CRESTVIEW — City Council President J.B. Whitten on Wednesday continued his series of town hall meetings to inform city residents about the upcoming referendum on changes to Crestview’s city charter.
The May 24 meeting at Hub City Smokehouse was the second of three planned events. The first took place April 26 at Casbah Coffee, and a third event is planned for June. Whitten said his goal is to hold the meetings at different times during the day to accommodate everyone who would like to attend.
Whitten has been an outspoken proponent of amending the city charter to allow for a city manager form of government. If the referendum is successful, the city council would be able to appoint a city manager, and all department heads would report to that person. Under the current form of government, some departments report to the mayor, while others report to the council.
“Out of 412 cities in Florida, only 85 have our form of government,” Whitten said. “Of those 85, 83 of them have fewer than 1,700 people. Here we are in Crestview. We’re heading toward 25,000 people and we’re still operating the same way that smaller cities are.”
The current charter has been in place since 1965 and has been amended various times over the years. A previous attempt to change the form of government in 2012 failed. Whitten believes that was largely due to lack of voter education on the subject.
“It’s incumbent upon us in the city to reach out and educate people,” Whitten said. “That’s why we’re having these town hall meetings.”
Whitten said the benefit of having a city manager is that the position would be filled by a professional who understands budgets, finances and management. There are no requirements that city council members have those qualifications.
“I’m not even trained in the budget process,” Whitten said. “We educate ourselves, but it’s a learning curve. A city manager is going to be someone that’s already gone to school having learned about every department in the city. They’ve learned about doing budgets. They’ve learned about sunshine laws.”
In Whitten’s view, the charter change is the most important issue that voters can have a direct impact on.
“I’m asking everybody to get educated. Tell your friends and neighbors,” Whitten said. “You definitely have to come out and vote. This is the most important vote that you can have concerning the future of Crestview.”