George H.W. Bush was president. John Gotti was off to prison. South Florida was recovering from Hurricane Andrew.
And Riviera Beach won a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.
It was 1992 and that was the last time Riviera Beach won that award from the national Government Finance Officers’ Association, in an annual contest to encourage local governments to prepare budget documents of high quality.
And this week the city won that recognition again.
The irony didn’t go unnoticed: The man who led the award-winning team to victory for the first time in 26 years, Jonathan Evans, was not to be seen in the city hall auditorium to gather the kudos Wednesday night.
He was fired last September for alleged malfeasance, after six months on the job. And though, as part of a settlement, Riviera Beach rescinded the firing and allegation of wrongdoing, ex-city manager Evans agreed as part of that settlement never to apply for or accept employment from the city again.
Two of the three city council members who voted for the surprise firing remain on the board.
One, Terence Davis, congratulated the city and all who participated in winning the award. “We all fought as a team,” he said.
The other, Lynne Hubbard, described how her work to prevent city departments from being privatized contributed to a strong budget and saved jobs.
The award, to be clear, is not a judgment on a city’s financial health. Rather it recognizes that a city went through the arduous process of preparing its budget documents according to best practices and guidelines of the association.
Reached by phone in Madeira Beach, where he now serves as city manager, Evans said improving the city budget according to the association guidelines was a strenuous task for city staff. The final document came out to more than 200 pages, he said.
“The idea was to make the most transparent budget document we’ve ever put out in the City of Riviera Beach,” he said. “It sets the foundation and subsequent budgets should always follow suit.”
The city has been awash in financial and management controversies since Evans left, from excessive credit card spending by council members to more than $1 million spent for health insurance for former employees and their families for months after the employment ended. Many continue to rally for his return, despite the settlement, signing petitions seeking to recall Davis and Hubbard.
One audience member chastised the two Wednesday for taking any credit for the award.
“Everyone sees this as Jonathan Evans’ award. You fired him and you have the nerve to accept this award,” said Andre Henderson, who plans to run against Davis in the March municipal elections. “To me that just doesn’t sit right. In the military, we call that stolen honor.”
But Jeremy Baker, a local past president who presented the award, said it was indeed something of which the entire city government should be proud and reflects an effort the city should be encouraged to maintain.
Nationwide, 1,580 municipalities won the award this year. For some, it’s like waking up and drinking coffee, Baker said.
But because Riviera Beach hadn’t won it in years, it was worth celebrating the step up, he said.
“Such a record reflects the professionalism, commitment, and hard work of numerous individuals including Randy Sherman, Director of Finance and Administrative Services and the entire Finance Department. It also reflects the high degree of dedication, leadership, and guidance of the City Council and City Manager, Jonathan Evans,” Baker said.
“Even if the the board had all new members, it’s still the city that won the award,” he added. “Everything after that is local politics.”