Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Powell Is El Portal's Opportunity Now

A Unique Lawyer
Norman Powell, former North Bay Village municipal attorney, has brought his special brand of municipal lawyering to El Portal where he is up for permanent installation as their Village Attorney after a year or so of interim lawyering.  Powell is of course unequaled in his skills as a municipal attorney as a result of his many weeks of experience in the field of municipal lawyering and has shown many ethics.  
Blogger Stephanie Kienzle, who like me is being sued by former North Bay Village attorney Norman C. Powell, writes about the latest employment seeking situation at our sister village El Portal. 

Like in North Bay Village, how Powell came to be interim attorney is all very murky and lost in the annals of time.  Just a happenstance, perhaps a chance encounter at a club, perchance a glance across a crowded party bus, and jobs just fall into his lap because Powell, he's that good.  

In El Portal's case, their commission have talked about this many times.  Like former Commissioner Andreana Jackson of North Bay Village, the commissioners of El Portal have looked deep into Norman's extraordinary resume and have been tempted, deeply tempted, to just say "The hell with any RFP's.  Let's just hire the man before he gets away."  but because of the crippling fear of bloggers the Village of El Portal tonight may decide to go out to bid.   

Which might not be good for Norman Powell, whose unique legal theories benefited so many here in North Bay Village.  Lewis Velken, Andreana Jackson, Marlen Martell and others come to mind.  

You see, in the RFQ, the Village of El Portal requires the successful candidate to have 7 long years of experience in the field which is a really long time.  
The candidate must be licensed to practice law in the State of Florida, with a minimum of 7 years’ experience in the practice of municipal law, with increasing levels of responsibility. It is preferable for the candidate to also be a member of a U.S. District Court within the State of Florida. 
Yet less than 3 years ago, Norman C. Powell was explaining to recently installed commissioner Laura Cattabriga that he needed a big severance package built into his contract because municipal lawyering was a new business for him.  

So if they vote Yes for the RFQ, Norman might have a big problem.  But more importantly, El Portal would miss out on the excitement and fun that Norman Powell brought to North Bay Village.  

I hope they vote No and forego the requirement for 7 years experience.   

North Bay Village is dull since Mayor Brent Latham drove poor Norman away (physically attacked him according to Commissioner Andreana Jackson.)  Since Norman left, we haven't had 

  1. A Village Police Chief / Manager who really didn't work for us at all.  
  2. Employees collecting over a $127,000 in compensation when they leave within 4 months.  
  3. Lawsuits by legal departments against citizens.  
  4. Nasty headlines in the press (except for Andreana Jackson last week.)  
  5. Our attorney is very boring and probably never gets caught bringing a gun on to a plane.  

In fact, it's kind of Dullsville around North Bay Village.  Covid, bridge failures, employees employed, boring meetings, arguments over dog parks, hardly anyone arrested.  

I urge El Portal to take a look at how much interesting life is with Norman C. Powell as your attorney.  Exciting FEMA investigations, invigorating meetings, Harold Mathis!  Don't be chumps.  Go for the fun.   

Kevin Vericker
July 28, 2020







Monday, July 27, 2020

Rachel Streitfeld - This Is What Class Looks Like

Rachel Streitfeld
Today, the Commission held a short special meeting about how to deal with the vacancy created by former commissioner Andreana Jackson's removal following her guilty pleas to Extortion and Abuse of Influence. 

The Commission could have appointed an immediate replacement or called for a Special Election to replace the Commissioner from Treasure Island. 

They chose, rightly in my view, to postpone any action until August 20, which is the last day for candidates to qualify. 

Right now, today, there is only one candidate for the seat from Treasure Island.  Rachel Streitfeld, an experienced environmental lawyer and a strong presence in our community, filed last week to be on the ballot for November 3, 2020.  If there is no other candidate by August 20, her election is automatic. 

Streitfeld really wants to be a commissioner.  She's bright, involved, hard working, energetic and filled with ideas about how to move North Bay Village forward and deal with our unique environmental challenges. 

I want her to be commissioner.  We need her at the right time. 

If you need any proof of why she's a great choice, look no further than her comments to the commission this morning: 

 ...this election should represent a clean slate – a new day for North Bay Village – and I want it to be as fair and proper as it possibly can be without even the slightest hint of impropriety. I do not want to be tied to the story of the embarrassing and shameful headlines that we saw last week. Our village is so much better than last week’s headlines. I want to be part of our future, not our past. So, regarding the appointment on your agenda today, I encourage you not to pre-empt the election. 

Think about that. 

Streitfeld could have spent her time politicking and manipulating to be appointed today.  An appointment would have set her up with an incumbent's advantage if she does draw an opponent, making a win in November much easier, or might have scared off a potential challenger, leaving the commission itself with questions of legitimacy.   Like our previous commission. 

Streitfeld didn't do that.  She's ready to earn the position and I look forward to seeing her on the dais at the right time. 

Kevin Vericker
July 27, 2020

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Andreana Jackson Pleads Guilty To Extortion

Former Commissioner Andreana Jackson
Commissioner from Treasure Island Andreana Jackson pled guilty today to charges of extortion and abusing her position. 

As part of her plea bargain, the court agreed to "withhold adjudication" on the extortion charge if Jackson resigned from the North Bay Village Commission, agreed to serve 100 hours of community service, pay $3,950 in fines and complete a year's probation.   "Withhold adjudication" is a fancy way of saying the conviction will not be noted. 

Jackson was represented by Miami powerhouse attorney Ben Kuehne and the matter was dealt with in minutes with the judge agreeing to the terms.  You can see it here in the Miami Herald.

In 2017, Jackson sponsored an Arts & Technology fair at Treasure Island Elementary School here in North Bay Village.   She collected about $13,500 and in turn was "paid" $2,950 for doing so, while representing the event as an official North Bay Village event.   The extortion part of the charges was allegedly that local developers were led to believe that their projects would be looked at more favorably if they contributed, while the abuse of influence charge was about presenting an opportunity for personal gain as a public service. 

The Miami Dade Commission on Ethics opened an investigation in 2018 and quickly involved the State Attorney's Office.

As of today, Jackson has resigned from the North Bay Village commission and accepted the terms of the plea bargain.

November 2017 - The Month That Changed Everything in North Bay Village


On November 4, 2017, then Commissioner Jackson sponsored the Art & Technology Fair at Treasure Island Elementary with the money from private donors.  

On November 12, 2017, I got a call from Commissioner Jackson, who I had strongly supported for commissioner and who I saw as a bulwark against the increasing chaos on the dais, asking me if I thought it was a good idea for her to support firing Robert Switkes, our then Village Attorney.   

I was shocked.  Switkes and Frank Rollason, the then Village Manager, were the firewall between the destructive impulses of former mayor Connie Leon Kreps.   As Charter staff, Switkes and Rollason could count on 3 commission votes to keep them in place.  

So I was shocked but I was not suspicious, not yet.   Jackson told me that she was very concerned that nothing was getting done and that Commissioner Hornsby was not clear if he was legally entitled to his seat and she just thought that Switkes might not be doing the job right.    

We talked for about an hour and I thought she was just bouncing the idea around, as we had done many times before on many subjects.  In fact, she promised me she was not going to go forward on it.  

On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, after making another assurance that she would not be pushing for that move, Jackson joined Mayor Connie Leon Kreps and Commissioner Jose Alvarez in a sneak firing of Switkes late in the evening, with no discussion and no consideration.  

Current Commissioner Jose Alvarez
Former Mayor Connie Leon Kreps
Former Commissioner Jackson

We know what followed.  A year of destruction.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out to prevent employees from suing us.  A commission reduced to blithering nonsense. Hornsby's illegal removal and of course, Norman C. Powell advising on all of it.

November 2017 was the pivotal month when Andreana Jackson, a woman I had known to be involved, open minded and often acting as the sane counterbalance to a commission spinning out of control, decided to join the crazy.   Jackson quickly became good friends with the same mayor who a year before had smacked Jackson at a Children's Event (Police Report Here.) and had nothing but insults for Jackson.

Now I wonder, was it always about the money? 

Throughout 2018, Jackson's consumer credit lawsuits managed to get resolved.   Village Attorney Norman C. Powell even discussed providing her complimentary legal advice to deal with them while under oath in another case, the Noriega firing. 

In October of 2018, Jackson can be seen on camera breaking election laws to help Laura Cattabriga get elected.

I know I shouldn't feel bad for Andreana Jackson, and given the light treatment she received in court today, Jackson will probably be okay.

I don't know what goes through a person's mind that they can switch like that.  Was it the money because it was very little?  Was it the power because it accomplished nothing?  Was it the faux "respect" of the people who disliked her? 

Even after all the terrible things she did since November 2017 - attacking Yvonne Hamilton, defending the indefensible contract of Lewis Velken, obstructing the hard work of her peers in 2019 and 2020 as they tried to put things right, I still feel sad.

I'm not a great believer in redemption.  I know I should be but I believe we are the sums of our choices and Jackson's have been very bad choices indeed.  Yet I hope she can move somewhere else and rise above her past.  Jackson was once a good person.

Kevin Vericker
July 22, 2020


Monday, July 13, 2020

Elephant in the Room

Bene Riobó / CC BY-SA
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

We are discussing the wrong things in North Bay Village.

There is a budget fight, a usual annual ritual, about the projected spend for FY 2021, to include a small decrease in anticipated revenue because of the current economic downturn.

There is an entirely fictitious fight about micro units being the housing options of choice for new development. 

People are getting locked down on solving the wrong traffic problems, focusing solely on Volume (Number of Vehicles) while ignoring the bottlenecks created by poor traffic planning and a causeway that is too wide.

Yeah, too wide.

Members of our commission are busy trashing other members of the commission behind their backs but unable to articulate what ideas would move the Village through the storm.

And while this nonsense is going on, with busy people pretending they are doing important work by doing a lot of work, the Covid storm is swirling all around us.

Hold Up.  You're saying the budget, the development and the traffic don't matter?

What I am saying is that we are asking the wrong questions.  

Budget:  We continue to talk about costs when we need to talk about value.  

Simple example:  The statement, "The Police Department is 67% of our budget." tells me nothing.  

What residents need to know is what the police department does, how much of it they do, will they be doing less or more of it next year, what is the value of the thing they are doing.  

Did you know that nearly 20% of our police budget goes for things that  are really social services - camps for kids, school resources, elder checks, welfare checks, family disputes, neighborhood crime watch?  No you didn't know that because our budget only reflects the costs.   

By the way, this has been true of most Police Departments since the 1980's.  

Our crime rate is very low on its own and when compared to other areas of the same size, is even lower.   What value does that bring to our properties?  I've seen studies that it can mean as much as 20% higher values.  What social value does that build?   

These questions need to be answered before anyone can talk about the budget and it's time to work on it.  The responsibility lies squarely with the budget proposer to provide a justifiable statement of outcome and value.  Otherwise, there's no point.  

The budget will not relate spending to value received and we can't have a serious discussion without that.  

Micro-Units:  The modest proposal to allow smaller apartments in a single building, the fire station and probable Village Hall was hijacked into a frankly class based discussion about who we let in our Village and then spun to be an unsupported generalized panic spread about North Bay Village being taken over by STVR's.   

First of all, not everyone needs or wants to live cowering behind a gate in a single family house or a Soviet style block of flats gated and removed from the community.  Older people, people starting out, people in transition have all been the tenants in micro-units throughout the country and this was proposed as one possibility for this building.  

Now you may not want to live in one.  That's fine.  But eliminating the option because you are afraid people without a lot of money might live there, or you've decided it's all STVR's and a conspiracy, and then announcing that this is the plan for the whole Village is just annoying.   

Traffic:  Traffic congestion is a result of three major functions 
  • Volume:  How many cars.  
  • Velocity:  How fast the cars are able to move. 
  • Flow:  How well the cars can move.  
Every new development starts with people screaming, "Too many cars" and the modest proposal that the Causeway could be a street, not a high speed road, is met with cries of "No.  We'll never fit."  

But you know what?  You're wrong.  

We Do Not Have A Volume Problem, We Have A Flow Problem

Have you ever stood on the median islands and observed the traffic at rush hour?  Of course not.  Who would do that?  

Oh, wait.  I did.  Several times.   And here's what I saw.  

  • Large clumps of three lanes jockeying for speed and position.   
  • Long empty stretches.  
  • Large clumps of three lanes jockeying for speed and position.  

I don't want to brag or anything, but I paid attention in math class.   

It is clear there are not "too many cars."  The issue is that traffic Velocity flows at variable rates with people in the middle lane typically being passed on the left and right lanes because there is space to do so, the lights are badly timed if at all, and we add in the talented Miami drivers.   Even if you go there now with our reduced Covid traffic, you will see cars driving at different speeds and clogging the road at the lights.   

The Flow is a function of design and Velocity is controlled by flow.  

The question is not about Volume (capacity) but about management of traffic and that's where the solutions need to be.  No new development will make it worse and it won't get better on its own.  

Alright, Wise Guy, What Should Be Focused On?  


More math, unfortunately.   

You've seen the news.  Yesterday and today, Florida broke all records in the sheer numbers of Covid Cases for everywhere.  

But that only tells you part of the story.   

The most concerning part to me is the infection (positive) rate with as of today July 13, 2020 is 26% in Miami Dade County over the last 14 days and is growing daily.  Since testing is now widespread, that probably means 1 out of every 4 people you meet are infected and remember it takes an average of 5 days to get the results so that number is outdated the minute it's reported.  

Hospitalizations in Miami-Dade for Covid are double the discharge rate for Covid which does not bode well for our hospitals.  

One bright(?) spot is that death rates are declining but they are the ultimate lagging indicator.  

And guess what?  There is nothing on the July 14th Commission agenda about how we are going to deal with what looks to be an imminent replay of the shutdown.   Nothing on the agenda about how we are going to deal with kids going back to school part time or at home full time.   Nothing on the agenda evaluating what's worked so far and hasn't worked.   

Nope.  

Just like the cost decision over value, just like the fictions of traffic gridlock and micro-units, our five commission members and our paid staff are just going to look serious and concerned and go on acting like it's all normal and nothing is normal.   

Kevin Vericker
July 13, 2020




Saturday, July 4, 2020

July 4, 2020 North Bay Village

Today marks Independence Day in the strangest year I've seen in my nearly 65 of them.  

We were coming out of a nearly 3 month lockdown hoping for a better summer but we're back with curfews and restrictions and record breaking numbers of infections spreading.   

So that's a bummer.   

However, let's look at the things that are demonstrably better than 2 years ago, shall we?  

We Have a Stable Government

Two Years Ago:  I don't want to dwell on that past but remember at this time 2 years ago, we weren't counting Covid cases.  We were counting settlements not to sue the Village.  

In July of 2018, we had already paid out more than $150,000 to 2 employees who respectively worked for 4 months and 1 month for the Village and who were not fired for cause.  The environment was so bad that we had to add in big sums of money to get them to agree not to sue.  

By the end of 2018, we had spent nearly $500,000 settling various personnel matters caused by the bumbling of the last administration.  

Our administration was spiraling out of control and the meetings were bizarre rants and personal vendettas.   

Our police chief/village manager did not even work for us and that fact was kept from most of the commission and all of the residents.   

Today: Coming into this mess, Mayor Brent Latham spent the first year fighting the old battles left behind by the strange antics of the previous administration and took the right first step of assessing where we were and how to get out of the hole.   It worked.  

We now have functioning boards, a commission that does not spend its time settling scores on imaginary slights, a legal department that does its job, and a staff that is transparent.  

It's not perfect but the arguments are public and resolvable.

We Have Green Space

The dog park was never a serious consideration for the previous administration but in less than 2 years we have a bright shiny new dog park in the neighborhood with the most apartment dwellers, a welcome community addition and a long needed space for a pet loving populace.  

More excitingly to me and others, the Treasure Island Elementary School greenspace is open to us.  A huge jewel of a field on our most populous island is available to us and plans are already underway for improvement.  For years we have struggled with the limited amount of greenspace available in the Village and the last administration did nothing to help the circumstance.   

It took a mayor willing to negotiate with the School Board and present a plan that works for all to make it happen.  

Brent Latham did that.  

The Boards

Yeah, I know I mentioned those before but this is big.  Before 2019, boards were dying or non-existent.  The Commission reached a point where it was possible to shut down residents who wanted to speak at Good & Welfare about their issues with the Village and the legal department even initiated a lawsuit to prevent their antics from being made public.  

The Village was choking on its own bad information.   

In 2020, we have:
  • A Resiliency Task Force chaired by a former treaty negotiator for the United Nations working on how we survive climate change, supported by a top environmental lawyer.  
  • An Animal Control Board that is making a difference in the feral cat problem. 
  • A Resident Services Board that is focusing the Village's efforts on helping people through the Covid Crisis.  
  • A Financial Advisory Board which includes a retired M-D County auditor, that will not stop questioning and probing until there is a clear answer on how and when our money is spent.  
  • A Planning & Zoning that the commission actually listens to.  
  • A Community Enhancement Board that actually innovates and considers the impact of community wide decisions.  

Brent Latham, along with Julianna Strout and Marvin Wilmoth, led the way by appointing and working with serious residents to get the best advice they can.  

It's Not Perfect

Think about the quality of the arguments we're having first. 

There is strong concern about our financial planning in the economic crisis and how our money is handled.   The streets repaving project is taking too long (in my view) and should never have involved the same contractors we worked so badly with before.  The cost of the police is rising again and we need to know the value.  We are having the same argument about outsourcing waste management, a service the residents love.   Business Development is at a standstill.  

These are good and healthy arguments.  These are the arguments we should have.  But for so long we were just trying to figure out how much worse it would get under the previous administration that the sensible arguments seemed like a luxury.  

There's a Lot More to Do

If you read this as sunny and optimistic, you don't know me well.  

There's serious stuff on the table.   How do we move forward with increasing infections daily?  How do we help the residents hurting now and today while planning for a better village?  How do we deal with the inevitability of sea rise?  

There is an election coming up and I am already hearing about how we have the "worst" possible government and the people unbothered by actual facts fear mongering about micro-units and reduced traffic flows while denying that flooding is getting worse.  Instead of hearing how to make finances better, I hear accusations.   

But don't forget, before we had a mayor, Brent Latham, who we can trust, we could never have had these conversations.   

I've often said "If you do things the right way, you tend to do the right things."  and that's what Latham and the two useful commissioners, Strout and Wilmoth, have done.  

Argue on Facebook.  Make stuff up.  Grandstand.  But please get some perspective.  Compare to other cities (El Portal melting down over FEMA rejections, Surfside commissioners giving each other the finger, whatever the hell is going in North Miami Beach) and compare to where we were just 2 years ago (North Bay Village giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars not to get sued, commissioners reduced to screaming incoherence and whatever the hell the village manager was doing with his third party payment scheme) and remember who fixed this when it's time to vote.  

Kevin Vericker
July 4, 2020


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Budget Time And Questions

 Tonight at 6:30 there is a meeting of the Financial Advisory Board.  
And if you've been following these meetings, it's quite a show.  If you haven't but are interested, I try to break it down here.   
Let's dive into the questions.  

  • How much money do we have?
  • How much money are we spending? 
  • How much money will we have?
  • How much money will we be spending? 
That's actually about it.  I mean, seriously isn't that what always starts discussions about finances?
So why is it so complicated?  

First An Accounting Joke?  (Yes, Accountants Have Jokes and They Are Funny)

Get it?  It's pretty funny.  

Okay, First Questions First

In municipal government, the standard for the answers to how much revenue came in and how much spend went out is answered annually through a report called the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) which certifies the numbers from the previous fiscal year.   

In normal years, the CAFR is completed and presented by March 31st. 

This is not a normal year and the final has not been delivered.

That's a problem.   It's important for the FAB to know why the delay and what the anticipated due date is.   Once they have the report, that will give them a guide to our current financial situation.

That question must be answered.   

On the board and on Facebook posts, there is a disagreement over how much we should have in the utility reserve to repair our utilities. 

Board Members Richard Chervony and James Rosenberg point to Charter and Ordinances that show we should have around $2m in the reserves and it looks like we don't.

The administration does not accept that reserve number and says that the law is unclear.

That question must be answered. 

There are serious questions about how much revenue will decline next year as we enter the post Covid Lockdown recession.   The administration thinks it will noticeable but approximately $800k.  The Board has expressed their belief that it could exceed $2m if the reserve question is that we must have $2m in the reserve fund.

That question must be answered.

The Participants Are Talking Right Past Each Other


I've recommended personally the following.

If it's ugly or suspicious or just plain difficult, the FAB has to be able to count on village administration for clear answers to clear questions.  And the questions have been clear.  This is a time for candor. 

When you can't agree on the question or the premise of the question, the FAB has to note the importance of the answer and report that back to the commission.

In the military, there is a commonly used technique of RED, YELLOW, GREEN. 

Unanswered questions have their implications flagged. 

RED - The Mission cannot proceed without this information.
YELLOW - The Mission can proceed in its planning but the answer must be available before execution.
GREEN - The Mission can be executed and the data point as it can be.

In my view, the Financial Advisory Board should code their questions.   Here are some examples.

Red Flag Question - Must we have a $2m reserve for utilities?  If yes, hold everything and restructure.
Yellow Flag Question - Why is the CAFR late?  What effect will this have on budgeting and planning?
Green - Do we need a full time CFO?

I believe this will get the discussion unstuck and I hope they follow it.

Revenues and Cash


The great Molly Ivins once wrote that in her experience, the problem with poor people is that they don't have any money. 

The Village depends on many sources of revenue - property tax, fees, State and Federal, grants and other sources.   Our revenue is likely to fall so we have to look at new ways to bring in more.

Earlier this month, I proposed that the Budget Board request an accounting of how much the Village paid out owing to the truly disastrous personnel decisions in 2018.   In a quick look, I could see $450,000 in personnel payouts.  This was not the result of taxpayer's negligence.  It was a broken commission following bad advice.   I think the Village should explore recouping that money that was spent on bad advice.   The Board did not make that request.

The Village has easements throughout the islands that are used for private purposes.  Why not charge a reasonable rent for those?  It's legal and easy and could raise $200,000 for  services annually.

That $650,000 in the next year, surely money we could use now.

My point is that the Village needs to explore every avenue to save costs and increase revenues. 

You can't cut your way to prosperity or tax your way to stability.  The people would really like to see some more creative thinking on these issues and it starts with getting the questions right.

Kevin Vericker
June 16, 2020





Thursday, June 11, 2020

Not An Isolated Island

Updates Week of June 8 2020

A lot went on this week.

  • The Curfew was lifted.
  • Pools and Gyms are opened.
  • The Beaches are open.
  • The Dog Park is open.
  • Many other services are opening.
Before we get to the details, I want to point out something extraordinary and in my view confidence building about the North Bay Village Police Department.
The day after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, May 25, our Police Chief Carlos Noriega ordered a top to bottom review of North Bay Village Police procedures.

The day after!

Before the nationwide protests, before the discussions, the Police Chief made sure to be absolutely clear that the use of force is a last resort, the Duty to Intervene when a cop sees abuse, and reviewed the many aspects of PD training that keep the citizens and the police safe. That's what kind of community we are and what kind of Police Chief we have. Noriega doesn't wait to do the right thing. Never has.
Monday - Marvin Wilmoth Harbor Island Commissioner and Vice Mayor, led the commission in a vigil remembering George Floyd. It was broadcast on Facebook Live and attended in person by 50 people or so at Vogel Park. It was a peaceful, respectful community statement against racism.
Tuesday - At the Commission Meeting, there was a lot but I thought I would break it down below.
  • The George Floyd Murder - The Commission unanimously passed a resolution brought to the dais by Commissioner Jackson condemning the killing and restating the commitment of North Bay Village to inclusion and equality.
  • The Services - The Commission instructed the Village Staff to plan for the inclusion of a services portal and a position to help North Bay Villagers struggling with unemployment, food insecurity, school, housing and other issues. The Commission recognizes that North Bay Village can't solve the worldwide problems but can help our community navigate them.
  • PRIDE - 2020 - The Commission proclaimed Pride Month 2020. North Bay Village has always been an inclusive community but for for 8 years, the previous mayor and her crew ignored Pride every year while greedily lapping up campaign money from the discredited SAVE organization. Mayor Latham promised and delivered.
  • Finances - There are long standing questions about our reserves and how we account for our utility bills, but the Commission heard these clearly and directed the Village staff to stop pretending not to understand the questions that the Financial Advisory Board brought up and to answer them. Be prepared for a long budget fight.

Wednesday - The beaches re-opened.
Things that Need Addressing -
The big one is the Island Walk. Village Manager Ralph Rosado has allowed the Moda walk to stay closed with no clear path to re-opening. Whether he has the need to do that is a question and it's time for the commission to start modifying Emergency Powers so that it is not a convenient political excuse for the Village Manager.
The next one is when or if the playgrounds re-open. Kids don't social distance and it may be a long time but now would be a good time to publicize what conditions must be met for the playgrounds to be re-opened.
The Finances need to be in order. Right now, there are serious questions about how much we have in reserve, how we are funding services from the utilities, what the real impact of the economic downturn is. I keep seeing people talking past each other and that makes me nervous.
It's going to a long hard road out of the lockdown, into the recession and through the civil unrest.  I hope we have the right people on staff to take us through this.

I do know we have the right mayor and a commission that usually does the right thing.

Time to come together and figure out this new normal thing.

Kevin Vericker
June 11, 2020


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Tangled Webs

Here's how not to run a government.  Do what North Bay Village has on the Boards and ADA Issue.

Step 1:  Create a fake crisis.

Step 2:  Don't back down from the story.

Step 3:  Set fire to taxpayer money to prop up the story.

What Happened?


Since this is the "Reality Based Community", let's talk about the known facts.  

Last Wednesday, a resident had a discussion with the Village Chief of Staff and expressed his concern that not having captions on the live broadcast of meeting could leave the Village vulnerable to a lawsuit.  The conversation was reported to the Village Manager, discussed with the Village Attorney, and then the Village Clerk cancelled all the board meetings.  

That was last Wednesday.    

When the board members reacted badly to this and the members of the commission reminded the staff that they did not have have the authority to cancel these meetings, the Village Manager, the Village Attorney and the Village Clerk refused to back down.  

They even refused to put the item on the commission agenda for nearly six days.  

Finally, reluctantly, and incompletely, the Village Manager put an item together on Monday night that was a hastily written quote for closed captioning to be installed at some undetermined future point.  

Committing To The Pretext


George Constanza Commits To The Lie

Remember the Seinfeld Episode where George lies about having a house in the Hamptons and won't back down?  Yeah, it was a little like that last night.  

The staff ran out and hired two ASL interpreters for the Zoom meeting.   This was an absurd move for reasons I will explain below.  

Anyhow...

The item came up for discussion.  It started with our Village Attorney explaining that he heard rumors that someone might could be sending a demand letter.  He spoke with the Manager and the Clerk and he recommended that the board meetings, none of which were scheduled between then and the commission meetings, be cancelled.   He really wishes he could say more but you know, legal.   

Apparently, the Village attorney has extensive experience in this area, experience that he never thought he might share with the commission prior to this.  He regrets very much that the statement was "terse" and that people didn't understand for some reason.  

The Village Clerk then stated that it was not her intention to make it a "harsh email."  Sorry about that.  

At no time did either of them discuss whether they have the right to cancel the meetings without consulting the village commission who has the only authority to do that.  None of the dais members expressed any concern about that either.   

In the meantime, the ASL interpreters were showing on the screen, except for when the comments about the situation were read.   

Solving the Wrong Problem


An important part of a power grab is to aggressively solve the wrong problem.  Okay stay with me here.   Warning, there will be numbers.  




There are an estimated 2 million Americans with profound hearing loss that cannot be corrected with devices such as hearing aids.   The vast majority of these people lost their hearing later in life and consequently, only about 25% of the profoundly deaf community are fluent in American Sign Language.   And American Sign is a different language with different syntax, grammar, and sentence order. 

You will often see ASL interpreters at live events because that is the best way to communicate in person and live but it does not account for 70-75% of nonfluent signers.

Of the 3% of the deaf population who claim ASL as their native language (meaning language from birth), most consider themselves functionally bilingual which in the United States means fluency in written English/Spanish. 

So last night, in order to prop up the pretext to cancel the boards, the Village spent a fair chunk of change on a service for ASL interpreters.  A service that was not likely of any benefit to anyone.

What About Closed Captioning? 


Yeah, what about it?   Well here's the thing.   At least two of our platforms already have machine generated closed captioning.   Facebook Live, for example, where I was watching, was busily generating captions, for free.   YouTube Live will also machine caption the broadcast if you have more than 100 subscribers.   

Closed captioning will allow all hearing disabled people to follow the meetings, as long as they are English fluent and additionally help those with limited English.   

It's not a perfect solution.  Machine Captioning is good and if you follow our meetings on Facebook Live you can quickly turn it on to get a sense of how good it is.  Here's a quick screenshot while I was watching.  I noticed very few errors although there were omissions when the participants did not speak clearly into the microphones.  It was a lot like Voice to Text on my phone or Google Translate Live.   

In Yellow, the Manager is Talking and the text is in the lower left hand corner.   For Free.  
The estimated accuracy of Voice to Text Captioning is 85% under normal circumstances but with proper elocution and awareness that usually goes to the mid 90's.  You train the machine and it trains you.   

The big advantage is that reaching 95% of your hearing impaired audience is better than just reaching the 25% who may be ASL fluent.  

But Does That Comply With ADA Section 508?


Maybe not.  It might.  It might not.   But it is good and shows intent.  

Generally, the gold standard is Live Captioning.  That is when a stenographer captures the conversation and using a specialized machine like in the courthouse.  That same stenographer then reviews the transcript, compares it to the recording and makes any necessary updates.   That's like 99% and has consistently been regarded as fully compliant and is generally considered best for remote and broadcast meetings. 

It's more effective, cheaper, less intrusive and accessible to a broader audience than ASL.

So That's The Decision For The Short Term? 


No.  Naturally not.  That would make too much sense.  The short term solution will be to contract ASL interpreters.    

At Least The Board Meetings Are Back, Right?  


Well, probably.   None of the three charter officers brought it up, the commission did not instruct them by motion to do it, none of the commissioners clarified if the charter employees have the power to preempt the commission's rights.   

The mayor did say he thought the boards were back on and the Clerk kind of nodded, so maybe?  

As of today, at 2:54 PM on May 13, the meetings all show as cancelled.  

2:55 PM on May 13
This morning the mayor did send an email saying they were back on in due time.   The Village Clerk followed up an hour later not specifically stating the meetings were back on but that she is looking forward to them being back on.  

Of course, the charter officials may find other circumstances to cancel the boards because apparently that's their prerogative now.  

Recap


The Village Staff finds the boards irritating.   Actions must be taken:

Step 1:  Create a fake crisis.

As soon as the "lawsuit" word was mentioned, the Attorney, Clerk and Manager sprung into action and cancelled the board meetings.   The information was second hand and then third hand.   The resident being cast as the villain has stated that he never threatened a lawsuit but inquired if we are at risk of legal action.  
Even though there were no board meetings to be affected, and even though the staff specifically does not have the right to cancel the meetings, they figured it was best.   

Step 2:  Don't back down from the story.
To their apparent surprise, the volunteer members of the boards did not appreciate being treated this way and at least the mayor made clear that this seemed a lot like usurpation on their part. Insubordination is the word I would use. 
Rather than doing what responsible people do when caught up in a conflict, which in this case would have been to say "Sorry. We over reacted.  We'll put the item on the agenda and let the commission decide." they took it to a new level, ignored the commission item for 6 days, hired ASL interpreters for the commission meeting, kept the board in limbo, smirked their way through the item, did not agree until pressed to reinstate the board meetings,  and then didn't think it sufficiently important to set up the board meetings this morning until prodded by the mayor.  
 For its part, the commissioners did not assert their powers, left the over reach unremarked and in one stunning comment by one of the commissioners, expressed  that the board members should be "taken care of."  Uh, no.  The Board Members are writing the proposals for funding, creating and executing programs to help Village residents facing the crisis, trying to keep our wildlife in control and helping small businesses.   The Boards are the unpaid caretakers, but I digress.  

Step 3:  Set fire to taxpayer money to prop up the story.  
Now let's go really nuts.   The Village staff found two amazingly expensive captioning systems and in all fairness, appeared to recognize that even a commission as compliant as this one would not pay that, so they are working full steam ahead on finding a solution.  
Among the people they are not working with to find the solution are the Board Members, the resident who innocently asked the question about legal exposure, the National Deaf Center who kind of wrote the book on it, any hearing impaired individuals in North Bay Village, the Boards, The National Association for the Deaf, or any other useful resources.  
Nope.  They have just proposed useless and expensive stopgaps rather than just admit they thought they'd get away with it and focus back on the critical issues. 

My Apologies


I sincerely hope that this posting does not come across as "terse" or "harsh." and I'm very sorry if the staff for some reason feels that way.    I understand that the key to success for important, secure, well paid employees is to never, ever back down.  As long as they can count to 3 on the dais, why should they? 

To those who wonder how I got all these facts and figures, I Googled them.  Unlike our staff.



Saturday, May 9, 2020

Shut It Down

The text that started it all

The Issue

As has been reported here previously, all the Board and Village meetings have moved to the Zoom platform.   

On Tuesday night, a resident expressed concern that the meetings were not subtitled to the Village management.   This is a legit concern and has been true for years.   

What happened next was a whole new level.  

Shut It Down.  Shut It All Down!

Oh no, a complaint.

Rather than simply saying, "We get it."  and noting that every single meeting has the exact same notice on its agenda that if someone requires assistance under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Village will provide that assistance, and going forward with the plan to include auto-captioning in the redeployed web site. the Village Manager, the Village Attorney and the Village Clerk got together and decided that the best solution was the cancel all the board meetings, except for Planning & Zoning because that might inconvenience the developers.  

And then just to add to the fun, the two boys got the Village Clerk to put the email under her name because ...

Now Follow This Closely Because It Matters

The Boards don't report to the Village Attorney, the Village Manager or the Village Clerk.  It's right there in our Charter, Article 6.  Just like the Village Attorney, the Village Manager and the Village Clerk report to the commission, the Boards report to the Commission.   The Boards can't fire the Village Clerk, the Village Attorney, or the Village Manager and they can't fire the Boards.  

That right belongs only to the Commission.  

But There Is An Emergency, Right?  

No.  While the staff's neglect of ADA compliance is near legendary, remember this is the group that installed trash cans to block the sidewalk and then argued that 36 3/4 inches were more than enough for a wheelchair until they could no longer keep a straight face and set them up properly, there is no imminent threat.   In fact, there is a Commission Meeting for this Tuesday and the same staff could easily have put that issue before  the commission, their bosses, and brought the viewpoint up.  

There is a general belief that they did not do this because there was grave danger that the commission might not have shut down the boards.  That would be a terrible result for the staff which prefers not be questioned or work in the sunshine.   

So shutting the down the boards, legal or not, and ignoring the commission struck them as the best option.  

But Corona Virus!  Won't Somebody Think of Corona Virus?!

This cheap trick of pretending that a simple question and concern was so overpowering didn't go over well with many of the board members.  
After all, they didn't volunteer to work for the paid staff and being believers in open and transparent government, they complained.  
  • The staff do not have the power to shut down the board meetings without commission approval. 
  • Why did it have to be done immediately when there were no scheduled meetings before the next commission meeting?
The Village Attorney decided to weigh in.  He sent an email to the Village Clerk who forwarded it to the board members.  The email contained many words. Some of them interesting.  

For example, Daniel Espino wrote "Please know that the Village Clerk did not unilaterally cancel your meetings.  She cancelled the meetings in consultation with the Manager and me."  

Well okay then.  The email the village clerk sent was signed by her but seriously, shouldn't everybody know that the discussion was done in the back rooms?  Note that this does not include anything about consulting their boss, the Village Commission.  

Then follows a bunch of words "Working Hard!"  "Corona Virus!", "Not Enough Money!"  


A Gaslight
Then, my favorite sentence from the email "As of right now, no boards (sic) meetings have been disrupted,"  

Let's all take a moment to think about that.  "No Boards have been disrupted."

You can almost hear the unspoken "you idiot" at the end of that. 

Our highly paid attorney is saying "Yes.  We cancelled all the board meetings.  But we didn't "disrupt" them.   How could we "disrupt" what isn't happening?  Stop hitting yourself."  



Okay, But Why Is This Important?


 It's important for two big reasons.  

The Village Clerk, the Village Manager, and the Village Attorney pushed aside the commission on a flimsy pretext and put the Village in danger in an ill-advised attempt to shut out the boards.  

The Commission needs to assert its authority and clearly restrict the overreach of their direct report employees.  This action is a direct attack on the commission and should not be tolerated.  

Far more importantly, the Village is in crisis.  The world is in crisis.  The slow roll virus and the fast crashing economy have turned everything upside down and at a time when North Bay Village is facing record unemployment, residents plunged into poverty, education disrupted and even food hard to get, every voice matters.  That well paid employees take advantage to shut out voices they find unpleasant is a serious warning sign that we may not have the right people employed to work us through the crisis.  

After all, they'll go on to other jobs in other cities but we live here.  And the boards need to be a full partner in getting the Village through what lies ahead.   

I have already been contacted by several of the more active board members (not from mine) who are considering resigning unless this is fixed now.  I think we should hold off and see if the commission shows the courage to take charge and then decide.   

As far as the non-existent threat of a lawsuit, let's be really clear.  Disability rights are civil rights.  They are basic and ADA is remarkably flexible in finding ways to include people.   We currently comply and in particular one board has been fighting a losing battle with the charter officers to improve our inclusivity, one of the boards they want to shut down.  The Village Manager, the Village Attorney and the Village Clerk are using this deceitful pretext to shut down the boards. This is an exploitation of handicapped residents and I hope they at least have the decency to feel bad about that.  

Kevin Vericker
May 9, 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Zooming In On The Commission

Doing It Remotely


The North Bay Village Special Commission Meeting for April was held on Zoom, the video conferencing software with a viral spread outpacing Covid 19.   

Zoom is everywhere hosting cocktail parties, weddings, classrooms and government meetings.  

It actually went okay with no major incidents.  

I am amused that the commission which comprises a much younger demographic than most of the involved residents did not seem to be familiar with some of the basic tips and tricks about tele-meetings.  Camera angles matter, people!  Lighting is important!  Backgrounds should match the theme and tone!  Digital natives, indeed.  

Seriously, when several of them were not in the dark, the cameras were jumping and the background kept shifting.   Here's a helpful article on "How Not To Look Like A Hostage" during a remote meeting.  

The Future of Meetings in North Bay Village


For the foreseeable future, the Village will be meeting on e-platforms and that was the first order of business.  Village Attorney Dan Espino reviewed the legal technicalities of complying with Sunshine, the procedures for quasi-judicial hearings, and how the Village meetings can be conducted.  

Mostly legal stuff but it is part of the "new different" as new ways of conducting government business moves forward.  

All board meetings are scheduled in May and will be done remotely and most likely the commission meetings will be online as well.  

On To The Work At Hand (In Order of Interest To Me)


My Favorite Part:  No snark.  No sarcasm.  There was an example of how well a staff and a commission can work together.   When Commissioner Strout brought up her concern that the Village Emergency Order is open ended and stated her desire to put a time limit on the order so that the commission would be in charge, it was immediately brought out that having an Emergency Order that might not be in place could interfere with FEMA funding, the ability of the Village Manager to respond quickly to new circumstances and could impede operations.   

Here's the thing.  Both concerns, Strout's that the Village Commission needs to be in charge of extraordinary measures and Rosado's that extraordinary measures need to be, well, extraordinary, could have resulted in both sides digging into position and forcing a useless shutdown.  

The Village Attorney, in his role as counselor, stepped in and helped the commission and staff get to a place that satisfied the needs.  Essentially the Commission will at each meeting review the existing Emergency Order and decide with the Village Manager if it needs to be amended, eliminated or continued.   

This was a great example of what being useful looks like and I think it should happen more.  

Not everything has as clear path to effective compromise as this issue but the first step should always be how to get the mutually agreed upon goals in a mutual process.   

Well Done!

Fiscal Uncertainty


An area that didn't go so well was the discussion about what happens now to our finances.  

The well thought out concerns of our Financial Advisory Board were brought forward and they paint an alarming picture of potential shortfalls in the money available in the next year.  

The Village has been running its own projections with identified cost savings that show substantial mitigation of the problems and potential cost cutting.   

But for the discussion on this, it felt like everyone was talking past each other.  The Village staff were focused on how the year will end up and starting to project cash inflow based on near normal projections for next year while the FAB is focused on the potential for massive economic downturns.  

In my view, the bottom line is we have no way of knowing and at this point, the Village needs to working hard with as much possible expertise as it can find to chart this out.  The Financial Advisory Board needs to understand and challenge these assumptions.   Combined they have to figure out:

  • What the Village needs to do - Keep the Streets Clean, Keep the Public Safe, Balance the Books, Issue the Permits, and so on while figuring out what it takes to do that.  
  • What the Village can afford - this scenario planning.  Once we agree what's important to do, figure out what it costs and what revenues will cover that.  
  • What the Village should do - most organizations cut the obvious first - layoff employees, cut salaries, cancel customer facing services, etc.  These cuts are like sugar rushes.  They quickly dissipate and leave everyone poorer.  Instead it's time for an honest look at where we can improve our processes and get the most for every dollar spent.   It's complex, tedious work but we need to know the value of every outcome and the effect of cuts before any decisions are made.  
  • For its part, the Financial Advisory Board needs to be less focused on specific tactics and sharper on desired outcomes.  How we get to the goal matters.  
Nothing definitive came out of the meeting regarding finances and we should worry.  


And "Jesus, God Almighty, Why Are You Wasting Everyone's Time" Moment - The Hornsby Matter


Actual Screenshot of Commissioner Jackson as she
explains her reasoning for reconsideration of the Hornsby
matter (lower left hand corner)
Last month, following the court decision that the removal of Douglas Hornsby was a straight up violation of due process rights and that the absurd justification used by  Commissioners Alvarez and Jackson that Hornsby's appointment was invalid ab initio (Latin for "sez me") was utter nonsense, the Commission voted 3-2 to approve a settlement for Douglas Hornsby that partially repays some of his legal fees in fighting this removal.   

In a weird twist, Commissioner Jackson voted Yes to settle while Mayor Brent Latham voted No.  Latham cited his concern about the ongoing cost to the Village from cleaning up the messes that these two scurrilous commissioners made.   

Anyway, Commissioner Jackson went searching for her soul following the March 12 meeting and announced on March 13 that she wanted to change her vote.  Of course she thinks she found her soul on Facebook and used that medium to announce her discovery.  Specifically she reached out to Laura Cattabriga, admin of an odd little Facebook Group and failed candidate,  and had it posted by her.  




 So the commission had to take time to deal with this shameless nonsense in the middle of important work about like lives, health and safety.  They did take the time and voted 3 to 2 to let the settlement stand.   

Naturally, the two commissioners, Jackson and Alvarez voted No because they broke it.  

The past should be past but you can't move forward without dealing with it.  

At the next commission meeting, someone should introduce a Resolution of Censure for these two.  Their feckless behavior as they presided through the chaos of the last administration needs to be noted and acknowledged.  Our government and community are still suffering the fallout and it's time for the three useful commissioners to draw a line in the sand.   

Well, that's what I got.  See you online!

Kevin Vericker
April 27 2020