Article by: Anne Lindberg of SaintPetersBlog.com
former Madeira Beach commissioner says sitting Commissioner Elaine Poe has overstepped her authority and he’s filed a state ethics complaint against her.
“I’m disappointed that she’s not following the rules,” Len Piatta said. “Her behavior … causes things to be more out of control.”
Poe said she has not seen a copy of the complaint, but is familiar with the allegations.
“It’s a pretty bogus complaint,” Poe said. “I feel like it was filed in collusion between the city manager and a citizen. I don’t feel that this will go anywhere except that it will damage my reputation as a commissioner.”
Poe declined to comment further about the complaint, saying she has hired an attorney to deal with it.
Piatta’s ethics complaint is the latest to be filed in a raging battle over a proposed development that would put 11 buildings on two parcels of land at the foot of the one bridge linking Madeira Beach to the mainland. The development would include a hotel, a marina, condominiums, a restaurant and a parking garage. Proponents says it’s a long-needed project for the city. Opponents say they do not oppose development but want something less massive at the city’s entrance.
Thus far, complaints have been filed with the Florida ethics commission concerning City Manager Shane Crawford, Vice Mayor Pat Shontz and one or more city employees. Complaints have also been filed with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. Those complaints were all filed by opponents to the proposed development.
Piatta’s is the first to be filed some someone who supports the proposed plan.
Piatta’s complaint is twofold.
Under the Madeira Beach charter and policy manual, commissioners are forbidden from contacting employees or contracted workers or directing them to do things. However, Piatta says Poe has contacted city employees and has given them orders. He included with his complaint a May 27 letter from City Manager Crawford to Poe.
The letter says in part, “I have been made aware again that you have been in contact with my staff either on the city payroll or contracted personnel. … I’m asking that you refrain this [sic] activity immediately. This needs to occur so I can run and effective and resourceful City Hall.”
Piatta also charges that Poe has acted independently to influence the outcome of the development battle. He points to a sworn statement from two Planning Commission members who say that Poe told them, “I don’t play well with others and I don’t play by the rules.” That, Piatta says, shows Poe does not intend to follow the rules commissioners are required to obey.
“You took an oath. You raised your hand” to behave a certain way, Piatta said. One of those ways is to not take sides to independently influence the outcome of a vote.
He added, “She is pretty much an instigator in a lot of this.”
However, Poe has taken an active part in drumming up opposition to the development. He attached a Feb. 4 email that appears to be from Poe about the project. In it, she refers to an upcoming meeting in which a vote will be made on the development and says in all capital letters: “We will need to pack City Hall once again.” In another message, apparently sent from Poe’s iPad on Dec. 21, she says, “We need all hands on deck to save our community from greed.”
Poe also submitted to the city a “notice of intent to be a party” in relation to the development on one of the two parcels, land known as the “Holton property,” where a Leverock’s restaurant was once located. She filled out the document and signed it as “an affected person” and submitted it to the city clerk’s office at 10:33 a.m. March 11 then withdrew it at 11:15 a.m., according to a document filed with Piatta’s complaint.
Poe conceded Wednesday that she does oppose the proposed development. She said she wishes she had asked more questions two years ago when a zoning and land use change came in front of the commission. The change allowed such developments to come into the city.
“I’m angry, too, because I didn’t ask enough questions,” Poe said. “We should have thought about it a little bit.”