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Ethics complaint filed against Madeira Beach city manager

Published May 25, 2016

MADEIRA BEACH — An ethics complaint has been filed against City Manager Shane Crawford, claiming improper permitting for the rehabilitation of a house owned by Vice Mayor Pat Shontz.

Crawford confirmed Tuesday that he received a notification letter from the Florida Commission on Ethics, but stressed that no decision has been made by the state agency whether it has jurisdiction or, if so, whether it will investigate.

State law prohibits such complaints from being released unless the involved parties agree or until a formal hearing is scheduled.

"We did nothing wrong," Crawford said, strongly disputing the allegations made in the complaint.

A former Madeira Beach city manager, Jim Madden, who said he has been working closely with residents angered by proposed hotel/condominium developments in the city, declined to identify the residents who made the complaints.

Bill Gay, a winter resident and condominium owner who is opposed to the proposed developments, said he helped to assemble the documents that formed the basis of the ethics complaints, but also declined to say who actually filed them with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Madden said the issue is whether the city allowed Shontz to exceed federal limits on the amount of money she spent to redevelop the house.

Federal Emergency Management Agency rules require existing homes in a flood zone to be elevated above the flood plain if the value of the rehabilitation exceeds 50 percent of its value.

Shontz and her late husband, George, bought the home in 2014 for $410,000. He died before the rehabilitation was completed.

The house is at 15332 Harbor Drive and is for sale for $998,000.

According to the listing, the "brand new luxury beach house," which was originally built in 1953, has been completely redone and includes an elevator to a new second story.

The property has an assessed value of $419,649 while the structure itself was valued in 2014 at $83,573, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser.

The estimated value of permitted work completed on the structure in 2015 was $77,580.

An additional $62,845 worth of work has been done on the exterior property since it was purchased. FEMA rules apply only to the main structure.

Resident Steven Miller, who lives near the property, questioned whether Shontz and city officials followed FEMA rules in an April letter to Crawford.

He accused Crawford and other city officials of "misfeasance" for "selectively enforcing the city's building codes" and for "ignoring the wishes of residents" by supporting the development of four new hotels in the city.

The issues involving the Shontz property are "just another example of the rule bending, morally bankrupt behavior of our city government," Miller wrote, adding that it "reeks of favoritism."

Several days after receiving that letter, Crawford responded that a "licensed property appraiser" valued the Shontz home at $172,400, an amount he said satisfied city and FEMA requirements.

"Mrs. Shontz and the city did everything by the book," Crawford wrote to Miller.

He admitted Tuesday that the city missed the elevator, which was added without a permit during the reconstruction. That error, he said, has since been corrected and a permit was issued. The value of the elevator did not exceed FEMA requirements, Crawford said.

Shontz could not be reached for comment.