“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men…”
John Adams, 1776
As a casual observer of regional politics and governance, what I enjoy most is determining how seemingly disconnected people, events, and issues come together to form the whole.
Deciphering the interesting personal and professional relationships of the players – and the money.
In many ways it’s like working an intricate jigsaw puzzle, except you keep the jagged pieces floating around in your head, then use those random parts to solve a three-dimensional brainteaser.
Initially, you may have more theories and speculation than hard answers, then, suddenly, another fragment will come into play and the whole dynamic changes.
It’s like Hercule Poirot contemplating a whodunit. Except, I’m not as smart as Inspector Poirot – I still have to ask myself the difficult questions. . .
By any measure, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini has mastered the art of controlling his environment.
In fact, one might say that Mr. Hosseini is the Political Picasso of this time and place – the King of the Realm – someone who casts a very wide (and some say, dark) shadow over national, state and local affairs.
For many years, residents of Volusia County have quietly accepted the fact that we are governed not by a representative democracy in Deland, but rather a “Benevolent Dictatorship,” ruled by the big three plutocrats – Mr. Hosseini, Hyatt Brown and the France family.
We have watched as they bought and sold our elected officials like chattel, stood by as our elections were artificially manipulated by the infusion of unnaturally large sums of cash, and quietly worried as Mr. Hosseini used his vast wealth to purchase increasingly greater political influence; ultimately becoming the most powerful person in the State of Florida.
If you have political ambitions in Volusia County, wish to serve in elective office, or on a governing or advisory board in this state – even receive appointment to a judgeship – you will be required to prostrate yourself before the High Panjandrum of Political Power and ask for, well, his permission.
You see, unless you are anointed, your chances of participating in our “democratic” system of governance in any meaningful way is slim to none.
Mr. Hosseini is president and CEO of ICI Homes, one of the largest residential home builders in the United States. An incredibly successful developer with diverse business interests.
In addition, he is an alumnus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, where he currently serves as the powerful chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees.
In April, a dozen current and former members of ERAU’s Student Government Association issued an open letter – accompanied by a petition containing some 1,500 signatures – questioning the motives behind Chairman Hosseini’s altruism, his “outsize influence,” and the “cronyism and conflicts of interest” engaged in by some sitting members of the board.
In summarizing their very real concerns, the former SGA members wrote:
“The board should not be the personal playground of those seeking buildings named after them. Nor should it be a vehicle for trustees simply along for the ride, padding their bios with a board seat. It should be an honor and a privilege that comes with great responsibility – and accountability.”
Understand, this took some chutzpah – the students and faculty have been nothing short of courageous. After all, you don’t strike out at the king without damn good reason.
During this internal brouhaha, we also learned that between 2010 and 2012, ERAU paid more than $1.5 million to Hosseini-owned companies in lease payments for office space, utility costs, and aircraft charter services, “at fair value in the ordinary course of business.”
I guess the ERAU alumni were right – perhaps Mori’s motives weren’t so philanthropic after all.
Last week, in an insightful article by the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “ERAU presidential search draws faculty fire,” we learn that Mr. Hosseini’s reign is again being openly challenged for the second time in five months.
Now, professors and staff faculty members are showing their displeasure over the board’s heavy-handed process for selecting the university’s next president. In fact, the faculty senate recently took the board to the woodshed – issuing an unprecedented vote of no confidence – the most powerful statement of disapproval available to faculty members.
We now have alumni, the student body and the faculty calling for a change in leadership and direction – talk about a crossroads moment with max pucker-factor for all involved.
Most colleges and universities use a system known as “shared governance” where faculty, administrators and the board work collaboratively and share in the decision-making process. At ERAU, Mori operates by the only method he knows – he stacks the deck with board members so the outcome of the presidential search becomes a foregone conclusion.
Now, here’s where things get interesting – at least for me:
In early August, Mr. Hosseini and interim university president Karen Holbrook, came before the Volusia County Council and asked for (read: Ordered) $1.5 million in public funds, ostensibly to be used to assist companies using ERAU’s new research park who need additional startup funds.
According to the News-Journal’s report, “In addition to the $1.5 million requested from the county, ERAU board chairman Mori Hosseini and interim president Karen Holbrook asked to buy county-owned land located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Clyde Morris Boulevard and Bellevue Avenue. The land is valued at $800,000, but school officials offered half, or $400,000. The school district uses part of that land now and County Manager Jim Dinneen anticipates, if approved, it taking a few years before the sale is finalized.”
Little Jimmy Dinneen. That dirty scumbag lies to us even when the truth would serve him better.
It seems Dinneen’s “a few years” turned into little more than one-month when an item recommending approval of the sale of the county-owned “B-1 Barn” property at Clyde Morris and Bellevue to ERAU suddenly appeared on the Volusia County Council’s September 22, 2016 agenda.
The recommended sale price: $400,000 – just what Boss Hosseini ordered.
Of course, the half-price, bargain basement sale of public property to a private concern (whose former president was making well over a million dollars annually) was unanimously approved by the county council.
Now, I’m just speculating here – not making accusations, mind you – just asking a question:
Didn’t we learn in April that Mori Hosseini took somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million dollars out of Embry-Riddle in the form of “office space, utilities and aircraft charter services” associated with university operations?
And isn’t that the exact amount – among other financial concessions – Mori asked for and received from Volusia County, ostensibly for incentives related to the ERAU research park?
So, when the music stops, the only one left without a chair is us – the taxpaying citizens of Volusia County.
Everyone is whole – except us?
Am I missing something?
Is it possible that this perverted Three-Card-Monte scam has become so prevalent and so lucrative that they don’t even try to hide it from us anymore?
As I’ve said before, the students and faculty of ERAU have something important to say, and in my view, they deserve to be heard. They are living in a microcosm of what the rest of us deal with everyday. The difference being, we pay for it in exorbitant fees and taxes – while the students fund it with their outrageous tuition.
I have a feeling this won’t end well – at least for those courageous faculty members and students who had the guts to point out the obvious.
And it won’t end well for the rest of us either.
So long as we continue to elect candidates who are bought and openly controlled by uber-wealthy political insiders, we will get what we deserve.