Monday, November 20, 2017

Nothing Good Happens In The Dark

TRIGGER WARNING:  This is going to be a complicated post that attempts to break down several concurrent and related subjects of possible illegal activities in North Bay Village.  If you suffer from short attention span or anxiety when more than one idea at a time needs to be discussed, you should leave now and view videos of puppies 


THE THREE SEPARATE SUBJECTS 

  • North Bay Village Douglas Hornsby revealed that he served a prison sentence in Tennessee following his conviction on a drug felony in the 1980's.   This raises the question of whether or not he was an eligible voter in the State of Florida at the time of his appointment to the North Bay Village Commission.   There is no definite statement on that subject from the state authorities and we are still waiting for that.  

  • Several citizens, including the head of the Village Citizens Budget and Oversight Commission, have filed a lawsuit requesting that the court remove Hornsby immediately and find that he was ineligible to serve.   The lawsuit plaintiffs have also accused Frank Rollason, the Village Manager, and Robert Switkes, the now former Village Attorney of consipiring to put and keep Douglas Hornsby on the commission and that Commissioner Andreana Jackson cooperated in cancelling a meeting to avoid public discussion of the issue.  That lawsuit is now scheduled to be heard in January 2018.

  • On Tuesday November 14, without providing the customary public notice of consideration, the Mayor of North Bay Village made an unannounced motion to fire Village Attorney Robert Switkes "for cause" and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Andreana Jackson "for discussion".  There was no discussion except for the Mayor briefly mentioning in her motion that the Commission on Ethics had commented that Vice Mayor Eddie Lim may have received erroneous legal advice from Robert Switkes but the mayor did not mention that she herself filed that complaint against the Vice Mayor.

    Robert Switkes in turn objected to the dismissal stating publicly that two of the Yes votes - Mayor Kreps and Commissioner Alvarez - should have recused themselves as they are "subjects of interest" in a criminal investigation brought to the state and federal authorities by Switkes.   Switkes further stated that he believed the dismissal to be retaliation for his bringing the information forward that led to the federal and state investigations.  

CHECKPOINT - ARE WE ALL CLEAR SO FAR?


If you find what I wrote above hopelessly confusing and enraging, I refer you back to the puppy videos.   It's okay.  We'll carry on without you.  

THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION - EXTORTION



Douglas Hornsby's discussion of his conviction, incarceration and a short discussion of his life this far was motivated by a series of anonymous letters and texts sent to him and his wife in a clear attempt to pressure him to do something.  I know how vague "something" sounds but the letters and texts are not public knowledge and I certainly haven't seen them.  But it's not too far a jump to believe that the writer(s) of the poison pen letters expected that Hornsby would either resign rather than face public disclosure of this public information (you read that right) or attempt to placate the extortionists by agreeing to do something they wanted him to do.  I have no idea what and you don't either unless you wrote them, in which case, please share.  

Now extortion of a public official is considered a very serious crime and is covered under many applications of the federal Hobbs Act.  In the political sense, the act makes it a federal crime to threaten a public official to use their public power for the extortionist's gain.   Again, it's not clear what the extortionist wanted from Hornsby but at a minimum, the assumption that it would be a resignation is not a fanciful leap of thought. 

As part of Hornsby's discussion to the commission, the Village Attorney Robert Switkes informed the commission that he had turned the relevant information over to the FDLE and the FBI for their investigation and suggested that the commission take a vote affirming Hornsby's appointment, which they did.

ENTER THE PRESS


The Mayor decided that she would give a series of interviews to NBC 6 Miami to discuss her concerns that perhaps nothing the commission voted on this year was legal because of the situation, to complain publicly that she felt she was not given all the information she needed to make a decision while never specifying what information she wanted, and wonder about it all.  

For his part, Willard Shepherd dug into Hornsby's voting records and uncovered some apparent irregularities, specifically it looks like the box that asks if you have been convicted of a felony was not checked when it should have.  Further investigation by Willard Shepherd uncovered that Hornsby's voting rights were restored in 2005 and confirmed again in 2017 but the Miami-Dade Elections bureau simultaneously declared that Hornsby was ineligible to vote in July 2017 and then issued him a new elegible voter registration three days later.   

All confusing and by now the whole eligibility should have been resolved.  If Hornsby was not eligible at the time of his appointment, he should leave.   If he was, then the issue about whether or not the village's decisions were valid go away.  If there are further legal issues on previous registrations, he should face the issue in the appropriate venues and clearly a decision should be made about his continued presence on the dais.

The appropriate venue is not in the press.

WHO ELSE IS INVOLVED?


Miami-Dade Department of Elections - Their role in this is to investigate if Douglas Hornsby was an eligible voter at the time of his appointment to the commission.  They have not made a public statement but they did tell him that in July of this year they did not believe him to be eligible but then immediately re-registered him as eligible, but have not made a definitive public statement as to Hornsby's eligibility when he was appointed.  

The State Authorities, the FDLE according to former Village Attorney Robert Switkes, is investigating the anonymous letters and texts sent to Hornsby and trying to determine who sent them and with what purpose.  

The Federal Authorities, the FBI according to former Village Attorney Robert Switkes, is working with the FDLE to determine who sent the anonymous letters and texts to Hornsby and once identified to determine if the intent was to extort a public official, thereby the violating the Federal Hobbs Act.

The State and Federal District Attorneys, who will decide based on the investigation if there is sufficient evidence to bring identified suspects to trial for the extortion attempts.  

The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Village - They are seeking a judicial order to remove Hornsby from the commission and allege that the Village Manager and Attorney colluded to put Hornsby on the dais and to keep him there while knowing that he was ineligible.  They also allege that Commissioner Andreana Jackson deliberately absented herself from a May commission meeting at the suggestion of Village Manager Frank Rollason and Village Attorney Robert Switkes so as to preclude discussion of the Hornsby status at the meeting.   The hearing is now set for January 2018.  

Persons of Interest - according to former Village Attorney Robert Switkes, two "persons of interest" in the state and federal investigations are Mayor Kreps and the wife of Commissioner Jose Alvarez, Mary Kramer.   "Person of Interest" is a broad term used to describe people that the investigators want to speak to in relation to a crime.  A "Person of Interest" can be suspected of the crime, or may be believed to have information that could lead to the identification of a suspect or other key information.   

THE FIRING OF ROBERT SWITKES


In our municipal system of government of North Bay Village, there are only three employees who report to the Commission - the Village Clerk, the Village Manager, and the Village Attorney.   The role of the Village Attorney is to oversee all legal matters that might affect the village, represent the village in legal conflicts and to provide advice to the Commission on legal procedures.   The position is hired and fired by majority vote.  

Normally, since these are key positions, the procedures around the hiring and firing are done in a Commission Meeting with public notice and public discussion.  While it is not legally required to notice the public on the specific matter, it is an absolute tenet of Good Government Practice that important decisions be noticed to the public and the public disclosure of the reasons why the change is being made.  

THERE WAS NO PUBLIC NOTICE


The motion to fire was introduced late in the evening with no prior notice to the citizens or the administration.  None of the three commissioners gave their reasoning for firing Robert Switkes.  Switkes himself said that there is an inherent conflict since the Mayor and the wife of Commissioner Alvarez are "persons of interest" in the criminal investigation.  Per Switkes, they should have recused themselves from such a vote and that he believes the firing was in retaliation for his reports of possible criminal action.  

Additionally, a new village attorney, Norman Powell, was hired, again with no discussion on the dais or input from the public.  Norman Powell has served as our coding magistrate but there is nothing on public record as to why he is the best candidate to take over as Village Attorney and again, no commissioner shared their reasoning on his appointment.  

MY VIEW


The whole business stinks.  

I make no bones about how poorly our mayor has performed as the titular head of our commission.  The Mayor has no ability to build consensus and at the first hint of disagreement, uses every tool at her disposal to destroy the person who has displeased her.   Richard Chervony, Jorge Gonzalez, Frank Rollason, Eddie Lim, Robert Switkes, and dozens of others were once her close friends and allies but she used underhanded and questionably legal methods to attack each of them when they asked questions or disagreed in public.   Just last year, in a filed police report, the mayor admitted to slapping Commissioner Andreana Jackson at a children's event sponsored by the village.  Her instability and lack of discipline make even routine matters difficult and her behavior in the press and on the dais raise deep suspicions about her concern regarding extortion.

Click here for the police report on the slapping incident.  

Commissioner Alvarez has shown all the initiative of a sock puppet.  He only speaks to announce that he has no report to make and vote the way the mayor has indicated she wants him to.   

Commissioner Jackson disappointed me.   She has been an independent voice on the commission, constructive and often innovative in her approach, but her silence on the matter of the firing is disturbing and her refusal to disclose her reasoning on why Robert Switkes should be dismissed is a cavalier disregard of the norms of public service.  

The commission should meet publicly in special session and bring the  question back.  This time it should be done openly, in Sunshine, with facts good, bad, ugly and dull laid out.  The commission works for the public and while they have authority to act as they see fit, the clearest analogy I can draw is to other employee/employer relationships.  Think of the Commissioners as public employees.  That they have the authority to take an action is crystal clear.  But when their employers, the public, raise questions as to why, they have an absolute ethical and professional obligation to explain their reasoning.  

As of Friday, only Vice Mayor Eddie Lim had called for a special meeting.  He needs another commissioner to do so and one of the three who voted for this measure should step up to the plate and do so.   

Hiding is not an option.  

Kevin Vericker
November 20, 2017








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