Monday, July 30, 2018

Norman C. Powell North Bay Village Attorney

I'm just here for the money!
At tonight's very special meeting of the commission, the first item discussed was the settlement with Yolanda Menegazzo, who was our Deputy Village Manager for 40 days.  The settlement is for $31,666.66 in exchange for not suing the Village.  

Well, why should she sue the Village, you ask.  Good question!  

For one, when the Village hired her, they were under obligation to confirm the hire with the commission.  It's in our code of Ordinances, Section 3.06 (g). " the Village Manager shall submit appointments of all department heads to the Commission for approval."  In June, when the Village Manager mentioned this, the Village Attorney Norman C. Powell, shook his head "no" and the commission did not take the vote required by law.   This was a big sign that something was wrong and would be held in great suspicion by a court if Ms. Megenazzo chooses to sue.  It was wrong.  

So I suggested that since Mr. Powell was the source of the error, he should be held responsible for paying for the error.  Why not take the $31,666 out of his billings?  

Powell then either straight up lied or is truly ignorant of his obligations as Village Attorney and said he had no idea what I could be talking about.  

Laura Cattabriga, who never misses an opportunity to ask a "concerned" question, asked a concerned question "Does commission confirmation apply to non-chartered positions?"  and Powell smugly said "No."  

But it does.  And I can show it.  I texted the information to the commission pointing out where it specifies such, but Cattabriga who is part of the collusion never mentioned it.

In the end, the commission voted to offer Menegazzo two months' salary and gave her until Friday to accept it.  If she doesn't, we're in court.  Many people would have expected their attorney to discuss the terms with them before presenting them with the offer, but not our pal.   

If this was the first bad advice Powell gave, well, maybe it could pass.  But it's not.  Not even tonight.  

Let's move on to the "final" item of the evening.  A quickly cobbled together Charter Resolution that you will have to vote on that changed the charter provision prohibiting nepotism to the second degree of consanguinity to simply prohibit hiring anyone related without specifying what relationships constitute nepotism.  

Now just to explain how this piece of bullshit wound up on the radar of the commission, Mayor Crazy Eyes was informed by one of her personalities that Laura Menegazzo's mother worked with a step-cousin of Marlen Martell so the hire must have been nepotism.  

Powell then drafted a proposed change that would expand the definition of relationships to "whatever."
After I brought up to the five members of the dais how dangerous this is and pointed out that in one sense, we're all related, Norman took a break and came back with a compromise offering prohibitions against the hiring of third degree relationships, which nobody on the dais even bothered to understand although Laura Cattabriga asked a "concerned" question or two and they all obligingly voted for it.  

A real lawyer would have provided them with the information about the implications etc. but Powell, well, you know, he rolls easily.   Not accurately or well, but he doesn't sweat the details.  

The rest of the evening was just as bad.  They were voting on Charter resolutions ranging from the technical to the ridiculous.  I can't even tell you what a waste of time it was.  

I think the moment that best summed up the meeting was when Acting Village Manager Lewis Velken commented, apropos of nothing, that his salary was only $135,000 per year compared to former police chief Carlos Noriega's of $170,000 and Mayor Crazy Eyes cackled "Put that on Facebook" and laughed maniacally.   

Carlos Noriega's salary was $117,000 per year, $18,000 less than Velken's.  

They didn't understand a single damn thing they were voting on.  The staff gave them little information and they asked even less.  

So after wasting our time and money, the Mayor moved to adjourn the meeting and with a great cacophony of Ayes, they disbursed into the night.  I'm pretty sure at least one member of the dais was high and looking for her next hit or a quiet place to crash while another drove off in car suspiciously similar to one used in an extortion crime.  It was that kind of night.  

Kevin Vericker
July 30, 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Fixer and The Mayor

Ana Watson's Charges
Next week, Monday, July 30, at 6:30 PM, the Village is illegally holding a "Special Meeting" which by law requires that the meeting address only one subject.  They are addressing four subjects but since we have the terrible legal advice of Norman C. Powell, former registered strip club lobbyist for North Miami Beach, we've long since given up the pretense of being a village of laws and are now just working for cash.  

Anyway, one of the subjects is a Commission review of the charter amendments proposed by the Charter Review Board.  The Charter Review Board, chaired by Julianna Strout, has done months of painstaking work on reviewing our Charter and proposing updates.  They will present their recommendations and just like the Budget Board at the Budget Hearings, they will be ignored and the mayor will press for her insane demand that the village vote for a "strong mayor" concept with a term of four years because she was unable to cause enough damage during her eight years.  

But probably the worst insult is the continued presence of Ana Milena Watson, a close friend of the Mayor's, on the Charter Review Board and the Community Enhancement Board.  

Ana Watson is currently facing four felony charges of stealing from the Bays Water Condominium.  When an elected official, one chosen by the public, is charged with a felony, they are suspended from office under Florida law by the governor.  This is not a rush to judgment.  Instead it is a simple precaution to keep an official from using their post to influence a trial.  

Ana Watson has been an "inside" player for years.  There are credible reports that her relationship with the mayor was the catalyst for the police department purge.  The New Times did a good writeup on it saying "Columbano's April 26 firing raises new questions about the mayor and her ties to Watson." and that his firing was the direct result of his investigation into the stolen money.  

The Herald for its part discusses Watson's influence in Village Hall writing:  

"Early in his tenure, Rollason said he found a private citizen sifting through property records and making copies in the building department, unsupervised. The information was public, but neither the woman nor city staff were following protocols in place to ensure the integrity of the records.

“I told her she couldn’t do that anymore,” Rollason said. He remembers instructing the woman to go through proper channels to request access to documents, which she could review while supervised, and pay for copies just like everyone else. It turned out that the woman was Ana Watson, well known around the city as a self-described fixer for property maintenance and real estate matters. Over the years, Watson served on several city committees and was active in Leon-Kreps’ campaigns.
Several city employees said that until Rollason put a stop to it, Watson had free rein in the building department to browse and copy any documents she wanted."
The question of whether Watson should continue to serve came up briefly, with Commissioner Laura Cattabriga made a pious comment about "innocent until proven guilty and the subject died.  The mayor and the commission have also refused to introduce ethics into the requirements for board memberships.  

In the meantime, the residents of the Bays Water continue to be harrassed.  As recently as last week, the North Bay Village Code inspector was at the building following "anonymous" complaints against six different owners, none of which were borne out, and are left wondering why someone accused of theft against them continues to hold a high position in the Village boards, serving at the commission's pleasure.  

I wonder too.  

Kevin Vericker
July 25, 2018

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Civics 101 - North Bay Village Commission

Elections are coming up in North Bay Village this November and three of the five commission seats are up.  

The seats are for:

Mayor - 2 Year Term.
Commissioner from Harbor Island - 4 Year Term. 
Commissioner at Large - 4 Year Term.  

The qualifications to run are listed at the Village website and are pretty straightforwrd.  

I thought it would be useful though to explain the sometimes confusing system under which we are governed.  

The first point is that we have three Commissioner seats for which candidacy is restricted by where the candidate lives.  Those are Treasure Island, Harbor Island and North Bay Island.  In order to run for those seats, the candidate must live in the respective neighborhood.  

The candidate is voted on by the entire community and represents the entire community, not just the neighborhood they live in.  It's a stupid and unfair system for a municipality with a population under 10,000 and the interests of the three neighborhoods do not significantly diverge in any real aspect but it was institutionalized as a way to ensure that the demographically homogeneous North Bay Island gated community would always have representation and we seem to be stuck with it.  

The mayor and the commissioner at large can live anywhere in the Village.  

Candidates require at least 50 valid signatures from registered voters in North Bay Village to qualify along with several other factors.  Again check the Village website here for details.  

It's important to understand that our form of local government is a weak mayor-council with a strong manager.   

The mayor, apart from certain ceremonial functions, check signing authority and chair functions, is one of five votes on the commission.  In turn the commission sets overall policy, approves budgets and hires (and frequently fires) a strong village manager who is responsible for the administration of the village, with powers similar to that of a corporate CEO.  In other words, the commission acts like a Board of Directors with the manager having the responsibility and authority to create and execute policy.  

The commissioners, none of the five, do not have direct supervision responsibilities, only general policy direction.   Their role is often to be the voice of the public, bringing concerns and ideas forward, but the implementation is the job of the manager.   

This style of government is common throughout Florida and was the model for Miami-Dade County.  As you might remember, in 2007, Miami-Dade County changed to a "strong mayor" where the responsibility of the administration sits with the mayor, an elected position.   The City of Miami is considering a shift to this model too and it seems to be picking up steam nationwide as well.  The argument in favor is that it holds an elected official directly accountable for the administration of the municipality.  The argument against is that it means that the municipality is administered by someone without the professional experience needed to manage complex systems.  This tends to lead to a requirement for more experienced professionals to head each department.  

But for now, it's important to understand - all 5 represent us, the North Bay Villagers.  

So that's the Civics Lesson for today.  Next up - What is a Charter?  
Kevin Vericker
July 24, 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Laura Cattabriga Has A Question

The Question Queen

Laura Cattabriga wants to be mayor of North Bay Village and will be coming around asking you for your signatures, your money and your vote starting July 19.  

But first, let's talk about the questions.  

Laura Cattabriga is the master of the self serving question.  Posts them solely for her benefit.  Never answers them.  Claims that answers are “disrespectful”

This strategy is working well for her.  

Let’s examine some.  

The Question That Started It All

In May of 2017, Commissioner Doug Hornsby was the target of an extortion attempt, a federal crime. His tormentors were anonymous and an investigation was started.

As a natural correlation, there was an investigation into Hornsby’s voting status at the time of his appointment. Given that his rights had automatically been restored by Tennessee following his completion of parole, Hornsby had every reason to believe that he was eligible. And no court found otherwise.

Still, Laura had “questions” so she got someone else to pay for a lawsuit which failed to answer the question.

Laura Never Got An Answer On Hornsby

But Cattabriga got what she wanted.
When the Mayor, the Vice Mayor and Commissioner Mary Kramer’s Husband colluded with the Village Attorney, Norm Powell, to falsely advertise a meeting as a discussion and illegally use that meeting to remove Hornsby, Laura was out of questions.  
Except one.  

“Can I have his seat?”   The answer was "Yes" and Cattabriga got it because she was the only qualified candidate except for the more qualified other one, but she was the most qualified white candidate.
The Next Question - The Hurricane Party?

In this clip from NBC6, Laura Cattabriga pretends to be shocked, I tells you, shocked that there was beer at the police HQ during Hurricane Irma.  
So shocked in fact, that she colluded with the Village administration to leak the tape of the police to NBC6 and went on camera to ask very serious, very concerned questions.  
Except she already had the answers.  The internal affairs investigations were closed, disciplines meted out, the state authorities involved who declined to prosecute, and the PD Land Fall team reorganized to prevent a recurrence.  

The NBC6 report and articles it spawned damaged the Village but made Laura look “Mayoral”

But What About the Finances?

Cattabriga represents herself as an “in charge” fiscal watchdog.  
So at the last commission meeting, she discussed how she had uncovered nearly $1 MILLION Dollars in “Emergency Purchases” and wondered aloud about how this could be.  

The answer was not hard to find.  Laura Cattabriga simply took the spreadsheet and binder marked “Emergency Purchases” and read it.  Every purchase in there had an accompanying memo explaining why it met the criteria, a copy of the check as signed by Mayor Kreps, and had been reported to the commission.

Let’s Look At The Questions Laura Didn’t Ask

Voted to give away $40,000 to a lobbyist without asking a single question. Cattabriga voted Yes to install Ron Book as our lobbyist without asking if an RFP, with real proposals and real plans would suit the Village. Cattabriga just voted Yes. Cost: $40,000.

My question: Why would you jump past the required RFP process and not insist on quantifying the value? Cattabriga’s answer: *SILENCE*

Voted to give Noman C. Powell almost a year’s salary to prevent him from suing should he want to, nearly $140,000, with just one question. “Do you think you could make it a little bit less?” with an answer of “No” so she voted Yes. This is an unprecedented contract, especially to a Village Attorney with no municipal experience.

Voted to give away $100,000 in unearned severance to a 90 day employee without asking a single question.  Not one.

Special note:  When I asked Cattabriga about the giveaway of $100,000, she predictably evaded the request with, you guessed it, a request for a “respectful” sit down with me.  I have no interest in sitting down with her. I have great interest in knowing why she voted to give $100,000 that was not part of a contract and she never answered asking yet another “question” of me.  She failed to see how asking for a “sit down” (what are we, the Sopranos?) was “disrepectful”. I just want to know why she voted for a $100k in lovely parting gifts. Cattabriga will never answer.

Let’s Review

Cattabriga’s “Questions” have so far managed to get her:
  • An unelected seat on the dais.
  • Support for a mayoral run to continue the special interest pillaging of NBV
  • Media exposure on TV
And the Fiscal Cost to the Village

  • $100,000 in a severance giveaway this month.  
  • A nearly $200,000 poison pill when Powell is replaced.
  • $40,000 to Lobbyist who couldn’t even be bothered to put together a proposal.

And the reputational costs to North Bay Village:

  • Created a phony scandal over the resolved hurricane party disciplines just to get on TV
  • Called into doubt the well documented Village emergency purchases, purchases approved by her mayor, just to throw some shade.
  • Refused to answer about the severance package making the NBV commission look even shadier .

And The Big One

Cattabriga allied with an elderly neighbor who financed a frivolous lawsuit to destroy the reputation of a sitting commissioner, a lawsuit that after three tries to get it right, was about to be dismissed when Cattabriga colluded to remove the Commissioner and stole the seat for herself to satisfy her own ambitions.  
In the process, Cattabriga destroyed trust in the North Bay Village government making it the unstable mess we see now, exposed her neighbors to serious financial liability, destroyed a good man’s reputation and stole his duly appointed position.

Now Cattabriga Wants Be Mayor And I Have a Question

When Cattabriga asks you to sign her nominating petition, to give to her campaign, to vote for her, do you really believe that Cattabriga has done the work to lead us out of this chaos?

And why do you hate North Bay Village?
Kevin Vericker

July 18, 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

Short Term Vacation Rentals and North Bay Village

Listening to our commission and what they choose to emphasize, you would think that the most important issue facing North Bay Village is Short Term Vacation Rentals offered by companies like AirBnB and VRBO. 

The subject was brought up several times in the last commission meeting, by Commissioner Mary Kramer's Husband and squatting Commissioner Laura Cattabriga.  Both of them congratulated our Code Enforcement for enforcing our current ordinance requiring registration of short term rentals properties.  And it is an issue.  

But there are some important points that need be understood about the position and North Bay Village.  

  1. We are preempted by state law from prohibiting or tightly regulating the short term vacation rental market.   We had our chances before 2011 to put legislation but never did.  Florida then passed a state law which governs the process and does not allow cities or counties to prohibit STVR's.   
  2. The very limited things we can legally do are require that STVR's register with the Village and require that they have a 24 hour contact for issues arising.  
  3. The major issue is in the multiunit buildings - condos and rental buildings - and the Village ordinance does not address these, leaving the decision on STVR's to the building owners and management.   There are very few STVR's in the single family neighborhoods on Treasure Island and North Bay Island.  
But those single family STVR's have been the subject of intense concern, particularly on North Bay Island, and the Village has responded.  By passing an ordinance requiring registration and enforcing the ordinance through fines for properties listed without being registered.  Here is the coding report on the single family homes known to be renting for STVR.  

What jumps out is that there are 12 on North Bay Island and 10 on Treasure Island, again they only count single family homes so the impact is clearly higher on North Bay Island.   

But I think our enforcement is missing the mark.  A simple search on AirBnb shows the following  128 available so the bulk of them are in apartment/condo buildings.  

And that's where the problems are the biggest.  

There are several things that the Village can legally do.  

  • The Village could expand the ordinance to require that buildings register their STVR's.  
  • The Village could embark on a campaign to educate the owners and renters of the Village parking, noise and other ordinances.  
  • The Village could aggressively enforce noise ordinances, fining both the owners and the renters who violate them.   
Imagine a program whereby each time a home was rented, the occupants received a "Welcome to North Bay Village" packet.  It could include listings of our few businesses, an overview of parking and noise regulations, a number to contact if there are issues, and maybe even some coupons and tips for the local area.   Something friendly but clear about the expected behavior.  

Then with proper enforcement where the police show up and check noise levels from outside and ticket for infractions, the internet would quickly do what the internet does best - disseminate information.  

My disclosure:  I'm too nervous to rent out my house to strangers but I do rent places through VRBO and AirBnB.  I read the reviews and if I saw a review that said something like "I got a ticket for noise at 11:30 PM and the party was ruined."  that would probably be a property I would rent.  Were it 20, oh hell, truthfully, 30 years ago back when I was getting funky with my friends, I'd avoid it like the plague.  Alright, maybe it's 35 years since I got funky but you get the idea.  

If on the other hand, the reviews wrote about the peaceful neighborhood, the waterviews, the easy access, I'd sign right up.   

The Village is limited but it looks like what we have is a tactic for North Bay Island and no strategy at all for the Village. 

As the candidates come asking for your vote this fall, be sure to ask each of them what they think of this issue.  

I've started this conversation over on the Facebook page and I hope it will continue either here in the comments or on the Facebook page.  We have to have it. 

UPDATE:  Regular Contributor Ritch Holben and the guy who everyone tells George Clooney he looks like posted a really important point.  I quote it here. 

To those of you who have not used a short term rental service, like AirBnB, you should know that they have a 5 star rating system that is based on reviews of actual stays. But more importantly, every guest gets a rating from the host also! One does not see the other's review until they've both completed the process. This means that a host has the ability to evaluate a potential guest BEFORE they accept their reservation, and usually they have several direct conversations too... completely unlike a hotel reservation system. What this should mean is that a host can and should have the ability to deny any guest with a rowdy or destructive behavior, and has more control in being sure that they treat their neighbors with respect and courtesy. But in the end, it is the responsibility of the HOST to be sure they run their business in a neighborly way. If they do not, repeatedly, and complaints are on file with the police department, the village has the right to deny their license.
Thanks Ritch. 

Kevin Vericker
July 16, 2018 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Screw the Kids

0.64% of the PD Budget goes to PAL
Once again, our commission is in budget season without a clue.  On the budget proposals was eliminating the money for the PAL camps, a program that successfully serves North Bay Village kids at a reasonable price and is greatly valued by the parents and the kids.   

0.64% of the Total Budget goes for PAL
So our police chief/village manager says "Cut it".  

His reasoning is that it's too expensive and the kids can attend a completely different program (summer school) at twice the price to the parents.  

What are these outrageous costs?  Well, based on the Police Chief's estimate of $68 per hour in police resources (probably fair), the camp comes out to $24,480 and another $10,000 in supplies and field trips etc.  In case you are a member of the dais and can't add, that is $34,480 total.  

Out of a police budget of $5,391,162.  

In fancy math terms, that is less than 1%  of the total budget for the police.  (.64% to be exact.)

We have a police chief who is unable to find .64% of the budget to preserve a well received, useful and important youth program.   He even seems to feel bad about that.  

Now just for comparision, our administration this week alone gave away, gifted, a cool $136,000 to two employees with a grand total of 131 days of service, both of whom left because the mayor made their jobs a living hell and they had to be paid not to sue us.  

Mayoral Candidate Laura Cattabriga voted Yes without explanation to the gifting but did not take up for the PAL Camp because, hell, kids don't vote or finance campaigns.  

PAL Costs Versus Unearned Severance for 2 Village Employees
This doesn't even take into account the money being set aside to give our inexperienced lawyer an $84,000 raise, making him one of the highest paid municipal attorneys in Miami Dade, the money being spent for commission vanity projects ($166,500) or the other raises.

Nope, uniquely, this program which serves the kids of our community with direct, tangible benefit is the one to cut.  

There is a Budget Workshop on July 18 at 6:30.  Got a kid, like kids, like our community.  Be there.  

Kevin Vericker
July 13, 2018