They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. Sound familiar?
In late 2013, then Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jeff Hentz fled the building after just twenty-one months on the job citing a “toxic” political environment and just steps ahead of his annual performance evaluation.
You need a playbook to understand the hierarchy, but the CVB (as I understand it) is the action arm of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, a governmental board tasked with the oversight and earmarking of bed tax funds, ostensibly for the promotion of the Daytona Beach area as a nice place folks from other parts of country might want to drop some disposable income. (You remember – these are the same “hospitality experts” who brought us the “Seize the Daytona” campaign.)
During the waning days of his tenure at the CVB the Daytona Beach News-Journal obtained a series of emails between Director Hentz and his colleagues around the country – many of which amounted to a blueprint for how to screw-off on the public dime – others of which shed an interesting light on the intrigues and maneuvering of County government.
For instance, in a February 2014 response to an email from a South Florida property developer Hentz wrote, “It was quite surprising the level of politics that exists here and the push to go back to the old ways.”
“Someone you should talk to that has vision is Josh Wagner – County Commissioner,” Hentz said later in the exchange, adding in another response, “Let’s keep Daytona in our prayers.”
In a note to a tourism official in California, Hentz admitted, “I was spending more than 85 percent of my time on (politics) and only 20 percent on marketing.”
Obviously the strain of throwing massive quantities of Chanel No. 5 on the hog was taking its toll on Jeffrey’s mental health. When you begin pointing to Josh Wagner as a visionary – it’s time for some R & R – along with a heavy dose of antipsychotic medication.
You might also remember that Hentz’ final months were marked by skirmishes with Volusia County Council member Doug Daniels – whose wife Angela just happens to serve as the Sales and Marketing Director for the all but shuttered Ocean Center. (Is the place still open? Even after an $80+ million Ocean Center makeover we still drive to St. Augustine Amphitheater, a venue operated by St. Johns County that regularly produces quality entertainment featuring national acts under what amounts to a large canvas tent with stadium seats. Sounds strange doesn’t it – a government service that actually delivers what its funded to do? I know, Weird. Right?)
All things equal, I think Hentz’ death knell sounded the minute he balked at Mrs. Daniels demand that $1.5 million in ad authority funds (out of a $6 million total budget) be allocated to her marketing department at the Ocean Center.
According to News-Journal reporter Jeff Cassidy’s expose, “In an April 10, 2013 email to an official at an executive search firm, Hentz made a reference to Daniels. “Just the issue of the County Council Rep pushing to move $1.5 million from my budget to his wife’s budget at the Ocean Center is enough to ‘launch’ a made-for-TV reality series right??”
Guess the poor guy didn’t understand how things work around here, huh? What Jeff failed to realize is that in Volusia County all pigs are equal. But some are more equal than others. . .
Ultimately, Hentz’ decided that the $135,000 in annual salary (plus a $20,000 annual performance bonus) just didn’t cover the aggravation and he pulled up stakes. For his trouble Volusia County awarded him a severance package totaling $51,000.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he deserved every penny. I mean, launching an on-the-clock job search, gossiping about local politics and openly bitching about your elected and appointed bosses on a public email server can be exhausting. But denying a County Council member’s wife her place at the public trough is career suicide.
So, after the “Great Hentz Debacle of 2014” one would assume that our leadership at HAAA, the CVB, and our elected officials would have learned a valuable (if not expensive) lesson in the importance of hiring the “right fit” to serve as their Executive Director.
We might rightfully assume that the need for close oversight and strict accountability would be foremost in their minds – lest we have an embarrassing repeat of the mismanagement, infighting and resulting public humiliation that overshadowed Mr. Hentz’ tenure – and the two executive directors before him, I might add.
You would be wrong.
Enter Herr Tom Caradonio – veteran convention and tourism executive, alleged Holocaust denier and apparent homophobe. Perfect.
After being hired by the HAAA in May 2014, Caradonio carried the CVB flag for about twenty-one months before announcing his retirement in mid-February. Initially, we were led to believe that Caradonio was honorably (and voluntarily) sailing off into the azure Florida sunset following an outstanding 44-year career in the tourism industry.
In fact, that’s exactly how the CVB sold Caradonio’s departure. (And why not, they’re experts at polishing a turd.)
In announcing Caradonio’s retirement earlier this year, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported, “Hoteliers and tourism leaders praised Caradonio for providing steady leadership, but also expressed regret that he wouldn’t remain in the post longer.”
Then – as often happens here on the “Fun Coast” – the other slightly down at the heel shoe dropped.
It seems that Mr. Caradonio’s conduct at work was something straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit – not to mention flagrantly bullying, wholly inappropriate and, frankly, strange.
As for oversight, this behavior apparently went on from as far back as August 2014 to as recently as November 2015.
(I have attached a copy of the heavily redacted investigative report compiled by Volusia County Personnel Services for your review. It’s not the Tailhook Report – but it damn sure is not the conduct one would expect of a management professional – or a gentleman.)
What’s most important – at least in the context of this blog – is that despite Caradonio’s egregious continuing course of conduct and documented history of outrageous anti-Semitic and homophobic statements while in the paid employ of a tax supported agency, Volusia County still feels compelled to give him a parting gift of $15,450!
Now, in most professional organizations in the private sector heads would roll as a consequence of holding those who knew, or should have known, about this abhorrent behavior accountable. Internal policies and personnel reporting protocols would have been audited and adjusted to ensure that staff members were not forced to suffer a hostile work environment at the hands of a self-described “Goomba” whose frequent use of the pejorative “gay boy” in addressing a male subordinate should have earned him a punch in the mouth – and a trip to an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission tribunal.
Unfortunately like most issues on the “Responsibility/Accountability” spectrum, I guess the concept of actually learning from mistakes and correcting tack is foreign to the Halifax Area Advertising Authority and our elected and appointment leaders in Volusia County government.
In my view, the continuing debacle at the HAAA and CVB are indicative of much larger problems. Yet we continue to pay our patently ineffectual County Manager $300,000 annually in salary and benefits for exactly zero in beneficial return, we continue to elect incompetent individuals whose personal loyalty doesn’t extend beyond their own pocketbook (and that of their greedhead cronies) – and perhaps worst of all – like fools we expect something to change.
I sound like a broken record.
It’s the very definition of insanity.