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


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