and truly address economic development.  Commissioner Chervony in particular, but several others, are already criticizing the new city manager for "lack of communication" but their own behavior and lack of direct and clear questioning is the issue.  (Was I the only one who noticed that in commission meetings the city manager is more often spoken about than to?  Check the recordings.)  

    Look.  This is not the commission we need at this point.  Paul Vogel is long gone but will not resign.  Connie Kreps lacks the acuity and leadership skills to keep the meeting on track let alone create an agenda.  Only one commissioner was elected, Eddie Lim and he has not proven to be very useful.  The taint of the strip club developer and his tight relationships with the city hang over every action.   

    Still, it's hopeful to see the two newest members taking on some of  the tough issues.  I can't lose the feeling that it's just a matter of time before the same people who have run things for years turn against them, something we have already seen signs of.  In the meantimne, I would urge the two new members to keep pushing and to pick the right battles.  

    Kevin Vericker
    May 10, 2012

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    Agenda For Tuesday Night Commission Meeting May 8 2012

    I've attached the meeting agenda for this week.  I'll do a breakdown later today or tomorrow.

    REG COM MTG 05-8-2012

    Kevin Vericker
    May 6 2012

    Saturday, May 5, 2012

    Sun Post Weekly

    The cuts at the Miami Herald have made its local coverage sporadic and amateurish (almost nothing on the Beach scandals and seriously, do we need to know about Aqua Girl?) while the Miami New Times is only a front for the sex trafficking site Backpage.  

    For quality reporting, The Miami Sun Post Weekly has become  my favorite paper for its extensive and reasonable political coverage.  This week The Sun Post has been concentrating much on the issues in Miami Beach over allegations of corruption.   Reading the articles, this one stood out.  It's Very Hard To Hold The City Manager Accountable in which Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin talks about the limitations of a part time, elected commission.

    I like Matti Bower, the mayor of Miami Beach,  and I think she and Jorge Gonzalez, the Miami Beach city manager, have done a terrific job of navigating Miami Beach through the fiscal crisis.  The development of the New World Symphony space, the new plaza at the west end of Lincoln Road, the traffic improvements throughout the beach, the new park at North Beach, are all major pluses for the Beach.

    What Ed Tobin does point out is very interesting - the commission is at the mercy of the staff information flow.  We've seen that here in North Bay Village when Bob Pushkin lied about the savings that outsourcing sanitation would bring, when interim city manager / police chief Bob Daniels would not respond to direct requests for information from the mayor.

    Current North Bay Village city manager Dennis Kelly was recently criticized by Commissioner Chervony, who expressed frustration over lack of information.

    Maybe it's not the manager but the system.  The whole strong city manager and weak commission form of government assumes equal competency by both parts.  When you get a city manager, like our previous two in North Bay Village, who were openly contemptuous of the elected commission, they have too much power.

    Me, I think Dennis Kelly is doing a good job of stabilizing an unstable situation in a city that has been badly mismanaged in the last two years.   He seems to be listening as carefully as possible and making moves deliberately with specific outcomes in mind.   That's a good thing and I hope it's allowed to continue.

    Read the article.  It's worth it.  And you should be checking the Sun Post Weekly for your North Bay Village news.  It's nice to see a periodical taking local coverage seriously.

    Kevin Vericker
    May 5, 2012

    Friday, May 4, 2012

    Police Department Legal Bills

    There are two special meetings planned for the North Bay Village Commission this month.  

    May 10 @ 6PM - A meeting to discuss the staffing and organization of city departments.  

    May 14 @ 6PM - Consideration of RFQ's for Legal Services.  

    Mary 8 @ 7:30PM - The Regular Commission Meeting.   The agenda is not yet published but I will put it up when I get it.  

    Regarding the Legal Services meeting on May 14, the city needs to always be evaluating if the money spent on legal services is the best value.   Our legal costs are out of control, but that is a symptom of management issues, not the result of billing and gouging.  The bulk of the legal bills are from the Police Department and reflect the Chief's decision to make routine management issues a firing offense for officers who are not part of the favored union.   

    The judgment involved in these firings was political, not managerial.  In one case, the final arbitration ruling clearly said that the police officer should be reinstated and made whole.  Yet the PD continues to drag this out which will result in even higher legal bills and settlements when the matter is finally resolved.   

    In another case, an officer was fired for violating department policy regarding speech in public forums.   That policy was instituted by the  police chief and has since been abandoned as nonconforming with current labor law and court findings.  It's pretty likely that this too will fail arbitration.  

    A simple technical adjustment, cross charging the legal expense to the department responsible, would shine the light on where the money is being wasted.  If it was a commission action, then the legal bill is charged to the commission budget.  If it was utilities or permitting, that cost center takes the hit.   

    If the city did this, the legal services alone for the Police Department would be their second biggest budget item after salaries and the commission and citizens would see clearly where the money is being spent.   

    That would be real transparency.  Bad things happen in the dark.  

    Kevin Vericker
    May 4, 2012

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    City Hall Never Paid Its Property Taxes

    Scott Greenwald, the would be strip club impresario,  is the landlord for North Bay Village's city hall and police station at 1700 Kennedy Causeway at a cost of some $141,000 per year. Greenwald has never once paid the property taxes on the facilities and owes $98,734 in property taxes dating back three years. Source: Miami-Dade County Property Apraiser's Office 

    The same Greenwald also owes the city $25,000 in repayments for an illegally negotiated commission to move the City Hall to this site. This money has apparently never been paid either. 

    Greenwald's properties at 7914 - 7916 West Drive are health hazards destroying the recently completed park and of course, he never paid taxes on them, owing $183,084.   

    Strip club litigant Greenwald continues to sit on the North Bay Budget Oversight Board. Greenwald was appointed to the board by Eddie Lim, Connie Leon-Kreps and Dr. Vogel in early 2010, long after they knew of his plans to develop a strip club at 1415 JFK Causeway which has an unpaid tax debt of $923,748.  Look it up here.

    Yet Greenwald continues to sit on the Board, weighing such matters as how much the city should spend to fight the lawsuit he brought.

    Probably not a good idea to have the city's largest tax debtor on the Budget Oversight Board and certainly a terrible idea to have someone suing the city overseeing the finances.   

    Kevin Vericker
    May 1, 2012