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


Monday, August 26, 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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fire Drill Next Tuesday

The on again, off again story of Fire Engine 27 will be discussed, again, at the next county meeting regarding the budget  The information is below.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Location: Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59 Terrace, Miami, FL 33137
Time: 6 -8 p.m.

The Village will be providing Transportation if you need it.  Call Jenice Rosado at 305 756 7171 for details.  

Why This Matters:   

The Fire Station on Pelican Island services North Bay Village with a fire truck and an ambulance.  These are the only dedicated response units serving our town.   We are uniquely cut off from the mainland and Miami Beach by two drawbridges.  This was always a poor design but not likely to get better.   

The county is considering taking away our pumper, our fire truck.   The discussion so far has already been a fiasco.  I was at the last meeting and the mayor and chief stated emphatically that the Fire Engine 27 would stay, then the fire chief later backtracked.   

Look, the county is making cuts all over and everyone wants to keep what they have.  But North Bay Village is not like any other city in the county, or the country for that matter.   Some basics per the 2010 Census.

  • We are the most densely populated municipality in Florida.
  • We are the 12th most densely populated municipality in the United States. 
  • We are the only one of the top 100 densely populated municipalities that does not have a land or a fixed bridge access to anywhere else.   
  • We have over 400 students at Treasure Island Elementary during a normal school day.  
The National Fire Administration best practices in high density urban areas is a six minute response time to a fire.  For each minute after that, the damage potential grows exponentially.  By 7 minutes, the fire will have spread beyond the original room, by 8 minutes, the rest of the building is in danger, by 9 minutes adjacent buildings are at risk.  

If the county removes Fire Engine 27, our fire pumper will be in Miami Shores, over 3 miles away.  If the bridge is up, that adds another minimum of 6 minutes to their response.   If the bridge is stuck, we burn.  

That North Bay Village is even being considered for this cut is crazy.   Our geography makes it an unacceptable risk.  

The county needs to stop this foolishness.  

People have to show next Tuesday.  It is a matter of life.  

Kevin Vericker
Auguest 22, 2013



Friday, August 16, 2013

COUNTY BACKTRACKING ON ENGINE 27 . FIRE CHIEF CLAIMS HE "MISSPOKE"

Earlier today, I wrote about how the following came down at last night's town hall meeting in Aventura.  Mayor Carlos Gimenez said to the audience and the mikes that the threat of cutting 6 fire trucks had been reduced to 3.   When Village Manager Frank Rollason was invited to the podium, Rollason asked the mayor if North Bay Village's truck was off the chopping block.  The mayor looked to the fire chief, who looked it up in his plans, and responded that North Bay Village would keep the fire truck and the ambulance. Rollason thanked the commission and then did not present.  The mayor and the commissioners were all smiles and friendly.   

Then today the fire chief and the mayor's office said they had a moment and gosh, they are still considering cutting Engine 27 from North Bay Village.   The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.   They look like morons and we are left in danger.  

The next meeting is August 27 in Little Haiti.    They need to put this to bed NOW.  It's absurd to consider cutting an island off from emergency services, especially since we are the most densely populated municipality in Florida.  And this is not an "oops" moment.  The county mayor needs to take this every bit as seriously as we do.  

Kevin Vericker
August 16, 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Updates and Muddy Clarifications

On August 8, the Commission on Ethics sent out its monthly update by email.  The opening headline and the first paragraph are cut and pasted from that email.  (bolded emphases are mine)

Miami Heat tickets score an ethics complaint
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) today agreed to accept a settlement agreement with two political leaders in North Bay Village who failed to report a gift after attending a Miami Heat game last December.   Vice-Mayor Eddie Lim and Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez were the guests of the vice-president of a corporation that has been involved in real estate in the municipality.  They should have filed gift disclosure forms by the end of March for the tickets that were valued between $110-140 each.  As part of the settlement to the complaints (C 13-13 and C 13-14), Lim and Gonzalez agreed to file gift disclosure forms, pay $100 each in investigative costs and accept Letters of Instruction.
On August 13, the Commission on Ethics sent out a revision to the monthly report.  
Miami Heat tickets score an ethics complaint
 
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) agreed on August 8, 2013, to accept a settlement agreement with two political leaders in North Bay Village who failed to report a gift after attending a Miami Heat game last December.   Vice-Mayor Eddie Lim and Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez were the guests of a friend of Commissioner Gonzalez.  They should have filed gift disclosure forms by the end of March for the tickets that were valued between $110-140 each.  As part of the settlement to the complaints (C 13-13 and C 13-14), Lim and Gonzalez agreed to file gift disclosure forms, pay $100 each in investigative costs and accept Letters of Instruction.  

I was surprised that this was worthy of a revision and wrote to Rhonda Sibilia, the Communications Director of the CoE.  Specifically I asked her "Will the investigation results of C13-13 and C13-14 also be revised to remove references to Asia Connect Medial's business interest in North Bay Village?"  

Ms. Sibilia replied as follows:  

No, the allegation of the company’s business interests were made by the complainant, but not confirmed or asserted by the investigation.   It was a mistake to put it in the probable cause memorandum, from which I wrote the summary. 

The fact that Asia Connect Modial is doing business in North Bay Village still remains in the investigation and the complaints themselves are not in dispute.  And that is the key point - the gifts were from a company doing business in North Bay Village.   Otherwise it would never have been noteworthy.  

I've written before that the appearance of impropriety in public service can be as destructive as actual impropriety and to watch the Commission on Ethics scramble to change the emphasis rather than leaving the factual first report alone is one of many causes of concern as to the reliability of the ethics watchdogs.  

There is undue influence at the CoE when it comes to North Bay Village.   In the past, the CoE have found that the case of a commissioner receiving a second mobile phone for her personal use paid for by the city for over 7 years was alright since it was "done with good intentions."  They have leaked findings to influence elections in North Bay Village and did not acknowledge criminal investigations resulting from their work.   In one weird move, the CoE solicited documents from me regarding the misspending of public funds, which I provided with no accusations, and then took time to dismiss the bills as gossip and slander rather than math.  

Other sites have accused the CoE of being window dressing but I think it's worse.  They are actively working against their mission in North Bay Village by engaging in partisan politics and not even being subtle.  Our tax dollars at work.  

Kevin Vericker
August 15, 2013 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Ethics At A Discount

The Commission on Ethics decided that for not declaring a gift of arena suites, North Bay Village Vice Mayor Eddie Lim and Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez need to pay $100 each to reimburse the Commission on Ethics for bothering them.  The COE did not levy a fine.   

The Commission on Ethics reports the value of the tickets at $110 to $140 each although a quick look through Seatgeek shows a much higher price for suites at next year's Atlanta Hawks game.

That's what the Commission on Ethics thinks it is worth to break county and municipal codes regarding the disclosure of gifts from people doing business with the government $0 and a "reimbursement" to the COE for their troubles of somewhere between 72% and 90% of the gift value received.  

The short version of what happened, according to the complaints filed with the Ethics Commission, is that on December 10, Lim and Gonzalez accepted an invitation from Pedro Cheng of Asia Connect Medial Corporation to join him in a suite at the American Airlines Arena to see the Heat and Hawks play.   Asia Connect is putting together a package for Turkish investors to buy in North Bay Village and needs commission support for it to happen.   

Lim and Gonzalez accepted the gift and attended the game.  They never reported the gift as required by law and an ethics complaint was filed against them.  

There are so many things wrong with this scenario.   

Accepting an expensive gift from someone seeking favors to do business with the city you govern is legal.  It shouldn't be but it is.   It is difficult to believe that the gift was simply a good hearted gesture based on a shared love of the game.  

The Sunshine Laws in Florida prohibit private meetings where government business is discussed and is specifically about these sort of events.  Although Gonzalez and Cheng have known each other for some time according to the statement given by Jorge Gonzalez to Ethics, Lim and Cheng were new friends.  There may have been no discussion but it certainly gives the impression that there may have been.  

That alone should have been enough for both Gonzalez and Lim to have declined the offer of tickets.  The appearance of impropriety in governance is as destructive as impropriety itself.  There's simply no reasonable way to conclude that the gift was a spontaneous act of generosity from a well wisher.

In fact, I'm sure it was that appearance of impropriety that caused them to not report the gift.  I attended the same Ethics workshop with Eddie Lim and the Commission on Ethics could not have been clearer about the need to report such gifts.   But this gift was not reported.  

I asked Rhonda Sibilia the COE spokesperson why such a paltry fine.  I asked why not at least the cost of the tickets.  She replied, 

The $100 was charged for investigative costs and has nothing to do with the value of the gift.  The two were charged with an ethics complaint for failure to report receiving a gift in excess of $100 in value.  Because both gentlemen responded immediately when informed of their oversight, the potential fine of $500 was waived.
In other words, the law could have fined them up to $500 each, but the COE was not interested in this.  The $100 is a token amount to reimburse for the cost of a cut rate investigation.   The COE does not intend to send a message about accepting gifts and skirting the  edges of Sunshine.  They just wanted it closed.  

This doesn't rise to the level of the scandals alleged in Sweetwater and Miami Lakes, far from it.  But it does compromise our ability to trust our commission.  

Jorge Gonzalez and Eddie Lim seldom meet with constituents and have offered virtually no legislation, nor have either worked on any city initiatives beyond the Farmers Market.  Yet they found time and reason to socialize with people seeking special treatment for profit and enjoy VIP seats in the process.   

The COE left the obvious concern aside by not fining for this violation.  Their judgment that the only issue was the late reporting of a gift and it was not worthy of penalty speaks volumes about how they view ethics.  This is pretty discouraging but not surprising.  When it comes to North Bay Village, Joe Centorino's Commission on Ethics have always played politics and seldom dealt with Ethics.  
We're in a bad place when this is way we accept our government.  

Kevin Vericker
August 12, 2013.  




Thursday, August 8, 2013

Commissioners Lim and Gonzalez fined by the Commission on Ethics

From this month's Commission on Ethics Summary - 
 For Immediate Release:  August 08, 2013
Contact: Joseph Centorino, Executive Director
(305) 350-0613 or centori@miamidade.gov

Miami Heat tickets score an ethics complaint

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) today agreed to accept a settlement agreement with two political leaders in North Bay Village who failed to report a gift after attending a Miami Heat game last December.   Vice-Mayor Eddie Lim and Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez were the guests of the vice-president of a corporation that has been involved in real estate in the municipality.  They should have filed gift disclosure forms by the end of March for the tickets that were valued between $110-140 each.  As part of the settlement to the complaints (C13-13 and C 13-14), Lim and Gonzalez agreed to file gift disclosure forms, pay $100 each in investigative costs and accept Letters of Instruction.  
Note that the violation is that they hadn't disclosed the gift, not that they accepted a gift, worth over $110 each, from a corporation that does business with the Village.  
Of course they didn't disclose it.  They knew it would look exactly like what it was - personal reimbursement for access.   
I don't have the details on the complaint yet.  I have requested them.  It will be very interesting to find out who the Commissioners were hanging out with while the village goes broke.  
Kevin Vericker
August 8, 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

26 % Rise in Taxes Proposed. Could be as high as 57%

Last night, the commission voted to cap the operating millage 7.5, up from the current millage rate of 4.7772.  That's the top figure, not one they intend to hit.   Still that would be a 57% increase in our property taxes.   

The probable increase, based on the draft budget presented last night is to 6.0031, up from 4.7772.   

That's a property tax increase of 26%.   

And for this, we get, well nothing.  The status quo.   

The biggest portion of the increase is the Police Budget, requesting a cool $620,085 over last year to maintain the current staffing levels.   

This is a good place to note that this year the Chief wasted $500,000 pursuing two routine personnel matters that everyone knew would lose and against all advice.    He also appointed his own wife to a no show "volunteer" position so North Bay Village would pay for her certification.   The overtime costs are out of control as he keeps an officer he doesn't particularly like at home with full pay.  The force is so demoralized that their sick time is 3 times the state average.  The dispatch department failed their state certification and the detached detectives are not bringing the Trust Fund money this year.   It's bad.    

The next steps are the commission needs to take a sharp pencil and a sharper scalpel to the budget, particularly the police budget, and take the village back.   We are not a socialized employment scheme for failed management and nepotism.   

The public meetings to discuss these will be held September 17 at 6 PM and September 25 at 6 PM.  

Kevin Vericker
August 1, 2013