CLEARWATER — The City Council is made up entirely of older white men, and it's unclear if that lack of diversity will change when elected officials on Thursday appoint a candidate to fill a vacancy.
Mayor George Cretekos, 71, said he wants to fill the seat of Doreen Caudell, whose resignation took effect on Friday, with another woman.
But when the council discussed the vacancy at a work session on Monday, Cretekos' three colleagues made clear they did not have the same criteria for the replacement to finish Caudell's term through March 2020.
“I really think that beyond trying to pick a woman or somebody that is a minority, the thing that most interests me right now is picking somebody that can help and make decisions in the next 15 months on items we're going to be dealing with,” Council member David Allbritton, 68, said.
Clearwater is an outlier in gender diversity among major Pinellas County governments. Four of the seven Pinellas County Commissioners are women, and four of the five Dunedin City Commissioners are women. Five of the seven City Council members in St Petersburg are women.
Cretekos on Monday publicly backed Carlen Petersen, 64, who served on the council from 2004 until 2010. Petersen is also a former Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board member and volunteer for other social service causes.
Allbritton said he was considering “two to three top names” with government experience and confirmed after the meeting they were Petersen and former Council member Jay Polglaze, 61. He said he favored Polglaze, who currently works as executive director of the nonprofit Clearwater Downtown Partnership, whose leaders pushed the failed strong mayor referendum.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton, 60, said he had three top names in mind and confirmed after the meeting they were Petersen, Polglaze and community activist Howard Warshauer, 74, who served as a West Palm Beach city commissioner from 1992 to 1999.
Council member Bob Cundiff, 73, declined to name his top choices from 15 who contacted the city with interest in the appointment.
The council is expected to fill the vacancy Thursday, three weeks after Caudell unexpectedly announced she was resigning to focus on her general contracting business and walked out of a council meeting. If the council does not appoint a replacement by the next meeting Jan. 17, the city would have to hold a special election, which could cost about $100,000.
The three council members said they also did not agree with Cretekos' second criteria — that the appointment be someone who does not plan to run for the seat in 2020.
Cretekos said the power of incumbency is strong and he does not want the city government to give any candidate a boost in the 2020 election. He acknowledged one notable exception to the incumbency rule: Polglaze was unseated after one term in 2016 by Cundiff, then a political newcomer.
But Hamilton said the city is going to be making crucial votes over the next 15 months related to the roughly $50 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment, now in the design stage. He said it wouldn't be a downfall if the votes were made by somebody who would also be serving longer term.
Cundiff and Allbritton agreed.
“I don't care if they're going to run again, if they run in 2020 or not, if they are the best person for the job,” Cundiff said. “May the best man or woman win.”
Other candidates who contacted the city offering to serve include Becca Tieder, founder of an educational nonprofit that works against sexual assault. Tieder considered challenging state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, earlier this year but dropped out before qualifying. The city received about 50 letters of recommendation on Tieder's behalf.
Other applicants include: Clearwater Marine Aquarium COO Frank Dame; former Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce president Sheila Cole; longtime business owner Wayne Carothers; former Pinellas County School Board member Lucile Casey; airport safety business owner Tim Neubert; Lealman Innovation Academy assistant principal Konrad McCree Jr.; photographer and radio host Kelly Kelly; human resources consultant Bud Elias and lawyer Bruce Rector.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.