Why did Riviera axe city manager? No one, including him, seems to know


In surprise 3-2 vote Riviera Beach council fires new city manager without explanation

Days after he led Riviera Beach through its Hurricane Irma preparations and recovery, a 3-2 majority of the city council fired new City Manager Jonathan E. Evans without explanation or discussion.

Late in the Sept. 20 council meeting, council member Terence Davis moved to fire Evans for what he said were performance reasons and council members Dawn Pardo and Lynne Hubbard agreed.

None of the three has explained why, then or since. They did not return calls from The Palm Beach Post.

The unscheduled, untelevised, unexplained vote, after discussion of the city budget ended and many in the audience had left, disturbed Chairwoman KaShamba Miller-Anderson, Chair Pro Tem Tonya Davis Johnson, Mayor Thomas Masters and Evans, they all said.

Under Florida law, city council members are not allowed to discuss council business among themselves outside of an official meeting.

“For them to be able to render a decision based on ‘misfeasance’ and not knowing what the misfeasance is, certainly was kind of interesting to me,” Evans said Friday. “The other thing is, I was never afforded the opportunity to rebut whatever the misfeasance was.”

The decision “reeked” and was all about “personal agendas,” Miller-Anderson said at the meeting. “He was the best city manager that we’ve had and seen in a very long time…. It has nothing to do with his performance.”

Davis Johnson said she had no insights as to why the firing took place.

“I just believe our taxpayers and our employees and those we do business with deserve a stable municipal government. That type of action certainly does not lend itself to stability,” she said.

She said she knew of no problems with Evans’ performance on the job. The council and manager should had more time to adapt to each other, she said.

Evans, 37, became city manager March 20, replacing Ruth Jones, who the council fired after nine years on the job.

Evans previously served as assistant county administrator in Sarasota and city manager in Haines City, in Central Florida.

He grew up in Port Chester, N.Y. and Kissimmee and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in public administration, both from the University of Central Florida. He also has an MBA with a concentration in human resources, from Saint Leo University.

Masters said he heard rumors before the previous council meeting, in August, that members were going to try to fire Evans, though he insists he never heard why. Apparently a lot of people heard something was afoot, because that meeting was packed with Evans supporters and TV reporters attended as well. But “with the media there, for some reason, it never came up,” he said.

Masters heaped praise on the fired manager, his integrity and personnel skills.

“Mr. Evans was one of, if not the most-qualified city manager that we’ve ever had,” Masters said. “He had a vision for the city that was second to none. And when he came here, the morale of the employees was really down and Mr. Evans was able to bring that morale up very high by going to visit them on the job, going to see them, having meetings with them and bringing them all together.”

Masters said he worked long hours with Evans during Hurricane Irma.

“That man was so intense and working with the employees, working with the emergency management team around-the-clock, he was giving us updates, sending elected officials emails, having conference calls….”

Masters, hearing council members might try to fire Evans Wednesday, said he urged that if that’s what they planned, to put the matter on the agenda or state it publicly so that members of the public watching on the local government TV channel would be alerted. They didn’t do that, but the storm had knocked a tree onto a Comcast cable, knocking out the internet service upon which the broadcast relied.

Evans was left “baffled, perplexed, disheartened, you name it, I’ve gone through a string of emotions and am just trying to find some type of closure to the situation and realize that I did nothing wrong,” he said Friday.

He thought he and Davis had a cordial relationship and he was aware of nothing he was asked to do that he didn’t do, he said. “I always made a point to say ‘hi’ and shook his hand and thought we had a good working relationship. That seemingly changed without knowledge to me….”

“I moved here just for the opportunity to be the city manager in Riviera Beach,” he said. “I came here not to be Riviera Beach’s next city manager but to be Riviera Beach’s best city manager.”

He was scheduled for a job evaluation by the council in October, because the chairwoman wanted to vote on a contract for the new manager.

Instead, Evans finds himself hoping for “an amicable conversation with some of the elected officials and their attorney,” he said. “So if we’re going to part ways, we can part ways amicably. But I want to make sure my reputation, my work product, stands on its own, where it’s not called into question by false allegations.”

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