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Clearwater council gives longtime city manager high marks

CLEARWATER — City managers tend to come and go. On average, they last seven years in one spot.

Not so in Clearwater, where City Manager Bill Horne has been on the job for 12 years and can clearly stay longer if he likes.

His bosses on the Clearwater City Council gave him mostly glowing reviews during his annual evaluation Wednesday night. Horne got votes of confidence from a new mayor and two new council members who will be in office for at least four more years, and possibly for eight.

The council also gave high marks to City Attorney Pam Akin, who has been in her position for 18 years.

"The city attorney and the city manager really do love Clearwater," said Mayor George Cretekos. "I don't know that anybody could ask either one of them to do more."

Horne, who earns $161,085 a year, has been city manager since mid-2000. That's when his predecessor, Mike Roberto, was forced out after a stormy three-year tenure.

Horne has successfully weathered a number of controversies over the years. As Clearwater's top administrator, he runs the city under the supervision of five elected council members.

New council members Jay Polglaze and Doreen Hock-DiPolito, evaluating Horne for the first time, praised his leadership skills. "What I'm most impressed about with the city manager is the take-charge attitude to getting our issues addressed," Hock-DiPolito said.

"I always love the way he forces us to make a decision," Vice Mayor Paul Gibson deadpanned, generating a round of laughter at City Hall. "We don't want to make the decision, and he cuts back: 'What do you really want to do?' "

The only negative mentioned was when Gibson and council member Bill Jonson noted a recent incident where the council was caught by surprise by the rising cost of a downtown fire station. "I thought that, frankly, that wasn't handled nearly as well as it could've been," Gibson said.

Over the past dozen years, the priorities of Horne and the council have been the redevelopment of Clearwater Beach and downtown Clearwater, as well as bread-and-butter issues like public safety.

More recently, they've been trying to reduce the number of homeless people in the city and making plans for redevelopment in the East Gateway neighborhood and along the U.S. 19 corridor.

"We've got to expand our economic focus outside the beach and downtown. We've got to look at those other corridors," Horne said in an interview Thursday. "It's a built-out city. Our priority has to be building the tax base."

Recently, Horne has had the council meet for "visioning sessions" to formulate a long-term strategy for Clearwater.

Why do that?

"We have a mayor and new council members who, if they're re-elected for second terms, will give the city eight years of political leadership," he said. "You can do a lot in eight years."

And how long will Horne stick around as city manager? Well, he's 63 years old and sees retirement approaching.

"When you hit 66, you have to ask yourself, do you still have the vitality to really provide the kind of leadership this local government needs?" he said. "The city needs a vibrant manager. Because of the demands of the position, you need to have someone with consistent vitality."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater council gives longtime city manager high marks 10/18/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 18, 2012 7:47pm]
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