Before the shock could wear off from Frank Hibbard’s sudden resignation as mayor during a budget workshop on Monday, City Council member David Allbritton said his phone began “ringing off the hook” with people wondering what happens next.
Hibbard resigned with one year left in his term, citing worries over his four colleagues’ financial priorities for the city.
According to the city charter, a vacancy should be filled by a majority vote of the remaining council members within 30 days. The person appointed would serve until the next regular election, which in this case is in March 2024.
If the council fails to fill a vacancy within 60 days, a special election will be called to fill the unexpired term, the charter states.
Asked whether the city will have a process for candidates to apply for the appointment, City Clerk Rosemarie Call said a special meeting will be held Monday at 1:30 p.m. for the council to discuss how to proceed.
However, two council members said in interviews that they are considering the possibility that a citizen be appointed to a council seat, instead of mayor. With critical decisions to be made in the next year, including budget priorities and the Philadelphia Phillies’ funding request for a stadium renovation, Allbritton said the council needs someone with experience and knowledge of the city.
Allbritton and council member Mark Bunker said they will propose appointing Vice Mayor Kathleen Beckman to the mayor’s post and a resident to serve in her council seat, which also comes due for election in March 2024.
“We need to find somebody that knows what’s going on, not a newbie coming in,” Allbritton said. “That’s the worst thing we need right now.”
In Clearwater’s council-manager government, the mayor is one of the five council members but is elected separately. The mayor is tasked with running meetings, signing documents and acting as ceremonial head of city while the appointed city manager runs day-to-day operations. Every year, the council appoints a vice mayor to serve those duties when the mayor is absent.
City Attorney David Margolis did not immediately respond to a question confirming if the council has the authority to move Beckman to mayor. But Allbritton said on Tuesday he discussed the possibility with Margolis, who did not raise a concern.
There is, however, a complication with Beckman’s appointment as mayor. Allbritton said the council typically fills only vacancies with appointees who do not intend to run for the seat in the next election. Beckman said she has not yet decided whether she will run for reelection in her at-large Seat 3 or run for mayor next year.
Council member Lina Teixeira said she wants to understand the implications of Beckman as mayor and consider citizen appointments before confirming a decision.
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“How is this going to affect the next election? What are the qualities I’m looking for in the next 11 months, and then who will be able to get consensus?” Teixeira asked. “These are all the things I need to consider or else we’re going to be wasting our time and probably putting the city in a harder situation.”
Bunker said if Beckman is appointed mayor, he intends to nominate Maranda Douglas to fill the vacancy. Douglas, a community activist, ran against Allbritton in his 2022 race for reelection.
Douglas said she had not decided if she’ll run for office in 2024.
Allbritton said he intends to nominate former City Council member Hoyt Hamilton, co-owner of the Palm Pavilion inn and restaurant on Clearwater Beach. As he resigned from the dais on Monday, Hibbard suggested the council appoint Hamilton to finish his term.
Allbritton said he has no candidate in mind besides Hamilton. But there’s another complication. The charter states that no former council member shall hold any “compensated appointive city office or employment” until two years after the end of their last elected term.
It has been one year since Hamilton left office in March 2022 due to term limits. Hamilton said he would be willing to serve and has no intention to run for office.
Beckman said she intends to nominate former council member Bill Jonson, who served four terms between 2001 and 2018 and said he does not plan to run for office in 2024.
Clearwater last saw this scenario in 2018, when then-City Council member Doreen Caudell resigned during a meeting, stating she wanted to focus on her family’s contracting business.
Seventeen residents volunteered to fill the last 15 months of Caudell’s term. The council voted 3-1 to appoint former council member Jay Polglaze, who lost his reelection bid in 2016. Then-Mayor George Cretekos criticized his colleagues’ decision to not replace Caudell with another woman, making the council all male and white.