By Jane Smith
During an often contentious meeting, a divided Delray Beach City Commission voted 3-2 on June 24 to oust City Manager George Gretsas from his $265,000 position without seeing a final report of the bullying accusations made against him.
Gretsas had been less than six months on the job and was the fifth full-time city manager in the past eight years.
Voting to proceed with termination were Mayor Shelly Petrolia, Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson and Commissioner Juli Casale. Voting against were Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston and Commissioner Adam Frankel.
The virtual meeting started an hour late because of technical difficulties and to give Gretsas and his attorney, Carmen Rodriguez, time to review a resignation offer from the city.
Rodriguez said they submitted on June 29 a demand for a public hearing.
“Mr. Gretsas has not done anything wrong and wants an opportunity to present his side in front of the City Commission,” Rodriguez said.
At the June 24 meeting, Gretsas said he had already spoken with the city’s outside counsel, who had given him a package with terms of a resignation.
“The city’s labor counsel said if I didn’t accept the 20 weeks [of severance pay], a bad report would be released,” Gretsas said. “There are credibility issues with the employees involved. What is the rush?”
Frankel, a lawyer, said the timing of the vote denied Gretsas “due process and fundamental fairness.”
Gretsas was suspended with pay. City Attorney Lynn Gelin said Gretsas cannot be terminated for a minimum of 120 days from June 29, the day of delivery of the demand to see written charges and have a public hearing.
Hired last October, Gretsas did not start until Jan. 6. He replaced Mark Lauzier, who was fired March 1, 2019.
Jennifer Alvarez, the city’s purchasing director, became the interim city manager by a 4-1 vote, with Boylston voting no.
Johnson nominated Alvarez, who joined the meeting by telephone and gave her background as being responsible for the capital budget for Miami-Dade County and having 21 years of city and county service.
Boylston preferred another city employee, Assistant City Manager Allyson Love. She had run Fort Lauderdale after Gretsas’ city manager contract was not renewed there.
Johnson, though, said Love was a Gretsas ally and couldn’t support her.
Frankel asked if Alvarez was a witness in the investigation.
“Yes,” Gelin said. “But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the city at the department head level who was not interviewed.”
Two complain of bullying
Gelin said on June 30 that the investigative report, done by an independent counsel, was not ready and that she hoped for its release July 3.
The investigation began after two city staff members filed bullying complaints against Gretsas.
Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher claimed the bullying forced her to take a medical leave on May 15 for mental and emotional distress, according to her June 10 complaint.
One situation reported involved Gretsas’ calls over the city’s reclaimed water problems, where Fisher claimed Gretsas began screaming at her and the assistant Public Works director in a tone that Fisher described as irrational, belligerent and profanity-laden.
“Good employees have to be treated well,” Casale said on June 25. “And what he was doing?” she asked, based on Fisher’s complaint.
Boylston told The Coastal Star on June 27 that Fisher has credibility problems.
Her bullying complaint was filed against Gretsas five days after he had sent her a notice of termination for “misusing her office.” Fisher had hired boyfriends twice for city jobs they were not qualified to do, according to the June 5 termination notice that Gretsas emailed to Fisher. The most recent hire was March 28.
Her current boyfriend, Andy Reeder, began working as the food and beverage/clubhouse manager at the city-owned Delray Beach Golf Club, according to the email.
“Both you and your direct subordinate, the Director of Parks and Recreation, are responsible for judging your boyfriend’s work product and therefore you had an obligation to inform me of your conflict of interest and to recuse yourself from all matters related to the Delray Beach Golf Course,” Gretsas wrote.
The other employee who has claimed Gretsas bullied him is Sam Metott, who replaced Fisher as Parks and Recreation director when she became an assistant city manager. His complaint has not been made available because it is part of the ongoing investigation by the city’s outside counsel.
Metott, though, gave Boylston a different impression.
The parks director sang Gretsas’ praises from mid-April through May, Boylston said.
“Every Wednesday while I volunteered at the city’s Feeding South Florida food giveaway, Metott told me the commission had chosen well with Gretsas,” Boylston said. He said Metott seemed pleased that Gretsas was holding people accountable.
Fisher had previous run-ins
Fisher has filed bullying complaints in the past. In October 2016, she filed a complaint against Michael Coleman, who was then the director of Neighborhood and Community Services. He had complained that her lack of oversight and mismanagement of maintenance alongside the city’s gateway feature on the east side of Interstate 95 had allowed the grounds to deteriorate.
An outside firm hired to review Fisher’s complaint found she had “fomented fear and discontent among her staff by telling them outright lies to strengthen her position.”
In August 2019, Coleman filed a whistleblower lawsuit again the city, saying he was forced to resign two months earlier because he had exposed mismanagement in the parks department headed by Fisher in 2016. The suit alleges Fisher engineered his firing when she became an assistant city manager three years later.
Also in 2016, Fisher had a run-in with Tennille Decoste, then the city’s Human Resources director. Decoste filed a bullying, discrimination and harassment complaint against Fisher, who then filed similar charges against Decoste.
An outside firm investigated and found Fisher did bully Decoste and that Fisher’s counter-allegations were not true.
The outside investigator recommended that Fisher be subject to disciplinary actions “up to and including termination.” Fisher remained with the city.
In defense of Gretsas
Despite the bullying allegations against Gretsas, Boylston remains his supporter.
Gretsas walked into a City Hall that had relatively new department heads, according to Boylston.
“Then the world was hit by a pandemic not seen in a century and people took to the streets protesting against mistreatment of Black people,” he said.
If the bullying allegations are true, Boylston said, he is inclined to suggest leadership training or other disciplinary measures not as severe as firing.
A previous city manager, David Harden, offered to step in as the interim city manager, according to a June 26 email Frankel sent to his commission colleagues, but as of press time, Gelin told Frankel that commissioners had not come to a consensus on that option. Still, the offer might come up at a July 7 commission meeting.
Harden served as the Delray Beach city manager for 22 years until Jan. 3, 2013. He was long seen as bringing stability to the city, but in his last year residents criticized him for renewing contracts, such as garbage collection and beach cabana services, without going through the bid process.
If Harden is not selected, the city will ask the International City/County Management Association for an applicant from its pool of retired city managers.
“Gretsas has 20 years of experience in two cities — Fort Lauderdale and Homestead,” Boylston said. “I have no idea why anyone would want to come and work here if we fire a city manager in the middle of a pandemic.”