Troubled city’s revolving door of city managers takes another spin

When she was hired as an assistant manager in early 2016, Yvette Harrell had no idea that Opa-locka’s city manager was a crook she would be replacing months later.

Harrell, who had been working as an assistant attorney in Opa-locka, had no experience in managing government. Yet she took over the city manager’s job from David Chiverton, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges last summer just after Florida’s governor declared Opa-locka to be in a financial emergency.

In a city known for its turnover at the top, Harrell would survive less than a year in the hot seat. On Tuesday, she announced plans to leave the city manager’s job during a meeting with members of a state board that is overseeing the troubled city’s finances as it confronts a difficult recovery.

“I will not just walk away without someone being responsible for the leadership of the city,” said Harrell, who later told the Miami Herald that matters involving her severance and replacement will be on the city commission’s April 12 agenda.

Harrell said that while she helped develop a balanced budget for Opa-locka after months of disputes with the state oversight board, she felt that she had not accomplished enough while being criticized from all sides for her lack of experience in government.

“I didn’t see substantial change,” she told the Herald. “It would balance out if I could see the change while taking all the hits, but I didn’t see that.”

I didn’t see substantial change. It would balance out if I could see the change while taking all the hits, but I didn’t see that. Yvette Harrell

Harrell said she expected a stronger level of support from the nine-member state oversight board, which is headed by the governor’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel.

Harrell took a jab at Opa-locka’s city commission, which voted 4-1 to boost her pay last fall from $85,000 to $125,000 — though she is only now starting to receive that higher salary because of prior objections by the state oversight board.

“The commission, as a whole, does not have a collective thought about what’s going on in the city,” said Harrell, who plans to return to practicing law.

Vice Mayor Joseph Kelley, the most vocal critic of Harrell’s performance, said he was surprised by her announcement.

“I wish her well,” Kelley said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Longtime civic activists who frequently criticized both the commission and Harrell on budget and other issues said they were pleased to see her go.

“God is great,” said Natasha Ervin. “If she could take a few more people along with her, that would be even greater.”

Added Alvin Burke: “We gotta bring someone in with experience who can take us forward from where we are at this point.”

While Harrell became a lightning rod for Opa-locka’s financial ills, some credit her with packaging a balanced budget without the help of a budget director, whom she fired last summer, and an assistant city manager, her old position. The new budget — approved last week by the governor’s office six months into the current fiscal year — provides for city employees to resume a 40-hour work week. Since last year, they had been working 32 hours a week. But the city’s 160 employees also must take pay cuts.

God is great. If she could take a few more people along with her, that would be even greater. Natasha Ervin, community activist

Opa-locka — which has accumulated debt totaling $14 million — has also been able to resume start paying vendors, including some who had been owed thousands of dollars for more than a year.

Frank Rollason, a North Bay Village city manager and former Miami official who sits on the oversight board, said Opa-locka’s balanced budget is illusory because the city’s progress has been modest.

“Somebody has to come in here and get this house in order,” Rollason said.