Three weeks after a majority of City Council members indicated their desire to part ways with City Manager Jon Jennings, they finalized his firing Jan. 5 and divulged more details about their loss of trust over his failure to prepare them for important initiatives and lack of communication.

Mayor Frank Hibbard went through a list he had been keeping since April of concerns about Jennings.

Among them: His inability to complete the city’s strategic plan, his spending decisions on the downtown amphitheater that were not approved by the council and his lack of desire to correct deficiencies when the mayor raised them in private.

Council members Kathleen Beckman and Lina Teixeira acknowledged the move may be a shock to citizens who only heard positive things about Jennings publicly but said they both had struggled privately with Jennings for months.

“It reached a point where I realized I was not getting straight or complete answers to critical questions on critical topics and agenda items,” Beckman said. “This routinely included deflecting responsibility onto others. Mr. Jennings was not the type of the-buck-stops-here leader in his communications with me.”

The council voted 3-2 to terminate Jennings, a little more than a year after they hired him to be a change agent for a community that had been led by former City Manager Bill Horne for 20 years. Council members David Allbritton and Mark Bunker voted no, both stating they wished Jennings had more time to correct deficiencies.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Poirrier will serve as interim city manager after a separate, unanimous vote by the council. The city will soon begin a national search for a new city manager, less than two years after the last search began to replace Horne.

In his 14-month tenure, Jennings, 60, built a strong rapport with staff and community members, and about a dozen residents appeared in person or submitted emails on Thursday to advocate for him. He advanced several initiatives that had long foundered, jump-starting plans for a new City Hall, resolving 75% of the sidewalk repair backlog, sweetening employee benefits to retain staff and reorganizing departments.

But Hibbard said many of the accomplishments in the past year were budget priorities driven by council members in their campaigns.

The mayor said that after the council conducted the city manager’s annual review in public on Nov. 17, he informed Jennings that he had been close to suggesting they part ways.

Hibbard said Jennings responded: “If you want me to resign, I’ll resign.”

“I have to tell you folks, that’s somebody that’s not reflecting on how to improve,” Hibbard said.

Jennings declined multiple requests to comment since the council’s first discussion about his termination on Dec. 15. He did not immediately respond to a text message late Thursday.

Beckman also noted Jennings’ failure to improve after she had already expressed concerns to him in November about his communication. In December, Jennings presented a contract for Ruth Eckerd Hall to manage the downtown amphitheater without financial projections or supporting documentation.

Beckman called that her “breaking point” because it resulted in an incomplete contract that the council had to approve in a time crunch.

“It followed the same pattern of behavior, but really it was even worse,” Beckman said. “Information was incomplete, communicated extremely late in the process and only provided when I requested the information in writing.”

Jennings earned $230,000 as city manager. According to his contract, he is entitled to a cash payout of 20 weeks’ salary.

Teixeira noted that because Florida’s open meetings law prevents council members from talking privately about business they will vote on, she did not know that her colleagues felt the same about Jennings until their first public discussion about it last month.

“It was not all of a sudden, alarms were ringing early on,” she said. “I found it a very isolating experience, because I cannot communicate with my colleagues (in private).”

Bunker and Allbritton each noted their concerns over Jennings’ handling of two large initiatives earlier in the year but said they still had hoped to give Jennings more time to improve.

In December 2021, Jennings told Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller that a downtown property the council had committed for a new transit center was off the table. But council members never authorized him to do so. It created confusion when the transit agency received a $20 million federal grant for the project in August, and council members had to publicly reaffirm their commitment to the site.

And in February, Jennings began facilitating discussions between the Church of Scientology and affordable housing developer Shawn Wilson regarding a city-owned property. The council had approved Wilson’s affordable housing development for the site, but Scientology leader David Miscavige wanted the property, too, and he was trying to get Wilson to relocate. Most council members said Jennings never informed them that he was helping Scientology negotiate with Wilson before the developer abandoned the project in June.

“It’s very difficult for me to say ‘Yes, I’m going to fire him’ when I think he could have come around first quarter of this year,” Allbritton said.