Opa-locka mayor accused of trying to fire clerk after she wouldn’t hire his friend

Opa-locka city clerk Joanna Flores has accused the mayor of abusing his position by asking her to hire his friend as deputy city clerk. When she refused, according to a complaint Flores filed with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust last week, the mayor attempted to have her fired.

Opa-locka Mayor Mathew Pigatt sponsored a resolution to hire a new city clerk on the city commission’s March 4 agenda but pulled it at the last moment. He did not allow Flores’ supporters in the crowd speak in her defense.

“It is a shame that Mayor Pigatt is targeting one of the city’s best employees because she has integrity and is upholding the city charter. Joanna Flores has been universally regarded as an excellent city clerk. There is no explanation for Mayor Pigatt’s behavior other than revenge for not being allowed to get his way,” said Flores’ attorney, Michael Pizzi.

“The people elected me to remove nepotism and all forms of corruption in Opa-locka.” Pigatt said in a statement emailed to the Herald on Friday afternoon. “This claim will be investigated with the highest respect for the law. I look forward to resolving this with the dignity and respect of my people as we continue to transform the city of Opa-locka into a place we are proud to call home.”

Pigatt, who had been a commissioner, was elected mayor in November. After he took office, he announced he would be putting staff on probationary periods and those who did not meet his standards would be replaced, according to Flores’ ethics complaint. Opa-locka has a weak-mayor form of government, and the mayor does not have direct authority over hiring or firing practices. However, he was working with then-manager Yvette Harrell, and instructing her on personnel decisions.

Earlier this year, Flores had wanted to hire a secretary for the mayor and commission, however Pigatt overrode her decision and asked for a legislative aid instead, according to a Jan. 23 email from a staffer involved addressed to the city clerk and City Manager Newall Daughtrey.

According to the complaint, Pigatt then instructed Flores to show him the résumés collected and allow him to select the person of his choice — from the list that allegedly included his friends and associates.

In her complaint, Flores accused Pigatt of exploiting his official position, violating the city charter and citizens bill of rights, and of making prohibited recommendations.

“From the date of his election, Mayor Pigatt has attempted to run the city of Opa-locka as a strong mayor, contrary to the city charter. In doing so he has exploited his official position to confer a benefit on himself that he is not entitled to,” the complaint said.