CRESTVIEW — Their votes didn’t officially count, but that didn’t stop 8,114 of 9,076 voters from opining about a proposed city charter that would alter the city’s governance. Of those, 4,319, or 53 percent, voted against implementing the proposed charter. Almost nine of 10 voters in the last election voted on the charter ballot question, an analysis of official election results shows.
Speaking before the city council at its Monday meeting, several residents advised city leaders to take the results seriously — even if they’re nonbinding due to an administrative error. City leaders expect to revisit the issue with another referendum in March 2013, which drew criticism from some opponents.
“Are you going to bring it up every time there’s an election? It appears we’re flogging a dead horse now,” resident Dan Taggett said.
“This is like changing horses in the middle of the stream,” resident Landrum Edwards said. “We’re doing a do-over. This is like kickball when we were kids; you get to do do-overs. That’s what this council is doing right now.”
Holding the election again was a matter of fairness because some voters, she and her husband among them, didn’t vote on the charter referendum when they learned it was no longer a valid ballot issue, Councilwoman Robyn Helt said.
“The council’s not getting a do-over on this item,” Helt said. “We have an obligation to put it on the agenda so the citizens get a chance to say. The citizens deserve to have the opportunity to vote in a valid format.”
Elections Supervisor Paul Lux’s official results show 960 of the 9,076 Crestview voters who cast ballots on Nov. 6 skipped the charter question.
More than 8,000 who did vote on it should have been enough to convey citizens’ opinion, Taggett and Edwards said.
“You’ve got an opportunity (now) that the people have spoke,” Edwards said. “Everybody had an opinion on it. If you didn’t vote, that is your own fault.”
“It was voted on and 500 people said no,” Taggett said, referring to the 524 more voters who voted against the charter than for it. “Yes, some people elected not to vote on it. If you don’t vote on it, don’t complain about it.”
Cal Zethmayr, of WAAZ/WJSB radio, referencing data from previous Crestview charter referenda, contended that based on his research, the 8,114 people who voted on the issue were likely the highest turnout they could expect.
“I think they sent you a message,” Zethmayr said. “In Crestview, 90 percent who got a ballot went all the way to the back of the ballot and they chose to send you their opinion. 524 more said no than said yes. Do you think you’re going to get 8,000 voters to turn out in March? I’ll buy a steak dinner for any of you who thinks they will.”
Zethmayr said his research showed 72 percent of registered voters voted on the charter referendum — the highest percentage of any of the previous five Crestview charter referenda from the past 20 years.
“We had 8,100 people vote,” Edwards said. “You add that up and the majority did not want the city charter to change. I don’t care if it was irregular or not counted or whatever.”
“This council doesn’t do the citizens of Crestview any service if we don’t move forward and put it to a legitimate vote,” Helt said. “I think for this council to now say, ‘Well, we just won’t go forward with it just because some people are in opposition to it,’ we would be doing the citizens a disservice if we didn’t put it to a vote … The citizens have the say. I respect their say. If the citizens don’t wish to have a charter revision, that is fine.”
Weeks before the Nov. 6 election, City Clerk Betsy Roy discovered a clerical error. A city council meeting to consider placing the charter on the ballot had been advertised for March 26, 2012, but was actually held April 9, she found. Rather than subject the charter to a potential legal challenge if it had passed, the council reluctantly agreed to rescind the ordinance that placed the issue on the ballot.
However, the action was too late to remove the referendum from ballots, which had been printed.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.