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Mayor, two commissioners are sworn in

Mayor Brian Aungst and City Commissioners Hoyt Hamilton and Frank Hibbard took the oath of office Thursday night and received a standing ovation from an audience packed with friends, family members and campaign workers.

"We're going to get a lot done in the next three years," Aungst promised during a short speech, his voice quivering slightly with emotion.

Aungst, who won re-election without any opposition, thanked his supporters and family, as did Hamilton and Hibbard. Hibbard added that he will try to win over the residents who didn't vote for him.

Former Commissioner Ed Hart, whom Hibbard ousted, did not attend Thursday's meeting to receive farewell gifts that included a letter of appreciation, plaque and photo album with pictures of himself and the other commissioners. Hart's secretary told city staff members that the former commissioner had a business-related conflict, City Manager Bill Horne said.

The last time an outgoing commissioner missed the farewell was when former Mayor Rita Garvey skipped the meeting at which Aungst took office after beating her in 1999 elections.

The first meeting of the new commission included a few dramatic moments during public comments, but a fairly light workload.

Countryside neighborhood activist John Wiser made commissioners chuckle when he appeared with a dog bone, which he gave to City Manager Bill Horne. Wiser requested the city throw Countryside a bone and add Sunday hours for the Countryside Recreation Center.

Sounding a somber note, St. Petersburg resident Kim Cristal appealed to commissioners to help her convince state officials to put a traffic light on the west end of the Courtney Campbell Parkway, where a 19-year-old friend was killed in a car accident Sunday.

Later, commissioners debated and approved an ordinance that will require landlords with one or more rental units in Clearwater to apply for occupational licenses that can be revoked if they allow their properties to dilapidate.

Representatives from both the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition of Clearwater Homeowner Associations told commissioners that they supported the measure, although one rental owner spoke against it.

Commissioners also approved changes to the zoning of two pieces of property that the city and the developers of Clearwater Mall are swapping. The changes allow the city to build a new fire station on the eastern side of the mall property, and they allow the city to offer a 2.4-acre parcel of land for sale in the future for commercial development on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

Commissioner Bill Jonson unsuccessfully tried to persuade his fellow commissioners to wait before changing the zoning on the 2.4-acre property to allow commercial development there, since there are so many trees on the site.

Aungst commented that the proceeds from the sale of the land might someday be used to help pay for the development of a new Philadelphia Phillies spring training stadium.

Concluding the meeting, commissioners agreed to appoint Hamilton to be their representative to an assembly of Pinellas County and municipal officials in May. All of the commissioners except Aungst, who had a scheduling conflict, wanted to be the city's representative to the assembly.