With Opa-locka close to collapse, finance director Charmaine Parchment said what everyone was thinking but nobody would admit: The city was running out of money.
“After the next payroll, the city will not be able to pay its bills,” Parchment wrote in an email to her boss.
Although Parchment drew heat from some of her colleagues for breaking ranks, Gov. Rick Scott soon declared a financial emergency and named a state oversight board last year to approve all government spending in Opa-locka.
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It was perhaps inevitable that the soft-spoken “whistle-blower” would be fired after sounding the alarm, and that day came in August. Now, Parchment is suing Opa-locka’s government and City Manager Ed Brown, claiming he retaliated against her for cooperating with a long-running FBI corruption investigation at City Hall. In her suit, Parchment accused Brown of using his staff to interfere with her gathering city records for a new federal grand jury subpoena.
She also fired back at Brown, calling him a “bag man for corrupt city officials,” a few of whom are in the cross-hairs of the federal probe.
Brown, who was appointed as city manager in July, fired Parchment because of “her steadfast refusal to turn a blind eye to illegalities and gross malfeasance and misfeasance” at City Hall, according to her suit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Parchment, 49, who was originally hired by the city in 2009, is seeking more than $4 million in damages — a whopping sum, given that Opa-locka has accumulated debt totaling more than $14 million.
Brown, the city manager, said on Wednesday that Parchment’s lawsuit is “worthless.”
“Everyone knows that Charmaine Parchment was grossly inappropriate and unqualified for this position,” Brown told the Miami Herald, citing criticism of her work as the city’s financial chief by state oversight board members over the past year.
Brown said her suit’s allegation that he was a bag man for Opa-locka politicians is “the furthest thing from the truth.” He also said her accusation that he ordered his staff to interfere with her gathering of records for the grand jury investigation was untrue. “She was never stopped from doing anything,” he said.
Last week, the city’s lawyers filed a response to her suit, saying Parchment was terminated for “grounds,” had no “protected” status as a whistle-blower and “failed to state a cause of action.”
Parchment’s suit — among a handful filed by fired Opa-locka employees in the past year — spotlights many of the financial problems that have burdened the city with mounting debts owed to Miami-Dade County for water and sewer services and other vendors for building projects and everyday expenses. The City Commission is still working on a budget that would meet the oversight board’s approval for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
Moreover, Parchment’s suit also touches on illegal activities that have led to federal bribery convictions against former City Manager David Chiverton, City Commissioner Luis Santiago and public works supervisor Gregory Harris, as well as Mayor Myra Taylor’s son, Corleon, who once worked for a city trash contractor.
The FBI’s four-year-old investigation is expected to lead to a corruption indictment against others, including influential lobbyist Dante Starks, who is close to Brown, the new city manager. Brown had previously worked in other positions in Opa-locka’s government, including as a consultant to Chiverton.
Parchment’s confrontations with Brown began soon after the City Commission voted 3-2 to hire him as the new city manager in July.
She challenged Brown’s request for retroactive pay to July 17, 2017, because he actually began working as the new city manager on July 27. She told him that he could not receive the pay without the approval of the oversight board appointed by the governor. In her suit, she said Brown “went behind [her] back” as finance director and ordered the payroll staff to approve his retroactive pay illegally.
Parchment then accused Brown of refusing to pledge to cooperate with the state oversight board — as formally required as a condition of his hiring — and that “imperiled” the city’s ability to sign checks and pay its bills. She put her words into an email to the board, headed by the governor’s inspector general.
“Eddie Brown expressed anger and displeasure with [her] email because it exposed the fact that he was obstructing the city’s ability to pay its bills by refusing to cooperate with the state oversight board,” her suit said. “Eddie Brown expressed that he had disdain for the oversight board and did not wish staff to cooperate with [it].”
In the suit, Parchment also said Brown ordered his assistant city manager, William Green, to tell her in August “to stop” providing city information to the oversight board because there was a new “sheriff in town.”
More significant, the suit said Brown’s assistant manager told Parchment that she “must cease” gathering records for a new federal grand jury subpoena in the FBI corruption investigation. The assistant “directed and physically stopped [Parchment] and her staff from compiling records in response to the federal grand jury subpoena and told [her] that cooperating with the FBI and complying with the subpoena was ‘not important’ and must cease,” according to the suit.
On Aug. 18, Parchment filed a complaint of retaliation and sought protection as a whistle-blower with local authorities in Miami-Dade County. On Aug. 22, Brown fired her as finance director, a job that paid $90,000 a year.
The following day, Parchment asked to be reinstated, saying in a memo that her termination was “illegal.” She accused Brown of firing her “in direct response to my participation in investigations and my refusal to break the law or violate policy.”
Her attorneys, Michael Pizzi, Douglas Jeffrey and David Reiner, issued a statement condemning the city manager’s actions: “Her honesty and integrity got her fired in a city government that does not value those principles.”