Friday, May 24, 2013

News to Watch Out For

North Bay Village has several impending issues but two have taken center stage this month:

Fiscal:  Our reserves for the budget are getting lower by the week.  Not only do we have to lay out about $86k to break the village hall lease, the police lost another arbitration and we are on the hook for about $150k in back pay for a cop who should never have been fired.  We are also running about $175k net over budget.  So that's about a $400k hit to a $500k operational reserve.  

Operational:  The Fraternal Order of Police have filed a request for an impasse in the labor negotiations.  This means that the police contract will be either negotiated by a special arbitration or directly by the commission.   

These are setbacks.  North Bay Village has seen some progress in the last year and these have the potential to derail that progress.  

On the financial side, it's clear that the reserve money is there to handle just such circumstances (except for the back pay, that was entirely a bad management decision) but that we wound up here is a result of years of private interest overriding the common good.  

  • The lease on the Lexi space we have to leave was written so clearly to the landlord's favor that we have no choice but to pay an extravagant fine for leaving an unsafe building.  Just to recap, the move to the Lexi was pushed by then commissioner George Kane who was reprimanded for accepting a $25,000 commission on the transaction, approved by a commission that had deep ties to the developer and who never objected to the lease.  It was a move designed to pay directly to one commissioner and repay political debts by others.   The facility was never appropriate for our needs. 
  • The over budget comes mostly from our legal expenses, money spent pursuing legal matters that the village law firm advised against.   Additionally, we have been faced with lawsuits from the Lexi owner who is annoyed that the village puts restrictions on strip clubs.  

On the police side, the picture is even darker.   The police chief was brought in by the same commission that pushed the Lexi move, given a contract that pays him nine months severance if he is fired for anything other than criminal conviction, specifically exempts him from supervision and has no expiration date.  In the last three years he has:  

  • Pursued two routine personnel matters by firing the cops involved, both of whom were reinstated under state law and arbitration.    So far two cops had to be laid off to meet the spend for this and the total costs for pursuing these cases are somewhere around $1 million.  Two cases, both losers for the village.   
  • The chief created a new class of employee for one person, his wife.  He snuck this by as a so called volunteer position but in fact it violates the spirit of our strict antinepotism clause, directly violates our ordinances on Reserve officers, and puts the village on the hook for insurance and liability for an officer sworn in outside the normal legal processes.    
  • The chief shut down all community programs and began a campaign of gossip and innuendo against those officers who had worked with village youth, the condo associations, the crime watch and the outreach to the elderly.  The resulting drop in morale on the force has been evident to residents and businesses alike.   
  • His labor relations, probably his key job, are so bad that the union (the FOP) that pushed for his hire is now in legal action against the village because he has refused to negotiate with them.  
  • In recent act of chutzpah (cara dura for the Spanish speakers, brazen gall for the rest), the chief proudly presented the commission with the "Officer of the Year".  The same officer is currently suiing North Bay Village for hurting his feelings.  I'm not making that up.   The lawsuit is in response for his being disciplined years ago for not reporting a fist fight with another officer, a discipline that was never actually imposed.  

    It doesn't matter if you have Dick Tracy, J. Edgar Hoover and the Hardy Boys all rolled up in one package and working for you.  If someone is suing you for actual dollars because he was reprimanded for something he admits he did, you don't create a new award and present it with great ceremony.  
Except if you are the current police chief in North Bay Village.  Chief Daniels always was and remains a political animal, sneaking around the village promising board memberships to key political allies, offering but not delivering newly and illegally created "reserve" status to others, and using disinformation to shut out the community.   The chief's hire and the crippling contract were the put in place by the same bad commission that bound us to the Lexi contract and ridding ourselves of the past is going to be expensive once again.  But it's probably time to stop the bleeding and move along.  

There are good things happening in North Bay Village.  Our commission is not dominated by people seeking personal gain.  Our streets are cleaner (not as clean as we'd like but a damn sight better.)  Money long available to us is being deployed for rec and educational services.   Our finances are more transparent and getting clearer which is why we even know about this.   

In order to really move past it all, the commission has to deal with the corrupt legacy of the past and regain control of the PD, bringing it back to the vital part of our community it once was, and that is not going to be easy.  Not at all.  

Kevin Vericker
May 24, 2013


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