Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Coverups, Secret Meetings and The Mayor

Last March, when Mayor Kreps and the commission negotiated Village Manager Dennis Kelly's resignation, the village agreed to pay him approximately $80,000 in severance. That hit a snag.

It looks like Mayor Kreps and her commission have decided to hang an emerging scandal solely on Dennis Kelly while protecting those current employees who initiated and participated in the cover up of illegally monitored phone calls in North Bay Village.

According to what several sources have told me, the Village discovered that some time in 2012, the village phone system was recording all calls made to or from village numbers. This is illegal under Florida law. Recorded phone calls, with the exception of emergency services, must be announced and the caller given the option of disconnecting. You can imagine that as a policy having all phone calls recorded and open to review could be a problem – for example, confidential personnel and legal matters could be made public, medical information revealed during an insurance call, personal family information could be made public and overall, people find it a bit creepy to be recorded without their knowledge or consent. So it's illegal in Florida, as it should be.

During his tenure, Dennis Kelly found out that the recordings were happening anyway. The reason given was a misset switch that instead of recording just the emergency services calls was recording all calls. Mistakes happen like this with technology and our State Attorney's office is set up to deal with that. When a mistake like this is found, the municipality reports it to the SAO, who review the relevant facts and assuming they find nothing to contrary, write a letter or report explaining what happened and admonishing the administration and everyone moves along.

Not here in North Bay Village and the situation quickly went North Bay Village Crazy™. Instead of documenting and reporting the phone monitoring, Dennis Kelly and the current Finance Director opened a safe deposit box under their own names and personal addresses, took the disk containing the recordings and stashed them there. I don't know why they did that but I have been told that is what happened. Upon his termination, Dennis Kelly told the administration about this.

The recordings were retrieved and given to the State Attorney's Office for investigation. The SAO opened an investigation, because by then the circumstances seemed suspicious. It's just not normal to take a piece of evidence and hide it. As is customary in the SAO, the new village manager was informed about the investigation and his cooperation sought. The underlying expectation is of course that the village manager will keep it confidential. And once again, things took a North Bay Village Crazy™ turn.

You see, when there is a new investigation, almost everyone is a suspect. The commission, the management, the police, and part of a good investigation is to prevent people from tampering with or even being aware of the early evidence. So confidentiality matters.
The Village Manager did not keep the issue confidential. According to sources, Rollason called in the Police Department management staff and briefed them on the issue. Remember, the PD controls the phone system, presumably knew about the recordings, possibly knew that the disk has “disappeared” and now knew that the SAO was looking into it. Not exactly CSI stuff but it gives lots of time to start preparing defenses and obfuscation.

Here's where we are left. The Village illegally, perhaps mistakenly, recorded and monitored every phone call made to and from Village Hall. It is entirely possible that certain calls were reviewed illegally by village employees hoping to find out information. The then Village Manager and the current Finance Director took the evidence and hid it in a personal safe deposit box and never reported the problem. The new Village Manager briefed the principals of the investigation on the investigation itself.

In a flourish only those of who know her would have expected, Mayor Kreps has chosen to lay the entire issue on Dennis Kelly and has led the effort to not pay the negotiated $80,000 severance. For his part, Kelly is suing the village for his money.

Kelly is the only one being held liable for consequences. The other three employees, the tech manager who programmed the recordings is still with us, the finance manager who hid the recordings is still in place and recently received a raise, the new village manager, who had nothing to do with the original problem but whose indiscretion may yet derail the SAO investigation, was hired to the permanent position even after his deliberate leaking was known.

In other words, just one guy in this web is being held accountable, Dennis Kelly.

Tonight there will be a special meeting of our commission to authorize a private, closed to the public, meeting on the subject. Secret meetings are the worst way to deal with cover-ups. Sunshine is the best disinfectant and no matter how ugly this might get, Mayor Kreps should be dealing with it publicly. We have a right to know.   

Kevin Vericker
January 15, 2014

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