National News

Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Posted December 11, 2017 10:46 p.m. EST

Forgive the folks in Madeira Beach for not yet updating the FAQs portion of their website. They've been quite busy lately, which might explain why three of the five commissioners listed are no longer in office.

Or maybe it's just a nod to less complicated times.

You know, before the lawsuits.

And mid-meeting resignations.

And ethics complaints.

And recall petitions.

And death threats.

And terminations.

"It's been an absolute mess,'' said Derryl O'Neal, "and it all boils down to politics.''

O'Neal would know. In the past year, he resigned as the fire chief to become the city manager and then resigned that post, too. He was recently rehired as both the fire chief and the interim city manager.

Which means, technically, he is his own supervisor.

And from where he sits -- in either desk, one presumes -- the messiness is finally being swept away.

The city has recently come to an agreement on disputes over redevelopment projects that had made the city look like a banana republic with higher condo fees.

"My whole goal has been to see the city move forward,'' said O'Neal, who managed to stay largely above the fray. "It was distressing to see so many people divided, neighbors against neighbors. We're finally ready to break ground, move forward and stay positive.''

Yes, but not quite.

The hotel and development proposals that led to all this animosity were resolved, albeit at the same time as one of the lawsuits. The developer agreed to scale down the size of the planned hotels and condos, alleviating some of the concern about congestion and a cluttered skyline.

But the recall efforts of two city commissioners continue to move forward. The first round of petitions were filed with the county's supervisor of elections, and residents will presumably draw up a second set of petitions after commissioners offer their written defenses. If 15 percent of registered voters sign the second petition, a recall election would follow sometime next year.

If it comes to pass, it would be the final -- but not the nuttiest -- chapter in this saga. Or, to quote Pat Shontz when she retired as vice mayor in the middle of a commission meeting in June 2016:

"I have never seen (such) vicious, nasty, disrespectful people,'' said Shontz, who passed away seven months later.

The Shontz resignation was the beginning of what might kindly be described as unrest in city government. Her appointed replacement was later removed from office when it was determined the city violated Sunshine Laws in naming him to the commission. Another commissioner resigned six months after Shontz. The incumbent mayor lost his seat three months after that.

Meanwhile, City Manager Shane Crawford was suspended for reasons that were never quite clear and endured a series telephoned death threats.

His wife, who doubled as city clerk, was fired ostensibly because she wasn't a certified clerk. Which seems kind of odd considering the city later advertised for a replacement clerk, but the job listing didn't specify that certification was needed.

O'Neal agreed to step in as city manager, but only if it didn't affect his status in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program. Weeks after being assured his retirement was secure, state officials notified O'Neal that he would no longer receive payments in the DROP program.

So O'Neal resigned as city manager, was reappointed as fire chief, and then resumed the duties of the interim city manager until a permanent replacement could be found.

Applications for the city manager's job will be accepted until Dec. 31, and O'Neal is hopeful his replacement will be found early in 2018.

After all, who wouldn't want that job?