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?

According to court records, he was arrested in 1977 for aggravated battery and in 1978 for aggravated assault. In 1992, he was charged with criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. All three charges were eventually dropped. During the mid-Eighties, Riley was also investigated, but never indicted, for an alleged bribery scheme at the Hialeah/Opa-locka Flea Market.

"I personally had a run-in with Riley years ago when I was with the city," Daughtrey recalls. "One of his housing tenants said Riley tried to shake him down. I offered to take the man down to the State Attorney's Office, but he refused to give a sworn statement, so as far as I'm concerned that was just an allegation. Unless a charge is taken through the judicial process, it's all a game." Daughtrey likewise dismisses Riley's other indiscretions.

"I hired John Riley primarily for two reasons," Daughtrey notes. "His military experience, and his experience as a housing manager."

When pressed on the issue of qualifications, Daughtrey had this to say: "The job of an assistant city manager is to do what the manager tells them to do. Period."

No doubt the most important hire of Daughtrey's young administration has been the police chief: The new manager selected Evelyn Hicks to replace departing chief Melvin Tooks.

In Opa-locka, where more than one-third of the residents live below the poverty level, crime has traditionally thrived. At the same time, the police force has been marred by internal dissent and scandal. Hicks's accession proved no exception. In the space of a month, she was named chief, fired, and rehired, as a result of a last-gasp effort undertaken by Dennis Whitt to save his own job.

Daughtrey named Hicks as his chief on November 10, the night the new commission voted to appoint him manager. But Whitt had secured a court order invalidating the meeting A and the vote to remove him -- because the public had not been given adequate notice. Hicks ignored the court order, and when Whitt was restored as city manager, she was fired.

"You ignored the court order because it interfered with your plans to use political influence to promote yourself to the head of the department," Tooks noted in his letter terminating Hicks. "You ignored the illegal actions of the seated commission...because you conspired with them and [Daughtrey] to obtain and accept the appointment as Acting Chief of Police."

A month later, after the commission managed to make Whitt's ouster legal and appoint Daughtrey in his place, Hicks formally laid claim to the $55,000-per-year post.

Daughtrey says he has known Hicks since he came to the city as an assistant city manager in 1973 and has every confidence in her abilities. Her arrival, however, has done little to stabilize the department. She has already demoted five officers and promoted two others. Her most controversial moves have been at the highest levels of command.

With Daughtrey's approval, Hicks hired Craig Collins as her assistant chief at a salary of $49,500. Collins was fired by then-Police Chief Jimmy Burke last January after an incident in which Collins physically attacked a police officer from Florida City. Collins claimed he placed the officer in a chokehold because the officer posed a danger to himself and others. According to his letter of termination, several eyewitnesses to the altercation contradicted Collins. State prosecutors investigated, but did not file charges owing to conflicting testimony. FDLE is currently reviewing the matter.

Hicks also hired Clarence Milindez as a police captain at a salary of $48,000. Milindez was fired from the force in 1993. His personnel record indicates that he has been the subject of nearly a dozen internal affairs probes and received numerous reprimands. Last year, FDLE suspended his certificate as a police officer on the grounds that he had used excessive force while on duty. He was placed on probation for two years, and ordered to take a defensive-tactics training course.

Daughtrey says he has inspected both Collins's and Milindez's files, and has confidence in both.

"I know there are people with questions about the folks I hired," he notes. "I can't stop those people from talking. I mean, Peyton Place can't hold a candle to Opa-locka when it comes to gossip. But my job is to serve the people, not respond to gossip."

Daughtrey is especially busy these days, he says, winding up his investigation into the alleged misdeeds of the previous administration. He plans to turn over the results "to a grand jury." He refuses, however, to specify what improprieties he has uncovered.

Whitt bristles at the notion that anything was amiss on his watch. "The foxes are investigating the chicken coop," the deposed manager says.

Mayor Robert Ingram, a vocal opponent of Daughtrey during the campaign, declined to comment about the new manager's hiring record. "That would just make me the issue," Ingram observes. "I can say that the new administration has made a lot of promises, and I hope for the people's sake that they can balance those with action."

The embattled mayor did, however, take issue with Daughtrey's $105,000 salary A the one Daughtrey has since slashed by 25 percent. The new manager says he is entitled to the same compensation that was budgeted for Whitt. But Ingram asserts that the city charter requires the commission to approve an incoming city manager's salary. "He never brought the matter before us," Ingram snaps. "He just assumed it was his to take.

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