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.
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 having 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, a 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.”