Continuing our tie‑in with The Beachcomber’s 15th anniversary in August. This issue, the spotlight shines on longtime Niceville mayor Randall Wise. “I was over in Destin yesterday and met my daughter at Wine World for lunch,” Wise told us during our visit to his office on Partin Drive. “My wife’s family is one of the old, original families from Fort Walton Beach. She graduated from Choctawhatchee High School. We go over there quite a bit.”
1. According to the city of Niceville’s website, you’ve been in and out of the mayor’s chair since 1971. How long have you served in the position?
August of this year, I will have been mayor for 45 years. (I have) three more years of this term.
2. How old were you when you first took office, and what made you want to serve?
I was 40 years old and had been a volunteer fireman (when it was first organized). I served on the Niceville Housing Board and also served one term on the city council. Back then, they appointed a mayor. The phone rang one evening, and the council members asked me, How would you like to be mayor? It kind of shocked me. I discussed it with my wife, and we agreed I’d do it.
3. What’s new in the city of Niceville?
We have a wonderful city manager and a real good group of employees that can build and do just about anything. We just finished the extension of Turkey Creek and bought a building from the EOD school that we’re going to turn into a senior center. We annexed 1,100 acres to the east of us, and I think we’ll have 95 lots to start with. And we probably have the most homes under construction of any city in Okaloosa County.
4. What do you think attracts people to your city?
I don’t know (laughs). I wonder that myself. My son’s a builder, and he sells the dickens out of homes here and in Crestview, Baker and Destin. I think it’s because of the people that are already here. We have good people and good schools. Northwest Florida State College won the national titles for baseball and basketball last year.
5. Somebody’s visiting Destin, Fort Walton Beach or South Walton. What would you say to encourage them to make the drive over to Niceville?
Be sure and walk Turkey Creek to see the nature and beauty of the creek and woodlands. There’s a show at the college this week (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, July 13‑16). The Autism Center is being built at the college—it started at a church in Valparaiso, then it expanded and got big enough to move to an office in town. The brains behind it checked with the college and got a lease very cheap. They’re looking for volunteers to put together playground equipment now, and it should open in September.
6. What are some things people might not know about Niceville?
We have a children’s park in the City Hall Complex (along with the library, community center and police department). They have birthday parties all the time. There’s a water park—a lot of people come over for that. There were two buses pulling in this morning from some school in the local area.
7. What is a typical workday like for the mayor of Niceville?
The first thing I do is exercise—we have several facilities available, and I try to keep myself halfway physically fit and make an example for people to stay in shape. After that, whatever comes up, that’s what I do. I work closely with the city clerk, attend meetings at the college and the Chamber of Commerce. Sometimes I have a lot of meetings at night. It’s not an eight‑hour job. It’s just what’s needed to be done, that’s what I do.
8. Where did you grow up, attend school, etc.?
I grew up in Niceville. I went to Edge Elementary School—it was the only school here at the time. I didn’t attend college. I slid into second base during a high school baseball game and broke my ankle. That was in 1949, and it hurts today. I worked out at Eglin Air Force Base for 29 years—I was a supervisor on one of the test ranges.
9. Was there a certain event early on that convinced you that you’d be good at this job?
No, I’ve just always loved to serve people. It’s what I like to do.
10. How would you describe the political climate in Niceville?
When I became mayor, we had a three‑two vote at every meeting. It was like that for years. We knew how the council was going to vote. Eventually, other people got in. We’ve been fortunate to have good council members most of the time that are concerned about the city.
11. Will this be your last term or are you planning to keep going until the wheels fall off?
I don’t know. I just want to continue to grow. We’ve gone from five or six thousand to about 13 or 14 thousand residents now. (One thing I’d like to accomplish is to) make sure the senior center—which I’m one now—gets finished.
12. Do you and your wife take vacations during the summer?
We do, but it’s usually for a city meeting or something like that. I’m on the Okaloosa Gas Board, and we have a national conference. The president gets to decide what city they like to go to—you have to pay for your wife and family if you take them. I’ve been to Nova Scotia, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Lake Tahoe… I’ve been involved with the Florida League of Cities and traveled to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
13. You’ve had a lot of celebrities in town for the Mullet Festival and appearances at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center. Have you gotten to meet any of them?
Some of them. I’m not really interested in that. One time I did go backstage and meet Billy Ray Cyrus at the Mullet Festival. He’s about the only one. There was another lady—Dr. Joyce Brothers—that I presented with the key to the city.
14. Are there other local events that people in Niceville and outlying areas should keep on their calendars?
We have outstanding basketball, baseball and softball games at the college. We have a Christmas parade, Fourth of July fireworks. We raise money to put that on. The chamber used to run the fireworks show, but we used to have a problem getting a barge to shoot them off from the Boggy Bayou (between Valparaiso and Niceville). It was always a struggle. So the city took it over, and our city manager got one of his employees to build us a barge.
15. The Beachcomber’s 15th anniversary is coming up in August. How are you planning to celebrate this momentous occasion?
I hadn’t planned on it, but we could come up with something.
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