MADEIRA BEACH — The divisiveness and personal attacks that characterized the 2017 election that upended the city's politics have not ended.
Eight out of 21 ethics complaints filed against the city's former manager, Shane Crawford, may have merit, according to the state Commission on Ethics.
Last week, the commission released 14 probable cause findings that Crawford may have violated state law while he served as city manager. Such violations carry a possible fine of $10,000 per violation.
In related actions, the Commission on Ethics dismissed as unfounded a number of ethics charges also filed against former Madeira Beach City Clerk Cheryl McGrady and against former city Building Official Frank DeSantis.
Two years ago, Crawford, while still city manager, was officially censured by the International City/County Management Association because of his "highly inappropriate" relationship with McGrady, then his personal assistant. The couple has since married.
Both Crawford and McGrady resigned their jobs with the city last year after three newly elected commissioners moved to fire them.
Crawford denies the latest ethics allegations and said this week that he plans to defend himself vigorously in a formal hearing before the commission. No date has been set for that hearing.
Earlier this year the Commission on Ethics also found probable cause for allegations of sexual harassment in violation of state law filed against Madeira Beach Commissioner Nancy Oakley. She also has opted to defend herself in a public hearing that is expected to be held in late September.
The ethics charges against her were filed by Crawford, who claims Oakley sexually harassed him while he was city manager.
Crawford filed those charges just before last year's election that put Oakley into office. She had previously served several terms as a commissioner. It was during that time the harassment was alleged to have occurred.
Earlier this year an attempt to recall Oakley from office failed when a Circuit Court judge blocked the recall election.
Most of the ethics allegations involve Crawford's rental of two condominiums while he worked for the city. According to the commission report, he paid well under fair market rental rates.
"I can't wait to go to the evidentiary hearing and explain how I came to rent the condos," Crawford said this week. "I had no idea I was paying less than market rates."
The commission's report says Crawford's condominium rentals may have violated nine different state laws. He rented one condominium for $2,000 a month, while it had rented for $3,800 a month before he moved in and for $4,200 a month after he left.
Crawford rented another condominium for $2,500 a month that the owner told investigators normally rented for between $3,000 and $4,000 a month.
Specifically, the commission found enough evidence to believe Crawford "accepted prohibited gifts from lobbyists (developers)," "accepted a discounted rental rate," and "failed to report the discounts as gifts valued at more than $100.'' The "gifts" were from people associated with groups seeking city approval for development projects—the Madeira Beach Town Center and the Gulf Grill.
According to the commission, Crawford "knew or should have known they were given to influence his official action and that the lease agreements constituted a conflicting contractual relationship."
However, the commission found no wrongdoing related to any actions Crawford took as city manager that might have benefitted the developers, McGrady or his private businesses.
The commission also found "no probable cause" for any wrongdoing relating to permits and renovations made at a former commissioner's home or to the sale of that commissioner's boat to the city.
The complaints were made by Thomas Slack, a Seminole resident, Robin Vander Velde, a former Madeira Beach commissioner, and William Gay a part-time Madeira Beach resident active in ousting most of the previous commission.
"I was quite disappointed in the thoroughness of the investigations," Gay said Tuesday.
Gay said a group of residents who pushed for a "more honest" government is still looking into other allegations regarding Crawford's financial management of the city.
"People need to understand what took place, how the developments were pushed through, and the deficiencies of permitting," Gay said. "We would like to have honest government. We didn't have that under Crawford and the previous commission."
Gay said he and others involved in filing the complaint may seek to testify and introduce new evidence at Crawford's hearing.
Slack and Vander Velde could not be reached for comment.
Editor's note — This article was amended to reflect the following correction: Two of the ethics complaints against former City Manager Shane Crawford were filed in May, 2016, nearly a year before the 2017 election, and one was filed a month before the election. An incorrect date on one of the complaints was listed in an article in the Aug. 10 St. Pete Times section.