Monday, December 30, 2013

Last Post of 2013

An Empty Creche

Happy New Year 2014!  

Update from 12/30 Post:  I received an email from Village Manager Frank Rollason in which he explains:

  1. There is a massive crime wave in North Bay Village and the baby Jesus has been kidnapped not once but twice.  Police reports have been made but finding the culprit is not likely since while North Bay Village has an enviably low crime rate, we rank in the bottom third of M-D municipalities in solving those crimes that do happen.  A third Jesus has been installed and as of this morning is still in place.

  2. The lights on Hispanola Ave were out because the lighting contractor the village chose did not account for the possibility of rain which is not rare in South Florida.  They were back on last night and there is hope they might last through the New Year.  
So you see, it's really nobody's lack of oversight, just stuff.  

12/30 Post Below:

This seems as good a place as any to leave the old year behind.  Yes, once again, North Bay Village has managed to screw it up.  Our Holiday Creche, which cost $4,500, is a scene of the Holy Family, the Three Kings and some livestock staring at a blank space.   

The Holiday Lights which cost $35,000 - or the same amount as funding the PAL - did not make it through December 26 when Hispanola Ave. went dark.  

It's kind of a neat metaphor for how our city is being run.  The key figures missing in action and it's just too much trouble for our mayor to keep her lights on.   

As Mr. Rollason and Mrs. Kreps enter the final year of their respective tenures, we can expect to see more darkness and disorder in 2014.   But let's keep plugging forward - they won't be here that much longer and North Bay Village has a great chance at the end of 2014 to fix this.  Let's look forward to it.  

Happy New Year to most of you,  

Kevin Vericker
December 30, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

North Bay Village Holiday Social Notes

Bermello Ajamil & Partners are holding a lavish Holiday party to which they have thoughtfully invited our commission and village staff.   I understand several have accepted and one in particular is very pleased about the open bar.  She finds it relaxing after a hard day of being positive.   

In any event, it has everything nothing to do with Bermello Ajamil & Partners angling for the village hall contract and nothing everything to do with spreading holiday cheer.  

Speaking of holiday cheer, after forgetting twice how a budget is passed, the village manager forgot to include the Holiday Party in the final budget.  Really, he did.  So the mayor went to Blu, the people constructing the new apartment complex on Harbor Island and they agreed to sponsor the party, held on December 7.   Very nice of  them and not at all related to the variance they got to start work early and finish late on the  construction which Harbor Island residents have enjoyed this last month.   

Although I was unable to attend as I was feeling entirely too well that day to watch the mayor play Santa, I understand that it was a lovely event for the sad kids of North Bay Village and for at least a few hours let them forget that they live in a place where two thirds of the kids have no access to any recreational or social programs.   And look at the pretty lights at the entrance to Harbor and North Bay Islands that were funded instead of the PAL.  So well done, Ms. Mayor Claus.  

Then there was the Miami Youth Symphony concert on Saturday December 14.  Although the mayor has not yet reported on the event, and only she can since apparently she was one of only two people there, I'm sure it was very nice.  

I for one want to say that it's very mean of the village manager to have described the event as "Pretty sad."   

I am glad that the manager reached out to the commission and the community for ideas on how to "better connect with the community."  

Here's an idea to better connect with the community.  Involve the community.  All of it.  Not just the voices inside one person's head or the people who make money from the village, but even ones you might not agree with.   They often turn out to be your best allies.  

So that sums up this week's Holiday News from North Bay Village.   

Kevin Vericker
December 18, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

After A Month... I'm Back

It has been nearly a month since I last posted and I feel like I owe an explanation.  Here's the simple truth, I've been feeling discouraged.   Sometimes when I am the object of craziness, I walk away and that's what I've done.  Let me explain.  

After two years on the only board the mayor and commission had not managed to disassemble, I made a strategic mistake.  I questioned the wisdom of an off the books, cash only, day care program run by the PTA at Treasure Island Elementary and paid directly to the PTA president.  In the meantime, the principal of TIES used an opportunity to demean both the city and the Arts4Learning program who had donated three art pieces to the school at the PTA's request in order to assert her "authority."  

As I tried to work through the issue, our self appointed mayor and her extra-legally hired village manager used the opportunity to demand that I resign.   Now it's not fair, and I am outsize proud that in spite of the mayor's opposition, the YSEB was able to shepherd through the IB program, and continued to call attention to the village's deliberate inattention to services for the majority of the village's youth, but no one said community activism is fair.  

Favorite quote from her honor the mayor, "Your blog is very negative.  What example does that set to the children of North Bay Village?"  Note to fifth graders reading my blog - go practice your number sets and stop reading political blogs!   

After that discussion, I decided that I would accede to what was presented to me as a demand from the TIES principal and resign.  I hate to quit but it's impossible to work with people like the mayor, the village manager and others of bad intention.   Interestingly, I saw the  mayor a few weeks later at a social function and as is her norm at such events with an open bar, she was all cheerful.  Positive, I guess, fueled by Stoli.  

Anyway, it has become increasingly clear to me that the village is simply run by the voices in the mayor's head, insistent voices telling her that disagreement is insult and that being mayor of all the residents, not just the ones who put her in office without an election, is mortal danger.   It suits those who pander to her and only give her good news but it has had material damage to the village. 

After two full years of eliminating the boards for citizen advice, when the commission was finally embarrassed enough to reinstate them but deliberately kept anyone off the boards who questioned the mayor's voices.  

Our streets are filthy, our projects dead, the crisis at Shuckers mismanaged, we have occasional show events instead of substantial services, our sewers are literally rotting underneath our houses and we have paid all our reserves to move village hall again, in severance packages to people the mayor no longer finds "positive", and our police are so discouraged they are calling in sick in record numbers.  A personal peeve of mine is that the village spent nearly $35,000 in "emergency" funds for holiday lights at Harbor Island and North Bay Islands, nearly the exact amount it would have taken to fund PAL for our kids.   Priorities.  
To pay for all of these errors, the mayor led the charge to raise our taxes 15% and our utilities 16% while refusing to attach basic performance measures to the money spent.   This is how a once vibrant city becomes a ghetto village and we are well down that road.   

The only glimmer of hope that I see for our village is that surely in 2014, the mayor and crew who have mismanaged our money and our village so badly will not be re-elected.  

I want to get back to writing about North Bay Village.  I love it here - it's an eccentric, neighborly and attractive place and I have never regretted moving here but I need to figure out what this blog can accomplish.  So I'm sorry for the silence and will keep trying to bring the voices that other people can hear to our civic discourse.  For right now, I guess I'm back.  

Kevin Vericker
December 14, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Feline Fights and the Cat-tastrophe on Treasure Island

For once I feel like I have a totally impartial perspective on an emotionally charged North Bay Village issue.  I am indifferent to cats.  I don't love them, I don't hate them.  Now this doesn't make me a bad person, there are many other things that do, but maybe I have just the right perspective.  

Here's the story.  From time to time on the Facebook group, North Bay Village Residents Speak, discussions erupt over what to do about the overpopulation of cats on Treasure Island.  These discussions quickly divide into "Cats are pests." and "Cats need to be cared for."  

The situation is that some residents and apparently a non-resident put food and water out for neighborhood cats.  It's important to know that many of these same people also spend their own time and money to have cats neutered and for their medical care.   The cat feeders are not only caring but generous in their concern for the cats.  And on the plus side for the cats, we are the only island in Biscayne Bay without a significant rat and mouse problem, so score.  

On the other hand, the population of unclaimed cats has continued to grow and like those other South Florida pests, the Kardashians,  they are a nuisance.  The food in the street also feeds other animals and attracts insects, particularly mosquitoes, and these pose a health hazard.  There have been nights when we are awoken by cats screaming.  Two years ago, I found a mother cat and a litter of kittens living in my attic.  Uninvited, they had found a small opening to the roof and set up an apartment there.  I had to crawl around the attic in July to evict them.   I'm seriously allergic to cats so I talked a neighbor into driving them to the Miami-Dade Animal Shelter.  

Back to the Facebook discussion, it was proposed by one poster that the residents form a group to deal with the problem.  Others want the cat carers (well I don't what the right description is) stopped.   

The problem here is classic of a disengaged government.   No one is arguing that there is no cat problem on Treasure Island.   The discussion is what to do about it.  For years, NBV had an Animal Control Board who advised on policy, provided removal services for strays, and who I know personally paid for spaying and health care.   Under our mayor and her many village managers, this fell by the wayside.  And now it's out of control.  

An informal organization will not cut it.  I think the residents have to be clear that the village must support and find a solution to this problem that reduces the nuisance and treats the animals correctly.  The village should restore the Animal Control Board and give it specific direction to find an acceptable community approach to this problem.  This should not be dividing us;  it should be uniting us.  

But given our mayor's dislike of residents, I can't see her championing this.  Still, pushing the commission is the way to go for the moment.  

Kevin Vericker
November 18, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Commission Meeting Last Tuesday

The commission and the village lived down to all expectations again last Tuesday.  Following the third try to get it right, there was a "special" commission meeting to meet the basic legal requirements of passing a budget, a full month and 12 days late.   

Village Manager Frank Rollason, whose posterior had been repeatedly bussed by our commissioners for his fine work on the budget - raise taxes 15% - is unfamiliar with laws and things.  Since the village did not seek the assistance of a competent administrator, it's anyone's guess if we got it right this time.  

The Village Police Chief had bright and shiny comments for the commissioners.  Since the commissioners upset easily, he didn't tell them about how just last weekend a whole shift called in sick and the overtime budget is already blown.  Very considerate of him to not worry them like that.  Don't tell the Mayor, okay?  She doesn't like bad news.  

The Village Attorney quit.  It turns out that when the Village decides to renege on the contracted payments, people don't want to work for you.   It was a shame, as Village Manager Frank Rollason tried really hard to resolve the issue by sarcastically criticizing the law firm in his monthly report but he failed at that.  Still it may have been what distracted him from doing his job on the budget.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he just doesn't know how to do a budget.  

What else?  Well, Mayor Kreps got lost in the agenda earlier than usual but fortunately Frank Rollason was there to scold her.  The Mayor was a little cranky because she and the commission had specifically asked to get the web page done and Village Manager Frank Rollason didn't do it because he's in charge now.  Rollason got firm with Mayor Kreps and let her know that it will be done when it's done.   

I left after about two and a half hours.  I'm no fan of Mayor Kreps but watching her get kicked around by the Village Manager is no fun.  

Kevin Vericker
November 15, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

Klown Kar Government

There is a Special Commission Meeting on November 12 at 7 PM.  Not that all of our commission meetings are not special, but this is an Extra Special Commission Meeting because (excuse me whilst I shout)



Okay, back to normal.  Here's what happened.  

The Commission Chair, Her Lady of Lightness and Positivity, Connie Leon-Kreps, positively forgot to chair the second hearing on the debt millage rates.  

The Village Manager, a straight talking, rootin tootin son of a gun, Frank Rollason, has been too involved in matters that are by law none of his business to pay attention to the state laws governing the adoption of a budget and never managed to set up the correct series of meetings and notices.  Apparently, he's never done it before.  

Add into the mix a group of disenfranchised commissioners, and discouraged village employees, and nobody looked to see if North Bay Village had complied with state laws on the budget.  My favorite quote from the state letter on this tragicomedy is "[these violations] tend to misinform taxpayers."   That was the point.  

So NBV is having the fourth meeting, hoping to get it right this time.  
But let's look on the bright side, as our mayor frequently snarls...

That's it, she never actually provides a bright side.  

The only bright side I can see  is that the mayor is in her last year of shedding whatever it is she sheds all over the place, and I don't think Rollason will make it into next year, so maybe next time?  

Kevin Vericker
November 8, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stop Messing Around with Our Streets

Just clean the damn sidewalks!  Why can't our village staff get this right?   Case in point - on October 1, I wrote an email to the village manager pointing out that the Causeway sidewalk was totally blocked by a palm tree hanging three feet off the ground and has been since at least last January when I first reported it.  After several emails telling me he would be driving around (not walking) and several more from me reminding him of it, yesterday, an email dripping with sarcasm was sent out announcing that the tree had been trimmed.  A month later!

That's good.  At least pedestrians don't have to step into the causeway traffic to keep walking. But the rest of our sidewalks and streets are just dirty.   Poorly kept shrubbery, dumping in plain sight, clogged sewer drains, are the norm.   One poster on the  Facebook page  noted the same thing I did - there were two shopping carts dumped on Adventure that were there for five full days.   

Look, our public works manager makes $70 per hour.  Our taxes just went up 15% and our utility rates 16% and everyone got a raise.  Now get a broom.  Get out of the car.  Walk the streets and fix them.   

It's clear to me that the village manager is uninterested in the day to day quality of life issues.   But our commission should be.  We've got to hold them accountable.   

Kevin Vericker
October 29, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Election November 5 and Yes It Includes North Bay Village

Did you know that we have a county question to vote this election season?   I didn't and I think I'm pretty well informed.   Anyway, it's a proposition to fund Jackson Memorial Hospital for $830 million in upgrades.  It would be paid as a debt service charge on our Miami-Dade property tax bills.  

This is a link to the Miami Herald editorial (click here) and I think it lays out some compelling arguments.  Anyway, early voting is open this weekend at North Shore Public Library and through 11/3.  Link is here and November 5 is Election Day.  

Kevin Vericker
October 26, 2013. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hiding In Our Sewers?

In September, taxes went up 14.9% for the operating millage.  Although the discussions around that budget were desultory and unfocused, at least there was a discussion. The second, higher tax hike of 16% to our utility bills passed with no discussion at all.   

A little math.  

If your tax bill last year for North Bay Village Operating was $675, your tax bill for 2013 will be $775, a rise of $100.    

However, if your utility bills for water and sewer run around $100, you will now be paying a cool $191 more per year, nearly double the debated tax rise.  

This is the highest and most regressive of tax hikes.  Water usage is approximately the same for most of us; the price does not vary based on Save Our Homes, there are no discounts for the elderly and no appeal to be made.  It's a consumption tax that does not reflect anything about your home's value.  

This new tax hike was never debated, explained or discussed by the commission or the village manager.  It was simply imposed. 

So I got to wondering why.   Why hide it?   To me the answer is pretty clear.   

A small amount of this is due to the rise in wastewater from Miami-Dade county.   But the bulk is now used to fund some of the operating departments of the village.   The Village Manager, Finance, Clerical and Administration, all took phantom cuts in the general budget, that is eliminated positions that were never filled anyway, while shifting their funding source to the General Utility fund.   On average, a little over 50% including the raises all around, the benefits, and other costs are now being charged to Utilities, safely hidden from public view.    

Except for one department.  Legal is currently unpopular, taking the blame for a series of bad police management decisions, and in spite of the fact that 62% of legal's time is spent on matters related to utilities, less than 10% of their budget is allocated to utilities.  Maybe they do charge too much (I don't think so - I've checked and compared to other cities) but unlike the other departments, they don't hide.  

It's probably time to look under those manhole covers and see what's hiding in our sewers.  It ain't pretty.  

Kevin Vericker
October 22, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bully for the commission!

There was a commission meeting on Tuesday, October 8, and for the details, Mario Garcia has done a great job recounting those in his blog "Mario for North Bay Village" at  You should be reading that blog anyway.  

The two highlights from the meeting in my view are that the commission approved Frank Rollason as permanent Village Manager and  that the commission finally appointed the boards 11 months late.

Again, I won't go through the details of what the commission did in this post but I want to go through how they did it.  First, what happened and then in a later post, how we got here.

What Happened on Tuesday Night At Our Commission Meeting:  On the consent agenda, which is designed for items so obvious they don't need discussion, Richard Chervony had placed an item to state that North Bay Village Supports The  Anti-Bullying School Agenda and recognizes that October is Anti Bullying Month In Schools Throughout the Country.  This is usually the sort of anodyne proposal that sails right through.  But not Tuesday.   

It was pulled from the Consent Agenda by Jorge Gonzalez for discussion.  And twenty minutes followed of what appeared to be a coordinated, inane and unnecessary discussion of this item until three commissioners, looking meaningfully at those residents who actually show up at the meetings to question and offer their views and knowledge, declared that North Bay Village disdains All Bullying.  If you were there, you could not help but infer that this was both a complaint about residents disagreeing and a warning to stop it.  

The only reason this simple item was pulled was because it was introduced by Chervony and the distorted power dynamics of our commission cannot allow someone who is not in the right group to accomplish anything.   In other words, Chervony was systematically bullied for introducing an anti-bullying resolution.   

This would just be part of the weird dynamic, this bullying over bullying (meta-bullying?), by our sad commission if it didn't have actual effects on our lives, but this cliquish bullying does.  It shuts down discussions, frustrates residents and delays good legislation and ideas if the target of the group proposes them.   

This obstruction was clearly illustrated later in the evening when the commission, after an 11 month delay, finally got around to putting together two boards - the Budget and the Community Enhancement.   Now my view is that they had ignored this because boards question, offer opinions and advise on issues and if your modus operandi is to see all questions as challenges and all disagreements as insult, this would not be a high priority.   

There were two resolutions, one introduced by Chervony, the other by Kreps, on the guiding principles for the Citizens Budget Oversight Board.   They were substantially the same - reduce the number of members from 7 to 5.  They differed slightly in how the members should be chosen and if in the event that the commission once again fails to appoint a board on time, the existing board will stay in place.   In such a situation, on a collaborative commission, the resolutions would be melded into one and amendments offered and discussed,  But because the first resolution was offered by Chervony, it was critical to the others that it be rejected.   The suggestion that these be considered with amendments was floated but the resolution died for lack of a second.  Nobody would even discuss it.  

Then Kreps' resolution, really the same one, came up.  By this time (11:15), the mayor had abandoned chairing the meeting, not even performing the basics of the chair's duties, simply talking and the Village Manager stepped in and took over as de facto chair, guiding the commission through the discussion and the amendment process (never offering his opinion by the way) and the resulting resolution was an amalgam of Commissioner Chervony and Mayor Kreps' ideas.   I doubt that the mayor could tell you if the amended resolution keeps the boards in place until new ones are appointed.  She was that detached.   

It was clear that the sole purpose of duplicating the effort was to ensure Chervony had no voice since he is no longer one of them.  

Finally, the commission chose the members of the boards.  They specifically and deliberately excluded residents who had questioned or disagreed in the past.  They gave no guidance on how these are to be run and never spoke on why they chose who they chose.  

The Bullying word gets thrown around a lot.   With kids, it's often clear who is bullying whom - gay kids, kids with physical or intellectual challenges, redheaded kids, members of ethnic minorities, fat kids, girls by boys and sometimes boys by girls, are usually targets but really any kid can be.  Sometimes it's difficult to figure out who is doing what but for the most part it's transparent.  

Adult bullying is different.   Disagreement, even heated disagreement, does not constitute bullying.  I would argue that even insult, while rude, is not bullying.  For it to be bullying, there has to be intimidation involved, physical, financial or legal.   (I won't go down the rathole of "emotional" bullying because if you can't quantify it, you can't  claim it.)  Our commission is using legal means to silence and frustrate one targeted member, one who by the way, has his own checkered history in this area.   And with little concern, they use the same legal tricks to disenfranchise residents.   

When you talk to a stranger who pointedly looks away and engages in another activity, you get a message that you will not be heard.   It may be rude but it's not bullying.  When you talk to the mayor during Good and Welfare, and she pointedly looks away and engages in scribbling, it looks like bullying.  It is a clear consistent message from an authority figure to a supplicant that you will be ignored.  Questions are only answered from approved residents, others are left unacknowledged.   There's a fair argument that the imbalance of power, the social cues and the political cues, constitute a form of bullying.  It is incumbent on those in authority to deal respectfully with those they claim to represent and our commission doesn't.  

I'd like this dynamic changed but given the  history, I don't see it happening.  

Kevin Vericker
October 10, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Commission Meeting for September to Be Held Tomorrow October 8

The commission tomorrow is hoping to gather the strength to get through the full agenda tomorrow night.  The festivities commence at 7:30 PM in the Cafetorium At Treasure Island Elementary School (reservations not needed).  

The full agenda is here.  

The quick summary is 
  • An adjustment to the Village Manager's Salary from $8,600 to $8,000 per month
  • A resolution to prohibit spending unbudgeted funds without an emergency declaration
  • A resolution to make Frank Rollason the permanent village manager.
  • An ordinance to grant TECO the right to install gas hookup in NBV (actually to continue the previous authorizations)
  • A resolution to dissolve the Business Advisory Board
  • Several small zoning issues
  • Two ordinances to re-establish the Community Enhancement Board and the Budget Oversight Board
Kevin Vericker
October 7, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Measure Once, Cut Repeatedly

Last night, while the federal government could not figure out if their job is to keep the country running and so have walked out on their major responsibility, North Bay Village blazed a trail for governments throughout this Great Republic of Ours by holding a special commission meeting because the commission totally forgot to hold a public hearing and take action on the debt millage.   

In last week's marathon meeting, the commission spent nearly three hours considering the annual budget. The strain and effort of ignoring the glaring holes in the budget, evading accountability, congratulating the administration for a budget that no one understood but everyone sees won't make it past the end of the calendar year, was too much and the commission forgot to hold the public hearing needed to authorize us to pay back our bond debts.   

The county tax appraiser noticed the lack this week and was all "Hey, you need to fill out the rest of the paperwork." and the commission was like, "Seriously? C'mon." and the tax appraiser was all "Totally." cause they are so annoying with their laws, so whatever. 

The meeting came to order promptly at 6:08 PM with 3/5ths of the commission there.  The other 4/10ths were unable to attend.  (Was there a Heat game last night?)   

As the  resolution was read, a hush fell over the assembled citizen present and the air vibrated with tension as questions hung over the cafetorium at TIES.  Would the commission get it right?   Would Eddie Lim make a 21 hour speech and read "Green Eggs and Ham"?   Would the Mayor forget where she was on the agenda as happens at so many other meetings and accidentally declare war on El Portal?   Did anyone actually see Richard Chervony?   

None of this happened, except the part about not seeing Richard Chervony.  This crowd is so good at not acknowledging his presence that it seems like a super power.   

By 6:10 PM, the question was called and the 3/5ths voted as one to authorize the obligatory debt millage. At 6:12 PM, four minutes after the call to order, and roughly the same amount of time that Eddie Lim, Jorge Gonzalez and Wendy Duvall spent on the much larger budget last week, the meeting adjourned and our commission are free once again to dedicate themselves to their goal of making North Bay Village beautiful and quaint.  

There's a lesson in all of this.  

Kevin Vericker
October 4, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Table Dancing

In last week's post about the budget I noted that after nearly 3 whole hours of sitting silently, the commission was too exhausted to deal with a regular agenda that in truth consisted of one thing - appointments to the various city boards that allow interested citizens to advise and participate in subjects of interest to them and to the community.   It's been nearly two years and they have never been able to get around to it.   If I were not so bright and optimistic, I would think they are not interested in hearing from the citizens.   

They did however find nearly 45 minutes to hold a discussion on legal bills.  It did not go well.  In fact, the only thing missing was the theme music from Benny Hill.  At one point, they had three active motions on the floor.  The commissioner who negotiated the legal contract, Jorge Gonzalez, was unfamiliar with its terms.  The village attorney was questioned on the amount and then the commissioners talked over her as she attempted to answer.   The commissioner who sponsored the resolution, Wendy Duvall, was asking the village manager to treat legal as he would any other department reporting to him, not understanding that legal reports directly to the commission for very good reason.    

The concern is valid.   Legal costs are high.  Now they would be a lot less if the commission would do its job and make sure legislation complies with other laws and if the police chief had not illegally fired two officers on the grounds that they are not popular.   But instead of addressing the legals costs, the resolution went after the legal fees, a very different situation.   Specifically it started out as a directive to reduce the retainer charged from $18,000 to $10,000 per month, which was negotiated by Jorge Gonzalez in July.   And it instructed the village manager to do this even though our charter specifically puts the commission in charge of the legal department.   

With a minimal grasp of how the government actually works, the mayor lost control of the discussion and it degenerated into rambling discourses and other motions were haphazardly added.   It was embarrassing and it is completely unclear what finally passed.   

Frankly, the budget hearing was not that tiring.  A short break, a fresh look, and any well led commission would have brought up the question, listened for options and perhaps recommended a course of action.   The commission needs to deal with precisely these sorts of questions in accordance with our laws, charter and their own procedures.  That takes a chair who is able to manage and guide.   You know, like a real city.  

Kevin Vericker
October 2, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Millage Rate Up 14%, Everyone Gets a Raise, Services Cut

Last night, the commission settled on raising our taxes 14.9% while approving a budget that only cut currently unfilled positions, that eliminated the PAL program as is the annual custom, gives every village employee a raise except for the interim village manager, has no money budgeted for lawsuits, and is guaranteed to be blown within three months of adoption.   The vote was 4 to 1.  

Couple of highlights from the budget:

  • To make the budget, the village once again decided to pretend that nobody sues us over our weird coding, inconsistent law enforcement and poor personnel management.  So thinking positively, they approved a budget that contains no money to defend or settle lawsuits against the village.  Since in the real world, meanies sometimes sue us, the first lawsuit will knock this over.
  • Drastic cuts were made to positions that don't exist currently so they are definitely still not there.
  • The interim village manager cut his own salary by $600 per month and cut his benefits pretty much out.  That would seem  noble but if we decide for a permanent village manager who is not him, we have to restore this, about another $40,000.  So, win?
  • Cost of living raises are handed out all around.
  • Sadly, for the fourth year in a row, the police will not be presenting the PAL program.  It could have been funded out of the recreation services reserve but you know, the chief.

The meeting was called to order at 6PM, more or less.  The budget was intensely questioned by Commissioner Chervony and Mayor Kreps, as well as many members of the public.   The manager very clearly laid out the dire consequences of our previous years' decision to spend $1.2 million in reserves down to nothing - we're broke.   

At 7:40 PM - Vice Mayor Eddie Lim spoke about how this is really a moderate increase, which it is for him since his 2012 tax bill for NBV was $148.33 and now will be ~$170.  He did note that it makes him sad that seasonal plantings on the causeway are going away and wondered if the reserve number was wrong.   He was assured it was not and lapsed back into silence at 7:44 PM.  

At 7:44 PM - Commissioner Duvall noted that legal had not cut their budgeted amounts.   Foreshadowing.  After a 1 minute discussion, she yielded the floor.  

At 7:45 PM, Commissioner Gonzalez complimented the budget, said something about $30k in fireworks and fulfilled his duties as a member of the dais.  

At 7:46 PM, Mayor Kreps asked about the cuts to dispatch, explained that the sad urchins of North Bay Village look forward to the village Cristmahanawanzika holiday party all year long, said tough toenails on the PAL, and said something about flowers.  

In a sweeping rhetorical flourish she read the Village Mission statement and goals.  Did you know it's a village goal to be a "Beautiful, Quaint Village on the Bay"?   I didn't.   I wonder how we'll know when we've reached that goal?  

So what took up most of the nearly 3 hour meeting?   

About an hour was presentations on the budget from the manager and staff.   The rest were questions and objections from residents.   

These can easily be summarized into the following:

  • Why are you raising taxes?  Answer:  For the last 2 years we spent the reserve without regard to consequences.  
  • Do you have a plan to keep costs under control for next year?  Answer:  No but the commissioners have high hopes.  
  • Why has there been no accountability from the police chief on the $1 million he mispent from the police budget?  Answer:  What?  You want to cut response time?
  • Do you have any explanation for why the huge misspend in the last 2 years?  Answer:  That's not positive.  
I have left out the one commissioner who voted against the budget and tax increase, Richard Chervony.   Of the five, he spoke the longest, questioning the wisdom of spending money on equipment that can't be used, concerns about the sponsoring a scholarship pageant when we can't pay our own bills, promotions in the PD and a host of other specifics.  As is the custom on the dais, he was ignored.   He's not shiny and positive.   

So after an exhausting nearly 3 hours of not listening to residents, ignoring requests for measurement and proof,  congratulating themselves on a not job well done, they passed the budget that they all know will not make it through the quarter and decided to bag the regular commission meeting which was only in place to engage residents who want to help the city by serving on boards.  

Really, they decided to table everything until October, except for one thing - a dramatic whirlwind of North Bay Village crazy.  I'll cover that in the next  post.  

Kevin Vericker
September 26, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hope Is Not A Strategy - Positive Thinking Is Not Governance

The commission met on Tuesday night and North Bay Village is now on track to raise the current millage from 4.7772 to 6.2 or so. That's a 31% increase.  

The rise is inevitable because our village is not really governed in any true sense of the word.  For two years, the commission has been hitting the reserve accounts to cover everyday expenses, so much so that it went from $1.2 million at the beginning of fiscal 2012 to around $300,000 at the end of 2013.   

Not once during that time, did the mayor or most of the commissioners say, "We need a plan."  Not a better plan, any plan.  

The manager's presentation was direct, understandable and grim.  We're on the road to broke unless either the millage goes up or spending goes down.   And while some spending is going down, others are going up and there's no plan.  

One resident asked why there was no accountability for the nearly $1 million wasted by the PD when two cops were fired and then reinstated.  

Others wondered about looming retirement payouts.  

My contribution was to suggest that at a minimum the village should put performance measures on the money so we can see if we spent it to produce what we wanted.  My examples were:

  1. Add a performance measure to the money we are giving to Treasure Island Elementary School.  State that we expect them to improve at least one letter grade from a C to a B or no more money in 2015.   
  2. Add a performance measure to the police.  State that we expect them to move us from 27th out of 34 in crimes resolved to the top 10.  
I gave several other examples.  Jorge Gonzalez never heard of such a thing, the mayor thought it would be insulting to tell the managers that we are watching how well or poorly they are doing and in a truly bizarre response, the finance department said they were using performance measures and they were in the budget.   Utter nonsense of course.  The budget has some poorly worded mission statements but nothing you can measure.  

This is the problem - after two years of spending without regard to revenue and with no way to measure success and manage failure, the commission voted 3 - 2 to go ahead without a plan and without a view of what happens next.   

Commissioner Wendy Duvall voted "no" on the millage rate increase and on the budget, not because she thinks the money will grow on a tree but because she knows you have to manage it, and that setting and measuring expectations is the only way to do it.  

The final meeting is next week on Wednesday the 25th.   Why not show up and see why the  commission feels that it's okay to spend our money and not ask on what, or how.   Then explain it to me.  

Kevin Vericker
September 19, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tuesday at 6 PM

Here's the process.  The Commission will meet Tuesday Sept 17  at 6 PM at Treasure Island Elementary School.   This is the first of two budget meetings.  

At this meeting, they will review the proposed budget, set the millage rate and decide on what line items to fund.  This is the public's chance for input.  Really our only chance.  

After the meeting, the village staff will rework the budget and present the final on  Thursday September 25, again at 6 PM to adopt the final budget.  

While the tax rates are not set in stone, it's likely that to maintain the current level of spending, our millage tax rate will rise from 4.7772 to 6.2 or 6.3.   That's a 31% increase in our taxes.  

This Tuesday will be  the last chance to find out why we are spending 31% more for the same services.  

Kevin Vericker
September 13, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wh Should Have Had A Plan

From the Herald article on the county budget hearing last night:  
Gimenez’s administration should have foreseen the budget gap and made a plan two years ago to sustain the system, librarian Ellen Book said. “Now the library’s financially bankrupted,” she said.

Read more here:
The speaker was talking about the libraries but this could be true of any budget woes.  

In North Bay Village the commission has been spending out of our reserves since 2012, a completely unsustainable situation and now our reserves are down to $50,000 according to the budget memo of July 16, 2013.   

But there's no plan to get spending under control.  It seems like the only plan all along was to raise millage for the same services.   That's not governance.  That's close your eyes and think positively.

Kevin Vericker
September 11, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Blamestorming - A Game The Whole Village Can Play

"Blamestorming" was a popular slang word in corporate circles in the 1980's.  It refers to after the fact discussions of what went wrong and the group's attempt to put the blame anywhere but where it belongs.  Right now, we are blamestorming in North Bay Village and the consensus is "blame the lawyers."  That's easy to do.  As a class, lawyers are not popular people and frankly often a pain in the posterior, particularly when they do what you tell them to do even though they told you not to do that.   

We have two sets of village attorneys - one for labor and the other for all other village business, Weiss Serota, the other village business attorney is catching the heat right now.   A good part of that is because the labor attorney have not yet submitted their invoices so they look good but I think that will change when we see the price tags.   Let's talk about Weiss Serota.  

Their duties fall roughly into three broad areas:

  • General government and advising the village on legal issues.
  • Defending the village during legal battles.
  • Reviewing and advising on code issues.   

There's more but those are the main areas.   They charge us for the general government work under their contract and there has been little concern about the fixed price fees for that segment so I'm not discussing that here.  It's the other two areas that we need to examine.  

Our legal bills are high.  Too high.  There's no serious argument that they are not but to understand why, it's important to look at what caused them to be so high.  

In the first instance, defending the village in the myriad of lawsuits falls roughly into two categories - the completely avoidable and the nuisance lawsuits hoping to score a win.  Our village has done a terrible job at this.   

The great bulk of the legal overruns can be brought down to two personnel cases where two police officers were fired and appealed the firing. In each case, the arbitrators found against the NBV police administration and ordered the fired officers' reinstatement, meaning that the village had to provide full back pay and pay all the legal expenses.  This has accounted for close to a million dollars, some of which went to the village lawyers for their work but the bulk did not.  

In the first case, the arbitrator found that the testimony of the NBV police involved in the complaint was so unreliable and changeable that the arbitrator could give it no credence.  That's a huge flag.   

Regardless of the merits, if the testimony is so untrustworthy, then it's time to take a hard look at the PD and figure out how to fix it.  But that didn't happen.  There has been no one held responsible.   

In the second case, the grounds were so weak and so clearly politicized that no one believed there was a chance of winning.   Police chief Daniels should not have started this case, certainly never pursued it and is singularly responsible for the nearly $500,000 of our taxes that it cost.  

Both of these cases, which make up the bulk of the overrun, fall into the "completely avoidable" expense category.  Fun fact, in the second case, an officer is suing the village because his feelings were hurt and the chief named him "Officer of the Year."  See "score a big win."  

To blame the lawyers for this is simply a diversionary tactic.  Daniels owns this and our commission owns Daniels.  

Now in the next area, Code Review, there's a real problem.  Our code is obsolete, out of date, disjointed.  Each request for business permit, each new house with a slight variance, each building, is a struggle between the requester and the  village.  Coding and licensing considerations need to include federal, state, county and village regulations often at odds with one another, and the village code is designed to extract a maximum amount of money from small businesses.   

The cost of these Code Reviews is high and the money is passed through from the requester to the village planners, engineers and attorneys.  It's a low margin business for all concerned.   It should and could be much clearer and simpler.  

But that would take action on the part of the commission.  Action that they have been stubbornly refusing for years.  While it is a low margin business for the planners and attorneys, it has been a high margin business for some members of the commission in the past and remains a honey pot for campaign contributions and personal improvement.   

There is no excuse for our commission not clarifying the coding, not innovating with single step permits, fixed pricing on licenses, transparent code compliance and other simple steps that other municipalities have successfully implemented.  There are reasons for not doing so but they are purely political and sometimes financial benefit for sitting commissioners.  

So when they say "blame the lawyers", understand that the wool is being pulled over our eyes.   The lawyers only have the power to conform, not create, and until we the residents take the real responsibility by insisting that our government spend our money correctly, hell, just blame us.  

Kevin Vericker
September 9, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Going Broke - Gradually

Hemingway wrote this in The Sun Also Rises:
“How did you go bankrupt?" 
Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” 
That's how it goes.  Nobody goes broke overnight - not a person, not a business, not a city.   The warning signs are there and ignored.  The small decisions taken without consideration and then the big panicked decisions are made too late without time to think.   Detroit went bankrupt and nobody was surprised.  Too many companies to count have done so in exactly that way.  

Which bring us to North Bay Village and the TRIM notices.  You've seen by now that the proposed millage rate caps at 7.5, up from 4.7772.  Nobody believes it will go that high and is far more likely to settle around 6 to 6.1.  Still, that's a 27% increase in property taxes at a time when most entities are holding steady.   

That's a steep increase and the city has to ask why.  Are we getting 27% more value?  The answer of course is no, we are not.   The only reason this increase is happening is because of a series of small decisions taken without consideration that have eliminated our reserve and destroyed value.  Those decisions include:

  • Nearly $1 million over 2 years spent pursuing two cases in the police department where virtually everyone agreed that the 2 fired officers would prevail in the courts, as they did.   
  • Approximately $200,000 in non value added spend to pay for the move of city hall from a facility that it should never have been in to begin with and severance pay for a village manager who didn't work out.  
  • Over $100,000 on a retirement that was not planned for.  
Add to these some of the ongoing small spend decisions such as $3,000 for our commissioners to attend a four day conference in Orlando that mostly consists of vendors trying to sell their services, little stipends like iPad's which in this day and age are a luxury since smart phones can do the same things and other costs and you see a commission that does not get that the habits of economy and value need to start at the top.  

It is important to look at why and there is no escaping that the vast majority of the money spent for no value is with the Police Department.  The PD is about to lose the nearly $1 million dollars they get from the Federal Law Enforcement Trust Fund, yet continues to maintain an expensive separate detective bureau whose primary function is to support the DEA.   I've already mentioned the $1 million lost on the personnel cases.  The chief needs to be accountable for his decisions and so far the commission has not held him to any standards at all.  

Now we're probably stuck with the tax increase of 27% and that's that.  But what about next year?  What steps are in place now to prevent another 27% tax increase?   I think our interim manager Frank Rollason is the right guy and will do his best to extract value for money spent but unless and until our elected representatives actively engage in demanding accountability, setting standards and practice the habits of  economy themselves,  it won't happen.  

The first budget hearing is September 17 at 6 PM.  We need to show up.  It can't just be the same people saying the same things.   

Kevin Vericker
September 6, 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Back from Vacation

L'Shana Tovah.  A sweet New Year to all my Jewish friends.  Like so many things, the Jews got this one right.  The real New Year for anyone who ever attended American schools is the beginning of September and it's a right time to appreciate the gift of time and seasons.  

I just got back from a terrific vacation so I have been quiet for the last two weeks.  Nothing like the California coast with fresh morning fog and highs in the 70's to recharge.  

September of course is also budget season.   By now we've received the TRIM notices showing the 7.5 cap.  That's a lot of math, and make no mistake, a millage increase is a tax increase.  If our village millage goes to 7.5, that's a 56% increase in taxes.   It probably won't go that high, more likely it will settle around 6.1, a 28% rise in taxes and don't forget your house taxable value goes up as well under Save Our Homes.  

The question that the commission and residents need to ask is are we getting value for our money spent?  

A lot has been made about legal bills going over budget, and they have, but nary a word on the dais about why they went over budget and that answer is simple - the police chief spent it and it produced nothing.   This is a problem. 

It needs to be front and center in every discussion about the budget and it needs to be dealt with honestly.  

I will be posting more about this and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject.  

Kevin Vericker
September 4, 2013  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Engine 27 Will Stay

I wish I could have been there but a work commitment has prevented me from attending tonight.   

Frank Rollason, our interim village manager, checked our services contract with the county and it turns out our contract, still in force, requires the county to provide us with a fire truck and an ambulance.  And that 22 people from the village showed up to speak on the subject.  

It seems that Engine 27 is staying.  

That this was ever under discussion, that the county thought leaving us without fire protection was an option is frightening, and that the fire chief and the county mayor both promised then reneged that the fire truck would stay is deeply disturbing.   

Hats off to the residents that attended tonight.  You did it and you made it happen.   

Kevin Vericker
August 27, 2013

North Bay Village in the Sunshine

Poor Eddie Lim, so sad, so misunderstood. He simply took some candy from a stranger and now he's being accused of being a bad boy. I assume you've read the article in the Miami Herald  where Eddie Lim and Jorge Gonzalez whine that they had no way of knowing that accepting gifts from somebody seeking to do business with the city was a violation of anything at all. After all, it was Gonzalez's friend who offered.

Can you imagine that fun conversation? 

Gonzalez calls Lim: “Yo, Lim, want to go to a Heats game? I can hook us up with suites.”  Lim: “No, I'm so broke. I can't do that.” Gonzalez: “Lim, chill. It's free. My buddy Cheng is setting us up with sweet suites. And he really wants to meet you because you seem like such a fun guy and all and it has nothing to do with the business he seeks in our fair village.”  Lim: “Oh well that sounds perfectly legitimate and within the bounds of the law and I'm sure we don't have to report it. Let us go but let us be very careful not to discuss anything that might ever come before the commission. Yay, Heat.”

And those highly paid, resourceful investigators at the Commission on Ethics. 

Investigator: “Excuse me, Mr. Centerino, do you know the value of a suite at the Heats game.”  Centerino: “One pass on an ethics investigation per seat sounds about right. What game am I going to?” Investigator: “No, I misspoke. I meant I need to know for an investigation into North Bay Village commissioners.”
Centerino: “Hell if I know. North Bay Village? Check with Murawski.” 

 So much better than, I don't know, asking Pedro Cheng how much the seats cost.

And then finally they put it all together in a sterling piece of investigative journalism by a Miami Herald typist. As opposed to a journalist who might have looked up the seat prices and noted that the Commission on Ethics keeps changing its story about what happened.

It's just raining positivity in North Bay Village.

Kevin Vericker
August 26, 2013