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Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard resigns unexpectedly in the middle of a City Council meeting

A man in a shirt and suit coat has his head turned to the side while he speaks. A woman sits next to him with a stoic look on her face. An American flag is behind her.
City of Clearwater
Frank Hibbard speaks during a Special Clearwater City Council work session on Monday, March 20, 2023. Hibbard announced his resignation as Mayor during the session.

Saying that he wasn't right leader for the council anymore, Hibbard, who had about one year left in his term, stepped down in the middle of a budget workshop.

Updated Tues, 3/21 at 4:30p:
The Clearwater City Council will hold a special meeting next Monday, March 27, to discuss their mayoral vacancy.

Frank Hibbard unexpectedly stepped down as mayor in the middle of a budget workshop Monday over a difference in opinions on the construction of a new City Hall and municipal services complex. He had one year left in his term.

According to a news release from the city, the council will discuss next steps, including how to fill Hibbard's seat on the council. If the members can't come up with an agreement on how to fill the seat within thirty days, a special election would need to be held.

The meeting is set for March 27 at 1:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at the Clearwater Main Library.

The city also released Hibbard's resignation letter Tuesday.

In it, he thanked city employees and reminded his colleagues on the City Council "how critical your responsibility is to making Clearwater a great place to live, work and play. Being like other cities is not the goal, being better and more efficient is.

"Government is going to have to learn to be more creative in finding solutions for difficult challenges, that require finite resources," he added. "I hope that you will look outside the box and remember one of our greatest strengths has been our fiscal health."

Original story:
Monday's Clearwater City Council budget workshop took a bizarre turn when Mayor Frank Hibbard unexpectedly announced his resignation.

During a conversation of about 30 capital projects — including plans for a new City Hall and municipal services complex — Hibbard called a short recess less than an hour into the meeting.

Hibbard has long opposed the City Hall project, which has seen its price tag grow from $30 million to $90 million.

He referred to his concerns over how to pay for the projects when he spoke immediately following the break.

"This is probably one of the toughest things I've ever done in my entire life, but I know it's right, because I'm not a quitter," he said. "But I'm not the right leader for this council anymore, 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 that really, I am not the right person, and I'm a busy guy, 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. I think Imagine's (the renovated Coachman Park that includes a plaza and the Sound music amphitheater) going to be phenomenal.

"I think (Jennifer) Poirrier is going to do a great job as city manager (Poirrier served as interim manager from early January until she was named manager in March), but in good conscience for my family, for my own health, and other things. I can't remain the mayor... I know this is shocking, but I just, I'm the wrong guy right now."

Hibbard put papers in his briefcase while speaking. Vice mayor and fellow council member Kathleen Beckman sat next to him, first gasping during his announcement and then sitting with her mouth wide open before taking off her glasses.

Hibbard went on to say that he called his wife during the earlier recess to tell her about his decision.

"She's shocked. And 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 couple of months, I simply am not the right person to be here."

After Hibbard wished his colleagues good luck, he stood up, picked up his travel mug and briefcase, and walked out of the council chambers, leaving a stunned room behind.

The remaining council members took a 15 minute recess. After that, Beckman spoke, saying she was "a little surprised, saddened, and shell-shocked" about Hibbard's decision.

"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 Hubbard chose to resign today," she said before taking a lengthy pause. "I'm just as surprised as anyone. But the work goes on, and there's work to be done today."

Council member David Allbritton also reassured city staff members.

"We will get through this, we still got four council members up here, and we'll get through this process and move forward," he said. "I know it's a shock for everybody, but the city is still on track, we're still on track to make decisions here and I don't want anybody freaking out right now about this.

"We've got enough people up here to make the decisions and keep everything on track, so that's what we plan to do today."

Hibbard had served as mayor of Clearwater in 2005-2012 before leaving office due to term limits. He won re-election in 2020 while serving as chairman of the board at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Hibbard had one year left in his term, and had indicated that he did not plan on running for re-election.

It's not clear yet who will succeed Hibbard.

Before leaving the meeting, he said the council should appoint former City Council member Hoyt Hamilton to finish his term. Clearwater's next election is scheduled for March 2024.

City Attorney David Margolis also said near the end of the meeting that he was going to attempt to speak to Hibbard Monday afternoon.

In August 2021, Bill Horne, Clearwater's city manager for more than two decades, died from a heart attack after golfing with Hibbard just weeks before Horne was going to retire.

Hibbard, who eulogized the 72-year-old Horne as "a patriot, mentor, leader, public servant, veteran, role model, and friend," found Horne in his car after he did not return home after they played golf.

Updated: March 21, 2023 at 3:11 PM EDT
This story has been updated with City Council's next steps and Hubbard's resignation letter.
Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.