There’s more to Frank Hibbard than meets the eye.
For instance: He’s an avid golfer. He likes to boat and waterski. He loves dogs and has four of them – a Great Dane, boxer, a Golden retriever and a Golden Retriever puppy which he brings to work every Friday.
He and his wife, Teresa love to cook, so you won’t see them dining out very often around Clearwater. In fact twice a year, they’ve put on fund-raising dinners at their home for 10 select people and over the years have raised a cumulative total of $60,000 for Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Salvation Army and the YMCA. The five-course dinner consists of hors d’oeuvres, a charcuterie, a hot or cold soup (such as Teresa’s famous crab bisque), salad, Chateau Briand with sautéed mushrooms, toasted asparagus, popover potatoes (“Delicious!” he exclaims) and three or four desserts.
He’s the youngest of six children, “a mistake,” he admits with a laugh. “My parents had five kids in 10 years, then there was an eight-year gap and I came along.”
His father had a successful business in Chicago in a big house “to fit the six kids,” he explains. He attended Skycrest Christian School for 12 years and then his family went back to Chicago for two years, and eventually returned to Clearwater. He attended three high schools: Clearwater High School, Countryside High School and another in Chicago, and he’s played basketball – not surprisingly given his 6’4” height – and was on a swim team throughout junior high.
He obtained two undergraduate degrees in Business and Economics and a Master’s degree in Business Administration, which he says he’s used working [as a former Clearwater mayor] with the city more than anything else.
He and Teresa have been married 23 years and have lived in their 95-year-old Harbor Oaks home for 22 years. They have two children, two grandkids and one more [boy] on the way, due in May.
He’s running for mayor in 2020 because he knows how to get things done. “I got stuff done. I’m proud of it, although I’m a bit tentative of using that word.” In his previous eight years as Clearwater’s mayor, he says he’s especially proud of four things that got accomplished:
“First, we focused on our seniors by opening a Senior Center for Clearwater in the Long Center. Seniors don’t feel comfortable at rec centers,” he explains. “They’re aimed at kids and teens who are not respectful of seniors.”
“Second, we promoted health. We opened a clinic for city employees that was free for them and their dependents. The clinic is located in the Powell building on Corbett Street, just one street south of Morton Plant Hospital. City employees get free visits and free prescriptions for the more common drugs for high blood pressure. We did this to improve the health of city employees and to save residents money on high healthcare costs.”
“We also worked on fighting childhood obesity at the YMCA and in the school system. With the Mayor’s Move It, Move It Challenge, we taught middle schoolers about exercise and diet and did a walk every year at [what was then] Brighthouse Field.”
“Third, we promoted citizen engagement. We held a monthly breakfast (which would rotate geographically) with different council members at 7 a.m. to get into some depth with citizens about issues and hear what they’re concerned about.”
“Fourth, we worked with veterans. They’ve never had a Veteran’s Center before. We worked with them to have a Veteran’s Celebration from March 5 – 7.
“Right before the time the economy crashed in 2008, Diane Steinle – who was the TBT editorial person for Clearwater at the time – asked me, ‘Congratulations on everything you completed. What’s next?’ I told her we would be lucky to hold everything we had right then because we’ve got a storm brewing. I didn’t know the extent of that storm. It was a little prophetic. First we cut the [city] workforce a lot through attrition. We first cut fat, then we cut muscle, then bone.”
“But we did complete the Ross Norton Recreation Center, developed two dog parks and used Penny for Pinellas for the infrastructure. We opened a fire station in Sand Key, thereby giving adequate coverage to the area. We lowered the millage rate for the first two years. It was down pretty substantially for the first four years. It was raised in 2009 to less than what we had started with in 2005 – a reduction of -18.7% – and stayed the same for the next four years.”
When asked what his priorities would be if he was elected, Hibbard said, “The first 90 days, I’d conduct a search for a city manager and attorney and develop a strategic plan. We need a good city attorney for legal advice to avoid self-inflicted wounds and also to deal with issues that need to be fixed or addressed. The city shouldn’t create its own problems. They should fix them. The city manager handles the daily administrating and overseeing of almost 3,000 employees. He or she should be dynamic, with good organizational skills and hopefully have a vision for the future. We should cast a broad net nationwide for candidates because the [good] qualities of a city manager would not be specific to Florida. For a city attorney, however, we should do a statewide search because the statutes are Florida specific. Someone from Texas would not have the same level of knowledge as someone from Florida. I helped lead the search for a new CEO for Ruth Eckerd Hall and that experience is beneficial. Often you pick a shiny person, but not the best person.”
Currently, Hibbard is Director of Steward Partners, a financial management company. His office is on the 11th floor of the downtown Bank of America building, with a panoramic view of the Intracoastal waterways and bridges. If elected, he would actually be demoted down to the 6th floor of that same building, where City Hall has its offices.
“I’d still work at Steward Partners, as being the mayor is a part-time job,” he says. Still, he’d have a very short commute.
He says Clearwater has such a diversity of issues with a half-billion-dollar budget that’s used for transportation, public safety, public works and facility management, to name just a few.
“Just like with any organization, you need a strategic plan with stakeholders within that organization. You figure out whatever the priorities are for that the organization wants to be focused on. You’d have regular meetings so that they, citizens can weigh in on what matters most to them.
“In Clearwater, the General Fund budget focuses on police, fire, Parks and Rec, libraries and Public Works and are paid for by ad valorem taxes. Enterprise funds focus on water, sewer and gas and are paid for by user fees. Just like businesses, the question is ‘Where do we spend our time and money?’ The answer comes from going out and meeting citizens and engaging them. At the end of the day, they’ll know what elected officials’ marching orders are. Clearwater is just like a delivery company. It provides police protection, libraries, Parks and Rec, fire and emergency call services, clean water. People expect that when they flush their toilets, it all goes away. The city provides everything that the private sector doesn’t want to provide.
Hibbard admits he is fiscally conservative and makes investments in his own job every day. “The city makes investments makes life better and makes the city more desirable; it improves property values. The city also makes investments in safety with police and fire departments – in businesses that private sectors don’t want to provide. We need to think twice about investing in something that the private sector does,” he says. Hibbard doesn’t support the library roof being enclosed, or banquet and fitness facilities in the library for a cost of $6.5 million because he says we already have those throughout the city in its numerous hotels.
One of the issues that separates the candidates for mayor is the Coachman Park amphitheater. “As far as the amphitheater goes, I will examine the full design, the cost, and the value of the engineers. If I don’t believe it will make economic sense, I won’t support it. The roof is the only differentiating factor in the plan. The seats are temporary in any circumstances, as dictated by the city charter. The stage needs to be enlarged. We need a stage that we don’t have to bring in for every single concert as we do now. Currently for any of the current concerts, the stage sits in front of the current bandshell. As far as The Florida Orchestra or rock concert are concerned, the facilities aren’t big enough. We have to bring in 50 to 80 Port-o-lets for every event and they sit there for a month. We have to bring in trailers for the talents and then remove them. They’re unsightly, inefficient and expensive. The park is a 60-acre park. The whole amphitheatre is only three acres. I do believe we should move the amphitheater’s orientation in the plans so that it is pointed in a different direction at the library, which would dampen the sound. When you have the roof, there will be directional speakers. Without a roof, you can’t contain the sound. There are other benefits too. It’s just not about rain; it’s also about sunlight and protecting acts that are performing. The Florida Orchestra will not perform unless their instruments are protected. The instruments are expensive. In fact, the Director of The Florida Orchestra says it is one of the most important considerations in selecting a venue in which to perform. We currently have plenty of free events such as the Jazz Holiday or the Sea-Blues Festival, but with a roof, you can have other events such as a farmer’s market and art shows. You don’t have to break things down and there would be security overnight. You can have graduations. The important thing is you have to use the Coachman Park to activate downtown. People don’t understand because current festivals are for an entire weekend now. Events in the new amphitheater would only be two or three hours – much shorter in duration. They would be smaller where you only have 2,000 to 4000 people who would eat and stay downtown. That’s why we should be interested in the roof. It should face Northeast, Southeast, or due East. Acts won’t perform with sun in their eyes.
As far as Scientology, Hibbard says, “You can’t catch Scientology. Come downtown and see. People like to say downtown can be improved. I’d be thrilled if they put their speech into actions. I’d say to them, ‘Come support businesses that have taken a chance and opened up. If you want downtown to change, you have to be part of that change. When businesses see that, they’ll follow suit. People say they like to go to Dunedin for dinner because there’re such a variety of restaurants. That’s great, but let’s keep our dollars here. Success breeds success. Our Capitol Theater is #2 in the country for its size – only behind one in Washington D.C. That’s tangible evidence that people will come downtown if you give them the right product. Everything we do as a team can make the community thrive.”
Hibbard sent out a community survey to 22,000 residents asking opinions on various issues affecting the city. He has so far received a 14% response and plans to publish those results at the end of February.
Frank Hibbard is endorsed by the Pinellas County Sheriff, County Commissioner Karen Seel, County Commissioner Janet Long, County Commissioner Ken Welch, former City Councilmember Carlin Peterson, former City Councilmember John Duran, former city mayor Brian Aungst Sr., Paul Gibson, Congressman Bilirakis, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce (Amplify Clearwater), and the Pinellas County Realtors Association.
Frank Hibbard’s TV commercials can be seen on NBC, Fox, CNN, Bay News 9, and the Hallmark Channel.