A former Florida mayor who abruptly quit his job in the middle of a city council hearing Monday is now speaking out about why he left.
Speaking with Fox News, former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said he was the only city council member to oppose a plan to build a new $90 million city hall.
He further said that a majority of the board voted for the $90 million city hall despite a serious budget shortfall that threatens the city’s financial security.
“We’ve always been really a very conservative and fiscally conscious city. We’ve had very little debt, but the spreadsheets that we were looking at this past Monday shows a number of projects, and the funding shortfall was a quarter of a billion dollars. And there’s only a couple ways you can pay for that: you can raise taxes, or you can float bonds and go into debt further. And I don’t think that those are viable alternatives,” he said.
“And after asking my fellow councilmembers whether they really supported this project as their number one choice, and listening to all four of them, I had a lightbulb moment and said I am not the right person to lead these folks anymore. And I took a recess and talked to my wife for a moment and felt it was best if I go ahead and resign from my position a year before my term is over,” he added.
Continuing his remarks, Hibbard revealed that the new City Hall was originally supposed to cost only $40 million but quickly ballooned to $90 million.
“We’ve had a City Hall that’s been envisioned that I don’t believe is necessary. There are other ways to go about it. And the price ballooned from originally $40 million to $90 million, and as we all know with costs overrun on construction, I’m concerned it will eventually rise to over $100 million,” he said.
“I think local government and government in general needs to be very careful with their resources and also be more creative in the way we solve problems. Office work is going to be very different in the next couple years. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, and so building a new facility, I think, is reckless,” he added.
He also noted that the city’s decision to move forward with the new City Hall means the deprioritization of other important city projects.
“Clearwater is, again, financially still sound. But we have a number of priorities that have to be prioritized. One of the top ones for the four city council members is a new City Hall municipal services building. That means that other projects that affect our citizens on a daily basis probably will not go forward. It’s a matter of wants and needs. and this new city hall is not a need — it’s simply a want,” he said.
As previously noted, Hibbard quit on Monday.
Clearwater, FL Mayor Frank Hibbard packed his bags and walked out of a city council meeting after the council pushed forward more reckless spending. pic.twitter.com/2JFrZJtlBb
— MRCTV (@mrctv) March 21, 2023
“I’m concerned where the city’s going, because this is simple math, and we’re not doing very well on the test. But I can tell really that I am not the right person. And I’m a busy guy,” he said while abruptly quitting his job.
“I’ve always believed in making sacrifices for public service. And I love Clearwater. And I love some of the things we’ve gotten done. … But in good conscious, for my family, for my own health and other things, I can’t remain the mayor,” he added.
His fellow city council members were reportedly left shocked.
“People make significant decisions about their life or work every single day and a lot of factors weigh in on that. I have no idea why Mayor Hibbard chose to resign today. I’m just as surprised as anyone but the work goes on,” council member Kathleen Beckman said, according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, council member David Allbritton reportedly assured the public that everything is “still on track.”
“I don’t want anybody freaking out right now about this. We’ve got enough people up here to make the decisions and keep everything on track, so that’s what we plan to do today,” he said.
The Tampa Bay Times notes that the Clearwater City Council has 60 days to fill the vacancy, lest a special election be called.
Council members are for their part reportedly considering appointing a citizen to Hibbard’s now-abandoned post.
“[T]wo council members said in interviews that they are considering the possibility that a citizen be appointed to a council seat, instead of mayor,” according to the Times.
“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,” the Times noted.
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