South Florida

Amid meltdown, Opa-locka manager paid himself tens of thousands of dollars

David Chiverton, Opa-locka city manager, is one of several city officials under investigation by the FBI for alleged corruption.
David Chiverton, Opa-locka city manager, is one of several city officials under investigation by the FBI for alleged corruption. file photo

While under investigation in an FBI public corruption case, Opa-locka’s city manager directed tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to himself for benefits he was not entitled to as the city teetered on the edge of financial collapse.

Just days after David Chiverton was identified by FBI informants as a suspect in the criminal investigation, the 51-year-old city manager approved two payments totaling nearly $40,000 to himself in what are violations of the city’s policies for employees, the Miami Herald found.

READ MORE: FBI tapes provide evidence of bribery, extortion in Opa-locka

One of the payments for $14,160 was for unused vacation time and the other — $24,982 — was for sick time that far exceeded what he was allowed to receive under the city’s rules.

A week after Opa-locka City Manager David Chiverton was identified in a Miami Herald article as a key suspect in a bribery investigation, he directed the city to issue him two payments totaling nearly $40,000 in violation of city policies. The money was for unused sick and vacation time. See original document

While Chiverton was receiving the payments, the city was struggling to cut costs amid a financial meltdown so dire that the governor’s office might still have to declare a state of emergency. On Wednesday night, commissioners slashed the work week for most employees to 32 hours to cut costs.

Chiverton, who was appointed acting city manager in November, acknowledged he received two payments recently “to take care of unforeseen expenses,” but said his actions did not violate the city’s rules.

READ MORE: Opa-locka officially hires city manager, to review recovery plan

He said other employees have tapped into their benefits in the past “when unforeseen expenses” occurred. “Why is this an issue with me?”

However, city regulations ban the practice until an employee leaves the job, and also limit the amount of money employees can receive from their accrued sick time once they retire.

In the case of Chiverton, records show he received a gross payment of $24,982 for what amounts to 419 hours in sick pay, or 10 weeks, on May 4. Since he has served with the city less than four years, he would qualify for just a quarter of what he accrued — and then only after stepping down.

“It’s unwarranted and it’s unauthorized,” said City Commissioner Terence Pinder. “If it’s true, I am absolutely perturbed that he would take this money from the general fund for his own personal benefit.”

The Herald requested a copy of Chiverton’s contract Wednesday, but there is no formal agreement on file at the city, where he is paid $123,500 annually.

The city doesn’t have the money. That’s what gets me about this. The last thing it should be doing is paying money out that it doesn’t have.

former City Manager Steve Shiver

While the city manager has been at the center of the city’s financial crisis, he has also been a key suspect in the FBI investigation, which is probing nearly every level of city government.

Employees with less than five years on the job (like Chiverton) can be paid for 25 percent of the sick time they have accrued upon leaving their position, according to Opa-locka city regulations. Chiverton appears to have paid himself considerably more — while still in office.See original document

At least two informants working for federal agents say they secretly tape recorded meetings as Chiverton and other public officials allegedly shook down business owners for tens of thousands before granting them operating licenses, according to two owners who became informants for the FBI. Chiverton has declined to discuss the federal investigation.

On Wednesday night, Commissioner Joseph Kelley proposed that the city manager be placed on unpaid leave until the controversy is over, but the commission turned it down, 3-1.

Kelley did not respond to questions about Chiverton tapping into his benefits payments, saying he needed time to study records provided by the Herald.

The manager has been criticized by his colleagues on the commission for not responding more quickly to demands by the governor’s office for crucial financial information while the state weighs whether to place the city under a financial emergency.

READ MORE: Opa-locka facing shutdown, Miami-Dade leaders tell Gov. Rick Scott

Former Vice Mayor Steven Barrett said commissioners are responsible for the growing crisis, but that Chiverton broke the city’s rules by not making his payments public.

“He had no business taking that money without taking this to a vote,” Barrett said. “He needs to return the money.”

Former City Manager Steve Shiver, who was fired in November for bringing the crisis to the governor’s attention, said the payments to Chiverton represent more than just a breach of city regulations.

The payments to David Chiverton took place at the same time commissioners proposed a financial recovery plan that includes slashing the work week for most city employees to 32 hours.

He said the lack of oversight by the commissioners “allows anything to happen there. Unfortunately, the past practices have put them in this position. For policies and procedures to work, there has to be consistency in enforcement and adherence; otherwise, it results in utter chaos.”

Shiver said the practice of city employees tapping into their benefits before leaving their jobs has taken place for years, but nobody had questioned it before now.

Just months after he was hired to resolve Opa-locka’s deepening financial crisis, City Manager Steve Shiver was fired from his job by commissioners in yet another tumultuous development in a city millions of dollars in debt.

“The city doesn’t have the money,” he said. “That’s what gets me about this. The last thing it should be doing is paying money out that it doesn’t have.”

The payments to Chiverton took place while Opa-locka struggled with unprecedented budget shortfalls that have prompted vendors — including fuel suppliers, police outfitters and car dealerships — to cut off the city’s credit.

To make up for the gaps, city officials have tapped into restricted funds, including surtax money that’s reserved for critical road and sidewalk repairs and forfeiture money set aside for police weapons and training.

Barrett said the latest revelations over the city manager’s benefits could undermine the city’s efforts to convince the state to provide a financial lifeline.

“The sad part is, he knows we are strapped for that money,” Barrett said.

Michael Sallah: 305-376-2218, @MikeSallah7