The role of a police chief, especially in a small municipality, can take many interesting forms.
You are often called to serve as ombudsmen for community disputes, solve neighborhood crime problems, or calm anxious nerves during emergencies.
How you do that is often left to your own creativity.
For instance, I once “divorced” an elderly couple when they had way too much to drink and began a drunken squabble. After our third visit to the couple’s home, we settled the matter for the evening by writing out a formal divorce decree on a blank police form – pink copy went to the lady, yellow to the gentleman.
The very next day they showed up at the police department begging to be re-married. They just couldn’t live without each other.
It certainly wasn’t a “de-escalation” tactic taught at the police academy – it was something I remembered from an old Joseph Wambaug movie – but everyone lived happily ever after.
And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
You could come up with imaginative solutions back then. Today, I most likely would have been clapped in irons for practicing law without a license.
Besides, government doesn’t deal with community issues with any degree of creativity anymore.
Normally, government slugs along at a snail’s pace – not very nimble and with far too many moving parts to spool-up quickly. Even simple actions can take months of deliberation and study, the hiring of consultants, commissioning studies and meetings to weigh options.
In actual fact, so much of the inner workings are make-work formalities for mid-level shovel leaners and contractors who speak in acronyms and complicate most issues far beyond acceptable reason.
Then there are the examples of what happens when the beast suddenly awakens, kicks off the traces, and sets its sights on an individual or entity that raises its fury.
During my career, I saw this phenomenon take many forms, but the one common denominator in each case is that the offending party somehow challenged the authority of a government official (usually a petty but high-ranking pen pusher or politician), or somehow found a way to offend the devout social mores of a few – but very vocal – zealots in the community.
Once that happens, the offending person or entity cannot simply walk away from the gauntlet and make-nice. Too late for that.
The meat grinder has been engaged, and it will eat.
For example, remember the bloody two-year war between the City of Ormond Beach and the now defunct “Cheaters” – a tawdry “bikini club” located on north U.S.-1 in unincorporated Volusia County?
In this case, a small business owner felt the full might and power of government, the use of selective legislation, and the unchecked aggression of the city attorney’s office when the powers that be decided they wanted to enforce their narrow view of what’s good for the rest of us.
Always done in the interest of “public safety” or to “improve the community.”
Cheaters offended the delicate sensibilities of Fred Costello, Ed Kelley, and their followers (read ‘large voting bloc’) in the “Faith Community.”
In a November 2015 piece in the Ormond Beach Observer, Costello explained the genesis of the City’s very expensive and extremely time-consuming feud with a little bar, literally on the outskirts of town:
Costello said the efforts to improve the U.S.-1 corridor began in earnest when the now defunct Cheater’s nightclub opened in 2010.
“I contacted members of the faith community and said we need to stop this,” he said. Area churches protested the presence of the “gentlemen’s club.”
Eventually, the City Commission passed ordinances which ended the performances at the club and it shut down. It was also the existence of Cheaters that spurred the Coalition to action.
Business, government and the faith community all partnered together,” Costello said.
That’s right, our own New Puritans Fred Costello and Ed Kelley used the full force, might and treasure of the municipal government to crush a low-rent saloon that didn’t comport with their “vision” for the near desolate north U.S.-1 commercial corridor.
And guess who paid the bill? Costello? Kelley? The “Faith Community”?
You and I did.
I’m told another dollar store is being built where the offending bikini club once stood.
Great. 2.5 jobs and whole bunch of discount plastic shit we don’t need.
The upside is that despite the fact we spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars shutting down a small business – Fred Costello, Ed Kelley, and their friends in the “Faith Community” are no longer offended. Homeless people and improved public amenities be damned – they spent the money protecting you from a bikini bar. . .
Now we see the same tactics being used by the City of Daytona Beach to shut down “Minglers,” (I love that name) apparently a local gathering spot for wife-swappers, harmless sex maniacs and cheap masturbators on South Ridgewood Avenue, downtown.
I don’t know how you feel about these things, but I come from the school of ‘to each their own.’
If a few of my neighbors want to get together behind closed doors and “mingle,” how does that negatively affect me?
Hell, how does that affect me at all?
These things have been around for thousands of years. In 18th century England the king and half his ministers were members of secret sex clubs, traveling orgies and violent whipping parlors that embraced every debauchery known to man. Before that, the sexual haunts of Gaius Caligula and the Marquis de Sade were legendary. It’s nothing new.
Look, I’m not a card carrying associate of Minglers – nobody invited me – and besides, I have a rule never to join any sex club that would have a degenerate like me as a member.
But I suspect that this went down as these things often do: Invariably, some pious somebody catches wind that consenting adults are doing what consenting adults do – albeit with whips, chains and photos from the dark side – and they get their virtuous knickers in a twist.
Then they complain, bitch and brood until they find someone in a position to do something about it who agrees with them.
Rather than a friendly reminder that hosting “Arabian Nights – A Harem’s Orgy” two blocks from the front door of City Hall is probably not the smartest move – or the best use of South Ridgewood office space – the city’s fangs come out.
Instead of sitting down with all involved and saying, “Just maybe we can find a space where you weird little sodomites can “mingle” to your hearts content” (after all, it’s not like Daytona Beach has a dearth of vacant buildings – or sodomites) the city decides to go to war.
Surely there is someplace these swinging taxpayers can “meet” that’s not going to violate some obscure zoning regulation?
I guess not.
That would be too easy – and besides – how would lawyers make a living if local government suddenly started using common sense collaborative approaches to problem solving?
According to the News-Journal, in August the City of Daytona Beach filed for an injunction to close the club, alleging it is operating in violation of city zoning without a tax receipt (formerly known as an occupational license) and without city water service – even though the club tried to comply with both municipal requirements.
They don’t have water because the city shut it off – after they paid the bill.
The city also denied the club a tax receipt because it said the area’s zoning does not permit “adult theater” or bottle clubs. That’s a stretch.
Of course, the attorney representing Mingler’s, Brett Hartley (who just happens to be co-owner of a Daytona Beach strip club) claims, “It’s no different than a book club or birding club. They get together and take part in their lifestyle.”
According to Hartley, “It’s not a sex club. It’s a lifestyle club where people use the facility to meet others and then they may leave and do their own thing.”
I wrote most of this missive before the News-Journal’s spot-on editorial on the subject was published. I’m glad they are urging the city to use a soft hand.
Unfortunately, I think it will fall on deaf ears.
Trust me – when all is said and done – a ton of taxpayer dollars and senior staff time will have been pissed away to use government’s iron boot heel to crush the ability of a fringe group of otherwise law abiding citizens to harmlessly practice their goofy “lifestyle” in a vacant former church on South Ridgewood.
At the same time, the property owner will be required to defend himself through countless court hearings just to avoid the very real threat of punishing judgments and draconian code enforcement measures that have driven more than one small business owner to financial ruin.
Sorry, swingers. You’re screwed. (Figuratively. Don’t get excited.)
It’s been the same forever. Put up a fence – or cover your windows – and it won’t be long before some do-gooder wants to know what’s “going on over there.” And if it takes the full force of government to get at it, well, so be it.
If only we could get the same all-hands-on-deck response from our elected and appointed officials on important issues like homelessness, blight, crime, our crumbling neighborhoods – or the quality and quantity of our drinking water supply. You know, things that actually have a direct impact on our lives and livelihoods.
Wouldn’t that be unique?
How great would it be if these highly paid elected and appointed officials actually met the very real needs of their constituents with the same verve and spirit with which they attack silly, nonsensical issues that generally go away on their own without much notice?
I hate to say it, but don’t you people at City Hall have better things to do?
Photo Credit: Daytona Beach News-Journal