Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Budget and Compromise

On Thursday, the commission passed the final tax rates and approved the budget for 2013.   

Our millage rate remains the same at 4.77 plus the debt millage.   It is looking like our precipitous drop in home values and tax revenues may have stabilized.   

The budget process was healthy and I hope the start of a new way of doing policy in North Bay Village.  

First, the only really new expenditure is $130,000 for the International Baccalaureate program at Treasure Island.  There was much discussion about this item.  Miami Beach was the only city in the United States to adopt the IB program at all elementary and middle school levels and has had positive results.  Treasure Island joins the program next year which I believe is an important step forward.   

Not everyone agreed.  One long time resident with a deep understanding of budget issues had two major concerns.   The first was how to fund the program because there is little doubt that we have to find the money or raise it through fees/taxes.  The second was a belief that this issue should be brought before the voters in a referendum since it affects the residents financially and educationally.   

Those concerns did not prevail and the commission kept the IB in the budget. 

Then something cool happened.  The commission deadlocked.  The mayor had prematurely called the budget to vote and two commissioners, Blumberg and Chervony, voted No.  There was a glimmer of panic and then a discussion happened that should have happened before.   

The major concern that Chervony and Blumberg shared was that the reserve of $238,000 for operations was too low.  The proposed solution to that concern was to move several items from approved to a contingency account that brings the reserve to $400,000.  This is a very good idea and one that our budget process should continually practice.   

Items in the contingency account are understood to be goals.  But their execution depends on other status.  So in this case, if the reserve does not meet the $400,000, the item will be deferred.  If it does meet the goal, a resolution by the commission will free up the money.  Not so different than how a household budgets.  

After some discussions and clarifications, this approach, which was not even a compromise really, passed.   

This is the right way for the commission to proceed - agree the priorities and then find the way to get there.  

That the IB program was intensely analyzed, studied and questioned is healthy for our city.  Over the next year, I hope we can bring the same level of scrutiny to the 600 lb. gorilla, the police budget. At 67% of our budget, we need to make sure we are getting the value for what we spend.  

Kevin Vericker
September 30, 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Discussing the IB Program

There is a meeting tonight at city hall, 6 PM, of the Youth Services Board.   On the agenda is a discussion of the International Baccalaureate proposed for Treasure Island Elementary.   There will be speakers on the subject and a further discussion in preparation for next week's Budget meeting.  

Although this has been discussed before, some concerns were raised at the last Budget meeting.  I quote from an email entered into the record here:

This is to address my concerns regarding the International Baccalaureate program (IB).

Both of my parents were elementary school teachers for thirty-five years and my father, having obtained his doctorate, was a professor at three teacher’s collages. My parents lovingly made educating elementary school students their life's work.

As you can imagine, the talk at our dinner table often morphed to teaching techniques. My parents lived to be ninety and I never heard them mention the IB program.

Recently I attended an IB meeting in NBV City Hall. This meeting reminded me of the brain washing techniques of a Shaklee recruiting session. The IB promoters even planted ringers in the audience to feed pre-selected questions to the speakers.

It seems that Miami Beach has bought into this IB program, but the taxpayers were not willing to pay for it. So they coerced their waste contractor to foot the bill. Now Miami Beach wants North Bay Village to contribute an additional half million dollars towards the program that they were not willing to fund.

What I didn't know at that IB meeting was that the NBV City Manager, the Mayor and the Commissioners had all been pre-indoctrinated by the Miami Beach promoters of this program. .

Since that time I have been trying to gain some knowledge about the pros and cons of the IB. It appears that this program was introduced to this country about forty years ago, but no teachers college or university has found it worth teaching in their curriculum. Also Miami-Dade County has not found it worth funding. That should be an enormous red flag. The IB program appears to be a money-making endeavor that has conflicting results. For example, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the infamous underwear bomber) was an IB student.

A Google search revealed some IB promotional and one opposing websites that should be considered before making a decision: Of interest is the number of cities that have considered and rejected IB.

The reality is that the program at Treasure Island Elementary is already funded without North Bay Village's money. The school has hired and funded an IB Coordinator (Mr. Kevin J. Diaz). Mr. Diaz graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a degree in Elementary Education. Interestingly, that university, like all other universities in this country, does not train their teachers in the IB program. Mr. Diaz has been teaching at North Beach Elementary for the past eight years and his new IB Coordinator position is funded at $72,000. A nice salary for an eight year elementary school teacher.

North Bay Village is infamous for wasting taxpayer's money and I don't see the need to fund a program that is already funded. I believe that if the commission is determined to pursue this expensive endeavor, the voters should have a say. A half-million dollar commitment is substantial and should be decided by referendum.

 Tonight's a really good time to talk about some of these issues.  This is a public meeting, at 6 PM tonight. 

Kevin Vericker
September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And Then There Were None...

There is no race, no election, for the commission this year.   No one filed to oppose Connie Leon-Kreps for mayor or Richard Chervony for North Bay Island commissioner.  In the two other races, Stuart Blumberg versus Wendy Duvall for Treasure Island commissioner, and Mario Garcia versus Jorge Gonzalez for Commissioner at Large, Blumberg and Garcia have withdrawn their candidacies, leaving the seats unopposed.   
Let's deal with the Treasure Island and At Large seats first.  For Treasure Island,  Blumberg was appointed to the commission in February by three sitting commissioners - Lim-Kreps and Chervony. 
Blumberg brought his long experience in Miami Beach to the position and was hailed as a "neutral", business like guy.  Unfortunately, he also brought a condescending attitude and a passive aggressive style to the seat and quickly found himself in conflict with the mayor and the vice.  Blumberg's primary concerns seemed to be removing trees and firing the city manager, whom Blumberg criticized as deceptive and unprofessional.   This constant sense of outrage, coupled with the truly annoying passive aggressive habit of asking questions not to solicit information but to "prove" that his target was negligent, accomplished very little.  

Last Tuesday at the commission meeting, former commissioner Rey Trujillo complained about Blulmberg's actions and behavior on the dais.  Right or wrong, Trujillo laid out specific actions that could be observed and addressed.   Trujillo did not impugn his character but spoke strongly on Blumberg's push to fire the city manager and hiring an outside consultant for our finances.  Blumberg in the  Miami Herald states 

"This was a personal attack without substance,” said Blumberg. “I decided, ‘You know what, time to go.’ I’ve always taken the high road."
It was not a personal attack.  It was an objective disagreement.  Yuo cannot be that outspoken and that thin skinned at the same time and be successful.  Trust me.  As a loudmouth, I know.  

Wendy Duvall will take the seat then for Treasure Island.  I've met her.  She's young, poised and very intelligent.  She and her fiance live at the Caribbean Towers on E. Treasure Drive and have been very involved in turning that once desperate building around.  I hope she is a quick study as there is much to learn in a short time.  

Turning to the far more pleasant topic of the Commissioner at Large seat,  The two contenders were Jorge Gonzalez and Mario Garcia.  Both are relative newcomers to North Bay Village (most of us have been here since Biscayne Bay was a puddle.) and each brought different experiences to their campaign.  But in common, both have been keen participants in the civic life of North Bay Village, both have been quick to reach out and discuss tough issues with people with whom they disagree,
In the end, Garcia decided to withdraw after assessing his personal situation with a very demanding job and assessing his opponent, Gonzalez, and arriving at the conclusion that Gonzalez has the skills and personality to handle the job.  

I'm disappointed.  I find an election between two classy candidates democracy at its best but I understand and support both their decisions.   Gonzalez, like Duvall, is bright and engaged, and I hope he too is quick study.   

Overall, we would have been much better off with a full slate of candidates for each seat, vigorously laying out their views on the city, and the voters choosing.  But our poisonous politics did not allow that.  Still, I have hope that the two new members of the commission will bring a new tone to the dais and maybe bring up the level of discourse from the current wretched state. 

Kevin Vericker
September 18, 2012
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Marcio Garcia Withdraws From the Commission Race

Mario Garcia, candidate for Commissioner at Large, has withdrawn from the race.  His statement is below.  This means our commission for the next two years will be:

Connie Leon-Kreps Mayor
Eddie Lim, Commissioner from Harbor Island
Richard Chervony, Commissioner from North Bay Island
Wendy Duvall, Commissioner from Treasure Island
Jorge Gonzalez, Commissioner At Large.

Mario's statement:

Mario Garcia

Candidate for North Bay Village Commissioner At Large

7540 Cutlass AvenueNorth Bay Village, Florida 33141
Public Statement

 After carefully considering the increasing demand of my professional schedule and with confidence that my opponent Jorge Gonzalez is an honorable man who has the best interest of the city at heart and the skills needed for the job; I have decided to withdraw from the commission race this year.

I will continue to be involved in the betterment of North Bay Village and hope to run again sometime in the future. I am grateful for the support and the trust that I have received from the community.

We all need to work together to bring this city out of gridlock and personal agendas to create a better, safer, cleaner and stronger city that offers services for all of its residents; especially the elderly and adolescent population which presently is lacking. Thank you, Mario Garcia

Kevin Vericker
September 16, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stuart Blumberg Withdraws from the Commission Race

Last night at the Budget meeting, Stuart Blumberg announced he was withdrawing from the race for Treasure Island commissioner.   He gave his reasons as disgust with personal attacks.   

So there is only one race on the ballot, Jorge Gonzalez (president of the 360 condo association, member of P&Z) and Mario Garcia (Business Development Board) are competing for a 2 year term as Commissioner at Large.    

On the commission in November will be 

Connie Leon Kreps - Mayor (she was unopposed)  
Edde Lim - his term expires in 2014 
Richard Chervony - Commissioner North Bay Island (he was unopposed) 
Wendy Duvall - Commissioner Treasure Island (since she is now unopposed)

And whoever is elected as commissioner at large.  

Kevin Vericker
September 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Last Night At The Commission

Okay, so I want to start this out with good news. There are two optimistic notes to share: 

The first reading of an ordinance regarding a foreclosure registry passed unanimously. This is a long overdue technical approach to the problem of foreclosed properties in North Bay Village.

It will require the foreclosing entity to file the foreclosure with the city and pay a small fee on the transaction. That money in turn can be used by the city to maintain the property if needed, fund programs to prevent foreclosure, and have an accurate count at all times about foreclosed homes in our city. This could make the city eligible for county, state and federal moneys to help cities deal with the foreclosure crisis. It is revenue neutral in that it does not come from the city general fund (taxes). It is financed by the filing fees and allows the city to dedicate that money to anti-foreclosure efforts. There's more to be done but it's a great start.

The Community Enhancement Board has cohered into a vital force for improvement in our city. Of all the boards, they have the broadest mandate looking at all sides of the physical issues affecting our city. I have long been impressed with the leadership style of the chair, Penelope Friedland, and the long dedication of several of the members to the community. They are focusing strongly on issues affecting the ambiance and presentation of our city and bringing forth critical issues to the commission with specific advice. It stands as an example of what a board can do.
 Alright, enough with the unicorn trails and happy shiny news. It's North Bay Village after all. Our city political climate is still in meltdown.

The commission snipes about everything procedural and then unites on the legislative issues. It's like a badly cast "Real Housewives" franchise. All the bickering about nothing of note but with much worse dressed people. 

Some examples from last night on the commission side. City Manager Dennis Kelly proposed tabling several items until October on the grounds that these were non-essential. It made sense but: Procedures are such that he should have only proposed tabling those items he put on the agenda. 

 One of the items, the foreclosure registry, was put there by a sitting commissioner and it's that commissioner who should be in charge of it. When the item comes up, the commission might vote to table it but it should not be proposed before hearing the item by one who didn't sponsor it. Seems minor but it matters. 

Then in discussing what items to pull from the agenda, none of the commissioners could stay on point. Once the motion had been made and seconded, it needed to be voted on, amended or withdrawn. The discussion about the merits was confusing and unprofessional. It's the chair's job to keep the meeting on track. So the end result is that the commission spent a full 20 minutes discussing how to save 30 minutes. Kind of makes you cringe. 

In a second commission incident, Eddie Lim whose commission reports frequently ramble did that last night, ramble that is.  I listened closely and as near as I could tell, his main point was about the need to develop a sense of identification among the residents with North Bay Village, a good idea but should have been more succinctly expressed.  Nevertheless, the mayor attempted to curtly cut him off so the commission could move to the agenda.  Eddie rebuffed her.   

Like him or don't like him, Eddie Lim was elected and commission reports are part of it.  In future, all our commissioners should keep in mind that their comments should have one of only three purposes - to inform, to propose or to evaluate - and think carefully about how to frame those.  But they should not be cut off.  

Good & Welfare however turned back into North Bay Village at its worst.  The perpetually indignant Al Blake laid into his former friend Commissioner Chervony over a remark that Chervony had made in which he (Chervony) said he thought the Citizens Budget and Oversight Board should have strongly advised the commission of the audit delays.   Blake who specializes in hurt feelings and faux-rage decried this "insult" to the good people of the CBOB, from which he himself resigned when the city fired his friend, Scott Greenwald, the strip club proponent and largest tax debtor, from the board.  Anyway, Blake was hurt, and shocked, and disappointed, over this grave insult.   

Then a voice that has not been heard from in a while, a fictitious dweller at a non-existent address lumbered up and began bellowing about how he put Chervony where he is now (on the commission) and that he heard that Chervony had proposed a candidate besides Al Blake for the vacant North Bay Island seat.  Further, Chervony was guilty of more than just thought crimes but had single handedly broken Sunshine, which is totally weird since Sunshine governs relationships among officials and by its nature cannot be singular.   But that's what passes for logic.  

Look it's easy to be flippant about this stuff but it has real consequences.  As long as our commission quivers in fear about being sued for so called speech violations, the public will stay away.   You cannot slander and falsely state who you are at commssion meetings, in front of the legislature, or at Congress.   It's not only illegal, it suppresses the public.   It's not free speech, it's slander and disruption, and it should be stopped.  It diminishes us.  

And I wonder how the mayor and the vice mayor, who appointed Chervony, feel today?  After all, last night it was publicly expressed that they were following the directives of a non-resident.  I don't know if they were but I guess I would have expected them to mention it if they weren't.   

So I don't see much bright coming up for a while.

Kevin Vericker
September 12, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Back in Town

August was super busy.  Work kept me in Washington DC, family in New York and then a week of chilling out on the California Coast.  But it's September and time to be back in North Bay Village.  

I'm going to ease back in with a note about tomorrow's commission meeting.  The first item on the new business agenda is an ordinance to establish a foreclosure registry.  It's a simple concept.  When a mortgage holder begins a foreclosure process, they will be  required to register that process with the city and pay a small fee.   

It has two major benefits:  
  1. The city has an accurate count of distressed properties.  Knowing this makes the city eligible for additional assistance from Housing and Urban Development, helps the homeowner as the city can now target home retention resources to the people who most need them and lets the condos know what issues are up in their building.  
  2. The city has a revenue source to keep basic maintenance up on properties that have fallen into foreclosure which helps all our values.  
Foreclosure registries have sadly become a key tool in the fight to maintain properties across the country and we have needed one for at least four years.   Occasionally, very narrow minded real estate interests object because they want the problem kept under wraps but the truth is, the lenders know.  The city needs that knowledge too.  
Kevin Vericker September 10, 2012 North Bay VillageREG COM MTG 09-11-2012">