By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – On Friday, July 31st, Delray Beach’s suspended city manager, George Gretsas, sent a scathing twelve-page letter back to the City Commission, as well as the Palm Beach County Inspector General, claiming the termination process against him were false charges and retaliation.
At a controversial Special City Commission Meeting June 24th, Delray Beach officials voted 3 to 2 in favor of initiating the termination of the City Manager, George Gretsas. Only in the position since January 6th, Gretsas was suspended on administrative leave from his $265,000 a year job, with pay.
Voting for “a notice of intent to remove” Gretsas with cause were Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioners Shirley Johnson and Juli Casale. Voting against the move were Commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel. The meeting can be watched online and was unconventional, but in the end the vote was against Gretsas.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia wrote in a statement back on July 6th after an independent investigation found Gretsas had bullied at least five staff members, “I am deeply disappointed […] But this untenable behavior toward our valued City staff could not be ignored or explained away – we needed to take action.”
The process set in motion was contractually required, and includes a Special Meeting to adopt the written charges on August 24th and a Public Hearing on October 23rd. The letter sent by Gretsas on Friday includes startling claims of ‘significant unethical and illegal conduct within the government’.
Gretsas wrote, “The recent attempts by some of you to terminate my employment and smear my good reputation with phony allegations make it obvious that you would prefer to maintain the existing toxic culture of turnover and corruption and that you are retaliating against me for exposing corrupt activities.”
Included in the letter are four issues, the most significant is the reclaimed water investigation. In May Gretsas provided a report to the City Commission stating “gross mismanagement and violations of law that put public safety at risk and likely made people ill.”
Friday he wrote in the response letter that, “Mayor Petrolia had directed me to lie to the public and tell them that she had no role in the reclaimed water catastrophe.” Also he said that City Attorney Lynn Gelin was, “well aware of the situation at least nine months before I became the City Manager.”
There are more startling statements about the water management in Delray Beach, including that the City had not been cleaning the storage tanks that hold the drinking water which goes directly into people’s homes and businesses for 38 years, even though the law states they must be cleaned every five years.
Gretsas wrote “I had witnessed with my own eyes the most scandalous condition of a City drinking water system since Flint Michigan.” According to him it lead to the City over chlorinating the water, which ‘is not permitted because it can be a danger to human health’.
This morning Shelly Petrolia, Mayor for the City of Delray Beach, said, “When I read the letter by Mr. Gretsas, I was personally taken aback by his many misleading and misinformed statements.”
Adding, “It is the city manager’s primary responsibility to ensure that city operations are performed in accordance with policy, and within state and federal regulations. The operational buck stops with the city manager.”
The other issues include Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher’ allegedly orchestrating the hiring of her boyfriend to work at the City Golf Course, as well as issues with the management of the City Auditor Julia Davidyan.
There was also a bizarre issue with Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson suggesting the City divert $20 million per year for fifty years to a Fredrick James and a nonprofit called United Hands for Global Impact.
Gretsas writes that Mr. James was on felony probation and was charged with several drug related charges, including the sale of drugs near a church or school, possession, tampering with evidence and child endangerment. Not to mention the nonprofit he was CEO of has “no track record, [..] no history of developing projects, and no history with any governments.”
Requests for comment from Commissioner Shirley Johnson this morning had not received a response by the time of publishing. Palm Beach County Inspector General John Carey’s office only responded with, “This is to acknowledge that we are in receipt of your information. We will contact you if additional information is needed.”
The City of Delray Beach Instagram account made a statement this morning, “Delray Beach has CLEAN & SAFE drinking water which meets all standards set by the Florida Department of Health.” Commissioner Juli Casal also shared a link to the City’s water web site this morning on social media.
Prior to coming to Delray Beach, Gretsas was city manager in Homestead for a nine-year tenure, and before then was city manager of Fort Lauderdale for six years.