The city of Clearwater in Pinellas County, Florida, had a special city council work session on Monday morning that ran over three hours. Mayor Frank Hibbard helmed the meeting for the first hour, but then decided the job wasn't for him.
Hibbard called a brief recess nearly an hour into the meeting. Prior to the recess, the council had been discussing plans for a new $90 million City Hall and municipal complex. Hibbard, a moderate Republican, was alone in opposing the project, reported the Tampa Bay Times, not least because of an unfunded gap of $60 million in the project's financing.
Hibbard told WTSP that he had always been fiscally responsible, which put him out of alignment with the council.
"There's no graft or anything else," he said. "It was a 4 to 1 vote forward with what I believe is reckless spending."
After the board reassembled, the exasperated-looking mayor called the meeting to order with one last strike of the gavel. A 8:51 a.m., he said, "Um, this is probably one of the toughest things I've ever done in my entire life, but I know it's right."
"I'm not a quitter, but I'm not the right leader for this council any more," announced Hibbard, as adjacent council members looked on, aghast. "I'm concerned with where the city is going, because this is simple math, and we're not doing very well on the test."
As the mayor continued with his unexpected resignation, he began packing his briefcase.
Citing his conscience, his family, his health, and "other things," Hibbard underscored that he could not continue as mayor.
"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."
Hibbard suggested that City Manager Jennifer Poirrier would continue to serve the community well in her position and went so far as to nominate his replacement: Hoyt Hamilton, whom the outgoing mayor suggested "knows the city."
After reiterating that he was "the wrong guy right now," the mayor noted he had called his wife earlier, who was similarly flummoxed by the news.
Hibbard thanked his staff and his peers, noting he appreciated them despite past disagreements. He proceeded to grab his briefcase and his bottle of water, then marched out of the room.
The remaining council members shared looks of disbelief and shock as the door slammed shut behind him.
Florida Politics reported that Hibbard was in the final year of his four-year term and had previously indicated that he would not be pursuing re-election. He was elected with 57% of the vote in 2020 and had also been mayor from 2004 to 2012.
Hibbard told WTSP, "This isn't that big of a deal; they'll move along."
After another brief recess, acting Mayor Kathleen Beckman said, "Little surprised, saddened, shell-shocked. ... 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."
Beckman led the meeting and continued to do the work Hibbard proved unable to continue.
City of Clearwater Special Council Work Session 3/20/23youtu.be
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