Delray Beach City Commission voted three to two on June 24 to terminate City Manager George Gretsas for cause. The motion required Gretsas’ immediate suspension with pay.
At its July 7 regular meeting, the Commission determined the procedures necessary for Gretsas’ final termination.
It also voted to appoint Director Jennifer Alvarez as Interim City Manager.
Delray Beach, a town of about 70,000 people, has had six managers or interim managers including Gretsas since 2013.
The City Commission voted three to two on October 1, 2019 to hire Gretsas under a negotiated contract. He was their second choice when an earlier candidate declined the position because the Commission’s offer was not by unanimous vote.
The source of the Commission’s dissatisfaction was a complaint filed by Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher accusing Gretsas of bullying.
Delray Beach city ordinance 5.1 declares workplace bullying, discrimination, and harassment are illegal. It also asserts workforce bullying will not be tolerated. That section further states, “The City will not permit retaliation against a person who makes a complaint about a violation of this policy.”
An independent legal firm was engaged to conduct an investigation of the complaint.
Twenty-five City employees with information about administrative operations were interviewed. City Attorney Lynn Gelin declined to release the final report to the City Commission on June 24 until Gretsas had the opportunity to review it and respond.
At the June 24 Commission meeting, it was announced that a negotiated resignation was close. An option available to the Commission included putting the Manager on administrative leave and appointing an interim Manager. Alternately, voting for notice of intent to terminate started the clock ticking under Gretsas’ contract, giving him at least 120 days before dismissal.
By voting to terminate for cause, the Council could no longer expect a negotiated resignation. Commission’s vote was taken without councilmembers seeing the investigative report.
Prior to the vote, George Gretsas said, “Resignation makes no sense at this time.
Accusations have been made. I would like to read the report and respond.” Gretsas had retained legal counsel who negotiated a proposed settlement with the City’s labor counsel.
Attorney Gelin said of Gretsas, “His contract has excessive procedural due process.”
When Gretsas was hired, Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia said about his contract, “These new terms give him rights including the right to contest a firing and be heard plus 60 to 120 day extensions for termination with cause. These are the terms necessary to attract a good city manager these days.”
In the investigative report, Fisher’s account of a May 14 episode with Gretsas’, “screaming, yelling, belligerent constant abuse … for hours” was corroborated by other employees.
Several employees provided detailed accounts of their bullying by Gretsas, including the current Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez.
Fisher said she believed Gretsas’ treatment was gender-based because she’d never seen him use the same behavior with any male employees.
City Attorney Gelin, interviewed for the report, said, “I don’t believe it’s a male or female thing … unfortunately it’s become very divisive and either you’re on his team or you’re not.”
The report detailed the allegation that Gretsas amassed information on Fisher, asking her assistant to help gather it. Gretsas denies that he asked other staff members to gather information about Fisher.
The investigative report says Gretsas sought to terminate Fisher’s employment about June 2 because she had “engaged in unethical conduct, conflicts of interest and had misused her official position…”
That termination never occurred. Gretsas issued a statement last week stating, “To say that the report was drafted with a predetermine bias and in collusion would be a gross understatement.
As the facts come to light, they will show that this work of fiction was designed to cover up gross incompetence, negligence and corruption at City Hall.”
The City Commission at its July 7 meeting confirmed the appointment of the Interim City Manager. Attorney Gelin said because she was interviewed as a witness in the investigative report, she didn’t want to give the Commission any advice on it but would rely on assistant counsel.
Attorney Gelin said the Gretsas employment agreement had several procedural timelines and requirements that the Commission needed to comply with. In termination for cause, a new investigation had to be done and adopted at a special meeting with Gretsas invited to be present. Attorney Gelin likened it to an indictment.
“The Commission meeting can be held no sooner than sixty days after notice of intent to terminate is given to Gretsas. I estimate that date as Monday August 24. Sixty days after that, a public meeting will be called to essentially have trial and terminate for cause,” said Attorney Gelin.
The Delray Beach City Commission set Monday August 24 at 11:30 AM as the date for its special meeting.
Gretsas, 52, had been Homestead’s City Manager for nine years before accepting the Delray Beach position.
When Gretsas announced his new position last fall, former Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter said, “That town had problems keeping managers from political instability or whatever. George wasn’t looking for the job. They found him through a head hunter.”