By Jane Smith
The much-anticipated public hearing for suspended City Manager George Gretsas was delayed for another month by a unanimous vote of the Delray Beach City Commission at a special hearing Oct. 21.
Gretsas has hired new attorneys to represent him at his termination hearing, now set for 10 a.m. Nov. 20.
The new attorneys, hired on Oct. 20, are Thomas Ali and Stuart N. Kaplan, of the Stuart N. Kaplan law firm in Palm Beach Gardens.
Ali called and sent an email to Lynn Gelin, city attorney, on the morning of Oct. 21. Gretsas’ attorneys requested a two- or three-week postponement to prepare for the hearing. But the earliest time the city’s outside labor counsel, Robert Norton of Allen Norton & Blue, had available was Nov. 20.
In early summer, a different attorney at the same Coral Gables law firm had investigated bullying allegations against Gretsas. Suzanne Fisher, who resigned from her assistant city manager position on Sept. 7, made the accusations.
Allen Norton & Blue issued its report July 3, finding that Gretsas’ behavior toward Fisher was retaliatory and Fisher’s bullying allegations were corroborated by other city employees.
Gelin recommended against pursuing the bullying charges because they would divide the city staff into two camps: for Gretsas or against him.
The new attorneys representing Gretsas agreed that his city manager salary of $265,000 and benefits package worth more than $50,000 would end on Oct. 23. Gretsas was receiving that compensation since he was formally suspended June 24.
Commissioners wanted to stop paying Gretsas while also paying an interim city manager. Jennifer Alvarez, purchasing director, was elevated to the interim city manager position on June 24. During her tenure, she will make $189,500 a year and have a $500 monthly car allowance and $100 cellphone allowance.
“The city failed to turn over a significant amount of public records, some of which I requested almost two months ago,” Gretsas said in a text message sent on Oct. 21. “The documents that I have requested include public records that the Mayor has been storing on her private devices.”
On Oct. 22, Mayor Shelly Petrolia said she has turned over everything.
She is also seeking an opinion from the county’s Ethics Commission. She had called the commission on Oct. 19 to see whether she could participate in the hearing.
Possible conflicts were alleged by Gretsas’ attorneys. They said the vote on Gretsas’ employment status could benefit Petrolia in her own investigation by an outside agency.
Three of the city commissioners agreed Sept. 22 to have Petrolia investigated on whether she improperly directed the interim city manager, possibly violating the city charter.
Petrolia, though, said the Ethics Commission gave her a verbal OK to participate. “But now that we have more time, I will go back and ask for a deeper review,” she said.
City commissioners will act as the judge and jury at the Nov. 20 hearing in commission chambers. The basis for the hearing will be a 38-page report compiled by Julia Davidyan, internal auditor. She interviewed 31 current and former city employees. Davidyan also reviewed numerous emails, the city charter and Florida laws.
In the investigation report given to city commissioners on Oct. 9, Davidyan found Gretsas had “disregarded the city’s interests and policies in the areas of personnel, purchasing and information technology.”
She also found that Gretsas had possibly violated Florida’s Open Records law. His private server did not allow access for the city’s Information Technology Department or city clerk, who needs to pull documents to fill public record requests, Davidyan found.
Any questions brought up outside of the report’s seven possible violations will be considered irrelevant, Gelin told commissioners on Oct. 20.
In 2019, Davidyan also investigated Mark Lauzier. He was fired as city manager on March 1, 2019.
On April 29, 2019, Lauzier sued the city on two counts. The first count claiming whistleblower status was dismissed and lost on appeal in February to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
The wrongful termination count is headed for a jury trial, expected to start in February, Gelin told commissioners. Ú