CRESTVIEW — The city council unanimously voted to take no action on placing a proposed city charter on the March 2013 ballot. Meeting Tuesday evening in a public workshop, the body surprised residents in the audience with its action.
Discussion at the Nov. 26 council meeting had indicated council members were determined to again place the matters before voters, and might even break it into three ballot measures to offer voters a “menu” of charter components.
The lack of action at the workshop, however, does not mean the council cannot still vote to approve an ordinance placing the charter on the spring ballot at its Dec. 10 meeting. The ordinance had its first public reading at the Nov. 26 council meeting.
A clerical error resulted in the Nov. 6 vote being nonbinding, although nearly 90 percent of Crestview voters who voted in the election also voted on the charter question. At the Nov. 26 council meeting, several residents advised the council members to consider the vote against the charter a straw poll indicative of the electorate’s opinion.
Councilman Charles Baugh Jr. opened Tuesday’s meeting with a recitation of the 23rd Psalm, saying afterwards that he had “spent the entire day fasting and praying to find the right words to say” at the meeting.
“We’ve had this pretty much bantered around for three years’ time,” Baugh said during the brief meeting. “I’d like to say during the general election, although it was a non-binding referendum, some see it as a straw poll for the will of the people.”
Baugh said the 8,114 people who voted on the charter question was the largest turnout to ever vote on a city initiative. He noted that more than 500 people voted against the new charter than had voted for it. The final results were 4,319 opposed to the proposed charter and 3,795 in favor of it.
While still he feels the proposed charter, particularly its provision for a full-time professional city administrator, would greatly benefit the city’s 21,000 residents, “at the same time I cannot ignore the voices that were cast… If the citizens say no, I think we need to listen to the citizens.”
Baugh and Councilwoman Robyn Helt had been two of the charters strongest proponents on the city council. Helt had served on the charter review committee prior to her election, and though she spoke strongly at the Nov. 26 meeting in favor of placing the proposal before voters in March, she did not comment Tuesday evening.
The council was originally planning to discuss putting the charter on the March ballot in three measures to allow citizens a selection of options, including voting on the concepts of a council-appointed city administrator, a council-appointed city clerk, and the balance of the charter. Some council members felt this might prove difficult.
“I personally think to break it up, you have a fractious charter,” Councilman Tim Grandberry said. “If they vote different things, some win, some don’t.”
Councilman Tom Gordon said, “I made no secret of my support for the charter,” but added, “I suggest we let this die and we move forward.”
Gordon put his suggestion in the form of a motion, which was seconded by Baugh. The motion was unanimously approved by the council without further discussion. The meeting adjourned less than 10 minutes after it began.
Among those observing the proceedings was former Crestview Mayor Jerry Milligan, who had chaired the charter review committee. He said after the meeting that he had been perturbed because some of the committee’s recommendations were omitted from the proposed charter, even though some council members said the document followed the committee’s suggestions.
“The charter that was proposed was not at all what the charter committee sent to the council,” Milligan said. “That’s where I differ with it.”
He praised the council for its decision to let the matter drop.
“Maybe, we can only hope, they did indeed listen to the voice of the people in the general election,” Milligan said.
Though it voted to adjourn the workshop without action on the charter, the city council at its Dec. 10 meeting could still approve the ordinance required to place the document on the March ballot.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.