By Jane Smith
Delray Beach city commissioners unanimously levied nine misconduct charges against suspended City Manager George Gretsas at their Aug. 24 special meeting.
The charges, though, do not include the bullying and intimidation accusations that led to his suspension on June 24. Gretsas allegedly badgered Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher so much that she went on medical leave May 15.
The new charges were made because the city was following the terms of its contract with Gretsas, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said. In October 2019, she had warned the commission of his lengthy termination process: notice to terminate, meeting 60 days later to decide written charges and then a special hearing 60 days later. He refused to come to Delray Beach without them, Gelin said. The City Commission plans to hold the public hearing at 10 a.m. Oct. 23.
Gelin outlined some of the charges against Gretsas:
• Improperly hired two people he knew at inflated salaries without going through the city’s hiring process and providing written justification for paying them extra.
• Created potential violations of the state’s Public Records Act by installing a private network in his office, outside the administration of the city’s Information Technology Department. The department should have been involved to maintain the safety and security of the city’s information.
• Wrote a 66-page presentation on Fisher that violated her privacy rights. Gretsas shared that document with certain staff members and one leaked it to the media.
• Created a television studio at the Arts Garage, a city-owned property, to broadcast daily updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. To outfit the studio, Gretsas directed staff to buy various pieces of equipment, costing more than $25,000 total. Even though it was an emergency, Gretsas did not document the reasons for the studio.
• Sent a 12-page letter on July 31 to the mayor and city commissioners, bashing Fisher, the reclaimed water program and the drinking water system. Fisher had supervised the Utilities Department. He wrongly compared the city drinking water quality to that of Flint, Michigan, where lead was found in the water. Gretsas widely distributed that letter to Delray Beach residents, who became fearful of drinking city water.
“The uncovering of what we have found is just mind-blowing,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. “I can’t understand how someone — in just six months — can get in so deep into the dark areas of nondisclosure.”
Gretsas joined Delray Beach on Jan. 6. He is the fifth city manager in just eight years. The previous city manager, Mark Lauzier, was fired on March 1, 2019. He sued the city for breach of contract and filed a whistleblower’s complaint on April 29, 2019. The whistleblower’s complaint was dismissed, but the breach of contract count is proceeding.
“The machine gun is now aimed at me,” Gretsas said Aug. 25. “This (proceeding) damages my reputation and creates a revolving door of city managers. … The constant turnover is very damaging to the public.”
His attorney, Carmen Rodriguez, spoke at the Aug. 24 meeting.
“The computer was purchased and installed through the city,” she said. “You all have private networks, too. It’s called a cellphone.”
Rodriguez called the charges administrative issues, not fireable offenses. “They are more Mother-May-I issues,” she said, referencing the kids game of asking for permission before moving.
The commission had voted on June 24 to suspend Gretsas, based on a summary of an investigation into bullying and intimidation charges brought up by Fisher. The vote was 3-2.
Fisher has since agreed to resign from the city on Sept. 7. Her attorney negotiated a separation package that includes payment for all her unused vacation days and 50% of her unused sick time. Until she leaves, she will be paid her salary of $165,692.80. In return, Fisher agreed to not bash the city.
Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston and Commissioner Adam Frankel initially voted against suspending Gretsas. Both wanted the bullying accusation included in the charges.
The June investigation into Fisher’s complaint “created a divisive and disruptive environment. It became a situation of whose team you are on,” Gelin said. “Why put the city in a negative light when you have policy violations that are valid?”
Then, she added, “It’s up to the commission whether to include the bullying charges.”
The city issued a news release about staff intimidation after the June 24 meeting, but it is not legally binding, Gelin said.
“On July 7, the commission directed its internal auditor to lead the investigation,” Gelin said, referring to Julia Davidyan.
Frankel called the whole process “troubling.”
“We are here because of the bullying allegations. I understand Gelin’s point that to add that charge would be too much stress on staff in the middle of a pandemic,” he said, then told Rodriguez, “But I believe your client’s due process rights have been violated.”
Davidyan cautioned about looking at just one charge. “Gretsas had a pattern of ignoring policies,” she said.
As an example, she said, Gretsas had installed the Basecamp software program on his computer to discourage public access.
The project management program assigns tasks and deadlines to individuals and alerts the manager about the status of projects, including deadlines.
“After 30 days, all projects are deleted from their servers,” Davidyan said she learned after emailing the Basecamp customer service people in the UK.
“She must not have asked the right question,” Gretsas said on Aug. 25. “Basecamp has an archive function and it is searchable.”
Boylston, who uses Basecamp daily in his marketing business, asked Gelin for some examples of public records not being filled because they were not accessible in Basecamp. Gelin said she would search for an example before the Oct. 23 hearing.
Gretsas said he has emails with the then-purchasing director about buying TV studio equipment quickly. She suggested an out-of-state vendor with the lowest price, but it would be held up in the mail because the Postal Service has special conditions for mailing electronics with lithium-ion batteries installed.
Staff then used the city’s purchase cards to buy the equipment locally, Gretsas said.
Gretsas continues to receive his $265,000 salary until his hearing Oct. 23.
“I don’t see a genuine acceptance of the magnitude of this proceeding,” Rodriguez said Aug. 24. “It’s absurd to say we’re going to give you notice that we intend to fire you and then we will figure out the charges.”