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:





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