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

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.   


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