For the past few months, the Madeira Beach government has been bombarded with lawsuits and ethics complaints arising out of a controversy surrounding two proposed developments.
Now, the Madeira Beach commission has voted to cover officials’ attorneys’ fees and costs they may incur because of seven complaints filed with the state Ethics Commission. The vote came during a commission meeting Tuesday in response to advice from city attorney Tom Trask.
“Up to seven complaints, filed by various citizens, have been filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics in Tallahassee as to officials and employees of the city of Madeira Beach,” Trask wrote in a July 28 memo to commissioners, City Manager Shane Crawford and assistant city manager/finance director Vincent Tenaglia.
“Five of these … have now received letters from the Commission on Ethics indicating the complaints were found to be ‘sufficient for investigation’ and have been assigned to an investigator,” Trask wrote.
Those five complaints were lodged against Crawford, former Commissioner Pat Shontz, community services director/building official Frank DeSantis, and Crawford’s assistant, Cheryl McGrady. Two of the five were filed against Crawford.
Those complaints have been turned over to the city’s liability insurance carrier, which is handling them.
Trask said he had heard nothing of the sixth complaint against Mayor Travis Palladeno or a possible seventh against Commissioner Elaine Poe. But those, too, would be given to the insurance carrier if necessary.
Trask noted that the insurance carrier is currently paying the bills.
“It is likely such coverage and defense will continue unless and until some sort of factual determination is made that specific policy exclusion applies, or the annual aggregate limit of liability is reached,” Trask wrote.
However, the policy has deductibles and, should the policy limits be reached, the defense monies could come out of officials’ pockets. Trask recommended that the commission decide if the city will cover deductibles and any other out-of-pocket expense out of tax money.
Commissioners vote 4 to 0 to cover the potential expenses for Poe, Crawford, DeSantis, McGrady and Shontz. They voted 3 to 0 with Palladeno abstaining to cover the mayor’s out-of-pocket expenses. Poe was not present for either vote.
Palladeno said he abstained because “I’m not going to sit there and vote for myself to get something. … I don’t think it’s right that you vote for yourself.”
The complaints, like the four lawsuits, arose from a dispute over two developments proposed for the foot of the Tom Stuart Causeway, the only direct link Madeira Beach has to the mainland.
The majority of the commission and proponents say the developments, which include a hotel, restaurant, parking garage and condominiums, will bring a much needed financial shot in the arm to the city.
Opponents say they’re not opposed to redevelopment of the two parcels but object to the proposed Madeira Beach City Center and Holiday Isle projects because they are too big and too high for the location. The developments, they argue, would bring congestion and traffic to the area and destroy the “fishing village” ambiance of Madeira Beach.
The commission has given the developments the go-ahead, but opponents have asked the courts to help overturn the board’s votes.