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

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