Fired city manager Jonathan Evans has sued Riviera Beach and three city council members, alleging they axed him last September after six months on the job because he cracked down on sexual misconduct by staffers and on improper spending by council members.
In a suit filed in federal court in West Palm Beach, Evans alleged the city failed to let him publicly clear his name of its false allegations of “malfeasance” and denied him separation pay.
The council members named in the suit are Terence Davis, Lynne Hubbard and Dawn Pardo, the three who voted for his firing without giving specific reasons.
Amid public outrage over the firing of the popular manager, Pardo since lost a bid for re-election, by a lopsided margin. A community group launched a petition drive for a recall election to oust Davis and Hubbard, a continuing effort sidelined by court proceedings.
According to the suit, shortly after he was hired, Evans fielded a complaint from city employee Kimbly Scott that she had been sexually harassed by the city’s public works manager, Brynt Johnson, and the former acting city manager, Danny Jones. After Evans hired an independent investigator, Johnson and Jones were forced to resign and a third employee, who fabricated retaliatory claims against Scott, was fired, the suit said.
Scott meanwhile had approached Councilwoman Hubbard around last September about “the abusive and hostile work environment.” Hubbard, however, “did not share Ms. Scott’s sentiment” and said she, Hubbard, needed to get rid of Evans because he would bankrupt the city, the suit alleged. Evans also had launched an internal investigation into Hubbard’s use of taxpayer dollars to pave a constituent’s driveway and stopped a xeriscape project Pardo initiated that also would have used public money on private property.
About a week later, the suit alleged, Hubbard, Pardo and Davis “secretly conspired” to fire Evans in retaliation for his investigations.
Emails and texts between the three “have since gone missing,” the suit alleged. “Defendant Riviera Beach publicly admitted that the text messages were ‘professionally and intentionally deleted,’” it said. And when The Post’s news partners at WPTV NewsChannel 5 asked if they could have an expert examine Davis’ work cell phone, the city responded that his cell phone had “fallen into the ocean,” the suit said.
The city falsely accused Evans of malfeasance to deprive him of his severance package while denying him a “name-clearing hearing,” the suit continued.
Interim City Manager Karen Hoskins did not return a request for comment.
Davis, Hubbard and Pardo have sought to publicly smear Evans, the suit said. Pardo, it said, contacted his new employers, the City of Madeira Beach, “and implied that he was terminated for wrongdoing and that his employer should contact her or other other two named defendants.”
The suit demands a jury trial, damages for breach of contract and all costs and attorney’s fees.
On Wednesday night, the council voted to enter into mediation over an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint he filed in April that the lawsuit parallels.
The council rejected a motion by Julie Botel, who succeeded Pardo on the board, to enter mediation with a goal “to make amends” for firing Evans by offering him his job back and allowing him to clear his name. That measure failed 2-3, with Davis, Hubbard and Chairwoman Tonya Davis Johnson voting against.
The vote to try to resolve the Evans dispute through mediation came shortly after the city suffered an embarrassing legal loss.
On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court — for a second time — ruled in favor of Riviera Beach critic Fane Lozman in his decade-old battle with the city. In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court sent the dispute back to an appeals court to decide if city officials violated the self-styled corruption fighter’s First Amendment rights when it had him arrested for speaking out during a 2006 council meeting.
Lozman, a former U.S. Marine and self-made millionaire, in 2013 convinced the high court that city officials illegally seized and destroyed his floating home using centuries-old maritime law.
Follow West Palm and Riviera Beach reporter Tony Doris on Twitter @TonyDorisPBP.