By Jane Smith
The Delray Beach City Commission chose Michael Cernech on Aug. 20 as the next city manager.
Cernech, 51, is the city manager of Tamarac, whose population is similar to Delray Beach’s.
“I liked the steady demeanor of Cernech,” Bill Bathurst, deputy vice mayor, said a few days after the selection. “He’s the right pick for Delray Beach at this time.”
Commissioner Ryan Boylston agreed. “I picked him because I thought he was better for our staff and our residents,” Boylston said about a week after the choice. “The staff includes police officers and firefighters.”
In comments made after the public candidate interviews on Aug. 20, Boylston and Bathurst seemed to be leaning to another candidate, George Gretsas.
Bathurst pointed out the steadiness of Cernech compared with the high energy level of Gretsas, city manager in Homestead. “There’s a lot going on there,” Bathurst said about Gretsas.
Boylston described Cernech as a “prototypical city manager, but Delray Beach is not a prototypical city. It’s historic, but it has a cutting edge. It has a downtown and a beach. Gretsas can handle that.”
They also said they were not influenced by the heavy turnout of police the day before at the meet-and-greet event held at the Old School Square. Police also were present on Aug. 20 for the public candidate interviews, the one-hour break and the following meeting when the commission selected a city manager.
Police Chief Javaro Sims was at the Aug. 19 event along with a contingent that included Lt. Vinnie Gray. Gray said he attended as a member of the command staff. He is also a police union rep, who signed the three-year police union contract last year.
“We liked the gentleman from Tamarac,” Gray said in late August. “Let’s leave it at that.”
As to the interest in the city manager selection, he said, “We’re always there when a city manager is selected.”
Tamarac is a racially diverse city, but it does not have the wide income swings of Delray Beach.
Situated in western Broward County, Tamarac is a bedroom community without a downtown, coastline or historic district. It doesn’t have a commercial area or Community Redevelopment Agency district. The suburban community also lacks its own police department.
Bathurst is not worried. He believes Cernech will pick up the skills easily.
Commissioner Adam Frankel also voted for Cernech. Frankel, who sat on the city’s police pension advisory board from March, 2008 to June 2016, did not say which candidate he favored after the interviews.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia favored Gretsas, who has been Homestead city manager for nearly nine years.
Gretsas, 51, previously served as city manager of Fort Lauderdale for six years. While running Fort Lauderdale, he oversaw the largest capital improvement effort in the city’s history at $500 million, Petrolia said.
His contract was not renewed in July 2010 after he tried to make changes in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
In 2009, “I was asked to negotiate with the police union and reduce its pension costs,” Gretsas said during the candidate interviews.
After the contract was settled in May 2008, the police chief resigned. He was elected to the Fort Lauderdale City Commission in March 2009, creating a split commission with two who backed Gretsas, two who didn’t and the mayor in the middle, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
A few months later, Homestead hired Gretsas by a unanimous commission vote of 7-0.
During the Delray Beach candidate interviews, Gretsas said one reason he applied was to shorten his commute from Fort Lauderdale, giving him more time to spend with his young daughter. He also pointed out that the recruiter contacted him about the opening.
“As a city manager, I’m disciplined about staying in my lane,” Gretsas said. “You tell me what you want to do, and I will do it.”
Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson voted for Joseph Napoli, who has been deputy city manager of Miami for 18 months. Napoli, 60, has worked on issues concerning homeless people and sea level rise while in Miami.
“I don’t have an extensive background in city management, but I do have a broad background in leadership — clear, concise leadership,” Napoli said during the candidate interviews.
During the following meeting, commissioners voted three for Cernech, one for Gretsas and one for Napoli.
Then they voted to negotiate with Cernech by a 4-1 vote, with Johnson against.
Cernech makes $256,520 annually, plus benefits, in Tamarac.
Delray Beach advertised the city manager’s job with a salary range between $200,000 and $270,000.