On Feb. 4, the city of Delray Beach was told by the Florida Health Department that it must implement a citywide boil water order after receiving complaints that the city’s drinking water had become contaminated with reclaimed water.
The order was avoided only by an agreement to shut down the reclaimed water system while the problems were identified and repaired.
Move forward to late June. About 90% of customers are back on line, and the cost for fixing the system is nearing $1 million.
Yes, you saw that right: $1 million. Add that to the $8 million budget shortfall already facing the city.
Taxpayers have a right to know who is to blame for this expensive debacle. After all, they are going to pay for it.
City Manager George Gretsas did the right thing in his first few months on the job by contracting with a consultant to analyze what went wrong, and hiring a highly respected director for fresh oversight of the Water Utilities Department. The DOH supports these decisions.
Then, on June 24, city commissioners voted 3-2 to suspend Gretsas and file a notice to terminate, even before an independent counsel released results of an investigation into a personnel matter that alleged bullying, gender bias and emotional abuse by Gretsas.
According to one complaint, Gretsas was irate over how the reclaimed water project repairs were being managed.
Is that a surprise?
Management failures have long plagued City Hall. There have been five city managers and three interim managers since the water project began in 2006.
That leadership void at the top allowed a revolving door in the department overseeing the project. Mismanagement and a lack of oversight were the result.
Whether anything criminal occurred has not been determined.
At press time, it was not clear if Gretsas’ termination is warranted, but there’s little doubt it would be dramatic, divisive and expensive for the city.
The residents of Delray Beach have had their health jeopardized by systemic mismanagement.
The truth must be known. Investigations begun by Gretsas must not be abandoned because of his suspension, and Hassan Hadjimiry, the new Water Utilities director, must be retained and given authority to assure confidence in the water system.
Elected officials owe taxpayers that much, and more.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor