During my long career in municipal government I once worked for a city manager who told me I was “incendiary” based upon the tone of certain professional correspondence. The manager suggested that I “sleep on it” before sending emails that others might interpret as angry or confrontational.
I responded that I was passionate about my service, and if others were somehow put off by that, then perhaps they should stop whining to the manager about the content of my in-house missives and focus on the important work at hand.
(This same manager later called me a Son-of-a-Bitch to my face when I refused to go along with a goofy scheme to cover-up wrongdoing. Ultimately, the individual was cashiered out and has failed to prosper since. Something I remain rather proud of.)
“Incendiary” and “charismatic” are how they describe people in government who make bureaucrats nervous by asking the right questions or having sharp elbows – you know, not playing well with others.
During my service, I worked with some incredibly brilliant and passionate minds – both elected and appointed. I have also worked with, and for, some of the most preternatural scumbags, losers and base scoundrels that ever darkened a public office.
By and large, government prefers conformists.
Common bootlickers who are comfortable following in lockstep with like-minded people and banal hall walkers with malleable situational ethics generally fit the mold.
For most of my career, my sound advice for upward mobility and organizational tranquility in public service was, “Let no ass go un-kissed.” The motto certainly served me well, and became a daily reminder for everything from proper telephone etiquette to personal interactions with citizens.
Last evening what I affectionately refer to as the “Debacle in DeBary” reached its nadir with the summary execution of Mayor Clint Johnson by his fellow elected officials on dubious charges that he violated certain provisions the city’s charter.
If there is one bright spot (there isn’t, but let’s pretend there is), the convoluted and incredibly expensive process used by the bureaucracy to protect itself from the Mayor’s tough questions and red hot criticism exposed some very disturbing facets of what passes for governance in the City of DeBary.
After several fits, starts, and postponements, last night DeBary city officials convened their long-awaited “forfeiture hearing,” a weird kangaroo court designed in whole and in part to ignore the will of the voters and publicly extract Mayor Johnson from his seat on the council like a rotten molar.
The genesis of this cheap coup d’etat began months before when the now disgraced former city manager, Dan Parrott – I suspect in a panicky attempt to conceal his crimes and those of his hand-picked toadies – grasped at straws and came up with the ill-fated idea of twisting a few of the Mayor’s more opinionated tweets and Facebook posts – along with a text message or two – into self-described “charter violations.”
High crimes that were hyped beyond any cruelty ever perpetrated by the Marquis de Sade.
To do this, he enlisted the city’s public records manager, Eric Frankton (the kind of guy you can just look at and tell that he’s a mess of a human being – pitiful, really), and the congenitally corrupt developer’s shill parading as an “economic development director,” Roger Van Auker.
It was Frankton and Van Auker’s job to squirt tears and paint themselves as pseudo-victims, then whine like hyper-sensitive little girls about how the Mayor “directed” Eric to move a box – or threatened the pair’s make-work city jobs by actually pointing out their habitual missteps and open treachery.
They played their supporting roles well last night. Hell, I choked-up a little listening to how they were brutalized by a “tweet.” I wanted to put my arm around them and walk them to their car. Sad.
I just hope they know that when the dust settles, Frankton will be considered a pariah – and following his indictment, Van Auker will be lucky to find work selling toxic swampland on the outskirts of Clewiston.
I suspect Parrott also had some help from the unfortunate city attorney, Kurt Ardaman, who has made so many expensive and blatantly stupid mistakes in his representation of the City of DeBary that he should be sued for quackery and stripped of his “law degree” that he obviously pulled out of the bottom of some sticky Cracker Jack box.
Let’s face it, Ardaman is a hapless half-bright who has cobbled out a career telling local elected rubes exactly what they want to hear. I also suspect many well-connected attorneys in the local legal community recognize that his career is rapidly becoming a cautionary tale.
Because it is.
If there is any justice, when all is said and done, Kurt Ardaman will end up defending street perverts out of the trunk of his car in the parking lot of the Orange County Courthouse.
The “forfeiture hearing” had just the right amount of drama and humor to make it interesting. Even Interim City Manager Ron McLemore got into the act when he was sworn and questioned by Johnson’s attorney Doug Daniels.
Under direct examination, McLemore went on one of those “I like to hear myself talk” pattering rants touting his 40 years in city management, and his belief that the city charter gave him super powers to ignore Florida law and close the hearing to the public over weird and never quite explained “security concerns.”
Ol’ Ron might have squeaked out a long career in city government – but in DeBary, he exposed himself as a five-alarm fuck-up when it comes to basic decision-making.
If I were Mr. McLemore, I’d hang-up this post-retirement dabbling and take up the rocking chair.
The giddy bastard has lost his chops and apparently nobody who cares about him has the common human decency to let him know.
Perhaps he’s still rattled by those sexual harassment allegations in Daytona. Who knows?
And who cares.
He’s become a godforsaken embarrassment to the profession – and by meddling in bullshit small town politics, rather than staying above the fray and providing much needed leadership – he no longer has the moral authority to serve the citizens of DeBary. And in his heart-of-hearts, he knows it.
Otherwise, the hearing was exactly what I expected it would be.
An annoying prerequisite to bouncing Mayor Johnson out on his ass.
Look, I’m not going to dissect this turd – most of you reading this either attended the meeting or watched it on the WKMG live feed.
And I’m not here to defend Clint Johnson, either.
He remains his own worst enemy and I continue to question his mental stability and basic understanding of the limits of decorum – or the benefits of strong leadership and consensus building over self-indulgent grandstanding.
In my view, “tweeting” during your own removal hearing is just poor form.
But I feel it is important to point out that what happened last night – this horrifically expensive sham that was perpetrated against the citizens of DeBary – was an affront to everything our representative democracy stands for and all that it was founded upon.
At the end of the day, Clint Johnson – love him or hate him – is a duly elected representative of the people of the City of DeBary, and in my view, the will of the people is omnipotent.
Florida law has specific provisions for the formal removal of an elected municipal official.
The statute sets out an intentionally onerous and precise process that requires the collection of verifiable signatures on a specifically crafted petition, which both names the official and explains the reasons supporting a recall election.
It also provides for due process and judicial review; and the setting of a special election by the chief judge of the judicial circuit in which the recall petition is filed.
By state statute, an elected official may be removed from office for one of the following narrowly defined reasons:
Neglect of Duty
Permanent inability to perform official duties
Conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude
The statute says nothing about railroading an elected official out-of-office because he hurt the feelings of a couple of mid-level, do-nothing bureaucrats – or pointed out the painful incompetence of his council.
Nowhere is it written – other than the flimsy provisions of the DeBary City Charter – that a group of four thin-skinned council members can simply hold a “quasi-judicial” hearing on trumped-up “charges” and summarily ax a sitting Mayor simply because their sensitive egos were bruised or they were embarrassed by the exposure of a shady land deal.
This shit happens in communist Cuba – not DeBary.
And not in the United States of America.
Mark my words – this isn’t over. Not by a long-shot.
What comes next is going to change the fundamental political landscape of the City of DeBary forever. Eventually, once the lawsuits are settled and the criminal indictments are prosecuted – the taxpayer is going to be left with massive bills, legal fees, judgments and a shit reputation as an unstable backwater that will cripple any real progress in the community for years.
It’s unfortunate, but necessary, given what has been allowed to happen here.
I believe that our sacred war dead stand as silent sentinels to the highest ideals of our democracy, our freedom from oppression, and our fundamental rights afforded by the United States Constitution that they swore to preserve, protect and defend.
What must they be thinking?
As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
What happened here is a travesty, and it will be talked about and analyzed far beyond the limits this tiny town for years to come. In the end, it will serve as a shrine to what happens when vengeful, small-minded politicians are left to their own dreadful devices.