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Politics

Former critic becomes colleague

Paul Gibson is now seeing government from the other side of the dais.

By MIKE DONILA
Published March 26, 2007


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It was mid December when a visibly upset Paul Gibson stood before the Clearwater City Council and accused its members of ignoring the public.

Mayor Frank Hibbard responded, explaining the city's position, and told the Clearwater Beach real estate agent to run for office if he didn't like it.

"Count on it," Gibson said.

Now Gibson has joined the very group he railed against just three months ago.

Gibson and George Cretekos were sworn in last week as the newest members on the City Council.

Cretekos hasn't criticized the nonpartisan council. His campaign was backed by council members once it was clear he wouldn't face opposition.

But Gibson during his campaign had harsh words for the council and garnered little support from members. And now the self-professed maverick and outsider has to work alongside them.

Gibson says that won't be a problem. He can still work with the other members. But he's also making it clear he hopes to bring a new agenda to the table.

"We're all on the City Council because we love the city," the 58-year-old political newcomer said. "But I don't think the council has focused on spending, and the voters of Clearwater said they want the focus to be on spending. That's why they elected me."

Now comes the real test: Can he get along with the members? How will he prepare? And how will they receive him? Can a one-vote maverick make a difference?

* * *

Gibson narrowly defeated longtime city volunteer Norma Carlough earlier this month by about 140 votes.

He campaigned on fiscal responsibility and spoke out against the $11-million, city-backed downtown boat slip project that voters approved the same day they elected him.

But on the campaign trail, Gibson said residents told him they were upset about "out of control" spending. "There was a lot of anger, a lot of anger," he said.

In response, Gibson quipped on the campaign trail that the council "has not met a new program it's not in love with."

So far, his fellow members and city staff say he's got as good a chance as anyone at affecting Clearwater's future, as long as he works with his colleagues and not against them.

He'll be received "like someone elected by the voters: someone who has a legitimate claim to the seat," Councilman John Doran said.

"He does represent a whole bunch of people and that was obvious when we had the budget hearings (last summer)," Doran said. "There was a group who were looking for a voice and Paul will speak for them, but he's still going to have to speak for everyone else because that's the role of the council."

Doran said for Gibson to be effective, the newcomer will have to make his case "on the merits, benefits, costs and beneficiaries."

He said that a lot of the criticism against the council was probably campaign hyperbole, and "you will find evidence that there have been requests for funding that were never approved."

City Manager Bill Horne said Gibson should learn how "things were done in the past and currently done because this allows him a better idea of how to decide how to do things in the future."

"There's a lot of new information to absorb but he definitely seems interested," Horne said.

The mayor said Gibson "will be treated with respect" but, like all new council members, he should do his homework and be open to new ideas and opinions.

"The level of information you now have is extraordinarily higher than what you have when you're running," Hibbard said. "I have to admit when I came into office I thought that the government in all instances was inefficient and there were places you could cut right and left, and I have since learned that that is not necessarily so.

"Are there processes we can do better? Sure, there always is."

The mayor added that he's even been a longtime supporter of one of Gibson's proposals: zero-based budgeting.

Under this practice, officials review each budgeted dollar, rather than just the overall increase. It's costly and takes time, but Hibbard said the city should at least try it once.

To prepare for his first official meeting April 4, Gibson said he, like the other council members, has scheduled weekly meetings with the city manager. He's also attended the budget task force meetings and met with a number of department heads.

"The first step is get my arms around the structure, the organization and the budget ... and get an understanding about how all this fits together," he said. "The next step is to immerse oneself in the numbers."

And his hopes for the end of his first year?

"I hope my election encourages others to run for office."

Fast Facts:

 

Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson, 58, is an agent with RE/MAX Action First on Clearwater Beach. He first came into the public eye during last summer's City Council budget hearings.

He moved from Texas to this area about 10 years ago. He graduated from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., where he earned an accounting degree. For a number of years, Gibson was the chief executive of Food Cart Systems, a mobile food service company with operations across the United States. He also is the former vice president of UniSite, a telecommunications infrastructure company; the former director of investor relations for Northwest Airlines; former assistant treasurer and director of financial operations for MCI Communications; and former assistant treasurer for Chase Manhattan Bank.

Gibson served on the Finance Advisory Committee for Foxborough, Mass., where the 15-member board worked to bring the town's budget into compliance with the property tax initiative Proposition 21/2. Gibson has three daughters, Cynthia, 29, Susan, 27, and Robin, 24.

[Last modified March 26, 2007, 07:48:54]


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