Broward County

Mayor blasts manager in latest Opa-locka meltdown

Myra Taylor, mayor of Opa-locka
Myra Taylor, mayor of Opa-locka Miami Herald Staff

Just days after city officials appealed to the state for help, Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor lambasted the man who has been leading the drive to rein in the city’s collapsing finances.

She accused City Manager Steve Shiver of leaking embarrassing information about the city's budget woes to the media.

She accused him of trying to undermine her authority by turning city commissioners against her.

Three weeks after Shiver warned that Opa-locka was steeped in mounting debts, she called for him to be fired — the second time his job has been in jeopardy since he was hired in September.

“I am the mayor of the city and I will get my respect,” she said.

The mayor’s comments on Thursday before a crowded chamber provided more drama to a city already on the edge of a takeover by the state because of budget debts that reach into the millions.

Last week, the city was forced to take drastic measures to pay its employees by tapping into its water and sewer fund — $200,000.

Reached on Friday, Shiver said he was stunned by the mayor’s remarks at a time when the city was in sensitive negotiations with Gov. Rick Scott’s office about getting state assistance.

“I’ve never experienced a display like that,” he said. “I don’t know what to think. I’m shocked that a mayor would make those kinds of comments publicly.”

The problems over the city’s fiscal crisis come as federal agents carry out an investigation of alleged corruption in the government, including recent allegations by a contractor that the city manager tried to collect a hefty bribe on behalf of the mayor.

Shiver has declined to talk about the accusation, while the mayor denied any claims of involvement, saying she would “never ask anyone for anything.”

Tensions between the two have been building for days behind closed doors, but the acrimony spilled over during the meeting on Thursday in the commission chambers at Sherbondy Village community center.

While standing on the dais, the mayor said she was disturbed that the city manager had taken up the city’s fiscal problems with the governor’s office instead of first approaching her and the commission.

The mayor went into a long speech over the city manager’s recent efforts to cut costs by laying off more than a dozen people.

“These are our people,” she said. “They can’t find a job between now and Christmas. It’s not there.”

At one point, she said Shiver, who is white, was trying to create problems that would allow him to look like he was fixing the city’s financial woes so that “the word will get out that it took this white man to come in and straighten out black folks.” Opa-locka is 65 percent black and 35 percent Hispanic.

Dozens of the mayor’s supporters chimed in from the crowd, including family members cheering her and clapping as she delivered her speech.

City Attorney Vincent Brown tried to interrupt her at one point, but she refused, saying, “I hear you, but I’m not going to acknowledge you.”

In addition to Shiver, she took her colleagues to task for not supporting her efforts to keep the city manager from airing the city’s problems in public. “The mayor is the only female on this dais. One would think her male counterparts would look out for her and protect her. It’s done in the animal kingdom, but not in here,” she said.

Shiver, who left the chambers after the meeting with a police escort, said he was troubled by her comments.

“I’ve been a professional manager for years, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

He said any disagreements he had with the mayor have been over his revealing the city’s financial struggles to the public.

“This fiscal crisis has been growing for five years.” he said, adding that the budget gaps were hidden by former city officials who concealed the shortfalls by transferring money from different funds.

Though the mayor said during the meeting that she wants to fire Shiver, the city manager said in an interview on Friday that he will not voluntarily step down.

“This is not a game. This is not a pep rally. This is the taxpayers’ and the residents’ of Opa-locka’s livelihood,” he said.

At issue is whether the city will be able to move forward to enlist the state’s help in providing oversight over Opa-locka’s budget.

Right now, the city owes vendors at least $3.8 million — including rent payments, car leases and construction work — in some cases for as long as a year.

Opa-locka also has struggled to bring in revenue from its water and sewer system, including collecting hundreds of thousands from delinquent customers.

Among those accounts: Miami Dade College, Opa-locka-Hialeah Flea Market and the Vankara School, which was founded by the mayor and is now operated by her family.

Since Shiver was hired in September, the city has turned to water and sewer funds to pay for everyday bills.

In an email on Nov. 6 to city staff, Shiver said “the challenges we face are grave, but not insurmountable.”

He said he has been gathering reams of documents to provide the state so it can make a decision whether to step into the fray. But one of the biggest problems is trying to figure out how much the city owes. At first, city officials thought they owed the county only $1.5 million for water and sewage services, but the number is more than double that amount — and growing.

During the meeting on Thursday, the mayor said she is devising her own plan that is yet to be unveiled. “It needs to be tweaked a little more and ironed out,” she said.

Veteran Commissioner Joseph Kelley said he is unaware of what the mayor will bring forward, and declined to comment on her remarks.

During the meeting, Commissioner Terence Pinder told Shiver that “whatever the mayor feels you did or did not do, you have to fix it,” he said. “I am not saying I agree to terminate you. We have all made mistakes.”