Just weeks after revealing Opa-locka was on the edge of financial failure, City Manager Steve Shiver was fired by elected leaders in yet another tumultuous turn for a city that’s millions in debt and the target of a federal corruption probe.
During a brief but emotional meeting on Tuesday, commissioners ousted the 49-year-old manager three months after hiring him to stem the city’s mounting deficit and out of control expenses.
Moments after the 3-1 vote, Shiver abruptly rose from the dais and walked outside, where residents gathered and began shouting at one another over the move.
“This is sad. It’s absolutely sad,” said Dorothy Johnson, a former Opa-locka mayor who turned out to support Shiver.
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The firing, led by Mayor Myra Taylor, comes shortly after the city manager pleaded with the state for help in resolving a deficit — now at $8 million — in a move that the mayor criticized because she said Shiver should have taken the issue to the commission.
“Mr. Shiver wanted to be in charge,” Taylor said. “It seems he wanted to expose everything we did wrong.”
Shiver’s end follows weeks of publicity over the city’s money crisis that is expected to lead to a fiscal emergency — the second time in 13 years the governor’s office could be brought in to oversee the budget.
For most of his time in office, Shiver and the mayor had been at odds over the manager divulging details of the city’s questionable financial practices, at times not even speaking to each other.
Just before casting his vote, Vice Mayor Timothy Holmes said the differences between the two had spilled out into the public domain.
“I’m not going to sit here and let my city go through turmoil like this,” said Holmes, who voted to fire Shiver.
A former county manager and Homestead mayor, Shiver became the fifth city manager in as many years to take the top job, agreeing to a $150,000-a-year contract in September. He will receive a severance from the cash-strapped city amounting to $87,500.
Almost from the start, his high profile brought attention to a city that has quietly been in economic decline, until now.
Not only have property values plunged in the previous six years, but the city has been the subject of a federal investigation of alleged corruption, including insider deals and contract schemes involving some elected officials, according to sources who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity.
Shiver was pulled into his own scandal within the first month of taking the job when a local contractor accused him of soliciting a $150,000 bribe on behalf of the mayor. They both denied any involvement with contractor George Howard.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Taylor defended her position on firing Shiver, saying it was “not personal.”
“It is purely job related,” said the mayor, who spoke to nearly 100 people who gathered in the Sherbondy Village Community Center.
However, several people who publicly spoke at the meeting blasted Taylor for blaming Shiver for a fiscal crisis that took place largely under her watch. The city now owes the county more than $3.4 million for unpaid water, sewer and other fees.
“I came with a heavy heart today. Getting rid of the manager is not the answer,” said Johnson, a former Opa-locka mayor. “Being accountable for the finances is.”
Dozens of police officers showed up outside of the community center before the meeting — on and off-duty — in support of Shiver.
The manager, who did not speak at the meeting, later said the people of Opa-locka “deserved better” but declined to comment on Taylor. “In short order, you will understand what I’ve been put through by this mayor.”
As far as the commissioners, “I wish them all nothing but good.”
What’s unclear is what Shiver’s removal will mean for the city in any negotiations with the state for help.
The governor’s chief inspector general is reviewing a host of documents prepared by Shiver that show the city had engaged in highly controversial practices by transferring hundreds of thousands in restricted funds to fill budget gaps.
Last week, the county suspended Opa-locka from taking part in its half-penny surtax program because hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside for critical road and sidewalk repairs had been misspent.
In addition. Shiver’s office has found another pot of money — $200,000 seized by police during drug investigations — that is not accounted for. The U.S. Treasury Department did not respond for requests for an interview.
While cleaning out his office after his termination, Shiver, who was escorted by police, said Opa-locka needs to order a forensic audit to dig into the millions that once flowed through city accounts.
“It’s the only way you are going to know where money went,” he said.
Shortly after Shiver’s firing, city commissioners appointed Assistant Manager David Chiverton to take Shiver’s place, and pushed to create a board of inquiry to peel back the layers of the budget problems.
But former Mayor Johnson said the inquiry needs to be conducted by an outside auditor — not insiders connected to the city.
“We need more like-minded experts to bring in a different view, someone who does not have any ties to anyone. They can get a better view of what’s going on.”
For weeks, the fiscal crisis has dominated talk in the community of 16,000.
After the meeting, longtime resident Alvin Burke squared off with contractor George Howard, who spoke in favor of the mayor’s move to fire Shiver.
As they yelled at each other in front of TV cameras, police stepped between the two men to keep order while a crowd gathered around.
Natasha Ervin, a resident who has lived in the city since 1975, said the issue has torn at the community for days.
“Everybody saw it coming,” said Ervin, who runs a tax preparation business. “It’s a slap in the face of the city.”
She said the mayor voted to hire Shiver, and then led the drive to remove him just three months later.
“Now, what’s the problem? There are citizens who still believe in what Mr. Shiver is trying to do,” she told commissioners before their vote. “Maybe taking back our city means getting rid of you guys.”