Plundering a small town
Former Sheriff Scott Israel has insisted that his removal from office was a naked power grab, and that he will be reinstated as Broward’s top lawman one way or another.
He’s also hedging his bets: In a power play of his own one county south, Israel has emerged as one commissioner’s favorite candidate for police chief in Opa-locka.
It’s a would-be marriage that links Broward’s most controversial politician with Miami-Dade’s most chaotic and dysfunctional city. And it has politicians and observers on both sides of the county line reaching for the popcorn.
Opa-locka Commissioner Alvin Burke appears poised to push for the hiring of Israel, who worked for decades at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department before a short stint as police chief in North Bay Village. He was elected sheriff in 2012, overseeing the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s 5,600 sworn and civilian personnel.
Standing in Burke’s way is Interim City Manager Newall J. Daughtrey — and possibly the city’s charter.
In a March 27 email, Daughtrey accused Burke of trying to strong-arm him into hiring Israel. “Please understand that I cannot follow your directive to terminate the chief of police and hire Scott Israel at this time for reasons discussed,” Daughtrey wrote to Burke, without elaborating on what his reasons were. Daughtrey’s attorney, Michael Pizzi, then wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief investigator, Melinda Miguel, who doubles as the head of a state government oversight board, seeking help in protecting Daughtrey’s job.
All financial transactions in Opa-locka, including employee contracts, must be approved by the oversight board, established by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2015 when he declared a state of emergency in Opa-locka. The action followed a whistle-blower complaint that the city was in financial ruin. Now, the board is overseen by DeSantis, who was sharply critical of Israel during his campaign, and wasted little time in removing him from office after his election.
Israel’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, reiterated Israel’s desire to be returned to office in Broward.
“Sheriff Israel was elected by the people of Broward County to serve as sheriff through the election of 2020,” Kuehne said Monday. “He fully intends to fulfill the will of Broward voters. He fully intends to serve in the capacity of sheriff of Broward County, and is currently challenging the governor’s action in suspending him for reasons Sheriff Israel maintains are not supported by the Florida Constitution.”
Kuehne declined to specify whether Israel wishes to be Broward’s sheriff or Opa-locka’s police chief. “He is a career law enforcement officer,” Kuehne said. “To the extent he can provide guidance to any government entity or municipality concerning effective law enforcement, he is honored to be able to do that.”
At the moment, he is mostly providing more turmoil.
When Daughtrey refused to hire Israel, Burke began efforts to fire Daughtrey.
The agenda for Opa-locka’s next commission meeting, on April 10, includes this as Item 5 under “Administration”: “A resolution of the City Commission...terminating the interim city manager, Newall J. Daughtrey...” The next agenda item seeks to appoint another man, Darvin Williams, to be city manager.
“It is a shame that after all the city has gone through, there would still be attempts to force city officials to break the law, Pizzi said of Burke’s efforts to force Israel’s hiring. “Mr. Daughtrey is being fired once again because he refuses, and will never violate the city charter and take illegal orders...Hopefully, the state will have the courage to stop the city from continuing down the same path that led to a fiscal crisis, and a crisis in public confidence.”
Daughtrey was fired by a previous commission in October of 2018. He was rehired by the current commission after filing a whistle-blower suit against the city alleging that he had been terminated for exposing the former mayor’s outstanding water bill of $100,000 — as well as other acts of potential corruption.
Opa-locka already has a police chief, James Dobson, and by city charter, commissioners do not have direct authority over personnel decisions, a power that only the city manager holds.
Long considered one of the most poorly governed cities in Florida, Opa-locka now is nearly bankrupt, and has been under FBI investigation for corruption. South Florida leaders have wondered whether the new governor will take action if Opa-locka’s elected officials are unable to stabilize the city’s finances.
Miguel, the governor’s chief inspector general who heads the oversight board, spoke with Daughtrey on Monday, and was reassured that he was not going to can Dobson. “Governor DeSantis will not support any public official who exceeds their legal authority in keeping with their city charter,” Miguel said. “He supports the city manager in following the law.”
DeSantis removed Israel from office in January, citing neglect of duty and incompetence in his letter of suspension. Israel had been under withering criticism ever since a former student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Nikolas Cruz, went on a shooting spree on Valentine’s Day last year, killing 14 students and three staff members. A 15-member commission appointed to investigate the massacre reported grave lapses in leadership at BSO, and concluded the agency’s active-shooter training was both inadequate and ill-conceived.
On Friday, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach upheld Israel’s removal.