For four years, Delia Kennedy worked as a grants administrator for the City of Opa-locka, taking home an annual salary of $60,000. Over the course of her tenure with the city, Kennedy helped bring in nearly $60 million in governmental grants.
But after City Attorney Vincent Brown revealed in a citywide email that Kennedy was cooperating with the FBI in an ongoing corruption probe, city leaders unceremoniously eliminated Kennedy's position at a commission meeting this past March. They claimed they simply needed to balance the budget. But Kennedy is sure the timing was no coincidence — they actually wanted to fire her for her helping uncover the corruption.
She has now filed a lawsuit against Opa-locka and City Manager Yvette Harrell that alleges Kennedy was terminated for protected whistleblower activities. Her attorney, Michael Pizzi, tells New Times he can think of no logical explanation for the firing.
"Why would a city that’s broke and has wasted millions of dollars get rid of a low-paid grant coordinator who brings in the type of federal and state dollars the city so desperately needed?" he says. "They knew that she had contacted the FBI to report malfeasance. We believe the only explanation for her termination was that they wanted to get rid of somebody who had the integrity to report it."
Brown did not return calls and emails from New Times seeking comment on the lawsuit, but when the Miami Herald first reported on Kennedy's termination in late March, Harrell defended the firing.
"This is not about Ms. Kennedy," the city manager told the Herald. "I'm saddened people think this is retaliatory."
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While Kennedy worked for the city, the feds now say city leaders accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to dismiss code violations, settle property liens, and expedite permits. The consequences were far-reaching: Former City Manager David Chiverton was sentenced to three years in prison, and a city commissioner killed himself the day before he was set to turn himself in.
The new lawsuit says Kennedy became aware of the corruption but refused to participate and instead began working with the FBI. Her complaint lays bare the ways the city apparently tried to make her life difficult after it was revealed she was cooperating with authorities. On one occasion, Kennedy says, the city manager sent police to her house while she was caring for her terminally ill mother. And when Kennedy tried to return from family medical leave, Harrell refused to reinstate her employment unless she signed certain documents.
Kennedy also says Harrell would purposefully invite her to city meetings to publicly shame her, at one point openly accusing her of mental illness and questioning her competency. Kennedy was finally terminated at a city commission meeting March 8, just a few days before she was scheduled to give a sworn statement to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Neither Harrell nor the city has responded to the allegations in court so far. Records show Mayor Myra Taylor was served with the suit this week.