The city of 34,000 has no assistant city manager, human resources director, assistant human resources director, purchasing director, IT director or building services director. The public works director is on leave, pending an internal investigation. The police chief is scheduled to retire next month.
And yet, after City Manager Jonathan Evans started work March 20, staff morale turned upward. Evans met with employees and worked to unite them on a mission to turn the city around, according to Mayor Thomas Masters.
During Hurricane Irma, Evans was in the trenches with employees, camping out in city hall while directing the city’s preparations and recovery. Behind the scenes over the past six months, the new manager looked at city operations and spending, asking questions even when his bosses, the city council members, authorized expenditures without following procedures.
That’s part of what got him fired Sept. 20, after just six months on the job but the full explanation will have to wait.
The three members who voted to fire him did so without discussion and, except for a hint of an explanation from one of them, refused to spell out why. Residents poured into the subsequent city council meeting Wednesday night to demand what instances of “misfeasance” justified firing the popular manager.
Masters, Chairwoman KaShamba Miller-Anderson and Evans supporters said they wanted to hear why council members Terence Davis, Dawn Pardo and Lynne Hubbard voted to fire Evans.
City Attorney Andrew DeGraffenreidt III backed the three, urging members to say nothing lest they open the city to a lawsuit.
The city charter gives a majority of the council the right to fire a manager and beyond that, anything said at the meeting would be “irrelevant” and could hurt the city’s ability to defend against a lawsuit by Evans, DeGraffenreidt said.
Davis, who made the Sept. 20 motion to fire Evans, said the council should heed the attorney’s words and keep quiet, to protect city businesses and taxpayers. The comment was met with booing from many of the several hundred residents who packed the Marina Event Center.
One resident, former city council candidate Tradrick McCoy, already filed a lawsuit — demanding release of evidence of misfeasance that Davis said he had.
One speaker after another lambasted the three council members who fired Evans, alternately pleading or demanding they reverse the decision.
“We as a people are not going to take it any more,” said one speaker. “Stand with us or stand against us. And if you stand against us, I can assure you you won’t have a seat next time.”
Another said she was an army veteran who fought for democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq and was dismayed to see democracy denied in Riviera Beach.
“That’s why we’re angry,” she hollered at the council. “We wanted to come here before the milk was out of the bottle, before you made your decision. … Give the citizens the opportunity to participate in the issue. You have the right to fire him but you don’t have the right to deny the public the opportunity to be part of the process.”
For now, the government will be administered by Interim City Manager Troy Perry, who said he does not want the job permanently.
Hubbard, while not giving her full reason for the firing, said she didn’t like the way Evans orchestrated a youth summer jobs program she initiated, didn’t like him trying to outsource city work and didn’t feel he paid sufficient attention to costs.
“I’m not in the business of continually being stressed out about fighting with you about things that you know we don’t need,” she said. “Yes, everything is smiling and everybody is happy over here,” she said, referring to the roomful of Evans supporters, “but at the end of the day, when we look at the budget and the things you’re trying to do in the budget and the things you’re trying to create in there, these same people are going to be up here talking about, ‘Y’all let him do it. Why did you all let that happen?’”
She also didn’t like being taken to task for using her city discretionary fund to replace a private resident’s driveway, she said. The driveway washed away three times in flooding caused by city work on a nearby swale, she said.
Her telling is in dispute, however. A city official said in an email that the resident’s driveway was prone to flooding because the resident built up the land around it. As for the employment program, Evans had told the council that there was no money in the budget to outsource it to the Urban League as Hubbard wanted, so the council voted to run it in-house at lower cost.
Have a Riviera Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at email@example.com or 561-820-4703.