Wow. What a difference a day makes.
Last evening, the Deltona City Commission held a workshop to discuss the merits of an orphan “civility ordinance,” ostensibly designed to put the reins on spirited debate and shield senior officials from the embarrassment of open criticism from the dais during public meetings.
This shortsighted legislation, thinly veiled as an “anti-bullying” measure, drew fire from freedom loving Deltonians and those who support good government all over Central Florida.
I learned over a long career in municipal government that your constituents will accept a lot of baseless regulation, fee increases and tax hikes – they’ll even put up with aggressive code enforcement – for a while anyway.
What they will not tolerate is having their Constitutional rights to free speech and self-expression trampled for the convenience of the government.
A good example is legislation prohibiting display of the American flag, patriotic banners and military colors. If you happen to be an elected or appointed public official and want some excitement in your life – propose a flag ordinance.
Unfortunately, this legislation had a more personal undertone.
In an astute observation, Commissioner Brian Soukup – whose frequent hubbubs with top officials was the obvious genesis of the proposed rule – told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “They might as well call it the Soukup ordinance.”
Love him or hate him, Commissioner Soukup is an intuitive guy.
At the end of the evening, we needed a paternity test to determine just who brought this ill-fated measure forward.
During the meeting, City Attorney Becky Vose finked on Commissioner Heidi Herzberg, claiming that she requested the ordinance – something Ms. Herzberg speed-walked away from.
According to Herzberg, she only suggested a “policy” addressing bullying.
In addition, Commissioner Mitch Honaker – who may or may not have requested a similar policy – disavowed any knowledge of the civility law.
“I am livid,” Honaker said. “Throw that ordinance away.”
We also learned that the city attorney routinely constructs ordinances at the autonomous request of individual commissioners – a practice that drew the ire of newly elected Commissioner Christopher Alcantara.
“Personally, I think that it’s better if we as a group decided what is it that we want as far as ordinances to give you direction.”
Is it possible that Mr. Alcantara is the only one in Deltona City Hall who understands how the council/manager form of government works?
Despite the obvious, Vose continued to champion her work, arguing that she could, “very easily defend it in court.” Now, I don’t know how long Ms. Vose has served in municipal government, but when your boat is sinking, I’ve found it’s best not to keep drilling holes in the hull to let the water out.
That’s how people get fired.
The city attorney’s unofficial role is to serve as the “fixer,” to accept responsibility, protect commissioners from their own idiotic treachery, and move things off the front page of the newspaper as quickly as possible.
Don’t take my word for it – Ms. Vose should ask her colleague, Kurt Ardaman, over in DeBary – he’s a past-master at justifying the asinine moves of elected officials while simultaneously feathering his own nest.
Ms. Vose could learn something from him – and get rich in the process.
Regardless, this was an extremely weird issue that has left many smart people shaking their heads.
Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but is it possible that something else is at work behind the scenes in Deltona politics?
Following yesterday’s blog, I received a social media post from a member of the Deltona Fire Fighter’s Union, who took exception with the $93,000.00 I quoted for the unusual mid-service buyout received by a recently promoted deputy fire chief.
According to the union representative – the actual amount was more like $40,000.00. . .
I stand corrected. And now, so do you.
Look, I understand the symbiotic relationship between public employee unions and certain elected representatives – it’s both a blessing and a curse, depending upon which side of the cash flow you’re on.
Trust me – I’ve benefited from this age-old sleight-of-hand myself.
I also know the issues that will inevitably arise when an outside entity – be it a powerful union, or a manipulative political insider – has an outsized influence on the democratic process.
Is it possible that the Deltona fire union quietly pushed provisions of this “civility” ordinance as a means of providing additional protections for their leadership and employees?
Is it possible union leadership wanted to establish a binding bureaucratic process which would have required an internal “paper trail” that could be exploited and challenged at each step?
I don’t know, but time will tell if this is an underlying issue for the citizens of Deltona.
So, what have we learned from the mess?
In my view, this debacle best demonstrates that well-meaning people who propose legislation that suppress our rights to free speech, and the ability to petition our government for redress of grievances, often forget that these laws can be turned around and used as offensive weapons in the future.
We also learned that the City of Deltona has serious leadership issues that no “civility” ordinance can repair.
I am happy to report that Deltona has a core group of very bright and inquisitive citizens who are actively monitoring and analyzing the moves and machinations of their elected and appointed officials.
That’s important – and my hat is off to them for putting the brakes on this misguided legislation.