Volusia Politics: The Curse of Chief Tomokie

Let’s be honest.  We’re a hot mess here on the Fun Coast.

We came to be way back in December 1854, when the state legislature split Orange County, leaving 600 unfortunate souls languishing on a plot of pine scrub about the size of Rhode Island, nestled between the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean.

They named us after our largest city at the time, Volusia.

Orange County went on to Disney World, theme parks and metropolitan prosperity.

They even got a Trader Joe’s.  Two of ’em.

Volusia?  Not so much.

We never quite got it together.

Hell, even the origin of our name has been in dispute since we were founded.

Some claim “Volusia” comes from an old Euchee Indian word, while others believe we were named after a British fellow, Voluz, who owned a plantation on the banks of the St. Johns.

Still others say the modern Volusia is an anglicized derivative of Veluche – the Belgian owner of a cheap roadside trading post.

Then there’s the theory that the Spanish dubbed us Volusio, after the famed Roman jurist who tutored Marcus Aurelius – or an early B-list magician – archaeologists are just not sure.

Yep.  A lot of history here on the Fun Coast.  Good and bad.

Interestingly, today marks the 60th Anniversary of the dedication of the Chief Tomokie statute in Tomoka State Park.

When I was a little kid, a big day for us was loading up in the car and having a picnic under the big oak trees surrounding the Tomokie statute.

I remember gazing up at the anatomically correct naked Indians shooting arrows at the Chief – as he stood proud, bravely pouring water on his attackers from his golden cup with spear raised high.

He was one cool dude.

Now, he looks like a broken mess – his fist raised in defiant resistance.

I think maybe the Chief took the ass at us after we ran his people off the land – then allowed his monument to fall victim to vandalism and utter disrepair.

That’s why we can’t have nice things.

Personally, I think our name derives from some ancient Timucuan curse ol’ Tomokie laid down which doomed us all to wretchedly poor county governance, spotty municipal service delivery, and a dearth of upscale grocery stores for the next thousand years.

Let’s face it, through the years people have tried just about everything to make a living here – sugar, cattle, indigo, moonshine, shipwreck salvage, rum running, speculative property development – you name it.

The dark and spooky ruins of these failed enterprises can be found everywhere you look.

If you talk to old timers, they tell stories of political graft and corruption in the “bad old days” that will curl your hair.

Seems like we have always had a weird vibe here in Volusia County.

I was recently waxing nostalgic over a 1989 article by Bo Poertner in the Orlando Sentinel under the headline, “Volusia Awash in Crime, Corruption, Power Politics – Tax Turmoil Mark Decade.”

 The lede drew me in:

“Wander for a few minutes through the 1980’s in Volusia County.”

 “Slosh through the quagmire of violent crime and political corruption.  Elbow your way through power politics – upheavals over taxes, beach tolls, control of the beaches, growth management and environmental protection, protests over pornography, and demonstrations against street drugs.”

Sound familiar?

As I’ve said before – in Volusia County, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve lived here a long time – over 50-years now – and it bothers me when well-meaning folks try to re-write history as a salve for our modern problems.

Look, I have a lot of respect for Dr. Bud Fleuchaus.

He’s been pulling teeth in these parts for years – he yanked a few of mine – and he’s a nice guy, too.

Back in the day, he was a highly-respected elected official and political insider who helped draft the original charter – a document some claim brought law and order to the wild and woolly Turkish Bazar that was Volusia County government.

Last Sunday, he wrote a very cogent point-counterpoint editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal where he took Sheriff Mike Chitwood to task for his push to return constitutional sovereignty to the office.

In my view, Dr. Fleuchaus gilded the lily a bit with tales of how our time-tested charter has withstood “five Charter Review Commissions with few functional changes.”

That’s a debate for another day.

He also claimed that the great Chitwood/Dinneen blood feud, “…undermines the dignity of the Volusia County government which for 46 years has been a leader in progressive management and quality service delivery.”

 Doc, you have my unending respect – but let’s not go crazy here.

To describe what we’ve seen in Deland over the past decade as “progressive management” and “quality service delivery” is a stretch.

According to Dr. Fleuchaus, “The framers of Volusia’s charter envisioned a government that would be managed by a professional, experienced administrator under the direction of a seven-member elected council establishing all its policies.”

 That’s an admirable goal.

But what happens when the system goes haywire?

I don’t think the drafters of our charter got together in a dark room and said, “Let’s see how we can consolidate power in the hands of one person, you know, to make it easier for big money political insiders to co-opt our elected officials, manipulate county government, and control access to the public trough for a select few while alienating the will and input of the people.”

At least I hope they didn’t.

But that’s what happened over time.

I have no doubt Dr. Fleuchaus, and the other framers of our charter, could not have envision a day when uber-wealthy power brokers would infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into county council elections, create an artificial economy by providing tax-funded incentives to businesses and entities favored by the donor class, or a time when our elected officials would circle the wagons around a demonstrably flawed and unscrupulous county manager who controls their political fate through a flawed insider campaign finance scheme.

I agree with Sheriff Chitwood’s incredibly strong statement in his response, “Simply put, the county’s charter puts way too much power and influence in the hands of one person and his deep-pocketed supporters.”

 He’s right.

 As our newly elected Sheriff also pointed out – it’s not the sheriff’s charter, and it’s not the county manager’s charter – it is the people’s charter.

In my view, it is time our elected officials realize this and return power where it rightfully belongs – with the citizens of Volusia County – and give us the opportunity to be heard on this important and terribly divisive issue.

2 thoughts on “Volusia Politics: The Curse of Chief Tomokie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s