UPDATED: July 14, 6:05 p.m.
Mayor Jim Kenney announced on Tuesday morning Abernathy's departure from city government.
"I’ve worked closely with many public servants throughout my career, and few match Brian’s level of integrity and commitment to making our city better," Kenney said in a prepared statement.
The mayor particularly thanked Abernathy for his recent work managing simultaneous crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest in June sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Abernathy submitted his formal resignation Tuesday during a morning meeting with city officials. Several sources said he had been quietly calling colleagues and former colleagues to tell them the news.
In his letter of resignation, Abernathy said he has been feeling burnt out, and he cited the negative impact his job has had on his family.
“Our city has weathered tremendous hardship over the past several months," he wrote. "In a short period of time, we’ve faced a pandemic, the worst economic crisis in a century, and important but difficult civil unrest. At the same time, we’ve seen a worsening opioid crisis, pervasive homelessness, and a rising murder rate. Throughout these months, there have been too many nights and weekends where my daughters have wondered where I was, and I’ve placed too many burdens on my wife’s shoulders."
Abernathy said he loves his job and the city, and he made sacrifices willingly, but the last year has taken a toll on his mind, body and soul.
Sources say they suspect there have been tensions between him and the mayor since a tear-gassing incident in the midst of the protests. They say he’s regarded as capable, hardworking and well-intentioned, but has clashed with colleagues, especially over his defense of police officers and leadership.
Kenney rejected speculation that Abernathy was being forced out over the city’s response to civil unrest, saying it was a mutual decision that he and Abernathy had been discussing for two weeks.
“I think he’s done an outstanding job but the mutual decision he and I have made is that, for his well-being, I mean it’s a hard job and you’re on call 24 hours, seven days a week, it takes a toll. None of this had to do with anything that’s happened in the last month,” Kenney said.
Abernathy had said, during budget hearings in City Council last month, that the protests over Floyd’s death had been a wake-up call.
“I was dumbfounded by how out of touch I really was and how I underestimated the anger and rage and frustration of folks I’m hired to serve,” Abernathy said.
He said he questioned whether he was the leader the city needs at this time.
It appears he concluded he is not.
In closing, he said city government needs an influx of new voices if Philadelphia is to solve its problems.
"Our city must face the demons of inequity, poverty, and racism," he wrote. "All voices must be heard — the status quo is no longer acceptable. Progress will not be possible until everyone understands the meaning of Black Lives Matter."
He said he’s proud of the job he’s done but he believes it’s time for other, more diverse voices in leadership.
“Frankly, I hope the next managing director is African-American, maybe even an African-American woman, because I think it’s important for this city to turn the corner,” he said.
Abernathy’s second in command, Tumar Alexander, has been mentioned as a possible successor.
The mayor said there will be a search for Abernathy’s replacement but declined to say if it would be a national search and said he didn’t know if someone would be chosen by Sept. 4.
Abernathy has served as managing director since January 2019. For three years prior, he was first deputy managing director.