Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Business Climate Change

Do you know what it costs to open a business in North Bay Village?  Neither do I.   Nor apparently does the Village. 

There are many variables - what type of business?  what type of premises? the price of the real estate? etc.  But the Village offers one variable too many - the cost of getting your business license from North Bay Village.   

A new business it trying very hard to come to North Bay Village.  Captain Joe's Boat Club, a boat rental club that was in Miami Beach for years.   It was time to move and Captain Joe selected North Bay Village, specifically the commercial marina at 7904 West Drive on Harbor Island. 

And then the problems began.  

The business applied for a license and approval of the zoning plans.  Now mind you, there was no need for a single zoning change.  The spot has been operating as a commercial marina for decades, with all taxes and fees current and paid.  The owner has more than sufficient parking and access, and the business itself has a clear operating plan.   Should be a no brainer, right?  

But it's North Bay Village.  The first hurdle was the village administration.  

In spite of the years spent operating as a commercial marina, the papers "disappeared" and the landlord had to prove that he owns what he owns and that is what it is.  That cost a few grand.  

Then the legal review of the application kicked in.  By custom, this is charged back to the applicant on a time and materials basis.  After an exhaustive review, legal found that the business is exactly what the business said it was and that the proposed site is zoned for exactly this kind of business.   

At the point, the cost of the initial business license is over $12,500 and the owner has been notified that it could be more.  Compare and contrast to the $300 annual license fee Captain Joe was paying in Miami Beach to operate a popular, tax generating and revenue enhancing business with minimal impact on the community.  

I am not anti-government.  Municipal government has a strong responsibility to ensure that a business of any sort is operating under the law and that it is properly and intelligently approved.   

In this case, and I have heard tell of others, in particular from a former restaurant owner in North Bay Village who was hounded by zoning, there were shifting goals, no clear path and most importantly, no way to plan for the financial demands from the village.  

We can't have this.   Businesses need predictable process and costs.  If the Village can't find the paperwork, it's the Village that should look.  If legal review is required for a bog standard business license, it should be a fixed price.  Inspections need to be made against agreed and clear criteria.  

North Bay Village is hurting, bad.  Our businesses survive in spite of the municipal government.  There are many creative, profitable options available including one step permitting for routine businesses at a single cost, tax abatements to reduce opening costs (and that's not a give away.  A tax abatement can postpone first year taxes to be paid later in order to help a business to get established).  The Village needs to market itself.   

A key issue is the Business Advisory Board has been working on exactly these issues but their recommendations are not reaching the commission, seemingly blocked each time they are proposed.  

Fixing this process is another example of the zero cost, high return that proper administration can bring.  It needs to change now.  

Kevin Vericker
February 26, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Police Department Loses Another Case

The Miami Herald published a small article called North Bay Village, PBA Settle Dispute Over Documents.  The article fails the big journalistic question by not answering the question "What happened?"   Reading the article, you get a description of the outcome, that there was some kind of an obscure legal claim over some documents and it's now resolved, but not an answer to "What happened?"  

The village clerk who received the request is quoted saying "“At the time that the request was made, I was advised that  the case was still ongoing,”  The Herald and all of us need to ask the next question.  Who advised that the case was  still ongoing?   

The Village Commission needs ask "What happened?" as well. This is a story about someone in the village deliberately misrepresenting the status of an investigation in order to not release documents required under Florida law.  The someone is unidentified and the Commission has to know who did this.  

The Mayor is quoted as saying “My concern is the expense. A thousand dollars here, $100 here, $500 here, $2,000 here — it adds up.”

That's the thing  It adds up.  And not to $2,000 but a lot more, a whole  lot more.  So far the police department's shambolic handling of  one case has cost the Village nearly $500,000 in legal fees and two years of salaries and benefits to the officer who was found to have been incorrectly fired.   

The case that was just settled for a trivial $1,500 is part of a larger case against another police officer who is appealing his dismissal, a case that has so far wound up costing the village nearly $200,000 in legal fees and one that most people believe the village is bound to lose, which will cost us several hundred thousand dollars more in back pay, not to mention the specter of a civil trial.  

At the same time, there are ongoing investigations against currently employed police officers, one going on for at least two years with no resolution.  

It's important to look at what the courts and arbitrators have found so far, and it's simple.  They have found that the dismissals and disciplines were not sustainable because the evidence and statements provided were so contradictory and so changeable that they could not give credence to any of the PD's claims.  

Think about that.  Our PD which is charged with finding the facts in criminal cases could not be trusted to provide accurate information in the two major cases they have pursued.  

Maybe there's a good reason.  Maybe the courts and arbitrators are the sort of fantasists who live their lives by the "could have been" rules.  But much more likely is that our PD is in such an observable state of disarray. that they cannot be consistent and credible.  

That's what I think and just to be very clear, I don't think it's the cops on the street who've done this.  

The police chief is responsible, both as an individual and a department head. The commission has to hold him accountable for these failures to meet even basic standards.  These cases should never have been pursued.  Daniels was advised against these dismissals from the beginning and he is continuing to mismanage the department to the village's great detriment.  

Simple fact, $1,000,000 represents  30% of the PD's $3,358,650 budget.  Thirty percent of the budget has been spent on two mismanaged personnel actions.  

At the next commission meeting, Chief Daniels should account for his actions in this case.  I can think of no organization that would allow the loss of 30% of the budget to unsuccessful outcomes where the person in charge was not even questioned about it and the commission needs to do this and take appropriate action now.

Kevin Vericker
February 23, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Walking the Walk

The main goal of my blog has been to bring out issues in our city that require discussion and examination.   In addition to the blog, there is also a Facebook Group called North Bay Village Residents Speak, open to anyone who wants to post about North Bay Village. 

I do this because I am fascinated by process, because I care about the Village, because I have seen residents ignored and bad decisions imposed over the years.  I have no official position nor do I intend to run for one, and I don't have any business interest in the village.  I think of this as a hobby that interests me.  

Over the last couple of years, I have irritated some, pleased others, caused controversy, helped  resolve some controversies, afflicted the comfortable and called out the pompous.   I've been wrong at times;  that comes with being opinionated and I have apologized and corrected where needed. 

This week on the Facebook page, I posted two pictures of cars parked on lawns.  I took the pictures on the morning of February 18 during my usual early morning walk.   I walk almost daily and the 2 pictures I posted were culled from the 14 similar pictures of houses with cars parked on the lawn.  

I was surprised by the reaction and I've decided to take the post down because the owner of one of the houses felt creeped out that his house was now on a public forum.  I can understand that so that's why I took the post and photos down.  

In fact I was accused of “crossing a line” by publishing these pictures, something I reject because the front of our houses are the face we present to the community, and every house in this village is already up on Google Street Views, but it was not my intention to go to war. 

The other reactions though really interested me.   To break them out roughly, the responses were “why concentrate on this when the village does not clean the streets?”  “It's trivial compared to public safety.” and interestingly a concern about the cats and public health. 

If you read me regularly, you'll see that I have brought all of those issues and more up.  Just last week I was at  the Commission meeting challenging the commissioners to take a walk around the islands and see the problems for themselves. 

Now I'm still convinced that parking on the lawn detracts from the community and looks shabby, rundown really.   In a city (yes I said city) where the majority of sales are foreclosures and we have that hulking abandoned building at 7525 E. Treasure Drive and the garbage strewn lots on Harbor Island, we don't need even more distressed houses.   I never said  lawn parking  was the most pressing issue but it is real.

In the same way that I challenged the commissioners to take a walk around the islands to see it from the street level, I'm challenging the people who commented that they were offended by my observation to show up.  If you're really concerned, put a little effort into it.   

Be at the next commission meeting, March 12, a Tuesday, at 7:30.  Good & Welfare starts at 8:30 PM.  Talk about your concerns about the dirty streets, about the public health issues, ask questions about why the priorities are being made.  Then be consistent.  Look for answers.  Be prepared to come back in April if you haven't gotten them.  Otherwise, you're really not part of the discussion, are you?

Kevin Vericker
February 20, 2013

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Streetwalk With Me

The Commission met on Tuesday night and while it was a full agenda, it was not a particularly controversial agenda, with one exception that I will cover last.   

The big news is that for the first time in memory, the audit statements for FY 2012 were submitted in February.  Usually the audit is not available until well past the end of the following year and we go through a budget cycle with no clear picture of where we are.  

It was a preliminary audit and there may be changes, but it looks solid and that's yards ahead of where we've been in the past.  Bert Wrains, the finance director, has worked doggedly to make our finances transparent and deserves a lot of credit for his effort.  

The legal contracts were finalized.  That should save us some bucks although the Chief's approach of mismanaging the police personnnel issues will continue to drain our cash

Some points on Good & Welfare.  

A TI resident named Gudrin (whose last name I forget, sorry) had heard a rumor that there was still talk of privatizing our sanitation group, and took the time to write and present a well constructed argument against doing that, concentrating mostly on the public safety and community aspects of keeping our own employees. If you remember, the Village tried very hard in the past to do this and even if the rumor is not true, it's important to bring it up.  Even better was to see a resident taking the time and effort to present this clearly and well.  It was impressive.  

A resident of the Yellow Building (1625 JFK Causeway) spoke abut her concerns regarding noise from the Trio.  I hope the village  addresses the issue as it was clear that it's real .  

Speaking of the Yellow Building, Candis Mason glommed on to that name, "The Yellow Building",  and it turns out that 1625 is trying to create an identity.  They are negotiating with Carlos Alves, a noted muralist, to create a public art wall mural.  You can see Alves' work here.  It's nice to see the building making an investment sorely needed on the causeway.  I'm excited.  

A strident resident of North Bay Island read a pompous, entitled faux outrage, speech complaining that the police had ticketed cars blocking the roadways on North Bay Island.  She felt this was a grave injustice because well, hey, wbo cares about pedestrians and bicyclists?  She made a demand for an apology and a revocation of the tickets.  Be interesting to see if the Chief caves. He probably will since he owes his job to her and her husband.  

Last point on Good & Welfare, I challenged the commissioners to take a hike.  That is a walk around the islands.  I hope that the four of them will.  (Eddie Lim already turned it down.)  They will see things on the street, blocked sidewalks, cars parked in walkways, the 15 seconds you have to cross the Causeway, the dirt strewn around.  Maybe this will motivate them to start enforcing the laws.  I'll keep you posted.  

Conflict:  I had left by 10 PM but tuned in again around 12:30 AM to see Mario Garcia and Dennis Kelly loudly discussing what Garcia has documented as the administration's ignoring of the recommendations of the Business Development Board.  I strongly recommend you read Mario's Post here as he lays out the specific issues clearly in an open letter to the mayor.  

It is obvious to me that there is a major disconnect between the Business Development Board and the Administration.  The Board and the Administration seem to be working on the same goals but the administration is not including or acknowledging the Board's recommendations in their own  proposals and that's wrong.  Residents are volunteering their time and effort and this needs to respected and included in the administration's recommendations.  Ignoring the work is disrepectful and counter-productive.  I will note that none of the recommednations are demands, simply well thought out perspectives and that is the specific role of the boards.    Getting North Bay Village focused is a large scale effort and needs to be an inclusive priority for the administration.  

Kevin Vericker
February 16, 2013  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Community Policing Means Working with the Community

The much delayed crime watch meeting happened tonight.  Moving with his usual glacial speed whenever it comes to community policing, Chief Daniels finally managed to pull off the meeting a full six weeks after the first poorly delivered community meeting on December 28 last year.  

There was an excellent presentation by Carmen Caldwell of Miami-Dade Crime Watch.  Ms. Caldwell also writes an article in the Herald on Crime Prevention.   Smart, to the point, she clearly knows her subject and it would be a great asset to the community to have her help organize this.  

I doubt that it will happen.  

Chief Daniels has eliminated every community policing North Bay Village had.  He stopped the PAL program, the DARE program, the outreach to the elderly and disabled, and the tradition of having an officer attend condo meetings.  The cops are actively discouraged from talking to the residents and he has refused regularly to meet with the community.  

Daniels was a political hire with a checkered record who was brought in to resolve an ongoing union fight and instead made it worse.  The village is on the  hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars owing to his habit of illegally firing officers for routine management issues,  The Chief has created an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust in the department, and he has nearly completely blocked the community from any involvement.  Heck, Daniels doesn't even bother to provide statistics at most commission meetings and when he does, theyre not the least bit legible.   

By the way, any news on the break in on Adventure that started this latest round?  You know, where the homeowners were in the house and someone broke through a locked window, stole their car keys and then their car?   No, nothing worth noting.  The car was recovered in Homestead but that's about it.   

Maybe this time is different.  Maybe unlike the PAL where dozens of parents pleaded for its continuation, unlike the condo meetings who have no assigned police liaison, unlike the old Ourtreach Program which is still in place if you can figure out how to navigate four full layers of the web page, maybe this time it will work.  

But forgive my cynicism here, I doubt it.   We're on our own. 

Kevin Vericker
February 11, 2013   

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Apathy - I don't know and I don't care

The Treasure Island PTA has been struggling for several years to get more than a handful of parents involved.  

The story is the same on the Boards.  Finding enough residents to fill the boards has been an ongoing struggle for the village and most boards are now dormant.  

I am often approached by people asking me to represent an issue that concerns them and when I ask them why they don't bring it to the commission or the village manager, they turn away.  

Not this is not all the time and for every issue.  Since 2010, I have seen the residents turn out in droves to stop the strip club, a successful effort, and to support the PAL, which the chief ignored.  Just last month there was a huge turnout for the Crime Watch meeting.  

It's not apathy, far from it, but I don't understand why more people are not involved in education, recreation and other issues.   

I'd like to hear your thoughts.  I'm changing the comments policy to allow comments anonymously.  The last time I did that, I got inundated with obscenities from North Bay Island, but I feel like it's worth the risk.  

February 5, 2013