Published On: Mon, Mar 16th, 2020

Delray Beach Fire Chief Quits Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment

By Neilsonsky Noel

The embattled two-time interim city manager who recently returned to his position as fire chief, resigned abruptly after allegations surfaced of him sending inappropriate electronic messages to an employee, the Boca Raton Tribune has learned.

Neal de Jesus submitted a 1½ page letter to City Manager George Gretsas touting his accomplishments over the past four years and saying it is time to say so long.

“Since joining the City nearly 4 years ago we have changed the trajectory and culture of the fire rescue department significantly,” he wrote, detailing a list of his accomplishments. “I say all that to say …the success of Delray Beach Fire Rescue has little to do with my presence or my leadership and everything to do with the dedicated team of professionals that has been assembled to lead.…”

De Jesus, who served as interim city manager from March 2019 to January 2020, said he has “committed everything I have each and every day to make the fire service better than I found it” and wants to focus on his family.

“With your arrival and the stability and leadership that you have already instilled in the city and staff, I feel my time has come to move on and focus more time on my family,” he said. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to lead this City and more importantly, the brave women and men who I consider family. Please accept this as my grateful yet humble letter of resignation effective immediately.” 

At least five high-ranking city officials and employees confirmed that de Jesus’s departure came after an employee filed a formal complaint to the city’s Human Resources department over “inappropriate” emails that de Jesus sent to the employee.

De Jesus was interim city manager when the alleged incident occurred, a top-ranking official close to the matter told the Boca Raton Tribune. City officials are in receipt of the printout of the conversation between de Jesus and the employee, the official said, adding that “It was very, very, very bad.”

The Boca Raton Tribune is not naming the employee because of the nature of the complaint. 

Messages to Gretsas and the city’s public information officer were not returned.

Allyson Love, an assistant city manager, said, “I know we do not comment on personnel matters, but I will leave George a message.”

Two city commissioners said they were briefed on de Jesus’ resignation. However, they could not discuss it because they were told it was confidential in nature.

Like many, Commissioner Bill Bathurst said de Jesus’ abrupt resignation came as a surprise to him.

However, Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson differed.

“I was not surprised at anything involving Mr. de Jesus,” she said, adding that she must be careful in how she discusses it.

Johnson said the negative publicity could have been avoided had her colleagues listened to her when she raised concerns about de Jesus’ character last year.

“All this negative publicity, and the potential lawsuits that could stem from this, perhaps could have been prevented,” she said. “Six months ago, when questions surfaced about Mr. de Jesus’ outside employment in Homestead among a list of other things, I requested an internal investigation to determine the veracity of those allegations.”

City attorney Lynn Gelin and then internal auditor Julia Davidyan polled all five commissioners individually, and they all agreed to conduct the inquiry, Johnson stated. 

 “Our auditor was prepared to do a thorough investigation and Mr. de Jesus, who was out of town, cut his vacation short and returned home that Friday,” Johnson said. “Somehow, over the weekend, it appears Mr. de Jesus met with members of the commission and by Monday morning, four people changed their minds and the vote was then 4 to 1.

“I do not know [whom] he browbeat or what information he showed them that he had on them, however, majority decided not to do this investigation,” Johnson added.

When she raised her concerns at the next city commission meeting, Mayor Shelly Petrolia told her she did not have the votes to conduct an inquiry, and if she was not pleased, she could file a formal complaint with the Palm Beach County Inspector General’s office or the Ethics Commission, Johnson said. 

“I took her up on her suggestion and did so,” she added. “My concerns then remain the same today, and I am afraid that this will be the beginning of many more lawsuits that we will be faced with, thanks to our former interim city manager.”

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