As Opa-locka city commissioners discussed the agenda at their meeting Wednesday, the mayor and a few commissioners worried that some proposed resolutions would interfere with the city manager’s job.
Commissioner Dorothy Johnson sponsored nine resolutions, including a proposed freeze on hiring, moving payroll functions from one department to another and blocking financial solicitation by city employees for city events.
Mayor Myra Taylor asked City Attorney Joseph Geller if any of the resolutions raised ethics violations. Geller said he never signs agenda items if he believes they’re illegal or would violate Miami-Dade County’s ethics laws.
“If I think something is illegal, if it’s apparent to me that it is not within the lawful authority to adopt or discuss something, I will not sign it,” Geller said.
Opa-locka’s charter defines the city manager as “ the chief administrative officer of the city.”
Commissioner Johnson said she proposed a hiring freeze, which was also considered in 2009, because city leaders have placed an emphasis on avoiding a budget gap at the end of the fiscal year.
“We’re responsible for the budget here in the city, and when the problem comes, they’re going to come to us, they’re not going to go to the manager or to anybody else,” Commissioner Luis Santiago said.
Johnson chose to defer the resolution along with three others. Most notably she deferred her resolution to ban texting while driving by city employees on city business.
Taylor agreed with the ban on texting, to fit in with Florida law that bans texting while driving, but said the resolution was overstepping the commission’s duties.
“We’re not mini-managers, we’re legislators for capital improvement and development, so why are we bothering with the phone?” Taylor said.
Johnson said her intent was to reinforce the state law and make a statement. She said she would bring the resolution back to specify the language and to focus solely on the texting ban.
The resolution to move payroll operations from the city’s human resources department to finance was also deferred. An auditor suggested the city needed to make the process “smoother” to avoid issues, according to City Manager Kelvin Baker. Commissioner Johnson proposed that Baker would have to have a plan in place by March 14.
Vice Mayor Joseph Kelley also deferred an item on adding exercise equipment to the Sherbondy Village community center at a cost of up to $88,000. The commissioners appeared to agree that if additional funds were left over after adding the equipment, they should go toward supporting new and proposed parks in the city’s Magnolia North neighborhood.
In other news at the meeting, the city manager said the city is in the midst of interviewing candidates for a risk manager position, and he hopes to have someone in place by the Feb. 5 commission meeting. The position was supposed to be filled by Jan. 1.
The city, after nearly losing liability insurance coverage, was required by the Florida League of Cities to hire a risk manager, conduct training and have quarterly safety meetings with department heads.
David Lodwick, the League’s director of trust services, said in a letter that, “The city has a significantly deteriorated loss experience over the last five years to the point of raising serious concern.”
Baker also reported the city will be putting out bids for construction contractors on the city’s Historic City Hall project in the coming week.
The commission also voted to approve grants the city received from the U.S. Justice Department and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for the Cops Hiring program and to aid summer camp and after school programs in the city. The grants total more than $280,000 over three years.
Residents and city leaders also gave a standing ovation to Howard Brown, the city’s planning and community development director, as it was his last meeting with the city.
Brown will be leaving the city to become city manager of Muskogee, Okla. He described his time in Opa-locka as tremendous, and offered to assist the city even in his new capacity.
“While my head will be in Oklahoma, my heart will be in Opa-locka,” said Brown.