CRESTVIEW — The Crestview City Council, at its workshop Monday night, discussed ideas for reaching out to voters to educate them about the upcoming city charter referendum slated for the August 28 primary election.
City Council approved a referendum in December 2017 to scrap the current charter and replace it with a new form of city government. The referendum will appear on the August 28 primary election ballot for voter approval.
Part of the discussion focused on how the options would appear on the ballot, but most of the debate was centered on voter outreach and education.
“That’s been my concern for three years, educating the people,” Councilman Joe Blocker said. “I still believe, number one, that should be done and we’re (going to) have to spend a few dollars to do it.”
The council debated a number of ways to reach out to voters, ranging from social media outreach to public town hall forums to including inserts within city water bills. However, the consensus was that there is no single form of outreach that would be most effective. A combination of channels would be necessary to educate voters.
Christian Wirth, a Crestview resident who owns a software engineering company, offered to help with internet outreach.
“I think if we spread the word, if we tell people what we’re talking about at these events, a lot more people will come,” Wirth said.
Councilman Shannon Hayes emphasized the need to make the options simple and readable in order to be accessible to more voters. He was also concerned about low voter turnout, even with outreach efforts in place.
“No matter how much we do to educate the public, there’s (going to) be a certain percentage that we’re not (going to) reach regardless,” Hayes said. “My major concern is I know a certain percentage that is (going to)be well informed. What about the ones who aren’t informed and aren’t (going to) vote?”
Council President J.B. Whitten acknowledged concerns about voter turnout, citing 3.8 percent turnout in the last city council election, but was optimistic about civic engagement in Crestview.
“I’ve seen a change since the last election,” Whitten said. “There are people engaged that were not engaged before. I think you’re (going to) be surprised. I think there are (going to) be people showing up at the polls that we didn’t see before.”
Whitten cited as evidence town halls that he has held over the past year, and civic-minded groups such as the Crestview Citizens for Change Facebook group, which has over 1,300 members.
Crestview Director of Growth Management Teresa Gaillard said under Florida law any message to voters that comes from the city paid for with city funds must be strictly factual and unbiased. However, individual council members are free to state their opinion on the referendum and its outcome at any time.
At the end of the workshop, meeting attendees offered their own takes on how to engage voters and what the message should look like.
“We need to maybe look at that, as far as getting the word out there to the people on voting,” Crestview resident Sue Jones said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re voting for or what you’re voting for, just go to the polls and vote.”