Gretsas Firing Unravels in Delray as City Changes Charges

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George Gretsas and Shelly Petrolia

The campaign against Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas got much more suspicious on Monday.

As expected, the commission voted to proceed with formal charges to fire Gretsas for cause. That move was preordained on June 24, when Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to suspend Gretsas with the intent to fire him.

The shocker, however, is that all the allegations that prompted the June 24 vote have gone away. Gretsas will not face charges of creating a hostile workplace, especially for women, by yelling at employees. Gretsas will not face charges of trying to retaliate against Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher by trying to fire her for complaining about him.

Instead, City Attorney Lynn Gelin has written what amounts to her second indictment of Gretsas. She alleges “numerous instances of misconduct” regarding a private computer network that operated outside of the state’s open-records law. She alleges that Gretsas wrongly paid a consultant to install this network.

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George Gretsas

In addition, Gelin claims that Gretsas wrongly authorized payments of more than $25,000 to set up a television studio. Gretsas did so to record interviews with the city’s elected and appointed officials about the COVID-19 pandemic. Gelin alleges that Gretsas didn’t have emergency authority to approve those payments without commission approval.

Gelin authorized the investigation that led to the June 24 allegations. The vote happened even though the report wasn’t finished and the commission hadn’t seen it.

Now, though, Gelin says that investigation has been concluded. Yet Gretsas won’t get the chance to rebut the allegations from the investigation, all of which he has denied. As a result, those allegations will hang out there when the commission discusses the new charges at an Oct. 23 meeting, at which I assume that Petrolia, Casale and Johnson want to finalize the hanging that they set in motion several weeks ago.

These charges arose from an investigation by Internal Auditor Linda Davidyan. When the commission fired then-City Manager Mark Lauzier in March 2019, Davidyan conducted the investigation. Traditionally, such auditors oversee spending, not policy matters.

Carmen Rodriguez is Gretsas’ attorney. “The city,” she told me Monday, “has no regard for due process. They continue a pattern of slandering (Gretsas) with a new set of charges that have no basis in fact.”

Gelin stated that Gretsas refused to participate in the probe of the new issues. But in an email exchange with Assistant City Attorney Kelly Brandon, Rodriguez said the problem is that no one from the city would tell Gretsas what Davidyan was investigating. Rodriguez said the city would respond only by saying, “Your objection is noted.”

Rodriguez also cited what she considers a similarity between this indictment and the previous one. It involves Gelin.

With the Fisher allegation, Rodriguez had asked why Gelin didn’t tell Gretsas about Fisher’s complaints. Gretsas showed Gelin his memo for firing Fisher. A responsible city attorney, Rodriguez said, would not have allowed a city manager to face the possibility of a retaliation charge. Gelin, Rodriguez said, was accusing Fisher of something she had known about.

With the new allegation, Rodriguez said, Gelin is in the same position because she acknowledged asking Gretsas about the supposed illegal network. “Again,” Rodriguez said at the end of Monday’s meeting, “we have a witness” — Gelin — with prior “knowledge” of the accusation. That “witness” also is the prosecutor, as she was in June.

Delray
Shelly Petrolia, Juli Casale, and Shirley Johnson

None of these questions apparently matters to the posse of Petrolia, Casale and Johnson. After more than an hour on Monday, Petrolia said, “Let’s get a vote.” The mayor’s apparent orchestration of the campaign against Gretsas seemed to show again when Petrolia prompted Johnson on a vote.

Rodriguez said Gelin and the mayor went on a “retroactive fishing expedition.” Petrolia countered that the issue “is not about you,” meaning Gelin. Given the shifting allegations and Gelin’s role not as the usual legal advisor to the commission but more like Petrolia’s consigliere, however, the issue seems to be as much about Gelin as it is about Gretsas.

Gelin’s response

In an email, Gelin said Rodriguez’s statements “are not worthy of a response from me. Her client knows the extent of our discussions. What Mr. Gretsas chooses to relay to his attorney is beyond my control or, frankly, my concern.

“Ms. Rodriguez can continue to make baseless accusations against me in her attempt to divert attention from the real issues concerning her client and his alleged misconduct.  I was not made aware of the existence of the private network until Interim City Manager (Jennifer) Alvarez alerted me to it after Mr. Gretsas’ suspension. The misconduct as alleged in the city’s written charges is, to say the least, disappointing of a career public servant.”

Terms of Fisher’s resignation

And what of Suzanne Fisher, the central player in the first vote to fire Gretsas?

I had reported that Fisher is resigning, effective Sept. 7. In light of Monday’s developments, let’s look at the wording in what on Aug. 14 was “partially executed” for Fisher’s “release and separation” from the city.

Accoding to the agreement, Fisher would release the city from any “claims and demands” against the city from her allegations against Gretsas. The agreement states that other employees “corroborated” Fisher’s allegations.

The agreement does not state that the city has refused to release the transcripts of all those interviewed for the investigation. Gretsas’ attorney has claimed that Gelin, who commissioned the report, highlighted the minority of employees who criticized Gretsas.

Under the agreement, which is outlined in a memo from Gelin, Fisher would get 90 days pay. She could not take any legal action against the city. Notably, the agreement requires Fisher not to take any action that could “adversely affect” the city. Would the agreement enjoin Fisher from being part of any legal action by Gretsas? Fisher’s departure adds to the suspicion.

Boca ice rink vote

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Boca Ice Rink (Rendering by RLC Architects)

The Boca Raton City Council will vote at tonight’s meeting on the seemingly odd combination of an ice rink and performing arts complex.

Boca Ice and Fine Arts would feature two rinks, a dance studio and ballet rooms on about four acres near the Congress Road interchange of Interstate 95. The project requires one ordinance and two resolutions, one of which would limit the building’s height to 50 feet.

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke has championed the project. It got a unanimous recommendation for approval from the planning and zoning board and City Manager Leif Ahnell recommends that the council approve it.

Boca election changes on the table

The Boca Raton City Council wants voters to decide on two proposed changes to election laws.

One would require that candidates have been residents for one year, not the current 30 days. Another would require candidates to present 200 petition signatures, not just pay $25. They are on tonight’s agenda. The proposals would be on the March 2020 ballot.

Perlman discharged

On July 8, a Wednesday, former Delray Beach Mayor Jeff Perlman had lunch at Granger’s Grille with Jon Levinson, who had been a city commission colleague.

Two days later, Perlman went to Bethesda East Hospital, thinking that he had pneumonia. Two hours after that, he called Levinson to report that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

There followed weeks of what Perlman described as near-death agony. Happily, he was discharged last week, though Perlman stressed that his recovery remains far from complete.

The accompanying video shows the sendoff that Perlman received from the hospital staff. Said Levinson, “I can’t believe that people still think it’s a hoax.”