Last summer, I began a series of essays venting my thoughts on the deepening shit-storm that is the City of DeBary.
After all, if you care about good government in your community – you should care about good governance everywhere. And the mounting weirdness in DeBary really bothered me.
The genesis was a succession of articles in the Daytona Beach News-Journal penned by the intrepid investigative journalist, Dina Voyles-Pulver – in my view, one of the best and brightest reporters in the business today.
Her work in DeBary is worthy of a Pulitzer.
With the skillful stroke of her pen, Dina exposed a fetid snake pit of public corruption, political treachery, incompetence, and parasitic malfeasance that reached all the way to the helm of one of our state’s most powerful regulatory agencies.
The “Debacle in DeBary” has all the terrible elements of a crisis of leadership – and exemplifies, in microcosm, the depth to which some elected and appointed officials will stoop to serve their own self-interests.
In my view, DeBary’s disgraced former city manager, Dan Parrott – a congenitally crooked douchebag whose ham-fisted brand of revenge politics bought him an on-going criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Office of the State Attorney – is ultimately responsible.
But he didn’t orchestrate it all on his own.
Before his departure, Parrott set in motion a cheap coup d’état – backed by his co-conspirators in City Hall – which ultimately resulted in the ouster of the people’s duly-elected Mayor, Clint Johnson.
It was aggression run amok – a pure example of weaponized political power unleashed.
Mayor Johnson’s removal will long be remembered as the most atrocious disregard for our sacred democratic process ever perpetrated by a local elected body.
To add insult, DeBary’s City Attorney, Kurt Ardaman, (who, I believe, truly can wring blood out of a turnip) has, in my view, used the municipality’s coffers as a slop-trough for every cheapjack, money-grubbing lawyer in the region.
When you factor in the collusions of unscrupulous developers, half-bright ‘economic development’ types, screw worm consultants, and just good old timey bald-assed stupidity, you realize that the City of DeBary is being picked clean by every foul carrion vulture in Central Florida.
After Dan Parrott personally orchestrated his own very lucrative exit, the DeBary City Council began looking for a replacement – a manager skilled in recovering horribly dysfunctional municipal governments from an inverted flat spin – and quickly discovered that no one worth a shit wanted anything to do them.
Even the most desperate “manager in transition” wouldn’t touch DeBary with a ten-foot pole.
Smart people know that you can’t pick up a turd by the clean end. And we should be suspicious of anyone who tries.
Enter Ronald McLemore.
In retrospect, this should have been clear as glass.
You and I both know that slimy opportunists will always find their way to the scene of the crash, if just to ransack the victims for valuables.
During this disorienting whirlwind, Ron McLemore – the former city manager of Winter Springs, with a resume that includes a six-year stint in Daytona Beach and a cup-of-coffee in Cocoa Beach – mysteriously agreed to wade into this sewer, roll-up his sleeves, and attempt to straighten out the perverse mess that is DeBary government.
There was great hope in Wild West Volusia. Hell, even I got caught up in a feverish swoon of false optimism.
The silver-maned McLemore said all the right things.
Unfortunately, it now appears he may have lied through his teeth – and compromised himself – and what’s left of the city’s integrity – just to land a temp job.
In the run-up to his appointment as interim city manager, the council held a slapdash interview with McLemore during which he doffed his suit coat and played the role of a wisely old sage, with a touch of cornpone thrown in to close the sale.
It was just what they needed to hear.
You see, drowning people will trust just about anything that looks like a life preserver.
Almost as an afterthought, the subject of a sickening sexual harassment complaint that had been filed against McLemore shortly before his “retirement” from the City of Daytona Beach, was casually broached.
With no more concern than picking a piece of lint from his shirtsleeve, McLemore dismissed the matter out of hand – explaining to the City Council that an “investigation was done by an outside legal firm who specializes in this area, they exonerated me and all the other seven.”
According to the News-Journal, the very law firm that conducted the internal investigation for the City of Daytona Beach confirmed that the allegations against McLemore were never a part of their inquiry, as he resigned prior to the initiation of the independent review.
A spokesperson for the City of Daytona Beach also confirmed that McLemore was not part of the city’s investigation.
It now appears the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination leveled against Mr. McLemore were never investigated – nor was he exonerated – as he very clearly told the City Council and assembled citizens.
What struck me hard was McLemore’s response to allegations that while employed as a senior executive with the City of Daytona Beach, he ordered a subordinate to perform hours of personal work on his behalf – totally unrelated to official business – while the employee was on-duty and the recipient of public funds.
His excuse, “In return for the hundreds of hours I worked nights and weekends over my six years with the city, due to being understaffed, to keep projects of huge importance to the city moving forward, I think the city could afford me a minuscule number of hours to get things done I didn’t have time to do at home as opposed to taking time off from the job to get them done.”
“When millions of dollars of investment and the well-being of thousands of people are involved, which do you prefer: performance or bureaucracy?”
So, are we to believe the allegations that he used public employees for private work are true, but excusable, due to his uber-important role – but the more sinister sexual pestering and favoritism claims are not?
What arrogance. What unbridled hubris.
You ego-maniacal, chiseling asshole. Nobody owes you a damn thing.
How dare you – as a highly-paid, trusted government administrator – demean the contributions of the incredibly dedicated public servants who work long hours under difficult and dangerous circumstances – often at great personal sacrifice – without once asking anyone to “afford” them anything!
Shame on you.
Look, you want to get a haircut or run to the drug store, as a salaried employee, that’s between you and the City Manager. In over three-decades of public service, I would be lying if I told you I never screwed-off at work, bullshitted around the water cooler, or ran a personal errand on-duty.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
But when you misuse your position of power and order subordinate public employees to violate the very rules designed to protect the public from the diversion of public resources for personal convenience or gain – in my view, you have crossed a very clear ethical line.
I believe the time has come for Ronald McLemore to resign his position of trust with the City of DeBary.
In fact, the DeBary city council should take this opportunity to conduct an exorcism at City Hall – purging every foul bird who still has the putrid taint of Dan Parrott – or the Gemini Springs Annex fraud – about them.
It is time.
As for Ron McLemore, for once demonstrate leadership (look it up in your City Manager handbook) and accept responsibility.
You have made a bad situation worse, and, in my opinion, you have lost the moral authority to lead.
The good people of DeBary deserve better.