Sunday was a day of mourning for Clearwater city leaders and residents, as it was announced longtime City Manager Bill Horne had unexpectedly passed away Saturday, at age 72.
Horne began his service to the city in 1998 as a general support services administrator before quickly working his way up the city leadership ranks. After a year, he was named assistant city manager and was appointed interim city manager in July 2000.
In 2001, Clearwater City Council selected him to serve as the Chief Administrative Officer of the city – a post he held for the last two decades. Horne was responsible for every department except for the City Attorney’s Office. According to the city website, Horne oversaw 1,685 employees and was accountable for a $385 million budget.
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard told the Catalyst that what sticks out the most about Horne was his integrity. “Nobody questioned his integrity,” said Hibbard. “It was much easier to make tough decisions because of that level of integrity that he had.
“He was an amazing leader for 21 years.”
Horne’s sudden death came less than three weeks before his scheduled retirement on Sep. 3.
“Twenty days before retirement, it’s extraordinarily difficult,” said Hibbard. “He had so many plans, and now those won’t come to fruition.”
Hubbard added that his friend was also an incredible mentor to the younger staff and made certain that they grew personally and professionally so that they “could move on to bigger and better things.”
Hubbard recalled a particular instance that embodied the type of leadership that Horne possessed. In 2003, A dispute with the firefighters union resulted in protests featuring an effigy aimed at the City Manager. Hubbard said rather than striking back or having any vitriol, Horne handled it with “complete class and grace.” Hubbard said this diffused the situation instead of making it worse, and credited his military service for helping to instill a calm demeanor under pressure.
Former Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos told the Catalyst that like many people, he is still in shock. “We keep thinking we are going to wake up from a bad dream,” he said.
“Mr. Horne served his God, his country, and his community with distinction,” said Cretekos. “He was a gentleman whose strong faith not only influenced his life, but also touched countless numbers of people in Clearwater, the bay area, and really throughout the country.”
Cretekos said it was important to note that Horne was not only heavily involved with his Lutheran Church, but he was also one of the top-ranking lay leaders in the entire country. Cretekos said that at one point, there were talks of Horne becoming the head lay leader for the church, but that would have required relocating, and “he and his wife just decided that they love Clearwater too much.”
Horne has led Tampa Bay’s third-largest city through a rapid transformation into a top tourist destination. In 2019, TripAdvisor named Clearwater Beach its top beach in the country. More recently, Horne was able to see the $84 million development that reimagines the city’s waterfront – Imagine Clearwater – get approved after years of debate.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that Hibbard and Horne played golf together Saturday morning, but Horne did not make it home. Horne’s wife of 51 years, Loretta, then called Police Chief Dan Slaughter while Hibbard returned to the golf course and found Horne still in his car. It is suspected he died of a heart attack.
Before moving to Clearwater, Horne served his country as a Colonel in the United States Air Force. In September of 2005, he was designated a Credentialed Manager by the International City-County Manager Association.
Assistant City Manager Michael Delk will serve as acting city manager until Clearwater City Council takes further action. The process for selecting Horne’s replacement has been ongoing, as he was to retire in early September. The council is scheduled to interview four finalists for the position Sept. 1.
Funeral arrangements are pending.