Fred Grimm

Long past time for Gov. Rick Scott to intervene in Opa-locka

Opa-locka mayor Myra Taylor
Opa-locka mayor Myra Taylor

Opa-locka has become the very definition of “state of emergency.”

Florida’s most dysfunctional city has dissolved into a vile amalgamation of ineptitude and corruption. There’s not the slightest indication that the gang running city hall can do a thing to fix the mess before the FBI hauls them off to jail.

City Commissioner Terence Pinder’s suicide on Tuesday only added to the sense of chaos looming over Opa-locka. Pinder apparently rammed his SUV into a tree at 100 mph Tuesday rather than face bribery charges.

Meanwhile, a separate FBI investigation has focused on former City Manager David Chiverton, City Commissioner Luis Santiago, lobbyist Dante Starks and Mayor Myra Taylor, along with her son and husband.

On Sunday, Opa-locka’s top financial officer sent an email to the city’s acting manager warning that the town’s financial status was much worse than Chiverton (who took a sudden leave of absence last week) had suggested. “After the next payroll, the city will not be able to pay its bills,” Charmaine Parchment wrote. She warned that the city faced a $4.5 million shortfall.

“State of emergency” begins to sound like an understatement. Opa-locka’s mess surely encompasses the criteria required by state law for the governor to intervene, including “malfeasance, misfeasance, and neglect of duty.” That’s Opa-locka in a nutshell.

Yet Gov. Scott, in what amounts to his own neglect of duty, has not declared a state of emergency.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and County Commissioner Barbara Jordan have co-written two letters, the first in March, the second three weeks ago, “strongly urging” the governor to intervene.

After Steve Shiver was hired as Opa-locka city manager last September and discovered that the city budget was a shamble of debts and deficits and improper spending, he fired off his own letter to state officials. Which prompted Mayor Taylor to orchestrate his firing.

I asked Shiver whether the city’s financial crisis was caused by mismanagement or corruption. “All of the above,” Shiver answered. “They are incompetent. They are criminals who think they are entitled to everything.”

Shiver alone has told Tallahassee enough for the governor to send a posse down to save Opa-locka.

Meanwhile, my Herald colleagues Michael Sallah and Jay Weaver have uncovered a cesspool of fiscal mismanagement, suspect spending and false budgeting. Not to mention municipal business transactions defiled by bribery, kickbacks, intimidation, nepotism and corruption.

Back in 1996, when the city of Miami suffered a $68 million shortfall and a dysfunctional city commission was unable to find a way out of the crisis, Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a state of emergency and appointed an oversight board. “If we failed to take any action, we would be sort of derelict,” Chiles said.

With a relatively piddling tax base, and a large percentage of its 16,400 residents living below the poverty line, Opa-locka’s $4.5 million shortfall represents a much more devastating crisis for the city’s stakeholders than what Miami faced 20 years ago. Not to mention the corruption scandal.

If Gov. Scott fails to take action, and soon, he’ll be more than “sort of derelict.”

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