Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Opa-locka city manager choice is ... none of the above

Plundering a small town

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

Four men who want the chance to manage the debt-plagued, financially troubled city of Opa-locka stated their cases during a four-hour meeting Friday. The City Commission decided to hire no one, at least for the moment.

Current City Manager Yvette Harrell, who had announced she is leaving, will remain in the position until at least next Thursday, July 6, which is the date that commissioners chose to continue the discussion.

The meeting started with a surprise when Harrell announced her intention to remain in the position for an additional three months. The elected officials decided to proceed with interviews anyway.

The four candidates at Friday’s meeting survived a winnowing process on June 20, when the City Commission culled a field of 14 applicants to five. One of the five later dropped out.

Commissioner Matthew Pigatt expressed some concerns with the selection process at that meeting — and particularly how quickly the city moved after advertising the position in May. He said that there should have been more thorough background checks and an opportunity to cast a wider net to get more candidates without ties to the city.

The city is in this position due to Harrell announcing in April that she planned to step down as manager. She took over from David Chiverton, who pleaded guilty last August to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from local business owners in exchange for city licenses.

Yvette Harrell
Yvette Harrell, the outgoing Opa-locka city manager Miami Herald File

Harrell has faced criticism from a state oversight board, whose members felt she was too inexperienced to run the city, which faces persistent budget problems and longtime debt totaling about $14 million. That money is mostly owed to Miami-Dade County for water and sewer expenses and to various city contractors.

The finalists at Friday’s meeting included: John Bauer, interim city manager of Southport, N.C.; Milton Vickers, a senior adviser to Miami’s city manager, and Newall Daughtrey, a former Opa-locka manager who left the position in 2002 after about two years on the job. Another candidate, Hector Rivera, withdrew his application before Friday’s meeting.

The remaining candidate, Ed Brown, previously served as assistant city manager and interim city manager directly after Kelvin Baker left the city.

Brown has also served as the city’s community redevelopment agency director, and his history with the city dates back to the public corruption case involving lobbyist Dante Starks and late Commissioner Terence Pinder, who took his own life in May 2016.

Ed Brown
Ed Brown, a candidate for Opa-locka city manager, is shown at left.

That case began in 2007. Starks and Pinder eventually took plea deals.

At the time, prosecutors described Brown as an associate of Starks, and said he made a cash payment to Pinder on Starks’ behalf. Brown was never charged in that case. He also was accused of using a city credit card for dinners and other non-permitted purchases, an assertion Brown denied.

Motions to hire Daughtrey and Bauer did not receive support and proposals to hire Vickers and Brown both failed, with 3-2 votes in opposition.

Eric Miller, the state inspector general and chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s oversight panel for the troubled city, wrote in a June 22 letter that while he recognized the city’s urgency in hiring a new manager, he suggested bringing in an outsider.

“I strongly believe that the city’s successful recovery from its current state of financial emergency depends upon an infusion of new ideas and outside perspectives into the city administration,” Miller wrote.

Natasha Ervin, a longtime community activist, said she was disappointed that commissioners went through the extensive meeting without making a decision.

“I’m disgraced with what happened today,” Ervin said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3