Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Implications and Imprecations

Julianna Strout
The fallout from the commission's unjustified decision to drive out Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton, the last adult in the room in our government, continues to dominate our elections.   

For those who don't know what happened. on September 11th, the mayor and vice mayor teamed up to take a Commission on Ethics complaint written by the mayor and  present it as founded in order to insult and bully Yvonne Hamilton out of her position as Village Clerk.  The key piece of information the mayor withheld, even when directly asked, was that the Commission on Ethics found that the complaint was not justified and there was no reason to take any action.  You can read the results of that investigation here.  

In a second and equally disturbing attack, the mayor and vice mayor also went after Ms. Hamilton because the candidate for commissioner at large, Julianna Strout, and commissioner from Harbor Island, Marvin Wilmoth, were filmed submitting their campaign qualification documents to the Village Clerk.  According to Strout and the videographer, they had received permission to do so by Ms. Hamilton and in the same account, this was cleared with Village Attorney Norman C. Powell.  But even had they not, the public is entitled to record most government business transactions, with specific exceptions in criminal matters and involving children, in the State of Florida.   Hamilton neither speaks nor displays any message of support for the candidates and in fact, does not speak at all on the video.  

Well that was enough for our Vice Mayor and Mayor to throw around wild accusations that somehow in exercising their right to record government transactions, North Bay Village Candidates Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmouth were being supported by the Village Clerk and the clerk needed to be fired immediately.  

This is normally the point where the Village Attorney might step in, remind the dais that per Jose Arrojo of the Commission on Ethics that it was hard to imagine even the most expansive reading of the ordinances governing officials and elections could not support the view that a crime had occurred.  That did not happen.  Instead our Village Attorney sat back and told the dais that the issue had been referred to the State Attorney's Office for investigation, which it had.  No mention was made of the CoE emails to the village about the absurdity of it, and later Arrojo was quoted as saying he did this "out of an abundance of caution."  My guess is he did it under pressure from the Village Administration.  

Vice Mayor Jackson and Mayor Kreps failed at the September 11th meeting to fire Hamilton but a toxic work environment and a hostile atmosphere led to her decision to resign and accept a settlement of five months salary for her mistreatment.   There's only so much a dignified professional can take.  

Mayoral pretender and faux commissioner Laura Cattabriga even had the cara dura to lie straight up as she enthusiastically voted to settle in lieu of a lawsuit that this was just a nice thing to do for a long term employee, kind of a bonus, when in fact it was an agreement not sue over a hostile work environment.  Cattabriga!  She has such a unique perspective.  

Back to our story.  Like the time that Cattabriga et al decided to create a media frenzy over the Hurricane Party, where several of our police had already been disciplined for their conduct during Hurricane Irma, someone decided to go to the media with the story of how Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth were involved in this totally legal video.   In the article, the dead on arrival allegations that the video somehow violated state law and the North Bay Village charter are restated.  Jose Arrojo again brings in his view that even under an expansive reading of the law, it's hard to see how there was a problem.   

So with Hamilton gone, what's the purpose of pushing this false narrative?  

I'm worried.  And you should be too.  This narrative that Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth were wrongly exercising their rights as citizens of Florida to somehow undermine an election is not supportable, but in North Bay Village, our top employees are worried about their lucrative positions come November when it looks to all reasonable observers that Cattabriga will lose the mayoralty and that two commission seats will be filled by people who get that North Bay Village needs to be run for the benefit of the residents not the employees.   

The Village Clerk, now occupied by an interim sure to be confirmed, plays a key role in our elections process.  I am concerned that since it has become clear that Julianna Strout does not face serious opposition since her opponent has not made any campaign moves, and since Marvin Wilmoth is unopposed in the At Large race, there will be an unhealthy and extralegal move made on them to fill the seats with commissioners more to the liking of the top employees whose livelihood depends on the current commission makeup.  

Think I'm crazy?  Okay, I'll go with that but maybe I'm not wrong.   Just consider what's happened this year:
  • In spite of the clearly spelled out provisions in our charter (Section 307.b) as how a commission seat forfeiture should be handled, the commission voted in a sneak attack to remove Doug Hornsby.  The lawsuit is working its way through the court but there is little question that his removal was illegal. 
  • In spite of strong state laws protecting whistleblowers, the administration fired Carlos Noriega, our police chief, and the two detectives who were investigating corruption in our village.  The lawsuits are working through the courts now.  
  • In spite of there being no such obligation, Village Manager Marlen Martell was given $127,000 in payments not to sue the village for her treatment.   Deputy Manager Yolanda Menegazzo got $22,000 after 30 days employment  not to sue, Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton got five months salary not to sue and the same offers were given to others who did not take the money.   
  • In spite of there being no precedent, our village attorney has a four year contract and a pre-agreement of nearly a year's salary, you guessed it, not to sue.  
The list goes on so it's not hard to imagine that when the election turns out the way the village residents want, these same underhanded tactics might be used to create a commission friendlier (read: in debt.) to the current paid employees.  

I could be wrong.  I hope I'm wrong.  

During the campaign, Laura Cattabriga supported by her campaign consulting firm, who not incidentally are the chief lobbyists for unfettered development and strip clubs, will spread rumors, disinformation and wild accusations to try to secure her election.  Watch for it.  It's coming.  

Kevin Vericker
October 2, 2018

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