ACCORDING TO THE publicly-noticed agenda, Lake Worth Beach city commissioners held a special meeting Monday night for one purpose: To conduct a long overdue evaluation of City Manager Carmen Davis.
Three hours later, the meeting ended with a divided commission voting 3-2 to fire Davis without cause, a move that sparked outcry from the two commissioners on the losing end of the vote and several residents at City Hall.
“I feel like I've walked into ‘surreal world.’ Unbelievable, unbelievable,’’ said Mayor Betty Resch, who gave Davis a favorable review and voted with Commissioner Sarah Malega against the termination motion.
Commissioner Kim Stokes made the motion to fire Davis and was supported by commissioners Chris McVoy and Reinaldo Diaz. All three had been critical of the city manager’s performance, including a controversial letter Davis sent in September evicting a Head Start program for disadvantaged children from a city building, a move that prompted more than 20 concerned parents to pack a city commission meeting in October.
After Davis walked out of the commission chambers Monday night, commissioners unanimously voted to offer the city manager’s job to Public Works Director Jamie Brown, a 13-year city employee who also holds the title of interim deputy city manager.
Brown asked for time to consider the offer but told commissioners, ‘’I’m a public servant. I will do whatever is required.’’
After Stokes made the motion early in the three-hour meeting, Davis, apparently sensing that three commissioners might support the motion, asked to be given a chance to improve.
Malega and several residents said the commission owed it to the public to consider the motion at a future meeting, pointing out that Monday’s agenda was only about reviewing the city manager.
“We did run on transparency,’’ Malega said. “Yes, it was publicly noticed as a review. It was not publicly noticed as a possible termination.’’
The city attorney said the commission could vote to add an item to the agenda, a move resident Greg Richter called “sneaky.’’
“This was an ambush tonight,’’ said Richter, who praised Davis.
The firing was the latest contentious issue to rock the city commission. In recent weeks, the commission debated whether to spend up to $25,000 on an outside law firm to investigate allegations that McVoy bullied and harassed Davis by sending terse emails to the city manager criticizing her Head Start letter.
If Brown accepts the job, he will be Lake Worth Beach’s third city manager in less than three years. Davis replaced city manager Michael Bornstein, who resigned in June 2021. She was making $200,000 a year in 2022, according to The Palm Beach Post.
On Tuesday, the city released a "Leadership Transition Announcement."
"Last night, the City Commission made a tough decision to part ways with Carmen Davis as our City Manager.
"We're entering a new chapter, but don't worry – our city is in capable hands! Jamie Brown steps up as the Interim City Manager, alongside the ever-dependable Troy Perry as Assistant City Manager.
"With their combined experience and dedication, we're confident in a smooth transition ahead.
What This Means for Lake Worth Beach:
"Our day-to-day city operations will continue as normal. Our amazing team is focused on delivering the outstanding services you know and love.
"To Our Residents: Your patience and support mean everything during this change. Rest assured, we're committed to keeping Lake Worth Beach a fantastic place to live, work, and play!"
The full commission meeting can be seen in this video. The vote to fire the city manager occurs at the roughly the 3:01 mark.
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.