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  1. St. Petersburg

Madeira Beach referendum tightens development regulations

Published Nov. 13, 2018

By Sheila Mullane Estrada

Times Correspondent

MADIERA BEACH — Voters here last week approved eight out of 10 charter changes that ranged from ensuring the city's charter is gender neutral to blocking its former city manager, Shane Crawford, from ever being rehired.

But, the most significant charter change may be a new requirement that rezoning of all planned development or "special area plans" requires no less than four out of five commissioners.

The charter changes were recommended by a five-member citizens' committee led by resident and former commissioner Doreen Moore.

Mayor Maggi Black says the requirement for a super majority "will not be a problem or a deterrent to the developers because the city wants development and (developers) know that Madeira Beach is a prime location and that the city will treat them fairly."

This charter change is a direct result of a bitter political fight two years ago over what many residents felt was excessive height and density requested by two hotel projects.

The impact of those projects was eventually reduced, but, in the process, three members of the commission, including the then mayor, were voted out of office and the city's manager and city clerk were fired.

"A super majority is overkill," said Shane Crawford, the city's former manager. "Things will revert to the era when nothing got done. Developers will skip us."

Crawford, who says he is proud to have been a part of Madeira Beach history, also believes that three charter amendments were intended to prevent him or his wife, Cheryl, the former city clerk, from ever being rehired by the city.

By a more than 77 percent margin, voters approved a nepotism rule barring the commission, city manager, city clerk or city treasurer from hiring or contracting with a relative, as defined in state law.

If this restriction had been in effect two years ago, the commission could not have appointed Cheryl Crawford as the city clerk. She was then engaged to the city manager,.

Another charter change approved by nearly 60 percent of voters requires all future city managers to be members in good standing of national and state professional associations.

As a result, Shane Crawford can never be legally rehired as the city manager, as some in the city hoped to do if power on the commission changed in March.

Crawford had been permanently ousted from the International City/County Management Association after a resident complained that his then-girlfriend, Cheryl, was working as his assistant, a relationship that violated ICMA rules.

After Cheryl became city clerk, she was fired by the new commission. One complaint was that she was not a certified city clerk.

To prevent a similar situation in the future, voters approved a charter change that requires certification by both national and state clerk's associations.

"The voters have shown a strong backing of the current commissions," Black said. "I hope (the charter changes) will keep Madeira Beach moving forward in a positive direction."

Black ran two years ago as part of a coalition against large-scale development and against Crawford's management of the city.

Crawford is now working as vice president of development for a Clearwater firm, "enjoying the less political part of development".

Among the other charter changes recommended by a citizen committee and approved by the commission and now the voters are:

* A prohibition against the city's attorney or law firm from personally representing an elected official facing a recall election or a state Commission on Ethics charge, a situation that happened earlier this year.

* A requirement that planning for capital programs be done on a five-year basis instead of the current two-year basis.

* Requiring that all statements in the city's charter reflect "gender neutrality".

* Authorizing the Pinellas County Canvassing Board to serve as the city's canvassing board to certify the city's election results.

While eight of the 10 charter changes were approved by 60 percent or more of voters, two charter changes were equally turned down.

A proposal was rejected to allow the commission to effectively levy any taxes by ordinance, as allowed by state law, by eliminating language limiting that right to just public utilities .

Similarly, voters said "no" to a proposal that would have removed limitations on the amount of money the commission can spend on publicizing the city or its services.