Gretsas on Board, No Tax Rate Hike in Boca and Other Notes

George Gretsas wants to be clear: He won’t set policy in Delray Beach. He will implement it.

I spoke with Gretsas on Wednesday, one day after the commission approved a contract for him to be city manager. “I don’t parachute in with my own agenda. I’m an operations guy. Unless they tell me to do something illegal or immoral, the commission sets the priorities.”

Gretsas used the analogy of a restaurant, with the commission as the owner and him as the manager. “If they decide that we’ve been serving Chinese and they want to serve Italian, the next day we’ll be serving Italian food.”

Because he must give Homestead, where he has been the manager for nine years, 90 days notice Gretsas won’t start in Delray Beach until mid-January. Many key management positions remain unfilled. Gretsas does not expect Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus to wait on filling all of them.

“I don’t want to stand in his way,” Gretsas said. He noted that one of the vacancies is for a director of public works. “You need to get that filled soon.” Nevertheless, he will focus on the “organizational structure” when he arrives—as the commission has asked.

George Gretsas

At this point, Gretsas does not plan to move to Delray Beach. He owns a home in the south end of Fort Lauderdale—where he was manager for six years—and said the commute north should be less than half of what it was heading south through Miami.

Still, he might rent an apartment in Delray Beach. “I assume there will be some late nights, and I want to get involved in the community.”

That involvement started last week. Gretsas had dinner with representatives of the police union. One reason that Fort Lauderdale didn’t renew Gretsas’ contract in 2010 was because of a clash with the police department.

Gretsas said he told the union reps that the problem started with his predecessor, who cut police positions to resolve a financial crisis. Then the commission asked him to reform public safety pensions, which Delray Beach already has done. Gretsas wanted to address the issue early. “I thought it was a good dinner.”

In March, the commission fired City Manager Mark Lauzier during a quickly scheduled meeting at which Lauzier had no chance to make a formal defense. Gretsas’ contract includes provisions that he has had in Fort Lauderdale and Homestead and are designed to prevent short-notice ambushes.

If the commission wanted to fire Gretsas for cause—as was the case with Lauzier—he would have five days to ask for a public hearing. The hearing would not take place for another 60 days. “It allows for a cooling-off period,” Gretsas said. “It makes things reciprocal.”

Gretsas understands that he will be very busy. “The commission has a very ambitious list of priorities: capital projects, master plans. I’ll see how much they get done (before January) and go from there.”

And it almost did not happen

Delray Beach barely got its new city manager.

The vote Tuesday afternoon came down to City Commissioner Bill Bathurst. Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Ryan Boylston had indicated that they would approve a contract with Homestead City Manager George Gretsas. Commissioners Adam Frankel and Shirley Johnson had indicated that they wouldn’t go along.

Had Bathurst joined Frankel and Johnson, the commission would have had to start over. More than six months after firing Mark Lauzier, the commission would be no closer to finding his replacement.

That would have been very Delray Beach. But Bathurst kept it from happening.

Michael Cernech

Frankel, like Bathurst and Boylston, had wanted Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech among the three finalists. Petrolia—who had favored Gretsas—attended, and broke off, the negotiation with Cernech over what she considered his excessive compensation demands.

Frankel’s response Tuesday was to claim that the contract for Cernech was “similar if not less” than the compensation for Gretsas. Petrolia pushed back, noting that Cernech wanted automatic annual raises. Gretsas’ contract stipulates that his salary of $265,000 will stay at that level for two years. Petrolia and Frankel then went back and forth about insurance, vacation time and sick days.

“You do understand. . .?” Boylston began to ask. Frankel responded, “I understand a lot about this process.” He had wanted a new search after Petrolia blew up the talks with Cernech. As for Johnson, she said simply, “I am not going to reconsider.” She wanted Miami Deputy Mayor Joseph Napoli, the other finalist.

Since David Harden retired at the end of 2012, Delray Beach has had three permanent city managers. Neal de Jesus is in his second stint as interim manager. Another interim served for a short time in 2014.

“I just want the cycle to end today,” Boylston said. So Gretsas got the job. It will take a while to determine if the cycle has ended.

Boca tax rate unchanged

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District left the agency’s tax rate unchanged Tuesday night. Where things go from here is less certain.

District board members and city council members still must decide how to proceed on the Boca National golf course. And that’s just one of many issues.

The two sides disagree on the course’s design and cost, the first of which influences the second. Feelings will be hard after council members lobbied so publicly against a proposed district tax rate increase that they believed was to finance a needlessly expensive golf course and which some district board members said was to pay for city obligations.

Chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang and commissioners Steve Engel, Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright voted against the increase. Ehrnst and Wright are up for re-election next year. Bob Rollins voted for it. He has been a strong supporter of the district’s preferred design for Boca National. It would replace the former Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca and serve as the city’s new public course after Boca Raton sells the current municipal layout.

The district board meets on Monday. Boca National isn’t on the agenda. Executive Director Briann Harms said, “That doesn’t mean it won’t come up during commissioners reports, but after the intensity of the past couple of weeks I think it will be nice to take a deep breath and move forward towards effective collaboration.”

I’ll have more next week.

New threat to Ag Reserve                                     

Through this blog, I have tried to keep residents updated on threats to the Agricultural Reserve Area of Palm Beach County. There’s a new one.

A developer wants to build a senior living center called Poet’s Walk on roughly 10 acres at the northeast corner of Lyons Road and Linton Boulevard. Under current rules, the applicant could build 23 beds. Instead, the applicant—Wantman Group—wants to build 186 beds and receive an exemption from the rule requiring that developers preserve 60 percent of the land.

Last month, on behalf of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, land-use attorney Richard Grosso sent a letter to the county commission opposing Poet’s Walk. Grosso said approval could set a precedent for similar projects and risk tipping the balance from agricultural preservation to more suburban sprawl. The landowner has been in agriculture for many years and probably wants to retire and cash out.

The site is west of Delray Beach, not Boynton Beach. But Myrna Rosoff, a past president of COBWRA, said, “You can’t separate one area from the other. What happens at one end affects the other. The developer is looking for more development than necessary.”

The Palm Beach County Planning Commission, an advisory panel, recommended denial of Poet’s Walk at its June 14 meeting. The vote, however, was just 7-6. One of the votes for the project came from Lori Vinikoor, executive vice president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations. The alliance is COBWRA’s counterpart in West Delray.

No commission vote has been scheduled.

Commission meetings all on one day next week

Because Yom Kippur begins Tuesday at sundown, the Boca Raton City Council will hold all of its three meetings on Monday. As always, the community redevelopment agency meeting will start at 1:30 with the council workshop immediately afterward. The regular council meeting will be at its normal time of 6 p.m., a day early. The agendas for all three meetings are light.

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