Riviera Beach, amid allegations of misdeeds and misspending, is under the scrutiny of the FBI, State Attorney’s Office and the Palm Beach County office of Inspector General, officials said.
The investigations follow the city council’s firing last September of new city manager Jonathan Evans, who shortly after coming in ordered internal investigations of staff members accused of sexual harassment or financial misdeeds and cracked down on council spending.
Articles by The Palm Beach Post documented a culture of loose spending by the five council members and the mayor, and a city government in disarray. Top jobs had gone vacant for months after firings or resignations, expensive lawsuits arose in part because of the leadership void, and public records and officials’ comments linked the manager’s firing to his push-back on council members’ directing city money for projects on private property.
Evans, hired this week to manage the City of Madeira Beach in suburban St. Petersburg, confirmed the State Attorney’s Office is investigating the city. He also said he heard from “multiple pretty good sources” that an FBI corruption unit is investigating, though he said he had not been contacted by the Bureau.
The agencies are tight-lipped about active investigations.
“We are watching actively in Riviera Beach, regarding the city council’s actions,” state attorney spokesman Mike Edmondson said Thursday, declining to confirm or detail the nature of any inquiry. “I’m sure we will be talking more.”
An FBI spokesman could not be reached for comment.
“We’re doing an audit right now within the town,” Inspector General John Carey said. “The particular focus is on their purchasing cards,” government credit card spending by council members and other city officials, he said.
The Post on Oct. 27 detailed that while the Riviera Beach struggled with poverty, mold-infested city buildings, deteriorated water systems and administrative chaos, council members and the mayor indulged in luxury hotels, $9,000-a-year car allowances and trips to such locations as China, Spain, Haiti, The Bahamas, Little Rock, Ark., Nashville, Dallas and Pittsburgh. They used city credit cards for such things as a personal membership in a college alumni association, Darth Vader knee boots and a political contribution.
Carey urged citizens of Riviera Beach and elsewhere in the county to help uncover corruption.
“If somebody has first-hand information about any fraud, waste or abuse in the county, they need to contact our office,” he said. “That’s the basis of a good allegation — first-hand, or somebody who can provide a piece of evidence. We don’t investigate rumors. We investigate allegations that have some substance behind them.”
As with law enforcement agencies, the Office of Inspector General has subpoena power to obtain information. And just because a city conducts an internal investigation doesn’t mean the OIG can’t conduct its own independent one, he said. It also cooperates with the State Attorney’s Office and FBI “on all types of projects,” Carey said.
Evans declined to disclose details of an internal investigation he ordered into former Public Works Director Brynt Johnson and former Deputy City Manager Danny Jones. Both officials resigned late last year.
The investigation rubbed some city council members the wrong way because they liked Jones and had wanted him to become city manager last March instead of Evans, the outside candidate, according to City Council Chairwoman KaShamba Miller-Anderson. An early briefing from the outside labor attorney investigating the two indicated “there was definitely some inappropriate behavior going on and it was something that needed to be addressed,” she said.
A lawsuit filed Jan. 16 in circuit court alleged just that. Public Works employee Kimbley Scott sued the city, her former department head Johnson and Jones, alleging the officials sexually harassed and assaulted her and that supervisors did nothing about it.
The three council members who voted to fire Evans — Lynne Hubbard, Terence Davis and Dawn Pardo — have been targeted by a citizen petition drive to oust them from the board. That recall effort is tied up in circuit court, after the city attorney moved to kill it on technical grounds.
Evans, meanwhile starts his new job in Madeira Beach, a tourism-driven city of 4,500 residents, on Feb. 26.
Just named to the post Jan. 30, his 100-day plan for the city already is posted on its website. “Objective 1: Communication with elected officials — an emphasis on clear and concise communication should always be a principal focus of staff and city administration,” it says.
As for Riviera Beach, his lawyer is still trying to negotiate a settlement with the city, and above all to clear Evans’ name, he said.
“My time here in Riviera Beach has been amazing and I don’t hold any grudges or animosity,” he said. “I’m blessed to have served as city manager and now is the time for everyone to move forward and begin the healing process, because nobody benefits from these kind of situations.”
Evans should feel right at home in Madeira Beach. A Tampa Bay Times article on his hiring said the city has “a sharply divided city commission” and that he “will face continuing political turmoil and a possible recall election against two of the commissioners who picked him.”