Miami Beach

Village attorney accused of waging ‘campaign of aggressive self interest.’ He’s fired.

North Bay Village Attorney Norman Powell
North Bay Village Attorney Norman Powell

In North Bay Village, the third time was the charm. On Thursday night, the village commission voted unanimously to terminate Village Attorney Norman Powell’s contract, after two previous attempts, involving long-winded deliberations that lasted until after midnight, ultimately failed in 2-3 split votes.

Powell served as village attorney in North Bay Village since the late-night firing of the previous attorney in November 2017. A political ally of former Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps whose tenure was plagued with intrigue and low-level scandal, Powell became a target of the new commission elected last November on a platform of change and reform.

At the commission meeting Thursday, Mayor Brent Latham introduced the item to remove Powell, whom he accused of operating with “conscious disregard of the interests of the village” while waging a “campaign of aggressive self interest.”

Latham pointed to Powell’s alleged involvement with the former interim manager Lewis Velken’s scheme to bypass Florida Retirement System rules when he was hired last April. He also made a vague reference to a violent interaction between Powell and a member of the commission but did not elaborate.

“My trust is exhausted, and I just can’t go on,” Latham said.

As with previous occasions, Powell put up a fight, threatening the commission with legal action if it were to terminate him rather than coming to what he called an amicable separation.

“You are traveling down a road which is not in the best interest of this community,” Powell said directly to Latham, while threatening legal action against the village. “This will exhaust whatever time period you have here as mayor.”

Powell said the mayor’s accusations were unfounded and continued to deny any involvement in Velken’s effort to double-dip from FRS or any other unethical behavior.

“I sincerely wish the commission well. However, you have put me unfortunately where I have to defend myself,” Powell said.

The end to this months-long feud was far less dramatic than the political jousting leading up to it. During a long recess Thursday night, the commission and Powell negotiated a separation agreement. It passed unanimously.

Per the agreement, Powell was terminated without cause and will receive 20 weeks of severance — approximately $80,000 — waive his rights to sue the village, and be available during the transition period to provide legal services at no charge.

Sarah Blaskey covers local governments across Miami-Dade County. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s school of journalism and is the recent recipient of a Pulitzer Center grant for her work on shark fishing and human trafficking in Central America.