As the year limps to a close in Riviera Beach, the city government, led for now by its former deputy finance director, heads into 2018 with seven top positions unfilled and an eighth about to be, city council member spending under audit and a majority of the council under threat of voter recall.
The Palm Beach Post reported in October that while the city struggled with poverty, mold-infested city buildings, deteriorated water systems and administrative chaos, council members and the mayor indulged in domestic and international conferences, luxury hotels, extraordinary car and travel allowances and extensive credit card spending. They used city credit cards for trips to China, Spain and Hawaii, a personal membership in a college alumni association, a political contribution and Darth Vader knee boots.
On Sept. 20 they fired a popular new city manager pressing to rein in the spending, Jonathan Evans, after a half-year on the job.
The council moved to replace him Oct. 18 with an interim manager it never interviewed, only to learn immediately from the media he’d just been fired from his last job and previously was arrested and sued on allegations of domestic violence. When the news came out, he turned down the offer.
Outside, during the same council meeting, the mayor’s car was repossessed.
The city now is administered by a new interim city manager who has no deputy city manager, human resources director, city auditor, chief information officer, assistant utility director or assistant library director. The Public Works director, placed on leave with pay July 7 pending an unspecified investigation, resigned Dec. 22 after collecting $59,162 while sitting idle. The police chief is scheduled to retire in February.
Meanwhile Riviera Beach has been hit by at least two lawsuits by companies that allege governmental disarray cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to Finance Director Randy Sherman, the county’s Office of Inspector General is auditing city council purchase card spending, following The Post’s detailed coverage of how council members used the two city credit cards they gave themselves.
The part-time council members and mayor continue to allot themselves $17,500 in annual travel allowances each, a $9,000-per-year car allowance (while they also charge the city mileage and have access to city vehicles for free), and collect a utility pay stipend of $12,000, all of which is far above anything allotted municipal leaders anywhere else in the county, on top of their salaries, which range from $19,000 for four council members to $20,200 for their chairwoman and the mayor.
Riviera Beach taxpayers also pay for each council member to have a part-time aide, at a salary of $36,114, another perk found in no other city or town in Palm Beach County.
Outrage at Evans’ firing and the reporting it prompted led a citizens group to gather 8,600 signatures seeking a recall election of council members Terence Davis, Lynne Hubbard and Dawn Pardo, the three who voted him out.
In November the city attorney convinced the county Supervisor of Elections to reject most of the signatures, though, on the grounds that a handful were dated as early as January, which meant the 30-day time limit to collect them all would have expired by the time the petition effort actually got underway in October.
Noting that Evans hadn’t even been hired in January, let alone fired, the Greater Riviera Beach Community Group/Recall Committee promptly sued, contending that the will of thousands of voters shouldn’t be invalidated because of a few misdated petitions. That case is pending.
Evans tried to get council members to change their minds on the firing, or even have him serve as interim manager while they sought a replacement. Failing that, his lawyer is negotiating a separation agreement partly for pay, but “first and foremost clearing my name,” he said Thursday.
He has applied for jobs around the state and is a finalist for city manager in Plant City.
Have a West Palm Beach or Riviera Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at email@example.com or 561-820-4703.