If Opa-locka City Commissioners are right, they hired someone who found solutions to another city’s problems and he promises to bring more with him.

The city’s new manager, John E. Pate, was born and raised in Chicago, 40 miles from University Park, where he serves as manager and police chief.

The village of barely 7,000 people is in a similar financial situation as Opa-locka. University Park is under investigation by the FBI for potential misuse of taxpayer money, discovered in 2015.

An audit revealed that up to $14 million in money built up from tax increment financing was used inappropriately, either through ignorance of how TIF money is meant to be used or by intentional misuse. As of a September 2018 report from The Chicago Tribune, no charges have been filed.

University Park also needed repairs because of impassable roads in the village’s industrial and commercial areas. A solution was to create a public-private partnership in which businesses funded road repairs in exchange for tax abatements and tax incentives.

Pate is behind both efforts.

Opa-locka’s new city manager got the audit started, unveiling corruption. And he plans to implement a similar plan in Opa-locka for road repairs.

“I spearheaded a forensic audit that discovered the money missing,” said Pate. “In previous years they were running in the red financially. I was able to bring them into compliance in terms of auditing and financial standards. Bring the village into the black.”

At two special commission meetings, Opa-locka City Commissioners unanimously hired Pate then accepted his contract at the second meeting.

Pate is the seventh person to hold the city manager position in seven years.

Pate, 35, has been University Park’s chief administrative officer, chief of police and chief of fire operations for four years. He was a lieutenant in the Village of Phoenix, Ill., a 1st lieutenant in the Army, and a federal investigator in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He was an inspector in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office then later picked to be city manager and director of public safety for the Village of University Park.

Pate has a bachelor’s of arts degree, a master’s in science, a master’s in business administration and is a certified professional manager.

He said University Park and Opa-locka have similar financial and infrastructure issues. In addition to administrative turnover, the city is millions of dollars in debt and is monitored by a state oversight board.

Former Mayor Myra Taylor’s Budget Task Force in 2015 showed Opa-locka’s budget deficit to be nearly $2 million, with three months left in the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. It was the third consecutive year the city ended with a deficit. That was grounds for the state to step in and seize control of the city’s finances.

The nine-member oversight board was put in place by former Gov. Rick Scott in early June 2016 to manage city finances, which at the time was millions of dollars in debt owed to Miami-Dade County and other vendors. The county and U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson had urged Scott to send help, fearing the city was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The board ordered commissioners to give up leases to SUVs, free gasoline and their $200-per-month stipend. Inspector General Melinda Miguel said that wasn’t enough. She told commissioners to turn over their keys to city fuel pumps. “We don’t want any friends and family” discounts, Miguel said.

Pate is undaunted.

Pate said he plans to do a top-down review of city operations and to get with the commission to understand what their priorities are.

“Do a review of the financial state of the community, look at infrastructure-related issues as far as roads and stormwater, do a review of day-to-day operations and look for areas to create more efficiencies,” Pate said. “Achieve a five-year financial plan and get in financial compliance with the state to be removed from their oversight.”

Pate had tried to move to South Florida before. He applied for the chief of police of North Miami position.

“The jobs attracted me,” Pate said of North Miami and Opa-locka. “The challenges that Opa-locka has attracted me to the opportunity. I specifically chose the job opportunity in Opa-locka based on its current challenges and my experience.”

Pate said it would not be fair to say he is a police officer first.

“I’m a municipal government leader. That’s how I see myself,” Pate said. “I see myself as somebody that is well-equipped to assist Opa-locka in its healing and rebuilding process.

Opa-locka is a diamond in the rough in the region. It has a lot of potential. I want to assist in managing that healing and rebuilding process.”

PATE’S CONTRACT

The commissioners voted 5-0 to hire Pate but when it came to ratifying his contract, the vote split 3-2.

Mayor Matthew Pigatt defended Pate’s contract, five years at $162,500 per year, after other commissioners questioned and disagreed with the terms.

Pate has to provide 60 days of notice if he chooses to resign. There would be no severance nor continuation of health insurance if he resigns.

If Pate is fired without cause, he will receive a severance of 20 weeks of his base salary, a lump sum payment of his hourly rate for all unused leave hours and continuation of his health insurance for 180 days. If Pate is fired with cause, he can ask for a hearing with the city attorney but Opa-locka is exempt from paying him severance or continue his health insurance.

Pate will have an automobile allowance of $600 per month but has to purchase and maintain his own vehicle to use for city business.

Pate’s contract starts Oct. 15 and is set to end Oct. 14, 2023.

Bass and Kelley voted against Pate’s contract. Pigatt, Burke and Vice Mayor Chris Davis voted for the contract.

Davis said he voted for Pate because of the similarities between Opa-locka and University Park.

“I thought of him as someone who could grow into the role,” Davis said.

Davis said Pate's experience with tax increment finance dollars was also a part of his decision to pick Pate.

"He has a ton of experience managing TIF dollars, creating revenue through TIF dollars. That and that he was police chief are invaluable characteristics,” Davis said.

MANAGING THE MANAGER

Opa-locka zipped through six managers before hiring Pate.

The latest, Acting City Manager Newall J. Daughtrey was picked after elected officials fired Ed Brown in April 2018. A 3-2 vote from the city commission in August 2018 saved Daughtrey from getting axed. He was assistant city manager and city manager for Opa-Locka once and three times, respectively.

Yvette Harrell resigned in April 2017. The elected officials also tried to remove her twice.

David Chiverton resigned in July 2016. Chiverton was under federal investigation at the time. Harrell went from assistant city manager, to acting city manager then replaced Chiverton.

Steve Shiver was fired in November 2015 after less than three months on the job.

Brian Finnie was spared a firing by a 3-2 vote in 2012. He later resigned in July 2012.

After 19 expressed interest in the Opa-locka city manager job, and seven were interviewed, the City Council selected Kelvin L. Baker Sr. in July 2012 to replace Finnie.

Baker resigned in 2015 after Taylor’s report published.

After deciding on a new manager, Pigatt brought up Acting Manager Daughtery’s getting to work on Mondays and his use of a city vehicle.

Pigatt said he scheduled 10 a.m. on Mondays to meet with Daughtery, who said the time is inconvenient for him because he checks with city staff to receive updates of what happened during the weekend. Daughtery said Pigatt switched the meetings to 9 a.m.

“I’ve been tracking the city manager,” Pigatt said. “What time do you report to work?”

Daughtrey, who first started working for Opa-locka in 1973, brought up the city code and his experience in defending himself.

“Trying to micromanage the manager is contrary to the code,” Daughtery said. “Before you were born I was doing this job.

Pigatt repeated his question.

“Per the code I am on call 24 hours per day. I have worked 10-12 hours per day, everyday. ”

Pigatt then asked, “What are you doing up in Pembroke Park in a city vehicle?”

“Whatever I choose to do sir. Whatever I choose to,” Daughtery said.

After the meeting Pigatt, said to The Miami Times the discussion about Daughtery was to hold the manager accountable. He avoided saying whether he would fire him.

Davis said if the accusations are true, it should be a fireable offense.

“I haven’t witnessed it myself,” Davis said.

Daughtrey brought up his powers as city manager when asked about the accusation.

“I have access 24 hours per day seven days per week. Period. I’m on call 24 hours per day seven days per week. Period. I’m in charge of all city vehicles. Period.”

As for whether he will resign Daughtrey said we will see.

As for his replacement Daughtrey wished him well.

“I’ll be praying for him because he’ll need prayer.”

Daughtrey said Opa-Locka has 186,000 linear feet of sewer pipe that are over 50 years old that could collapse at any time. The city commissions throughout the years did not approve maintenance.

“I’m going to put it all in a book and put everybody’s name out who have been raping this city,” Daughtrey said.

Because of the changes in management the city commission did not have audits done in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. The commissioners hired managers who were not qualified, Newall said.

“So many things were not done on a day-to-day basis,” Daughtrey said.

The Auditor General also acknowledged the turnover in management in its report published in June 2019.

“During the period September 2014 through April 2018, the City experienced significant turnover in certain key management positions, which may have contributed to the numerous control deficiencies and instances of noncompliance disclosed in this report.”

“It’s impossible to fix all of the problems in 10 years,” Daughtrey said. “Who knows? Maybe he’s Houdini.”

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