First councilmen take a look back

Tina Harbuck
tharbuck@thedestinlog.com

Editor's Note: After this story was initially published, it was discovered that former Councilman Bill Phillips is still alive and living in Sandestin. An upcoming story will focus on Phillips' contributions to Destin's incorporation and early days of the city.

Are there things they would have done differently? Of course, but looking back they were happy to serve.

In 1984, Destin residents voted to become a city and with incorporation came the set up of city government, complete with a mayor and council.

Thirty seven threw their hats in the ring to serve on that first City Council. Winning seats on the council in that first election were Jimmy Vaughn, Richard Duke, Dewey Destin, Danny Woodward, Bill Phillips, Theo Shaw and Lloyd Taylor. Bob McIlroy served as the first mayor.

Of the seven original councilmen and mayor, Destin, 66, and Taylor, 74, still live in the city and are active in the community.

The Destin Log sat down with the two recently to chat about what it was like in those early days, 35 years ago.

“Once it was established that we were going to have government, I thought people who lived here should participate and have an input in it,” Destin said when asked why he ran for office.

“I agree with Dewey,” Taylor said. “We all grew up here and were involved in the ex officio government we had here at the community center … so when we became a city, it was just a natural thing. Hey, I can do that. But it’s not as easy as, I can do that.”

“We learned that lesson pretty quick,” Destin added.

The first City Hall was located on Mountain Drive in Wildcat Plaza with City Council meetings held in the old community center that was located approximately where the current one is located, but much smaller with seating for about 50 to 70 people.

“It got cold in there that winter. We didn’t have an air conditioner or heater that worked worth a darn,” Destin said.

“And those meetings went to somewhere around 10 o’clock at night … they were very long because we had to adopt county ordinances. It was a lot of work,” Taylor added.

In the early days the council met once a week.

“We tried to form as many citizen committees to give us input … trying to get everybody in town involved in it,” Destin said.

And they did. There were committees for safety, recreation and everything in between.

Those first few years were very challenging.

“We didn’t have any infrastructure, we didn’t have any ordinances, we didn’t have anything,” Destin said. “We were starting from scratch.”

Fran Beaird volunteered as city clerk and Lloyd Blue as city attorney.

“We had a city that didn’t offer all the services of a traditional city,” Taylor said.

The fire department was already in place as a fire district, the water system was already incorporated as Destin Water Users.

“Recreation was an issue … you had the little league and whether or not the city was going to take it over,” Taylor said. “It was a monumental task and we had a lot of wonderful volunteers that did a tremendous amount of work,” Taylor added.

Most of the men on the council had never served on a city council in any city before. And all had their own occupations to deal with in addition to the responsibility of the city.

GROWTH ISSUES

With Destin getting more and more visitors every year, growth soon became an issue.

“We kept saying we didn’t want to be a Panama City … well, I’m not happy with the way Destin has turned out in development now,” Taylor said. “I’m not opposed to development, but I think we missed out on some things. We had a lot of access to the water that we should have bought property around it for parking. We have water access but no parking. That falls back on the City Council members.

“The one that really bothers me is growth management,” Taylor said, noting he would like to have seen a height restriction of four stories on the harbor.

"Some of the growth management ideas we had were amended for the benefit of the developers and (were) not necessarily bad in every case, but I feel like we could have done more to slow it down," Taylor said. "We haven’t met infrastructure needs.”

“Here’s what really happened … and it was due mostly to our inexperience,” Destin said.

He explained that they adopted the Okaloosa County planning and zoning designations and their land development code, which had high density development potential.

“Basically, anything you wanted to build you could build,” Destin said. “What we should have done was not adopt it in whole and written our own from scratch.”

Destin said they spent the first 10 years modifying and adopting their own land development code.

“But by then the horse was out of the barn. There’s still the ability to get the horse not to run too far away. And I think our present council is working on that,” Destin said. “The growth issue is really the core and what is still important in Destin. Are we going to ruin it as for a place for all of us to live in order to maximize the bucks that people can make?”

“We want people to make the most money they possibly can out of their investment but not at the expense of destroying what brings people here to begin with,” Taylor said.

ACHIEVEMENTS

Both Destin and Taylor grew up in Destin, not a mile apart from one another, and have seen a lot of changes.

Taylor served one term on the council, while Destin served six terms.

From building a new community center to a new library, the infrastructure is what Destin is most proud of.

“We put up thousands of street lights and sidewalks that we never had,” Destin said. “These are things that people have a direct benefit from. I was very proud of those.”

As for Taylor, he said, “I was most proud of how the first City Council worked together as a team. Each individual came from a different walk of life. We didn’t have any agendas and we worked together. Everybody rolled up their sleeves and hoped we’d come up with a product we’d all be proud of. I’m still proud of Destin. I’m just not as happy with it.”

Both Taylor and Destin went on to serve on the Okaloosa County School Board, with Destin still on the board today.

Click to the listen:

LISTEN: FISHING REPORT