The Debacle in Debary

Now, I don’t want to go off on a tear here – but the disaster that is Debary government just keeps unfolding like a cheap lawn chair.  It’s like watching one of those slow-motion reels of a massive train derailment – or looking up at a building tsunami – a catastrophe so compelling that you’re mesmerized by the unwinding horror and powerless to turn your head.

The City of Debary is a quiet little town on the northern banks of the St. John’s River near Lake Monroe.  A community blessed with some of the most beautiful natural settings in the State of Florida – governed by an arguably insane mayor and a half-bright City Council so chillingly inept that to call it a legitimate government even makes me queasy.

It’s become more like an unfortunate drama – one of those hyper-theatrical Chinese operas – played out in uncomfortable vignettes in the local media.  Everyone in town seems to have a role – including the City Manager, Dan Parrott, whose career track is increasingly becoming a cautionary tale.  Once the highly anticipated public corruption investigations are complete the name Dan Parrott will be synonymous with failure – much like the hapless Michael “Brownie” Brown and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy – and he will ultimately end up on the dreaded “Managers in Transition” purgatory list at the Florida City/County Manager’s Association.

When the “Debacle in Debary” first played out, I thought it was just another run-of-the-mill story of small town politics gone wrong – you know, the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker, each of which have their own unique “vision” for the community – coupled with a vicious personal agenda and political hit list that always gets in the way of any real civic progress.

In this case, I think something far more sinister is at play in the River City.

Don’t get me wrong, Mayor Clint Johnson is a proven nut-job with weak personal ethics and a pathological need for “attention.”  This has manifested itself in the Mayor’s fateful bicycle vacation to Key West – apparently underwritten by various small businesses that Johnson duped into donating goods and services – and his latest weird undertaking to cross the Florida Straits on a raft constructed of junk yard refuse.

We all watched the painful images of Hizzoner on every network affiliate in Central Florida as he awkwardly paddled out to the open ocean at Ponce Inlet aboard a rickety contraption of his own construction.  Hell, I was embarrassed for him – and the long-suffering citizens of Debary.

I’m not sure even Mayor Johnson himself can explain his motivation to recreate the tragic crossings of thousands of Cuban refugees on homebuilt watercraft, many of which have heartbreakingly perished within sight of freedom.

If it seems cheap and gratuitous, that’s because it is.

Clearly, Mayor Johnson suffers from delusions of grandeur and the same compulsion that causes people to expose themselves to strangers on New York subways.  He has a pathological need for your attention – his 15-minutes of fame – and if he has to board a leaky raft and hand his life over to the nautical gods on the briny expanse somewhere north of Havana harbor, so be it.

But before his date with destiny on the High Seas,  the Mayor has another personal adventure he must endure at home.

Next Wednesday it’s all but certain that Johnson will begin the slow walk toward the ash heap when the Debary City Council will vote to remove him from office for some minor procedural error (directing a city employee?) cooked up by a City Attorney who is now, quite obviously, grasping at straws as things crumble around him.

Let’s face it, elected officials meddling with government employees is a frowned upon, but common occurrence, in the civil service.  It’s part of the expediency of government, and probably dates to the Washington administration when ole George asked a public works employee to hold his horse.  It’s typically more of an annoyance than a capital offense which warrants public humiliation and removal from elected office.

Make no mistake, Johnson brought much of this on himself.  He has thumbed his nose at Florida’s open government laws, pushed a personal agenda that only he understood, took personal shots at his detractors on social media, embarrassed a few “Team Volusia” hacks, and supported the contentious idea of bringing big time horse racing to Tiny Town.

All that said, the question that still bothers me is – given recent events – are there more sinister motivations at play?

In the back of my mind, I wonder if the Debary City Council’s public cashiering of a fellow elected official is a direct consequence of his knowledge of their patently illegal $38,500 inducement to John Miklos (the high-powered, Governor-appointed Chairman of the St. John’s Water Management District’s Board of Governors and President of a well-connected private consulting firm specializing, apparently, in brokering Miklos’ public position to the highest bidder) to ensure that the City successfully acquires environmentally sensitive conservation lands surrounding Gemini Springs for commercial development.

It’s beginning to read like a Travis McGee novel.

Let’s stay tuned, kids.  This one is about to get interesting.

Read the latest coverage in the Daytona Beach News-Journal here:

http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160429/NEWS/160429398/101040?Title=DeBary-council-could-seek-mayor-s-removal

 

 

 

 

Buying Influence in Debary

I’m in a foul mood this morning – made worse by an overnight bout with a nasty “stomach flu” or perhaps the Zika virus or another of the virulent subtropical plagues, like Dengue Fever and Chikungunya, that are slowly creeping up the spine of Florida like a Brown Recluse spider – a six-eyed, brutally aggressive bastard who lives openly among us here in the Sunshine State.

Whatever it is, this horrific nausea and pounding head has effectively kept me without sleep and soured my general outlook.  Perhaps that explains why, when I opened the newspaper this morning and turned to the editorial page, I was moved to a blind rage that has driven me back to bed in a dark room to brood.

There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck – it’s probably a duck.  You know, res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself.  In other words, most smart people know that when it comes to Florida’s state, county and local governmental practices its best to trust your own eyes.

Make no mistake – the City of Debary’s proposed land deal is political corruption at its worst.  It is what it is.

For the past several days I’ve followed the public exposure of the City of Debary’s slimy relationship with The Honorable John Miklos, Chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board and President of Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc.

The SJRWMD is a Florida regulatory agency established to protect and preserve our precious and increasingly at-risk water supply.  Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. is a firm that, for a healthy fee, gently sails commercial developers and local governments through the minefield that is the SJRWMD permitting and regulatory process.

One might think that Mr. Miklos’ competing loyalties constitute a conflict of interest?  Not in Florida – here, it’s called an opportunity.

In a place where our collective drinking water is almost exclusively reliant on the hyper-sensitive Floridan Aquifer, one would think a strong and independent oversight board would be all important.

Think again.  We live on a sandy spit of land where our reptilian governor allows the uber-rich to play king, money rules all, laws control the peons, and our state legislators in Tallahassee don’t give a shit about your opinion – unless you pay them for the privilege.

I won’t rehash the machinations of Debary’s attempts to acquire over 100 acres of environmentally sensitive lands in close proximity to the Gemini Springs complex from the SJRWMD for development of “a “river-like” regional stormwater pond surrounded by single and multi-family homes, the centerpiece of a larger project to attract and promote economic development around the SunRail station.”  The Daytona Beach News-Journal has done some truly outstanding investigative journalism on the subject (complete with public records for your review) which explains the situation better than I can.

What galls me is the raw, open and abject corruption at the heart of this sordid matter – and no one who matters seems to give a damn.

When the City of Debary paid Mr. Miklos and his firm $38,500 (plus $155 per hour directly to Miklos for his involvement) to consult on a land acquisition process that everyone knew would ultimately come before the very board that he chairs, the fix was in.

The Florida Constitution, through its Code of Ethics, specifically prohibits public officers from corruptly using or attempting to use their official positions or the resources thereof to obtain a special privilege or benefit for themselves or others. [Sec. 112.313(6), Fla. Stat.]

If this isn’t a textbook example of a sitting public official selling the influence of his office to obtain a special benefit for a client, what is?  Hell, even the ethically challenged and probably legally insane Mayor of Debary, Clint Johnson, knew the approval of the land acquisition was a foregone conclusion when they hired Mr. Miklos’ firm.

According to News-Journal reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver, “Mayor Clint Johnson said the city never would pay out that kind of money without assurances the deal would be approved by the district.”

“Supposedly the chairman of the water management board has already given it the OK.”

Indeed, Mayor Johnson.  Indeed.

This also best illustrates why Governor Rick Scott’s personal involvement in unilaterally dismissing Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey last year set a dangerous precedent, shattered FDLE’s autonomy, and ultimately weakened regulatory efforts across state government.

After all, if Governor Scott can fire the FDLE Commissioner out-of-hand (and apparently he can), who’s going to question – or investigate – Rick’s personal appointment to the chairmanship of the powerful water district board?

Look, we’re not talking about a small town City Councilman who failed to report a steak dinner here.  This is an open cash gratuity, paid from public funds, to the sitting chairman of a highly sensitive regulatory board to effectively ensure a positive outcome for his client, the City of Debary.

Ultimately, Debary benefits from the increased tax revenue, impact fees, etc. – along with whichever speculative developer the City Commission selects for the mixed use project (any guesses on who that might be?)

Did I mention that Mori Hosseini’s sister was also appointed to the SJRWMD board by Governor Scott as well?

I would hope that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and/or the FBI will immediately open a public corruption investigation into the activities of John Miklos, Bio-Tech Consultants, Inc., and the elected and appointed officials of the City of Debary who are complicit in this scheme.

On its face, this is a basic “public official with a greasy-palm” scandal – but at its core, in my view, it is an environmental crime.  The unlawful taking of environmentally sensitive public lands set aside for conservation for commercial development by some greedy little shitheels who no longer deserve the privilege of holding public office.

Welcome to the Turkish Bazaar of influence peddling that best defines the Rick Scott administration.

Find the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting here:

http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160423/NEWS/160429723/0/search?tc=ar

The Remnants of a Rotten Week

It’s been a rotten week in America and the hits just keep on coming.  As the weekend looms, I look forward to taking some time out to hunker down with smart friends, suck on a bottle of gin, and brood.

Let’s take a look at the issues of this past week in no particular order:

Just after three o’clock yesterday afternoon, regular television programming was preempted with a “breaking news” banner – you know, one of those hyper-dramatic interruptions that cause a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach?  One of those nerve-jangling attention-getters, accompanied by intense music and a theatrical voiceover normally reserved for world-changing, historic moments like the Kennedy assassination or the death of a sitting Pope.

This disruption of daytime television announced that The Artist Formally Known as Prince had been found unresponsive on the greasy floor of an elevator at his mysterious compound known as “Paisley Park” somewhere on the outskirts of Minneapolis.  He was 57, and without question a true icon of music whose talents influenced popular culture and entertained us all.

Now, the death of anyone is regrettable and this is a terrible loss.  I won’t begin to diminish the impact these things have on a certain segment of the population who are moved to hysteria and the rending of garments whenever certain personalities pass away in this country.

But, just maybe, hard news outlets in this country should realize that there is a larger population to whom the other news of the day is equally important.

In the wake of Michael Jackson’s death several years ago, media outlets took heat for their wall-to-wall coverage that some felt pandered to a “Cult of Personality” – guess it fell on deaf ears.

It concerns me whenever all three television networks and every international cable “news” outlet in the Free World come to a hard stop to run looping tributes to a pop singer – or other “celebrity” – virtually to the complete exclusion of all other news and critical information.

After all, they built the 24-hour news cycle – the everything, all the time reportage that the American public has been forced to consume in a manner not unlike trying to drink from a three-inch fire hose since Teddy Turner flipped the switch on CNN.  Full-bore, baby.  Now, feed us our goddamned news.

Is it me, or is there something slightly lessening about watching trusted journalists wiping tears and whipping middle-aged fans into a frenzy of gut-wrenching grief, using terms like “transcendent” and warning that “the world will never be the same” while the strains of Raspberry Beret waft hauntingly in the background?

I’m just saying that I don’t believe Prince’s death – tragic as it is –  warrants the scale of coverage that we’ve seen, non-stop, since the news broke yesterday.

I mean, doesn’t anyone care that Kelly Ripa walked-off the set of “Kelly and Michael”? Can we get our priorities in order?

Perhaps during this orgasm of public grief and horror that has overtaken the nation like a shroud we could also take just a minute to reflect on the loss of former Arizona Cardinal-turned U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman who died in Afghanistan ten years ago today.  Or maybe we could contemplate the contribution of the thirty-three law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty in this country since January 1st – true community heroes who have been taken from us and their families without a single fucking word of acknowledgement from our President.  Despicable.

But I suspect we’ll see more kick-out-the-jambs “All Purple, All the Time” coverage through the weekend – unless Donald Trump comes up with a catchy new adjective to describe Ted Cruz – or John Kasich does us all a favor and schleps home to Columbus. . .

(That, you can interrupt Live! With Kelly and Michael!” for.  Please.)

Speaking of failed presidential candidates – we also learned this week that Senator Lindsey Graham has “put on hold” legislation that he co-sponsored with Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions that would open the door for victims of the September 11th attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for their suspected role in the worst act of terrorism in history.

On Tuesday, Sen. Graham told reporters that he took the action to block his own bill amidst fears that the legislation could open the United States to retaliatory lawsuits due to the acts of individuals or allies acting on our behalf.  Bullshit.

Unfortunately, Sen. Graham’s pull-back came at the same time the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began issuing harsh threats to sell off $750 billion in U.S. Treasury assets if the law passes – an action that could severely weaken our recovering economy.

There was a time in this country when direct threats of economic retaliation would have resulted in a behind-the-scenes ass kicking that wouldn’t soon be forgotten by any tin pot monarch stupid enough to raise their hand against the most powerful nation on the face of the planet.

Ah, the good old days, huh?  When some asshole kicked sand on us, he got a guided missile warhead planted directly on his forehead, and he didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Why in the hell does Saudi Arabia hold so much sway over our country and our legislative system?  After all, the Saudi’s have been allies in name only, suspected of funding ISIS and other regional terrorist groups, and have completely shirked their responsibility to accept war refugees or show leadership in other crisis points throughout the region.

This is what happens when a weak U.S. administration plays patty-cake rather than project strength.  I have no doubt that President Obama arrived in Riyadh with his hat in hand, bowed to the king, and fretted over how best to “clear the air” and dispel this recent “unpleasantness.”

At least Michelle didn’t disembark Air Force One in full Hijab. But then, based upon her strength of personality, I’ve suspected that she has worn the pants in that relationship for quite a while now. . .

In my view, it’s high time that President Obama and his administration get tough with the Saudi’s on this and other important issues.  Americans have a right to know why fifteen Saudi’s launched a vicious attack on our nation that took the lives of nearly 3,000 (with more first responders dying every day from illnesses originating at Ground Zero).  We have a right to know where they stand on the increasing threat of ISIS and al-Qaida (which has its very roots in Saudi Wahhabism).

The Saudi’s are a tribal people who are beginning to see the fragility of their oil-based economy for the first time, and who know, in their heart-of-hearts, that they need us far more than we need them.

It’s time for President Obama to reinforce that notion with King Salman.

On the local scene it appears the “Embry-Riddle Fifteen” aren’t going anywhere.

In a pointed and very well-written retort to the administrations tepid response to student and alumni demands for increased transparency by the Board of Trustees, the former Student Government Association representatives let everyone know that ERAU Potentate for Life Mori Hosseini has overstepped his bounds.

The tipping point appears to be naming rights to new construction on campus, a place which Chairman Hosseini has micromanaged like a feudal lord for years.  In their very well constructed response, former SGA President (’06) Sara McCook let everyone know that slapping Mori’s name on the new Student Union isn’t necessarily a done deal:

“We acknowledge that Mr. Hosseini has contributed greatly to Embry-Riddle over the years. Indeed, his assistance in the securing of several million dollars in state funding, as discussed in the Board’s response, will surely aid in Embry-Riddle’s expansion. As chairman of the Board, Mr. Hosseini deserves to take pride in the acquisition of this historic state grant, as it is exemplary of his ability to serve.”

 “However, this funding is a grant of taxpayer dollars, and that must not be confused with private philanthropy. Embry-Riddle cannot afford to accept good deeds in lieu of major gifts. Someone with the privilege of serving as chairman of the Board should be expected to deliver such benefit in the course of his or her duties, without any expectation of reward.”

 Well said, President McCook.  Speaking truth to power isn’t easy – but it demonstrates true leadership and, in the end, is the only way to truly ensure positive and lasting change.

That’s it for me.  Have a great weekend everyone.

     

The Great and Powerful: Questioning Motives at ERAU

In this morning’s excellent piece by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Interim ERAU president jumps into new role as university battles alumni criticism”, it’s clear reporter Erica Breunlin did her homework.

In doing so, Ms. Breunlin may have just exposed what everyone suspected – from 2010 to 2012, ERAU paid Mori Hosseini-owned companies more than $1.5 million for “office space, utilities, and aircraft charter services” while he served as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees.

For years, residents of Volusia County have quietly accepted the fact that we are governed not by a representative democracy in Deland, but rather a “benevolent dictatorship,” ruled by the big three plutocrats – Hosseini, Brown and France.

We have accepted this, I suppose, because every so often these Potentates of Political Power threw us – the great unwashed – a bone.  They let us feel like our vote and our opinion counted in small, inconsequential matters that didn’t directly affect their bottom-line.  They allowed us to access and drive on our beach – with certain limitations – and only skimmed what they needed to advance their own self-interests.

In turn, we gave them increasing control of important aspects our lives.

We watched as they bought and sold our elected officials like chattel, stood idle as Mr. Hosseini used his vast wealth to purchase increasingly greater political influence at the local, county and state levels of government; ultimately becoming the most powerful person in the State of Florida.

Make no mistake, if you have political aspirations in Volusia County, or wish to serve on any local or state board beyond the Palmetto Club’s Easter Pageant Committee, you simply must go to Mr. Hosseini with your hat in hand and ask permission.  You see, unless you are anointed, your chances of participating in our democratic system of governance is slim to none.

If, as the most prescient political mind of our times, Hunter S. Thompson, said – “Politics is the art of controlling your environment” – then Mr. Hosseini truly is the king of his domain.  He bought and paid for it.  He owns it.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the accumulation of personal wealth.  Building a better mousetrap and making a million dollars is the American Way – and our free market economy is still the only place in the world where hard work and dedication can take you from the mail room to the boardroom.

However, I also believe in participatory government of the people, by the people and for the people – the ‘one person, one vote’ philosophy – where the debate of differing opinions results in better public policy and our elected representatives are transparent, equally accessible to everyone, and use the will of the people as their guide.

I have a big problem when great amounts of personal wealth are used to consolidate political power into the hands of a few, who then corrupt the checks and balances of our system of government through corporate campaign contributions and strong-arm tactics.

In a recent open letter by former members of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Student Government Association, we learn that many students and alumni are beginning to question the motives behind Chairman Hosseini’s altruism, his “outsize influence”, and “cronyism and conflicts of interest” by the board.

The ERAU alumni have also asked some difficult questions regarding the board’s process for administering naming rights for university buildings:

“Regarding the wealth and generosity of the board, we do not have enough info about their contributions. So let’s clear the air: what is the annual giving rate for each trustee over the last five years? How does this compare to other institutions? What are their major gifts in the last 10 years?”

 “In philanthropy, naming a building typically commands at least 20 percent of its cost. The board allegedly voted to honor Mr. Hosseini with his name on the new student union, which is projected to cost $70M. Did he agree to make a personal donation of $14M at a minimum?”

 In summarizing their very real concerns, the former SGA members wrote:

“The board should not be the personal playground of those seeking buildings named after them. Nor should it be a vehicle for trustees simply along for the ride, padding their bios with a board seat. It should be an honor and a privilege that comes with great responsibility … and accountability.”

Earlier this week the University’s leadership finally provided a lumbering response to these concerns by assuring students and alumni that no member of the Board of Trustees are compensated for the time and personal resources they donate to ERAU.

Really?  I guess no one other than the Daytona Beach News-Journal bothered to check ERAU’s IRS 990 submissions. . .

Call it the “Ah-Ha!” moment – or the smoking gun (which is really what it is) – this morning we learned for the first time that Hosseini-owned Intervest Construction took in more than $1.5 million for “office space, utilities and aircraft charter services”.

Interestingly, the News-Journal reports that Mr. Hosseini wasn’t available for comment on Monday.

I guess Mori’s motives weren’t so philanthropic after all.  I guess the emperor truly doesn’t have any clothes.

Now, the powers-that-be at ERAU have been tut-tutting for the past two days about how the payments to Hosseini involved a “very open” process, and that the office space “certainly fit the need”, etc. etc.

Of course it does.  Nothing to see here, folks – keep moving. . .

Ms. Breunlin’s article has exposed the circle completing itself:  Mori spends thousands in personal and corporate campaign contributions to buy the influence of politicians.  In turn, they allow him unfettered control of university/hospital boards, etc.  He then uses that influence to claim the Chairmanship of ERAU’s Board of Trustees – and uses that position to take millions from backdoor deals conveniently couched as, “office space”, “utilities” and “charter services” – which in turn he uses to buy more politicians, greater power, and political influence.

It’s despicable – and it has gone on far too long.

In Volusia County voters are beginning to study campaign contribution reports of both municipal and county-wide candidates and using that critical information to their advantage.

As a result, the worm is finally beginning to turn.  (That’s right, Mayor Kelley – we’re watching.)

Candidates that seek to sell their souls to greedheads, speculative developers, insurance interests and power brokers are being exposed for who and what they truly are.  Nothing last forever, you scumbags.

I commend the Daytona Beach News-Journal for having the courage to report what has needed to be said for a very long time.  In my view, the Gilded Age of the Benevolent Dictatorship in Volusia County is, perhaps, seeing the beginning of its end.

Now, it’s up to us – we, the people– to act on the information we have been presented and take back the democratic process at the ballot box.

Our way of life depends on it.  Trust me.

http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160418/NEWS/160419456/0/FRONTPAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Valuable Lesson for Flagler County

(In the interest of complete disclosure – I publicly and unequivocally support Chris Yates’ candidacy for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.  Having worked with, and directly supervised, Chris for many years I believe he has the personal and professional attributes one expects from a law enforcement executive.  He has a strength of character and outstanding leadership skills – honed on the street during actual emergencies – and has demonstrated solid performance and sound decision-making under stress.  He has earned my respect and admiration.

I know that Chris respects the importance of honoring the public trust – and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety by those who have sworn to uphold and enforce the law fairly, firmly and without bias or favor.  He lives those ethics every day.  That’s why I support his run for Sheriff of Flagler County, and why you should to.)

Now, here’s my take on the painful personal and professional train wreck of Flagler County Sheriff James Manfre:

If someone compiled a naughty list of the Most Ethically Challenged Politicians in Central Florida, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office would consistently headline a long and distinguished directory of miscreants.

From former Sheriff Don Fleming accepting a private club membership that would have cost you or I tens of thousands of dollars (if we could qualify at all) and his horrific interference in a traffic homicide case, to Sheriff Jim Manfre’s extensive catalog of ethical lapses – something’s amiss in Flagler County.

I’m not saying this is anything new – after all, this is Florida – arguably the most corrupt state in the union and a place where pirates and politicians have plundered the natural resources and looted the public booty since old’ Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and his buccaneers helped himself to Spanish treasure here.

What consistently amazes me is the depth to which certain people will go to use their elected or appointed position to their own advantage – and that of their friends – and this phenomenon is almost exclusively limited to politicians and their uber-wealthy buddies and campaign contributors who can well-afford to pay their own way.

I mean, you almost never hear of an elected Robin Hood, making greasy moves and underhanded backroom deals to steal public funds to feed the homeless or clean-up the numerous environmental disasters that continue to plague our beautiful state (read the Indian River, Mosquito lagoon, Lake Okeechobee, etc., etc.).  Weird, right?

On the extremely off-chance that one of these ethically challenged “public servants” are caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar – rather than be taken into the criminal justice system and sent to prison where they belong – these lowlifes are (sometimes) held accountable by Florida’s Ethics Commission.

This virtually toothless watchdog and quasi-judicial board is comprised of nine appointed commissioners (five of which are, interestingly enough, appointed by the Governor) who operate ostensibly autonomous with their own investigators, rules of evidence, policies, and judicial procedures to ensure the accused receives due process.

Let’s face it – public officials are subject to salacious rumors, baseless accusations and outright lies by their political opponents and misguided or mentally ill constituents bent on making trouble.  I’ve experienced this myself, and in most cases, it is difficult if not impossible to have unsupported claims investigated independently because no individual or agency wants to get involved.

We have a saying in law enforcement – “You can’t pick up a turd by the clean end” – and most times it’s best to simply walk away from someone else’s political mess.

I’m not saying it’s right – but it is reality.

During my public life I was once responsible for investigating and formulating a complaint to the Florida Ethics Commission regarding the unethical conduct of a high ranking appointed public official.

In what became a very public and drawn-out process, my complaint and supporting evidence were independently investigated by the Commission who found probable cause to pursue charges in the matter.   However, at the end of the day, the subject of the complaint was found not guilty by a State Administrative Law Judge – which shocked the Ethics Commission’s advocate (an attorney who “tried” the case on behalf of the State of Florida) perhaps more than it did me – and I was stunned speechless.  I still am.

You see, not many of these cases make it to a formal hearing – and those that do usually end in conviction based upon the independent nature of the Commission’s fact-finding efforts and the usually bald-faced nature of the violations which make it that far.  That is why the Flagler County cases have been so intriguing to me.

As a career law enforcement officer I have closely followed Sheriff Manfre’s ongoing ethical problems, which ultimately resulted in the Ethics Commission unanimously recommending a $6,200 fine and public reprimand and censure (a public shaming, of sorts, which normally results in the resignation of the exposed official).

In most counties in the State of Florida, the Sheriff serves as the chief law enforcement officer and has powers well in excess of those at the municipal level of government.  In fact, the Governor alone can remove a sitting Sheriff from office.

As a result, elected Sheriff’s and their deputies have a duty to those they serve, and the law enforcement community, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  The public trust is a precious gift – and once violated – it is nearly impossible to regain.  Without it, law enforcement officers and agencies are simply incapable of performing their sworn responsibilities to protect and serve – and we all know it.

Professional law enforcement officers also know the penalties if we choose to break the rules for our personal enrichment.

Let’s face it, even a rookie cop knows that you don’t use your assigned vehicle for personal vacation trips to North Carolina and New Orleans.  Every public executive knows that you don’t use a government issued purchasing card for cocktails, meals, and the personal entertainment of your family and friends.  And everyone knows – especially an attorney and officer of the court – that you don’t have the luxury of telling three different stories under oath while attempting to explain away why you didn’t report the gift of a swank mountain getaway. . .

In the case of Sheriff Manfre, he failed to uphold the professional standards of the law enforcement service, and the ethical standards of his high office.  What I find most disturbing is Manfre’s basic defense that the rules don’t apply to him, and later, his aporetic argument that the penalty he received for violating the public trust was out of line with the sanctions imposed on his predecessor.

In response to a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal article by Jennifer Edwards-Park, Sheriff Manfre makes several pathetic counter-accusations against his former undersheriff, now political opponent, Rick Staley.

According to Sheriff Manfre, Staley has several ethically challenged skeletons in his own closet – to include allegations of misuse of public office while employed by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office – and allegations that Staley personally recommended former Sheriff Don Flemming’s now infamous membership at the Hammock Beach Club while he served as Director of Security there.

In addition, Manfre alludes that it was Staley – as the owner of the Smokey Mountain cabin – who intentionally inflated the price of the accommodations as a means of embarrassing his boss.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Manfre would have us believe that he is either a fool or a dupe – neither of which are personality traits one wants in a law enforcement executive.  I mean, if true, why would Manfre have hired someone with Staley’s alleged background as his most trusted adviser and senior commander?

We have also learned that Staley has played politics in the past, and even after getting his fingers burned, couldn’t seem to stop touching the furnace.

Clearly there is enough blame to go around, but at the end of the day only Jim Manfre holds the title of Sheriff of Flagler County.  It’s time for him to stop these feeble challenges and accept the fact that he has as much chance of being re-elected sheriff as I do.

In my view, his self-serving finger pointing and endless legal challenges to the recommendations of the Ethics Commission expose a disgusting – and disturbing – lack of personal character and judgment.

The fact is, Sheriff Manfre should accept personal responsibility for his reprehensible conduct.  Governor Scott should relieve Manfre of command, stop this embarrassing sideshow, and return honor and leadership to the good men and women of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.

Most important, the voters of Flagler County should take away from this embarrassing debacle a valuable lesson in the importance of personal integrity, honor, and professional ethics in your next sheriff.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Truth to Power

I found the below letter through the social media posting of a friend and found it one of the most cogent articles on the depth and reach of Mr. Mori Hosseini’s influence I’ve ever read.

That’s probably because there is not much written – or spoken – on the topic.

You see, people who speak out about the long-standing Benevolent Dictatorship in Volusia County are marginalized pretty quickly by the powers that be.

I feel pretty certain this won’t end well for the former members of ERAU student government who had the courage to say publicly what has needed to be said for a very long time.

As some of you know, I often write in quite harsh tones about issues that anger me – specifically when it comes to elected and appointed officials who, in my view, no longer serve the best interests of their constituents.

I have been warned by well-meaning friends that I will most likely face personal repercussions for my course language and pointed criticism – and I suspect they’re right. While I’m not so presumptuous as to assume anyone really cares what I think or write, if someone wants to retaliate because of something I’ve said, my skeletons are pretty much out there and I’m not a hard target to hit.

Most of my ramblings are the result of idle hands – too much time to think and brood over situations I cannot control.  When something sets me off, I speak out – not so much to change your mind as to ventilate my own.  In my view there is nothing more obscene than public servants who use their high office to benefit their own self-interests and that of a few influential power brokers.

It might have become the “American Way” – but I don’t like it – and the First Amendment grants me (and you) the right to speak our mind, especially on matters of politics, our leadership, and the issues that affect all of us.

Besides, the first defense mechanism of a successful politician or public official is growing some hard bark – people are going to criticize you, right or wrong – and if you’re smart you won’t take the message personally. But you will glean important insight that will give you a feel for what your constituents are feeling and their perceptions about your performance and the issues of the day.

The students of ERAU have something important to say – and they deserve to be heard. In my view, Mr. Hosseini’s involvement in state board appointments and the political process in general is a prime example of how money buys influence, and how, if left unchecked, the private consolidation of political power can have a detrimental impact on organizations, the government, and our democratic process.

View story at Medium.com

Politicizing Tragedy is Reprehensible

I was glad to see the Daytona Beach News-Journal take up the issue of bureaucratic paralysis and the need for proactive, rather than reactive, measures to improve traffic safety in the aftermath of Tuesday’s tragic accident on SR-44.

However, when I reached the end of the piece I, quite simply, lost it.

At Thursday’s Volusia County Council meeting Sheriff Ben Johnson took a strong leadership role in asking the Florida Department of Transportation for emergency safety improvements to the intersection of SR-44 and Grand Avenue.

At the opposite end of the leadership spectrum, Councilman Josh Wagner – a contemptible human being who gives politicians a bad name and serves as the poster boy for why people hate attorneys – used the discussion as an opportunity to shame his constituents into supporting the now tabled local sales tax (ostensibly earmarked for roads and transportation – but more realistically to be used to fuel the bloated bureaucracy that is Volusia County government).

That’s right. Mr. Wagner had the temerity to tie this unspeakable tragedy to a blatant money-grab and in doing so he insinuates that we – you and I, taxpayers – have the blood of these victims on our hands because we are suspicious of another dubious tax initiative fostered by a toxic council that has proven to be anything but good stewards of public funds.

To call Mr. Wagner a shitheel of epic proportions somehow denigrates shitheels.

How dare he politicize this tragedy to push a failed idea – one that has already been rejected by every city in Volusia County. Is there no depth to which this asshole won’t stoop?

At first I thought Josh Wagner was just another jerk-off, small-time lawyer/politico who couldn’t get his professional act together (based, in part, on his weird and slightly uncomfortable television ad’s) but I was wrong. Josh Wagner is a true scumbag with the morals of a broke-back snake.

And let’s not forget his “good friend” Jimmy Sotolongo – you remember, Josh’s asshole buddy and common thief who is now serving eight years in Federal prison for massive mortgage fraud.

You can tell a lot about a man by the caliber of his friends. . .

In my view, his latest move is simply over-the-top.  How dare he use this tragedy as a means to a political end!  The minute Councilman Wagner formulated this stupid and insensitive thought in his mind, he exposed himself for the lowly piece of whale shit he truly is.

Resign you leach.  You have lost the moral authority to hold high public office.

From Tragedy, Change

I would like to publicly commend the efforts of Sheriff Ben Johnson and the Volusia County Council to improve safety at the intersection of Grande Avenue and SR-44 in Deland. It is the epitome of public service to speak out and take definitive action in the interest of our collective safety and I believe the Sheriff and County Council member’s acted in that spirit yesterday.

The tragic event that took the lives of three precious children and their grandmother earlier this week is simply too difficult to comprehend.  It has affected everyone.

Like most, I’ve struggled with the shock and horror of the news, and I have come to the conclusion that there can be no consolation for the ones directly affected. I simply don’t have the capacity to understand it.

I believe now is the time for prayer and quiet contemplation of the importance of the people in our lives who truly matter – and how quickly everything can change. Very complex emotions.

As most of my friends know, I can be quick to criticize County government. But the gravity of this situation far exceeds my normal snarky remarks and ad hominem comments. There is no one to blame, and only God understands the “Why” of it.

In my view, as residents of Volusia County we owe our elected and appointed officials a debt of thanks for their efforts to correct a very dangerous situation. Perhaps in the terrible aftermath all levels of government can somehow work together to fix a transportation system that takes decades, scores of accidents, and the lives of three beautiful children to stimulate priority action and positive change.