Hard lessons learned

We live in very interesting times.

This morning, we woke to breaking news that Daytona Beach Assistant City Manager Gary Shimun is the subject of a criminal investigation after he allegedly responded to an “escort” ad on one of those tawdry on-line sex-for-hire sites.

Preliminary reports indicate that Shimun contacted an undercover Sheriff’s deputy and sent her a series of salacious text messages, ultimately arranging a meeting to do the dirty deed.

Apparently, Shimun went so far as to meet with the deputy and display cash, before getting wise and coming to the stark realization that life, as he knew it, had just changed forever.

Two days later, Shimun submitted a letter of resignation to City Manager Jim Chisholm wherein he states, “…I have decided to take some time and re-evaluate my commitment to the profession and to take some time to just be of service to myself.  As you most assuredly understand, our line of work is very stressful, and sometimes it makes sense to just step away for a while.” 

 Wait a minute.  Isn’t servicing himself what got him in this mess in the first place?

(Bada-Bing!  I’m here all week, folks.  Try the veal!) 

Sorry.  It was a cheap shot, but someone had to say it.

Look, I’m not judging Mr. Shimun’s personal weaknesses, “stress level,” or peccadilloes; and if he wants to bang hookers while serving in a high-profile position, well, he undoubtedly knew the ramifications.

On a serious note, these things are never pretty – during my career I worked or commanded hundreds of vice suppression operations – several of which resulted in the arrest of public figures or people I knew personally.

Stopping sexual exploitation and human trafficking is noble – and difficult – work, and these operations are key to effective enforcement.   I applaud the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety for their commendable efforts.

Perhaps from this personal tragedy the City of Daytona Beach can find someone to fill Mr. Shimun’s key community development role who will have a more positive effect on the challenges facing struggling areas of the city than he did.

Sad, really.

Now, let’s get to today’s rant, shall we?

During three-decades in government service, I learned a few things:

You can’t buy institutional knowledge of your water distribution system, any situation involving dogs, children or the elderly better have your undivided attention, and the restriction of public participation during open meetings is the first sign of an elected body in crisis.

This phenomenon takes several forms – requiring participants to sign-in or complete a form, moving “public participation” to the end of the meeting, turning off the video live feed, or just cutting speakers off in mid-sentence as Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk recently did.

Regardless of the method employed, the message remains the same: “Zip it, John Q!  We don’t give a damn what you vassals have to say.”

To say that Deltona is a community in crisis is like saying the DeBary city council has a slight problem with situational ethics.

In recent months, Deltona has become terribly – and perhaps irreparably – fractured over a series of gaffes by City Manager Jane Shang, and her hired gun, City Attorney Becky Vose.

The rift became public when Commissioner Brian Soukup stood in the best interests of his constituents and asked pointed questions regarding Shang’s promotion of Deputy Fire Chief William Swisher.

Interestingly, Swisher’s promotion included a lucrative mid-career payout of accrued leave totaling some $93,000.00.

During the dust-up, Soukup openly accused Shang of lying by omission, claiming the bonus was higher than he had originally been told.

I have previously discussed the incredible power – and responsibility – that the City Manager holds in municipal government.  Under most charters, the chief executive has near carte blanche authority to hire, fire and administrate the day-to-day operations of the government.

However, the city manager has a duty to speak the truth to the elected body and ensure that pertinent information is provided equally to all council members.  The debate and adoption of reasonable public policy demands that each decision-maker have uniform facts upon which to form an educated opinion.

When that process breaks down, allegations of favoritism and bias can move with the ferocity of a wildfire, resulting in distrust and a toxic atmosphere at City Hall.

Trust me.  I’ve seen it happen.

Shang was appointed by the city commission in April of last year, and recently received the “City Manager of the Year” award by the Volusia League of Cities (a useless frat that ensures our elected and appointed government officials receive all the self-congratulatory awards and accolades they believe they deserve.)

Shang’s tenure has not been without controversy – and her gross mismanagement of several high-profile and extremely controversial issues has left the city in turmoil.

Most recently, City Attorney Vose took it upon herself to physically remove the hard drive from her city-issued computer and take it home with her.

Why?  Well, we don’t have the complete answer to that – or what she may or may not be trying to hide.

What we do know is that in a ham-handed attempt at CYA, Vose compounded her problems by independently spending public funds to engage outside counsel who opined (naturally) that the possible private manipulation of a public computer storage device was perfectly above board.

When the Information Technology Manager, Steven Narvaez – you know, the guy that is personally responsible for the integrity of Deltona’s database – realized that Vose had compromised system security, he notified his boss, who, in turn, contacted Shang.

That’s when things went south for the IT guy.

When Shang received a copy of Narvaez’ email detailing Vose’s digital shenanigans, suddenly Narvaez transformed from a technology manager to a disgruntled shitheel who should have been unceremoniously fired months ago.

Unfortunately, (for her), Shang has apparently been unable to produce any significant record of internal discipline or other solid evidence demonstrating a pattern of misconduct by Narvaez.

Naturally, this has prompted even more questions from members of the commission – and the public.

Now, rather than simply ventilating the issue in public, Mayor Masiarczyk wants to fundamentally change the way in which the City Commission operates.

If there is a bright spot in all of this, Deltona residents have true advocates in Commissioner Soukup, and newly elected member, Christopher Alcantara.

These two public servants are courageously changing an entrenched system of cronyism and outside influence in Deltona’s political process; while seeking hard answers to uncomfortable questions surrounding irregularities with city contracts and processes that I have no doubt we will hear much more about in the new year.

I agree with Mayor Masiarczyk, it is past time to change the utter dysfunction that has invaded Deltona government like an infectious plague.

I’m just not sure effectively gagging your constituents is the best way to do that.

By affecting positive change in the city’s senior management ranks – and allowing open and honest public participation in finding solutions to long-term problems – the community can begin the important process of rebuilding public trust in local government.

 

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