Take Two on Naming New City Manager: Commission Chooses to Enter Negotiations With George Gretsas

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By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

It is take two for hiring a new city manager.

After a failed attempt in contract negotiations to onboard the city of Tamarac’s manager Michael Cernech, the city commission voted 3-2 to enter into negotiations with another candidate that made the top three shortlist, George Gretsas.

Commissioner Ryan Boylston made the motion to enter into contract negotiations with Gretsas, who is the current city manager of Homestead.

“We need to put the city first today,” he said. “We need stability. We need a city manager with experience.”

Gretsas has served as city manager in Homestead for the past 9 years. He previously worked for the city of Fort Lauderdale as its manager for 6 years.

Boylston’s motion was supported by Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Shirley Johnson.

Petrolia placed Gretsas as her No. 1 pick for the position after the commission publicly interviewed the top three candidates.

But she ended up supporting the will of the commission to go with Cernech in 4-1 vote, Johnson dissenting.

Initially, Johnson supported the third candidate, Joseph Napoli, but opted to go with Gretsas in the second go-around.

“Let’s move the city forward,” she said, before casting her vote.

Commissioner Bill Bathurst said he wasn’t ready to make a decision on who should be the next manager.

Commissioner Adam Frankel called the entire process “tainted” and said he preferred to start over completely with a new search.

“The process unfortunately ended up flawed so we are settling,” he said.

There will be one difference this go-around during the negotiation process. Mayor Shelly Petrolia will not have a seat at the negotiation table. This time, negotiations will be handled internally by city staff. Commissioners will have final say on the contract and it will have to come before them for a final vote.

In trying to come up with an agreement with Cernech, Petrolia was accused of sabotaging the deal by several commissioners.

When news broke that Cernech backed away from becoming Delray’s city manager, the blame game began during a special meeting called to discuss the topic.

Commissioners Boylston and Bathurst placed the blame on Mayor Petrolia.

“Two people in the room told me it was doomed from the beginning because of the attitude of the mayor,” Bathurst said about the negotiations between the city and Cernech.

But Petrolia was quick to defend herself and often placed the pressure on city attorney Lynn Gelin to explain what happened in the negotiation room.

“He walked away,” Petrolia said of Cernech. “I didn’t ask him to walk away. I was absolutely dumbfounded. We were not prepared for that.”

Petrolia said some of the terms that Cernech wanted in his employment contract with the city were not terms she could support. She called some of the requests “outrageous.”

Boylston said the negotiations were “going smoothly” based off updates he received from Gelin.

“How did we get here?” he asked.

It was a question the rest of the commissioners, who were not in the negotiation room, wanted answered.

Petrolia said she was “ready to have him on board.”

But Bathurst quipped back, “That isn’t what we are hearing.”

Attorney Gelin said Cernech wanted to receive full support on his contract and that he wouldn’t be able to leave his job without a 5-0 vote from Delray commissioners.

“He wanted his contract and he wanted my approval of it,” Petrolia said.

She calculated the contract he proposed totaled nearly $400,000 when the salary and benefits were added up. She said she should “almost be thanked” that the deal didn’t happen.

A proposed deal didn’t make it before commissioners to vote up or down. Cernech backed out of the entire process before that could happen.

Cerncech declined to comment to the Delray Newspaper on the failed negotiations.

With Cerncech out, commissioners discussed what steps to take next. Commissioners agreed to reopen the interview process with the top four candidates. But the two out of state candidates were no longer interested in the position.

Until a new city manager is hired, interim city manager Neal de Jesus will remain in the role. Commissioners recently voted 3-2 to increase his salary to what the former manager was making, $244,000 while he serves in the role, retroactive to March 1. They also agreed to change other terms including how much notice is required if he is fired from the fire chief position, once he returns, from 90 days to 180 days and eliminated a requirement that he have a bachelor’s degree. Petrolia and Johnson voted against his contract change.

The contract negotiations will be discussed during a special meeting at 1 p.m. on Oct. 1.