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.

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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