And I thought I was the biggest windbag in Volusia County. . .
On Thursday, I caught part of the first County Council meeting of 2017.
In all honesty, I waited until the coronations were complete. There are certain things my old tum-tum just can’t handle anymore – like Nachos Bell Grande and political acceptance speeches.
They repeat on me something terrible.
But, hey, it’s a new day – I get it – and by all accounts everyone who is anyone is extremely positive about the state of county government going forward.
There’s something about a swearing-in ceremony that drips optimism, and I see why most people get caught up in the cheerful pageantry and infectious enthusiasm of the moment.
Unfortunately, I no longer possess those emotions.
The sanguine part of my cerebral cortex has been scoured away by the near constant assault of open depravity and gutter sleaze that is Volusia County politics. Sometimes I feel like the character in that M. Night Shyamalan film who see’s dead people – except, my sixth sense is the ability to perceive political horseshit.
Talk about a nightmare.
Like many of you, on Thursday I was hoping against hope that newly seated Chairman Ed Kelley would live up to the hype, courageously take the reins in his teeth, and seize control of these runaway meetings, as he promised.
In fact, I was giddy as a kipper as I anxiously waited to see Eddie finally bring county manager Jim Dinneen to heel, then publicly castigate him for orchestrating those exorbitant annual pay increases (like he promised).
And who among us didn’t light-headedly mince about the room, eagerly anticipating the exact moment Chairman Kelley would unlimber his gavel and curb the cheap political pap and fluff that has historically made these meetings so interminably long (like he promised)?
Finally, after years of stagnation and open dysfunction, the power brokers had bestowed upon us a strong, decisive statesman to provide the stewardship we, the unwashed masses, so richly deserve.
As Steinbeck observed, “The world was spinning in greased grooves.”
Now that Big Ed’s in the catbird’s seat, things are gonna change, baby!
Then, suddenly, everything went sideways.
Like watching the ball skip through Buckner’s knees.
I sat in stunned silence as our own Rip Van Winkle of county politics, “Sleepy Pat” Patterson – in an unusually animated moment (and by animated, I mean like the woozy groans of Frankenstein’s monster in an electric storm) – put the absolute smack down on Mr. Kelley, right out of the chute.
During a drawn-out exchange between Mr. Patterson and County Attorney Dan Eckert regarding the infinitesimal details of exactly which events and functions council members would be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses – Chairman Kelley finally saw the opportunity to flex his new muscles and explained to Sleepy Pat that he had droned on entirely too long.
Let’s head ’em up and move ’em out. Time’s a-wastin’.
“I heard the answer twice. Let’s move on,” Chairman Kelley asserted.
What a ballsy move, I thought, as I hunched closer to the monitor.
Then, Mr. Patterson – no doubt anxiously waiting for this very moment – suddenly transmogrified into this horribly indignant Werewolf-like creature, sprouted blood-tinged fangs, and seethed at the visibly recoiling Chairman, “That’s Rude. You’re here to run a meeting – not sit here and shut council member’s discussions down.”
In other words, “Know your role – and quit interrupting. Traditionally, the Chair sits there quietly and entertains himself by playing with the shiny buttons on his vest. Get with the program.”
Our once proud trailblazer was left sputtering and apologizing for his insolent behavior like some doddering old fool who just spilled his soup and made a mess.
In the end, Eddie assured us – and Mr. Patterson – that his boorish outbursts won’t happen again.
But it wasn’t over.
When he was done politely disemboweling the chairman – Mr. Patterson’s tag team partner, our new Vice Chair, Deb Deny’s, continued to publicly spank Kelley like a recalcitrant child during her remarks.
In her typical slightly exasperated, yet infinitely self-important style, Deny’s gave Ed one last throat punch, “This isn’t the Ormond Beach City Commission, with all due respect.”
Meaning, “You’re not in tiny town anymore, Dorothy. Welcome to the NFL – now get your head out of your ass and follow our lead.”
Deny’s then joined her fellow council members in a long-winded discussion on when it is appropriate to have discussions, exactly what should be discussed, and when, and why some discussions should be held in a workshop – while other discussions should be held at the end of the regular meeting.
As discussions go, it was quite a discussion.
It also served the purpose of publicly tamping the dirt down on Ed Kelley’s aspirations to shorten county council meetings.
Fortunately, throughout the tut-tutting from the seats of power, we had Mr. Dinneen on hand to explain to us – and the council members themselves – exactly what each of them were trying to say, as though they had been speaking in some obscure Bantu dialect.
But, Thank God, we have Little Jimmy to interpret. That’s what you get for $375,000 annually.
He tells you what you want to hear.
Look, I understand there’s a learning curve. I mean, Chairman Kelley has only been participating in or presiding over public meetings for, well, the past eight-years.
So, let’s cut him a break. Okay?
And Councilwoman Heather Post, too.
God Bless her. She crackled and popped through “you know, ah” her first meeting with a relatively good showing. Probably just first-time jitters.
I’m sure she will find her way – as we all do.
I, for one, am pulling for her.
So, let’s all just calm down. Eventually, someone on the dais will find a way to fill the leadership void left in the smoldering remains of Ed Kelley’s best intentions.
And if not, we always have Jim Dinneen to lead us deeper down the garden path. . .