Commissioner in Corruption-Plagued Opa-locka Sues Rick Scott to Get His Expense Account Back

Ex-mayor and current commissioner John B. Riley
Ex-mayor and current commissioner John B. Riley
photo by City of Opa-locka
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In 2016, after years of financial mismanagement left Opa-locka nearly $8 million in debt, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of financial emergency and placed city officials on a restrictive spending diet. A state oversight board tasked with keeping the city on track warned that the belt-tightening might take some getting used to. Under the new plan, city leaders were stripped of their fancy SUV leases and $200 monthly expense accounts.

“We’re trying to keep the lights on,” board chair Melinda Miguel said at the time. “We are asking them to make drastic cuts. We are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.”

But two years later, some city officials are still struggling to adjust to the cutbacks. Last week, Opa-locka Commissioner John B. Riley filed a lawsuit against the governor, the oversight board, and the state's chief inspector general to demand that his expense account and city vehicle be reinstated.

"This measure appears unprecedented," Riley's complaint says. "Depriving elected officials of use of their city's vehicles has not been imposed on those other cities under financial emergency oversight, now or in the past."

According to Riley, the state has refused to reimburse him for expenses despite the city's 30-year custom of giving commissioners a $200 monthly expense account. His lawsuit also says the state's chief inspector general threatened to remove Riley from office if he continued to use city vehicles.

Riley argues that he needs a city vehicle for emergencies such as hurricanes and severe weather.

"Eliminating use of city vehicles by the mayor and commissioners would have minimal impact on the city's budget, if any impact at all," his lawsuit reads.

Riley, who served as Opa-locka's mayor in the mid-'80s, is not exactly known for financial prudence. In 1986, he was voted out of office after being investigated for accepting a $5,000 bribe and scrutinized by residents for overspending his travel allowance by more than $11,000. After his election to the city commission in 2016, Riley likened the financial oversight board to a dictatorship and accused its members of racism.

Riley hasn't been the only city leader critical of the cost-cutting measures. In an email to the board, Mayor Myra Taylor called the state's questions about city purchases "rude and disrespectful." She too questioned why the board was worried about her use of city vehicles.

"Even though the car is paid for and is maintained by the mayor with no major effect on the city’s budget, but it is still a major concern — Why??" Taylor asked.

The state has not yet responded to Riley's complaint, which was filed in Miami-Dade circuit court. Riley did not return calls or emails seeking comment for this story. 

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