As a voyeur of Volusia County government, I often remark that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The people – elected and appointed – come and go, but the system never changes.
I also believe that most of those who stand for elective office are inherently good people.
Let’s face it, anyone who willingly puts themselves through the meatgrinder that passes for politics in 2016 must truly have a sincere desire to serve.
The problem begins once the victory parties and pageantry of the oath of office ceremony are complete, and our newly minted elected officials finally take a seat on the dais of power.
It is then that the system reminds them of their true place and purpose – they work for the machine, not the other way around – and quaint notions like good governance and protecting the interests of their constituents are soon forgotten.
Those who fight against the system – idealists who strive valiantly to bring substantive change and insinuate the “will of the people” into the churning mechanism – are quickly chewed-up, marginalized and tossed aside.
Elected officials who fight the organism of government always end up looking like one of those tormented Russian bears riding a stationary bicycle – peddling feverishly, sweating and working hard, but never making headway – while the veteran politicians and fixers beat and humiliate them into submission.
It is the reason those lofty campaign promises we hear every election cycle are so much hot air.
The system takes – it does not give – unless you are one of those precious few in that high, rarefied air who can pay to play in the big leagues.
And the price of a ticket to ride costs more than your house.
Once you grasp this unsettling truth, watching the sausage get made can be, well, almost fun.
Take for instance the remarkable ability of our elected officials to take swift, decisive action on issues that most of us consider important – like the expenditure of millions of our hard-earned tax dollars on dubious land purchases and corporate giveaways – while relatively inconsequential items are dissected, debated, and analyzed ad nauseum.
Some say it’s a camouflage maneuver – drone on about the small stuff until even the most ardent political gadfly is hypnotized – and then move important legislation at the speed of heat.
Others believe it’s how County Manager Jim Dinneen sculpts public policy through the careful control of information – crafting the outcome of votes by telling our elected officials only what he wants them to hear.
Truth be told, it’s probably a combination of both.
Another thing that always gives me a chuckle is how our council members shape-shift into pseudo-experts regardless of the question at hand.
For instance, during a recent discussion on the big-ticket item of expanding the number of chickens a resident can keep in unincorporated areas, suddenly everyone becomes Abraham Lincoln – raised on a working farm in a rustic log cabin, trading fresh eggs for essentials and reading by the faint glow of a coal oil lamp.
Funny stuff, really.
Yet when it comes to preserving Volusia County’s most important economic engine – our beach – regardless of how silly the issue at hand (feeding birds, for instance) the only apparent solution is adding signage to a shoreline that has so many placards, traffic control signs, and rows of ugly wooden poles that it no longer bears any semblance to a seashore.
How about just saying, “There are somethings we cannot control – we’ve brought attention to the issue, now let’s move on.”
No, the prevailing sentiment of government at all levels is we must legislate away our every trivial annoyance.
But the real draw during last Thursday’s county council meeting was the unresolved blood feud between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and County Manager Jim Dinneen.
Despite the council’s painful, time consuming jokes during the great “bird feeding/chicken coop” debates, the Clash of the Titans loomed large.
Unfortunately, it became increasingly clear that the wagons have been circled.
Our elected officials made it perfectly clear that Jim Dinneen is isn’t going anywhere – and Mike Chitwood doesn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of holding a constitutional office in Volusia County.
You see, when serious issues periodically come forth that have critical implications for all of us – such as protecting our heritage of beach driving, or deciding potential improvements to the county charter – invariably our County Attorney’s Office finds a way to eliminate the will and participation of the people.
On Thursday, county attorney Dan Eckert set the stage to ensure Sheriff Chitwood’s call for a charter amendment never sees the light of day when he spit, sputtered, hemmed and yammered his way through what (I think) was his opinion on the ability of the electorate to effect change.
For the life of me, I can’t figure Dan out.
Either our county attorney suffers from a convenient neurological speech impediment that prevents him from communicating in coherent sentences – or he has mastered the strategic ability to muddy any issue at hand with his cockamamie gibberish.
If I understand Mr. Eckert’s legal interpretation – only the state legislature can bring substantive changes to the Volusia County charter – and We, The People, who are governed by it are quite simply bent over and paralyzed.
At the end of the day, our intrepid County Chair Ed Kelley came up with the bright idea of asking Sheriff Chitwood to call him whenever he felt Little Jimmy was being mean and not playing pretty – you know, the always effective “I’ll run tell daddy” defense – to salve over their public death match.
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
Another interesting thing happened this week.
During their goofy off-the-agenda comments segment – where, apparently, most of the real work gets done – the council once again conveniently re-wrote history.
Even though it was patently clear to every man, woman and child that our elected officials were caught humiliatingly flat-footed – absolutely out-of-the-loop – on the nearly $1-million-dollar purchase of private land on Main Street in Daytona Beach – now, they would have us believe that nothing was amiss and everyone acted completely appropriately.
They dismissed our criticism out-of-hand.
According to the Very Reverend Fred “BMW” Lowry’s astute comments in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “We can’t possibly know everything about everything,” Lowry said, adding that he “trusts staff.”
I felt even more comforted when Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson assured us, “I know that our attorneys did everything right,” Patterson said of the land purchase. “And to be criticized constantly for doing something right just frosts me a little bit. Somehow people think we are doing something evil, and I’m tired of hearing that.”
I’ll bet you are, Pat. . .
Nothing to see here, folks. Little Jimmy has explained everything away quite nicely – and we’re getting sick and tired of your cruel criticism of the high and mighty – so shut the fuck up and take our word for it.
In other news, Heather Post continued her education when she learned the ramifications of asking for too much information.
Councilwoman Post had the temerity to ask if she might be given a heads-up whenever important or controversial issues come up that she might be asked about.
You would have thought staff had been directed to perform an advanced neurosurgical procedure while wearing wool mittens in total darkness.
Word to the wise, Ms. Post – the system says you will be told all you need to know, when you need to know it.
Just accept the Pablum fed by Mr. Dinneen and his staff – and try not to act surprised when you get ambushed for your abject ignorance on the important issues of the day.
Know that none of your fellow elected officials are given any substantive information either – so just sit back in your posh swivel chair and bask in the bliss of pure ignorance.
Just ask “Sleepy” Pat – he’s a past-master of the art.
It has been interesting watching Chairman Kelley, and neophyte Council members Billie Wheeler and Heather Post, receive their indoctrination in the uncomfortable realities of an oligarchical system that works in the interest of a few – and abhors the input of the governed.
Just another tragic sign of our times.