Published On: Tue, Sep 15th, 2020

Hearing set Oct. 23 on termination of suspended Delray city manager

By Dale King

Suspended Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas will get the opportunity at a public hearing on Oct. 23 to defend himself against accusations that he allegedly violated state law and city statutes during his short term as Delray’s top appointed official.

The latest set of charges against Gretsas differ from those that resulted in his suspension at a special Delray Beach City Commission meeting June 24 when it was alleged that he bullied and harassed several city employees, including Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher, resulting in her going on medical leave May 15. She has since resigned effective Sept. 7.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Aug. 24 that Gretsas allegedly engaged in “instances of misconduct” that warranted his firing.  But in the process, the five city leaders decided not to include charges of “bullying and retaliation” that were brought against Gretsas at the June 24 meeting.  

Gretsas was hired as Delray city manager in January 2020 to replace Mark Lauzier, who was fired on March 19, 2019. An interim city manager was appointed to fill in during the period city officials were searching for a replacement.

The latest city manager’s troubles appeared to catch fire in May when he allegedly “bullied” several employees, including Assistant City Manager Fisher, on May 15. The allegedly bullying took place in the office and on the phone. 

At a special commission meeting June 24, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to present Gretsas with a notice of “intent to remove” while Commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel cast negative votes.

Gretsas claimed in his letter that the effort to fire him is “retaliation” for his reporting of health problems involving the city’s water system, troubles he described as “the most scandalous….since Flint, Mich.”  He also said he was under fire for allegedly making public the fact that Fisher is said to have arranged for her boyfriend to work in the concession stand at the municipal golf course.

During the Aug. 24 meeting, carried virtually on the city’s internet broadcast system, City Attorney Lynn Gelin outlined a series of new complaints against the soon-to-be-ex city manager. They included:

  • An accusation that Gretsas installed a private server in his office that was not connected to the city’s IT system and used a software program that neither stores documents nor can be accessed by anyone other than Gretsas, which allegedly violates the state’s open meeting law.
  • A claim that Gretsas hired two people to work in a specially built TV studio to report updates in the coronavirus situation locally. Gelin said the city manager “failed to follow procedure” in hiring the employees, who apparently had worked with him before and were paid above regular wage rate.
  • Gave some testimony during a city investigation that was “not true.”
  • Refused to meet with the city’s internal auditor, Julia Davidyan. 

The meeting took on the appearance of a trial when Gretsas’ attorney, Carmen Rodriguez, was allowed to speak via telephone. The lawyer claimed her client was not told “the nature of the investigation” and was “denied due process.” Rodriguez said she sent “multiple emails” to Gelin about the situation, but received a response saying only, “Your objection is noted.”

Gretsas’ lawyer also blasted the new charges, saying they were “pre-written” and “spoon-fed to you (commissioners). You all have your own private networks – your cell phones. You are turning the job of city manager on its head.”

She argued that a city manager has the right to change policy, but several commissioners, including the mayor, noted it cannot be done without their input, and can’t result in a regulation that violates state laws.

Rodriguez called the latest accusations against Gretsas “a fishing expedition,” adding: “This is not what you fire a city manager for. You are making statements here without any evidence. 

Two commissioners underscored the enormity of the accusations. “What we have uncovered here is mind-blowing,” said Mayor Petrolia. “I had no idea that he installed a private server that our IT department could not access.” 

Casale called the discovery of the private server “appalling.” 

The text of Gretsas’ contract with the city requires a meeting and a hearing to terminate his employment, one to write a list of accusations and another to address the allegations against him. The latter session has been set for Oct. 23.

Gelin said the session, to be conducted “like a trial,” will likely take a half-day to complete.

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