Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

He ticketed a decrepit building. It belonged to the mayor’s family. Trouble ensued.

The building at 13720 27th Ave., owned by the family of Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor, was cited for code violations by a city employee who got suspended for 30 days.
The building at 13720 27th Ave., owned by the family of Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor, was cited for code violations by a city employee who got suspended for 30 days. The Miami Herald

For 38 years, Randolph Aikens worked for the city of Opa-locka, maintaining a solid employment record until he did something that would put him on a collision course with the mayor and the city’s top administrator.

Aikens tacked two code enforcement citations on a crumbling one-story building — with no roof, a tree shooting up from the floor and a Hooters billboard towering over it. The property at 13720 27th Ave. belonged to the family of Mayor Myra Taylor.

In October, City Manager Yvette Harrell voided the two $500 tickets that cited the Taylors’ building for being unsafe and overgrown, explaining that warnings should have been issued first — although under state law it is not required for a deteriorating structure. The following month, Harrell directed the city’s police chief to place the 59-year-old employee on suspension for 30 days with pay, according to Aikens.

Aikens, who got his job back after contesting the suspension, is suing the city and Harrell for more than $2 million in a whistle-blower claim asserting she retaliated against him.

“She made my life miserable for just doing my job,” Aikens told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

Harrell, who is also a lawyer, City Attorney Vincent Brown and Mayor Taylor did not respond to calls and emails seeking response.

The irony in all this: the mayor’s husband, John Taylor, a minister, has requested a building permit to put a roof, windows and doors on the 27th Avenue property, which records show is valued at $45,000. A structural engineer has submitted a plan on Taylor’s behalf that is expected to receive the city’s approval by the end of February, said building and licensing director Daniel Abia.

“The roof replacement is a major issue,” Abia said. “He’s addressing it.”

Opa-locka residents angry with the direction the city is heading, protest outside of city hall on Jan. 20, 2017.

Aikens’ lawsuit was filed last week in Miami-Dade circuit court as Opa-locka’s government struggles to recover from its worst financial crisis in history. The city commission says it plans to adopt a balanced budget on Monday, five months after the start of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the FBI continues a corruption investigation that has already resulted in the convictions of three officials, including a city commissioner who had lost his seat in the November election. They all pleaded guilty, as did a fourth defendant, the mayor’s son, Corleon Taylor, who had worked for the city’s trash hauler.

Randolph Aikens, who got his job back after contesting the suspension, is suing the city and Harrell for more than $2 million in a whistle-blower claim asserting she retaliated against him

Aikens, who makes $48,000 a year as a code enforcement officer, has been at odds with the powers that be at City Hall because he not only received a federal grand jury subpoena in the corruption probe but also has met with FBI agents over the past three years.

Aikens is not alone.

Another city employee, grants administrator Delia Kennedy, also received a grand jury subpoena and has been assisting the FBI. But, like Aikens, she has also had confrontations with the city manager, who wants to eliminate her job as part of budget cuts this year. She also filed a Florida Bar complaint against Brown, the city attorney, who via an email blast circulated a list of 20 current and former government employees who received grand jury subpoenas in the corruption probe.

“As long as I’m here, I’m not directing any money to corruption,” said Kennedy, who makes $60,000 a year but also has generated $60 million in state and federal grants for a variety of Opa-locka water, sewer and building projects. “She wants a puppet, and I’m not anyone’s puppet.”

How corruption and mismanagement pushed Opa-locka to the edge of insolvency.

The city’s former budget director, Keith Carswell, was fired last year by Harrell after a state oversight board appointed by the governor took control of city spending because of Opa-locka’s financial emergency. Carswell questioned the optimistic financial forecasts by Harrell and her predecessor as city manager, David Chiverton, who recently started a three-year prison sentence for extorting bribes from local business owners.

Carswell took aim at Harrell and others in a lawsuit in Miami-Dade circuit court, saying they were misrepresenting the city’s deficit by millions of dollars.

Miami lawyer Michael Pizzi, a former deputy city attorney in Opa-locka who is representing Carswell, Kennedy and Aikens in legal actions, said Harrell’s treatment of certain employees sends a clear message: “If you don’t turn a blind eye to improprieties, you’re going to lose your job.”

Aikens has spent his life working for Opa-locka government, first as a parks and recreation supervisor and then as a code enforcement officer.

Aikens said that, although he had cited the Taylors’ property last August, the city manager waited to suspend him in November after she improperly voided his code violations.

Aikens said she chose to discipline him after he had testified in another code enforcement case backing an Opa-locka pawn shop owner, who had been cited by a different officer for flying both commercial and American flags on top of her building. A special master dismissed the citations, which Aikens said infuriated the city manager.

“The police chief was the one who suspended me,” he said, “but she was the one who made him do it.”

Former Assistant City Manager Jordan Leonard talks about his 2012 discovery of over one million dollars of uncollected water bills in inactive accounts in the city of Opa-locka.

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