MADEIRA BEACH – City funds will be used to cover legal and other expenses related to ethics complaints against city employees and commission members if the costs exceed the city’s $100,000 insurance coverage.
Madeira Beach city commissioners decided to make sure all expenses were covered after City Attorney Thomas Trask warned that the costs incurred from defending four lawsuits and seven ethics complaints could well exceed the insurance limit.
Trask said at the Aug. 9 Board of Commissioners meeting that another legal action, a fourth lawsuit, was filed just that day. Sufficient cause has been found so far to move forward with investigating five of the ethics complaints, he said.
Commission members appeared eager to have the city pay any legal costs not covered by insurance.
Commissioner Terry Lister made a motion, seconded by Vice Mayor Housh Ghovaee, “that we cover legal fees start to finish, period.”
“We’re not going to leave these people hanging,” said Lister.
“This is a family,” Ghovaee said. “We stand together, we blossom together, we hurt together.”
Commissioner Nancy Hodges said, “We need to bring all this foolishness to an end.”
Resident comments on the matter were mixed. Some fully supported having the city pay uncovered legal expenses, while others wanted to “wait and see” how the cases were decided.
“That was a smart motion. You cover people who represent you,” said former Planning Board Chairman Jim Everett.
Veronica Blackwood, who said she was the author of one of the complaints, said the charges were found to be “sufficient for investigation.”
Joe Jorgensen said he was “a little surprised the city would put a blank check out there, and we’re not willing to wait and see what comes out of this.”
The city employees and others “should be supported if they have done their job properly,” Jorgensen said.
Resident Sam Baker said he agreed with a “wait and see” approach. “It’s premature to cover all of these costs when we don’t know what they are,” he said.
Tom Whalley said citizens “should be embarrassed that our elected officials should have to respond at all about their ethics after doing such a good job of running our city.”
“I’m in favor of supporting our people,” said Rees Noren, “because they are doing the job we want done.”
The commission voted 4-0 to cover the legal expenses related to the ethics complaints not covered by insurance. Commissioner Elaine Poe was absent, and Mayor Travis Palladeno voted in favor of the motion but said he was partially recusing himself because he is the subject of an ethics complaint.
City manager to handle small variances
City Manager Shane Crawford was given the authority to grant minor variances that previously would have had to go to the Special Magistrate. There are specific limits on what variances are included in this provision.
“We want to cut down on the ‘slam dunk’ type variances that would go before the Special Magistrate, which is a very expensive process,” Crawford said.
The city Planning Board approved the change at their last meeting, said Jim Everett, who had chaired the meeting.
Everett said, “This will streamline the process and not force someone to go to the Special Magistrate for a very small variance.”
Crawford said if a person is dissatisfied with his decision, the matter could still go before the Special Magistrate.
Beer, wine available to miniature golfers
Players at Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf will now be able to have a beer or glass of wine as they play the rounds. The commission approved a 2COP beer and wine only license for the facility, located at 15395 Gulf Blvd.
Smuggler’s Cove owner George Schiavone said his request for a permit to sell alcoholic beverages was in response to “requests from our customers.”
“Every day, people ask for beer and wine when they mini-golf. They almost expect it,” Schiavone said.
He said movie theaters and almost every major tourist attraction has alcoholic beverages available for customers.
The alcoholic beverages will be available for miniature golf customers only, who will have to show an ID every time they make a purchase.
“This is not a bar,” Schiavone said. “We will not serve anybody not there to golf.”