Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Delusion of Progress - A Reply to Jorge Gonzalez

Commissioner Gonzalez, currently running for re-election put a long, articulate post on his Facebook page about what are the key issues in the North Bay Village Campaign.  You can see it on his Facebook page.  You can but I can't, Gonzalez blocks his page from people who might disagree with him but he thoughtfully put it up on the group North Bay Village Residents Speak, a page that I run and where I don't block anyone.   So go on over and read it and then come on back from there as I have something to say about it.  

Gonzalez points really come down to saying:
  • The streets are neither dirty nor unsafe.  
  • Dr. Vogel Park is almost complete and the Tot Lot will be done next. 
  • Treasure Island Elementary is under county control, not village, but that the village has advocated for improvement.  
  • It is an insult to the staff to ask for accountability.  
  • Financial Transparency is not a problem because we can get accounting reports.  
Now Gonzo's posts are definitely truthy in that they contain correct words, but are really unrelated to the issues brought up.  Let's unpack those.  

Dirty Streets/ Clean Streets/ Unsafe at any Speed:  The criticism of the dirty streets is absolutely correct.  It's been four years without being swept at all and it is only in the last few months that the street sweeper is back in action.  And the only reason it's back is because we kept complaining about the dirty streets.  So they are cleaner.   

SFM since 2012 has been obligated to pressure clean the sidewalks and the walls twice per year.  We pay them for it.  They've only done it once.  It was nice, but if you pay for something six times and they only do it once, you usually ask for a refund.  Not here.  

The dirty streets meme is also about the sidewalks overgrown with shrubbery and impassable.  It's better but you still can't walk the sidewalk for a full block without at least once having to step into traffic to avoid blockages.   

Then Mr. Gonzalez paints the safety concern as though it were about armed gangs in the street.  He didn't listen.  It's about speeding and bad driving.   That's the safety issue and when the police chief was questioned directly at the commission meeting about the speeding and lack of enforcement, he replied testily that he was busy keeping the homes safe and didn't have resources for the speeder.  

Mr. Gonzalez claims he see families and young couples and children rolling hoops in his daily jog/walk/bike around the islands and on the Causeway but I think those are in his head.  He has never done a systematic, on the sidewalk complete walk around the  village.  He would have noticed that most people who are out are walking in traffic and no one is strolling the causeway.  

The Parks:  Mr. Gonzalez describes the Vogel Park as a work in progress.  It's more like the construction of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose Ca.  When will it be done?  He puts up pictures of the trees but really, why can't this just be done with?  The Tot Lot doesn't need renovation.  It needs cleaning and that should be top of the list.  It's like saying, I won't bother dusting because I'm going to have a new house someday.  

The School:  In 2013, the school fell from a "B" to a "C".  This was a huge warning sign that something was not right.  The new principal came in and busted up the furniture, criticized her subordinates, alienated the community who supported the school enrichment programs, refused to provide the village with progress reports on the program we are funding, Jorge Gonzalez himself became outraged when a simple request for reports on performance be made to the community, dismissing the request as an insult.   

In 2014, the school fell to a "D" with the largest FCAT point drop in the county.  

It's nice that he's had meetings "private and public" but we are now two months into the school year, the principal is on indefinite leave, the School Board has an emergency school improvement program in place, and we are 2 months into the school year.   There has been no public presentation at the commission so far.  Last week, not one of the sitting dais members mentioned school progress.  Instead of asking us to "stay tuned", he might explain what he has learned in his "private" meetings. 

Accountability:  It is not an insult to hold people accountable, and by the way that does not mean fire them if there's a problem.   Here is a partial list of things that have happened for which the commission has never requested an accounting:
  • The move to the 1666 chambers was passed when the commission was told it would cost a net $9,000.  It did not.  It cost $49,000.   
  • Breaking the lease at the Lexi cost over $100,000.   It was never established that there was an environmental problem.   
  • In 2013, it took 3 tries to comply with state law on the process of how to pass the budget.   
  • This commission hired then fired village manager Dennis Kelly and gave him a severance of $80,000 even though state law limits severance to 3 months pay.  
  • Jorge Gonzalez negotiated the legal contracts terms with our village lawyers and then less than a year later, claimed he didn't remember the terms and pressed our attorneys to leave.  
  • The village illegally monitored employee phone calls for a period, then current staff hid the evidence, and nobody is accountable.  
It's not an insult to say that in any private company, the behavior above would be noted, discussed and the employee corrected for the problems their own inaction or poor actions caused.  It's called "Management"

Which brings me to the grand finale:

Our Finances Are Not Transparent, They are Balanced.  

There is an enormous disconnect here.  The accounting records are open to all but neither the commission, the village manager and certainly not the public get anything remotely resembling an operational report.   Don't believe me?  Ask Commissioner Gonzalez the following questions:
  • How much  has been spent on Vogel Park in the 2 years you've been on the dais?
  • What is the cost to the village of issuing a code permit for a single family house project? 
  • How much of that cost is recovered? 
  • How much money was spent on two lawsuits since 2012?  All costs specifically related to 2 cases where fired police officers were reinstated with full back pay and benefits long after the village had been advised that we would lose these cases.   Under which category was the money - nearly $1m - charged to?  The police department?   What is the dollar amount, Mr. Gonzalez?  We don't know.
  • Do the utility bills rise only by the billed amount from Miami or do they rise proportionally?
That list goes on but the point about Transparency is that accounting balances don't show why you're spending what you're spending.  Most cities have gone to performance costing which is a simple operational method that says "Show me all the money involved in an outcome, regardless of source." so you might show "One police patrol costs (salary/time, overhead/ time, training/number of trainings, cost of uniforms, etc)"   When you look at it that way, you know what you're spending on.  Gonzalez won't know because he never asked.  

Finally, this race is about the issues.  Why have our taxes gone up 35%?  Where is the money being spent?  Why did the school decline so dramatically?  Why do we pay for sidewalk cleaning and not get it?  How much does all this cost and can we do it better?   These are the questions Gonzalez can't answer.  More importantly, he doesn't even think these are legitimate questions. and that's why he does not deserve his seat.  .  

Kevin Vericker
October 22, 2014

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