Editorials

Opa-locka can’t be officials’ cash cow

FBI agents remove boxes of documents as evidence from Opa-locka’s Municipal Complex building.
FBI agents remove boxes of documents as evidence from Opa-locka’s Municipal Complex building. Miami Herald Staff

Whether any elected official or bureaucrat will be arrested, charged, convicted of corruption and imprisoned is far from known. Whether the feds, which raided Opa-locka’s City Hall on Thursday, can make the case is uncertain.

But what’s clear right now, as it has been for far too long, is that something is rotten in Opa-locka. Allegations of kickback schemes and bribery aside, this is a struggling city, weighed down by massive debt. It is a city victimized time and again by officials who have failed in their stewardship.

New leadership of integrity and ability can help stop the abuse. Of course, so can prison sentences.

The FBI raided City Hall, carrying off official documents and records, computers and other evidence in its two-year corruption investigation. Highly placed officials are in the FBI’s sights, including Mayor Myra Taylor.

Ms. Taylor, along with her husband, John, failed to report as income tens of thousands of dollars from a charter school that the mayor founded. The money helped them pay for a couple of Mercedes-Benzes and other expenses. This led to convictions for tax fraud.

The mayor’s husband — the “Bishop” as he is known — was forced from his New Beginning Embassy of Praise Church last August because he didn’t pay the $3,500-a-month rent for two years.

In addition, the couple was sued over their Vankara Educational Center, facing two foreclosure cases to satisfy $1.8 million in debts. And by the beginning of this year, the school in Opa-locka owed about $100,000 in unpaid water bills.

That the couple’s financial troubles and the city’s financial troubles are entwined is not a given. However, it is a shame that a woman who can’t keep her personal finances and businesses in order apparently remains trusted to oversee the budget of a city of more than 15,000 residents.

Curiously, she has sworn that the city remains on the right track, while quickly losing faith last year in then-City Manager Steve Shiver because he found the $8 million debt troubling enough to alert the state — which, unfortunately, declined to step in and take corrective action. Ms. Taylor and her commission supporters fired him soon thereafter. The sizable hole in the city’s finances, apparently, was less troubling than the tattling.

The mayor and her husband are now key suspects in a kickback scheme to get $150,000 from a local contractor.

The FBI is investigating several corruption allegations in the city, including its purchase of Town Center One, which was to be a tricked-out government center.

But city residents were simply tricked. Opa-locka never disclosed that it was broke and, perhaps, ignored the fact that the office building was only bringing in half the rental income that it had in prior years.

These residents have every reason to question why a financially strapped city leased good-looking SUVs for commissioners to cruise around in. Last month, the city paid $1.8 million to Miami-Dade County to avoid a water and waste moratorium.

While the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies pursue their case against city officials, those same residents also have every reason to hold officials accountable for Opa-locka’s sorry condition.

This is an election year, and two commission seats are up. Frustrated Opa-lockans should make their anger felt.

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