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Madeira Beach officials, former and current, guilty of ethics violations

MADEIRA BEACH - Two residents, one a current and the other a former city official, were found last week to have violated state ethics laws and now face thousands of dollars in fines.

Commissioner Nancy Oakley violated state ethics laws when she licked former City Manager Shane Crawford's face at a city event in 2012, according to a state administrative law judge opinion filed Dec. 7 with the state Commission on Ethics.

The commission is expected to consider the judge's recommended "public censure and reprimand" and $5,000 fine against Oakley at its Jan. 25 meeting.

One day earlier, on Dec. 6, Crawford was fined $2,000 by the same ethics commission for violating state law when he accepted gifts from developers of proposed city projects in 2015 and 2016 while he served as Madeira Beach's city manager.

The commission ruled he was guilty of three out of eight ethics complaints filed against him by Madeira Beach residents Robin Vander Velde and Bill Gay and by Seminole resident Thomas Slack.

They had unsuccessfully asked the commission to significantly increase a proposed fine against Crawford. He could have faced up to an $80,000 fine and restitution of the $135,000 in rent reductions they claimed he had received.

The sexual harassment complaint against Oakley was filed by Crawford.

"It's unfortunate," Crawford said. "When the city terminated me without cause, they demanded that I drop the ethics case against Oakley. The strength of my case was obvious and the city now has tremendous liability. I am working with my attorney to explore all my legal options against the city."

Crawford claims that after he publicly raised the issue, Oakley should not have been allowed to cast a vote to fire him.

He is also angry that recent charter changes approved by voters bar him from ever returning to the city as its manager.

"They (the referendum questions) were based on lies and a sabotage campaign," he said.

Oakley declined to comment.

The ethics judge's 23-page findings are from testimony at a formal hearing against Oakley held in Clearwater in September.

Oakley was accused by several witnesses of being drunk at a public event and sexually accosting and groping Crawford.

Judge Robert Cohen said the testimony highly critical of Oakley's behavior was "clear and convincing."

He largely discounted testimony of those who supported Oakley's reputation but were not aware of Oakley's prior arrests on charges of DUI and petit theft and participation in a "mail hoax."

Cohen concluded that Oakley's "hatred" of Crawford's wife (who was later fired as city clerk by the City Commission) "cause(d) her to rebuke her oath of office. (and commit) assault and battery" against Shane Crawford.

The incidents at the event "all point to someone who may have an alcohol problem," Cohen wrote. "Counseling or treatment, while not being ordered by the undersigned, might be a worthwhile road to travel for (Oakley)."

Cohen noted that the ethics commission could remove or suspend her from office, issue a public censure and reprimand, order her to forfeit up to one-third of one year's salary, or fine her up to $10,000.

Instead, he recommended the $5,000 fine and reprimand to "send a message" that Oakley's actions were "unwarranted and, hopefully, will serve as a wake-up call.''

An official ethics violation ruling against Oakley could force her to resign.

If a proposed charter change is approved by voters in March - and she runs and wins re-election - she would face a charter rule that calls for commissioners found guilty of knowingly violating ethics laws to forfeit their office.

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