There is an ancient Chinese expression that roughly translates, “Better to be a dog in peaceful times, than a human in a chaotic period.” I prefer the apocryphal English version – often referred to as the “Chinese Curse” – which, with a double-edge, wishes, “May you live in interesting times.”
My father also had a favorite saying – “God helps those who help themselves.” Although my dad generally used the phrase to dismiss persistent charity solicitors, I suspect his motto was actually meant to emphasize the importance of self-reliance and personal initiative – you know, like the sage guidance, “The best way to get on your feet is to get off your ass.”
We can all agree, the City of DeBary is living through some interesting times, and after watching last night’s city council meeting, I’m not sure the powers-that-be have the capacity, or intelligence, to help themselves – or their constituents.
The fact is, we are all living in some pretty remarkable times.
Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey – a man I respect immensely – attempted to explain to the American people why, after reading a laundry list of specific incriminating evidence, Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted for mishandling classified information.
It seems we no longer hold the powerful and influential “Ruling Class” accountable for anything. It is apparent that the once sacrosanct ideology of equal justice before the law is slowly becoming a quaint artifact of Americana. The rules apply to us, but not to them.
The rule of law is being eroded from the top down – and just like in the debacle in DeBary – eventually the people lose respect for the canons, the leadership and the moral imperatives that keep our system of governance – and our society – functioning in the public interest.
Regular readers of this forum know that I try to wrap my thoughts and opinions in anecdotes and yarns. Perhaps it’s my way of adding some sugar to the bitter medicine.
But when it comes to the desperate situation in the City of DeBary, I don’t feel I can do that anymore.
In my view, the issues faced by the good people of DeBary are more dark, even cancerous, and I fear that there is something far more menacing afoot at City Hall. Sadly, I’m not real sure who can help them – those who should give a damn apparently don’t.
People ask me why I care so deeply about the future of a community on the other side of the county – one I really have no direct connection to and I certainly have no “skin in the game.”
The short answer is that good governance is important to me. And it should be to you, too.
I strongly believe that the people deserve better in terms of political representation at the local, state and federal level. I still hold to the basic concept that people have the right to expect that elected officials will serve the best interests of the public in a transparent, honest and inclusive way.
Regardless of whether its DeBary, Washington, D.C., or Columbus, Ohio – when elected and appointed officials betray their oath of office and intentionally act in a manner contrary to the rule of law, it adversely affects all of us.
It weakens our democratic system of governance and goes contrary to our American traditions of fairness and equality.
On Wednesday evening, I watched the proceedings in DeBary with a growing inner rage and sense of disbelief that bordered on hysteria as the city council once again demonstrated the depth of their collective stupidity – or perhaps their well-orchestrated collaborative goal of distracting us from the serious issues facing the community by droning on about nonsensical issues, frittering away precious time and wallowing in self-important arrogance.
All while the City of DeBary burns.
In my view, not since the Watergate scandal has a mainstream news agency attempted to give more sound advice and positive direction than the Daytona Beach News-Journal has provided the City of DeBary. All for the price of a newspaper.
While responsible media outlets attempt to remain objective and report only the facts, smart people can usually “read between the lines” and gain valuable insight and direction when a bad situation is laid bare.
Not in DeBary.
Rather than change tack the elected officials blast full-speed-ahead, still fighting petty internecine wars on the dais, debating the intricacies of what constitutes a charter violation, and paying outside attorneys to polish trumped-up “evidence” and validate Dan Parrott’s mean-spirited spitefulness as an acceptable basis to oust a sitting Mayor.
While I find it incredibly difficult to believe that five seemingly civic-minded people could be this dumb – or openly corrupt – I’ve come to accept that in this environment literally anything is possible.
I am not alone. People I consider experts on government operations shake their heads and confess they have never seen anything like what is being allowed to transpire in DeBary.
For instance, during Wednesday’s meeting DeBary’s Public Works Director, Alan Williamson, openly admitted that nine months into the current budget cycle he has yet to prepare the first iteration of his department’s budget for FY2016-17.
Now, in his defense, Mr. Williamson did suggest that the Public Works budget request wouldn’t be much different from last year (I suppose that’s as scientific as things get in this slap-dash administration).
In the government I served, a department head would have been summarily fired for that level of intentional dereliction. And rightly so.
Not in DeBary.
When you actually observe the city council in action, it becomes readily apparent that not all the cards are on the table. Last night I witnessed some of the most bizarre and seemingly nonsensical exchanges between council members, the City Attorney and members of staff in the history of municipal governance.
In most places, when a member of the council moves to table an issue on the public agenda – and that motion is seconded and approved by a vote of the majority – then the matter is postponed for consideration at a later date. Move on.
Not in DeBary.
The City Council took formal action to table a plat approval request by the Henin Group for the Riviera Bella Unit 4 project (located just down the street from the property that was clear-cut by Henin without permit or approval.)
Ostensibly, the postponement was designed to give council members additional time to review the request. I’ll leave it to you to consider the real reason – I have my thoughts, I’m sure you have yours.
But rather than simply table the matter to a later date and move forward, in his loopy interpretation of Robert’s Rules of Order (bolstered by the city attorney’s cockamamie advice) Mayor Johnson allowed the Henin Group’s attorney to speak on the issue – an item that was clearly already off the table – which prompted perhaps the most bizarre exchange ever seen at a government meeting.
During the discussion between Boerger – who recommended approval of the request – and Ardaman, it was clear the City Attorney was doing his level best to insinuate that Boerger needed time to perform additional “investigation and analysis” on a matter that he had already recommended for approval – and that had already been placed on the public agenda.
In my view, Attorney Ardaman did this in a clumsy and totally ham-fisted attempt to justify the council’s action by retroactively ensuring the postponement met the requirements of City Code.
The attorney for the Henin Group simply stood by in utter disbelief – like someone witnessing a dog speak perfect English – as Mr. Ardaman rambled on like a victim of aphasia.
Trust me, it was painful to watch.
Then, in perhaps the most surreal event of the evening, Mayor Johnson (to the chagrin of his attorney, Doug Daniels) and the other members of the council (sans Lita Handy-Peters) engaged in a convoluted discussion regarding the Mayor’s pending “forfeiture hearing.”
The emotions of the drawn out back-and-forth ranged from obstinate determination, to capitulation, to a weird quasi-solution wherein the Mayor would admit to having violated the charter in return for having the entire ugly affair dropped.
In DeBary City Hall, mincing words is all important – substance and actual progress in dealing with the serious issues of the day – not so much. . .
Fiddling while Rome burns.
At the end of the day, the council voted to move the hearing once again – this time to avoid a conflict with the Florida League of Cities annual bacchanalia at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida.
Interestingly, Mr. A. Kurt Ardaman is scheduled to teach a course at the conference to elected and appointed officials from throughout the State of Florida, entitled: A Practical Guide on How to Avoid Public Records Lawsuits and Sunshine Law Update.
You read that right.
Mr. Ardaman did such an outstanding job stewarding the City of DeBary through the intricacies of the Sunshine Law that city officials are under active criminal investigation. So the Florida League of Cities has hired him as a subject matter expert to instruct other government officials.
We’re in great hands here in the Sunshine State, folks.
In my view, the Florida League of Cities is a fraternity designed to protect screw-ups and incompetent assholes through the establishment of group-think protections. It also serves as a legal means of facilitating government contractors access to elected officials – for a cost (say footing the bill for “Death by Chocolate”) or the “Inaugural Celebration,” billed as:
It is time for some fun…an evening at the student union! Join your fellow League “students” as we travel through time to enjoy fellowship, fun, games and good food at the FLC University Student Union! You’ll have a great time shooting hoops on the basketball court; making commemorative “university” goodies to take home; spending a little time in the “dorm” playing pinball or darts; or tailgating to celebrate the big event. We’ll see you at the union! Don’t forget your favorite team t-shirt or jersey – wear your school colors and show your school pride!
Contributing Sponsors for Entertainment:
GOLD: American Fidelity Assurance Company; Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A.
SILVER: Access Rec. LLC; AdComp Systems; Advanced Processing and Imaging; Calvin, Giordano & Associates, Inc.; CGI Communications, Inc.; Florida Beverage Association; Florida Power & Light Company; Marcum LLP; Sunshine 811; WCA of Florida, LLC
I guess after listening to A. Kurt Ardaman drone on about how to get yourself indicted for Public Records violations you need to blow off a little steam, eh?
Nice to know a portion of my monthly FP&L bill is going to commemorative “goodies” for elected officials. . .
I give up.
Clearly, we’re living in some pretty interesting times.