The city council settled with fired City Manager Jonathan Evans on Wednesday night for $190,000 and a statement “there was no evidence of malfeasance or misfeasance,” capping months of turmoil by reversing, on paper, his surprise September firing and instead painting the departure as a matter of “mutual consent.”
But the deal came with a twist — one that pained Evans even though he’d signed off on it, he said Thursday morning — that he agree never to seek or accept future employment with the city of Riviera Beach.
The 3-2 vote to accept the mediated settlement came shortly before midnight, after two Evans supporters on the council, Julie Botel and KaShamba Miller-Anderson, sought unsuccessfully to strike the offending language. If the point of the settlement was to clear his name, he shouldn’t be told he can’t come back, Evans’ supporters argued.
But Chairwoman Tonya Davis Johnson, casting the deciding vote, said Evans had signed the settlement. The council shouldn’t alter the provision, lest that require reopening negotiations on all terms of the agreement, she said. Nonetheless, she recommended the council pass a resolution at a future meeting that more explicitly clears Evans’ name.
Even without the change, however, Miller-Anderson said that, come municipal elections March 12, new council members could help form a majority to undo the do-not-reapply provision.
Evans, for his part, said Thursday that although he’s now employed near St. Petersburg, he wanted the city-imposed provision stricken and would not have forced the matter into extended negotiations.
The city requirement that he never reapply contradicted language absolving him of wrongdoing, he said. Not only that, but had the city removed that provision, he would have been willing to reduce the settlement amount as a gesture of good will, he said.
The settlement calls for Riviera Beach to pay $190,000, with $76,000 of that to be divided among the opposing legal teams.
Evans’ firing, after just six months on the job, sparked months of criticism of council members in meetings and citizen gatherings around the city. A petition drive to recall Davis and Hubbard is still pending a challenge in circuit court. The third council member who voted to fire Evans, Dawn Pardo, was unseated by Botel in a 79 percent to 21 percent landslide when her term was up last March.
Comments by Mayor Thomas Masters and many in the audience Wednesday made clear the firing and do-not-reapply provision would be major factors next March, when Masters, Davis, Davis Johnson and Hubbard come up for re-election.
“When I run for office again, which I will be, I’m going to have on my literature, I’m advocating for the return of Jonathan Evans as the manager of this city, period,” said Masters, who ripped his copy of the settlement in half and then in quarters. “We need to give the people what they want, not what the lawyer said. This is shameful. I don’t care what the agreement says, he was fired. The whole world knows he was fired … This agreement, if that’s accepted by the council, I’m going to ask the public, just look and see who votes for it and who votes against it.”
The city’s outside counsel who handled the mediation, Glen Torcivia, said the provision was standard contract language for terminated employees. But some noted that others who’d been fired, even for heinous offenses, hadn’t been subject to that restriction. City Attorney Andrew DeGraffenreidt, prodded by the mayor, confirmed that he had once been fired by the city and rehired several years later.
Evans said he watched the five-hour meeting from his new home on the Gulf Coast, where he is city manager for Madeira Beach, and was humbled by the sentiments of residents who spoke on his behalf.
“It was emotional from the standpoint that, to be 10 months removed from being a manager and still have their admiration and respect, to hear residents and staff communicate their support for me really makes me feel I did something to make a lasting impact. Even though it was six months, those six months were valuable and meant something to folks I interacted with,” he said.
Although he signed the document, the rehiring language “was the provision I had the most heartburn with,” he said. “We fought against that for a significant duration and then, basically, it was communicated to me: ‘Let’s face it, as long as certain folks are in a position of power and serving on that dais, there’s no way you could ever conceivably consider coming back.’ … I’m gainfully employed here in the City of Madeira Beach and my focus is to provide the best and most appropriate services to the city and do the job I was brought here to do … I just didn’t like that language that expressly prohibits me from ever returning.”
That said, he didn’t want to put the residents of the city through an extended battle with hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax money spent on legal fees, he said.
“Regardless of how short my tenure was in Riviera Beach, I would never want to do anything to hurt that community that was very supportive and very kind to me,” he said. “… We went through a lot together in that short time I was there and I appreciate the time spent and I’m always cheering for them to achieve everything they wish to achieve … I want them to turn it around.”