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City development leader resigns over dual role

In recent months, Community Development Board Chairman Ed Hooper split his time between the dais and the audience.

A Clearwater lobbyist, Hooper's profession clashed with his civic obligation, often pushing him to the sideline.

On Wednesday, after 3{ years on the board, Hooper resigned, saying his conflicts continued to mount and his dual role became increasingly inappropriate.

"Business has gotten good enough that I'm recusing myself too much," said Hooper, who was a former City Council member. "Enough that I'm not doing the board, the staff, the applicant or the city any good. I'm not participating enough."

Hooper said board work became frustrating because he often couldn't participate. By state statute, Hooper could not debate projects he helped shepherd.

At Hooper's last meeting as board chairman Tuesday, Hooper watched from the back of council chambers while other members discussed Dr. Kiran C. Patel's planned 425-unit beach resort, a project Hooper championed under previous owner Tony Markopoulos.

Hooper said Wednesday he will continue to work for Patel.

The relationships started to make city officials uneasy.

City Manager Bill Horne said council members had expressed concern about Hooper's role on the seven-member development board. As a consultant, part of Hooper's job is to convince the public and local government that a project is worthwhile.

Council member Bill Jonson said Clearwater residents were also concerned.

"The issue was on the table in the community," Jonson said. "I've given that a deal of thought."

Hooper's most public client had been Markopoulos, who was at odds with city planners on the design of his 14-story Clearwater Beach Resort. City staffers recommended the Community Development Board deny Markopoulos' site plan at a meeting last month.

But the board sided with Markopoulos 4-2, with Hooper watching from the second row of the audience. During deliberations, Hooper advised Markopoulos and other development team members.

Hooper did not violate any rules by sitting in the front of the audience, said City Attorney Pam Akin.

Still, the move surprised Horne, who has known Hooper since 1998.

Hooper said Wednesday it was wrong.

"That was not appropriate for me," said Hooper, who spent portions of the following meeting in the far back of the room. "I know better and should not have been there."

Hooper said he would not have asked to be reappointed when his term expired next year. But because there will be two other vacancies to fill then, he thought it would be best to leave now.

As a consultant, Hooper said he cannot appear before the Community Development Board for one year. He can come before the City Council, he said, something he could not do as board chairman.

"Would you hire a consultant that can't address the City Council?" Hooper said. "I needed to leave. The time was right. My mind-set was right."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 445-4160 or asharockmansptimes.com.

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