Mayor Jim Yarbrough wanted to shake up Galveston’s police pension board, and found just the person to do that, he said.
Enter Thayer Evans, a former trustee on the Galveston Park Board of Trustees. Known as a sponsor of controversy during his time on the park board, he pushed buttons with a personality some community leaders and Galveston City Council members have called “abrasive” and “belittling.”
Yarbrough on Sept. 28 appointed Evans as the newest trustee on the police pension board. It was unilateral decision, which is the mayor’s right in this case, that couldn’t be challenged by council members.
“We can’t keep this system,” Yarbrough said. “I’m looking for someone who’s not afraid to voice their opinion. I think Thayer will be a good voice.”
“This was my appointment, and I stand behind it,” Yarbrough said.
Evans, who works for a sports agency, will join six other trustees on the board, four of whom are in law enforcement. The other two members are appointed by the city council and by city management.
The board has been negotiating with the city for years about how to reform the struggling pension fund, which has $29 million in unfunded liabilities and a 47-year payoff period, which state regulators consider to be too long.
“The current system is broken,” Evans said. “It’s simply not sustainable and is an unrelenting onus on the hardworking taxpayers. It must be drastically overhauled. We have to fix the system for the police officers, retirees and taxpayers.”
Geoff Gainer, acting president of the police pension board, said he’s sure Yarbrough took controversy into consideration before appointing Evans.
“I’ve never met Mr. Evans, nor do I have any firsthand knowledge of his time on the park board,” Gainer said. “I hope, as do all of the trustees on the board, that he can act as a competent fiduciary to the plan. I hold no feelings towards him personally.”
Evans’ appointment comes just more than two months after the city council denied his reappointment to the park board, where he served two terms. Yarbrough nominated Evans to the park board in late July, but his reappointment was rejected in a 5-2 vote.
Evans was often the voice of dissension on the park board and didn’t shy away from being the lone no vote. Evans frequently raised questions about expenses and high costs.
At the July city council meeting, members of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ Galveston chapter urged council members to vote against Evans. LULAC members pointed to what they said was Evans’ “abrasive” behavior, and were displeased that he been critical about funding for the chapter’s Cinco de Mayo party.
The pension board appointment has already garnered opposition from the Galveston Municipal Police Association, the union representing police officers. The group on Sept. 28 posted on Facebook a March article from The Daily News, reporting that Evans had been arrested on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge during Mardi Gras.
“Questionable appointment considering Mr. Evans will have a vote on decisions which will affect officer’s retirements as well as city financial obligations,” the post states.
A county court dismissed the case, which Evans pointed out in a statement to The Daily News.
“What’s really questionable is why the Galveston Municipal Police Association apparently carries a bias against those cleared of wrongdoing,” Evans said. “I support law enforcement, but it’s incredibly troubling that the association seemingly believes that everyone arrested is guilty, which obviously isn’t how the justice system works.”
Evans will join a board that is already rife with tension. Several sources, including the mayor and Gainer, acknowledged the strained relationship between the police and the city over the pension.
Gainer said the municipal police association, of which he is secretary, is concerned about the motivations behind any appointment Yarbrough makes regarding the police.
Yarbrough said he is only trying to make the pension system financially sustainable.
“I know the police don’t like me and they think I’m the baddest guy in the world,” Yarbrough said. “That’s OK. Doesn’t bother me.”
“I have no ulterior motives; I get nothing out of this,” Yarbrough said.
City Councilwoman Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, of District 5, voiced her opposition to the appointment at the September council meeting. In a later interview, she said Evans is not the person to bridge a divide between the city and police.
Tarlton-Shannon also voted against Evans’ reappointment to the park board in July.
“I do not think you need someone who is going to throw a bomb or two to make a change,” Tarlton-Shannon said. “There is a breakdown there, and we need somebody who is going to mend that. We need to move past that and build a bridge.”
Evans responded that he was “absolutely flattered by Councilwoman Tarlton-Shannon’s baseless rambling” and said she has had six years on council to reform the pension fund.
Other council members who voted against Evans’ reappointment to the park board in July included Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, and Councilwoman Amy Bly, of District 1.
Brown said he would defer to the mayor’s opinion.
“I’m sure the mayor had good reasons why he felt Mr. Evans would be appropriate for the pension,” Brown said.
Bly said Evans was a good person but “misunderstood.” She said she still would have had difficulty voting for him, however.
“He means well; he’s got everybody’s best interest at heart,” Bly said. “I don’t know if I would have voted for him. It would have been tough.”
Regardless of Evans’ personality and demeanor, police officers are not easily cowed, Gainer said.
“If they truly think that they’re going to appoint somebody that’s going to manhandle a bunch of police officers, they’ve gone about their approach the wrong way,” Gainer said.
Evans has the ability to be an agent of change on the board, Yarbrough said.
“People who want to create change are not usually well liked,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t get tied up in the personality and the approach. I just want to see the results.”
The board will meet Friday.