After serving three decades in municipal government I’ve found one thing to be universally true: You will never go broke betting on the stupidity of small-minded politicians and petty bureaucrats when they are under pressure.
Day after day, week after week another shocking example of local government at its very worst makes its way out of the City of DeBary. It’s become something of a west Volusia tragi-comedy that we are hooked on like a weird soap opera.
But unlike a fictional drama this debacle is all too real, with important implications for all of us.
An “informational” meeting was held by the DeBary City Commission last night. In essence an opportunity for the city administration to force-feed the villagers a bunch of civil engineering mumbo-jumbo, let their highly paid “consultants” perform some slight-of-hand, and attempt to convince everyone assembled why it’s a good idea to radically develop 102 acres of environmentally sensitive conservation lands around the Sun-Rail station.
Like any good conjuring act, if you expect to pull off the illusion you simply cannot allow the audience to ask the magician questions. It defeats the purpose of the show and ruins the trick.
So last evening the City of DeBary denied their citizens the right to participate in the process and actually ask questions of their elected representatives on perhaps the most polarizing issue in the community’s history. Add to this the backdrop of a sleazy backdoor selection process for the new City Manager – all but devoid of meaningful citizen input – and one might think DeBary government would prefer to do the public’s business in the dark.
Why wouldn’t they? It’s a hell of a lot easier to get things done, in the manner you want them done, without nosy neighbors looking over your shoulder. The only problem is – it’s against the law – not to mention a slap in the face to your constituents, neighbors and friends who trust their elected officials to act in a way that furthers the public welfare rather than their own self-interests.
In response, a group of concerned citizens led by DeBary resident Mary Sue Scott, who organized an online petition opposing the development which garnered over 4,000 signatures, staged a mass walk-out in civil protest of the sham proceedings.
Good for you, Mary. And good for the other citizens of DeBary and elsewhere who exposed this political hypocrisy for what it is.
I’ve seen some pretty screwy behavior from a few low-rent political hacks intent on shoving their narrow view down the throats of a disgruntled populous. But I have to admit, the boorish conduct of DeBary’s Growth Management Director Matt Boerger takes the cake.
In his best effort to paint detractors of the land deal as “outside agitators” (the first defense mechanism of an administration in flames) after the walk-out, Boerger asked remaining citizens of Debary to identify themselves by raising their hands, followed by a snide comment that the protesters who left the room were obviously not residents of the community.
For his trouble, Boerger took one broadside with boos, hisses and open jeers from the audience – the taxpayers who pay his salary – forcing him to immediately apologized for his crude and unfortunate remarks.
In my experience, citizens don’t appreciate being taunted by low-level civil servants with a chip on their shoulder. They find it distasteful when an under-worked and overpaid paper pushing shovel-leaner snipes at them when they attempt to participate in their government. And rightfully so.
Matt, your self-serving grandstanding will ultimately earn you a trip to the unemployment line – and lucrative make-work jobs like “growth management director” are few and far between.
That is if you don’t end up in prison with Parrott, Ardaman and Miklos.
Now is the time to downsize your lifestyle and get comfortable with indigent health care.
The second defense measure employed like clockwork by beleaguered politicians is to marginalize the opposition. The time-honored best practice for accomplishing this is to demonstrate that your detractors are simple CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), most of which don’t even live here!
Last evening that took the form of asking citizens attending the public meeting to sign-in, then place a small star – you know, the kind your kindergarten teacher used to stick on your shirt when you colored within the lines and didn’t make trouble – on a map of DeBary corresponding with your address. If you didn’t live in the city you were asked to place your star elsewhere.
The visual insinuation is beyond obvious and the intent is divisive.
The fact is the Debacle in DeBary negatively affects all of us. The conservation lands that these cheap bastards have set their sights on are just that – sensitive wetlands, recharge areas, and interconnected estuaries that have been set aside for safeguarding, not financial exploitation.
The ecology of our region effects all of us equally, and you do not have to be a resident of DeBary – or even west Volusia – to feel the detrimental impact of the wholesale destruction of environmentally sensitive lands.
Having served in a small municipal government I can tell you that, behind-the-scenes, well-meaning employees and levelheaded advisers are working hard to convince the administration and elected officials to simply abandon this ill-conceived effort, change tack, and begin the process of restoring trust and healing the community divide.
You know, stop the hemorrhaging while there’s still time. Kill this goofy land deal and abort the blatant coup d’etat recently launched against the arguably insane Mayor Clint Johnson – the original villain who is now actively emerging as the hero of this ugly and embarrassing imbroglio.
Unfortunately, these best efforts at reasonableness will fall on deaf ears and any chance at a rational solution is lost.
City Hall is already in bunker mode – hunkered-down and paranoid in the extreme – and they have been since the shocking revelation that the City Attorney is an active business partner of John Miklos, the shameless double-dipper and chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District governing board. It’s kind of like one of those shocking movie twists where the character who is suppose to protect the victim turns out to be a monster in disguise.
Regardless, the administration of the City of DeBary needs to understand something going forward:
Your public self-destruction is wholly of your own making. Your poor decision-making, fostered by greed, internal corruption and mismanagement brought you down.
Don’t presume to marginalize those who seek to participate in the democratic process.
We will not sign-in, be intimidated, or subjugated by your stupid and ill-conceived attempts to hide the truth and co-opt the process.
We will not be identified or ostracized by your star.
We will not be silenced by your cheap subversion of the rules of public participation and blatant ignorance of the Sunshine Law.
We are proud and strong citizens of Volusia County, and greater Central Florida, and we do not care a damn about your self-importance.
You have lost the moral authority to lead.
We will expose your greed-crazed corruption for what it is and ultimately take our government back at the local, county, state and federal level. Your political careers are destined for the stinking ash heap of public servants who compromise their ethics for personal gain.
Check yourselves. You work for us – and its high time you start acting like it.
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