I’m sorry. I should probably listen to my best instincts and let this one go.
But I can’t.
When you’ve spent your entire life in law enforcement, there is something about unanswered questions that gnaw at you.
Loose strings. Unfinished business.
I am referring to the deepening mystery of County Manager Jim Dinneen publicly, and unequivocally, calling Sheriff Mike Chitwood a liar in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – and the ensuing “This county ain’t big enough for the both of us” ego-feud between these two titans of local government.
Just two-weeks after Chitwood took office, the News-Journal reported that he was faunching at the bit over charter provisions that compel the sheriff to come before the county council – and Mr. Dinneen – to obtain permission for sheriff’s office expenditures.
For a guy like Mike Chitwood, that level of supervision is anathema to his free-wheeling style.
He likes to make decisions on the run, and he understands the importance of adapting quickly to changing threats and trends – tactics that run counter to the charter’s bureaucratic rigidity.
Then, during a local radio interview, the sheriff brought up a 2010 dust-up with Mr. Dinneen wherein the outspoken Chitwood called former Sheriff Ben Johnson a “moron.”
According to Sheriff Chitwood, Dinneen reacted by contacting Daytona Beach officials and attempted to have him fired.
During the same newspaper interview, the sheriff described a meeting with Dinneen during which Chitwood essentially explained that there is a new sheriff in town, and Dinneen shouldn’t expect him to play nice all the time – especially in matters relating to the welfare of his deputies.
The sheriff also stated, for the record, that the pair were working on their “relationship.”
When asked for his take on the quarrel, County Manager Dinneen coldcocked everyone when he said – pointblank – none of what the sheriff said ever happened.
Further, Dinneen emphasized the point by saying he would have been personally offended if it had.
Wow. Powerful stuff that goes beyond establishing their respective turf.
Look, I joke around and poke fun on this forum – but this is significant.
In the aftermath of this Clash of the Titans, we got dribs and drabs from the News-Journal explaining the origin and purpose of the county’s home rule charter – and chirps about the need for these two extremely important positions to work collaboratively in the public interest.
But we never heard the other shoe drop.
We listened to the yada, yada, yada of charter issues, budget oversight, buffers, etc. – but what we really wanted to know was, who is telling the truth? Dammit.
Then, last week, Volusia County trotted out a professionally produced video starring Sheriff Chitwood and Jim Dinneen which has the pair “partnering” to run the upcoming Daytona Half Marathon together.
Yep. Just two best bro’s meeting on the street, shaking hands, and chatting up the big footrace while wearing identical running jersey’s emblazoned with “Brown-n-Brown” and “International Speedway Corporation” logos – like they got dressed out of the same closet.
What happened to the great “Chitwood-Dinneen Blood Feud of 2017”?
I thought, “Either the newspaper got it way wrong, or Mike Chitwood should get the Oscar for best supporting actor in a dramatic fantasy video.”
I was confused.
Sheriff Chitwood cut his teeth on the mean streets of Philadelphia, then spent a decade policing the not-so-nice streets of the City of Daytona Beach, literally from the point of the spear.
As a veteran law enforcement officer, he knows that all a good cop has is his or her personal integrity.
So, why would he let some mealy-mouthed turd like Little Jimmy besmirch his well-crafted and all-important reputation for telling the truth – just the facts – even when it hurts?
And, if Dinneen is telling the truth (I don’t think he is), why would he stand idle while the High Sheriff openly lies about the nature of their professional relationship, and by insinuation, diminishes his standing with both the elected officials – and the public – by making him look like an umbrageous asshole?
Knowing the enormity of these two personalities, I found it odd that either one would simply ‘forgive and forget’ with so many unanswered questions floating around.
Didn’t make sense.
And it doesn’t appear the News-Journal is going to bring us closure anytime soon – and they should.
So, as I reported last week, I called my old friend Big John – who knows everything about anything related to Volusia County politics – and asked him, well, what the hell happened?
Per Big – just as things were heating up – J. Hyatt Brown, the uber-wealthy political insider who spent more money on last year’s District 4 county council race than most of us will make in the next five years – simply picked-up the phone and told Jim Dinneen to drop it.
Just like it never even happened.
In government, just like in nature, periodically there will be a clash at the top of the food chain that results in survival of the fittest.
One will stay, the other will go, and things will fundamentally advance.
This often occurs in the immediate aftermath of elections.
These internal battles represent the natural evolution of a governmental organization. A pivotal competition that upsets the status quo and sets the stage for positive change and progress.
Like any complex and diverse ecosystem – with intricate, often symbiotic relationships – when we attempt to “play God” and artificially control the natural environment, the results are almost always disastrous.
Anyone who has ever kept an aquarium knows exactly what I am talking about.
For instance, when we remove apex predators from the ecosystem, we throw off the delicate balance that has evolved over time, resulting in unnatural behavioral change by other organisms.
By example, while alligators eat the occasional house pet, they also naturally consume prey species from the environment that would otherwise reproduce without check, off-setting the balance.
In government, petty squabbles at the top can result in serious dysfunction at all levels of the organization as people take sides, departments become polarized, working relationships deteriorate, and a “bunker mentality” sets in as the unresolved interpersonal conflict eats away at morale and productivity like a ravenous cancer.
Strong “Type A” personalities don’t let bygones-be-bygones. They dominate. It is their nature, and the lex talionis prevails.
As a successful business executive and finely tuned political player, Mr. Brown should know this.
We have a right to expect that in exchange for an unprecedented level of access, those who have purchased political power will refrain from using their significant influence to interfere in the delicate equilibria of government – and allow nature to take her course – before an even more toxic environment can emerge in Deland.