MADEIRA BEACH – The remake of city government continues in Madeira Beach. Since a new commission majority was elected in March, the city’s leadership at the top levels has been upended.
City Clerk Cheryl Crawford was terminated, City Attorney Thomas Trask announced he is not renewing his contract that expires this month, and City Manager Shane Crawford is currently suspended. Last month, the commission named Fire Chief Derryl O’Neal acting city manager. The Crawfords’ fate is being determined by the outcome of a legal settlement their lawyer is negotiating with the city.
At the June 13 commission meeting, a key leadership position was filled. In a 4-1 vote, the commission approved O’Neal’s appointment of Walter Pierce, formerly director of finance in Venice, Florida, to the job.
The move had been expected. Pierce had been named budget director at last month’s commission meeting. The title had been recommended by Trask, who told the commission that, under the city charter, only the city manager could appoint finance director. There had been no city manager at the time, with Crawford suspended.
With hearings on next year’s budget coming up, the appointment of a financial official had been seen as critical. Vice Mayor John Douthirt said at last month’s meeting that no one had as yet worked on the upcoming budget. Trask said, “You have an obligation to provide services for the city of Madeira Beach. You cannot do that without a budget.”
The city attorney said the naming of Pierce as finance director/treasurer was legal, as O’Neal had that authority as acting city manager.
Commissioner Terry Lister disagreed, saying only the city manager can hire a finance director.
“We don’t have a city manager,” Lister said, adding, “We are not making the city any better by giving (Pierce) the title.”
Trask said the acting city manager has the same responsibilities as a city manager, which includes the full legal authority to approve and remove city employees. O’Neal’s memorandum to the commission read, “As acting city manager, I am appointing Walter Pierce director of finance/city treasurer, and requesting the board’s approval. This is to be effective upon commission approval.”
Pierce said his budget director title had been “a little confusing” both to city staff members and to people on the outside. Pierce thanked the commission for hiring him, saying, “I will make sure the city is operating efficiently.”
Expanded alcohol sales hours approved
Alcoholic beverages could soon be bought in the city beginning at 8 a.m., seven days a week. The commission voted to approve the expanded hours, which previously did not permit sales before 11 a.m. on Sundays, at the request of Pinellas County. So far, every community in the county that has considered it has made the change, except Belleair Bluffs, Trask said.
The law will allow alcoholic beverages to be served and sold from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily. A second reading of the ordinance is needed before it takes effect.
Lister said the change makes the law easier for the Sheriff’s Department to enforce. “It’s good to keep it consistent,” he said.
Having the same hours for alcohol sales throughout the county also makes it easier for “people up and down the beaches and elsewhere to keep track of when alcoholic beverages are available,” said Commissioner Nancy Oakley.
Commission Effectiveness Workshop
A workshop session that would help a divided commission “be able to work better together” was proposed by Douthirt. The City Commission Effectiveness Workshop is sponsored by the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida. It would last four hours and cost $1,250, Douthirt said.
According to information provided by Douthirt, the session “will address commission effectiveness, dealing with conflict, and improving performance.”
Trask said he was familiar with the workshops and that they have worked well in other communities.
“They have a good facilitator, who is a good listener, and gives great advice,” the attorney said. “She will lead you to the point where you can get something accomplished.”
Commissioners on both sides of “the divide” were in favor of holding the session.
“Seems like a good idea,” said Mayor Maggi Black.
“I love it,” Lister said.
That was one of the only issues they had agreed on all evening.