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Opa-locka’s city attorney is claiming his position for life.
At least, “that’s what it looks like,” said city manager Newall Daughtrey, after reading a memo written by city attorney Vincent Brown last week.
The memo appears to advise members of the City Commission that Brown cannot be replaced — ever — unless he gets a lump sum severance payment of $99,000, is fired with cause or decides to leave of his own volition.
That’s bad advice, said Daughtrey. Brown’s claim to perpetual employment is based on an amended contract approved by the former commission in 2018, but never executed. And it’s not the only way Brown has led the city astray, according to Daughtrey, who is pushing the commission to advertise for a new city attorney.
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Brown did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment.
Recently Daughtrey and other city staff in Opa-locka were surprised to discover the near-bankrupt city is on the hook for hundreds of thousands in outstanding legal bills to an outside firm — bills that include breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, sandwiches at Sacha’s, and $400 per hour labor costs.
The contract never went to bid, according to Daughtrey. It was simply approved by the commission after Brown recommended it. The city put down a $15,000 retainer, but the contract negotiated by Brown on behalf of the city included no price cap, so six-figure bills rolled in. The contract language also allows the firm to bill the city for expenses including travel and food.
“There needs to be a cap in terms of how much it’s going to cost, and if it exceeds that amount it needs to come back to the commission,” Daughtrey said.
According to several invoices dated between July and November, Opa-locka owed a Brickell law firm, Kozyak Rropin & Throckmorton, $188,785.08 for its work defending the city against a class action suit filed in 2018. It’s unclear if the invoices have been paid.
Brown himself has been paid more than $1 million to represent the city for the last four years. His contract is set to expire on Feb. 5, prompting Daughtrey to sponsor a resolution on the Jan. 9 commission agenda, asking for permission to solicit applications for the city attorney position.
“That resolution does not terminate him [Brown],” said Daughtrey. “If that contract ends at that point, it’s in order to make sure that the commission has the option of extending the contract and/or looking for someone new.”
Although Brown signed to approve the agenda item, the words “and legal sufficiency” — standard language featured above the city attorney’s signature on agenda items — had been crossed out.
Brown’s memo made it clear he does not think his contract is expiring on Feb. 5. He warned that putting out a request for bids for the city attorney position would be considered an “anticipatory breach” of contract.
Last year, the City Commission approved an amended contract to keep Brown as city attorney through 2020 at a flat rate of $19,800 per month plus fees for copies and other incidentals. The amended contract would renew automatically, and promised him a lump sum fee of five months pay if ever terminated.
However, the amended contract was never approved by the Financial Oversight Board, tasked by the governor’s office to oversee and sign off on every city action with financial implications.
In a letter to the city dated Dec. 12, 2018, Eric Miller, the state’s chief inspector general, stated Brown’s new contract was not approved by the oversight board. “Approval would bind the newly elected and installed City Commission with a significant monthly financial obligation and potential severance burden equaling almost 40 percent of the contracting period ending on February 5, 2020,” Miller wrote. The city has a contract with the state of Florida, in which it agrees to comply with the oversight board’s recommendations.
In his January memo, Brown argues the board overstepped its authority, resulting in “tortious interference with a contractual relationship.”