CLEARWATER — The City Council on Thursday named Jennifer Poirrier as their choice to be city manager, elevating her from an interim role and scrapping what would have been a third national search in two years to fill the job.
The council fired former City Manager Jon Jennings on Jan. 5 after a one-year tenure and moved Poirrier from assistant city manager to interim. Since then, Council member Kathleen Beckman said Poirrier has shown she is “capable, honest, transparent and incredibly hard working.”
Although they disagreed on whether it could be said the city is in crisis, council members praised the skill Poirrier has shown in handling two months during what has been one of the more turbulent periods in Clearwater history, including staff turnover and a breakdown in the recycling system that prompted the FBI to get involved.
They also stressed the need for Poirrier to have the authority to fill multiple department director vacancies and begin preparing the budget, as a search would likely not yield a finalist until September .
“I truly feel the last few weeks we are treading water, and there’s a couple of sharks around, and there’s a perfectly great boat right there,” council member Lina Teixeira said.
Poirrier, 44, joined Clearwater in 2018 as the human resources director. She negotiated fire and police contracts, designed and implemented a comprehensive pay plan program that addressed compensation issues, and navigated personnel through the pandemic. Jennings promoted her to assistant city manager on Oct. 1.
She previously worked as Treasure Island’s personnel and risk management director for 10 years and Gulfport’s human resources administrator for six years before that.
Poirrier has a master’s of business administration degree from Florida Atlantic University and a bachelor of science degree with a focus on human resources from the University of South Florida.
The council voted unanimously to begin contract negotiations with Poirrier.
“It’s really surreal,” she said in an interview. “Never did I imagine this is what would have happened, especially in the time frame it did. But the amount of support from the residents, from the staff, from the council, it feels right.”
A period of instability in the city grew after the City Council sought to find the successor to former City Manager Bill Horne, who led Clearwater for 20 years. The council’s first search in March 2021 attracted 91 applicants, but four of the five finalists dropped out before interviews began.
The city launched a second search in June 2021 that attracted 109 applicants, including Jennings. That August, amid the search for his replacement, Horne died of a suspected heart attack three weeks before his planned retirement.
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The council voted unanimously in September 2021 to hire Jennings over three other finalists.
But during a discussion about his annual raise a little more than a year later, Mayor Frank Hibbard broached the idea of termination instead. Hibbard, along with council members Kathleen Beckman and Lina Teixeira, shared concerns about Jennings’ lack of communication, a habit of making decisions without their input and his failure to prepare them for important votes.
They voted 3-2 to fire him on Jan. 5, with Allbritton and council member Mark Bunker voting no.
On Jan. 6, the day after her appointment as interim city manager, Poirrier discovered through an employee tip that the solid waste department had not been recycling residents’ materials for the previous six months. Weeks later, she confirmed the problem went back further, at least since 2019.
Last month, agents from the FBI’s Tampa field office met with Poirrier and other administrative staff to offer assistance with the investigation.
Some of Poirrier’s immediate tasks will be addressing significant understaffing, with about 200 employee vacancies and four department director seats and an assistant manager position empty.
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Halios resigned effective on Feb. 10, leaving the department without a leader as the city prepares to open its $84 million renovation of the downtown waterfront park in July.
Public Works Director Daniel Mirabile submitted his resignation effective March 3, six months after taking the job. The council in January took Mirabile’s advice to pause Clearwater’s tree inventory program after residents accused the city of removing healthy trees and marking others for removal without justification.
The Clearwater Gas System has been operating with an interim director since July, when longtime director Chuck Warrington retired following a series of personnel and operational failures that Jennings was addressing. The city named a new director in November, but the Jacksonville-based finalist backed out days before he was supposed to begin.
Longtime Solid Waste director Earl Gloster retired in November and assistant director Bryant Johnson resigned in January following the discovery of the recycling breach.
Council member David Allbritton also worried about the odds of making a national call for city manager candidates after the council recently fired its last administrator after one year. He said there was no need to look further.
“I think we need to have a captain right now,” he said. “And as far as I’m concerned, we have one right here.”