Homestead’s former City Manager George Gretsas, 52, was terminated with cause by the Delray Beach City Commission on Friday November 20.
Delray Beach is a town of about 70,000 people that has had seven managers or interim managers including Gretsas since 2013.
The hearing was delayed from a scheduled October 23 date when Gretsas’ new legal team requested more time to prepare and negotiated the extension without pay.
After that, the Gretsas team went to court asking for a further delay which the City denied.
The City clerk said of Gretsas at the hearing, “He’s not present; he’s in Montana on some COVID-related crisis.” The City prepared the chamber for Gretsas to attend remotely but the hook-up was not used.
Attorney Carmen Rodriquez representing Gretsas later said his absence was not related to the proceedings but was in fact due to the birth of his child.
Mayor Shelley Petrolia directed the clerk to read nine charges alleging misconduct into the record with evidentiary documentation including attachment of a City-commissioned investigative report. On the motion to proceed, Delray Beach City Commissioners voted three to two.
Before the City’s and Gretsas’ attorneys began a four hour duel over on the charges, the Mayor called for public comment.
The first comment was from Homestead’s former mayor Steve Shiver.
“I have never in my career faced such an egregious, willful, blatant disregard of the facts and the consequences as this gentleman has done,” said Shiver. “As a victim of this man, I applaud the efforts of this Mayor and Council for calling him out publicly and stopping what the leadership in Homestead failed to do.”
“On advice of attorneys, I’m not going to disclose factual things; that will be coming in a few weeks,” said Shiver. “I pray you make the right decision to terminate him.”
During the long hearing that followed, Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Ervin Johnson said, “We’re missing the voice of George Gretsas in all this. It’s very disappointing he’s not here.”
A City-commissioned investigation by Dr. Julia Davidyan into a complaint by Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher accusing Gretsas of
extreme bullying was the basis for written misconduct charges adopted by the Commission on August 24, 2020.
Those initial bullying and employee retaliation charges were not recommended for inclusion in the written charges. At the time, Delray Beach City
Attorney Lynn Gelin said pursing those charges was not in the best interests of the City.
City Commissioner Adam Frankel repeated July comments that he was troubled the staff intimidation charge was used in a city press release but not added to the misconduct charges.
“To me, this was a fireable offense,” Commissioner Frankel said. “Gretsas should never have been here; the former Homestead Mayor sent communications warning the City. But trust is broken, there’s no question.”
Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston said “I’m not comfortable going forward because this was an extremely one-sided investigation. Also I resent the comments about hiring cronies because these are our staff members. We were all on those live broadcasts.”
Commissioner Juli Casale was informed the Commission needed to decide if it was terminating Gretsas for cause or without cause because the latter motion would ‘cost another $180,000 of taxpayers’ money’.
Six of the nine charges were approved by a vote of three to two, Frankel and Boylston voting no. Those charges were:
Gretsas installation of a Basecamp computer system outside the oversight of the City’s IT Department, where he had sole discretion on access, compromising the City’s legally required recordkeeping and public disclosure.
Gretsas letter of June 5, 2020 terminating Assistant Manager Suzanne Fisher citing reasons and then emailing it to all department heads in violation of City procedure.
Hiring an expert to assess the City’s computer system, giving him access to personnel records including criminal background checks without permission and paying him $64,000 before the assessment report was submitted, in disregard of City policies.
Hiring Joshua Padgett and commissioning a TV studio with equipment purchases exceeding $25,000 without following the procurement
process; Padgett was hired part time at $50 per hour without posting the position and at 20% above current salary levels without justification on exceeding minimum requirements.
Gretsas made false statements in a July 31, 2020 document answering the Commission’s written complaint in deliberate disregard of City policies.
Gretsas failed to fully and truthfully cooperate in the Fisher investigation in violation of the terms of his employment agreement.
The Commission voted four to one, Boylston voting no, on two additional charges:
Gretsas hired Jason King, reclassifying a utility department position for work on the reclaimed water issue, at a significantly higher job grade and classification and at 20% above the salary level in conscious disregard of City policy.
Padgett’s position reported directly to the manager but Gretsas failed to review Padgett’s time sheets prior to payment in disregard of reasonable standards of behavior.
A final charge stated Gretsas refused to comply with his obligations
pursuant to Florida statute putting the City at risk of liability with ample
evidence of misconduct. This charge was approved unanimously, five to zero.
Delray Beach was also seeking to obtain copies of all emails but asserted Gretsas through counsel was refusing to provide them. This was an
extension of the charge that using personal email accounts subverted the policy of open public records.
The hearing saw the introduction of reams of documents in forty-two tabs attached to the hearing agenda, some of them hundreds of pages long, making further legal challenges to the Commission’s termination action appear likely.