For Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor, it was all smiles after she declared the cash-strapped community was no longer lost like “Alice in Wonderland.”
Addressing city residents at her 2016 State of the City address, she outlined her vision for the coming year: securing financial stability, boasting economic development and renewing taxpayer trust in local government.
“This 90-year-old gal is not going to give up easily,” Taylor told the crowd assembled at Sherbondy Village Community Center on Jan. 29. “The city of Opa-locka is not the first municipality that has had financial difficulty and it won’t be the last.”
In a speech that lasted less a half hour, Taylor highlighted staff successes and her initiative to clean up the city's tattered finances. As the mayor listed the bills Opa-locka has paid, she failed to describe how the city's restitution would affect the community in the future.
Taylor instead promised supporters that Opa-locka’s top priorities—jobs, youth and senior enhancement programs and the creation of a wellness center, among others—remained important.
Taylor’s annual address arrived at the pinnacle of her own personal controversy: She and her longtime husband of 45 years, John Taylor, are at the center of federal criminal investigation just as Opa-locka has careened out of control in debts.
“We’re not intimidated by this present condition, but seize it as a season of shifting into a higher gear of progress,” she said. “You can’t stop a moving train.”
Just weeks prior, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan asked Opa-locka to terminate the city’s signed lease with the county for the former Jackson North maternity ward due to the city’s mounting debts. Taylor had previously expressed intentions to use the property and building as a medical urgent care center for residents.
Jordan said it would have been impossible to get a lease approved until the city straightened out its finances. Commissioners unanimously approved authorizing the termination for the lease that the city signed in June.
Uplifted by Professor Stephen English and the Fellowship choir’s gospel music at her address in January, Taylor told supporters that Opa-locka’s “unwise decisions” and “difficult times” had come to pass.
During her speech, the mayor also credited Interim City Manager David Chiverton for beginning to repay outstanding debt to creditors and satisfying required county permit costs, which the city failed to do last year.
Months ago, former city manager Steve Shiver revealed to Gov. Rick Scott that Opa-locka was nearly $8 million in debt. City officials had managed to cover the deficit by transferring money from different funds, including thousands of restricted dollars from police forfeiture funds.
“Somebody is putting out the city is broke,” Taylor said. “Not so.”
Since Opa-locka’s spending deficit has come to light, elected officials have made efforts to curb spending and look outside of city walls for extra dollars. City officials could not confirm just how much was still owed to the county and vendors.
During her address, the mayor’s state of the city planning committee presented Grace & Naeem Uddin, Inc., a local contractor that was hired to complete the second phase of the city’s historic city hall renovation, with a plaque thanking them for contributing money to help defray the cost of the State of the City event. The Herald was unable to verify how much the company donated to the event.
“My colleagues and I are strongly committed to improving the quality of life for our residents and wanting what’s best for our entire city,” she said.
Other staff achievements: the work completed by city clerk and attorney to update Opa-locka’s city code of ordinances; citywide infrastructure improvements through a $40-million revolving loan from the state; and the purchase of City Hall, located at 780 Fisherman St. The city bought the municipal complex for $7.9 million in April.