Thursday, March 28, 2019

Carlos Noriega Reinstatement Is Definitely On The Table

Last January, in a frighteningly named "Shadow Meeting" our commission met with the attorney from the League of Cities, as well as then Village Attorney Norman Powell and Lewis Velken, a contractor posing as Village Manager, to discuss the Noriega Lawsuit in a meeting excepted from Sunshine.   

These meetings are supposed to be confidential until the matter is resolved, although at least two of our commissioners seem to believe they are under the seal of the confessional.   The meetings are not and become public record once the matter is litigated.  

Anyway, this town is a porous as our sewer lines and very little stays confidential.  According to second hand and third hand reports, the commission was told that if the matter goes to jury trial, Noriega would prevail and the village could be on the hook for both reinstatement and punitive damages.   

The commission was asked about settlement options including reinstatement and rejected the option of reinstatement, based on one commissioner's concern that Noriega had investigated the spouse of another commissioner, and on two false narratives presented to them, both now debunked, about Noriega.   

Well we all know what happened next.  It was uncovered that the Village Manager position was being paid through a third party.  The Florida Retirement System opened an investigation and the manager resigned, and after initially denying any knowledge of the payment scheme, emails emerged showing that the Village Attorney knew at least as long ago as September 2018 that this was going on and he resigned.   

The Village went into negotiations this week with Noriega and according to third hand reports, started out with the firm position that reinstatement was off the table.   A deal not including reinstatement was proposed and the Village Commission needs to vote on this offer April 9.   

"Shadow Meetings" suck.  The firing of Noriega and the dismantling of the North Bay Village civic structure was done right out in the open by former Mayor Kreps and her colluders, ruining reputations and leaving the village to a group of self interested incompetents but suddenly fixing this must be confidential?  I will continue to fight for the information to be public.   

The worst part about this super secret negotiation this week is that the commission's position was highly influenced by two provably false allegations.   

There has been no follow up meeting with the commissioners to lay the evidence out that the allegations of insubordination and improper searches may not have happened as presented, and so the January position stood. 
Our current Village Manager Ralph Rosado, and our current Village Attorney, Dan Espino, had an absolute obligation to call a second meeting as the new information became available to inform the commission of the facts they now had so the commission could make an informed decision.   That did not happen.   
Our commissioners are citizen volunteers and rely on the professional and legal advice of the people who are paid to provide it.   The net effect of failing to inform the commission is that now obsolete information informed a bad decision and a bad faith negotiation.   

The commission should listen to the community, who were very pleased at how Noriega reconstructed the police department, and the commission should demand that the staff they hire ensure that they have all relevant information at the right time.   

The deal as reportedly negotiated stinks.  It was done in bad faith, without a properly informed commission, it did not take into account the community desires which should count for something, and restated a position that neither our current attorney or current manager had been part of.  

The vote is April 9 but before then, the commission should hold an open meeting to discuss the deal on the table, get the community input on the settlement, lay out the accusations and decide based on the best information available if Noriega should be reinstated.  

Otherwise, it's just the same dirty self serving politics that brought this village to its knees.  We'll be stuck.  

Kevin Vericker
March 28, 2019 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mediation and Restoration

Image result for picking up the pieces

The new commission walked into an intentionally complicated mess left by the previous mayor and commission.  This week, their ability to clean it up will be tested as the mediation for Carlos Noriega's lawsuit is on the calendar.  Noriega, our former police chief, is suing for reinstatement to his job in North Bay Village.  

The lawsuit comes as there is a search on  for a Village Attorney and a Village Manager and it seems that the commission have selected a new Village Clerk, pending a final contract.  

Noriega filed suit after his dismissal, stating that he had been fired in retaliation for a whistle-blower complaint against then Village Attorney Norman C. Powell among other allegations.   

Noriega is not looking for money but rather reinstatement to his position and even the Village's defense team concede that the Village is not likely to prevail in a jury trial.   The evidence is very strong that the firing of Noriega was motivated by fear of investigations into what may be criminal acts.  

Since any settlement will ultimately have to be approved by the commission, in this case it is the commission that will have to make the decision to rehire Noriega or to offer a financial settlement,  most likely well over $1 million.  

Noriega is firm in his stance that what he wants is not the money but his position restored and himself made whole.   

And there's no good reason not to in my view.   

Noriega built the police back up in the community, always acted with integrity with his employers, restructured the department to be focused on police services, not personnel fights, and most importantly did not let politics get in the way of where the evidence in investigations are leading.  

It's important to know that North Bay Village's system of government is based on the weak commission/strong administration structure.   In that structure, the elected mayor and commission act as a board of directors setting general policy, legislation, funding and is responsible for only three direct reports - the Village Attorney, the Village Manager and the Village Clerk.  

The idea behind this is that the work of governing is carried out by professionals with experience and knowledge to execute the direction set by the commission and in particular, the Village Manager is responsible for all personnel decisions including hiring and firing, with the narrow exception of department heads who must be approved by the commission.   

It's a good idea but under the chaotic tenure of Connie Leon-Kreps, it fell into bad company and the structure was turned on its head by a series of ill advised and executed hirings and firings of the three principal positions.   

Following the revelation of an extortion attempt on then Commissioner Doug Hornsby and the subsequent criminal investigations into the same, Kreps and her cronies fired the Village Attorney and replaced him with one who had no experience of being a municipal attorney, hired and then fired a Village Manager, and drove the longest serving North Bay Village employee, Village Clerk Yvonne Hamilton, to resign.  

Among the many intended consequences of this descent into chaos was the firing of Police Chief Carlos Noriega and the two detectives who were working on the extortion case and other issues.   

The sole reason given to Noriega was that the then Village Manager, Marlen Martell, wanted to take the police department in a "different direction."  

The manager then hired Lewis Velken to be chief of police before being fired herself for failing to provide fireworks to celebrate Kreps.   

Velken in turn had to resign as it became public that he was not technically a village employee and is under investigation for an attempt to skirt the Florida Retirement System rules.  

So as I said, it's a mess and the commission needs to do the hard work to clean it up.  

There are naysayers.   Several police employees and at least one previous charter officer have been going around town and to the media to claim that two incidents that happened under Noriega demonstrate that he was a terrible leader.  

The first one is easily disproved.  There was a hiring freeze announced while the police were recruiting and the claim has been made that Noriega was insubordinate and continued to recruit anyway. 

Noriega didn't and part of the evidence in his suit is documentation that he stopped the hiring interviews when directed to. 

So half a fact - there was a hiring freeze - with a little lie - Noriega ignored it is one big reason. 

The second one is even worse.  There was an investigation into a murder suspect that led to the police entering an illegally occupied apartment.   No one was harmed but the squatters claimed that it was upsetting.   The entry had been approved by the State Attorney, carried out under strict protocol and approved by the owners of the unit.    There is simply nothing there. 

But that hasn't stopped this last minute slandering trying to present Noriega as bad for the Village.

The commission has to right the wrong done to Noriega and now, more than ever, they need a police chief we can trust.  Brian Collins has done a heroic job keeping the force intact but does not want the job and never did, so it's only sensible that the commission get the PD back on the right track. 

I hope they understand this and offer a reinstatement quickly, like tomorrow.   The commission was elected to do the right thing and this is clearly the right course.

Kevin Vericker
March 25, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

An Exciting Cloud of Dullness

Well, I'm not going to go so far as to say I miss the old days of two weeks ago when our commission meetings were straight up exercises in unrestrained temper tantrums punctuated by brightly colored strutting egos flailing up against each other in a non-mating ritual designed to establish dominance for its own sake, but I can't say I don't miss it either.

Tuesday's meeting on the surface was an exercise in solid, rational governance.  

Let's go through the highlights.  

Women's History Month:  For the first  time, North Bay Village took the step of recognizing Women's History Month and acknowledged the struggle, the successes and the simple fact that women in North Bay Village are the key in every level of civic life.   Among the women honored were Anne Baskt, Rivien Murphy, Doris O’Hare, Jodie Wilmoth. Julianna Strout, Andreana Jackson and the  North Bay Village Staff.

Well noted and well discussed was an event sponsored by Commissioner Julianna Strout last Friday in honor of International Women's Day.  I wasn't there but from all reports it was an exceptionally intelligent and well received panel discussion on the lives of Miami women in 2019.   

Strout has committed to keeping this event, monthly if possible, to keep women's issues inculcated into North Bay Village's civic life.   And when Commissioner Strout makes up her mind, there is no barrier to getting it done.  

Personal Hero:  Ms. Sissy Shute of North Bay Island, who I've named Hurricane Sissy because of the force of her personality, was overlooked and she should not have been.  Sissy has dedicated time, money, resources, her home and her passion to improving the lives of all North Bay Villagers and always spotlighting and supporting the women leaders of our community.   I hope the commission takes a step to acknowledge her singular efforts to improve life for all of us.  

A Taost To Sissy Shute
The Sustainability and Resiliency Task Force:  Led by Deni O'Brien, the task force has begun focusing on the global issue of climate change and the local North Bay Village response.   

We hit the jackpot with O'Brien.  A retired international worker with UN, O'Brien brings the right global perspective with the knowledge of local issues and they are off to a good start.   

The Dog Park:   a simple straightforward coding change frees up the Village to place a dog park on the Sakura lot while construction is evaluated and allows for the Village to use our land for this purpose in the future.   It's funny how doing the right thing is boring and obvious.   But this has been on our list of needs for almost 8 years and doing the right thing the right way actually moved it forward.  

Charter Positions:  Our Interim Clerk Graciela Mariot has taken another position.   The commission voted to enter into negotiations with Elora Rivera, deputy clerk of Surfside, who comes well recommended by the search committee headed by Pamela Latimore, city clerk of North Miami Beach.   If the contract is successful that's one office filled.  

As regards the Village Attorney, we are being supported in the interim by Dan Espino of Weiss Serota and what a difference it makes.   Espino competently guided the commissioners through the legal implications of their legislation and acted throughout as a counselor.  A stark contrast to the last year.  

In a discussion item, Brent Latham put forth that the search committee should continue their search even though the first deadline had passed.  

His reasoning was simple since there are two new important factors here.  

With the drama and meltdowns of the previous administration, it's likely that otherwise qualified and interested firms backed away, not wanting to be the latest powder keg in a badly managed government but now that there is a restoration of sanity, we might be able to attract a wider pool.  

The second factor is to consider the idea of the village hiring an attorney on staff, which has much merit.   It would put the role inside the Village HR, allowing for things like proper background checks, performance evaluations and most importantly, the attorney can respond to changing needs in the Village and not be bound by contract.   There may be downsides but the commission agreed to consider this.   

The Projects:  Now it gets a little less enthusiastic.  Kimley-Horn is nearing the end but in spite of the pressure from the dais and the residents, remains weirdly reluctant to open, simple communication.   Following a long layout of the facts, there was no simple answer to when the project would be finished, even a good estimate, and no commitment to informing the residents 24 hours in advance of water shutoffs.   This is a major issue and I hope the commission considers this failure in future dealings with Kimley-Horn.   

Storage Facilities:  There is one proposed on the lot next to Happy's.   It will come before the commission in the near future.  It needs to be rejected and I hope it will be.   

But the mayor did propose and the commission passed a resolution putting a moratorium for 6 months on any new storage facilities.   They hope during this period to review economic and community impact of all new projects in order to clearly favor those with a positive impact. 


Kevin Vericker
March 15, 2019

Friday, March 1, 2019

What Leadership Looks Like

Last night we saw what genuine leadership can accomplish in North Bay Village.  The Village has been stuck in the quagmire of Krepsian hires and it felt like we were spinning out of control.  
Last night the commission and Norman Powell agreed to go their separate ways.  But not after a nasty public fight with threats and charges of racism thrown at the mayor, who stood firm against the badgering of the outgoing attorney and the outlandish bullying of Commission Jackson.   

For the details of the meeting, see Sarah Blaskey's excellent article here in the Miami Herald.  

I just want to focus for today on how the discussion went.   

Mayor Brent Latham was clear and factual on how Norman Powell failed to gain the trust of the commission and the many issues that Powell has presented in North Bay Village, not the least of which is Powell's involvement in the Velken matter and the many missteps Powell has taken.  

Latham was calm, focused and did not get distracted by the badgering by Andreana Jackson.  When Norman Powell cried "racism" and disputed Latham's concern over a near physical altercation by Powell with him, Latham, last Tuesday, one in which the police got involved, Latham kept his cool.   

We have the adult we need leading the commission.   

Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth
There is another face of leadership that needs to be recognized.  

Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth who has so far taken an analytic role on the dais, carefully evaluating the information provided, was a calm voice of insistent reason in the contentious meeting.  Wilmoth firmly and calmly kept promoting that the mayor, the labor attorney and Powell figure a way out of this mess and they sit down and get it done.  

It didn't seem possible until it was done.  

After a long recess, Powell agreed to terms, far too generous in my view, to leave without further degrading the Village and the commission voted 5-0 to accept the deal and move along.  

It would be easy to overlook Wilmoth's contribution but it was important and focused and got the commission unstuck.   

So a big hat's off to both the Mayor and the Vice Mayor.   

There's a lot coming at us down the road.  The fallout of 8 years of bad governance and the challenges the Village faces are real and are not going to be solved overnight.  But last night showed that focused leadership in its many dimensions is the right way.  

So let's all take a breath and appreciate that we are on the right road.  

(Sorry for the insipid sincerity of this post but you know it's big when I can't even make jokes.  I expect I'll resume snarking next week.)  

Kevin Vericker
March 1, 2019