The Lead Up to the Gretsas Firing and More Delray Updates

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Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Five days before his suspension as Delray Beach’s city manager, George Gretsas proposed what his attorney called “team building and leadership exercises” in response to complaints about his management style.

The request came to City Attorney Lynn Gelin late on the afternoon of June 19. About 45 minutes later, Gelin relayed it to Mayor Shelly Petrolia and the city commission. Gelin said she would “reach out to you in order to obtain direction on this matter.” If a majority was interested, Gelin said, she would schedule a meeting.

Commissioner Ryan Boylston was interested. He voted with Adam Frankel on June 24 against suspending Gretsas and has publicly questioned the process that led up to the commission’s vote.

Boylston told me that when he discussed Gretsas’ proposal, Gelin said, “‘It’s going to be fine.’” In Boylston’s mind, the city had accepted the offer from Carmen Rodriguez, Gretsas’ attorney. Those “team building” exercises would address complaints that Gretsas yelled at employees, particularly female employees.

A day later, however, Gelin called with a different message. “‘We have a problem,’” Boylston said Gelin told him.

Gelin already had asked a Coral Gables law firm to investigate the complaints. On June 19, the firm’s report was not complete. Three days later, the investigator was set to interview Gretsas.

According to Gelin’s email, Rodriguez wanted Gelin to delay release of the report for 90 days. If that’s true, the delay presumably would have been to allow time for the sessions to take place. If they were successful, the report would not become public.

I learned about Gretsas’ offer through a public records request for emails between Gelin and the commissioners before and after that June 24 meeting. There was no record in those emails of any other response from a commissioner.

On Monday, I asked Gelin what the other commissioners had said about Gretsas’ offer. She did not respond by deadline for this post.

The emails–portions of which were redacted–and other documents I have seen raise more questions about the events that led to the suspension. Petrolia and commissioners Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to suspend Gretsas, who had held the job for six months.

Shelly Petrolia, Juli Casale, Shirley Johnson

Here’s one of the main questions:

Gelin said Gretsas proposed on June 23 that he resign in return for the investigation not becoming public. Rodriguez, however, said the city proposed the resignation a day earlier.

So who’s right? I also asked Gelin about this disagreement. She did not respond by deadline.

Though Boylston said Gelin had been updating him “daily” about Gretsas’ status, he emailed Gelin at 11:15 a.m. on June 24 to ask for an update:

“As you can imagine,” Boylston wrote, “I am getting a lot of calls this morning. Has anyone from the City given Mr. Gretsas a deadline of 12 p.m. today to resign or (the) report comes out?”

Gelin replied, “When I spoke to him last night, he indicated he wished to speak to his wife about this matter.” Gelin also said, “I asked (Gretsas) if giving me his decision by noon would afford him enough time, and he agreed.”

Gelin added that she had “reminded” Gretsas that she was to present the report to the commission before the 3 p.m. meeting. The city’s website did not list the agenda for the meeting. The report on which the commission based its decision was not ready by 3 p.m. Gelin sent it to the commission early that evening, after the vote to suspend Gretsas.

I asked Gelin when she told the mayor and all the commissioners that Gretsas might resign. She did not respond by deadline.

And who was involved in the negotiations over Gretsas’ possible resignation? Were there others in addition to Gelin? What was the sequence of events that led to the meeting?

In an email, Rodriguez said she received the city’s “proposed agreement” for resignation less than 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting. She “had not even had an opportunity to review it.”

Gretsas, Rodriguez said, “was not prepared to resign at that time. Everything felt very pressured and rushed.”

About that time, Boylston said, he had been on the phone with Gretsas, who said he wasn’t resigning. Then Gelin called Boylston, who took the call.

Gelin said she was calling to say that Gretsas would resign. Boylston relayed that comment to Gretsas. At that point, Boylston said, Gretsas gave up on any thought of resigning. “He said, ‘I’m going to fight this.’ “

So who was making the decisions for the city? Rodriguez said that when she asked Gelin questions, “She would respond along the lines, ‘I have to go check or ‘I have to go get approval.’ “ Rodriquez added, “My assumption was that she was checking with the mayor.”

I left a voicemail on Petrolia’s cell phone asking if she was working with Gelin on the resignation. Petrolia has refused for more than three years to speak with me. I will relate Petrolia’s response if it comes.

The next formal step regarding Gretsas comes Aug. 24, when the commission must present formal charges to fire him. I will try to address some of these many remaining questions before then.

Indemnification for Gretsas?

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George Gretsas

There’s a Gretsas item on today’s city commission agenda, and it could be significant.

Gretsas has asked the city for indemnification—legal protection—from a potential lawsuit by Homestead Concrete & Drainage. Through its attorney, the Miami-Dade County-based company sent a letter to Gretsas’ home—not his office—on June 25 to address “slanderous statements” by Gretsas that supposedly almost cost the company a contract in Delray Beach.

Homestead Concrete & Drainage wants a letter of apology from Gretsas for what the attorney calls “shameful comments.” Otherwise, the company will seek $1 million in damages. Defending such a lawsuit on his own also would cost Gretsas plenty in legal fees.

Notably, the letter accuses Gretsas of attempting to “bully” the company. The accusations against Gretsas accuse him of bullying employees. The letter comes after public release of those complaints.

Most important, how did the company learn about these supposed “slanderous statements?” Gretsas almost certainly would have made them only to other city employees. If he spoke critically about the company, was he doing so based on experience when Gretsas was city manager in Homestead?

Much about this is suspicious. Gelin said she “seeks direction” from the commission on Gretsas’ request.

Interim Delray City Manager’s salary

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Delray Beach Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez

Delray Beach’s interim manager, Jennifer Alvarez, will work at a pro-rated annual salary of $189,500. She will get a $500-per-month car allowance and a $100-per-month phone allowance.

The commission majority that suspended Gretsas quickly chose Alvarez to fill in. If Alvarez returns to her former job as purchasing director, she would receive a five percent raise from her previous salary.

Delray budget issues

Delray Beach has a $2.25 million hole in its budget.

On today’s meeting agenda is an item from city financial officials asking commissioners to use that amount from reserves to balance the budget. The main problem is the “unanticipated” decrease in tax revenue because of COVID-19 restrictions.

For a city of Delray Beach’s size, that’s a sizeable deficit. It would be larger if administrators hadn’t cut $2 million. And this might not be the last amendment. The budget year doesn’t end until Sept. 30. According to the staff memo, it is “challenging to accurately estimate the impact” from COVID-19 over the next few months.

Delray property taxes

On a related matter, the commission today will set Delray Beach’s maximum property tax rates for the coming budget year.

The current rates are $6.66 for every $1,000 of assessed value for the operating budget and 20 cents for debt service. According to the staff memo, the debt service rate will drop by about a penny. For the operating budget, the staff proposes three options: $6.56, $6.66 or $6.76.

The higher rate, the memo says, would give “more flexibility.” Even if commissioners went high today, they could set a lower rate at the final budget hearing in September. The first budget workshop, at which the staff will preview the 2020-21 fiscal plan, is Aug. 11.

Practically speaking, the choice of rate doesn’t matter very much for most homeowners. The spread between the three proposals is about $50 for a house assesses at $300,000. Obviously, the spread will be much higher for owners of large commercial properties.

iPic wants relief money

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Though movie theaters in Palm Beach County remain closed, iPic is running its own feature.

In an email, the company asks patrons to urge that Congress include money for theater owners in its next COVID-19 relief bill. The email says, “The livelihood of over 150,000 people are affected—people working the concession stands, running the equipment, taking tickets, booking movies, and cleaning auditoriums—just to name a few. They are waiting in the wings, ready to provide you with a cinematic experience, again. But right now, all movie theaters need financial help from Congress while the industry waits to reopen.”

Separately, a company spokeswoman said the new iPic has been set up as a limited liability corporation “with a corporate management team in place for operations of all the sites.” If Palm Beach County gets to Phase 2 anytime soon, iPic will “announce our reopening” in Boca Raton and Delray Beach. “Prior to opening team members at both locations will go through extensive training on health and safety.”

Free headshots in Mizner Park for the unemployed

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Brookfield Properties, which owns and operates and retail/commercial portion of Mizner Park, is offering free headshots to those looking for work.

According to a news release, the company calls the promotion “10,000 Headshots.” Brookfield has hired 200-plus photographers around the country to create what it calls “the largest single-day photo initiative of its kind.

The event takes place Wednesday. Those interested can visit HeadshotBooker.com to schedule an appointment between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

Dana Romanelli Schearer is general manager of Mizner Park. Her friend Lauren Lieberman is co-founder of Headshot Booker. According to the release, the two woman took 10,000 Headshots concept nationally. “We will ensure the safety of our guests,” Schearer said, “with protocols in place to ensure safe distancing and hygiene practices throughout the day.”