Now that some time has elapsed since my resignation, I feel compelled to communicate why. Before doing that, I have to thank Clearwater residents who elected me four times and also tell you what a joy it has been to serve all residents for 13 years. I am sure you have disagreed with me on some issues, but I always tried to use my financial background to represent everyone and think about the long-term ramifications of every decision.
I came to the conclusion on March 20 that I was no longer the right person to lead this City Council because we differ fundamentally on how to spend money and on what the city’s priorities should be moving forward. I believe the greatest expenditures of your tax dollars should go to public safety, followed by projects that improve quality of life. That is the reason I have supported our police and fire departments. It is also the reason I supported the re-imagining of Coachman Park, a place that will create memories for generations to come.
I do not support spending $90 million on a new city hall complex that would replace a 26-year-old municipal services building. Who replaces their home after only 26 years when most people have not even finished paying it off? Corporations don’t need as much office space as more of their employees work from home, a shift that is likely here to stay. Government, too, has to be more creative — sometimes with diminishing resources. Spend smart, spend less and consider reducing the millage rate to make the city more affordable.
I have always believed that our main library of 90,000 square feet is the proper place for city hall. We currently hold meetings there. This building was conceived in 2000. Since then, libraries have changed dramatically with much of the information that was once largely found only in libraries now residing on our cellphones that fit in the palm of our hands. Clearwater has five libraries; Largo has one. We spend double per capita on libraries compared to St. Petersburg and Tampa. We have only 1,256 less square feet of library space than St. Petersburg, while serving a population 56% smaller. Converting 30,000 square feet of library space to accommodate city hall would serve our needs while saving upwards of $80 million. Unfortunately, four council members were unwilling to even allow an architect to explore the possibility and cost savings.
Another fundamental issue I strongly differ with other members of the council on is converting parts of Drew Street to a two-lane road with a center turn lane. This decision will negatively impact our residents and visitors. Drew, along with State Road 60, are the only two major east-west arteries in central Clearwater. Drew Street needs attention, but it should be done with the entire city in mind and not just a few residents who live near the road. The county, the Florida Department of Transportation and the city need to step up and do the job right, like other transportation projects in the region.
I leave you with this: Clearwater is still a wonderful place to live and has always been fiscally responsible, but that can easily change. On top of our organizational chart sits you, the city’s residents. As boss it is time for you to express the desire for your council to be responsible with your money. Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve. God bless.
Frank Hibbard served on the Clearwater City Council for three terms from 2002-2012, two as mayor. He was elected mayor again in 2020 and resigned on March 20.