In February, Norman Powell, then the interim city attorney for North Bay Village, was arrested at Miami International Airport on charges of illegally concealing a weapon in his carry-on luggage as he went through security.
According to Florida law, weapons are not allowed into airport terminals, not even with a concealed weapons permit. A violation of the terms of concealed weapons permits is a second-degree misdemeanor, subject to heavy fines.
With the help of Miami-Dade defense attorney Dave Raben, the case was closed within a month. The charge was a misdemeanor for which Powell said he paid a fine. The court records show he eventually got his gun back.
Powell did not disclose his arrest to the North Bay Village commission, even though the legal proceedings occurred at the same time the village commission was considering signing a contract with Powell to bring him on as the official city attorney.
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“I don’t believe I mentioned it because I didn’t really think it was important,” said Powell. He said he has had a concealed weapons permit for years. “Basically it was simply the weapon was improperly stored. I paid a fine and moved on.”
The City Commission voted to make Powell the city attorney on March 14, just eight days after the concealed weapons case was closed.
Powell then hired Raben to do legal consulting for North Bay Village on a contract basis. Raben, who had done previous work for the village, submitted invoices totaling $3,700 in August, September and October. The work he listed included private meetings with Powell and then-Vice Mayor Andreana Jackson as well as calls and meetings with officials from the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and with Assistant State Attorney Isis Perez.
All the cases Raben consulted on involved people critical of Powell, including then-Commissioner Eddie Lim; former Police Chief Carlos Noriega, who filed a whistle-blower suit against the city after he was fired in April; and former Commissioner Richard Chervony, the subject of a complaint filed by Powell with the state attorney’s office that was later dropped.
“Powell was hiding from his connection to his arrest and additional scope of work that came next,” said Commissioner Juliana Strout. “David Raben managed to keep it a misdemeanor and have it squashed.”
Powell said Raben’s work for the village is not associated with the private services he provided on the concealed weapons case earlier this year. His position as village attorney allows him to contract with outside counsel. Powell said he had no obligation to disclose neither the arrest nor subsequent contracts with Raben.
“Whether it violates the law or the ethics code doesn’t matter in my opinion,” said Michael Pizzi., an attorney representing blogger Stephanie Kienzle, who bashed Powell in several recent blog posts. “It shows such horrible judgment, and it presents an appearance of impropriety and breached the trust of the city commission, breached the trust of the people, and they should immediately resign or be fired.”
Powell said he had first contracted Raben’s services in late 2017 with regard to an investigation by the state attorney’s office into allegations from former Commissioner Douglas Hornsby that he had been blackmailed. Frank Rollason, village manager at the time, said he was called into Powell’s office in December 2017, where he met Raben for the first time.
“Powell just says I’ve got him in here to assist me,” Rollason said. “He brought him in as a special outside counsel and he has that authority as being the city attorney.”
But Rollason said best practice would include public disclosure. “What he should do is bring that to the commission,” Rollason said.
Powell has been under fire from newly elected commissioners in North Bay Village who have accused him of underperformance and failing to disclose various actions. He was brought in as city attorney on an acting basis in November after the commission fired the previous city attorney, but lost some of his key supporters in the Nov. 6 election.
Despite opposition from new members, he survived a motion to replace him on Dec. 11, and instead received three months probation from the five-person commission.
Strout has asked the village manager to call a special commission meeting to discuss Powell’s probation, as well as several other issues she has with the city attorney. Strout said she worked with residents to dig into Powell’s past “to get closure on the corruption.” The revelation of his February arrest has contributed to the commissioner’s urgency in calling the special meeting. According to Strout, the meeting is scheduled for Jan. 3.
Strout is not alone in questioning Powell’s track record.
“I’ve spoken at length with Mr. Powell, specifically about his inability to further a positive image about North Bay Village,” said the newly elected mayor, Brent Latham. “I would expect complete transparency in terms of his actions.”