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S.R. Commissioners To Set Petition Criteria For Navarre Incorporation Referendum

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

The group seeking to incorporate Navarre is back before the Santa Rosa County Commission this week seeking approval of the petition requirements for a non-binding referendum to appear on next year’s election ballot.

It looks like they may have to do a little bit more than expected to get the panel to sign off.

Jonathan Cole is president of the Navarre Area United political action committee. At the board’s committee meeting on Monday, Cole presented the group’s proposal for moving forward with a petition-driven referendum on the ballot, with plans to follow state level guidelines.

“To have an initiative put on the ballot for constitutional amendments, the state requires signatures of 8 percent registered voters who voted in the last presidential election,” Cole said.

Going back to the 2016 General Election, eight percent of the total votes cast in the seven impacted precincts would mean collection of 1,114 signatures.

Credit Santa Rosa County
Santa Rosa County
Proposed map of incorporated Navarre area.

That’s not enough for board members who preferred their original, more stringent requirement of eight percent of all registered voters in those precincts (10-Holley, 26-East Navarre, 29-West Navarre, 34-Hidden Creek, 35-Biscayne Pointe, 38-Navarre Beach, 40-Parkway).

“If we’re gonna set that limit, I think we should set a date for that,” said Commissioner Dave Piech, whose District 4 covers the Navarre area. Noting continuous voter registration in the run up to the next election, Piech agreed with District 1 Commission Chairman Sam Parker’s suggested cut-off.  “I would be comfortable with eight percent of registered voters in each precinct as of 1 July of 2019.”

Based on that stipulation, the total number of signatures needed is over 2,500 (2,566), with assurance that every one of the precincts has an equal say in the matter, including the community of Holley.

Residents in Holley opposed incorporation and chose not to be included in the last failed vote in 2014.

However, Navarre Area United’s Jonathan Cole says a lot has changed in the fast-growing area. 

“There’s a lot of construction going on in Holley; a lot of people have moved in. In fact, since this election in 2016, (there’re) over 300 new voters in that district alone,” said Cole. “Also, some of the folks that have been in Holley for a long time, who voted against it last time, have expressed they’re for it this time.

“We’re Holley, Florida. We already have our boundaries,” said Holley resident and business owner Donna Harvell. She remains opposed to the idea of incorporation for the historic community.

“We already have our signs up; the state of Florida already has our signs up. And, we want to continue to be Holley, Florida for the next 200 years; we’ve been Holley, Florida for the last 200. So, I can appreciate your movement, but please leave us out of it.”

Agreeing with Harvell, District 3 Commissioner Don Salter said he would not support a referendum if it includes Holley. But, Parker, suggested it would be worthwhile for District 3 State Rep. Jayer Williamson to hear the will of all the people in the area, as he determines whether to move forward with the incorporation process.

“Really, Jayer is asking for this to be a benchmark to kind of get the temperature of the item, and so it’s gonna be up to him to propose legislation and all,” Parker said in encouraging the residents of Holley to have their say on the front end.

For his part, Williamson says this gauge of where the people stand on the issue of incorporation is necessary.

Anytime that I’m going to allow a group of people or grant them taxing authority over the people that I represent, so like a city or a fire district or anything like that, one thing I’ve done is said ‘you need to go have a non-binding referendum first.

In order to move forward, Williamson says he’ll need more than a simple majority vote.

“To me, if we truly want to show the people support it, then it needs to be sixty percent, plus one vote in a non-binding referendum,” Williamson said of this first crucial step in the process. “Then, I’ll run that local bill. It has to pass the legislature, signed into a law by the governor and then it has to come back to the people on a binding referendum.”

Clearly, there’s a long way to go in the process, with the Navarre Area United PAC agreeing to hold public forums and conduct a feasibility study on the proposed incorporation if the effort gains traction.

Here’s a sample of some of the language on the proposed petition form:

BALLOT TITLE: Non-Binding Referendum on the Potential Municipal Incorporation of Navarre, FL

BALLOT SUMMARY: A non-partisan, non-binding referendum to be placed on the August 25th, 2020 primary election ballot exclusively in Navarre area voting precincts 26, 29, 34, 35, 38 and 40, addressing the pursuit of the municipal incorporation Navarre. This vote is non-binding and only serves as a barometer of support, 60% plus 1 or greater authorizing Navarre’s State Representative to initiate the legislative incorporation process.

FULL TEXT OF THE PROPOSED BALLOT LANGUAGE: “Shall proposed legislation, a sample city charter and a feasibility study be presented to the Florida Legislature, seeking the municipal incorporation of Navarre, FL? Yes or No?”

At Thursday’s regular meeting, Santa Rosa commissioners are expected to approve petition criteria. Additionally, the board has to determine whether to place the non-binding referendum on the 2020 Primary Election ballot in August or push it to the General Election next November.

The meeting starts at 9:00 a.m. in board chambers at the Santa Rosa County Governmental Complex, 6495 Caroline St., in Milton.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.