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Preserve Navarre Survey Participants Show Openness To Incorporating

Results from Preserve Navarre's resident survey show an "openness" to incorporation, says Director Wes Siler.
Britt Reints
Results from Preserve Navarre's resident survey show an "openness" to incorporation, says Director Wes Siler.

Incorporating Navarre has long been a hot-button issue with passionate opinions on both sides.

And it was those opinions and arguments that Wes Siler, director of the nonprofit Preserve Navarre, was hoping to capture in a web-based survey that asked Navarre residents not just whether they want to incorporate but what that might look like.

In a survey of 2,615 residents, 66% said they were in favor of incorporation and 11% said they were unsure. The data, so far, is encouraging to Siler.

“I wouldn’t predict this would translate into an election, but people are open to the idea,” he said.

On Sunday, Siler laid out the results from the 10-question survey, which was launched in May, to a group of about 75 people at St. Sylvester Church. He said he felt justified in his efforts based on the results. The survey is still open and data will be added to the overall results.

Five public administration Ph.D. candidates from Old Dominion University and the College of William and Mary compiled the data. At the meeting, Siler said he wanted a third party to tally results as a manner of transparency.

By July 15, more than 2,900 surveys were completed — approximately 8% of residents. But 323 were removed because they were duplicates, incomplete or from nonresidents. Some of the survey answers were predictable. Beaches were No. 1 when it comes to what residents liked best about living in Navarre, and traffic was No. 1 on what they liked least.

The top priorities of the city as identified by the survey include infrastructure, public works (roads, streets, sidewalks, etc.) and parks and recreation.

When it comes mapping out the city of Navarre, residents were fairly split on what the jurisdiction would be. Thirty-four percent chose to include Navarre Beach and Holley while 30% chose to just include Navarre Beach. Twenty-four percent selected no preference.

Although there were plenty who expressed openness to incorporation, about 51% of the surveys fell into one extreme or the other on incorporation.

“It was a sanity check,” Siler said. “It’s still a polarizing topic.”

At Sunday’s meeting, Siler took questions from the audience who asked about the involvement of Holley, survey logistics and how a proposed city government could override county ordinances — like the county’s decision to allow clear-cutting.

It’s no secret that the county has been experiencing issues from meetings running over nine hours and residents taking over the lectern to express their displeasure with leaders.

The county commissioner model set by the state’s constitution is “not good,” Siler said.

“The top-down approach is not the ideal scenario,” he added. “A city doesn’t have to follow county ordinance. We can pick the laws we like and don’t like. The city won’t be a puppet of the county in any way, shape or form. It’s more of a peer relationship.”

And that’s why Siler has been trying to gauge the public’s interest in what they want from a city. He said he was especially pleased to see residents strongly favored a mixed approach to government which doesn’t give full authority to any one person or office.

“That’s my preferred style,” he said. “Working with a city administrator, city council and mayor … it’s more like the American experiment. You just get a better result. People don’t want to see one person in charge.”

The entire survey results are available on the Preserve Navarre website.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.