In the week that was we saw some interesting developments in the unfolding train wreck that is Debary government. In Friday’s wrap up we look at the arrogance of power in Tiny Town and how the same issues plaguing Debary universally affect us all:
The Council chambers at Debary City Hall were S.R.O Wednesday night – and the citizens were ultimately S.O.L.
In a unanimous decision, with Mayor Clint Johnson abstaining, the council moved to hold a hearing on June 1, during which the council will weigh evidence and testimony that Mayor Johnson violated the City Charter by improperly directing city staff.
I watched the proceedings online, and as I stared at the grainy images from Debary I was moved to rage by the mindless arrogance of men and women who have been elected by their neighbors to be good stewards of their community – and their hard-earned tax dollars.
It became immediately clear that this entire petty drama – a vignette in a much larger imbroglio of slimy land deals, gender discrimination lawsuits and intractable internal political issues facing the small town – has been orchestrated by City Manager Dan Parrott.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of blame to go around, starting with the bizarre behavior of Mayor Johnson. As I’ve previously pointed out, his need for attention is nothing short of pathological. Over time Mayor Johnson has polarized the community and, in my view, his conduct has called his mental stability into question.
In short, the guy’s nuttier than a squirrel turd – and his situational ethics are as pliable as warm wax.
Take for example his ill-conceived bicycle trip, a personal vacation ostensibly billed as a means of bringing attention to the need for outdoor trails in east Central Florida. In the run-up the Mayor convinced a local small business to provide him with a high-end bike and riding accouterments under the veiled guise that the trip was a “city-sponsored event” – then crawfished on the deal when the bill came due.
It’s nauseating, and represents the worst-of-the-worst in small town government.
I’m not even going to get into his latest attention-getter – the Havana-to-Florida junk-raft ride. He’s doomed to drown like a bilge rat, but if there is anything positive to come out of this, it exposes the depth to which this daffy bastard will sink for publicity.
Not to mention his complete ignorance of Florida’s Public Records laws, disdain for teamwork and lack of public decorum when speaking for the city on social media.
Someone should tell Mayor Johnson that the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” only applies to Hollywood starlets – not politics (unless your Donald Trump).
In my view, the real fly in the ointment is Dan Parrott, a habitual failure who represents all that’s wrong with the Council-Manager form of government, and a big reason why people in Debary no longer trust the system to represent their personal and collective interests.
On Wednesday evening a resident of Debary congratulated the City Council on their dubious distinction as the “Worst council ever.” That’s a heavy condemnation from your neighbors and constituents – and makes it hard to look them in the eye at the hardware store.
But more important, it set Mr. Parrott squirming in his seat as he watched his career dissipation light flickering in the corner of his eye.
With great power comes great responsibility – in every arena except government, it seems. Dan Parrott has an ethical duty to stop the madness and bring stability and unity to his council and his community.
Instead, he opts to stir the shit with a paddle like the Drama Queen he is.
In most municipal and county governments the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services. For instance, the executive has complete freedom to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments and agencies of the city, and administrate all financial and budgeting processes.
Carte Blanche, baby.
But perhaps what bestows more omnipotence is the fact that managers personally control the flow of information to the elected body. That is huge – and dangerous.
Florida’s open government laws specifically forbid elected officials from discussing matters coming before the collective body in private. As a result, the only conduit they have to the real back-story – the nuts and bolts of most issues – is through the manager.
Depending upon the nature of the relationship between a city manager and the individual council members, the form and content of these briefings can vary wildly from full disclosure of the good, the bad and the ugly of an issue, to outright lies and fabrications.
Trust me. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
As a result, the appointed chief executive of the government has the very real ability to personally craft the outcome of any given issue coming before the elected body – and unless there is in-depth discussion during an open meeting – the legislative process becomes an exercise in rubber-stamping the manager’s prerogative.
In our representative democracy the only thing standing in the way of a city manager transmogrifying into Benito Mussolini is a five member elected body. Policy makers comprised of, in most cases, well-meaning neighbors with a desire to serve their community. Not professional politicians.
Generally speaking, City and County Managers are akin to itinerant laborers. In most professions, termination is a death knell, but not in this case. On average, managers are paid about four times the average income of the community, and they thrive and survive on lucrative severance packages, normally negotiated in the emotional confusion and direct aftermath of the catastrophe that led to their predecessors firing.
Municipal government – by and large – is the most reactive and effective from a problem-solving standpoint because our elected officials are so accessible to us. They are our bankers, our lawyers, our retired postal worker, the local insurance agent. In other words, they are “one of us” – and it is incredibly hard to hide in a city like Debary, Florida.
Local Council members also have the tough job of serving as the face of the city – the tip of the spear – and that comes with accolades, proclamations, and street parades – and sometimes rotten fruit and personal insults hurled in anger from the cheap seats.
It is no secret that Mr. Parrott and the remainder of the City Council despise Mayor Johnson. Perhaps rightfully so.
But it is also clear that Parrott is using the power of his office to orchestrate the very public political execution of the Mayor on extremely weak and dubious charges of “directing city employees.”
In the end, Parrott’s plot won’t work for all the reasons that were eloquently explained by the Mayor’s attorney and Volusia County council member Doug Daniels. Unfortunately for the citizens of Debary, the bunker mentality at City Hall, coupled with the political arrogance of people who know they aren’t spending their own money have now conspired, and the council is incapable of listening to reason.
During his presentation, a very elegant Attorney Daniels took the slack-jawed council to school.
It was a primer based not so loosely on a heavy message from the Gospel of John: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
In short, Mr. Daniels reminded the elected and appointed officials of Debary that he can and will subpoena emails and internal memorandums that will expose the mealy-mouth charges levied by Dan Parrott for what they are – while publicly convicting every elected official on the dais of the same damn offense in the court of public opinion.
They’ll be lucky if they aren’t thrown in stocks on the lawn outside Gemini Springs and humiliated by passing motorists for their crimes.
This sad situation is eerily similar to an old Three Stooges episode in which the boys took a rented boat to the middle of a lake. When they reached open water Moe noticed that the vessel was leaking. Bad. Thinking fast, Curly Joe took out an auger drill and began boring holes in the bottom of the boat to allow the water to run out. As the water raced in the more holes they drilled and the usual hysterics ensued. I loved those guys. . .
The moral of the story of course was and is – when your ship is sinking – stop drilling holes.
Unfortunately, political arrogance prohibits reason.
Ultimately, the lawsuits will be massive and never ending. Dough Daniels will carry his money out of City Hall in wheelbarrows, and many careers and political futures will forever be spoken of in hushed tones.
And Dan Parrott will be long gone.