Friday, August 31, 2018

More Lawsuits in North Bay Village

First Amendment Hero* and former registered strip club lobbyist, North Bay Village Attorney, Norman C. Powell, represented by North Bay Village Litigation Attorney, Neil Kodsi, have decided that Norman Powell's feeling are hurt by criticisms of his performance as Village Attorney.

Instead of having a good cry and then resolving to do better in the future, they did what lawyers do best - slap a great big complaint against the person they want to shut up and file it in court, hoping to scare the person into either silence or saying only nice things about them because, really, it's one thing to claim respect for the First Amendment and another to have your public performance as a public figure criticized.  

I present to you the Powell Complaint Against Prominent North Bay Village Blogger and Civic Gadfly, me.

Well, I don't actually present it to you as it is over a 100 pages of mostly cut and paste so I link it to you.  Go ahead.  Read it.  I'll wait.  

Anyway, while I am preparing a strong response, and I deny all the allegations put forward, I'm in the weird position of not being able to comment extensively on the lawsuit until it gets in front of a judge.  Those who know me know how hard it is.

In fact, the only reason I am discussing it here is that Laura Cattabriga, who sued the village herself to remove Hornsby, then took his commission seat, and in one of her first moves as commissioner voted to appoint Ana Watson, (Watson is facing four counts of felony fraud to our Charter Review Board) on the grounds "innocent until proven guilty", and is now a declared mayoral candidate to continue the Kreps legacy, is reported to be skulking around town darkly muttering about "the blogger's legal issues." 

It almost feels like this might be happening to silence and discredit me during the elections.

But enough about me.

In this week's installment of North Bay Village Crazy™ (note:  not actually trademarked. Satire.  I have to be careful in case the Village decides that's our new Village motto.  I relinquish all rights.), fired North Bay Village Detectives Tom Columbano and Sam Bejar, respectively, are suing the Village for wrongful termination. 

In the Bejar lawsuit, the detective drops this interesting piece of information.  The so called Fencemaster's matter where the village manager, the village finance director and Commissioner Eddie Lim were all accused of stealing $15,000 to improve Frank Rollason's property?  The one that was closed as unfounded?  Bejar states that the anonymous complaint came from Board Member Ana Watson.  (Paragraph 23) and in other parts, (paragraph 18 on), writes about the release of sensitive data to Xact Data Recovery at the direction of the Village Attorney.  Then Bejar was fired.

In the Columbano complaint, he alleges that the Mayor confronts him to complain that Columbano was "chasing the mayor's friend, Ana Watson" and then she, the mayor, was going to find Watson a "good lawyer."  Watson was later indicted on 4 counts of felony fraud and surprisingly also appointed by the commission, including the Mayor and Laura Cattabriga, to the Charter Review Board.  Then Columbano was fired.

Common threads.

*On the video from the June Regular Commission Meeting, Village Attorney Norman C. Powell explains that he is big league First Amendment defender, so I award him the First Amendment Hero title.  There is no monetary value.

Kevin Vericker
August 30, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Manager's Budget Workshop

I’ve heard that developers like to come into a community or a city where the commission is stable."  Mayor Connie Leon Kreps in the Miami Herald article 'How a dispute over stationery turned this mayor's tenure into 'a Greek tragedy'

Mayor Crazy Eyes does not make clear where she heard that but it seems like common sense so I assume it was externally.  

Last night's Budget Workshop with Village Manager Velken drove this home.  

After a short introduction of the overall concept of the budget and stating that a major goal is to up the operating reserve to 50% of the operating budget, Velken invited the 15 or so residents present to ask questions about the budget priorities and the proposals. 

The first question out of the gate was "Where's the plan?  Is the budget related to the priorities set by the commission?"  

The image on the side (I know it's hard to read) is a picture the Commission's top priorities:  

  • Village Beautification and Landscaping
  • Proative (sic) Strategic Communications
  • Sea Level Rise
  • Village Complex
  • Short Term Vacation Rentals
  • Public Works Land Management
  • Five Years (sic) Improvement Plan

So the question was about how these priorities are supported by the budget. 

The answer was that money is going to each of these but there is not a drafted strategic plan for the Village.  

And that led to another discussion about the instability of the village government.  

The turnover since November 2017:

2 Village Attorneys following the abrupt firing of Robert Switkes. 
4 Village Managers - Frank Rollason, Bert Wrains (interim), Marlen Martell, Lewis Velken (interim?)
2 Deputy Managers - Jenice Rosado, Yolanda Menegazzo, currently vacant. 
3 Police Chiefs - Carlos Noriega, Brian Collins (interim), Lewis Velken, Brian Collins (interim)


1 Commissioner removed thru a dubious legal process.

1 Commissioner appointed to a seat that may not have been vacant.

2 Vice Mayors. 

and the inherent difficulty of creating a budget even for the short term in this environment.   

It is difficult to do that.   Until we fix that problem, we are not moving forward and the best we can hope for is to hold the line.  And that was the point raised by longtime resident Luis Torrego.  Start nothing new and keep things on course until a new more stable government is in place.

Richard Chervony questioned the wisdom of a $20,000 raise for one employee and expressed his concern that the Sakura purchase has a balloon payment coming for $2.1 million in 2021 that will need to either be paid out of the operating budget or financed at higher rates.  

For me, two of the clearest mistakes this budget proposal is making are caused by inexperience.

1.)  There is a proposal to eliminate police dispatch in the name of cost savings.  Instead we will be routed through the county 911 system.  This is a huge error and one that a manager with experience of the North Bay Village PD would immediately recognize.  There is a valid argument that North Bay Village's best asset is our local police and the Village dispatchers play an important role in that.  

They know who lives where, they know things like the West Bridge is up or that there is a flood on Adventure and who is who.   They serve as a lifeline for our residents and an information central point about our village.   It's the sort of cut that only looks good on paper.  

2.)  And then there is a discussion, which seems to have since changed direction, about replacing the PAL camp with the Miami Dade camp.  These have different purposes with PAL providing a full range of experiences for our kids while Miami Dade's is focused on academics.   Both good, but different.  

The PAL program has frequently been in the cross hairs of the budget hawks but it provides North Bay Village kids with an in depth experience of our police and in turn gives our police insight into the community.  It's a low cost, high value program and needs to be kept.  

As this finished, the hope is that the concerns brought up will be included in the commission decisions on the budget which will be made in two workshops - September 13 and 25th.

The commission needs to recognize the chaos of the personnel situation and before any other considerations, should only agree to those items that stabilize the village.  They won't.  They will grandstand and push things to ensure the election of Laura Cattabriga regardless of cost.  But they should consider the damage being done.

Kevin Vericker
August 24, 2018

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Weirdness And The Horror

So does anybody know who John Vincent may be?   I would like to shake his hand and congratulate him

You see, Johnny discovered that the real problem with North Bay Village is not the mayor, the commission, the attorney or the village manager.  No, sir!  

The real problem is that the people who question them are Horror Show Monsters and today put up a video on YouTube exposing the whole thing.  You can watch it here but fair warning, it's scary as heck especially the last face.)  

So JV, good stuff!  Really classic.  Way to expose things.  

As Sherlock Holmes never said, "Elementary, my dear Watson."   

But maybe next time you send out encrypted anonymous emails, you might want to consider not including the distribution list publicly.  People don't like that.  

In other news, Mayoral Candidate Laura Cattabriga turned in her campaign finance reports and I noted that she is using Strategic Campaign Consultants, which is owned by Mitch Edelstein, the same guy who ran the Connie Leon Kreps campaign and who co-lobbied in North Miami Beach with Village Attorney Norman C. Powell for strip clubs.  Here's the list.  Seems an odd choice for a candidate trying to move away from the past.  

I think it's a valid question wonder if strip clubs are again in the plan for our causeway development.  We should watch that one.  And before the ignoramuses pipe in with "It's in our Charter that we can't have a strip club.", it's not.  We do have an ordinance prohibiting one within 500 feet of a school and the last time they tried, they found it was 501 feet from a school.   

And candidate news.  It seems like Marvin Wilmoth is unopposed for Harbor Island Commissioner which I think is good news for the Village.  Marvin has applied twice before, been turned down by the commission although he is more than usually qualified for the position.  I wonder why? 

I for one am glad he's going to be on the dais in November.  Wilmoth is bright, hardworking and not in anyone's pocket.  We're lucky.  

August 23, 2018
Kevin Vericker


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Response To The Desk

My Desk Wrote A Letter
Last week, I posted unedited a letter from “The Desk of” Connie Leon-Kreps.

I’m glad her desk wrote it because the mayor’s writing style hurts the eyes so it’s best that she seek outside help, even if it's from furniture.  (Yes, I am nitpicking.  "From the desk of" rather than "From" implies that the desk wrote the memo.)

The letter itself struck me as sad.

After 8 years on the Dais, through all the changes, there is so little she can point to other than that she made some bad choices in personnel and that she didn’t raise taxes too much, she is reduced to a PR exercise of half truths to defend herself.

Read the original post here and then I break it down.

Point 1:  The mayor dismisses the extortion of Doug Hornsby as fiction, saying "FICTION: Former Commissioner Douglas Hornsby was the victim of criminal extortion."

The mayor then claims that this is the finding by the State Attorney Office.

It is not.  The extortion happened.

There is no question about that and the investigators never said there was no extortion.

The State Attorney’s Office did report was the Connie Leon Kreps refused to be interviewed by the investigators and because of that refusal, they saw no reason to continue investigating, which seems like an odd and politically motivated decision, but nowhere in the memo do they even suggest that the extortion attempt didn’t happen.  You can read the memo here. 

Point 2:  The mayor disputes that Doug Hornsby was illegally removed from office.

Our Charter provides for exactly this sort of situation in (Section 3.07 b&c) of the North Bay Village Charter which lays out the process for removing a commissioner.  It’s right here (emphasis mine):

3.07 (b) Forfeiture of office. A Commission member Commissioner or Mayor shall forfeit his office if any time during his term of office said person, (a) lacks any qualifications for the office prescribed by this Charter or other by applicable law including § 100.361, Florida Statutes, (1989) or (b) is convicted of a felony while in office, or (c) fails to attend four consecutive regular meetings of the Commission, unless such absences are each excused by motion setting forth the reason for the absence duly entered upon the minutes or (d) having been elected or appointed from an election district fails to reside within the election district from which he was elected or appointed for any reason other than redistricting. Forfeiture shall be determined by the remaining members of the Commission.

3.07 (c)  Forfeiture hearing. A member charged with conduct constituting grounds for forfeiture of his office shall be entitled to a Public Hearing on demand and notice of such hearing shall be published in one or more newspapers of general circulation in the Village at least one week in advance of the hearing.

The commission could have done the legal route, which is generally called due process, and avoided lawsuits, plus, you know, do things the right way, but instead they chose a previously unknown process and appointed themselves judge, jury, prosecutor and defense attorney, and ignored the due process requirement.

Point 3:  The mayor asserts that Rollason, Rosado, and Herbello were not forced out.  They for some reason just wandered out and their allegations of a “toxic work environment” were false because they were responsible for the work environment.

Actually, the allegations of a toxic work environment were about the mayor’s behavior, something for which they were not responsible.  As for the walkout, when your top three employees all walk out, something’s wrong.

Point 4:  Chief Noriega and the two detectives were fired for … well, she really doesn’t specify, does she?   The fact that the two detectives were also investigating the very real Hornsby extortion, another case against a close ally of the mayor, and the chief asserts that he notified the Village of a whistle-blower complaint seems to be irrelevant to the mayor.

I do note that the Village Manager who according to this word soup made the decision independently of the mayor et al was asked to resign two months later, at a cost to the city of $127,000.   Martell was asked to resign because she did not produce fireworks at the mayor’s command.

Point 5:  The progress Her Honor notes is the purchase of a piece of property with an unfinanced $2.1 million balloon payment due in 2020.  Nobody knows why we bought it but we did buy it.

The interim Village Manager and former police chief is proposing to cut police services including dispatch (we’ll be going to the county at an unnamed cost) and the detectives who investigate municipal corruption.  However several loyal to the mayor cops are reportedly getting raises.

The GPS is not working but we are paying for it.

We do now have a Facebook page and it’s starting to work, so good.   Of course, it cost $40,000 and does not have a place for the public postings by the residents.

In the meantime, the rest of the cost savings, which remain in doubt, were proposed by Marlen Martell, including a process to reduce the emergency spend.

But I guess that’s progress?

Finally, the mayor concludes by saying the she is not corrupt.  Which is probably true.

But that seems a sad accomplishment after eight years.

Kevin Vericker
August 21, 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Mayor Finally Reaches Around

For 8 years, I have been inviting the mayor to post here and on other social media unedited.   She never would but today she sent this email around to the village and it's as close as we get to seeing what she is thinking.  

I publish it here unedited and unchanged.  I invite other viewpoints to do the same.  

From The Desk Of
The Honorable Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps

Over the last few years, our Village has been the subject of several unflattering stories that has tarnished our reputation and stifled our progress. However, those stories are the product of a purposeful effort on the part former staff and certain members of our community who have disseminated patently false, misleading, and mean-spirited information, disguised as news or information. The purpose of this document is to provide the simple TRUTH concerning those matters.

1. FICTION: Former Commissioner Douglas Hornsby was the victim of criminal extortion.

FACT: The State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated Dr. Hornsby’s claim and concluded that there was no evidence to support charging ANYONE with the alleged crime or that a crime was even committed. Although serious accusations were made, there was no proof of any threat or illegal behavior.

2.  FICTION: Former Commissioner Dr. Douglas Hornsby was improperly or illegally removed from the Village Commission.

FACT:   Dr. Hornsby was removed from the Commission because his original appointment was VOID. His appointment was void because his voting rights had not been restored at the time of his appointment and he failed to disclose that fact. He did not disclose his significant criminal record. When he received a letter from the Elections Department that he was ineligible to vote, he did not disclose the notification. His voting rights were not fully restored in Florida until several months after he was appointed (in July, 2017). His full citizenship rights were not restored until May of 2017. Both are required to hold office according to the applicable laws. A legal memorandum is available on the Village’s website and you can read it yourself. At this time, Dr. Hornsby is suing the Village for a substantial amount of money for a situation caused only by him.

3. FICTION:  Former Manager Frank Rollason, Assistant Manager Jenice Rosado, and Executive Assistant Evelyn Herbello were fired or forced out of the Village.

FACT:  The Village’s Administrative Staff were NOT fired or FORCED out of the Village. They abruptly walked out of the Village together, without the professional courtesy of notice (after hours), on January 16, 2018. They alleged, in self-serving letters, that they left because of a toxic work environment. However, they were responsible for the Village’s work environment. 

4.  FICTION:  Former Police Chief Carlos Noriega and other part-time police officers were improperly fired to derail an ongoing criminal investigation.

FACT: The Village’s former Manager made the INDEPENDENT decision to terminate Mr. Noriega. He was offered a severance package. He declined and instead decided to file a lawsuit against Village for a substantial amount of money. His lawsuit alleges that he was fired for “blowing the whistle” on wrong doing and violation of the Family Leave Protection Act. The matter is pending a judicial determination in court. The former Manager evaluated a number of part-time officer positions and determined that the taxpayer cost of those officers to the Village (including their take home vehicles) was not fiscally responsible.

5. FICTION: There has been no progress in the Village since Frank Rollason’s departure.

FACT: The Village successfully closed on the Sukura property for future Village development. In fact, Mr. Rollason INEXPLICABLY committed the Village to OVER PAY ($3,200,000.00) for the property. You read that right: over 3 million. Our new Village Attorney, Norman C. Powell, intervened and successfully negotiated the total purchase down to $2,595,625. Moreover, included in the negotiation is the assignment of the Sakura parking contract that generates $12,000 per month for the loan debt service. Our Interim Manager, Lewis Velken, has proposed an initial budget that SAVES the Village over $400,000.00. Mr. Velken has streamlined the Police Departments communications and is expeditiously seeking Department accreditation that will be accomplished with the next 12 months. The accreditation will save the Village Hundreds of Thousands of over time. Mr. Velken has implemented ethic training following the Hurricane Party scandal that occurred on the former Administration and Chief’s watch. In addition, the patrol officers are now equipped with GPS to ensure accountability and comprehensive Village patrol. Mr. Velken’s focus will continue to streamline the Village’s delivery of services.

We have updated our website, introduced Facebook, Twitter, and a new emergency contact system in the last several months. We have retained a communications expert to assist with getting important information out to the public.

My goal has always been to help you, the resident. I have been a tireless advocate for fiscal responsibility and progressive growth in our Village. I have never benefitted personally or financially from my position as mayor. A few like to throw around the world “corruption,” yet no one has ever pointed to any time where I benefited personally or financially from my role as Mayor. That’s because it’s never happened. I will continue to speak out with integrity for what I believe in, and in support of the North Bay Village community. 

Connie Leon Kreps

Monday, August 6, 2018

North Bay Village Campaign - The Dirty War

The dirty war is starting early in the North Bay Village Campaign.  

Disinformation is not always massive Kremlin or other government cyber-operations.  In a small town like ours, it happens through gossip spread by seemingly innocuous questions and doubts.  

Don't believe me?  Our mayor is a master of this.  She talks sincerely one on one and claims not to understand something, asking a third party helplessly if they can clarify.   As a cunning person, she knows full well that the other person will sympathetically pose the false question to others and with that gets the lie out.  

I've been the target of this many times by her and her colluders.   

It's starting early in this campaign.   

The Laura Cattabriga Kreps Crew who desperately want to keep their three vote majority on the dais so as to avoid the investigations reaching the dais, and they are supported by overpaid employees with a lot to lose?  They've already started.  

Here's one example.  

Interim Village Manager Lewis Velken asked a third party to reach out to me and clarify that he really does make less than the previous police chief.  Seems reasonable, right?  

But it's not hard to find me.  In fact, I had written an email to him and the mayor seeking clarification on his claim that he is making $40,000 a year less than the previous police chief since the published numbers do not bear that out.  You can read it here.   And yet no answer.   

So why refuse to answer me but yet very concernedly ask a third party, with no direct knowledge, to get this clarified?  

Well, maybe I'm that scary.  I don't think so but if you frighten easily...

Or maybe the purpose was not to clarify.  

Maybe the purpose was to discredit me and put the information out there.   

Do I sound paranoid?  

I might be but it's happened before.  

In 2014, when the mayor ran against Jorge Brito, she very concernedly asked voters why her opponent's address was not listed in the voter registration or property records?  Were they sure he lived here?   

It was ridiculous of course as our mayor knew very well that law enforcement personnel are exempt from public listings but it did a great job of spreading untrue gossip about her opponent.  And it worked.  The rumor flew around.  

In this go around, the classic disinformation is already happening.  

This weekend a nonvoter in North Bay Village explained that the mayor had spoken to him, questioning candidate Julianna Strout's voter registration.  Not saying it was invalid, not directly, but wondering about the validity.   

The third party then obligingly brought the "question" to a neighbor and now the "question" is out there.  

Here's the thing.   Julianna Strout's voter registration was checked by our Village Clerk and then by the Elections Department on Miami-Dade County.   It is valid and conforms and they sent confirmation of such.  

But it feels like the first disinformation through genuine "questions", a hallmark of the mayor and now of Laura Cattabriga, her protege and North Bay Village mayoral candidate?  

I've written about Cattabriga's "questions" before.  She's either entirely befuddled or maybe these are not honest questions. 

As this campaign hits its stride, here are some good rules.  

  1. Anyone asking a rhetorical question or who should be in a position to have the answer, stop them then and there.  Ask them if they have the answer and if they don't, why not?
  2. Understand that in a small town like ours, you can reach directly to the source.  Nobody in North Bay Village is hard to find.

  3. Try to understand why you were asked that question.  What special knowledge did the questioner assume you had that was unavailable to her?  How does the questioner propose to get a definitive answer?  
Questions?  Good move.  Answers.  Next move.  

Postscript:  my favorite planted question was one posed by a friend of the mayor on social media.  She was "wondering" what I had been indicted for?   And for whatever record there may be, I have never been arrested, indicted or otherwise impugned but that question was asked without curiosity.  See what I mean?

Kevin Vericker
August 6, 2018

Friday, August 3, 2018

Friday Roundup

It's been quite a week. I want cover three big things.

The Settlement With The Deputy Village Manager

Let's start with the big controversy.  

There was a settlement agreement reached with the Deputy Village Manager, one Yolanda Menegazzo, that in exchange for agreeing not to sue the Village (it was never clear for what), she would receive 2 month's pay, approximately $21,000.   

Ms. Menegazzo had been hired by previous Village Manager Marlen Martell and after Martell was driven out for her failure to deliver fireworks on two weeks' notice to celebrate the mayor, Menegazzo was pushed out.  

Menegazzo was only at the Village for 40 days so this seems like a pretty generous settlement.

In my opinion, it wasn't.  Ms. Menegazzo had been brought it to take on the dual role previously occupied by Jenice Rosada (also driven out by a toxic work environment) of Deputy Village Manager and HR Director.   Menegazzo has a certification from the Society of Professional Human Resource Manager's, a Masters of Public Administration and nearly a decade's worth of HR experience in public sector.  She was brought in specifically to get the Village out of the current HR mess and instead wound up a victim of it, having left a stable and well respected position to take on that challenge.  

There's a lot behind it.  Our Village Attorney failed to allow the commission to vote on her contract in spite of the Charter which requires that department heads, e.g. Human Resources, be confirmed by the commission.  Although she was deputy village manager with some credible experience in the area, the police chief was (illegally) appointed to interim Village Manager.  He has no experience and was forced the next day by law to reject the "dual appointment" since it's illegal under the Florida Constitution.  

Anyway, there's been a lot discussion over on the Facebook page, with some people apparently taking the view that this was inappropriate.  

I respectfully disagree.  

Menegazzo was wronged by our shambolic and poorly run commission and financially we got off easy.   It is much worse that our mayor's ego and our poor attorney got in the way of using the talents of a bright professional who could have led us through the labor mess they have created.  

How Much Are We Paying Our Police Chief?

The second fun thing is that at the very special meeting, interim Village Manager Lewis Velken said out of nowhere that his salary was $130,000 and the previous chief was $170,000.  You can see it here on the Commission recording.  Go to 3 hours and 3 minutes.  

When Mayor Crazy Eyes heard this, she shouted "Put that on Facebook" and then cackled maniacally.  

Well, of course I will but I requested clarification since the published information does not bear this out.  Here's the email I sent, still unanswered:  

Kevin Vericker
Aug 1 (2 days ago)

to Connie Leon-Kreps, LVelken

Madam Mayor, in reviewing the video of the Monday's meeting after I left, I noted your request to post the information about the police chief's salary on Facebook and of course, I would be happy to do that.

But I'm not sure what figure is being referred to.  In looking at the budget figures for 2017-2018, the base salary for Chief Noriega was listed as $118,289 and in looking at the budget figures for 2018-2019 I see the base salary figure for Chief Velken at $130,000. 

I do note that when benefits, taxes and expenses for are added in, the budget figure for 2017-2018 (Noriega) came through fully loaded at $169,072 and that the comparable budget figure for 2018-2019 is $$171,889. 

Now Mr. Velken stated on the video at 3 hours and 3 minutes (plus a few seconds) that Noriega's salary was $170,000 last year and his own (Velken's) is $130,000. 

But I'm not sure if we are comparing the same figures.

Is Mr. Velken's $130,000 a fully loaded figure including base salary, benefits, and expenses and was Mr. Velken saying that Chief Noriega's base was $170,000?

Thank you for your prompt response and I will post as as soon as I have clarity on the numbers.  
As of today, I have no answer but Velken has told several people that I am wrong and he hopes they will tell me that.  But as of today, Friday,  no answer from either one.

The Election Race

Laura Cattabriga has filed to run for mayor and a fellow resident, Brent Latham, has also pulled papers for the seat.  At this phase, the key is to get 50 valid signatures to be on the ballot.  

The qualification period closes August 17.  

Julianna Strout, candidate for Commissioner at Large, has qualified.  No one has yet pulled papers to run against her.  

Marvin Wilmouth, candidate for Commissioner from Harbor Island, has also qualified and no one else has filed.  

Assuming no one else files, then the qualified candidates, Strout and Wilmoth, are both considered elected.  

It looks like the big race will be on the mayoral ticket.  You know I'll be writing a lot more about that.  

Kevin Vericker
August 3, 2018