Despite financial deficiencies and the history of allegations of corruption in Opa-locka, the city’s mayor focused on its progress and accomplishments at the state of the city address on Friday.
City employees, church members and Mayor Myra Taylor’s political and business associates made up the crowd of around 200 that filled the auditorium of Sherbondy Village Community Center on Jan. 26 to listen to the mayor give her annual speech.
“Right now we are on a train of progress. The Opa-locka Express is going through a tunnel, but I see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Taylor. “And it gets brighter and brighter every day with the five-year recovery plan.”
Opa-locka still owes millions in outstanding payments to Miami-Dade County and other vendors. The city did not respond to calls to get the exact amount. The city also has potentially toxic water, storm drainage and sewage systems that could cost about $57 million to repair.
Taylor referred to the city’s deficit as “a glitch in a good plan.”
The mayor has long credited her actions for getting the city on the road to recovery. Taylor said in 2016, she sprung into action and alerted Gov. Rick Scott of the city’s financial distress. He declared a financial emergency on June 1, 2016, and assigned an oversight board to screen and approve spending.
“We did not waste time giving a reason as to what happened or who was to blame,” Taylor said.
In late July 2016, then-Florida Inspector General Melinda Miguel referred to the Opa-locka’s financial status as “ground zero” after the city failed to make its first recovery-plan deadline, issued by the state.
The city is currently still working to develop a five-year plan with the help of a consulting firm, according to City Manager Ed Brown.
However, Taylor in her speech said the “great city of Opa-locka is marching forward in victory,” as she stood on stage in the auditorium, which doubled as a pulpit.
Three local pastors gave invocations before the mayor’s speech and a pint-sized vocalist gave a soulful performance followed by singers from New Beginning Embassy of Praise.
Church members shouted “glory” and “yes,” as Taylor rattled down the list of the numbers of schools, churches, businesses, daycares and elderly facilities and other notable facts about the city.
“We are the land of promise and potential, we are also the home of the largest Moorish architecture in the Western Hemisphere,” she said.
Taylor was re-elected for her last term as mayor in November 2014, which will end this year. According to Taylor, she has accomplished 80 percent of her vision from 2014, a majority of which she said was the purchasing and opening of a new City Hall building and municipal complex.
But since Taylor’s re-election, Opa-locka has been under federal investigation by the FBI for kickback schemes and other corruption allegations leading to the indictment and conviction of other city officials, including her son, Demetrius Corleon Taylor.
Myra Taylor has been the subject of criticisms from residents. At last year’s state of the city address, a small group of residents stood outside City Hall and held signs calling for the mayor to step down.
In August 2017, a group of residents, 21st Century Abolitionists PAC, started a petition drive to initiate the process to dissolve the majority-Black city.
Yet, Taylor said that she “reflects on Moses” when she faces her challenges and “without test, there is no testimony.”
“Albert Hubert wrote one time, ‘never explain, your friends won’t need it and your enemies won’t believe anyway,’” Taylor said to the crowd that was mostly dressed in red, black and white to match Opa-locka’s seal.
Former Commissioner Steven Barrett, a member of the recall group who also protested at last year’s address, said he did not attend this time. He said many city residents did not attend because of the state of the city and its leadership.
“There is no victory,” said Barrett. “There is no vision. Everything in Opa-locka is terrible. There is poor quality of life, poor service.”
Nonetheless, Taylor said that all of the city’s issues are short-lived.
“They said, we won’t be in here today. They said we won’t amount to anything, they predicted and hoped that our city will fall down, fall apart and dissolve,” she said. “But we realized that being defeated is temporary, but giving up is permanent.”
After her 15-minute speech, the mayor also led the community center audience into song as she marched down onto a red carpet and out into the hallway:
“We stood on two words, six letters and one conjunction, one noun…But God.”
This story was originally published in The Miami Times Feb. 6, 2018