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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Madeira Beach chooses fire chief as new city manager

MADEIRA BEACH — In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the City Commission appointed a new city manager and heard warnings that two of its members may soon face a recall election.

Former Fire Chief Derryl O'Neal, who will become the city's manager on Monday, urged residents to put aside their political disputes and come together for the good of the city.

The city has been torn by political factions who won or lost the March municipal election, and are either suing the city or organizing a recall petition drive to reverse that election.

"This is a situation of sour grapes, a microcosm of what is happening in the federal government. The commission members were duly elected whether people like it or not. Let's move the city forward and stop arguing," O'Neal said.

That doesn't seem to be happening.

O'Neal is determined to try, however. He has asked the Florida Institute of Government to direct a commission workshop in November that O'Neal hopes will set an agenda for the city.

One of his ideas is to reach cooperative agreements with neighboring cities to share administrative functions.

At the top of his list is the now vacant post of fire chief, being filled in the interim by Lt. Todd Ernscher, the city's senior fire officer.

Nearby Treasure Island is also without a permanent fire chief and is looking for a fire inspector. Both positions could be shared, O'Neal said.

The new city manager also wants commissioners to better understand the functions and potential benefits of the city's various departments, including the city's recreation center and marina.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about what some of our departments do," O'Neal said.

Other topics will include how the city will move forward in identifying new revenue sources, burying utilities on Gulf Boulevard, and repairing and rebuilding the city's stormwater system.

He did not mention development issues, however, which are central to the city's current political battles.

Each commission meeting, including the one Tuesday, continues to be peppered with bitter comments and accusations from residents on both sides of the development debate.

A table with literature was set up Tuesday night in the public right of way outside the city's fire house announcing an upcoming petition drive to unseat two commissioners and later the mayor.

Lawyer Jay Hebert informed the commission at the end of its meeting that a group of residents are planning the recall petition drive.

These residents largely support controversial hotel developments and were angered when the three commissioners elected last March moved several months ago to fire former City Manager Shane Crawford and his wife, City Clerk Cheryl Crawford.

Hebert, who previously represented the Crawfords, told Vice Mayor John Douthirt and Commissioner Nancy Oakley they will be the initial targets of the recall effort.

According to Hebert, there may be a later effort to unseat Mayor Maggi Black.

Meanwhile, several lawsuits involving the hotel developments that stoked the city's political divides are still wending their way through the courts.

Last week, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Tampa ruled in favor of the city on a challenge to a 2016 referendum election involving the selling of city property.

That referendum was soundly defeated and its opponents became the core of opposition to subsequent major hotel developments along 150th Avenue and Madeira Way — and efforts to unseat a majority of the then-city commission.

Another lawsuit challenging the Madeira Beach Town Center project along Madeira Way is scheduled to be considered during a mediation session this month.

Last month a similar mediation session involving the Holiday Isles Marina hotel project on 150th Avenue appeared to resolve that lawsuit.

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