MADEIRA BEACH – In a move that surprised many, the city commission narrowly approved an agreement that allows suspended City Manager Shane Crawford and fired City Clerk Cheryl Crawford to depart the city amicably.
The two, who are husband and wife, have faced opposition from three new commission members who took office in March.
The settlement, which was negotiated over the past several weeks by attorneys representing both sides, came at a special meeting at city hall held June 19.
The settlement contained four agreements – a resignation agreement and consulting agreement for each of the Crawfords. City Attorney Thomas Trask started by saying that all four agreements would have to be approved in order for the settlement to be valid.
Shane Crawford gets 20 weeks of salary, which he would have been entitled to anyway if he had been terminated by the city, plus accumulated vacation, sick leave and insurance benefits. Cheryl Crawford gets six weeks of pay, two more than she would have received as a terminated employee.
Both Crawfords also become consultants, available to the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Shane Crawford for four weeks and Cheryl for 18 weeks. The consultants fee is paid to both Crawfords, whether the city uses their services or not. The Crawfords also agreed not to take any legal action against the city.
Trask said he and attorney Jay Hebert, representing the Crawfords, had spent four to six weeks negotiating the settlement agreement, “trying to get this resolved.”
“This is an excellent way to settle this now,” Trask told the commission. A lawsuit resulting from the Crawfords’ terminations could result in legal expenses “in the $200,000 range,” he said, and another dollar amount “that could be huge” if the city did not prevail in the lawsuit.
Crawford attorney Hebert said, “The Crawfords are done (in Madeira Beach). They don’t want to be here.” He said this “has not been an easy time” for the Crawfords, especially Cheryl.
“This (Crawford) family does not want to be a part of this culture anymore. It is toxic, and it is time for it be over,” Hebert said.
That was a shift from the Crawfords’ position in May, when Hebert said Shane Crawford wanted to work with the new commission and “start healing and coming together.” Hebert said then, “It’s time to put Shane and Cheryl back to work.”
Hebert warned of consequences if the settlement agreement failed to pass, saying he had “overwhelming evidence of Sunshine Law violations and conspiracy” on the part of certain commission members.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Terry Lister and several residents called on Commissioner Nancy Oakley to recuse herself, citing alleged ethics complaints against her.
But Trask said ethics violations are not a sufficient reason for a commissioner to recuse from voting. Commission members “have a legal obligation to vote,” Trask said, and can recuse themselves only if they have a financial interest in the matter being voted on.
As it turned out, Oakley’s vote did not matter in the outcome. She voted no, along with Mayor Maggi Black. But Vice Mayor John Douthirt joined Commissioners Terry Lister and Nancy Hodges in approving the Crawfords’ resignation and consultant agreements, resulting in a 3-2 favorable decision.
Before the vote, Black said one of the things she objected to in the agreement was a clause that said the city agrees not to disseminate information “which may result in injury to the reputation of (Crawford).” She said, “Personally, I can’t make any promises to do that.”
After the meeting, Douthirt said of his vote, “I asked myself ‘How do we move the city forward?’ and decided this is what I think we have to do.”
Trask said after the meeting that he had worked out the total cost of the termination package for both Crawfords to be about $125,000. Trask also said he believed he had negotiated the best settlement possible for the city. He mentioned an earlier proposal by Hebert that called for giving Shane Crawford three years of severance pay (versus 20 weeks).