Kathleen Beckman should stop pointing fingers and accept responsibility for campaign flub

There are a lot of red flags in an ethics complaint that suggest more than just politicking as usual.

Former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard was right to file an ethics complaint against his former colleague, Clearwater City Council member Kathleen Beckman. He accused Beckman of using her official job as a Council member to aid her campaign for Mayor.

To be clear, it is a move pulled straight from the politicking 101 handbook. Ethics complaints are a tool campaigns often employ to draw attention to questionable decisions that opponents or their teams make.

But sometimes, and this is certainly the case here, the complaints have merit beyond partisan grudge matches.

When Beckman used a voter database used by the Democratic National Committee — VoteBuilder — she knew, or at least should have known, that it is a campaign tool. The fact that she sent a letter, on official city letterhead, to just 139 residents, all but one being women, also raises significant red flags. It smacks of a targeted mail campaign, not a city official disseminating information to constituents.

But the biggest red flag is this: If Beckman were merely acting as an officer of the city, why would she pay for the letters to be mailed herself, rather than sending them on the city dime? This lone fact points to Beckman having direct knowledge that her targeted mail blitz crossed the line between city business and campaign electioneering.

At issue are letters Beckman sent to residents in north Clearwater Beach regarding city efforts to mitigate flooding. A series of emails sets the scene.

Beckman emailed City Manager Jennifer Poirrier on Jan. 3, telling Poirrier that she had “canvassed North Beach yesterday for about four hours,” during which time she said constituents told her that her opponent, Bruce Rector, “shared information with North Beach residents about $60 million in funds from ‘planning’ … being allocated to address infrastructure needs on North Beach.”

The email also asks for information pertaining to flooding precautions and a city pump. Later, Beckman shared a draft letter she planned to send to residents in the north beach area and said that Assistant City Manager Daniel Slaughter helped her compose it.

After receiving the email, Poirrier cautioned Beckman about the need to separate city business from campaign-related activity.

Later, Beckman had City Council Executive Assistant Tammy Cummings print copies of the finalized letter on city letterhead. Cummings also provided envelopes.

That Beckman then paid to mail the letters herself is enough evidence to reasonably believe Hibbard’s concern that Beckman had used city resources for campaign activity.

It’s up to voters to decide whether that transgression is a deal breaker in this race. And an ethics investigation, if there is one, likely won’t be resolved until well after voters have cast their ballots.

But what is perhaps more troubling is how Beckman has responded to the mistake itself (I’m giving Beckman the benefit of the doubt by calling it a mistake). Instead of owning up and apologizing, Beckman went on the defensive, calling out Rector for dirty campaigning and Hibbard for dirty politics.

To be clear, Hibbard has endorsed Rector for Mayor, and he’s been highly critical of Beckman, accusing her of calling Republicans “evil” and of supporting a $90 million City Hall project that prompted his own sudden resignation as Mayor in protest. Obviously, Hibbard might not have been so vocal about Beckman’s transgression had he not had a horse in the race.

But Hibbard’s support for Beckman’s opponent does not negate her own actions, and pointing fingers doesn’t suddenly right her wrongs.

Clearwater voters have two choices for Mayor this year, and they break largely on party lines. Democrats are lining up behind Beckman while Republicans have rallied around Rector. Partisan voters are likely not going to be swayed to one side or the other based on this issue alone.

But there are thousands of voters who are either not registered to a party, or who don’t consider themselves particularly political even if they are registered to a major party. All voters, whether partisan or not, deserve elected officials who will be honest with them and accept responsibilities when they beef it.

Beckman has yet to do that, and voters deserve to know.

Beckman has a lot of support from elected officials and community leaders, and those are certainly notable. But what is also notable is that none of the elected officials who have offered their support are colleagues on the Clearwater City Council.

Meanwhile, interim Mayor Brian Aungst Sr. and City Council member David Allbritton have endorsed Rector. Council members Mark Bunker and Lina Teixeira have not endorsed.

While it’s not surprising that Aungst and Allbritton are backing Rector — they are both Republicans — it is troubling that the remaining two Council members have remained silent in the race, and that none of them are backing Beckman.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Mark Bunker

    February 13, 2024 at 6:39 pm

    I would comment but you never seem to publish my comments. You didn’t bother to contact me to see what I thought or mention that I pushed back against Hubbard’s speech at the council meeting. But sure, go ahead and make inferences.

  • chris latvala

    February 13, 2024 at 7:11 pm

    Maybe they didn’t call you because you don’t even know his name, Mark? That is pretty embarrassing that you don’t even know the name of the guy who you served with for almost 3 years. It is Hibbard, you nitwit.

    • Mark Bunker

      February 13, 2024 at 8:41 pm

      Oh, I know his name. A typo on a comment written on a phone in haste is not the same as not knowing someone’s name but if that is the inference you wish to run with and turn into a childish attack, that shows your character.

  • Mark Bunker

    February 13, 2024 at 9:37 pm

    I voted for Mayor Hibbard. I liked and admired Mayor Hibbard. I likely would have voted for him a second time if he had decided to run again even though we didn’t always agree on things. I was okay with him quitting in the middle of a meeting. You want to quite, go ahead and quit. We took a ten minute break and Vice Mayor Kathleen Beckman took over the meeting and we seamlessly carried on with the business of the city.

    No one has worked harder than Kathleen or earned as much respect from citizens as she has. I know that is very frustrating for the good-old-boy network you and Frank represent. There has been a shift on this council from the establishment to the neighborhoods.

    We passed some much needed safety changes to Drew Street that you and Frank opposed. Frank would loudly say “I’m okay with 4-1 votes,” when he lost one but clearly he wasn’t. Losing that vote and the vote to finally build a city hall which had been fully funded for years is what led to Hibbard quitting.

    Not content to just quit, Hibbard then went on a nationwide campaign to burn the council to the ground, telling Fox News we were building a $90 million Taj Mahal for ourselves, a lie that continues to be spread to smear Kathleen in campaign mailers. We are spending $31 million dollars and to the discredit of Kathleen’s opponent, he told me he is perfectly fine with spreading that lie.

    I’ve lost votes. We all have. You then support the project that was approved to help it be a success. At least, that’s what I try to do but Frank along with Amplify Clearwater and I believe, probably your support as well, turned to Senator Hooper to try to delay and derail the Drew Street project after Frank lost that vote. That tactic failed but you’re not done trying.

    I support Frank filing a complaint against Kathleen if he believed that was warranted. The complaint should be investigated and if there was a serious breach, then she should face the consequences. But speaking at the council meeting, Frank said Kathleen only targeted Democrats and women which was met on the dais with faux shock and outrage by Councilmember Texieria and Mayor Aungst both of whom back Kathleen’s opponent. The Tampa Bay Times checked and the letter did not go out to only democrats, so now the outrage is that she only “targeted women!”

    I’ve pushed back at council meetings about the DNC app providing the mailing addresses Kathleen used. The democratic and republican apps use the exact same database of registered voters with the very same information. If this is actionable then so be it.

    As for endorsing Kathleen, check the campaign finance records and it should show that I made a donation to her campaign when it was announced but they returned that donation to me because they said they didn’t want to accept endorsements from other council members. So let me just say it here to correct the inference drawn in the article. I endorse Kathleen Beckman who will work harder for the citizens of Clearwater than anyone else possibly could, which has got the good-old-boys worried.

    • Chris Latvala

      February 14, 2024 at 9:15 am

      There is a lot to unpack there Councilman. First I have never asked anyone in the FL House and Senate to stop or slow down Drew St. Your girl Tracey even asked our legislators and they backed me up on that. So any inference to the contrary is not true. Kathleen has never retracted her public statements blaming me for it as well as the email her puppet master (i mean husband) wrote. What is not a lie is saying both you and her supported a $90 million City Hall. You both did during the Work Session. She then went on the news and supported it again the very next day. You, yourself gave interviews supporting it. I am sorry your constituents think that is a bad idea. As for Kathleen giving you your money back, perhaps you should ask her why it is you are always publicly defending her and she has never once defended you. Maybe she is ashamed to have your support and you just do not realize it? Or maybe she doesn’t want certain people to find out? For someone who was new to politics just a few years ago you are becoming a good ole boy yourself. But you need to quit being her whipping boy… Its a bad look.

      • Mark Bunker

        February 14, 2024 at 5:47 pm

        The location for the city hall was one of the first votes brought to us four years ago. Then city manager Bill Horne prepared a lengthy written history of all the delays leading up to that vote for our background. The choice that day was site A, B or C. Going into the meeting I thought this would be simple but after discussion no site could be agreed upon. “Now I see why it has taken so long to get this far,” I said which got a big laugh.

        On that date, Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton said he wanted to turn the library into City Hall. I initially thought that was a good idea thinking we could coexist with the library but when I found out the library would lose it’s home, I changed my mind.

        Frank later said he wanted to take over the library for City Hall as well but we had just spent $84 million to revamp Coachman Park and build an amphitheater to fight back against Scientology’s takeover of the downtown. The council doesn’t need breathtaking waterfront office views. We are working on something exciting for the ground floor of the library that will be a further enhancement of the park and add to the venue being a destination point for the region which the rest of us support.

        All four members of the council said we wanted to continue pursuing the city hall on the day Frank quit. Not a penny was spent, nor a plan shown. It’s not irresponsible for a city to have a city hall, especially when it had already been fully funded and we could stop paying rent for two spaces. I understand you disagree. I’m sure we disagree on a lot.

        I don’t require somebody to support me for me to support them. I support who I think deserves support. I believe the people living on Drew Street deserve support. So does Kathleen. As someone new to politics I am glad to to see that the Clearwater police FOP and firefighters support me as do many in the community who were unsure of me four years ago.

        I’m never gong to have your support and I’m okay with that. Your family dynasty is intact.

  • May

    February 14, 2024 at 2:08 am

    I am as third class citizen of Clearwater, I care more about Clearwater mayor election than republicans or da
    Democrats in USA ,

  • Mike Riordon

    February 22, 2024 at 4:42 pm

    It’s unfortunate you did not reach out to Kathleen to get the facts before you penned your ill-informed opinion piece. A piece paid for by her opposition. Had you done so your statement: “but the biggest red flag is this: if Beckman were merely acting as an officer of the city, why would she pay for letters to be mailed herself rather than sending them on the city dime?”
    Over the last four years Beckman has made continuous engagement with residents a corner stone of her service as a Council member. Of the hundreds of letters she has written, she has always paid for postage. She sends congratulations letters, letters of appreciation for serving on advisory boards or charter review, letters of recommendation, letters in support of grant applications, letters to Drew Street concerned citizens, and hundreds of people concerned about beach renourishment. She paid for all the postage. She is also the only Councilmember who pays for her own website, and who composes and distributes her own monthly newsletter paid out of her own pocket.Finally, she does not accept free tickets from entities the city has a contract with. I reached out to her to get accurate information. To bad you didn’t take the time to. Your one-sided opinion piece is shameful.

  • Lois Ezell

    February 29, 2024 at 6:13 pm

    As a resident of the city of Clearwater for 60+ years, all of the dirty politics being exhibited in this election is very disheartening. The city council has been a petty, nasty, arguing group for virtually as long as I can remember. This year just might take the cake.

Comments are closed.


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