Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Opa-locka mayor prefers crazy talk to austerity

Opa-locka's iconic, old moorish Ali-Baba style City Hall
Opa-locka's iconic, old moorish Ali-Baba style City Hall wmichot@miamiherald.com

You hear these diatribes when city or county commission meetings are opened to public comment and some gadfly bursts into a nonsensical tirade.

Except this time, the crazy talk was coming from the dais.

It was Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor spewing the wild accusations, raving that the very city manager she had voted to hire two months before — talk about buyer’s remorse — was behind “a conspiracy to destroy me.”

In her rambling harangue during last week’s commission meeting, she complained how Steve Shiver, among his other sins, had notified the governor’s office about the city’s sorry financial state. She charged that Shiver had leaked information about ballooning deficits to the media. As if Opa-locka’s out-of-control spending should have been regarded as secret stuff.

To meet bloated payroll demands, the most dysfunctional city in South Florida has been cannibalizing accounts, stiffing vendors, shirking employee medical insurance obligations and ignoring a $3.4 million debt to the county.

Perhaps what really irked Taylor was Katie Lepri’s report in the Miami Herald that the Vankara Christian School, owned by the mayor’s family, owes the city $112,000 in long ignored bills.

The mayor veered into racial politics, accusing Shiver of exaggerating the city’s financial problems so that “the word will get out that it took this white man to come in and straighten out black folks.”

The mayor, in her angry exuberance, ordered City Attorney Vincent Brown to draw up a resolution by the next commission meeting to fire himself before realizing that she had meant to say that it was Shiver she wants to boot.

Mayor Taylor managed what would once have seemed impossible hereabouts. She made Steve Shiver, whose stints as county manager and mayor of Homestead were dogged with controversy, into a sympathetic character.

He was hired to cut the payroll and repair a chronic budget deficit. But Shiver’s up against history.

Opa-locka has long been dogged with overspending, political meddling, cronyism, patronage, corruption, crooked cops and a policy of ousting city managers who don’t play along. In 2002, amid another state intervention into the city’s failed finances, Miami-Dade corruption investigator Joseph Centorino declared, “Stuff was going on there that I’ve never seen any place else. It’s just beyond belief.” The city was going broke providing commissioners with cellphones, new cars, new suits, dry cleaning. And peculiar no-bid contracts for City Hall cronies, including the husband of then-City Commissioner Myra Taylor.

Investigators also wondered how a truckload of equipment dispatched to City Hall had been mysteriously diverted to Taylor’s hubby’s church.

She later worked out a misdemeanor plea deal on income tax charges. (If only prosecutors had included a clause barring her from seeking another term in public office.) Her husband and son pleaded guilty in 2013 to covering up illegal contributions to Mayor Taylor’s 2010 campaign.

In her speech last week, Taylor said she would replace Shiver’s austerity program with her own plan. “It just needs to be tweaked a little more.”

Opa-locka has been waiting for that elusive fix for 20 years.

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