Professional group censures, expels Madeira Beach city manager

 Shane Crawford
Shane Crawford

The executive board of the International City/County Management Association has publicly censured and permanently expelled Shane Crawford “for conduct that violates the ICMA Code of Ethics.”

Expulsion is the most severe punishment the ICMA can impose.

“The underlying facts of this case are not in dispute as Mr. Crawford has acknowledged that he is and has been involved in a personal relationship with a city staff member – his executive assistant – since August of last year,” the ICMA wrote to Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno in a Sept. 29 letter.

“Consistent with past decisions, the executive board concluded that it is highly inappropriate for a city manager to have a personal relationship with a subordinate employee. Such a relationship exposes the organization to liability; creates the potential for conflicts of interest in fact and/or appearance stemming from personnel decisions made with regard to the employee; and can strain the professional relationships between the city manager and employees and between employees.”

The letter, from Martha Perego, director of ethics and members services, adds:

“With regard to Mr. Crawford’s case, information was made available indicating that he recommended position advancements and salary increases for the employee that were ultimately approved by the city commission. Since Mr. Crawford and the employee reside together and share a bank account, the executive board found that Mr. Crawford reaped a financial benefit from his actions. This constitutes a violation of Tenet 12 which states that members shall not leverage their position for personal gain or benefit.”

Crawford said he’s the victim of a political vendetta.

“It’s purely political retaliation,” Crawford said. It’s an example, he said, of “small town, dirty politics.”

Crawford, who is now engaged to Cheryl McGrady, maintained he has done nothing wrong. When the relationship first began, he said he went to the city attorney to make sure no law was being broken. Crawford said he also approached all five commission members to tell them of the relationship. At the time, McGrady offered to leave the city’s employ if there was a problem. All five commissioners gave their approval and said there was no need for McGrady to leave.

“We got hugs from everybody,” Crawford said.

Then, a few months later, development issues blew up and the anonymous complaint was filed with the ICMA. The complaint first went before one board, which ruled against Crawford who appealed to the executive board. Crawford and his attorney flew to Kansas City to appear in front of the 40-member board which has members from across the world. It’s that group that made the final decision to publicly censure and expel Crawford.

The ruling does not affect Crawford’s certifications, he said. It only means he can’t be a member of the ICMA. On the other hand, being expelled from the group is serious.

“This will follow me the rest of my life,” Crawford said.

Travis Palladeno
Travis Palladeno

Palladeno said he believes the ICMA decision should not affect Crawford’s job.

“It’s not a requirement for the city manager to have this,” Palladeno said. “Shane Crawford has 100 percent of my support. He’s done an outstanding job.”

Palladeno said he thought the ICMA decision was “absurd.” The city attorney, he said, ruled that Crawford was breaking no law in have a relationship with McGrady. If it was not a violation of state law, the ICMA should have been satisfied with that, he said.

“Shane did the right steps,” Palladeno said.

The ICMA decision, which is final, is the latest fallout in a development dispute that has engulfed Madeira Beach at least since the beginning of the year. The dispute has focused on two proposed developments at the foot of the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge, the only direct link the island has to the mainland.

Opponents, who formed a group called Madeira Beach United, say the Madeira Beach City Center and Holiday Isle Marina projects are too much for that area. They argue that the developments, with 11-story buildings, parking garage, restaurant, hotel and condominiums, will be too big and destroy the fishing village ambience of Madeira Beach.

The dispute has gotten progressively nastier since the first of the year, prompting Pat Shontz’ resignation from the city commission in the middle of a June meeting to approve the two developments. Opponents have also filed multiple lawsuits against the city.

In addition to lawsuits that have been filed, ethics complaints have been filed with various agencies against Crawford, Palladeno, Shontz, McGrady and community services director/building official Frank DeSantis.

The ICMA complaint filed against Crawford centered on his relationship with McGrady. Crawford was open about the relationship and informed commissioners, who did not object. After the complaint was filed, an emergency commission meeting was called to discuss the situation. The commissioners who attended the meeting and many of the residents there praised Crawford and vowed to support him.

The ICMA letter acknowledges Crawford informed the commission and sought legal advice before beginning the relationship. But that wasn’t enough, the ICMA said.

“According to Mr. Crawford, he sought legal advice before entering into the relationship and also disclosed it to all members of the city commission. Those are important first steps in a process to determine whether one’s behavior is appropriate.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Crawford failed to take the next step which was to determine whether his conduct would meet the ethical standards of his professional association. As a member of ICMA, he had an affirmative obligation to follow the tenets of the ICMA Code of Ethics. Rather than relying on his own interpretation of the Code or that of an attorney, Mr. Crawford should have contacted ICMA for advice. Had he done so, he would have been advised that having a personal relationship with a staff member violates the ICMA Code of Ethics and that merely disclosing the personal relationship does not cure the conflict. In addition, he would have been informed that ICMA has been consistent in this conclusion in reviewing similar ethics cases. Those findings are both available on our website and noted in our member communications.”

The letter continues:

“The ICMA Code of Ethics provides a tangible benefit to communities because it requires ICMA members to conduct themselves according to the highest ethical standards to maintain public confidence in their profession, their local government, and in their performance of the public trust. Adherence to the Code sets a standard that exceeds the requirements of the law and internal organizational practices. Professional local government managers who are members of ICMA have a proven track record of excellence in leadership and management in their communities. Beyond their valuable technical skills, ICMA members distinguish themselves as professionals by their adherence to the highest standards of integrity in their personal and professional conduct.

“Each ICMA member agrees to abide by the Code and its enforcement when becoming an ICMA member. Any member who appears to have violated the Code is investigated in a peer-review process by the Committee on Professional Conduct and violators are subject to an array of sanctions including private and public censure; membership suspension; and/or membership bar or expulsion.”

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Tampa Realtors favor Pat Frank in Hillsborough Clerk’s race

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank announced Friday she has received the backing of the Greater Tampa Realtors in her bid for re-election. The group represents 9,000 Tampa Bay area real estate professionals.

Pat Frank has a solid record of serving Hillsborough County residents with integrity and dedication,” said Greater Tampa Realtors President Andy Scaglione. “She has transformed the clerk’s office by using technology to make services more accessible and efficient. This is good for our members, and for the entire community.”
Frank is running for a fourth four-year term to the clerk’s office against Republican Eric Seidel. She handily defeated Kevin Beckner in a bitterly fought primary last month, winning by 18 percentage points.
“I’m so proud to have received the support of the Realtors,” said Frank. “They understand, as an industry, how important it is to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to providing online services that people can access from anywhere. It’s what they’ve been doing in real estate, and it’s what we’re working on every day here at my office.”
On Thursday the Realtors announced their support for Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman in her race against Democrat Jeff Zampitella.
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Charlie Justice says Pinellas commission was “a mess” four years ago

Charlie Justice has released his second video ad, just a week after his first one.

As he did in his first commercial, Justice says he wants Pinellas County to be a place his two daughters “would choose to call home.” Justice also took time to look back four years ago, when he first ran for the commission, and compare it to the current political situation:

“Four years ago, our county commission was a mess. Removing fluoride from our water was the last straw. I ran for county commission to end the dysfunction, to make Pinellas County the place my daughters would choose to call home.

“We ended a feud with firefighters.

“We hired a new county administrator.

“We improved relations with the cities.

“We set aside partisan differences.

“And we put people first.

“Let’s not turn back the clock. There’s still important work to do.”

Justice, a Democrat, is running for his second term on the commission against political newcomer Mike Mikurak. Mikurak, a Republican, is a retired businessman.

Justice is a Pinellas County native who was graduated from Boca Ciega High School, St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida. Before his election to the commission, he was assistant director for leadership programming at USF-St. Pete. He served in the Florida House from 2000 to 2006 and in the state Senate from 2006-2010.

He holds the District 3 seat on the county commission, which is elected countywide. The election is Nov. 8.

 

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SPCA Tampa Bay brings jobs, pet care to St. Pete

The SPCA Tampa Bay is coming down the homestretch to opening its first satellite vet center — an endeavor that will bring 40 new jobs to the county and make pet care more convenient for some in St. Petersburg.

The veterinary center, scheduled to open in October, is the result of a planning process that began four years ago, Martha Boden, the CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay said. The total cost thus far ranges around $3 million — a bit less than $1 million for the property, 3250 5th Ave. N., a former orthopedist’s office, and $2 million to gut and renovate the building.

What’s been created is a 10,000-square-foot full service veterinary clinic for small animals (no horses, sheep or goats) with eight exam rooms, five surgery tables, a pharmacy, and other rooms set aside for critical care, isolation areas to prevent contagion and for feral cats awaiting neutering. The building also has a 2,500-square-foot second floor that will remain unfinished but could be used in the future for training and other pet care activities.

The clinic will employ seven full-time veterinarians. Each vet will have two and a half veterinary technicians to support their work. In addition, the center will also employ administrative staff.

Once it’s open, the center will essentially run as two practices, said Dr. Rizal Lopez, the senior director of veterinary services. One will be devoted to spaying and neutering. The other, a full-service traditional veterinary hospital.

By doing a volume business of spaying and neutering, prices are expected to be low — $40 to $45 for cats; $70-$80 for dogs, Boden said. But the prices in the regular clinic will be at about market rate. However, the SPCA Tampa Bay Veterinary Center will be able to do what many vets with small practices are unable to do — set payment plans for those who could not afford more expensive procedures if they have to be paid in full at one time.

The goal, Boden said, is to help keep families and their pets together. Making good vet care more accessible is one big part of that.

On the other hand, she said, the SPCA doesn’t want other vets to lose clients by undercutting their prices. If someone who has a regular veterinarian brings a pet to the clinic, the SPCA will send the treatment records to the regular vet if that’s what the owner desires.

Boden said planning for the clinic began in 2012. The thought was to make pet medical care more accessible. The agency decided to locate in St. Pete because that’s originally where it was founded 75 years ago and, because there are few vets near the new location. It seemed like a good way to make it easier for some in St. Pete to get their pets to a vet.

The fees, she said, will be used not only to run the center but also to fund other SPCA projects —in other words, to “Paw It Forward.”

Once it’s opened in mid- to late October, the hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

SPCA Tampa Bay  SPCA Tampa Bay  SPCA Tampa Bay  SPCA Tampa Bay  SPCA Tampa Bay

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Lauralee Westine, wife of Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, among 20 applying to be a judge

Lauralee Westine, wife of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, has applied for a circuit judgeship.

Westine is one of 23 Pinellas County lawyers seeking to replace 6th Circuit Judge Bruce Boyer, who is retiring.

Westine is a graduate of the Stetson University College of Law who worked for the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office until 1999. After leaving the state attorney’s office, she opened a practice in Palm Harbor focusing on local government and land use law. Her practice particularly focuses on zoning and permitting cell towers and other type towers throughout the state.

Also on the list is Curtis Korsko, who unsuccessfully ran for a county judgeship in the Aug. 30 primary election. Korsko, a former traffic court magistrate, was defeated by assistant state attorney Dora Komninos.

Members of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission will conduct interviews on Oct. 17 and Oct. 26. They are then tasked with narrowing down the list to between three and six candidates  and sending those names to Gov. Rick Scott, who will choose one to fill Boyer’s position.

The full list of applicants:

Anderson, Dustin T.

Beasley, Timothy M.

Colon, Amanda

Cox, Geoffrey R.

Frayman, Evan G.

Gay-Hairston, Shahtia

Goiran, Barbara Casey

Groger, Gregory Gene

Hawkes, Jeremiah Mahlon

Kidder, Nathaniel B.

Korsko, Curtis T.

LaBruzzo, Christopher

Marone, Christopher

McKnight, Kelly Ann

McLane, Sara E.

Meyer, Nancy S.

O’Connor, Kerry A.

Olivero, Shiobhan

Reeves, Frederick T.

Sumner, Stacey L.

Tremblay, Scott

Vizcarra, Eulogio Dillon

Westine, Lauralee G.

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Pinellas candidates for state House get personal at forum

A one-issue forum about mental health and substance abuse Thursday evoked some of the most private information from candidates seeking election to the Florida House of Representatives.

Jennifer Webb talked about arriving at an intervention for her “baby sister” too late to do anything other than watch her shoot herself. It was through that experience, Webb said, she came to realize the devastation drug abuse and mental health issues wreak on families and friends as well as on the sick person.

“It leaves damaged families in the wake,” Webb said.

Mental health and substance abuse, she said, are not criminal issues even though they are treated as such. Not only that, she said, Florida is woefully behind when it comes to providing funding to help those with mental health and substance abuse problems. The state ranks 49th in funding.

“This is a social issue,” Webb said. “We must take action now. We must allocate funding.”

Webb also advocated parity for mental health care, meaning insurance should pay for the care on an equal basis with physical ailments.

Webb, a Democrat, is running against Republican incumbent Kathleen Peters for House District 69.

Webb was not the only candidate who had firsthand knowledge of mental health and substance abuse.

Democrat Bernard Fensterwald, who is running against incumbent Republican Chris Sprowls for the HD 65 seat, said his mother was an alcoholic who died when she was 50 years old. That, he said, taught him families need to be treated with compassion and to know the addiction is not their fault. And, like Webb, he advocated for more funding.

Cori Fournier, a Republican running for HD 70 against Democrat Wengay Newton, also has personal knowledge of addiction. His mother, he said, is an addict who is now sober. And Fournier said he has been sober for five years following an arrest in Sarasota in 2009.

“I don’t like that my state is 49th in funding,” Fournier said. “It’s sad. It really is.”

Democrat David Vogel had no personal stories to tell. Instead, he said the whole system has to change. The war on drugs, he said, has cost trillions of dollars with little effect other than burdening the justice system. Drug abuse is a social issue, Vogel said, and should be treated as such.

Vogel advocated decriminalizing marijuana and treating addiction as what he says it is — a social health issue. Other states that have decriminalized it have found the crime rate drops.

Vogel blamed the Legislature for lack of mental health workers in the state. The Legislature, he said, has not raised the minimum wage, which sends a bad message.

“When your Legislature is telling the world they couldn’t care less” about working people, it doesn’t encourage anyone to move to the state, Vogel said.

Accepting the Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage, he said, would lay the groundwork to entice all types of workers to move to Florida and remain here.

Vogel is running for HD 67 against Republican incumbent Chris Latvala.

Peters, who is running for re-election to HD 69, said the other candidates have it all wrong. Peters said she completely reformed the mental health care system in the state. Among the changes Peters said have been made — the establishment of central receiving facilities in each county and giving county judges the power to force a person into treatment.

“We did so much,” Peters said. “I’m so proud of what we did.”

The forum was sponsored by Operation Par, the Boley Centers, and Personal Enrichment through Mental Health (PEMHS).

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Uber comes to agreement on proposed new rules — but will the rest of the Hillsborough PTC follow suit?

An official with Uber said Thursday the San Francisco-based ridesharing company has reached an agreement regarding background checks and other new rules proposed by outgoing Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Chair Victor Crist to have them finally operate legally in the county.

Whether they will be approved by the rest of the PTC remains uncertain at this point. The board will vote on the new rules on Oct. 13.

The announcement was made at a press conference held at the County Center in Tampa, with Uber’s Stephanie Smith joining Crist in expressing her company’s agreement with the new proposal. Officials with Lyft were not present. Crist said attorneys with that transportation network company were still going over the fine details of the agreement, but said he believed they would announce their support within the next 24 hours.

“We have been operating for almost three years in Hillsborough County without a regulatory framework that recognizes the nature of ridesharing options like Uber now operates,” said Smith, senior policy manager at Uber. “We believe this agreement represents the most responsible and clearest path forward, and we look forward to continuing the conversations over the next two weeks.”

The proposed new rules are stronger than current regulations regarding background checks — but they are not Level II, meaning no fingerprinting of ridesharing drivers. Both companies have said they would leave town if they were ordered to comply with that regulation, as they did in Austin, Texas earlier this year.

The PTC voted earlier this month to approve new rules that required Level II background checks. The newly proposed rules are being called Level I “plus 6,” which would request all criminal records throughout the U.S. on where the driver has lived within the last seven years. That would include federal court records, state and national sex offender database searchs, the FBI’s most-wanted list, Interpol’s most-wanted list, the DEA’s most-wanted list, and OFAC’s (Office of Foreign Asset Control) most-wanted list.

Crist said after attempting for more than two-and-a-half years to find a regulatory framework that could stick with ridesharing companies, he learned through PTC attorneys that the agency could propose new rules as a part of a court settlement.

Both Uber and Lyft currently have asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal to rule that the agency regulating for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough has no jurisdiction over ridesharing. Crist said that if done as a court settlement, there would be a contract in place, and if the companies don’t follow them they would be in contempt of court.

The proposed agreement is for 15 months. It calls for Uber to pay a $250,000 annual fee to operate in the county, and Lyft would pay $125,000. Why the difference? Because there are twice as many Uber vehicles operating in the county than there are Lyft cars. Violators will incur a penalty fee of $2,500, and a second-time incident will have a fee of $5,000.

Once a vehicle becomes registered with Uber, there will be a 21-day grace period before PTC license inspectors can check out those cars. There will be a 42-day grace period for existing vehicles currently registered with the PTC.

“We agree that the vehicle-for-hire industry is evolving and that the ridesharing industry is here to stay,” said Louie Minardi, president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. “We also believe that a level playing field helps to ensure both fair competition on equal terms and also promotes choices when it comes to public transportation.  Although we have not had an opportunity to review the proposed agreement between Uber and Commissioner Crist, in the spirit of cooperation and fairness, we are amenable to considering the same or similar temporary rules and regulations for ALL Transportation Network Companies and the taxi industry.”

Minardi also said the taxicab industry “still believes strongly that 1) Level II driver background checks (which include records in other states and fingerprint scans), 2) accessible commercial umbrella insurance from carriers vetted by the State of Florida, 3) vehicle inspections and 4) compliance with state and federal Americans with Disabilities Act provisions should be the minimum standard.”

Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco was the only member of the PTC besides Crist at the press conference. He said with light-rail still years away from happening (if ever) in the county, the agreement is good for local transportation for Hillsborough County.

“Coming to this agreement is good. It shows that we are embracing innovation, that we embrace technology,”  he said, adding that too much government regulation stifles progress.

When asked if he believes that the PTC will approve his proposal, Crist said he believes there are three certain yes votes and three certain no votes, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan being the swing vote. Hagan did not return a call for comment on Thursday.

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Teachers union endorses Joanne Lentino for Pinellas School Board District 1

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and Pinellas Educational Support Professional Association endorsed Joanne Lentino Thursday in the race for the District 1 at-large seat on the Pinellas School Board.

Lentino is facing Matt Stewart in the runoff for the seat. Both are making their first run for public office. The PCTA-PESPA had endorsed both in the four-person Aug. 30 race. They moved to a runoff when no one received 50 percent plus one vote.

PCTA-PESPA decided to endorse Lentino in the Nov. 8 runoff because of her “understanding of the priorities and concerns of students, families, and teachers in Pinellas County.”

“Joanne Lentino worked tirelessly on behalf of Pinellas County students as a teacher for 10 years,” said PCTA-PESPA president Mike Gandolfo. “Joanne’s broad-based skills and knowledge of the school system, concern and commitment to the children and working families of Pinellas, and the deep relationships she has built in our community, will serve her well on the School Board.”

Lentino said, “As a recently retired teacher from Pinellas County schools, I am proud to have received the endorsement of PCTA-PESPA and will always look out for Pinellas’ students, families, teachers, and support professionals as we work together to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education.”

Lentino recently retired after 10 years’ teaching in the Pinellas County School System. She said she continues to mentor and also volunteers in the community.

District 1 is voted on by the entire county. The race is non-partisan. The election is Nov. 8.

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Charlie Crist, St. Pete City Councilmembers stand against gun violence

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and four council members took a stand against gun violence Thursday when the Vocal Majority bus tour stopped in the city.

The bus tour is the inspiration of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly. Neither Giffords nor Kelly was there.

But those who were there carried the anti-gun violence message forward.

Kriseman referred to the candlelit ceremony held on the steps of City Hall after the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Wax dripped onto the hands of mourners, he said. But, look at the hands of the gun lobby and “you will see blood,” the mayor said.

He referred to the nine people who have been killed this year by guns in St. Petersburg and the 276 guns stolen from cars. Not securing a gun is irresponsible gun ownership, he said. The goal is to get bad guns out of the hands of bad people.

The solution, Kriseman said, is to elect representatives who are not afraid of the gun lobby.

“People just need to vote,” Kriseman said, adding that elections are truly about life and death.

St. Petersburg Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman began her remarks by listing the names of some of those who have been killed with guns. She concluded with the name of her son, Cabretti Wheeler, 21, who was killed in 2008.

“I have had enough,” Wheeler-Bowman said.

Council chairwoman Amy Foster agreed, saying, “Enough is enough and not one more.”

Council members Darden Rice and Jim Kennedy did not speak.

Crist, a Democrat who is running against Republican David Jolly for the Congressional District 13 seat, said he is a gun owner who also hunts and believes in the Second Amendment.

But, he said, more stringent background checks are needed, and assault weapons should be banned.

The message did not play well with at least one audience member, who wheeled her baby away while talking on her phone: “Yeah, let’s ban all the guns so we can’t protect ourselves. Yeah.”

St. Pete was the fourth stop in the Vocal Majority bus tour. It will run for six weeks and visit 50 cities in  14 states to urge people to vote for those who oppose gun violence.

Sponsoring the tour is Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, which works to elect candidates at every level of public office who show the political courage to stand up to the gun lobby, are passionate about reducing gun violence in our communities, and who commit to taking action once elected.

The group, like the tour, is the creation of Giffords and Kelly.

Giffords suffered a severe brain injury in 2011 when a would-be assassin shot her in the head. Since resigning from Congress in 2012, Giffords and Kelly have worked to reduce gun violence and to elect candidates who see that as a priority.

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