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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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