Friday, March 17, 2023

Unpacking the Allegations Against Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas

Now that the Delray Beach City Commission has convicted George Gretsas, the indictment is public.

When Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson on June 24 served notice that they want to fire Gretsas, they referred to an incomplete report by a Coral Gables labor law firm, Allen Norton & Blue. City Attorney Lynn Gelin hired the firm to investigate complaints against Gretsas by Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher.

Suhaill Morales, a partner in the firm’s Coral Gables office, concluded that Gretsas had violated city policies against workplace bullying and retaliation. In the report, Fisher and other female employees accuse Gretsas of treating them more harshly than he treats male employees.

In addition to Fisher, those employees include, among others, Gelin—who reports to the commission, not Gretsas —and Purchasing Director Jennifer Alvarez. After serving notice on Gretsas, Petrolia, Casale and Johnson named Alvarez the interim manager. In the report, Gretsas denies all allegations of gender discrimination.

The recent timetable begins on May 14. According to Fisher, Gretsas berated her and Public Works Director Missie Barletto for several hours regarding problems with the city’s reclaimed water program. Four days later, Fisher complained about Gretsas to Petrolia. Fisher also took her complaints to Gelin.

george gretsas
George Gretsas

On June 5, Gretsas emailed Fisher and accused her of “unethical conduct” related to her boyfriend’s employment with the food and beverage contractor at the city’s golf course. Gretsas cited what he considered a similar problem involving a previous boyfriend when Fisher was in charge of the Parks and Recreation Department.

In the email, Gretsas said his trust in Fisher had been “shattered.” He added, “In addition to your blatant and repeated highly unethical conduct, I have also learned of other evidence that suggests that you have a propensity for lying, creating internal acrimony and making false charges.”

Gretsas referenced a bullying complaint by Fisher against former city employee Michael Coleman. The investigator in that case, Gretsas said, “concluded that you were lying during your testimony and that you filed a false claim with the city.” Gretsas quoted the investigator as saying, “It appears Ms. Fisher has fomented fear and discontent among her staff by telling outright lies to try to strengthen her position.”

Gretsas went on to cite a 2014 case in which Fisher also “falsely accused” colleagues of “intimidation and bullying.” In the email, Gretsas said, “Making false claims against your colleagues not only is disruptive to the organization but also erodes the trust of the people that you are expected to lead and, as a consequence, you have squandered the opportunity to be an effective leader here.”    He set a “pre-discipline conference for June 20. Gretsas clearly intended to fire Fisher.

On June 10, Fisher responded with an eight-page memo to Gelin and Human Resources Director Duane D’Andrea.

“I feel that I have been the victim,” Fisher said, “of bullying, gender discrimination and harassment, a hostile work environment, and now retaliation by City Manager George Gretsas, commencing in March 2020 and continuing to the present time, and includes Mr. Gretsas’ current actions and false, trumped up, and defamatory allegations of unethical behavior and dishonesty as being in retaliation for my internal complaint about him and my recent option to take leave (under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act) due to the mental and emotional distress he has caused me.”

Morales said Gretsas “raised some legitimate concerns relating to Ms. Fisher’s credibility and referred to prior instances where Ms. Fisher filed similar complaints against other city employees.”

But, she added, those concerns “even if true, do not negate the findings of this investigation, which do not rely solely on Ms. Fisher’s account of the events that transpired.” Morales said Barletto “corroborated Ms. Fisher’s account of the events that occurred on May 14.

“Additionally, it was the statements of some of the other female employees regarding Mr. Gretsas’ ongoing antagonistic behavior towards them that established that Mr. Gretsas’ behavior was a pattern.”

I am told that a pro-Gretsas contingent at City Hall believes that Petrolia, working through Gelin, wants to run off Gretsas and install someone whom the mayor can control. If there is such a contingent, it presumably includes the other assistant city manager, Allyson Love.

She followed Gretsas from Homestead, which goes against the narrative that Gretsas creates workplaces that are hostile to women. Ironically, Petrolia last year destroyed negotiations with the candidate she had opposed, which allowed Gretsas to get the job. Petrolia said Gretsas had “checked all the boxes” in her evaluation.

Shelly Petrolia

In addition, Petrolia regularly expressed frustration with former City Manager Don Cooper—who had the job in 2015 and 2016—that he wasn’t shaking up City Hall enough. Nine days before the key exchange among Gretsas, Fisher and Barletto, Gretsas made a presentation to the commission in which he criticized the reclaimed water program and said he had hired a new utilities director to fix it. No commissioner had a problem with that criticism.

Item 7H on the agenda for today’s commission meeting is “discussion regarding interim city manager.” That’s all it says. Commissioners likely will decide whether to leave Alvarez in place while the Gretsas case plays out. If Petrolia, Casale and Johnson allow Alvarez to continue, suspicion will grow that what happened on June 24 had been scripted in violation of the open-meetings law.

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues and Delray Beach is two months from budget hearings.

I’ll have more on Thursday.

Early voting in Delray

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link is granting Delray Beach’s request for an early voting site.

City officials long had complained that Boynton Beach and Boca Raton had sites within the city limits but Delray Beach didn’t. Sartory said the location will be the community center at Veterans Park. It will be open for the Aug. 18 primary.

Baptist clamps down on elective surgeries

boca regional
Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

With COVID-19 cases spiking, Baptist Health announced last week that it would limit elective surgeries.

Baptist is the parent company of Boca Raton Regional Hospital and Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach and West Boynton. Jackson Health System in Miami and Memorial Healthcare in Broward County also announced that they would cut back on such procedures.

Boca Regional suspended elective surgeries in mid-March as hospitals saved space to handle a potential wave of COVID-19 patients. Those surgeries resumed in mid-May. None of the companies indicated how long the restriction might last. That, of course, depends on how responsibly the public behaves.

BRRH donation

In happier news for Boca Regional, investor Mason Slaine has donated $1.5 million toward the hospital’s Keeping the Promise capital campaign.

Slaine, who owns a house in Boca Raton’s Por La Mar neighborhood, is chairman of Cast & Crew. The company provides software to the entertainment industry. Slaine previously was CEO of Thompson Financial, which merged with Reuters News Service in 2008. Slaine also holds a stake in Tribune Publishing, which owns the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

According to a news release, this is Slaine’s second major gift to Boca Regional. His name will be on the admitting room in the new patient tower. The campaign, which has a goal of $250 million, has raised $163 million.

Boca Helping Hands expands

Businesses may be reopening – and reclosing – but the demand for food continues during the pandemic. Boca Helping Hands has expanded its food program to Lantana. The group is working with Advent Lutheran Church, which is a sister church of Advent Lutheran in Boca Raton. Executive Director Greg Hazle said Boca Helping Hands would continue the Lantana program “for the long term.”

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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