CLEARWATER — In March 2016, residents voted Jay Polglaze off the council after one term when he lost his seat to political newcomer Bob Cundiff by 1,299 votes. On Thursday night, three votes put Polglaze back in.
The City Council voted 3-1 to appoint Polglaze to finish the last 15 months of Doreen Caudell's term following her abrupt Nov. 30 resignation.
Mayor George Cretekos voted no and delivered a searing condemnation of his colleagues for disregarding diversity by appointing a fifth man to the council over who he said was a more qualified woman.
"It is going to be embarrassing, whether you want to admit it or not, to sit with other councils and other elected officials representing the City of Clearwater that has five men over 60 being its representatives," Cretekos said. "The diversity that I talk about isn't necessarily a diversity of quota. It's a diversity of inclusion."
Caudell was the lone woman on the council. Polglaze's appointment makes Clearwater the only large government body in Pinellas County to be made up entirely of white men. Out of 24 cities and the county government, only Redington Beach and North Redington Beach — both towns with fewer than 1,500 residents — have councils that are all male and white.
Polglaze, a retired postal worker, walked onto the Council in 2012 when no other candidate qualified to run for Seat 3. He was voted out of office in 2016 after one term when Cundiff won the seat with 53 percent of the vote.
There were 17 people who expressed interest in the appointment, including five women. Polglaze and former City Council member Carlen Petersen emerged this week as top named candidates.
Because rules do not allow the mayor to make or second a motion, Cundiff nominated Petersen, a former attorney who left office in 2010 due to term limits, after officials discussed both candidates.
The motion died when neither council members David Allbritton nor Hoyt Hamilton seconded the motion. Both, though, acknowledged Petersen's qualifications. A former attorney, she served on the council from 2004-10 during a time of intense redevelopment and was seen as a champion of social services, including issues such as homelessness.
Allbritton nominated Polglaze, noting his advocacy for downtown redevelopment and experience working with downtown stakeholders. Hamilton seconded the motion.
"I have to go back to my heart and think what is most important to me, is it the diversity aspect?" Allbritton said. "I'm leaning towards somebody that has experience because I think we've got some issues that are coming up that we're talking about in the next 15 months that is going to require somebody that already has experience on the dais here and also somebody that has stayed active in the things we're going to be talking about."
Cundiff said he hoped Petersen would have gotten more support but that "our assignment is to find three votes."
If the council did not reach a consensus by Jan. 30, the city would have had to hold a special election at a cost of $100,000. Cundiff became the deciding vote to appoint the man he beat in an election.
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"I'm very grateful, I'm thankful," Polglaze said after the meeting. "I'm very excited to get back to work ... and move things forward in an expedited fashion."
Polglaze said he will immediately resign as executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, a job he took one month after losing his council seat in 2016. Earlier this year, the Downtown Partnership's leaders initiated the referendum on the November ballot that would have eliminated the city manager form of government and given daily authority to the mayor. Residents defeated the referendum with 59 percent of the vote.
The city is already behind schedule on its roughly $50 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment, which is still in the design stage. Allbritton and Hamilton said Polglaze's record working with downtown stakeholders will be vital to get that project moving.
Polglaze is "extremely energetic," Hamilton said. "He was effective in my eyes."
But three of the four members of the audience who spoke before the final vote echoed Cretekos' disgust with the rationale offered by Allbritton and Hamilton.
"I think it's appalling that you guys don't vote in a female who's more qualified, who has more years of experience than anyone else on this list," said City Cycle and Supply Co. owner Mike Riordon. "This is a shameful, shameful moment in Clearwater's council."
After the vote, Petersen said it was disappointing to see that the diversity of the city is not reflected by its government. But she hoped the interest shown in the appointment by highly qualified candidates — from business leaders and attorneys to social service advocates — change that in future elections.
"It's politics," she said.
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.