To every resident bearing a Crestview mailing address,

As you are probably very aware by now, a small group of citizens is working to help move our City Council to establish a short-term committee to evaluate a change to our city charter to re-structure our form of government.

We currently have a weak mayor/council form of government with an elected clerk and have had this form since Crestview’s inception. The change many of us hope to make is to move to a manager/council form of government, as was suggested by experts in city development over the years, and more recently an expert from Mason-Dixon Polling.

The main argument is based on Crestview’s population growth — our taxes being the highest in the county — and with the current structure being part time, we can stand to significantly improve our government’s efficiency by having a full-time professional bearing credentials in public administration and city management.

Every other city in our county with similar population size has had a city manager over their cities for a very long time. Fort Walton went to a city manager in 1941.

I’ve heard from a number of citizens who are against this move, citing “the way we’ve always done things” as the reason, or just a general aversion to change.

I have yet to hear a quantifiable argument in favor of what we currently have, which is why I’m writing this letter.

I would like to hear a valid argument for keeping what we have, preferably an argument that can extinguish any of the benefits cited for a city manager. Bear in mind, a change to a manager/council form is not going to change the heart of Crestview or suddenly make us like large cities. Mary Esther has 4,000 citizens (we have 24,000) and they employ a city manager.

The manager is tasked with ensuring the taxpayers are receiving the highest value for their taxes and to act as a professional check-and-balance individual. Most save at least the amount of their salary within the first one to two years just off efficiency alone.

The only quantifiable reason I’ve heard so far is the cost of a city manager’s salary because the average in this area is $120,000 per year. To this argument, I’d refer you to the city’s adopted operating budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which, if you resolve the math, you find nearly enough unaccounted for to where you could fund a city manager for one year.

The money might be accurately allocated, and this document is flawed, which, if that’s the case, our current structure did not identify this discrepancy while a city manager overviewing things like this would have spotted.

In a nutshell, in our current structure, we do not require any credentials related to running a city, because they’re all elected. That is to say, the minimum requirement to be elected to any of the offices is to satisfy the requirements to run for any elected office.

There’s nothing that says, “To serve as ______, you must have experience related to but not limited to _______.” Our city charter was last amended in the 1960s. The last attempt was in 2012 and the ballot item was thrown out due to a clerical error, which invalidated the item.

Our group also advocates for mail-out ballots, so instead of a 3.8 percent voter turnout like the last municipal election, maybe we can dramatically move that number higher. Whether you support change or not, we should all be involved.

So, in closing, if you’re against this change, I invite you to defend what we have so I can understand your perspective, understanding that moving to a city manager won’t fundamentally change Crestview’s amazing community.

Our group is called Crestview Citizens for Change, and you can find us on Facebook. The next council meeting is on May 8, and details can be found in our group or on the city website at www.cityofcrestview.org.

Matt Gates is not to be confused with Matt Gaetz, the U.S. congressman. He lives in Crestview. 

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