CRESTVIEW — City Council President J.B. Whitten held the first in a series of town hall events April 26 at Casbah Coffee Co. Whitten plans to host a total of at least three town halls this spring to discuss his views on the upcoming city charter referendum.
The referendum, which will appear on the August 28 primary ballot, will give Crestview voters the opportunity to decide whether they want to keep the current form of city government or bring in a city manager.
The current form of city government is a weak mayor system — the mayor heads some city departments and does not have a vote at city council meetings. Under the proposed changes, the council will be able to appoint a city manager to preside over the day-to-day operations of city government.
Whitten made it clear that he supports the proposed changes to the city charter.
“As one of your elected officials, part of your city government, I’m telling you that in my opinion we are inefficient in the way we operate,” he said. “I’m not saying that people are bad people. I’m not saying that we have bad leadership. I’m saying that what we have is inefficient.”
The majority of cities in Florida currently operate under a city manager form of government, particularly those with populations similar to Crestview’s.
“We are operating like a town that has about 1,700 people. And I will tell you probably in 1963 when we put that charter into effect, it probably worked for us,” Whitten said.
According to Whitten, Crestview is the largest city in Florida that still has a weak mayor form of government.
A previous referendum to change the city charter in 2012 failed by a 53 to 47 margin. Whitten said he believes that failure was caused in part by a lack of voter education on the issue.
Whitten, a first-term city council member who is running for mayor in 2019, expressed frustration at the way the current form of city government works.
“I’ve worked with the city government enough to know that it doesn’t work as well as it should. We’re doing a disservice to our people,” Whitten said. “I see the need to have one individual in charge of everything on a full-time basis.”
Bill Toannon, who owns Casbah Coffee Co., supports the idea of a city manager.
“I love our city council and it represents us very broadly, but I don’t know that our city council has municipal HR under their belts or municipal finance under their belts or municipal real estate development under their belts or all of these things that you look for in a professional city manager,” Toannon said. “That just thrills me to enable the city council to govern at that high level where they need to be, but also getting all the things done at the level where we live.”
Whitten plans to hold at least two more meetings with citizens to talk about the charter referendum at different times of day. He is planning an afternoon meeting in May and an evening meeting in June.
“In my four years on the city council … I consider this the most important issue that I’ve had to deal with, and we’ve done some pretty significant things,” Whitten said.