Regular readers of this forum know that I frequently use over-the-top descriptors and goofy analogies to embroider the issue or characters that I’m opining about.
I think it’s funny – but the reality is it exposes the limitations of my writing skills and intellect.
For instance, I have a growing suspicion that our elected officials on the Volusia County Council are little more than pawns – hapless dupes – who serve as visible figureheads in a bastardized system that is wholly controlled by uber-wealthy power brokers who finance political campaigns through personal and corporate contributions in exchange for free rein access and influence.
I call this group – loosely consisting of J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hossieni and Lesa France-Kennedy – the “High Panjandrums of Political Power.”
In turn, the county’s true civic and political agenda is set, in toto, by these politically connected ‘investors,’ and their embedded business associates, through our hopelessly co-opted County Manager, Jim Dinneen.
I call this ‘complete bullshit’ – and counter to the democratic principles our nation was founded upon.
Increasingly, evidence suggests that our elected officials have become so detached from the actual process of our oligarchical system of governance – so marginalized and out-of-touch with the machinations of the county manager and his handlers – that they simply wander about like children lost in the woods.
They give great weight and import to issues like seabirds shitting on a private veranda – or the number of chicken coops permitted on residential lots, and make critical decisions regarding which way the door on beachfront Port-o-lets will face – you know, issues they truly have control over.
In the meantime, Mr. Dinneen ramrods the true agenda through his patented use of “public policy by ambush” tactics – a strategy that involves setting the stage well in advance of a “Grand Reveal” – a left-field sneak attack where he orchestrates the announcement of important issues without prior public notice and completely off the advertised meeting agenda.
You may remember the recent surprise announcement regarding the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock change where Mr. Dinneen was caught on an open microphone giving our doddering fool of a Council Chairman, Ed Kelley, strict orders regarding how, when and where the great off-the-agenda revelation would occur during an open public meeting?
Then, just two-weeks ago, Mr. Dinneen threw yet another secret surprise party when he abruptly announced his “lofty vision” of putting a five-story courthouse and four-story county office complex near the S. James Foxman Justice Center in downtown Daytona.
Without prior notice – or even a placeholder spot on the Council’s public agenda – we learned that the massive public development, situated in the very heart of Daytona Beach, would consolidate operations of the current City Island Annex, the New Smyrna Beach courthouse and the county administration center.
In his typical style, Mr. Dinneen enlisted the assistance of several circuit court judges and court administrators to lend credibility – then pulled out snippets of a $248,000, yet-to-be-released, needs study by a Deland-based consultant – and alternated flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories with “game changer” and “icing on the cake” speculative economic development statements.
Oh, did I forget that he also explained that this done-deal project would cost Volusia County taxpayers, their children and grandchildren an estimated $195,000,000 to $260,000,00 over the next 30 to 40 years?
Because he did.
In the end, our elected officials were left swooning over Dinneen’s Taj Mahal courthouse – the most expensive project ever undertaken in Volusia County, Florida.
In fact, Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson all but soiled himself on the dais – gushing over the economic impact a courthouse complex will have on the quaint shops and mixed-use vision in Downtown Daytona.
He even had the balls to credit the “new” Deland courthouse as the catalyst for all good things in that community – virtually ignoring the hard work of citizens, entrepreneurs and city officials that recently earned national recognition as the best Main Street in America.
In turn, Mr. Dinneen and Chairman Kelley sat down with the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board to flesh out the details of Little Jimmy’s “Grand Plan.”
Really, their picture was in the paper doing it.
According to the News-Journal’s article, “New courthouse, other plans, could transform downtown Daytona Beach,” the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean wrote:
“Despite a hefty price tag expected to top out at $195 million-$260 million, so far the project has received widespread support from County Council members, court system officials, law enforcement employees and Daytona Beach city government leaders.”
Yep. Everyone who is anyone was giddy.
Then, We, the People, started asking difficult questions – like how is it our elected officials spent three public meetings discussing suburban chicken coops, and just 38-minutes explaining away a $200+ million-dollar expenditure? – and the “widespread support” started to dry up faster than seagull shit on a hot pool deck.
Earlier this week, Dustin Wyatt, wrote an excellent piece in the News-Journal, focusing on citizens’ concerns about the consolidation of court services, lack of substantive public input – or even the courtesy of a heads-up – in the lead-up to Little Jimmy’s announcement.
Things that rubbed the always cantankerous (and up for re-election) Vice Chair Deb Denys the wrong way:
“While it’s not yet final, it would be the most expensive county project ever, and Vice Chair Deb Denys thinks it’s problematic how quickly the idea traveled from the hands of a third-party architect to a full-fledged plan for the future, without ever hearing from taxpayers.”
“I’m really struggling with some of the process here, and I can’t justify it,” she said Thursday. “We’ve had more discussions on backyard chickens than we have a $200 million courthouse,” which she expects will be even more expensive by the time it breaks ground.”
“It all moved so fast that some residents feel kept in the dark and are questioning the value of public input.”
In turn, I took the County Council to task for looking like a passel of out-of-touch dementia victims who were apparently caught as flatfooted by Dinneen’s announcement as the rest of us were.
If so, that’s some scary stuff.
Well, my worst fears were confirmed by a late-evening social media post by Chairman Ed Kelley in response to a very smart, and very civically engaged, citizen’s critique of the uber-weird lead-up:
“No public debate, no notice on the agenda, yet a 200-million-dollar plan was approved to move forward on a new courthouse facility in Daytona. Sketch”
Well, Ed Kelley came unhinged – I mean batshit, multi-exclamation point, furious – over the nerve and temerity of a taxpayer who actually questioned the machinations of his government.
Inexplicably, Chairman Kelley responded:
“Public hearings before any approved plans!!!!! This has been discussed for almost a decade!!!! Not sure who keeps making up a $200,000,000 number!!!!”
Look, I don’t make this shit up. Mr. Kelley really is that addle-brained.
Folks, that was the actual, verbatim response from your County Council Chair to a citizen’s criticism.
For the record, Chairman Kelley, the matter has not been discussed for “over a decade” – the only “discussion” I recall was a circa 2016 PowerPoint presentation of 10-year Capital-Improvement projects suggesting $1-million be set aside for “City Island Courthouse Improvements” – which included safety/security issues, acoustical and configuration of courtrooms, ADA accessibly issues and emergency backup power.
And everyone agrees we need a new courthouse.
What I don’t remember is the decades-long discussions of the urgent need for a $260+ million dollar consolidated mega-facility.
As far as who suggested the $200,000,000-dollar figure you screamed about – it was your County Manager – Little Jimmy Dinneen.
In fact, it was emblazoned on the front page of the Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“The changes are expected to be financed with a $120 million bond issue, costing the county $6.5 million annually on debt service that’s anticipated to take 30 to 40 years to pay off. In all, taxpayers are expected to be on the hook for between $195 million and $260 million, officials said.”
So, Mr. Kelley, before you go off like a deranged banshee on thoughtful citizens who are trying to get their heads around the most expensive project in the history of Volusia County – one that garnered exactly 38-minutes of open discussion – you might try reading the newspaper.
Look, I know you can read, Ed – I’ve seen your lips moving.
In my view, the exalted Chairman of the Volusia County Council might consider educating himself on the important issues of the day before spouting-off like a clueless asshole on social media.
It’s unbecoming – and undermines the people’s confidence.