Published On: Tue, Mar 24th, 2020

Delray Beach Mayor’s Pandemic Response has been Behind from day one on this Crisis

C. Ron Allen can be reached at [email protected] or 561-665-0151.

In the weeks leading up to the recent municipal elections, Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia spent much of her time sending missives to her mailing list on which two of the seven candidates they should elect. 

Coincidentally, at the same time, the coronavirus outbreak was dominating the news. Leaders in neighboring cities and local civic and nonprofit organizations spent much of that time analyzing their operational strategies and making contingency plans to avoid any long-term disruption and mitigate business risk. 

Amid a cascade of state and county restrictions on public gatherings, merchants – in particular, restaurants and bars operators in the city – were sent into a frenzy about the fate of their businesses. This kicked off a firestorm.

When the heat intensified, Mayor Petrolia on March 16 released an email abdicating all powers to City Manager George Gretsas, who has been non-responsive to the community since he took office in January. (Messages left with his office from the media seeking answers have gone unreturned).   

“It is important to understand who is in charge, and why, during times of emergency or crisis in Delray Beach,” Mayor Petrolia wrote. “When the commission declared a state of emergency pursuant to Chapter 95 of the City Code of Ordinances, it authorized the City Manager to take any and all actions deemed necessary to protect and preserve the health, safety, welfare, lives and property of the citizens of the City of Delray Beach.

“In other words,” she continued, “the City Manager acts as the decision-maker on all issues and can do so in the absence of the elected body. This allows for immediate action without having to convene a commission every time a decision must be made. It’s the only efficient way to govern when operating under emergency circumstances.”

This a good line to satisfy most people who do not know better. But many know there is hardly a decision made in City Hall that the mayor does not have a hand in, especially when it could impact commerce.

Mayor Petrolia, your reasoning is conflicting to your actions and nonsensical, and it seems rushed, indicating a lack of planning. Simply, it means you are failing. 

Neither Mrs. Petrolia nor Mr. Gretsas mandated closures or ordered people to stay at home; they stuck to “recommendations”. We are not saying this was a bad strategy to start with, but during an emergency such as this, we need decisive action. It is not reassuring to the many residents, some who are considered high risks, that the city’s leadership was silent during this time. Maybe they were focusing just on places with documented COVID-19 cases. However, the scary truth is because there were no confirmed cases in Delray Beach or neighboring cities, which does not mean the infection wasn’t already spreading. The incubation period for COVID-19 can be as long as two weeks. 

Even now, several weeks into this crisis and with 43,500 deaths across the globe, far too many people seem blithely unconcerned about the danger posed by this virus. 

This is partly due to the lack of communication from the mayor and her manager’s office in the early days of this outbreak in our state.

Take for example, national news headlines declaring Delray Beach as the new Spring Break spot after officials in Miami-Dade and Broward counties closed their beaches, which forced spring breakers and beach lovers to our city’s beach.

Where were our leaders? Nowhere to be found. Their voices were hushed. Instead, they sent the standard news release to the public, stating the obvious. That’s shockingly irresponsible leadership.

We are grateful to Governor Ron DeSantis who stepped into the leadership vacuum when it was necessary, and we certainly are grateful that it appears he pulled the local government along behind him.   

The mayor is a residential real estate agent. She is also a duly elected representative of the community. She has her opinions. I respect some of them, but this is a health issue, she needs to be the one communicating directly with the residents during this time.

It is a fact that during a crisis, people need a trusted source as much as they want a trusted voice. And let’s face it, Delray Beach does not have a good track record with its city managers since David Harden retired in 2012 after 22 years.

Delray Beach residents do not know City Manager Gretsas any more than they know Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, but I am sure their level of trust is higher with Dr. Fauci than it is with Mr. Gretsas.

May we remind Mrs. Petrolia, who’s hoping to be reelected to the post next year, what is expected of her as mayor and the meaning of leadership? It’s pretty simple: In the eyes of the average resident, everything that happens in the city falls squarely on the shoulders of the mayor (regardless if your city is run by a strong mayor or a city manager). A strong and responsible mayor does not deflect blame, brush off criticism or hide during crisis, especially when it comes to a pandemic that has killed thousands of people globally and is still spreading at a frightening pace. 

Delray Beach’s constituents have a right to hold their elected leaders responsible, and they should.

Enough passing the buck, Mrs. Petrolia. Show you take the issue as seriously as it deserves. Whether you accept it or not, coronavirus is indeed a responsibility of leadership. As mayor, in a time of crisis, you’re that leader – regardless of who your city manager is.


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