It was supposed to be a fun, lighthearted alternative to typical government meetings, and one befitting a laid-back beach town. The city commission of Madeira Beach, Florida, a coastal community of nearly 4,500 on a barrier island facing the Gulf of Mexico, had decided to hold a special outdoor meeting during the King of the Beach fishing tournament in November 2012. The main order of business: honoring a sister city in the Bahamas.
But things quickly got out of hand at the meeting, according to a report from the Florida Commission on Ethics. By her own admission, Nancy Oakley, a city commissioner in Madeira Beach, had done some drinking at the fishing competition. She spotted Shane Crawford, then city manager, and Cheryl McGrady, his executive assistant. The two would later marry but were in relationships with other people at the time. Oakley suspected them of having an affair.
Using expletives, she demanded that McGrady, who was supposed to be acting as deputy city clerk and taking the minutes, be removed. Then, after the otherwise low-key meeting concluded, Oakley walked up to Crawford again. She allegedly licked his neck and the side of his face, slowly working her way up from his Adam’s apple, and grabbed at his crotch and buttocks.
McGrady, who had been standing there the entire time, told Oakley her behavior was inappropriate. According to the report, Oakley threw a punch at the woman, but missed.
It wasn’t an isolated incident, Crawford told Bay News 9 last month. Oakley had a “habit of licking men that either she was attracted to or thought that she had authority over,” he said. He wrote in a 2017 complaint to the ethics board that Oakley had made unwanted advances toward other city staff, too, and that they were “not interested in enduring that type of treatment ever again.”
Oakley resigned from her position on the Madeira Beach City Commission on Tuesday, a week after the state ethics panel announced Crawford’s complaint had been upheld in a unanimous vote. She repeatedly has denied touching him inappropriately and insisted she never licked his face or anyone else’s. The ethics commission chose to go with the accounts of several bystanders who offered sworn testimony to the contrary and noted that three other men testified Oakley had licked their faces in public without their consent.
“The act of licking a person on the face and neck is too unusual to be contrived by multiple witnesses and multiple victims,” administrative law judge Robert Cohen wrote in his final report. He recommended she be fined $5,000 and publicly censured by the governor for inappropriate behavior.
Oakley could not be reached for comment late Wednesday night. In her resignation letter, she continued to deny any wrongdoing and said she was giving up her position only to quell the controversy.
“While the Commission on Ethics has made their decision, I maintain my innocence and am pursuing the paths of appeals available,” she wrote. “With that being said, it is time for us all to move on.”
Residents who spoke at a special meeting of the Madeira Beach City Commission on Wednesday night seemed to agree. While some friends defended Oakley, who was not present, others accused her of giving the city a bad name.
“I am sick and tired of the embarrassing headlines created by the majority of this commission, and it is time for a change,” commented one woman who introduced herself as Helen Price.
Another Madeira Beach resident, Robert Preston, told the commission, “I would love to be part of a city that’s in the news for good things, not dirt and garbage.”
Though the face-licking episode allegedly took place in 2012, it took another five years for Crawford to file a complaint. According to a report prepared by the ethics commission, Crawford explained he had not initially reported Oakley for harassment because he feared he would lose his job. The following year she chose not to run for reelection, and Crawford let the matter go, according to the Miami Herald.
After Oakley decided to seek office again in 2017, Crawford filed an official complaint. She won the race, and, in her first meeting back, suggested McGrady should be fired. A month after that, she was one of three commissioners who voted to suspend him for reasons that were not fully explained. He ultimately chose to resign rather than be fired, according to the Herald.
The investigation into Oakley’s misconduct led to a very public airing of Madeira Beach’s dirty laundry, the Tampa Bay Times reported in September. During one hearing, Oakley’s attorney began shouting at McGrady and insisting she had been having an affair with Crawford in 2012, when the two were married to different people. McGrady insisted it was untrue. Meanwhile, numerous friends of Oakley’s were called to the stand and subjected to extensive questioning about her drinking and whether she had ever been known to lick people’s faces.
Oakley testified she had drank “some beer” and possibly a cocktail before the alleged face-licking incident, the transcripts from the hearings show. She also acknowledged she had used profanity to demand that McGrady leave, explaining, “I didn’t think she needed to be there. I don’t like her. [ … ] I think something was going on between the two of them.”
In her own testimony, McGrady told a different story, describing Oakley as “belligerent and intoxicated” and “stumbling all over the place” while holding a Tervis tumbler filled with alcohol that she insisted be set up at her place on the dais.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in life and hopefully I’ll never see anything like it again,” she said, later explaining that she “got the impression that Commissioner Oakley was jealous of me somehow.”
Crawford also faced an ethics complaint of his own, the Times reported. His relationship with McGrady didn’t violate the city’s rules, but it did prompt the International City/County Management Association to ban him for life in 2016, after residents filed complaints. A letter to Madeira Beach’s then-mayor noted “it is highly inappropriate for a city manager to have a personal relationship with a subordinate employee,” and Crawford had recommended McGrady for raises and promotions while the two were in a relationship.
Separately, in December, the Florida Ethics Commission fined him $2,000 for accepting prohibited gifts from lobbyists, which consisted of discounted rent on condominiums he leased from local developers.
During cross-examination at one hearing, Oakley’s lawyer asked McGrady if she had ever told anyone about the alleged assault on her then-boss.
“Not about that incident, no,” McGrady replied. “I mean, she licked a lot of people, sir. So everyone kind of talked about the fact that she licked people. That’s what she did when she got drunk.”