CLEARWATER — Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell resigned in the middle of Thursday's City Council meeting, saying her general contracting business needs her full attention.
Then she thanked her colleagues and walked out of chambers.
"Me and my husband and our amazing family have made a decision that we have been discussing for some time," Caudell read from a written statement. "After 18 years of owning and operating our commercial general contracting company D-Mar, it has been with great success and seeing much growth and expansion that we decided it needs my 100 percent, full-time attention."
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After she left, City Attorney Pam Akin noted that she did not hear Caudell say the words "I hereby resign." That resignation would not be official until she submitted it in writing, the attorney said. Caudell said she'll submit such a letter this month.
Akin instructed the remaining four Council members they had 60 days to appoint someone to complete Caudell's term, which ends in March 2020, otherwise the city must hold a special election.
"Needless to say we are all shocked by that announcement," Mayor George Cretekos said.
City Manager Bill Horne later said he had no idea the resignation was coming.
Caudell did not respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.
Her apparent resignation comes two days after she apologized to Council member Hoyt Hamilton for an Election Day letter to the editor in the Tampa Bay Times where she expressed support for the strong mayor referendum and questioned her colleagues' passion.
"I expected my fellow council members to share this passion for learning our strengths and weaknesses, but unfortunately they don't," Caudell wrote.
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Hamilton confronted Caudell at Tuesday's work session, stating the letter questioned his commitment and passion for the city. In response, Caudell falsely suggested the Times had misquoted the comment in the letter to the editor she submitted.
The Times, in fact, did not misquote Caudell and published the statement verbatim as she submitted it.
Caudell was a vocal proponent of the strong mayor referendum, which failed on Nov. 6. About 59 percent voted against the change, which would have eliminated the city manager position, a professional appointed by elected officials to implement policy of the five-member council. Daily management power would have been given to the elected mayor, who would not have been a voting member of the council.
The initiative to change the form of government Clearwater has had for nearly 100 years was brought up in April by a group of downtown business advocates associated with the Clearwater Downtown Partnership.
Caudell was first elected to the Council in 2012 and was serving her second term. In June 2017 she announced she would run as a Republican for Pinellas County Commission District 2 against Democrat Pat Gerard in the Nov. 6 election. But Caudell announced in May she was dropping out of the County Commission race "to dedicate my full time and attention to continuing to passionately represent Clearwater and its citizens."
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However in her comments before walking out Thursday, Caudell said she dropped out of the County Commission race for the same reason she is leaving the Council — to focus on her business.
The Council on Thursday expressed a sense of urgency in appointing a replacement within 60 days who can finish Caudell's term but who will also commit to not run for the seat in March 2020. The Council will also have to appoint a replacement to fill Caudell's seat on Forward Pinellas, the county's land use and transportation planning agency.
Caudell also serves on the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group and a Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority committee.
"It was wonderful working with all of you," Caudell said Thursday. "I've given 110 percent during the 12 years I've served this community."