CRESTVIEW—City Councilman J.B. Whitten hosted a town hall meeting on government structure Thursday evening at Azteca Mexican Restaurant. The purpose was to educate residents on how the current government hierarchy works and what a potential change could look like.
Changes could come in multiple forms and mostly involve shifting of accountability for the government’s various departments.
Currently, fire and police departments answer to the mayor, finance and utility billing answer to the city clerk and other departments answer directly to the city council.
However, the council can only discuss matters among themselves in a public setting due to Sunshine Laws.
“What we have right now is ineffective in my personal opinion,” Whitten said. This is because communication is delayed due to the council’s public discussion requirement.
Just 85 of Florida’s 411 cities operate this form of council-mayor government, according to Whitten. Of those that do, 83 have populations below 7,500 — Crestview has more than 20,000 residents.
“We haven’t grown our government with our city,” Whitten said.
A proposed restructuring has gone to the ballot and failed three times, the last occurrence in 2012. However, it was defeated by only 7 percent and about 1,000 voters didn’t take a position because an error prevented the vote from being official.
Two other forms of government have been proposed and will be considered by city officials if residents show interest in restructuring.
A council-manager style would create a city manager, hired by city council, to represent the city’s departments. This person would have day-to-day contact with department heads and present reports, inquiries and other matters to the city council and potentially streamline communication processes.
A strong mayor structure would create a city administrator, hired by the mayor, to represent the departments. This administrator would answer directly to the mayor, leaving the council to focus on budgeting and legislative oversight.
Whitten and Mayor David Cadle said they would not endorse any option, deferring the choice to residents and pledging to support what the people decide.
The city council will host a workshop for residents to voice their opinions and thoughts of government structuring.
If people show support for a restructure, the council will vote to create a commission tasked with exploring those options and creating a ballot referendum for residents to vote on.
If there is a no-show during the workshop, the council will interpret this as residents’ approval of the current system, Whitten said.
Placing the matter on a ballot would be the final step in the process if residents desire a change.
Since this would be a referendum and not a candidate vote, ballots could be sent to registered voters via mail, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux said at a previous city council meeting.
Whitten expressed interest in this process Thursday evening and intends to explore the option if the issue goes to vote.
The workshop to establish a commission will be at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. April 24 at Crestview City Hall. An official time will be determined later and publicly announced.