Following a contentious election season, I always wonder what happened to those independent, creative thinkers who made so many wonderful promises during their campaigns?
Those brash and bold candidates who separated themselves from the pack with their imaginative solutions to the problems and issues of the day?
In our system of local governance, representatives are elected to high office by their fellow citizens to exercise legitimate authority and provide effective leadership in furtherance of the community’s collective needs.
In my view, quality local government is marked by oversight, accountability, an individual – and institutional – respect for the rules, efficient stewardship of resources and effective collaboration with the governed.
It ensures that political and economic goals are based on consensus – which requires that all available information and views be heard and weighed equally during the decision-making process.
During this process, our individual representatives can bring their unique perspectives and innovative ideas to the table – concepts that are often developed by experiential learning – like, serving on various boards, interacting with experts and constituents, volunteering their time and talents to organizations and working to find solutions, seeing what works – and what doesn’t.
In fact, getting outside the opaque bubble of government administration buildings is truly the only way for an elected official to gain an educated understanding of difficult situations.
Trust me. It’s easy to tell the difference between the politician who got down in the dirt and experienced the nuts-and-bolts of an issue from those who merely took the city/county manager’s word for it.
Unfortunately, in Volusia County, the “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy of the system molds and confines our elected officials into a homogenized clique – and there is no place for individuality or creative thinking.
A prime example of this is the on-going reeducation of freshman District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post.
It’s like watching the victim of a Khmer Rouge indoctrination camp, where individuality, creativity and independence are quickly eradicated with undiluted hostility.
Slowly, but surely, newly elected officials are beaten until they submit and become instruments of the elite – lockstep followers of the regime – lest they be publicly humiliated by senior members of the council who have no use for fresh eyes.
For Ms. Post, her programming began when she had the impudence to attend meetings and discussions with Daytona Beach officials and others working hard to find a compassionate solution to chronic homelessness in the Halifax area.
Apparently, Ms. Post was so eager to assist that she was – either voluntarily, or involuntarily – appointed to the First Step Shelter’s board of directors – an eclectic group which includes elected and appointed government officials, business leaders and private citizens.
In my view, it was refreshing to see a sitting county official become so personally involved with this entrenched local problem – a humanitarian crisis that has hampered legitimate economic development and contributed to the widespread blight and dilapidation for decades.
But in Volusia County government, no good deed goes unpunished.
When the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on Post’s involvement with the issue, during an open county council meeting, Chairman Ed Kelley joined Council members Deb Denys, Billie Wheeler and “Sleepy” Pat Patterson in taking Post to the woodshed where they publicly flogged her like a recalcitrant child.
“If people think you’re (serving on a board) as a county council member, that’s bad policy,” Kelley said. “(Post) doesn’t understand politics.”
I guess not.
Unfortunately, Ms. Post lacked the courage of her convictions and began to unravel like a cheap ball of yarn when called on the carpet by her cowardly “colleagues.”
Then, in an unusual turn of events, on March 27, Ms. Post, Councilwoman Joyce Cusack and the hapless Billie Wheeler told a crowd of 1,500 at the FAITH Action Assembly that they would vote in favor of Volusia County appropriating $4-million for a homeless shelter – which included funds for both construction and operating costs.
The “operating costs” aspect was the shocker, as that has always been the bugaboo for the county council.
In fact, during the April 6th County Council meeting, The Very Reverend Fred Lowry virtually radiated pastoral care and concern for those less fortunate when he turned the lash on Cusack, Post and Wheeler for speaking out-of-school at the FAITH assembly.
“I was flabbergasted that some are going to allocate funds for operating costs, which is totally contrary to the position this county has taken up to this point,” Lowry said. “I thought we were crystal on that.”
It got uglier when Rev. Lowry told a bizarre story to a News-Journal reporter that the promises of support were causing cities – specifically Deltona – to reconsider their financial commitment to the homeless solution.
Unfortunately, the Right Reverend’s statement was exposed as complete and utter bullshit.
In a weird double-step, Fast Freddy suddenly succumbed to convenient amnesia when questioned about who, exactly, he was referring to.
You know what flabbergasts me? Elected officials who make shit up when the truth would serve them – and us – better.
It’s high time our county council comes to the collective realization that they have lost all credibility on the important issue of homelessness – and their resolute obstructionism and pandering to the mean-spirited policies of county manager Jim Dinneen have doomed them to the backseat.
Then, in another obstinate act of individuality, Ms. Post took a quick trip to Tallahassee – spending less than $1,000 to educate herself on pending legislation effecting Volusia County.
According to the News-Journal, “The three-day jaunt cost the county $766.02, which included two nights at the Governors Inn, gas mileage and six meals, records show.”
Once again, Ms. Post was set upon by her fellow elected officials and openly chastised from the dais by Ed Kelley and Deb Denys for not coming before the full council – hat in hand – and asking permission from the elected body and Jim Dinneen if she could travel on county business.
It was also reported that Post isn’t the only one who’s been traveling on the public dime.
It seems Councilwoman Denys recently traveled to Washington D.C. with Daytona Beach International Airport Director Rick Karl to attend the annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation conference – an excursion which cost taxpayers a collective $5,192.83 in airfare, hotel and 14 meals.
The publicly funded junket was billed as an opportunity for county officials to meet with aerospace industry giants to attract prospects to the research park at Embry-Riddle.
Unfortunately, Ms. Denys permission slip from the council apparently got lost in the shuffle.
To my knowledge, Ms. Denys doesn’t work for Embry-Riddle – at least not directly anyway.
So why in the hell are you and I paying for her lobbying efforts on their behalf?
Perhaps the worst example of this weird double-standard hypocrisy by our county council came during Jim Dinneen’s terribly staged “grand reveal” that Summit Hospitality Group was changing the flag of the languishing Desert Inn/Westin project to a Hard Rock – and requesting a nearly eight-month extension of the hard completion date.
In the ensuing orgy of adulation, fawning and cooing over the Hard Rock unveiling – Chairman Kelley, Deb Denys and the others openly and ebulliently voiced their overwhelming support – with Little Jimmy assuring the assembled council members that, based upon all he has seen, he will be wholeheartedly recommending the name change and extension request.
As if by magic, the alternative legislation changing the original ordinance, which provided a hard deadline for completion – along with other specific performance metrics – will be placed on the very next council agenda.
All this incredible support – before anyone has heard the first shred of testimony, statement of need, or even a valid reason for changing from a promised “4-star” Westin to a Hard Rock honky-tonk.
That’s mighty quick work for an elected body not known for its efficiency.
Unless the right people ask for expediency.
Isn’t this talking-out-of-school exactly what The Very Reverend Fred Lowry ripped Ms. Post a new asshole over?
Is there a double-standard or “unwritten protocol” for showing overweening support for every private development that will remove driving from our beach, while withholding encouragement for funding a homeless solution in the public interest?
You bet your sweet bippy there is. . .