Friday, November 15, 2019

Throwing NBV Transit Users Under the Bus

 

Did You See The Part About The L Bus No Longer Running to South Beach?

If you watched Tuesday night's express commission meeting, you probably missed the portion about the commission approving a plan to eliminate L bus service to South Beach.

Don't feel bad.

The commissioners missed it too. 

It was buried in the "Consent Agenda", the part of the agenda for items so obvious that they don't merit discussion.

Except this one did.  The discussion was held at the Resident Services Advisory Board meeting on November 3 for a half hour.   While the Board was drowned in numbers about how many more employment opportunities this would open to North Bay Village residents, it also came out that the plan called for the elimination of the bus route to South Beach, a route that is used by North Bay Villagers working in South Beach and by a surprising number  of Miami Beach High School students, who are often at school later or earlier than the usual transit options because of extracurricular activities.   You know, poor people and young people.  And the occasional eccentric blogger who'd rather not park. 

The L bus has long been major transit line for North Bay Village and we'd lose it.

The Resident Services Board voted clearly to only recommend the model proposed if it included an amendment to ensure the L bus continued to serve through South Beach. 

Yet the Village Staff not only did not include this recommendation in the resolution, they buried the whole mess in the Consent Agenda. 

This effort by the Better Bus Project is clearly a way to get around how the 1/2 cent tax Miami-Dade residents imposed on ourselves was squandered.  You might remember the train routes planned?  The high speed bus lanes?  We paid for them but the money never made it to the streets. 

Now the "Better Bus Project" is cheerily creating a false choice between increased coverage or increased ridership with virtually impenetrable numbers.

Among the groups that are not buying into it are the NAACP and the County Commission so they are selling their results in shows at the municipal level. 

That either option proposed by the Better Bus Project will make transit demonstrably less useful for North Bay Villagers should have been the commission's concern. 

Nevertheless the staff failed to include the requested condition made by resident volunteers who advise the commission on the matters in the resolution. 

So the Commission dutifully voted to eliminate the L bus without understanding the implications to North Bay Villagers, not to mention the residents of Little River and other Miami neighborhoods who depend on this route to get to work and recreation. 

For an explanation of the "Better Bus" project, see today's Miami Herald.  For my money, the best quote is County Commissioner Dennis Moss “You can’t grow ridership if you’ve got no rides.”

The fault is not just the village staff's.  Any one of the five commissioners could have pulled the item for discussion.  None did.   After a full year, a very full year, they should have enough experience to know that when an item is controversial, it is no longer suited for the consent agenda.   In fact, they should eliminate the consent agenda.  It's too often abused and if the item is that obvious, it won't kill them to take an extra 2 minutes to consider it. 

There Is Good Transit News For North Bay Village

IMG_6725FreeBee is replacing our Island Hopper for local trips.  A free to use, on demand app that will take you anwhere in the Village from 10 AM to 7 PM, Monday through Friday with a plan to expand to Saturdays and will take you to either Collins and 71st or Biscayne and 79th was introduced this month to ... no fanfare.  

But it's an awesome service and a major improvement over our seldom used Island Hopper.  Why the Village has not advertised the heck out of this is beyond me.   

And there's more.   

Commissioner Jose Alvarez
The Island Hopper starting December 3rd will now run express to the Omni Transit Center 3 times during the morning rush hour and 3 times back.  Watch carefully for the schedule since the Village is not good at communicating things but this will be a free service that will make direct public transit to downtown possible.  
This the result of months of hard work by the village staff and several of the commissioners.   
Now it gets weird.  Remember Commissioner Jose Alvarez?  Mary Kramer's Husband?  Who has been on the dais for three years and who to my knowledge has never offered a single piece of legislation or sponsored anything?   Well, he was as surprised as everyone else when it was announced that this initiative was somehow his idea and he got to announce the new service (well read it from a card.)  

I mean, seriously, what is up with that?    

The Meeting Itself

A few months ago, the village staff decided that the what the commissioners needed less of was hearing from the residents and so they took the historically inadequate 3 minutes granted to residents during Good & Welfare, now less elegantly called Open Forum to 2 minutes and the commission without questioning it, adopted the procedure.   

Public comment is only allowed for 2 minutes as well.   

It was clear from the 6 people who spoke that this was inadequate and the mayor at least seemed frustrated at the change, which nobody could remember when it was made.   But the other commissioners made no attempt to change it back by resolution.   So congratulations to the four!  After all, they were elected to do as little as possible and they are at least streamlining that.  

Image result for 4 moa statue
The Four Commissioners
In fact, it is remarkable how little engagement there is from the four commissioners.  While Marvin Wilmoth (who did actual work on the downtown express project) has taken the lead on several resiliency issues, and Julianna Strout has sponsored the legislation to bring CitiBike to the Village, for the most part, they just sit silently, often staring at their phones, questioning little but occasionally complaining that the mayor is doing too much actual work.   Maybe we're better off but it looks bad.  

So We Are Going Backwards?  

No.  We are miles ahead of last year at this time.  No meltdowns from the dais, no underhanded real estate agents paying our village manager off the books, lawyers who pay attention to legal matters, residents involved in the process.   

That bar was pretty low.   Still North Bay Village is making progress.   Now it has to pull together and make progress a shared value.  The management has to promote the village and involve all aspects of the community.  The commission needs to come out of their passive state and start doing what they are supposed to.  Commissioners should not steal the credit for what was not their work. 

The future is bright but it gets a little dimmer every time the petty positioning blocks the light.  

Image result for two steps forward one step back

Kevin Vericker
November 15, 2019


Friday, November 1, 2019

The North Bay Village Underground

Burying the Powerlines


Wednesday, October 30, the Village held a full scale meeting with representatives of FPL, ATT and Atlantic Broadband about the long discussed burying of the powerlines in North Bay Village.  
First a quick history:
  • in 2006, following the nearly 2 week blackout caused by Hurricane Wilma, the Village proposed a bond measure to pay for undergrounding the utility wires.   It passed with over 60% of the votes.  
  • in 2016, after a decade of no action, the Village again voted by 55% to bury the power lines. 

How Come It Didn't Happen?

In the first discussions in 2006, FPL refused to participate with the Village in forming cost estimates and actively took the stance that burying power lines would lead to more disruption of power not less.   By 2016, FPL had softened a bit but still refused to engage in cost discussions and the second initiative relied on the best estimates.   
Without the cooperation of the major players, FPL, ATT and Atlantic Broadband, the project was not seen as feasible.  

What's Different in 2019?

  • FPL has changed their position on buried powerlines and now favors them.
  • FEMA approved an $11 million grant to North Bay Village for burying the power lines.

A few things.  Following Irma when most of the damage was because of wind harming the overhead structure, a statewide push to underground utilities came to the forefront and FPL has now worked with the state to bury as many powerlines as feasible.   

For the first time, FPL worked with the Village to create cost estimates and FPL has actually now done this work in several communities around Florida.  The benefits seem clear.   

In addition, we have Mayor Brent Latham leading the city and along with Village Manager Ralph Rosado, they seem to actually be able to execute a plan.   

Then came the news that FEMA had approved an $11 million grant to assist in burying the power lines as part of our adaptability strategy to keep reliable power going during storm events.   

Wednesday's Meeting


In spite of being well advertised and a subject that everyone seems to have an opinion on, the meeting was sparsely attended.  Fewer than 10 residents were actually present to see the presentations and ask questions.   That leaves approximately 8,263 North Bay Villagers who will be surprised when the project starts and who will say "Nobody told me!" when the project starts. 

I'm just going to give the highlights here.  The detail can be seen at the village video link here.  

  • Approximate Total Cost to Underground the Village:  $33 million
  • Grant from FEMA: $11 million
  • Net Cost:  $22 million

Annual Tax Increases for a property:  Approximately $95 per $100,000 of property tax valuation.  

Projected Benefits:

  • A more reliable utility delivery for electricity, cable and phones
  • A more attractive landscape without the powerlines
  • A greater ability to diagnose and repair when there are power disruptions.

Possible Impacts:

  • Buildings needs to install new breakers and in some cases update their whole electrical systems.  This can run from $2,800 (based on Golden Beach's experience) to $100,000 if your entire electrical system needs to be redone.  There is a $5,000 credit built into the bond.  Any excess will be the homeowner's responsibility.
  • Transformer boxes will be placed in front of buildings on a public easement (every other house and building) 
  • The streets will be disrupted again and trenches need to be dug on private property.  
  • The project will last about 5 years.   

Possible Downsides:

  • At least 80% of the property owners have to agree to change their utilities to underground for the project to be feasible.  
  • The cost will vary from household to household and if a householder decides not to participate, they will continue to get their electricity from overhead lines which negates the aesthetic benefit.   (Note:  holdouts will be the last to be restored in the event of power failure)
  • With the advent of 5 G technology, ATT will have the right to build 38 foot tall towers at about every 500 feet.  This is state law and cannot be overriden by municipalities.  5G has started and will probably be ubiquitous in 10 years or so and if ATT (or others) do not use existing structures such as buildings or streetlights, then just like the rest of Florida, we could once again have poles everywhere.   

One More Consideration:  

FPL has announced plans to underground most of the state anyway.   By playing a waiting game, it's possible but not definite that North Bay Village will be undergrounded without additional local costs to our municipal government.   My view:  that seems a little thin but I mention it because it was brought up.

We Have To Vote Again:


Yep.  Since neither of the two ballot initiatives had reasonable costs on them, the commission needs to review the situation, draft a ballot measure and we have to vote again.   

The most likely outcome will be breaking up the project into three or four projects so that the finance streams can be executed as the project goes forward.   

It will be complicated however the commission decides to frame it and it will probably be on the ballot in the spring 2020 primary elections.   

Kevin Vericker
November 1, 2019

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Moving Forward on #NBV100

The Special Meeting at 6 PM Tuesday October 15 

This was the high level overview of the work done during the #NBV100 Planning Workshops,  was a summary of the concepts for the short term, medium term and long term to develop a plan with concrete actions.   

The plan roughly breaks down into three areas:
  1. Resiliency
  2. Quality of Life
  3. Economic Growth


For a detailed view of the presentation, go to the Village website at https://northbayvillage-fl.gov/nbv100  and click on the presentation entitled "Nbv100 Master Plan Design: Charrette Progress Summary"   It lays out a vision of the projects and this is part of a continuing and evolving study to get to a plan that North Bay Village can work.  


It's All Set Then, Right?

The plan is a series of stated goals and models that could achieve those goals.   In the plan, there are short term (starting now), medium term (3-5 years) and long term (more than 5 years) tactics.   They range from the very simple short term - fix the walk timers on the traffic lights, put proper signs in the right places and remove useless ones, build a dog park - to the grand scale of creating new construction on flood resistant raised landscapes and seeking energy independence.   

There will be further meetings with the residents, including one to be scheduled in November for the commission to review and start budgeting and planning for the goals.  First up is to fix the current coding.  

Residents can participate, if not in person, then through one on one conversations.  There is even an email set up by the Village.  Click here to send an email.   The team will discuss this one on one with residents who are not able to attend the meetings.   It will be early next year before full action starts.  

It Mostly Looks Good But Is It Realistic?

Each of the major impacts must be questioned but they have to be questioned at the right time.  

For example, there is an idea that the Causeway could become a two lane road as it passes into North Bay Village.   Doing that would allow room for the sidewalks, the bike paths and increase the parking.   

The big question is what the impact on traffic would be and that question needs to be asked.  But already there are people rejecting it out of hand before the math and the routing are done.  I've noted personally that the Causeway at rush hour seems to have a math problem of time and space rather than an inevitable bottleneck.  The lights are not timed optimally.  The left turn to Harbor Island line exceeds the lane allotted and the variable speed limits mean large open spaces in the traffic flow.  Getting this right while slowing the traffic could flow the traffic humanely through the Village.   It's a bad idea to dismiss this out of hand.  

I am also concerned about people demanding "How much?" and "How will it be funded?"   

These are important questions but like so much in life, timing is critical and the time to ask these questions is when you know what "it" is.   It's impossible to answer without the actual information.   

The phrase "Stop Stopping" was brought up by Jack Rattner and it is so good that I am coming to believe I said it.   (Note I did not say "Stop stopping".  Jack owns it.)   

In our last attempts to redevelop the village, each project died from a thousand cuts.   And it shows.  

Our then BayWalk requirements were ignored with impunity because it was not profitable.  A storage facility was seen as the best and highest purpose for our causeway.  Our sidewalks remain unsafe.   Traffic continues to flow as though on a highway.   All of this happened because any sacrifice was not weighed against the benefit and individual profit was put above community development.   

Then It Was On To The Regular Meeting.  

After some histrionics by the owner of a salvage company operating without a license, the people who actually live here spoke about their concerns.

The Hornsby Matter is nearing a conclusion.  The court found that the Hornsby removal was illegal.  Now the question is how the village will settle with Dr. Hornsby.  Several residents spoke about the need to find the solution quickly so the village can move on.   There will be a "shade" session for the commission to consider their options and it looks like they are on track to do it.  It's very important.  

I brought up a specific piece of legislation that I admire greatly.  Commissioner Julianna Strout proposed a deal with Citibike/Deco Bike to create stations in North Bay Village for Bike Rentals.  This is and always should have been the approach as it give us natural places to go in Miami and Miami Beach.   I'm glad it was passed and see this as exactly the small and transformative type of action needed to move the Village forward.   We are the sum of our small choices.   

On the agenda, there was really little of note but in the reports, the new North Bay Village is streaming along.   

One important discussion item was deliver the budget with more transparency, specifying that money spent be focused on what the outcome is.   It was uncontroversial and adopted unanimously.  

The Village is actively seeking the collaboration and money from outside sources including $11 million from FEMA to harden our utilities, there was a presentation of a grant for the dog park, money has come in for sidewalk improvements from grants, and the Green Space award from the Miami Foundation.   It's not raining money.  This is money carefully and fully sought and it is what will allow us to build the foundation we need.   

Special Note:  The Village Manager commented that the Green Space project received more votes in the Miami Foundation's contest than any other project and then thanked everyone but the people who actually publicized the need to vote at the Facebook Group North Bay Village Residents Speak.  It would be nice to thanked.  

Overall, North Bay Village seems to be on course but it will require open resident participation and strong leadership to achieve the vision.  

Kevin Vericker
October 16, 2019



Monday, October 7, 2019

Planning for #NBV100

For the last week, the Village staff, the mayor and several groups of residents have been at Village Hall participating in a strategic exercise to imagine and create a Strategic Plan that will balance the needs of the current residents, the plans for the future, incorporate resiliency in response to climate change and finally get us unstuck.

The hands on sessions, facilitated by the excellent Galina Tachieva of DPZ Design Consultants, ranged from the prosaic to the very ambitious, and actively sought the residents input while also proposing ways that we may not have thought of. 

The sessions were filled with many viewpoints from old timers and it was exciting to see the involvement by newer residents.

DPZ will be presenting the summaries to the commission at their regular meeting next month. 

And it's a good thing they are because none of the four commissioners could be bothered to show up at the sessions or the nightly summaries.

Wait.  We Already Had a Master Plan

That's true.  The Village, back when we were a City, went  through this exercise in the 2000's.   

The plan, as put into action, called for thinner, taller buildings on the north side of the causeway, wider safer sidewalks on the causeway, parking, even a pedestrian bridge to cross to the proposed BayWalk.   It lacked any mention of the resiliency issues but that was normal at that time.   

The costs for these improvements were to be based on impact fees from new buildings, increased balanced tax revenues from new businesses, federal and state moneys and the projects were to be designed to improve economic activity in North Bay Village and in turn generate more money.    

The plan was well thought out and very popular.   

In fact work started on the Causeway beautification project and the only decent sidewalk in North Bay Village was created in front of North Bay Island.   

The Plan Died Quickly

Remember the taller thinner buildings with open bay access?  That was the first casualty.  The Yellow Building, hulking over Treasure Island near Benihana's.   Instead of tall and thin, we got short and squat and although the plans called for bay access, the building was for some rea$on allowed its certificate of occupancy with bay access blocked off by concrete walls.  Similarly, the Bridgewater, a nice looking building did build a bay walk but has been allowed to block it off from public access, as has the Fortress 360.  

As far as commercial projects, the  Storage Unit place was deemed the highest and best use for rea$ons and dominates the south side.  

The contractor for the JFK Beautification project went bankrupt and whoop$, it turns out the Village never required a performance bond so the work stopped.   

In the meantime, the proposal for the waterfront quickly devolved into a proposed strip club and the restaurants one after the other were allowed to be torn down by people holding the land for later profits.   

What About This Time? 

Based on the workshops last week, I see that DPZ has a very clear  view of the potential for North Bay Village.  The preliminary ideas inculcate the same values as the previous master plan - walkable streets, businesses of value, residential development that addresses the environment and the city rather than walls it out, and has the additional benefit of understanding resiliency needs in the middle of the bay.   

My only concern about DPZ is that they do not seem to have a clear idea of who lives here now, why we live here and how we are using our environment today.   We have people walking on all islands.  You can see it around 7PM every day - walkers, bikers, strollers, dogs, joggers, even skaters, and they take over the street.  People do patronize local businesses such as the Presidente even if that is not the preferred business.   The parks are well utilized.   It's important to build on what you have, not just plan for what you hope to have.  And our population has increased by 16.1% in 9 years.  That means people want to live here.   

The preliminaries though are very encouraging.  I particularly liked the idea of using Pirate's Alley as a pedestrian walk.   They incorporated green space design and ambitious use of the causeway.   Every bit had a recognition of the climate dangers and how we can respond.   

So It's Going To Happen This Time...

Not so fast.  

  1. Our commissioners were pretty much no shows for the sessions as I mentioned at the opening.   I realize they were busy doing stage shows for captive senior audiences, moderating best practices for people they don't represent and other more interesting things but they missed the damn hard work and discussions that the Mayor and the  residents did to carve this out.   Here's a "Best Practice", show up and do your job. 
  2. Several of the same people who derailed the last Master Plan and their lobbyists were lurking around.   We need to watch our wallets because once again we are being told that we have to make sure the developers turn quick profits.   We saw how well that worked out. 
  3. A former faux commissioner showed up to wonder "How much will this cost?" and never asked "What is this?" 
  4. The Village has not published a clear well laid out piece on how the process will work, and what steps will be taken. 
  5. Even among the residents, there was grave danger of sub-optimization.  People, we're not getting a Trader Joe's.  Let it go.  Parking is always going to be a hassle in the most densely populated city in Florida.  Plan it and do the best you can.  The purpose of re-inventing is not just to raise property values for quick RE commissions.  It's to enhance value for people who actually live here.   
This is one of those times that I sincerely and totally hope I am wrong.  That the commissioners were secretly following the sessions and the developers want to be part of the community and the Village will publish and promote the planning in a form that residents can understand and people will look beyond their gated streets and locked condos and try to be part of a great community.  

Maybe this time?  

Kevin Vericker
October 7, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Employee Health Is Not A Cost Savings Opportunity

Our budget is a struggle every year.

Should it go up to meet the revenue available from inflation?

What should be prioritized and what should be eliminated?

How do we approach cuts in spending?

These are just some of the questions.  The budget is about what we value and I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe that without our police force, North Bay Village makes no sense.  We might as well request to be annexed to Miami Beach or Miami or unincorporate into the county.

If the residents of North Bay Village are faced with a tax hike or service cuts, the one thing you will always hear is "We will pay for the police."   Our police are local, responding within minutes, they know the community and under Carlos Noriega are reaching fully accredited national and state standards.   This is big.

Yet every new village management staff looks at the police and tries to redo the contract to squeeze some savings out of the police and this year is no different.  The Village and the FOP have not even begun to negotiate their 2020 contract and yet the Village is taking the preemptive step of discontinuing the popular health care option of a PPO.

Because it would save $64,000.  or 0.71% of our budget  Less than 1%. 

Imagine if you decided to tighten your budget at home by less than 1%, easy to do right? 

Would your first idea be to change to a less comprehensive and useful medical program?  Probably not. 

But that is what we are asking our officers to do. 

The change is from a PPO to an HMO and does not acknowledge that some of our staff have kids in college outside the area who will now be effectively uncovered, and in one case a dependent is seeking treatment out of state based on medical advice for a life threatening condition and will no longer be covered,

Our police went through a lot under the previous commission, including unjust firings, a phony police chief who was never what he said he was, and a bruising union fight which is now resolved.

It is entirely possible that there are more effective cost options for our employee coverage but our government doesn't know that.  NBV have not put it out for bid.

There may be ways that police themselves can make sure we are spending the money right.  We don't know that because this change has not been negotiated. 

If it's forced through, it's pretty clear that there will be an expensive legal fight between the union and the village as there is reason to believe that the current is a de facto part of their employment contract.

While the Village reconstructs, this is not the time to worsen the morale of the very people who have been kicked around the second most for the last 6 years (the residents get 1st place in that contest)

At an absolute minimum, the Village should continue the current coverage status, even at an increased cost, and look for savings elsewhere.  Real savings, sustainable, that move our Village forward.

The final budget hearing is September 27 and there is a meeting tonight at Village Hall of the Budget Oversight Committee.  The police have stood up for us and we need to speak up for them. 

Kevin Vericker
September 16, 2019




Sunday, September 1, 2019

In The Middle Of The Not Here Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian is not yet behind us and even though it looks like we won't get hit directly, we are in for some stormy days.  

I wouldn't call us lucky.  If we were lucky, Dorian would have faded out a week ago but that doesn't mean I can't take some time to express gratitude for how apparently smoothly things have been running.  
Our new Village administration has been communicating clearly and consistently in the run up to the storm.  Our Village Manager, our mayor, our communications director Daniela Romero and Chief of staff Mario Diaz have been clearly and consistently communicating what the Village is doing, what they know and what they don't know, and opening lines of communication and response to the residents on Facebook, in texts, on Twitter and in person.   They have been backed by our police force.  

This is in sharp contrast to Irma two years ago.  

Let me give you the clearest example.  The Village announced that sandbags would be available for Irma at 11 AM in the morning.  Then gave them all away by 9 AM and told the residents who had followed instructions to pound sand.  

For Dorian, the Village set up the distribution sites, delivered these in an orderly manner, made adjustments to the policies about first floor only when that was needed and then offered to deliver to those who could not make it due to disability or other factors.   

Our always excellent public works people were on top of the debris and the clogged drains and were out working through the last two days of the week.  

In fairness, they did this before Irma because they are that good but this time it was part of a village wide response team.  

Our mayor and vice mayor did what our elected officials can and should do.  They communicated and were present.  I know they did more but they also know when to get out of the way.  

It matters that they be the face of the residents during this and they're doing it right.  Commissioners Jackson and Alvarez are completely missing in action but that's good for us.  

We can contrast this to Irma when our elected officials went silent throughout the hurricane except for a mayoral temper tantrum.  every piece of information from the staff had to be pried loose, and the informal Facebook page was the only source of information.  

Village Manager Rosado and his staff have made sure the streets are clear of obvious objects and potential hazards and have kept the communications going. 

We are in for a wet and windy week.  There are lessons to be learned of course.   Still we in much better shape for when the next one, the one that hits, comes through and that's because of the clear vision and hard work of this administration and I am grateful.   

PS:  Okay.  I just have to tell you that I heard a rumor that a former official of North Bay Village appeared at the sand bag distribution site demanding 30 sand bags to protect her moat from overflowing into her castle and had a bucket of water thrown on her was politely told to go pound sand.  Whether her troupe of flying monkeys were sent out to get more sandbags has not been confirmed.  

Kevin Vericker
September 1, 2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Let's Talk About The Good Stuff

You probably not going to believe me and you likely will think that this is a piece of satire since I am not known for my sunny, bright outlook but it must be said. 

There's a lot of good news going on. 

First up is that we are now 100% part of Miami Beach PAL.  Our kids, from 6 to 18, regardless of where they go to school can join in the PAL activities in Miami Beach at the resident rate. 

This Is Massive!

For years, North Bay Village families have seen the lack of youth services as a major impediment to family life here and getting full access to one of the best programs in the state.  Check it out here at the Miami Beach PAL site.  

But Wait, It's On The Beach Right?

Yes, it is.  And many of the activities are in North Beach.  So getting there's a problem, isn't it?  

Nope, the Village has expanded the Island Hopper service to connect to North Beach.  From 10 AM to 7 PM.  It's pretty straightforward, Call them at 786 390-3386 and arrange a ride over or back.  

Yep, our transit is growing, for free.   And soon will be augmented by additional service from Freebee on Demand, a free ride service that will pickup and drop you anywhere in the Village.  

More Good News?  Yep

Green space, parks for people and dogs, is hard to come by but the Village has a plan, the Village has partners, and the Village is getting some money.   Our seed money is $417,000 from the state that our State Rep Michael Grieco and State Senator Jason Pizzo got in the budget for us.  Mayor Brent Latham  is working with the school board to harmonize the TIES elementary field with the overall plan and through the fall the plans should emerge.   

The Dog Park is taking a long time to plan and in my view is being over complicated but the plans should be on the agenda and finalized in September according to Village Manager Ralph Rosado.  

Work is continuing on the Baywalk now renamed the Island Walk, although Kimley Horn is still involved so it might take longer, cost more and be less than promised as is their custom, but that's cool, right?  

The streets are planned to be repaved.  According to Village Manager Ralph Rosado, the bidders will be qualified in October, the contractor selected in December and we will at least know the by the end of the year when they will be done.  

Thing That's Happening But You Might Not Notice

Under Carlos Noriega, our police department is back.  The PD is on track to accreditation, which opens up for more grants and standardizes our professional standing in law enforcement.  This had been derailed by our previous police chief and it matters to be back on track.  Further, there is a return to the professionalism under the new Village Management and the reinstatement of the command staff under Carlos Noriega is already achieving results such as increased marine patrols, community outreach and the previously mentioned PAL.  

The Village Staff now includes a professional HR manager, a communications professional, a deputy village manager who acts as chief of staff and analytics specialist.

So It's All Good, Right?  

Nah.  There's a lot to be done.  Lawsuits need to be settled.  The Village staff has to start responding.  Our communications are poor.  There are no performance measures.  For some reason Kimley Horn continues to show up around the Village to collect more money.  (I have an idea why but this is my positive post so I'll cover it later), residents are still kept in the dark about the construction and the Village still has to deal with building the Village Hall and there's a lot be done on resiliency and other issues but for right now:


Kevin Vericker
August 28, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Blocking the Future

From Saturday's Miami Herald, here is a short summary of the latest news in North Bay Village. 
After a year in office as a North Bay Village city commissioner, Douglas Hornsby was told he was ineligible for his post and removed. Citing 30-year-old felony charges that brought his voting rights into question, commissioners voted him out in January 2018.Last week, a Miami-Dade circuit court found that his dismissal was illegal, saying he had been denied due process because he wasn’t given adequate notice of the meeting.
According to the same article,  "the former city attorney[Powell] who advised the commission to dismiss Hornsby, stands by his January 2018 recommendation, arguing that Hornsby, as an ineligible commissioner, was not entitled to due process."
That's pretty strong stuff.  An attorney willing to state publicly that anyone is not entitled to due process.  It's at best a novel legal theory but more likely a completely inaccurate understanding of how the law works. 

Anyway, we are well rid of him. 

Except We're Not


The Village still has to clean up the aftermath.  While the court simply said the removal was illegal and did not prescribe a remedy, the Village now has to work out a fair settlement with Hornsby.  Since Hornsby is a reasonable man and we (finally) have a reasonable majority on the commission, we can expect a reasonable discussion with a reasonable outcome.   At a minimum, in my opinion, it should include rescinding the removal from the public record, living up to our obligations to pay for Hornsby's legal defense and reimbursing on whatever level reasonable people can agree for the damage done to Hornsby's reputation.

Then we can forget about it, right?

Not really.

Why Are They Still Here?


Commissioner Andreana Jackson
 There are two commissioners still on the dais until November 2020. They are Andreana Jackson (Treasure Island) and Jose Alvarez (Mary Kramer's Law Office) who both voted to remove Hornsby and who should have known that the due process as laid out in the charter was not being followed. 

Both Jackson and Alvarez were busy enabling an increasingly confounded mayor's demands while doing nothing of value for the community.

Since Kreps left office and possibly the Village, Jackson sits sniping at the current mayor and vice mayor at meetings, blocking legislation when she can and attending Galas. 

Commissioner Jose Alvarez
Alvarez just sits there. 

Both were conveniently unavailable to attend when the Village had to settle with Carlos Noriega and again at the second meeting where Detectives Columbano and Bejar reached their settlement.  All three of these gentlemen had reasonably settled their cases and neither Alvarez nor Jackson were there to acknowledge and help the Village move forward.

Now when the Hornsby settlement comes to a vote, ethics will require that they recuse themselves.  They were the critical supporting cast in this fiasco and should have known better.  They have nothing more to add.

Ignorance is Regrettable. Arrogance is Foolish. The Combination is Deadly

Incredibly, in spite of her complete lack of a constructive record and her unwillingness to even talk to her constituents, Andreana Jackson has paired up with another of Norman C. Powell's close friends, one Mayor Claudia Cubillos of El Portal, to get herself nominated to the Board of Directors for the Miami-Dade League of Cities.   The League of Cities is the umbrella organization that provides insurance to its member cities, something North Bay Village has had to use extensively to resolve the legal issues Jackson helped bring on, and provides legal services to untangle the web of legal challenges cities have faced.    

Mayor Claudia Cubillos, perhaps Connie Leon-Kreps' only ally, took a page from the Powell Kreps book and tried to have, you guessed it, one Norman C. Powell appointed permanent legal counsel for her town, El Portal.   Stephanie Kienzle writes about that try and its failure in her blog.  

And guess what?  Cubillos is joining Jackson on an attempt for both of them to be elected to the Board of Directors, the group that has control over things like hiring attorneys.   

It seems like these two, Cubillos and Jackson, have similar views on and tight relationships with a municipal attorney.   This is something to worry about.   

Given their unhealthy past and present with a lawyer who does not believe some people are entitled to due process because reasons, who negotiated his own contract and severance directly, and who has left a legacy of problems, it would be amazing if the League of Cities members agreed to this.  

Alvarez and Jackson Should Resign

They are of no use to their constituents in the Village.  They both brought about mass disruption by their collaboration with the extra legal shenanigans of the previous administration.  There are even suggestions in the current Velken case that Alvarez was aware of the attempt to get around the FRS rules very early on.   

We can't afford another year of them.  They should leave.  

It's the decent thing to do.  

Kevin Vericker
August 8, 2019






Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Court Finds That Doug Hornsby Was Removed Illegally

As any competent municipal attorney could have seen, the courts have ruled that the removal of Doug Hornsby from the commission on January 29, 2018, was illegal. 

Following the advice of then Village Attorney, Norman C. Powell, the commission violated Sunshine, disregarded the actual legal process of forfeiture of an office and that Norman C. Powell's "theory" that Hornsby's appointment was not valid ab initio and therefore did not have to follow due process was wrong.   
Doug Hornsby served as Commissioner At Large, appointed by the commission to fill the seat in 2017 and was embroiled in a controversy over extortion attempts on him made by political opponents.   This set off a chain of events that led to 
  • The firing of the Village Attorney Robert Switkes to be replaced by a strip club lobbyist with no experience as a municipal attorney but whose singular devotion to the Mayor was beyond question.  
  • The resignation of the Village Manager, Deputy Manager and Executive Administrator the same night they became aware that they were to be terminated in a "special" commission meeting.  
  • The firing of Police Chief Carlos Noriega and two detectives investigating the extortion matter.  
  • The hiring and then forced resignation of Village Manager Martell.  
  • The hiring through a third party of Chief Police Lewis Velken who was then put in as Village Manager.  The use of a third party was presumed to be a way around Florida Retirement Systems rules and has resulted in an attempt to revoke Velken's pension for misrepresentation.  (Case is under appeal.)   
  • The appointment of Laura Cattabriga to a seat not legally vacant.  
This is the mess the Three Useful Commissioners walked into and have to deal with.  

So far, the police chief was reinstated, the two detectives rehired and now this.  

The court did not recommend a specific remedy, such as reinstating Hornsby, but the finding provides a strong basis for Hornsby to reclaim the substantial legal fees he incurred, sue for damages to his business and reputation and other avenues.   

The Two Useless Commissioners, Andreana Jackson and Mary Kramer's Husband, are still on the dais but will need to recuse themselves from any involvement in settlements or restructuring going forward.  They should just resign.  They barely show up anyway.  It would be best for all if they left. 

Andreana Jackson
Jose Alvarez

From the previous administration, we are blessed that Connie Leon-Kreps is reportedly no longer dwelling in North Bay Village and I sincerely wish us the best in her decision to move. 

But that still leaves the festering issue of the many bad decisions taken on the legal advice of Norman C. Powell.  Powell is still lurking around municipal governments looking for work.  Just yesterday, my blogging colleague Stephanie Kienzle published a piece on Powell and El Portal entitled El Portal: The shady alliance of Claudia Cubillos and Norman Powell 

Powell left here in a nasty meeting earlier this year at which he negotiated his own settlement, something the Commission on Ethics recommends against and the courts have found illegal, but just going away has not resolved the costs to the Village from his inexperienced legal advice.   

There will most likely be further repercussions from the shambolic mismanagement and it might be North Bay Village that has to take care of this.  

Kevin Vericker
July 31, 2019





Friday, July 12, 2019

I Got the Dog Park Wrong

Yesterday in the blog, I wrote about the dog park and 

got

it

wrong.  

Specifically, I wrote:
Dog Park:  The money for the dog park planning was approved.  It will cost about $35,000 to create the plans, then another $120,000 to $200,000 to build a dog park.  The commission voted to move ahead.  
My view:  Just put up a fence, call it an open space and let the damn dogs run.  Also, the dog park proponents mostly weren't there.   
What I Got Wrong:  Shortly afterwards it was brought to my attention that the proposed space for the dog park has flooding issues, is not accessible for handicapped or older people, and could actually hurt the dogs and their owners if not properly planned.   
The first step, getting the plan, is the key and that's what the commission was voting on.  Once we have that, the dog park can start and that should be very soon.   

I should have paid better attention and now I'm updating my view:

My view:  Plan it right and get it going.  Also, dog park proponents - start showing up.  

Kevin Vericker
July 12, 2019

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 9 2019 Commission Meeting

I'm going to try make this brief.  

Tuesday night at the commission meeting.  

The main points:

Dog Park:  The money for the dog park planning was approved.  It will cost about $35,000 to create the plans, then another $120,000 to $200,000 to build a dog park.  The commission voted to move ahead. 
My view:  Just put up a fence, call it an open space and let the damn dogs run.  Also, the dog park proponents mostly weren't there.  

Treasure Island Community Park:   Mayor Brent Latham discussed the progress made so far in planning the green space use of the Treasure Island Elementary field in non-school hours.  The planning is well underway and should cost about $1,000,000 once it's ready.  

My view:  This is huge and opens up new space all around us.  

For Profit Prisons for Children in Homestead:  The commission voted 4-0 to express their concern about the inherent contradiction of for profit prisons in this government space.  One commissioner was in the ladies room for the vote.  

My view:  Prisons should never be for profit.  Ever.   

Discussion Item:  Advisory Board Interactions with the Commission.  The Mayor led a discussion about what the commission should expect from the boards and vice versa.  The boards are very active and bright, and were suppressed under the previous regime, and the commissioners spoke about what they would like to see.   

My view:  The commission should hold one joint session per year with each board to lay out the annual goals.   

Operational stuff - New Auditor, FPL Vault removal at the Sakura Lot, Parking Study for Harbor Island.    These were commission approval for doing what the village needs to do.  

Animal Control Advisory Board Feeding Registry:  The Animal Control Board has created a detailed and well crafted program to register and control the feeding of the feral cats, bearing in mind the needs of the cats, the sensibilities of the property owners, the control of the population.   

It was tabled.  

My view:  Seriously?  A group of intelligent concerned citizens under the government aegis does their job and the commission lets it slide again because a scuttle bug lobbyist now believes he's a cat expert.  Big failure.  

Scooter Rentals:  Never even made it to a vote.  Nobody wanted to own it.  

My view:  It's a stupid idea.  We are less than one square mile and we don't need people scooting aimlessly about.  

Unified Land Development Code:  Fixes the fencing rules so that 5 foot is the height limit for corner lots and temporary fences can be used in dog parks if we ever make one.  

My view:  How was this not part of our code already?  

Unified Land Development Code #2:  Allows administrative approval of dock variances within certain parameters rather than commission approval.  

My view:  Yeah, sure, why not?

Unified Land Development Code #3:  This is a change that as initially proposed would have changed the due dates on bonus height payments from approval time to building permit time, would have made the payments refundable if the developer did not develop, and approving mechanical parking lifts for fancy people with valets.  

It got whittled down and the refundability portion was removed but the two other parts stayed in.  

My view:  The refundable fees were always a flipper's delight so I'm glad they pulled it.  I'm sick of developers whining that they can't make money building in North Bay Village.  That's true but the people who sold them the lots made money.   They knew the rules.   The only developers with skin in the game are the Best Western.  The rest of them need to shut up and build.  And our Village Attorney and Planning Contractor should show up with some support for their claims that North Bay Village is somehow out of step with the cooler towns.  You got to qualify to signify and these guys are not giving the commission even the basic information.   Step up or step aside.  

Florida Friendly Fertilizer:  A carefully crafted proposal by Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth to stop people pouring polluting fertilizer into the bay while not harming the economic activity of landscapers was derailed by one lawn festishist and two commissioners who had clearly not read the ordinance.  The whole thing was cuckolded when the main provision, stop pouring pollutants on your lawn during the rainy season, was removed just because.  

My view:  Wilmoth did his homework, found the sweet spot, and for some reason having nothing to do with the ordinance, it was rendered useless.  A real low point.  

Ordinance Banning Single Use Plastics in the Village:  This was a straightforward ordinance banning the sale of single use plastic in North Bay Village.  After some discussion it was passed.  

My view:  Wilmoth again was reasonable, detailed and focused.  While there was a half hearted attempt to derail this one, the  other commissioners got bored and let it pass.  This was super unprofessional of them but lucky for us.  

7700 Miami View Drive:  The tenant, not the landlord, at 7700 Miami View Drive showed up to say his Short Term Vacation Rental License should be reinstated because he didn't know, he was putting in noise meters, and then used the Shaggy Defense on advertisements for the property  (Uh Uh, wasn't me.)  He was denied.  

My View:  Wow!

Kevin Vericker
July 11, 2019

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Right Way to Give

Who could possibly be against stopping AIDS?  Helping blind people navigate a world not designed for them?  Including people with intellectual challenges?  Ending world hunger?  and a myriad of causes.   
No decent person I'd dare to say.   

There is an entire industry to raise money for well intentioned philanthropic causes in the US and last year alone, Americans gave over $410 billion to support these efforts.   

But giving, especially with other people's money, has to be done judiciously. 

In the case of North Bay Village, we are a generous people and much of our $25,000 activities fund was directed at seemingly worthy causes.   

One donation was $7,500 for the AIDS Walk, an annual event to raise money to fight AIDS.  There were many organizations to whom we could have directed the donation, including Care Resources which actually provides services to NBV residents with HIV but instead the money was donated through SAVE, an organization which has never done anything for the North Bay Village Gay community although they have fund raised here and donated to elections.   
In addition, the money was supposed to be an activity for our residents to participate in the AIDS walk yet none were invited.  In exchange, all we got was an invitation to The Gala That Went Terribly Wrong and it seemed more of a personal branding exercise than a Village activity in support of a good cause.  

The Best Buddies walk, an amazing organization that has in fact helped place a valued new employee in the Village, was similarly not used for Village participation when it could have been.  

Other expenses have included Polo match tickets that I don't see how they build community or bring benefit to North Bay Village.  

We need to ask the question about what we want to accomplish.  Yes, supporting good causes financially matters and a sharp eye on how this builds up our community needs to be one facet of that equation.  

Before approving the moneys, the individual commissioners proposing the donation have an absolute obligation to ask and answer the questions.  
  • Does this organization actually effectively provide the services they are asking us to support?   In the case of SAVE, they do not provide any direct HIV services and the money should have been directed elsewhere. 

  • Does this donation enhance community life?  We have many residents with many needs.  It's not unreasonable to expect that organizations we support support us.   The Village recently paid airfare for a commissioner to attend the Daughters of the American Revolution conference in Washington DC.  It's hard to see how the DAR enhances our lives. 

  • Does community input matter?  Our commissioners have discretion on these funds but the community should matter.  Otherwise, it's just personal branding and advantage.
Finally, we need to follow the money.  If the major purpose of an organization is political and not services, the entire commission should cast an eye on the proposed donation.   There are many great advocacy organizations but those organizations need to work from grass root support, not government sponsorship.   

We really haven't seen much overreach on these donations until now.  As the Village approaches next year's budget, it is incumbent for the administration to create a framework based on effectiveness and benefit as they decide how our tax dollars are distributed.   


Now is time to ask those questions.  

Kevin Vericker
July 6, 2019

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

SAVE and The Collateral Damage

SAVE, one of the longest established organizations advocating for LGBT equality, has flamed out in a spectacular fashion.  The now former director, Tony Lima, chose to showcase four men accused of bashing a same sex couple at last year's Miami Beach Pride.  This was after honoring the victims at last year's SAVE Gala and using the incident as a fundraising tool for SAVE.  

Whatever motivated Lima is unclear and he made something of a half apology on his Facebook page but the board took the step to fire him on Monday night.  In my view, this was the right decision.  

The whole sad story is well covered here in the Miami Herald.  

In short, the victims were three gay men, a couple and a Good Samaritan who tried to intervene.  According to the allegations against them by the state attorney, the three victims were set upon by these four SAVE honorees in a four to two "fight", really an attack, that put them all in the hospital and left one unemployed.  The alleged attackers are said to have used the common Spanish anti-gay slur "maricones" during the beatdown.  

It's on video here.  Note, the video is disturbing and the state attorney has added hate crimes to the charges.  

The victims have been clear that they feel betrayed by Lima's strange actions.  

This is also a North Bay Village story


North Bay Village and SAVE have a long and controversial relationship.  SAVE first endorsed in our local elections in 2014, choosing a candidate for mayor who did nothing for the local LGBT community over a candidate who actively sought the input and participation of the gay community. 

In a foreshadowing of the Gala incident, Tony Lima and SAVE refused to condemn a PAC mailer that attacked their endorsed candidate's opponents by associating them as puppets of an evil gay man.  Lima doubled down and cut me off when I asked him for help in getting such things as a contractor compliance ordinance in place, Pride acknowledgment, support for the LGBT youth in North Bay Village.   

These things are going forward here in spite of SAVE's resistance.  

But in the meantime, SAVE raised a lot of money in North Bay Village, provided small campaign contributions and endorsements to candidates, and acted as a channel for the Village's donations to the AIDS Walk, getting the credit while ignoring the North Bay Village community.  

So this sad chapter is drawn to a close and we'll see what's next.  

I have enough faith in North Bay Village and our current administration, in particular our mayor, our village manager and our police chief, that I know that they will continue to fight for all members of the North Bay Village community.  

I know that there are many straight allies who were taken in by the SAVE hustle, including Commissioner Strout.  Maybe it's my fault because I was unable to explain to the well meaning allies how toxic SAVE had become in our village.  Or maybe it's their fault for not wanting to listen.  

Even now, there are several self proclaimed straight allies loudly "straight splainin'" how Lima is a victim and spending no energy on the real victims, the couple and the good Samaritan who tried to intervene.  

This is wrong.  You cannot call yourself an ally while adopting the position of explaining away the real concerns of the community members affected as trivial in comparison to concerns about someone facing the consequences of poor judgment.  

It's a good time to listen and learn.  It's not about you.  

This incident also calls into question how we as a Village decide what community organizations and charities to support.   No matter how well meaning the intentions are, it matters to use discretion and judgment in making that decision and to be very careful that the support is not about personal branding or virtue signaling, but is about moving North Bay Village forward.  I'll be writing more about this later in the week.  

For now, I hope the Village understands the need to move forward.  Progress is not about one person or one organization and there is still much to be done.  I hope we can learn from this and move on. 

Kevin Vericker
July 2, 2019