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Opa-Locka Faces Financial Failure

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OPA LOCKA (CBSMiami) – By speaker phone, Opa-locka brass briefed the governor's staff on the town's financial situation. The situation is not good.

New City Manager Steve Shiver, a former county manager, took the Opa-locka job just over two months ago and has determined the town is basically busted.

Its phones were recently turned off briefly because the bill wasn't paid. For three months city workers' didn't get their life insurance premiums and other benefits. A contractor renovating the old city hall walked off over unpaid bills. The city has $4 million in checks it has written to vendors and contractors, but has not put them in the mail – because they would bounce.

As far as Shiver has been able to determine, the city is some $8 million in the hole, about half of that debt owed Miami-Dade County for sewer and water services.

Shiver said the city's financial picture is so scrambled, it will take another week or more to determine the full extent of the troubles.

"We're still getting information as best as possible," Shiver told Melinda Miguel, Gov. Rick Scott's inspector general.

Mayor Myra Taylor blamed the city's financial calamity on former managers – the city has had a slew of them in recent years – who kept commissioners in the dark.

"We didn't feel that we were fully informed as to what was going on," Taylor said.

The law requires Opa-locka to inform the governor of its woes. Gov. Scott was in Broward County Thursday.  He commented only briefly on the Opa-locka crisis.

"Our inspector general is reviewing it, and we'll see how we can be helpful," Scott said.

The governor's tempered remark could be code for a state takeover of Opa-locka's budget and administration. It is an embarrassment the city desperately wants to avoid.

"We will get through this," Mayor Taylor told the governor's inspector general.

Shiver said he will find a way to right the foundering city's finances and avoid state intervention.

"There will be a lot of elbow grease and a lot of smart people sitting around the room, figuring it out," Shiver said. "I'm confident in our staff that we'll be able to do that."

His confidence is not shared by many Opa-locka residents, accustomed to ineptitude.

"Where's the money going?" aked resident Lucille James, shopping at a local market. "The citizens aren't getting it. They can't do nothing to help us."

Opa-locka has a storied history of financial woes and scandal.  The state took over the city's finances in 2002 for three years after auditors revealed they were in disarray.

Mayor Taylor and her husband plead guilty to federal income tax charges several years ago.

Commissioner Terence Pinder was sanctioned for using his city credit card to buy meals and pay for hotel rooms having nothing to do with city business.

Scarcely a month on the job, Shiver was accused by a contractor of trying to solicit a bribe for the mayor.

"There's no comment to say on that," is all Mayor Taylor would say on Thursday of the alleged graft attempt.

"I'm not allowed to comment on that at this time," said Shiver.  "In the end, everything will come out on my involvement."

The new manager is confident he can resolve Opa-locka's financial fiasco and stave off a state takeover.  He's going to do it in part by cutting costs, which would mean eliminating jobs and services.


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