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Frank Hibbard for Clearwater mayor | Times recommends
The former mayor has the best combination of experience and leadership skills to meet the city’s challenges.
Frank Hibbard, former two-term Clearwater mayor, is a mayoral candidate for the 2020 Clearwater municipal elections, to be held on March 17, 2020, to elect a mayor and two members of the city council (seat 2 and 3). These elections will coincide with the 2020 Florida presidential preference primary.
Frank Hibbard, former two-term Clearwater mayor, is a mayoral candidate for the 2020 Clearwater municipal elections, to be held on March 17, 2020, to elect a mayor and two members of the city council (seat 2 and 3). These elections will coincide with the 2020 Florida presidential preference primary. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 7, 2020|Updated Mar. 16, 2020

At the dawn of a new decade, Clearwater faces both familiar and new challenges. Dealing with the Church of Scientology, whose followers own more downtown property than ever. Moving forward with the ambitious Imagine Clearwater project along the downtown waterfront. Hiring a new city manager. The mayor is one of five City Council members, so the role requires selling a vision and building consensus. Among four candidates to succeed term-limited Mayor George Cretekos, Frank Hibbard has the best combination of experience and skills to be successful.

Hibbard, 52, served as mayor from 2005 to 2012 and is well-versed in the strengths and weaknesses of city government. The financial adviser has strong ties to the business community and the broader region, and he can both aggressively promote his priorities and build support for them inside and outside city hall. He chairs the board of directors at Ruth Eckerd Hall, and his recent experience with a national search for a new CEO there will be useful as the city conducts a search for a successor for City Manager Bill Horne, who is retiring after two decades.

Among the candidates for mayor, Hibbard is the strongest supporter of the Imagine Clearwater project that could transform the waterfront and is critical to downtown’s future. He wants it to make financial sense and supports key elements such as a proposed covered concert pavilion that could be a regional draw. Hibbard also advocates selling the old city hall site to help pay for the project and redeveloping the Harborview Center site into a low-rise restaurant complex.

The former mayor’s other priorities include improving residential housing throughout the city by offering incentives for renovations and updating development codes. He also advocates for keeping city hall downtown, increasing the city’s financial reserves and re-establishing a clear line between policymakers and administrators. Hibbard suggests compiling a list of properties owned by the Church of Scientology and its followers, and re-establishing lines of communication with Scientology leaders.

Bill Jonson, 75, is a credible candidate and a former City Council member who served for 14 years. The retired accountant opposes many aspects of Imagine Clearwater, including the proposed concert pavilion that he calls "municipal malpractice.'' He would consider allowing neighborhoods to seek flexibility to add more housing options such as tiny homes. Jonson is a self-described ''data person'' and a stickler for details. He says collaboration is a priority, but his record in that area as a council member is not particularly strong.

Elizabeth “Sea Turtle’' Drayer, 58, is a first-time candidate and a retired lawyer who is a longtime environmental advocate. She is running ''to represent ecosystems in government” and focused on expanding natural habitat, increasing the use of renewable energy and reducing toxics and wastes. The mayor must represent all Clearwater residents, not just the ecosystem. Drayer is fairly knowledgeable about other issues, but her one-issue campaign and her "Sea Turtle'' campaign stunt undercuts her credibility.

Morton Myers, 40, is a first-time candidate and the owner of a local pawn shop and ice cream shop. He calls the Imagine Clearwater project "out of control’' and opposes selling the Harborview and city hall sites. He wants to support small businesses, encourage more housing options and plant 1 million trees. Myers’ family members are Scientology followers. He says he is not and that his understanding of the church would benefit the city. But his family’s ties to Scientology also would be a significant conflict of interest.

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Hibbard has the best combination of experience, critical thinking and priorities. In Tuesday’s election for Clearwater mayor, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Frank Hibbard.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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