FROSTPROOF – By unanimous vote, the Frostproof City Council fired City Manager Lee Evett at the end of a city council meeting Monday, Nov. 4.
Citing multiple points of conflict since he was hired in late 2017, Mayor Martin Sullivan said the final straw was hearing allegations that Evett had threatened to end the city’s relationship with the Polk County Sheriff's Office during recent contract negotiations, and that he further threatened to recreate a Frostproof Police Department if negotiations did not go his way.
PCSO deputies have been providing contracted law enforcement services to the City of Frostproof since the Frostproof Police Department closed in 2006.
Evett denied that allegation, but Sullivan abruptly cut him off, adjourning the city council meeting Monday night without allowing Evett time to elaborate.
Reached by phone, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he was not personally made aware of any such allegations regarding Evett, but said that did not mean it had not happened.
Sullivan instructed a PCSO deputy to escort Evett to his office immediately after the meeting to collect his personal belongings.
As of Tuesday night, Evett had not returned multiple messages requesting more information about his side of the story.
Sullivan said that while the PCSO-related allegation is hearsay — based on phone calls and other conversations from several people involved in the contract negotiations — that he nonetheless decided to file a motion to terminate Evett based on multiple other instances of past conflict.
The conflict between the Frostproof City Council and Evett seems to have started in the spring of 2018, when former Frostproof Mayor Rodney Cannon resigned as mayor, saying he could not continue on as mayor with Evett managing the city.
Around that time, Evett was negotiating with Citizens Bank and Trust staff about city investments. Cannon alleged that Evett lied to the city council about those meetings and, based on prior reporting at the time and an interview with Cannon Nov. 5, Evett replied by claiming bank staff were lying about what happened.
Soon after, Cannon was hired as lead pastor at Ridge Community Church in Dundee, where he and his family have since moved.
Cannon is no longer a member of the council.
Frostproof City Councilman Austin Gravely said he voted to terminate Evett out of fear of losing another Frostproof mayor.
“This go around, I wasn't going to risk losing another mayor,” Gravely said.
In an effort to save money, Gravely said the city council asked Evett to renegotiate the PCSO contract, specifically by not having to pay around $50,000 for a person to work in the PCSO lobby in Frostproof City Hall.
Sheriff Judd said that person, a Frostproof resident, now has to commute to a PCSO facility in Winter Haven.
Gravely said that, to save the city more money, Evett suggested that the city pay one fewer PCSO deputy to be assigned to Frostproof full time. Gravely said that suggestion was shot down by city council.
Gravely also said Evett had a tendency to “retaliate” during negotiations and that he believed the allegation that Evett threatened PCSO staff.
Judd stated that he wanted residents of Frostproof to understand he will continue to keep the community as safe as possible through this transition process.
“I love the people of Frostproof and I enjoy working with the Frostproof City Council,” Judd said. “I respect their decision.”
Gravely said that, in addition to the Citizens Bank and Trust conflict, he believed Evett mishandled recent contract negotiations with Elite Landscaping — the Lake Wales firm that handles city landscaping — and that two valued city staff members ended their employment with the city, citing personal conflict with Evett.
According to Sullivan, one of those employees was a city employee for more than a decade who was demoted by Evett months before his scheduled retirement. The other longtime employee quit, citing an inability to work with Evett, Sullivan said.
“Lee ran them out the door,” Sullivan said.
There was also some conflict involving an application to FEMA for damages to city hall associated with Hurricane Irma.
The roof on city hall has not been maintained since 1928, Evett said. But when FEMA staff approved around $12,000 to patch the roof, Evett appealed four times to have the whole roof replaced, in the end getting more than $61,000 from FEMA.
“We don't know where these leaks are, we just know it's leaking,” Evett said Nov. 4.
Gravely asked why Evett didn't just patch the roof, which was only leaking in one part of city hall.
“It would be like me getting a flat tire,” Gravely said. “Instead of patching the nail hole, I go and say, 'Dad, I need four new tires.'”
Sullivan said there were multiple instances of communication breakdowns similar to this, including multiple incidents of city staff telling him about problems that Evett should have brought to the attention of city council.
When Evett was hired in 2017, Cannon said Evett was not his first choice as city manager, describing him as a “high risk, high reward” candidate.
At the time, Cannon was asked to describe what he meant by that.
"I could see him (Evett) as going good, or going out in a blaze of glory," Cannon said.
Evett was terminated with $30,000 severance pay.
Sullivan initially nominated Frostproof Finance Director Melody Sauerhafer as Interim City Manager, but she denied the opportunity.
“It's a lot that you are asking me to do now — it's two full time jobs,” Sauerhafer said.
Sullivan then nominated Frostproof City Clerk Nicole McDowell for the interim role, which she accepted.
It's the second time McDowell has stepped up to the plate to help the city. She was also interim city manager when Tenny Croley retired as city manager in 2017.
Contact Charles A. Baker III at email@example.com.