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Deputy City Manager Joanna Abernathy Terminated

Action on Friday Caught Many City Employees by Surprise


Last updated 8/4/2022 at 1:57pm

Courtesy City of Lake Wales

Deputy City Manager Joanna Abernathy was abruptly terminated by City Manager James Slaton of Friday. Slaton was unavailable for comment.

City Manager James Slaton on Friday terminated his recently-hired Deputy City Manager Joanna Abernathy. She had been on the job for about 12 weeks. News of the firing swept through employees within the city administration building, some of whom expressed great surprise.

No public statement has been released by the city. reached out to Slaton for comment, but he said only that "I'm not commenting on personnel matters." Slaton's authority as city manager includes hiring and firing all city staff with the exception of the city attorney and city clerk, who are hired by the city commission. Abernathy was still within her probationary period as a new employee and had not gained tenure.

One city commissioner reached by telephone refused to comment on the record, but admitted that the action came as a surprise.

"Our new Deputy City Manager is an accomplished and results-oriented leader who has served in diverse government settings," Slaton had said in May at the time of her hiring. Abernathy has a total of more than 30 years of experience working in local government, having previously served as an assistant city manager both in Palm Beach and Polk Counties, most recently in Haines City.

Slaton has served as Lake Wales city manager since October of 2020 following a period during which he served as the "interim" manager while commissioners reviewed other applicants after their dismissal of prior manager Ken Fields.

City of Lake Wales

City Manager James Slaton is responsible for all city employees except the Clerk and Attorney. He was unavailable for comment on the high-profile termination.

Abernathy holds a bachelor's degree in political science and history with a master's degree in public administration and emergency management. She obtained her Master Municipal Clerk designation in 2012, and brings more than 10 years' experience working as a City Clerk for Palm Beach, West Palm Beach and Greenacres in Palm Beach County. She describes her "proudest accomplishment" as the creation of a Department of State Passport Processing Facility within city hall in Greenacres, which proved to be a resounding revenue source for that municipality.

Abernathy came aboard with experience managing capital projects, considered a major plus due to the city's undertaking of the Lake Wales Connected plan. She previously worked for her parents' construction company in upstate New York, according to city officials. She also has "extensive experience in the operations of development services and land use planning," the city's hiring statement said. In her application Abernathy had listed her other skill-sets as public relations strategic business planning, financial budgeting, grant writing, and emergency management.

This story will be updated as further details become available.


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