By Jane Smith
Delray Beach Fire Chief Neal de Jesus abruptly resigned on March 10, according to an email he sent to the city manager.
Keith Tomey, assistant fire chief, took over as interim chief at a 10% boost to his salary, City Manager George Gretsas decided.
The city gave no public explanation for the unexpected departure of de Jesus, who is in his late 50s.
“I feel my time has come to move on and focus more on my family,” he wrote on March 10.
“The city does not comment on personnel matters,” Gina Carter, Delray Beach spokeswoman, said in a March 24 email.
He left the city with 180 days’ pay and three months of health insurance to June, according to a city memo.
At the Sept. 10 City Commission special meeting, commissioners agreed to double de Jesus’ severance to 180 days and not require that he have a college degree. The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson dissenting.
In response to a public records request made by The Coastal Star, the city attorney’s office responded that it is unable to release documents involving de Jesus because there is an ongoing investigation.
De Jesus came to Delray Beach in March 2016 to be the fire chief. He has nearly four decades of experience in the fire-rescue field. He started as a firefighter in Sarasota County at age 18.
De Jesus retired from Coral Gables Fire-Rescue in 2002 after a 20-year career with that city. In 2010, he resigned after two years as a city commissioner of Cooper City to join the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Fire Rescue and Emergency Services. He left that position in 2013 after the election of Sheriff Scott Israel.
In late December 2016, de Jesus was recognized for his leadership skills by then-City Commissioner Mitch Katz. He recommended de Jesus for the interim city manager opening.
De Jesus then served as interim city manager and returned to his fire chief position in November 2017. He became interim manager again in March 2019 until Gretsas arrived on Jan. 6.
De Jesus served as the point man in the city’s investigation of its reclaimed water issues from February until his resignation.