Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

Opa-locka is flush with a new corps of officials itching to clean up the scandal-plagued town. But why do so many of them look so familiar?

To hear Newall Daughtrey tell it, the winds of change have finally breezed across Opa-locka. Gone are the fat cats who once ran Dade's poorest city, who sopped up budgetary gravy with exorbitant salaries and pensions, then stuck taxpayers with the bill.

Daughtrey should know. Opa-locka's city manager from 1979 to 1982, he led the charge for reform during this past fall's municipal elections, chairing a political action committee A "Time for a Change in Opa-locka" A devoted to electing a new regime. When the votes were counted, two of Daughtrey's three candidates, Timothy Holmes and George Lipkins, had unseated two sitting commissioners. His third candidate, Felix Martinez, lost to five-term mayor Robert Ingram after reports surfaced that Martinez had been arrested seven times in the past fifteen years for offenses ranging from bribery to aggravated assault.

But Lipkins and Holmes, together with incumbent reformist Steve Barrett, formed the crucial majority needed to rule the five-member commission.

Within weeks of the November 8 election, the new coalition fired controversial six-year city manager Dennis Whitt and installed Daughtrey in his place. The new boss has since trumpeted his efforts to restore accountability to the faded Arabian palace that doubles as Opa-locka City Hall. In addition to launching an investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the previous administration, Daughtrey has taken radical measures to rescue Opa-locka from its perpetual state of financial crisis, including taking a 25 percent cut in pay. "It's time to tighten our belts," the portly administrator says.

All this has earned him kudos from his supporters.
But his opponents, most notably Dennis Whitt, say Daughtrey's recruitment practices stink of political nepotism.

"There isn't even the pretense of hiring based on merit, as the city charter requires," says the former manager, who has filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging a conspiracy to oust him. "Without exception, everyone brought on board played an active role in the campaign that led to Daughtrey's hiring. That seems to have been the main qualification."

Daughtrey maintains he has assembled a team with one purpose in mind: "To get the job done. That's all I care about." He does concede, however, that certain of his hiring decisions might raise eyebrows.

Charles Jones, for example.
Back in 1990, Jones was fired from the Opa-locka police department, based on allegations -- supported by two internal affairs probes -- that he had pressured several women he arrested to have sex with him. Jones denies the accusations, which were detailed in a July 1992 New Times cover story. After investigating the matter, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) stripped Jones of his police certification last year.

Daughtrey hired him in December as one of a trio of code enforcement trainees, along with Cheryl Odom and Alvin Burke.

Odom is another former Opa-locka cop. According to her personnel records, she was fired in May 1991 by then-Police Chief Jimmy Burke. Two drug tests had indicated the presence of cocaine in her system. Both were conducted while Odom was on duty. She has disputed the finding. FDLE has yet to schedule a hearing on the alleged offense.

Alvin Burke, a former county corrections officer, was arrested by Metro-Dade police last March for possession of cocaine and marijuana. A week later the corrections department terminated him after he refused to take a drug test. State prosecutors are investigating the case.

Daughtrey stresses that Jones, Odom, and Burke are only temporary employees, hired specifically to help collect delinquent occupational licensing fees. "To me, their past is a nonissue," he says. City records indicate the trio was recruited to serve for 60 days. To date, they have been employed for 90 days, each at a pay rate equivalent to $16,640 per annum.

Deborah Irby was Daughtrey's pick to replace outgoing City Clerk Ronetta Taylor. The choice seemed logical, Daughtrey says, because he needed someone who knew the job. Irby was Taylor's former assistant city clerk A until June 1993, when Taylor fired her. According to her letter of termination in city files, Irby was given the heave-ho for a variety of reasons, including misuse of sick privileges, excessive tardiness, and "incompetence, negligence, and inefficiency in the performance of assigned duties."

Daughtrey stresses that he hired Irby only on a temporary basis, but says she has done an excellent job. With the commission's approval, Irby's $24,800 position was made permanent.

On the night he was named the new city manager, Daughtrey also anointed a pair of assistant managers, each of whom was awarded a $50,000 salary.

Wellington Rolle is a perennial political candidate who has held a variety of jobs, mostly in sales. He served as a consultant to losing mayoral candidate Felix Martinez. Rolle has no experience in city government; Daughtrey says he hired him for his "tenacious spirit" and his experience in the military. "And there is no one in America who can question Rolle's moral character," Daughtrey boasts.

The same cannot be said of Daughtrey's other assistant, erstwhile apartment manager and politician John Riley. A former Opa-locka commissioner and mayor, Riley was a mayoral candidate in this past campaign who lost in the general election, then threw his support behind Daughtrey's slate of candidates in the runoff. Like Martinez, Riley has an arrest record.

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