Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Opa-locka approves paying thousands in legal fees for two commissioners

Opa-locka commissioners approved paying $15,000 to cover legal fees for two of its city commissioners in a special meeting Wednesday night.

Vice Mayor Timothy Holmes, who is fighting a lawsuit challenging his November re-election, and commissioner Terence Pinder, who has been debarred from participating in federal contracts, received the funds.

Residents decried giving Holmes $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to fight the complaint against him, which contended that according to the newly amended city charter, he is not eligible to hold office because he already served eight consecutive years as a city commissioner.

“Why should we pay for legal fees?” said resident Johnnie Mae Green. “It’s only a slap in the face to your citizens.”

Voters passed the amendment setting forth Opa-locka commission term limits in November; Holmes, who has served consecutive terms on the City Commission since 1994, won re-election in November.

Green is part of the group, “Citizens on a Mission for Change,” which filed the lawsuit against Holmes on Nov. 24. The group authored the term-limit change from last year’s ballot and believes the commissioner should vacate his seat.

Holmes remained relatively quiet during the discussion of whether or not the city had a responsibility to pay for his legal counsel, but said he hasn’t “done anything illegal” since the election.

Meanwhile, the commission also took up a second resolution to pay $5,000 for Pinder to seek outside counsel in a case brought against him by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year.

Last month, City Manager Kelvin Baker received notice from the Suspension and Debarment Division of the EPA that Pinder was debarred from participating in federal contracts due to his inability to make decisions about federal funds, like the multimillion-dollar infrastructure project.

The sanction arrived a few months after Pinder accepted a plea deal from the state on four counts of conflict on interest. He is currently serving two years probation.

The city voted 4-1, after an amendment was made to the resolution, in favor of both commissioners. The amendment cited that “any further amounts invoiced to the city may be approved by the commission.” Commissioner Luis Santiago cast the only no vote against both items.

Also on Wednesday night, commissioners approved leasing two new 2015 Ford Escape SUVs for Opa-locka’s infrastructure improvement project to fix issues with flooding, poorly paved roads and waste water.

City commissioners also voted unanimously in favor of signing an agreement with Grace & Naeem Uddin for approximately $2 million to handle the second phase of the firm’sHistoric City Hall renovations. Pinder recused himself from voting.