Monday, August 8, 2022

Gretsas is Fighting Charges, Boca Beaches & Parks to Lower Taxes, and More

George Gretsas has fired back hard at the effort to remove him as Delray Beach city manager.

And he’s aiming at a big target.

In a Tuesday letter to City Attorney Lynn Gelin, his attorney, Carmen Rodriguez, calls the investigative report that formed the evidence against Gretsas “legally and factually flawed.” The investigator, a lawyer whom Gelin hired, concluded that Gretsas had created a hostile workplace for female employees and had sought to fire Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher in retaliation for her related complaints against him.

Rodriguez essentially accuses Gelin of setting up Gretsas for the retaliation charge, which is the most serious in the report. Rodriguez says the notice to terminate Fisher was “the same notice that (Gretsas) sent to you IN ADVANCE of issuing it to Ms. Fisher” after obtaining “advice” from Gelin and the city’s labor attorney.

Gelin was aware, Rodriguez says, of Fisher’s complaints. Rodriguez adds, “You, as the City Attorney, are aware of an alleged harassment complaint by an employee and you do not stop the issuance of the Notice of Intent to Terminate that is sent to you in advance?

“And you later allow the City Manager, who came to you for advice in his capacity as City Manager, to face a finding of retaliation based on the same Notice that you allowed to issue?”

Had Gretsas known about the complaints by Fisher that the manager had been verbally abusive, Rodriguez is saying, he never would have sought to fire her. Then there would have been no retaliation complaint. Fisher has a history of making similar accusations.

“Lynn,” Rodriguez says, “there is no retaliation here, but if Mr. Gretsas is allegedly guilty of retaliation, then so are you and the City through your actions. Any other conclusion is completely absurd.”

Shelly Petrolia, Juli Casale, Shirley Johnson

Though Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson cast the votes on July 24 to serve notice to fire Gretsas, Gelin is the key player. She is a witness against Gretsas in the report, and she acted basically as the prosecutor during the special meeting that was posted with no agenda.

Rodriguez also claims that the report itself is unfairly weighted against Gretsas. The investigator said she interviewed 25 witnesses. “Yet,” Rodriguez says, “there is only one sentence dedicated to the testimony of other witnesses offering evidence favorable to Mr. Gretsas.”

That portion reads, “For the most part, the remaining employees interviewed—including those identified by Mr. Gretsas—did not notice a difference in the way he treated male and female employees.”

Rodriguez says, “That’s it, one sentence? Not a single favorable witness interview is summarized in the report? Troubling, isn’t it?”

Rodriguez concludes by saying, “What remains is that Mr. Gretsas uncovered serious wrongdoing on multiple fronts affecting the City and its residents. All of this appears an effort to suppress that.”

I emailed Gelin for her response. I had not heard back by deadline for this post.

Resigning? Not so fast   

Despite an effort before the June 24 hanging to make him resign, Gretsas shows no sign of doing so.

Gelin said she now will ask for another investigative report, which she says is required under Gretsas’ contract despite the first report. Though Rodriguez said Gretsas still has not received a chance to respond to the first investigation, Gelin said Tuesday that she considers the first probe closed.

There will be a meeting on the upcoming report in late August. Gelin said a second meeting, amounting to a “trial,” would come 60 days after that.

Alvarez steps in

Delray Beach Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez, Photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

While the Gretsas case plays out, the commission majority that fired him continued to display its support for Jennifer Alvarez. Petrolia, Casale and Johnson quickly promoted her from purchasing director to interim manager last month, passing over Assistant City Manager Allyson Love. Fisher is on leave.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Petrolia, Casale and Johnson rejected Adam Frankel’s attempt to bring back former City Manager David Harden as a temporary employee or consultant to help with the budget. Harden was manager from 1991 until the end of 2012. Harden, Frankel said, “was willing to come.” Frankel noted that Alvarez previously hadn’t been even an assistant city manager, let alone a manager.

Johnson said Alvarez had been “more than a stabilizing force” since taking over two weeks ago. “She has my full support.” Casale added that she had been “very impressed” by Alvarez, who on Tuesday detailed her 21 years in government while also acknowledging that this would be her first “citywide budget.”

Petrolia said curtly, “We brought in a firefighter to run this city,” referring to former Fire Chief Neal de Jesus. He served two stints as interim manager. “I have every confidence that (Alvarez) is doing a fantastic job.”

If Petrolia, Casale and Johnson don’t give Alvarez the job before then, the plan seemingly is to start the search for a permanent manager in January. The new commission —Petrolia and Boylston are on the ballot—would choose from among the finalists, assuming that qualified people still would want to work in Delray Beach.

Headed to court with the others

The Gretsas debacle could wind up in court. Gelin told commissioners Tuesday that three current cases may be nearing a resolution.

One lawsuit comes from former City Manager Mark Lauzier, whom the commission fired in March 2019. The others come from former city employees Michael Coleman and Jamael Stewart. They were the director and assistant director of the Neighborhood and Community Services Department. Coleman and Stewart resigned last year amid investigations into grants the department oversaw.

Gelin said she soon will schedule executive sessions— public excluded—on those cases. The commission would have to approve any settlement in public.

ICU filling up

boca regional

As of Wednesday, almost 95 percent of adult intensive care beds at Boca Raton Regional Hospital were full.

That’s according to the Agency for Health Care Administration website. Among coastal hospitals, only JFK in Atlantis has less adult ICU space. Of Boca Regional’s 230 beds, only 11 were free.

There’s no way to tell from the website how many COVID-19 patients are at Boca Regional. Gov. DeSantis’ office has refused to provide that breakdown. This week, the governor’s communications director said the information would be posted but gave no timetable.

Beaches and Parks to lower tax rate

Red Reef Park in Boca Raton. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District will lower its tax rate for next year. District officials likely made a bigger deal this week of the reduction than it really is because of what happened last year and what’s ahead.

With the district and the city at odds a year ago over cost and design of the proposed Boca Raton National Golf Course, city council members criticized the district for wanting to raise taxes to pay for the course. Council members even encouraged residents to attend the district’s budget hearing and speak against any increase. Some of those residents got very caustic and personal. District board members left the rate unchanged, but hard feelings remained toward the city.

Not coincidentally, two board members—Steven Engel and Erin Wright—are on the Aug. 18 ballot. Engel faces two challengers. Wright faces one opponent. Though the rate cut removes a potential campaign issue, the gesture is mostly symbolic.

For a house with a homestead exemption appraised at $400,000, the savings would be about $13. Because property values increased overall in Boca Raton by nearly 5 percent, however, the amount of taxes paid will rise more than $13. Values rose by that amount and perhaps more in West Boca, where some district residents live.

Next year may be tougher. Commercial property values could fall because of the pandemic and force hard budget and tax decisions. Next year, though, isn’t an election year.

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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