CLEARWATER, FL — Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard suddenly announced his resignation during Monday's city council special session as the council discussed its strategic plan for 2023-25, including a $90 million City Hall
The 40-page document prepared by the consulting firm Baker Tilly consists of five strategic priorities and 22 objectives, including construction of a new city hall and municipal services building.
"This strategic plan will tie what we do to why we do it," said City Manager Jennifer Poirrier. "Once the strategic plan is approved, our goal is to have a good discussion with you about this process. We are early in the budget process. We will take what is decided today via consensus and build a budget around those priorities. We understand that every project is not fully vetted with costs and funding mechanisms. But if those projects are identified as priorities, we will bring back the specific details through the budget process."
She added that she realizes there are unfunded items on the list of priority projects.
"As you know, we have limited resources and, while we can't do it all, especially all at the same time, we're hoping this discussion will help us derive priorities and will help us fine-tune our understanding of council's long-term expectations," Poirrier said.
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A new city hall is expected to cost $90 million and the city is short $60 million for the project.
The city is also in need of a new public works complex, a project that has a $26 million deficit.
"I understand that staff wants to narrow down a scope of what they're focusing on so that they can really put first things first, which I think is appropriate," Hibbard said. "But I know there is not unanimous support for everything. In fact, I know there is one item where there's not unanimous support, and I know we're not going to reach consensus today on that. And I think everyone needs to be on the record today for things they are supporting."
With the exception of Hibbard, the council members agreed that building a new city hall is a priority.
"I think it's challenging revitalizing downtown when we have limited available space," said council member Lina Teixeira, saying she thought the best solution is to redevelop the current municipal services building into a city hall with municipal services. "I like the idea of having everything under one building and I think a city this size warrants that."
"The council's been talking about a new city hall for over two decades, and we always put it off because there are other things that crop up that are better," council member David Allbritton said. "Here we are now in an office building, and we've been in that for over five years. I'm on board with doing it. Clearwater deserves it, I think. And I think putting it in one building instead of spread all over the place is just a good operating procedure."
Allbritton said the municipal services building, constructed in the mid-1990s, has been in need of renovations, and that would happen if they were put in a new city hall complex.
"I'm having a problem sitting here looking at this list and looking at a deficit of over a quarter of a billion dollars," Hibbard said. "I don't know if we want to determine what the bucket is we'd be drawing from or if we want to bond a certain percentage. But without coming to a conclusion on the money first, in my opinion it's very difficult to prioritize."
Hibbard then called for a five-minute recess and, when the council reconvened, announced his resignation.
"This is probably one of the toughest things I've done in my life," he said. "But I know it's right because I'm not a quitter. But I'm not the right leader for this council any more. And I'm concerned where the city is going because this is simple math and we're not doing very well on the test. But I can tell I'm not the right person."
During the recess, Hibbard said he called his wife, Teresa, and told her his decision.
"I know this is shocking, but I'm the wrong guy right now," he said. "I just called my wife. She's shocked. I don't ever quit anything. But it's been more and more obvious to me that, as much as I love the city and as much as I want to stick around for some of the things that are going to occur over the next several months, I'm simply not the right person to be here any longer. So I wish all of you the best."
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Hibbard began packing up his briefcase as he continued speaking.
"I've always believed in making sacrifices for public service. And I love Clearwater and I love some of the things we've gotten done," he said, singling out the Imagine Clearwater project and City Manager Jennifer Poirrier's appointment in January.
"But, in good conscience, for my family and my own health and other things, I can't remain here," he said. "I highly recommend that you appoint Hoyt (former city council member Hoyt Hamilton) for the interim (mayor). At least he knows the city. You're going to have to appoint somebody who doesn't want to be the next mayor."
Hibbard then left the council chambers and Vice Mayor Kathleen Beckman called for a five-minute recess before resuming the workshop, during which the remaining council members continued to discuss priorities in the strategic plan.
Upon their return to council chambers, council members were subdued but continued their discussion on the strategic plan.
"A little surprised, saddened, shell-shocked," said Beckman of Hibbard's decision. "You know people make significant decisions about their life or work every single day and a lot of factors weigh in on that. I have no idea why Mayor Hibbard chose to resign today. I'm just as surprised as anyone. But the work goes on and there's work to be done today. Staff has put an incredible amount of time and effort in preparation for this meeting today and you all are asking for some direction on our priorities and that's what we're here to do today."
Hibbard was elected mayor for a second time in 2020. He previously served on the Clearwater City Council for three terms, from 2002-2012, two as mayor.
A year ago, he announced that he would not run for re-election when his term is up in 2024.
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