By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – After Delray Beach’s City Commission voted to place City Manager George Gretsas on notice of ‘intent to terminate’ employment for cause, the commission will meet again to review the findings of an independent investigation, as well as schedule proceedings dictated in Gretas’ employment contract.
At a 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.
Although the independent investigation report had not been shared yet, the commission was at least partly compelled to vote on the ‘intent to terminate’ because of the employment contract Mr Gretsas has. The agreement spells out a four month process, with a Special Meeting and Public Hearing to be held along the way.
Over the holiday weekend the report was filed by Allen, Norton & Blue, the external law firm hired to investigate the matter. A full discussion will take place at the next City Commission meeting, scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, July 7th at 4PM.
Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia wrote in a statement this morning, “I am deeply disappointed by the events leading to the departure of Mr. Gretsas, especially during a time when a strong, supportive city Manger is so badly needed.”
Petrolia continued, “But this untenable behavior toward our valued City staff could not be ignored or explained away – we needed to take action.”
The twenty-page report concludes, “City Rule 5.1 prohibits workplace bullying, which are ‘actions that create an on-going pattern of behavior that is intended to intimidate, degrade or humiliate the employee(s) often in front of others.’ The evidence reviewed demonstrates that Mr. Gretsas’ behavior towards at least five employees violates the bullying policy.”
The text continues, “There is substantial evidence that establishes that Mr. Gretsas’ behavior was directed at specific groups of employees – those who disagreed with him, those who participated in the DeJesus investigation, and those who complained about him.”
The investigation held interviews with nearly 25 people, and the office in-fighting seemed to escalate at a May 14th incident between Mr. Gretsas and Suzanne Fisher, the City’s Assistant City Manager. Ms. Fisher described Gretsas yelled at her and [Director of Public Works Missie Barleto] for nearly four hours, first on the phone and then in person.
However Mr. Gretsas recalled the discussion with Ms. Fisher differently, that he was “asking questions, and he wasn’t getting very many answers, and [he] was unhappy.” Mr. Gretsas explained that, after months of waiting for the information, Ms. Fisher responded with “I don’t know.”
Mr. Gretsas also noted that the issues with reclaimed water are a big concern for the City and he was very upset over the lack of information provided by Ms. Fisher and the process, or lack thereof, in addressing the reclaimed water issue.
A large part of the report identifies a difference in treatment between male and female staff, a gender line that continued through the City Commissioner’s vote on June 24th when Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioners Shirley Johnson and Juli Casale were in favor of removing Gretsas, while Commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel opposed.
In regard to gender bias or sexual harrasement, during his interview, Mr. Gretsas recognized that he often challenges employees and asks them to challenge him back, but denied that gender motivated his behavior or demeanor.
Rather, Mr. Gretsas said “I think the difference in tone would be in the category of employee where we’re having some conflict.”
In the reports conclusion, it acknowledges, “Through his statements, Mr. Gretsas raised some legitimate concerns relating to Ms. Fisher’s credibility and referred to prior instances where Ms. Fisher filed similar complaints against other City employees.”
However it ultimately reads, “Mr. Gretsas’ concerns, even if true, do not negate the findings of this investigation, which do not rely solely on Ms. Fisher’s account of the events that transpired.”
Moving forward, Lynn Gelin, City Attorney, wrote in a staff report this morning, “The contract dictates a Special Meeting to adopt the written charges shall be held no sooner than sixty days after delivery of the Notice of Intent to Terminate, (or Monday, August 24, 2020).”
The contract next requires the City Commission to hold a Public Hearing on the written charges at a second special meeting, scheduled no sooner than sixty days after the special meeting held to adopt the written charges. This could put the Public Hearing out until Friday, October 23, 2020.
Gretas provided a statement on Friday, “To say that the report was drafted with a predetermined bias and in collusion would be a gross understatement. As the facts come to light, they will show that this work of fiction was designed to cover up gross incompetence, negligence and corruption at City Hall and for jeopardizing the public health.”
Adding, “I look forward to providing the public, the Commission and the appropriate governing agencies with a full and complete response at the appropriate time.”
Gretsas replaced ousted city manager Mark Lauzier, who was fired March 19th last year. He is the fifth city manager in Delray Beach since 2013. Interim managers have filled in on two other occasions.
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.