Many of the registered voters of Crestview (myself included) have been apathetic in our participation of local elections. If you’re like me, you probably make time for the big ones like the presidential election, but the local ones usually slip through the cracks. The last election, for example, yielded a 3.8% voter turnout, which is pathetic — and we can do better.

We don’t have any elections on the immediate horizon, however in the meantime there are some actions we can take to participate in our city. One such action would be to demand accountability from our elected officials and their campaign promises.

Joe Blocker, Shannon Hayes and Bill Cox were all elected in 2013. Since they are all the longest-sitting council members, much of this op-ed will be directed toward them (also, because of those elected to the council, these three are the only ones I am able to cite quotes back to the Crestview News Bulletin — JB Whitten was elected in 2015, and I was unable to find a “Meet the Candidates” featuring him — possibly because he was uncontested, but I can’t confirm that. The other council member, Doug Faircloth, was appointed and did not run on any campaign promises.)

First we’ll start with their answers to the question, “What do you feel is the biggest challenge you face?” Mr. Blocker’s question was worded slightly different (and in a separate article).

Mr. Blocker was uniquely asked, “What do you see as your biggest challenge and how will you address it?” His answer was “Restoring trust and confidence in our elected and appointed leaders.“

Mr. Hayes’ answer: “I don’t see any large issues at the time that the council cannot adequately address.”

Mr. Cox’s answer: “I will encourage greater citizen turnout at council meetings, including newer arrivals to Crestview who are concentrated in Precinct 2.”

It would appear Mr. Blocker answered half the question, but didn’t offer how he planned to overcome the challenge. My initial reaction to Mr. Hayes’ answer is that it wasn’t extremely well thought out — if you interact with the entire community, the odds of hearing that the only issues facing Crestview can be adequately addressed by a twice/month, part-time council, would be extremely slim. Mr. Cox’s answer sounds awesome — but he focuses his representation to Precinct 2 in the promise which, to me, says “I will only represent Precinct 2.”

At least its transparent?

Another quote of Mr. Blocker in the same “Meet the Candidates” article referenced above: “My goal -- and reason for seeking this council seat position -- is to restore trust and confidence in our elected and appointed leaders. As your city council representative, I will serve you by passionately advocating for your needs and ensure that our neighborhood is fully represented on the Crestview City Council.”

I am a firm believer that if you don’t vote, you give up your effectiveness in complaining, but that doesn’t mean that elected officials are not accountable to people who did not vote — it just means they’re more likely to hold themselves more accountable to the people who will reelect them, which is a smart move politically — and a terrible one for representing the entire public.

Let’s ask the questions: “What have you done in 4 years to restore trust in the elected & appointed offices?”, “Do you still feel Crestview has no large issues?”, “What are you doing to encourage greater citizen turnout to the meetings?”

If they haven’t made any strides in 4 years, how can we trust they’ll make any in the next 4 years? They don’t get paid a lot ($5,000~/year), but they DO get paid to do a job they ran for, and being accountable to the voting public, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a progress report: Here are the things you said you would do — how’s it coming along? If there’s no fruit to show for their labor, then we, the apathetic voting community, bear the responsibility to change it during future elections — or, continue the apathy & be silent while they get paid to make changes we keep quiet about.

Since it’s my idea to start asking about their accountability, I’ll get the ball rolling.

June 30, 2017, The Good Country’s Cal Zethmayr brought Joe Blocker on as a guest on “The Z Files.” At the 40 minute 37 second mark of this interview, Mr. Blocker asked people to come get involved. And at the 41:45 mark, he went so far as to use the word “beg” — and begged for the public to get involved.

Prior to this interview, I had emailed Mr. Blocker (and the other council members) at least three separate occasions, possibly more. One such email was an expression of support for a decision they were making about forming the charter review committee and sending my prayers. I have received responses from all council members with the exception of Joe Blocker.

As a voter, this is not the sort of representation I expect from someone making a bold stance on “passionately advocating for your needs and ensuring that our neighborhood is fully represented on the Crestview City Council.”

Now to be fair, I don’t live in Mr. Blocker’s precinct — does that mean my voice doesn’t matter to him? Why not make that distinction in his interview: 'Please, people of my district, come out and get involved' — instead, he opts for blanketing his invitation to the entire community.

For that, I expect more transparency out of him. And for someone using the term “advocate” as much as he does, I don’t feel advocated for. I’ve even had an op-ed published asking Mr. Blocker a direct question: What have you done to educate the voters?

I’m still waiting for my response.

I’m also curious as to what strides he has taken to rebuild confidence in the elected & appointed offices — after all, he said he would.

One positive thing has happened — my voter apathy has expired, and you can bet I’ll be at the polls from now on.

How about you?

Matt Gates, with the Facebook page Crestview Citizens for Change, is not to be confused with Matt Gaetz, the U.S. congressman. He lives in Crestview.

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Editor's Note: Matt Gates clarified his statements via the News Bulletin Facebook page on Aug. 15 about Councilman Cox, saying "Councilman Cox did NOT win the 2013 election for which I'm quoting his campaign promises in this op-ed. In 2013 he ran against Hayes for Precinct 2, however lost to Hayes. Subsequently, he ran again in 2015 for an at-large position, which he now holds. In the 2015 election, he ran unopposed (like JB, as mentioned in the op-ed -- running unopposed, he wasn't on record for any promises or commitments). What this means is, from an accountability perspective, Mr. Cox's statements in 2013 for Precinct 2 don't matter -- what matters is how he serves the city now from an at-large position. I trust he holds the same goal (but for the whole city) -- to get involvement to increase.