Monday, September 25, 2023

Old School Square Settlement Proposed, Gretsas Files Lawsuit & More

Old School Square for the Arts has offered to settle its lawsuit against Delray Beach.

The offer came in a letter that the city received Monday, according to Old School Square Chairwoman Patty Jones. City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said the commission and its attorneys will meet in executive session—public not allowed—on Jan. 14 to discuss the offer. Coincidentally or not, a hearing is scheduled four days later on Old School Square’s motion for early mediation.

Jones said Wednesday that the Old School Square board decided to make the offer after hearing that the city received no bidders to operate the complex that includes the Crest Theater, Cornell Museum, the Fieldhouse and the Pavilion. In August, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to end the lease that the group has had since 1989. That termination takes effect early next month.

The settlement proposes that the city and Old School Square re-examine the lease. In addition, Old School Square would agree to seek less money from the city toward its operating expenses. Each side would pay its own legal fees and make what Jones called a “neutral public statement.” Translation: No one would claim victory.

City officials had raised questions about Old School’s commitment to diversity. Jones said the group has addressed those questions with changes to programming and new board appointments.

In addition, Old School Square proposes to complete renovations to the interior of the Crest Theater. The city stopped that work in July, claiming that Old School Square didn’t get a permit. The group denies that allegation.

Margaret Blume, the project’s donor, withdrew her money after the city’s action. The work is only about halfway done. I asked Jones whether Blume would provide the money if the city accepted the settlement. “We’re hoping,” Jones said. “There might be a door open.”

Jones said the Old School Square board decided to extend the offer after the city received no bids for a management company. She added that Old School Square has been working with city employees to stage events. One big one, Jones said, is planned for St. Patrick’s Day, well after the planned termination. “They have no plan.”

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, City Manager Terrence Moore raised the possibility of hiring more employees for the Parks and Recreation Department to deal with the extra workload from Old School Square. Commissioners didn’t embrace that idea.

Sam Metott, the department’s director, acknowledged that the current budget does not include three positions he had requested. The salary for someone to run Old School Square likely would be at least $100,000.

Boylston also believes that the department is “bloated” in terms of responsibilities. “And now we might add Old School Square? That makes no sense.” Breaking up the department, he said, might be a bigger priority.

The proposal to the city, Jones said, is a “generalized offer.” Eight former mayors have urged the commission to hold a public workshop to resolve differences with Old School Square. The first discussion about the settlement, however, will happen in private.

Gretsas files suit

Former Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas

Just after winning one lawsuit by a former city manager, Delray Beach faces another one.

This time, it’s from George Gretsas, whom the commission hired after firing Mark Lauzier. Last month, a jury ruled against Lauzier’s wrongful termination claim. This lawsuit could be more problematic for the city.

Gretsas lasted just six months before Petrolia, Casale and Johnson—the same troika that oppose Old School Square—voted in June 2020 to suspend him. That action set up his firing in November 2020.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin wrote up a list of allegations that included retaliation against former Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher, whom Gretsas wanted to fire. Gelin also alleged that Gretsas created a hostile work environment, especially for women.

Gretsas denied the accusation. After Gretsas’ attorney challenged the investigation that produced those charges, Gelin wrote a new set. This time, she accused of Gretsas of improper spending and hiring.

In his complaint, Gretsas claims that the commission fired him for his “refusal to give cover to the mayor and commissioners” on the reclaimed water controversy. It became a big issue just before Gretsas started and began investigating. Gretsas said he had found “gross mismanagement” in the utilities department.

The complaint is unusually short—just three pages. It’s also cryptic. Gretsas alleges that among the “corrupt activities” he was “requested” to carry out was the award of a $50 million contract “to a crony of a commissioner who was still on felony probation.” The complaint does not name the contract, the commissioner or the “crony.”

Commissioners stated that they fired Gretsas for cause. He denies that they had proper cause because, among other things, the issues in the alleged violations don’t apply to the manager. He wants 20 weeks of severance—about $102,000. That is how much the city would have owed Gretsas if the commission had fired him without cause.

Post holiday COVID surge


Local governments and school districts across South Florida are scrambling to deal with the post-holiday surge of COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the town of Palm Beach declared a state of emergency and moved to remote meetings until Feb. 8.

Boca Raton did the same for tonight’s meeting of the planning and zoning board. A city spokeswoman said there has been no decision about next Monday’s and Tuesday’s city council meetings.

Delray Beach commissioners met in person two days ago. On Tuesday, City Manager Terrence Moore will update the commission based on new metrics. Any change on protocols likely would follow.

Last May, Gov. DeSantis stripped cities and counties of their ability to enact almost all COVID-19 mitigation measures. Most notably, they can’t issue indoor mask mandates. Remote meetings are about the only option.

GL Homes deal closes

This is old business, but Boca Raton did close as planned in November on the sale of the city’s former municipal golf course to GL Homes.

For now, the $65.5 million is in the reserve fund. I could see council members discussing how to spend the money at their spring goal-setting sessions.

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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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