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Embattled Delray Beach city manager fires back against allegations, questions safety of city's drinking water

George Gretsas claims attempt to terminate him in retaliation
George Gretsas, Delray Beach City Hall
Posted at 5:33 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 20:03:15-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Not once, but twice did Delray Beach resident John Stilley read the complaint embattled and suspended City Manager George Gretsas sent to the city.

"My family drinks this water, my grandchildren drink this water, and I'm highly concerned about it," he said.

Gretsas claims he "discovered that the safety of the drinking water in Delray Beach has been compromised."

"The city manager's letter is quite poignant," Stilley said. "This behavior is unacceptable, and I hope they get to the bottom of it."

Stilley lives on the barrier island where Gretsas claims several people got sick when drinking water mixed with reclaimed water, the result of a cross-connection and missing back-flow preventers.

The city gave Contact 5 a copy of a warning letter it received from the Florida Department of Health to advise "of possible violations of law," claiming in part that the city submitted "false statements" when it told the department in December 2018 "no reports of sickness or illness have been received."

Stilley said he never got sick or noticed sediment in his water.

"If you're in this area when the sprinklers are going off, you know the reclaimed water is out there because it's stinky," he said. "If you had it in your house, it would be abhorrent, to put it mildly."

The Delary Beach City Commission voted 3-2 in June to begin the process of firing Gretsas after an outside investigation concluded that he violated city policy for bullying and retaliation.

RELATED: Suspended Delray Beach city manager says he 'uncovered serious wrongdoing'

But in his 12-page letter to city leaders and Palm Beach County's inspector general, Gretsas said attempts to terminate his employment and smear him are retaliation for "exposing corrupt activities" in the city, including issues with the water. Gretsas doesn’t stop there. He also claims it's been 38 years since a storage tank that holds drinking water was last cleaned, the city over-chlorinated drinking water without notifying the public and an equipment failure sent a "slug" or "large cloud" of sediment into the homes of countless customers.

The city's attorney responded to Gretsas' accusations and wrote an Aug. 3 memo to the mayor and commissioners, writing that "there is no evidence that the water is unsafe" and that Gretsas' comments to the contrary are reckless and irresponsible.

The Florida Department of Health told Contact 5 all finished water storage tanks were inspected in 2019 and one tank this year. Health officials also said they are aware of discolored water from the March incident but have no knowledge of over-chlorination.

'Welcome To Delray Beach' sign

Curious about Gretsas' allegations, Contact 5 called the city's utilities director, who referred WPTV to the city's spokeswoman. The spokeswoman initially denied an interview request and told Contact 5 that the utility director was too busy, but later offered an on-camera interview, only with a different WPTV reporter.

In a statement to Contact 5, the city's spokeswoman said the city's "drinking water is safe to drink and meets all standards set by the Florida Department of Health." She added, "our drinking water is tested daily and the results are submitted to the Florida Department of Health."

"I expect perfection from the water," Stilley said. "There's not much else the city delivers us in the way of services that could be more important."

Delray Beach water tower aerial
A Delray Beach water tower touts the city's All-American recognition, but embattled City Manager George Gretsas claims the drinking water "has been compromised."

The Florida Department of Health confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation into the cross-connection event.

Palm Beach County's inspector general also told Contact 5 that his office is aware of the allegations and is looking into them.

Gretsas remains on paid leave and will have a hearing on Aug. 24.