After a month of indecision, the Opa-locka City Commission has narrowly selected Ed Brown as city manager to take over a financially troubled government under the cloud of an FBI criminal investigation for the past four years.
Brown’s appointment by the city commission in a 3-2 vote Monday comes with an annual salary of $112,500 but must still be approved by a state oversight board with final say over city spending.
It remains to be seen whether the board, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott a year ago due to the city’s financial crisis, will approve Brown’s appointment. The governor’s designee, Chief Inspector General Eric Miller, said the state wants an outsider as Opa-locka’s next city manager — a profile that Brown does not fit.
“I strongly believe that the city’s successful recovery from its current state of financial emergency depends upon an infusion of new ideas and outside perspectives into the city administration,” Miller wrote in a recent letter to the five-member city commission. “True change requires a commitment to selecting the most qualified candidate, not simply the most familiar. The city and its residents cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Brown, who was picked for the city manager’s job over two other candidates, did not respond to a request for comment.
Brown most recently served as Opa-locka’s interim city manager over the summer of 2015 when Kelvin Baker resigned. Brown, who at the time was the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency executive director, had previously served as Opa-locka’s assistant city manager between 1999 and 2001 and again in 2011.
This time around, Mayor Myra Taylor, Vice Mayor Joseph Kelley and Commissioner John Riley voted to hire Brown as city manager, pending the outcome of a criminal background check while he would work on an interim basis for three months.
New Commissioner Matthew Pigatt and longtime Commissioner Timothy Holmes voted against Brown’s appointment.
Pigatt proposed choosing John Bauer, an interim city manager of Southport, N.C., as Opa-locka’s top administrator, but he only gained additional support from Holmes.
Kelley proposed selecting Newall Daughtrey, a former Opa-locka city manager who left the position in 2002 after two years on the job, but he only garnered additional support from Pigatt.
If he is approved by the oversight board, Brown would replace City Manager Yvette Harrell, an attorney who filled the job in August of last year. Harrell, who has faced harsh criticism from oversight board members for her lack of managerial experience and financial expertise, plans to step down one month after she is replaced — a critical juncture with Opa-locka’s upcoming fiscal year budget still in the early planning stages.
Harrell succeeded City Manager David Chiverton, who pleaded guilty to extorting thousands of dollars in bribes from Opa-locka businessmen who needed operating permits.
City Commissioner Luis Santiago and Public Works Supervisor Gregory Harris also pleaded guilty to a similar bribery charge, as did the Mayor Taylor’s son, Corleon, who once worked for Opa-locka’s former trash contractor.
The U.S. attorney’s office plans to seek a grand jury indictment charging others with corruption stemming from the four-year-old investigation into Opa-locka’s government.
Among the current targets of the FBI probe: Dante Starks, a longtime unregistered lobbyist in Opa-locka who had been accused a decade ago in a state corruption case of giving gifts and paying kickbacks from multimillion-dollar government contracts to the late Commissioner Terence Pinder. The commissioner took his own life in 2016.
In the state case, both Starks and Pinder cut plea deals that led to probationary sentences. Investigators with the Miami-Dade ethics commission and state attorney’s office also suspected that Brown — the newly appointed city manager — was an associate of Starks and delivered a cash payment on his behalf to Pinder as part of the kickback scheme. Brown was never charged in the decade-old case.
In a prior email to the Miami Herald about the allegations, Brown said they were “unfounded and seriously inaccurate.”
“I have never been a person of interest nor a witness in any cases involving Mr. Starks or the late Commissioner Pinder,” Brown wrote in the email earlier this month.