Opa-locka City Manager Says He Was Fired for Exposing Rampant Corruption

On October 2, just six months after they hired him, Opa-locka commissioners fired City Manager Newall Daughtrey without explanation.

Now Daughtrey is suing Opa-locka. He says he was fired in retaliation for refusing to participate in the city's corruption and blowing the whistle on rampant unethical and illegal behavior. He is demanding to be reinstated.

Daughtrey's lawyer, Michael Pizzi, who has also filed a class action on behalf of city residents who were allegedly overcharged for services, says Daughtrey discovered something was amiss when he began going through the city's balance sheet and then-Mayor Myra Taylor's name came up.

"He noticed there were all these big businesses, including the mayor's, that owed millions in water bills, and they had never put a lien, they had never put anything, and in some places they actually erased it and took it off the books like it didn't exist," Pizzi says. "Instead, they were making the average resident pay, so if you were an average middle-class person, they'd go after you, but if you owned a hundred-million-dollar business and you knew the mayor, you got a free ride."

In a civil lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County Court this past Wednesday, Daughtrey claims he "was ordered to cancel a competitive bidding for a landscaping contract because the contractor, Mylawn, was a contributor and supporter of the City Mayor and City Commissioners." The former city manager also alleges he "blew the whistle on the fact that the City Mayor owed over $100,000 in unpaid water bills." Taylor was replaced by Matthew Pigatt after the election earlier this month.

A public information officer for Opa-locka said the city does not comment on pending litigation. Taylor did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. New Times dialed six phone numbers listed for Taylor and her husband and left messages for two; the rest were disconnected or had full mailboxes. An email was also sent to Taylor's city email address, but it bounced back.

Corruption in Opa-locka is nothing new. In 2016, the Miami Herald reported that Taylor and her husband were at the center of a federal criminal investigation involving shady backroom dealing. Daughtrey was fired after a special commission meeting was called ahead of the November municipal election.

Daughtrey also alleges Mayor Taylor asked him to "transfer her son to City Hall to work as a police officer in a favorable assignment, with favorable benefits that he was not entitled to, and that he be given favorable treatment that was illegal and improper."

Daughtrey says he was told not to seek payment for water bills and water services owed by city officials and politically connected companies. He adds that he blew the whistle on the city's failure to collect millions of dollars in overdue bills. "I specifically informed the City and its officials that the 'friends and family policy' on water collections and corrupt management of the water billing system that gave a free ride to wealthy individuals and companies would result in people going to jail," Daughtrey wrote in a sworn affidavit obtained by New Times.

Pizzi says that a week after Daughtrey wrote a memo highlighting issues with the water billing system, he was fired, which is a blatant violation of Florida's whistleblower act. That statute prohibits firing in retaliation for reporting misconduct.

"Daughtrey refused to participate in unethical, illegal, and inappropriate violations of Federal, State, and local laws," his lawyer writes in the lawsuit. Because of his refusal, Daughtrey was fired for exposing "the mishandling of State and Federal funding and the failure of the City to address environmental contamination and public health hazards."

Opa-locka has also been plagued by a sewage problem as of late: For the past couple of months, untreated sewage has flooded city streets when it rains.

Pizzi also filed a class action on behalf of Opa-locka residents against the city for overcharging them. "The city is suing those residents for $20 and $30 and $50 water bills," Pizzi says. "It's a disgrace. The city did nothing to collect from the mayor and million-dollar businesses, but they're paying lawyers to sue residents who owe 50 bucks."
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor