Saturday, January 25, 2020

Differing Claims in the Velken Matter Could Leave North Bay Village Broke

The Velken matter has been sent to a judge after the Department of Administrative Hearings heard an appeal from our former contractor, Lewis Velken, who worked as both NBV Police Chief then Village Manager, was told his status as a "contractor" rather than an employee was invalid and appeared to be an end run around the FRS rules that prohibits employment in an FRS agency within 6 months.

The Florida Retirement Systems demanded that Velken repay a total amount of $691,307.41 in retirement benefits he collected.  Velken says he doesn't owe it.

There are two "Proposed Judgments" on the website at the DOAH which the judge will have to decide.  To see them yourself, go to the DOAH website and enter Case # 19-002746.  Then select the Dockets Tab.  

Neither side is disputing the baseline facts.  Both proposed judgments agree that:

  • Velken was never an employee of North Bay Village.  He was paid through Stephanie Leon PA, a lifelong friend, who set up a business specifically to "lease" employees.   
  • Velken and the Village Human Resource Manager at the time were told by the FRS that there was no way around the 6 month requirement.  (Note:  Velken claims that the information provided by the FRS was inaccurate.)  
  • There was never a written contract with the staffing agency and the Village and there was never a commission resolution agreeing to this situation.   
And from the witness transcripts in the hearing, there were three different figures listed as compensation - Velken believed it was $132,000 per year, then Village Manager Marlen Martell thought it was $110,000 per year and Stephanie Leon thought it was $133,000 per year.   This is mentioned in the FRS Proposed judgment and refers to the transcripts.  

Velken's Proposed Judgment further states that Village Attorney Norman C. Powell was consulted on the arrangement and according to the transcript of the testimony, said he saw no problem with the arrangement.  

Powell denied any knowledge of the arrangement at all in the Miami Herald article  calling it a "complete fabrication". But Velken's attorneys seem pretty confident that Powell approved the arrangement.  

Both sides have presented their view and it's now up to a judge to decide.   

It's hard to know what the judge will decide but in my opinion, the absence of a written contract is a big red flag.  

And Florida law states that if an attempt to defraud the FRS is found then "The employee and the re-employing FRS agency will be jointly and severally liable for reimbursing any retirement benefits paid to the employee. §121.091(9)(c)3, Fla.Stat. (2019)."

This means that the Village could face penalties as well if the judge decides against Velken, and Velken has already sent a letter to the Village stating his intention to sue if he is forced to repay the money.  

But Before We Go:

The question must be asked.  

How did a 20 plus year police veteran, a village manager, an HR manager, and a former mayor all of whom have admitted they knew about the arrangement and who presumably knew that there was never a resolution brought to the commission or any written contract, decide to let this happen?   

And while he denies initial knowledge, why did our former Village Attorney Norman C. Powell, who definitely knew by September of 2018,  never bring it to the commission?  

My opinion is that that thought they would get away with it.  

And they almost did.   If it hadn't been for social media and this blog, the whole thing would have never seen the light of day.    

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have been the object of hard attempts to shut me up (Powell is "suing" me and the former mayor threatened to) and soft attempts to stop information flowing (the Village refusal to engage with citizens.)

If it hadn't been for this blog, we'd never have known.  That's why I write it.  

I'll keep you informed as soon as there is definite ruling.  

In the Meantime, Here Are My Highlights From the Proposed Judgments

From the DOAH Proposed Judgment:

54. According to Mr. Velken, the salary negotiated was $132,000.00. Tr. 438. 55. According to Ms. Martell, the negotiated salary for Mr. Velken was $110,000.00. Tr. 190. 56. According to Ms. Leon, the negotiated salary for Mr. Velken was $130,000.00 annually. Tr. 139.

From the Velken Proposed Judgment:

32. Ms. Martell then took Mr. Velken upstairs to discuss the contracted employee arrangement with the Village Attorney, Norman Powell. (T-2-185, 186, 189; T-4-432, 469) It was Mr. Velken’s understanding that as the Village Attorney, Mr. Powell had the final say as to whether such an arrangement would be appropriate. (T-4-433, 469) Mr. Powell said that he did not see anything wrong with the arrangement and that he would research it and let them know if he found out anything to the contrary. (T-4-433) 33. Ms. Martell advised Mr. Velken that Mr. Powell told her that everything was okay to proceed. (T-4-434) NBV has contracted with other agencies for individuals to provide services in other high ranking Village positions such as the Director of the Planning Department, the Village Engineer and Public Works Director. (T-2-200; T-3-345) 

Mr. Wrains discussed the Agreement with Village Attorney Norman Powell, who had approved this arrangement, as well as had Ms. Martell. (T-3-355, 382)

Kevin Vericker
January 25, 2020

Thursday, January 9, 2020

It Could All Go Off Course

Last entry, I posted about the relative good shape the Village is in as the world enters the 2020's. 

But no one can afford to pretend it's all blue skies from here on in.

Yes.  The commission is no longer a dysfunctional circus acting out dramas of little interest to real people and the employees are actual employees rather than contractors, but the last administration has left a number of land mines that could derail the recovery.

The most visible ones are the two useless commissioners, who aided and abetted in every piece of the destructive insanity throughout 2018.   Neither one contributes to the commission or the village and 2020 should see a goodbye to them.
Commissioner Jose Alvarez

Commissioner Andreana Jackson
(No I don't know what she's doing)

But there are less obvious and far riskier issues yet to be resolved.  And of course a crazy one.  Let's start with that.

People Are Supposed To Give Back Government Property.  

It seems that one or two former electeds and a former charter officer failed to return taxpayer owned property when the taxpayers decided that their services were no longer needed.   
Reports are that these include village phones, at least one village computer, a whole server's worth of data, id cards and for some reason, badges.    The Village has been trying to recover these for some time (since November 2019 at least) and so far have been ignored.   So there's an item on the commission agenda next week to compel the Village to take action and explain that these were not lovely parting gifts.    

Hornsby Lawsuit Awaiting Settlement Following Finding.

The 11th Judicial Court of Florida found last July that Douglas Hornsby had been removed illegally from the dais.  Now the Village is entering into mediation with Hornsby as there are considerable legal bills, above and beyond what the Village spent in this ill begotten move, and other damages. The amount could be huge.    

It's my view that Jackson and Alvarez, both of whom voted for the removal of Hornsby, and who should have known that the process being used would never stand up in court, should recuse themselves.  After all, they weren't part of the problem, they were the problem.   

Who's To Blame For Lewis Velken?

On March 6, 2019, the Florida Retirement System notified former North Bay Village Police Chief Lewis Velken (and interim manager) that he had violated the FRS rules with his arrangement to be paid through a third party.   Velken was ordered to pay back $691,307 dollars and his ongoing benefits were reduced or eliminated.   Velken is currently appealing the ruling stating that his arrangement did not violate FRS rules.   It's Case No: 19-002746 and the details can be found here.  

Velken asserted that he was legitimately working for a contractor in his response and not in violation of the rules.   

There's no clear view of how this works out but Velken's attorneys have reportedly already put the Village on notice that Velken might sue in the event of an unfavorable decision.   

Given the uncertainty, the Village Manager at the time said under oath that the arrangement was made by then Village Attorney Norman Powell, who in turn was quoted in the Miami Herald saying "“That’s a complete fabrication,” Powell said.  Now both of these people are gone but if the Village is sued and loses, the taxpayers are on the hook for a large amount, which could include the $691,307 DROP, lost pension benefits and legal fees.   

It's pretty urgent that the Village form a strategy now if they are to defend against this.   

You Can't Just Ignore Things.

There's still a lot of cleanup left over from the reign of lunacy that preceded 2019.   

Two of the above are financial threats but there are other toxic spills that need to be addressed by the commission, and solely by the commission.  

  • There were a series of useless and in some cases destructive Charter amendments put on the 2018 ballot.  In particular, a Citizens Bill of Rights mirroring the County Charter, that does not contain any agreed up investigation or enforcement methods, a nepotism amendment that does not define "affinity" and makes no sense, a series of amendments to hobble the village administrator, and others. 
  • Through most of 2018, Zoning hearings were not held as "quasi-judicial" as required by Florida procedure and it is possible that the decisions made during these are not enforceable.
  • Regardless of how the Velken pension turns out, there remain legal questions raised by the FOP as to police actions taken while he was acting as police chief and if he was able to sign contracts as Village Manager.  These need to be made clear.  

2019 Was A Good Year

It started out contentiously with the old guard protecting their positions and that took a lot of energy.  Jackson and Alvarez are not productive.  The new administration got ahead of itself sometimes but overall, a good year, not just in contrast to the previous year but by any measure.  

The holidays are over.  The Commission will be back next week and it's time for a plan to finish the job they started.   

Kevin Vericker
January 9, 2020

Monday, January 6, 2020

New Year New Village

2019 was a year of great change for North Bay Village.  The new administration took the reins and after a bumpy start, were able to begin governing.

Once we were rid of the former village manager Lewis Velken and attorney Norman Powell, the mayor and the two useful members of the dais were able to work with the new village manager Ralph Rosado and bring some semblance of sanity back to Village, culminating in my view with the reinstatement of Carlos Noriega as our police chief.

It hasn't been easy and our commissioners, unlike Mayor Brent Latham, are way too disengaged.  (special opinion note:  Jackson and Alvarez should stay as disengaged as they can.  They ran this village unto the shoals and have been no help in fixing the course.)   Still, we seem to be having normal disagreements and normal process discussions.

On the plus side, the major accomplishments:

  • We have a transit system that makes sense.  The new FreeBee and the introduction of the Downtown Express are great boons for North Bay Village.  
  • Our kids, regardless of where they attend schools, are now part of the Miami Beach PAL.
  • We are getting a dog park.  
  • The Village is active on social media, although a little more towards publicity rather than news, still it's a great start.   
  • We  have a professional administration that actually responds and when they get it wrong, fixes it.  You know, like normal people.  
  • We have a strategic plan for development.  

Let's just take a look at some of the headlines for 2019!

The news is good.  The possibilities are good.  The course is getting there.

So here's to 2020!

Kevin Vericker
January 6, 2020