It’s no secret that we have a strange system of government here in Volusia County – part plutocracy, governed by a small group of uber-rich and incredibly influential people who trade in local political candidates like commodities brokers – and part authoritarian dictatorship, overseen by a mendacious front man, wholly controlled and deftly manipulated by these same wealthy insiders.
Whatever it is, our county government bears no resemblance to a representative democracy.
In most local elections, our choices for public office are quickly whittled down to the lesser of two evils by those who stand to benefit most.
For instance, the 2016 District 4 County Council race became the most expensive single contest in Volusia’s history with more than $503,000 going to two of the most mediocre candidates to ever crawl out of the local political swamp – Al Smith, and the eventual winner, Heather Post.
To say that Councilwoman Post’s short term in office has had some “challenges” is an understatement.
But she has shown real promise as well.
As a freshman politician who emerged from the ether to claim the District 4 seat, Ms. Post has been quickly indoctrinated in the ways of Volusia’s entrenched autocratic system, wherein the appointed County Manager controls all aspects of governance – to include the flow of public funds – totally insulated from the scrutiny of our elected officials and closely guarded by the very oligarchs seeking a return on their campaign investment.
Yet, Ms. Post has – time and again – made waves when she challenged this status quo, always with the mantra that she represents the interests of the people who elected her – not the whims of the County’s bureaucratic machinery.
I think that shows a true willingness to serve – and the courage to challenge the system.
In each case, the veteran politicians sitting with her on the dais of power – those who long ago accepted their role as a mere cog in a much larger and well-greased wheel – have attempted to publicly browbeat Ms. Post into conformity.
At last week’s County Council meeting, Ms. Post voiced her frustration over Jim Dinneen’s lack of timely information-sharing during the response to Hurricane Irma – and she was rightly taken to the woodshed.
Look, many of you aren’t going to agree with my take on this one – but I’m going to say it anyway.
In my view, like any greenhorn elected official during a time of crisis, Heather Post wanted desperately to transcend the policy role she was elected to and “help” with the administration and operations during the response and immediate recovery to Hurricane Irma.
But that’s not the way it works.
Apparently, County Manager Dinneen had little patience for Ms. Post’s request to remain “in the loop” at the Emergency Operations Center and there was a flashpoint – during which Post threw something of a tantrum, which, as I understand it, was a bit over the top and had the potential to disrupt the flow of important work.
To his credit, Mr. Dinneen simply walked away from it.
According to Ms. Post, the County Manager intentionally kept her in the dark – and even ordered senior staff to refuse her direct requests for information – and there is no doubt in my mind that’s how it happened.
These folks were busy doing their jobs – coordinating emergency response and recovery operations – while dealing with a multi-faceted crisis under stress.
Look, I’m no fan of Jim Dinneen – in fact, I abhor everything he stands for and represents in government. In my view, Mr. Dinneen has little, if any, respect for the democratic process, our much-heralded “County Charter,” or the needs and wants of the citizens of Volusia County.
And I certainly don’t trust anything he says.
As our very popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood – another fresh set of eyes who has seen the monocracy in Deland up close and personal – explained, “Jim Dinneen is a lying sack of shit” – “Either he has Alzheimer’s disease, or he’s a pathological liar.”
Clearly, there was a confrontational dynamic at play as Irma’s fierce winds scoured and flooded Volusia County.
But, for good or for ill, Mr. Dinneen was solely responsible for managing and directing all operational aspects of our county government’s response to a serious and unfolding natural disaster – and while carrying out those duties, he was required to “deal” with an inexperienced elected official with her warface on – a new councilmember desperately seeking to see and be seen during the midst of a crisis – as she clearly overstepped her role and assumed some goofy fact-finding posture at the EOC.
Trust me. I’ve been there, done that and still have what’s left of the t-shirt.
Politicians on Parade is a vignette that has played out during every disaster in every jurisdiction since Noah loaded the ark – it’s understandable, and can be effectively managed with patience and diplomacy.
After all, Ms. Post is new to the position and she comes from a first responder background.
I believe she sincerely wanted to help her constituents in a hands-on way. She also tried hard to push timely storm-related information out on social media – and I’m sure that came from her innate sense of service.
I respect that.
But, if the information is accurate, the way she went about it during the event was wrong – and her weird policy of dodging a Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter’s questions and making counter-accusations about the newspapers motives doesn’t add credibility to her case.
Look, like any good politician, Councilwoman Post is a shameless self-promoter.
Her post-storm travels with the Volusia County Fire Chief (who must have drawn the short straw in the Department Head meeting), frequent Facebook reminders that she was on a “Conference call with Governor Rick Scott,” countless contrived selfies and clearly staged photographs of Councilwoman Post – clad cap-a-pie in military fatigue pants, black t-shirt and camouflage cap, hands-on-hips, looking for all the world like some deranged Generalissimo – are truly cringeworthy.
Whether posing for a picture while feeding Gatorade to an elderly shut-in – or skipping her actual duties in the Council Chambers to attend a photo-op with Slick Rick Scott – Heather Post was, literally, everywhere – before, during and after the incident.
Just ask her.
Let’s face it – it’s one thing to do a good turn for your constituents, it’s quite another to get your picture on the front page of the Ormond Beach Observer doing it, eh?
It’s all part of the game. Politicians at all levels of government simply must tout their accomplishments – I assure you no one else is going to do it for them – and it’s important that their constituents know that they are active and involved in the community.
But timing is everything.
Ms. Post should understand that an elected official using an unfolding disaster as the backdrop for a personal marketing campaign is not without political risk.
Some view self-promotion as a critical leadership skill – others as a distasteful character flaw – and, despite our best efforts, public opinion is not always kind – especially when John Q is sitting in a sweltering house, sweating his ass off with no power.
Councilwoman Post has embarrassed her fellow elected officials – who kept clear of the fray and allowed the professionals to do their jobs – and I doubt her hyper-sensitive colleagues on the dais will soon forget Post’s grandstanding.
The only positive I can find in this sordid mess is the fact we got one of those interminable lectures so eloquently, and theatrically, delivered by Councilwoman Deb Denys.
I love those.
During the contentious post-storm council meeting, the always irascible Denys ripped into Ms. Post like a Pitbull on a pork chop:
“To try and make this hurricane event about one council member in a clash with the manager is not the right time. To roll out a thundercloud before we even get to the point of debris removal and mosquito control and some really serious issues, because it’s your issue … I’m sorry,” Denys said. “We do not get involved in day-to-day operations.”
She’s right. Ms. Post should stay in her lane.
But Heather Post isn’t the only one at fault here.
In incidents like this there is always a glimpse of something deeper – a peek behind Oz’s velvet curtain – a momentary perspective that exposes the genesis of the issue.
And it is infinitely more substantive than a silly spat between two ego-maniacal tin-pot government officials with situational delusions of grandeur.
Perhaps it’s time those in a position to effect positive change (namely us, the voters) take a hard look at this convoluted protection racket which permits the county’s chief executive to operate with a complete lack of accountability or oversight, strategically withhold information from policymakers, manipulate the process and effectively relegate the people’s elected representatives to the role of neutered marionettes – an elected body of no real purpose beyond rubber-stamping the edicts handed down from on high.
(Photo Credit: Photo provided to the Ormond Beach Observer by Heather Post. . .)