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 nbvmario.blogspot.com.  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