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More ethics accusations fly in Madeira Beach

Mayor Travis Palladeno is the subject of a new complaint.
Mayor Travis Palladeno is the subject of a new complaint.
Published Jun. 9, 2016

MADEIRA BEACH — The increasingly bitter battle over two multimillion-dollar developments proposed for the city's downtown core has spawned two new ethics complaints against elected officials.

Meanwhile, a referendum petition drive has collected signatures from the required 25 percent of the city's voters, according to organizer Sam Baker.

He said the more than 800 signatures are enough to stop consideration of the Holton and Town Center projects at the City Commission's meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

At issue, however, is whether the signatures are valid since they were collected without an approved referendum committee affidavit on file with the city.

If the signatures are accepted for validation, the city charter requires the challenged ordinance creating Planned Development zoning to automatically be suspended.

That would at least temporarily block consideration of the two development projects and could eventually force a referendum on development regulations.

Baker is certain city officials will try to block the referendum petition.

"If that happens, I am afraid it will become a legal matter. We are prepared to take it to court," Baker said Tuesday.

Last week, Mayor Travis Palladeno and Commissioner Elaine Poe became the latest targets of opposing sides in the citywide development war.

The new ethics complaints bring the total alleged ethics violations to seven.

The complaints were filed over the past few months with the Florida Commission on Ethics or other professional, state and county agencies.

Palladeno is alleged to have forced the termination of a City Hall volunteer because of actions related to her opposition to the projects, while Poe is accused of improperly and illegally using her office in her campaign to block the projects.

Ronnie Blackwood says she called the Sheriff's Office when she saw Palladeno acting "in a threatening manner" toward two women who were collecting referendum petition signatures outside the Madeira Beach Library.

An incident report filed by responding deputies said the subjects were "just having conversation (with) lots of hand motion" and "appeared calm."

Several days later, City Manager Shane Crawford called Blackwood and told her because of a gesture she made toward the mayor she could no longer work as a volunteer at City Hall.

Blackwood does not deny making the gesture, but says she did it in response to a gesture made by the mayor. He denies doing so.

"Madeira Beach City Hall has become an untenable hostile work environment for anyone who opposes his agenda toward the land developments," she said.

In a 14-page ethics complaint against Poe, former City Commissioner Len Piotti accused Poe of improperly contacting city employees "without authorization of the city manager," of admitting to two Planning Commission members that she doesn't "play by the rules," and of repeatedly encouraging resident opposition to the proposed developments.

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As evidence that she violated the city's charter and commission policy, he included notarized statements, a formal letter from Crawford directing her to "refrain" from contacting city employees, and a series of emails in which she advocated for citizen participation to oppose the developments.

Tuesday, Poe denied acting improperly and accused Crawford of collusion with Piotti to file the complaint.

"I am going after him. This is my city. He works for me. I am tired of him putting down residents and calling them idiots," Poe said, admitting she is "very angry."

Poe said she has contacted an attorney and plans to sue both Piotti and Crawford. "This is humiliating and embarrassing," she said.

In previous ethics complaints, Crawford was accused of having an improper personal relationship with his assistant and of violating federal rules when the city permitted rehabilitation of a house owned by Vice Mayor Pat Shontz. Shontz, a building official and her contractor were also subjects of related ethics complaints.

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