You can tell a lot about a person by how they conduct themselves when no one else is watching.
In fact, it’s the very definition of character.
Before I tear-off on a rant here – trust me – I’m no saint.
I drink to excess, smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, and no one enjoys a classic dirty joke more than I do.
Sometimes I stay up late, drink whiskey, and tell tall tales with friends – and my frequent use of salty language is as notorious as my gluttonous appetite. I’m rude, selfish and stubborn as a mule when I think I’m right – and I’m right all the time. Just ask me.
I can be mean-spirited and judgmental, too.
Sadly, these personality traits fit my enormous ego just fine.
I’m a piece of work. I admit it.
Last week, I read a piece by Dustin Wyatt in the Daytona Beach News-Journal regarding yet another wacky screw-up by freshmen members of the Volusia County Council – one more loopy brain-fart by Heather Post, Billie Wheeler, and our doddering Chairman Ed Kelley.
Or was it?
During last Thursday’s County Council meeting, Heather Post – who was apparently home recuperating from pneumonia – sent a series of text messages as she watched the proceedings online.
At first, Post’s messages to Kelley were rather innocuous – she didn’t grasp the concept that when the council takes a lunch break – the live-feed is interrupted briefly until the meeting resumes.
Then, while council members gave their always illuminating closing comments, Post thought it necessary to let Kelley know that she had received a report on the Veteran’s Foundation – a note that Kelley acknowledged receiving.
Then, things got more ominous.
In a clumsy text message to Billie Wheeler, Mrs. Post advised that she would not be appointing Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere advocacy group, to a beach advisory committee recently proposed by Councilwoman Deb Denys:
(“I’m not appointing Paul. Illspoint Tony.”)
Instead, Post communicated to Wheeler that she would appoint Tony Grippa – a former Vice President at Brown & Brown who left J. Hyatt’s employ during the great July 2016 exodus of the company’s top brass – and reported “brainchild” of the advisory committee.
I have no idea what involvement Mr. Grippa has with beach advocacy issues. Maybe he’s a virtual Jacques Cousteau – I’ve just never seen him around.
Regardless, it was important that Mrs. Post distance herself from Paul Zimmerman and Sons of the Beach – and if she had to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Florida’s Sunshine Law to do it – so be it.
The rules are different here.
To her credit, Ms. Wheeler didn’t respond to Heather Post’s text messages – and she kept Mr. Grippa as her personal appointment to the beach advisory committee.
Then, the right people started asking the hard questions.
Enter County Attorney Dan Eckert – whose entire practice has devolved into quibbling the facts, obfuscating the obvious, suing his own constituents, running interference for elected officials and serving as muscle for Little Jimmy Dineen and his cabal of shadow players.
You see, Dan tidies up the sticky messes – on our dime.
Naturally, Mr. Eckert’s immediate response to the serious allegations that Councilwoman Post engaged in blatantly illegal two-way communications regarding public business with another elected official outside an open, and in-progress, meeting did not even rise to a “technical” violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law.
In what is becoming an all to frequent fallback – Mrs. Post again refused to accept responsibility for an official misstep – then went into one of her weird stream-of-consciousness, babbling excuses – like a demented child caught with their hand in the cookie jar:
“I have been out with pneumonia. I have not been able to speak or move around without coughing/choking. There was no violation of Sunshine Law,” she wrote in an email. “I am sure my constituents will be glad to hear that even in my condition, I made arrangements to view the County Council meeting live online to stay abreast of the issues of importance to Volusia County. This is a reflection of my true dedication to the job.”
Either that, or she really didn’t want to support Paul Zimmerman’s appointment to the beach advisory board after Sons of the Beach rightly supported her opponent during the 2016 election.
You see, Mrs. Post is chummy with Daytona Beach Boardwalk magnate and beach driving opponent, George Anderson.
In other words – her communications had nothing to do with a self-described “dedication to the job,” and everything to do with cheapjack politics.
You know, I’m really trying to give Heather Post the benefit of the doubt – but how much more of this dodging and gibberish are we expected to take?
Of course, Chairman Kelley demonstrated the brand of cool-headed leadership he’s become known for when he immediately accepted responsibility for the possible violation of state law, commissioned an outside inquiry into the matter to assure openness and transparency, then restored confidence in his constituents by pledging that communications of this type would never happen in the future.
“It’s no big deal. … I did nothing illegal,” Kelley confidently crowed on Thursday.
Of course you didn’t, Ed.
(Word to the wise: You can lie to us all you want – just don’t lie to yourself. That’s a dangerous indulgence for an elected official. Don’t believe me? Just ask Corinne Brown.)
This serves as another prime example of the hubris and political arrogance that permeates every aspect of Volusia County government – from the top down.
The rules are for the little people.
Don’t like it? Screw you.
Folks, there is a malignancy in our county government – a bastardized oligarchical system that serves the influential and well-connected, while dismissing the true needs of their long-suffering constituents.
And it appears nothing is off-limits.
In my view, recurring public integrity questions and transparency issues such as this highlight the “I do what I want, when I want” culture that exists whenever those appointed to high public office lose their sense of service.
And their sense of honor.