By Sheila Mullane Estrada
CLEARWATER — For seven hours, attorneys questioned and sometimes shouted at witnesses testifying either for or against Madeira Beach Commissioner Nancy Oakley in an ethics hearing that will determine whether she sexually harassed former City Manager Shane Crawford.
Oakley and her attorneys adamantly denied Crawford's allegations that she had drunkenly licked his face and “touched his crotch and butt” during a citywide fishing tournament in 2012.
Those words would be repeated many times throughout the daylong hearing as witnesses either swore they had seen it happen, heard her words, or insisted Oakley was not the kind of person to get drunk or to lick the faces of other people.
Oakley did admit that during the event she publicly called a former employee, Cheryl McGrady (now Crawford’s wife), a b---- and refused to sit on the stage with other commissioners until McGrady was removed from her sight.
“Get that b---- out of here,” Oakley admitted saying. Others said she also called for McGrady to be fired.
McGrady had been asked to take notes at the special commission meeting in the absence of a regular city clerk, a role she had performed many times before.
“I didn’t think she needed to be there. I didn’t like her,” said Oakley, adding that she and other residents thought “something was going on” between McGrady and Crawford who were both married to other people at the time.
Oakley also denied being drunk, as other witnesses had claimed, and denied witness testimony that she later “took a swing” at McGrady.
‘I drank some beer, maybe had a cocktail, an adult beverage,” Oakley said on questioning.
McGrady testified that during the event, Oakley walked up to Crawford and licked his face from the base of his neck
Later in the hearing, Oakley’s attorney, Ken Dandar, repeatedly shouted at McGrady to admit she and Crawford were having an affair in 2012.
“It’s completely false. I deny it,” McGrady said, insisting that she and Crawford were not dating at the time.
At one point, McGrady complained to the judge that Dandar was “trying to intimidate me.”
After the couple did start dating, some residents filed complaints with Crawford’s professional association. In 2016 the group found the relationship violated its rules and he was barred for life from membership.
Their relationship was not against city rules, however, and had the blessing of the then commission which formally voted its support for Crawford and McGrady.
Subsequently, the couple decided to marry. But that act did not stop city residents from pursuing them.
Not long after a citywide election in March when Oakley and two others were voted onto the commission, McGrady was fired from her position as city clerk, shortly followed by a move to fire Crawford. He eventually negotiated a severance package and resigned.
Crawford’s ethics complaint against Oakley had been filed before the election, while both before and after the election, other complaints were lodged against Crawford with the same ethics commission.
As in Oakley’s case, the commission found that there is ”probable cause” to believe eight out of those 21 complaints that Crawford may have violated state law while serving as city manager.
Most of those remaining complaints have since been dismissed, according to Crawford, while two are still under investigation.
Among the witnesses attesting to parts of McGrady’s testimony were the current public works and marina director, Dave Marsicano, former Mayor Travis Palladeno, former Commissioner Terri Lister, Tom Verdansky, president of the Old Salts Fishing Foundation, which had sponsored the event, as well as other city employees, residents and friends of McGrady.
Dandar described the witnesses who verified McGrady’s account as “a group of co-conspirators” and “friends backing up a false charge.”
During Oakley’s defense, her witnesses included former Commissioners Robin Vander Velde, Elaine Poe and Doreen Moore, former City Manager Jim Madden, and residents Ron Little and Linda Hine.
Only a few had attended the fishing event and none claimed to have seen the incidents involving McGrady or Crawford. All testified that Oakley was not known to be a drunk and said they had never seen her act inappropriately.
“It is outrageous to think that Nancy would lick anyone’s face,” said Vander Velde.
One of the biggest surprises during the hearing was at the very end when Elizabeth Miller, a lawyer with the state attorney general’s office and acting as an advocate for the Florida Commission on Ethics, called the commission's final rebuttal witness.
“Did you ever have her (Oakley) touch you unwanted?”, Miller asked Mike Maxemow.
“Yes,” Maxemow answered, describing an incident at the opening of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant in Johns Pass Village.
“She [was] quite inebriated, almost fell, and walked over and licked my face and neck,” Maxemow said, adding, “As far as I am concerned Ms. Oakley is a falling down drunk who shouldn’t be representing anything in this community.”
Maxemow is the city’s former public works director, a frequent stand-in city manager when that position was vacant, and a decades-long city employee, now retired.
Assistant Attorney General Melody Hadley, who performed most of the hearing questioning, described some of the documents Oakley’s attorneys wanted submitted into evidence as “defaming, degrading, and humiliating” toward Crawford.
When Dandar moved for the charges against Oakley to be dismissed because Crawford had failed to appear as a witness, Hadley said under ethics commission rules a complainant is under no obligation to testify. Crawford did not even attend the hearing.
Crawford, reached after the hearing, confirmed that he had been subpoenaed to appear but then was formally released from appearing at the hearing.
“It was the advocate’s decision. I had no influence or input in it. I would have been happy to testify,” Crawford said.
The decision on Crawford's complaint against Oakley is expected in mid-November and will be made by Administrative Hearing Judge Robert Cohen.
If he rules against her, Oakley could face thousands of dollars in fines and could be removed from the city commission.