Best of Barker’s View – On Volusia: You be the Judge

(With County Manager Jim Dinneen and County Attorney Dan Eckert set to receive four-figure raises for Christmas, I thought it might be fun to take another look at this ditty from earlier this year.  Read it and weep…)

May 3, 2017

Leadership is a complicated, multi-faceted and perishable skill that requires years to acquire and near constant training, focus and practice to maintain.

It is rarely, if ever, perfected – especially by those who lack the self-discipline to continuously hone their skills, or fall victim to the arrogance of power and permit themselves the luxury of hubris.

And it can never be achieved to any effective degree by a titular head who is controlled like a marionette by powerful forces in the shadows.

The ability to lead is not magically imparted on an individual simply because they are elected or appointed to a prominent position – and organizations without inspired direction rarely meet their full potential.

In government, strong leadership maintains sound discipline, controls the awesome power inherent to public entities, identifies objectives, communicates effectively, exercises judgment, builds esprit de corps, trusts the ability of subordinates and congratulates their performance, instills confidence in constituents, and directs personnel and resources under their command – efficiently and effectively – to accomplish difficult goals important to our collective welfare.

What I know of it, I learned from others – or simply mimicked the actions and mannerisms of those who inspired me.  As a leader, I failed perhaps more times than I accomplished – but I never stopped trying – and I never abused the trust placed in me by others.

Because leadership and management positions come with great responsibility – and in most cases, an equal level of accountability – we tend to reward those in positions of high authority based upon their individual performance and the overall success of the organization.

For instance, in Volusia County, we pay our county manager over $300,000 annually in salary and benefits.

The role is never static – it is fluid, constantly in flux – and it requires the ability to ‘multi-task,’ evaluate, consider variables, adjust to changing conditions – and most important – anticipate future challenges in time to adapt.

Regardless of the pursuit, a leader – political or otherwise – simply must have the ability to maintain sound situational awareness at all times – even in the fog and confusion of stressful or rapidly changing conditions.

A good leader must constantly know and evaluate Context, Circumstance and Consequence.

What is happening.  What has happened.  What could happen.

You either have it, or you don’t – and once lost, it is extremely difficult to recover.

Nothing is more noticeable, or destructive to morale and public confidence, than a “leader” who has lost command of a situation or organization.

Initially, this phase is marked by the element of surprise – things “pop-up” out of nowhere, misperceptions drive the solution, established processes are manipulated to accommodate situations, and cracks begin to appear in the carefully constructed façade.

Often, people in the upper-echelons who should be “in the know” are caught unaware, resulting in a lack of faith in management and a growing sense of organizational confusion – and subordinates and constituents are left flummoxed by the actions and omissions of those in positions of great responsibility.

Sound familiar DeBary?  Deltona?

How about Volusia County government?

Unfortunately, once this damaging process begins, it is often unrecoverable – resulting in systemic failures, corresponding “cover-ups,” misplaced blame on people and failed technology, and an atmosphere of suspicion and animosity.

Regular readers of these jeremiads know that I have little confidence in County Manager Jim Dinneen – or those we have elected to represent and protect our interests on the county council.

But, this is something different.

This morning, residents of the Halifax area awoke to the news that a proposed land use law, currently in the final legislative stages in Tallahassee, has the very real potential to threaten our heritage of beach driving by limiting the ability of local government to pass ordinances that impact private property rights – specifically as it relates to customary use.

In Volusia County, cars have been on the beach since Ransom Olds and Henry Ford began producing automobiles for the masses.  As I understand it, Volusia County has held that beach driving and access has been a customary public use for over one-hundred years now, and that tradition has prohibited beachfront property owners from blocking general access to areas above the mean high-tide line.

Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems that our elected and appointed officials – both in Tallahassee and Deland – should have been following this potential threat to general beach access from its inception.

During most County Council meetings, I listen as Councilwoman Deb Denys recites, damn near verbatim, the context and intent of any pending legislation that may adversely impact Volusia’s property tax revenues – and I audibly groan as that insufferable blow-hard, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, drones on about his extensive insider knowledge of anything and everything developing in Tallahassee that may remotely impact life on the Fun Coast.

In addition, the county’s lobbying firm, GrayRobinson – Tallahassee insiders who receive some $50,000 of our tax dollars annually apparently without going through a competitive selection process – were caught snoozing as well.

Or is something else afoot?

According to Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona), We, The People, have nothing to fear by this proposed legislation – citing the fact that 118 Florida House members voted in favor of the Bill.

Why am I not convinced?

Well, in my view, Mr. Santiago is not smart enough to understand the long-term ramifications of this legislation on his own – and he has a proven track record of following the orders and political directives of his uber-wealthy campaign contributors to exacting specifications.

And we all know how our High Panjandrums of Political Influence feel about beach driving.

What I find most troubling is the timing of this mess.

Six days after the amendment to the Bill was added, and just three days before the vote, County Attorney Dan Eckert – who has made a cottage industry out of hampering the public’s right to have input in beach issues – finally gets around to sending an email to county council members expressing his concerns?

And all we have heard is the monotonous chirp of crickets from Jim Dinneen’s office.

To add to the growing sense of panic – freshman Councilwoman Billie Wheeler openly announced that she was physically frightened by the proposed law’s potential impact on beach access in Volusia County.

In the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s informative piece, “ACCESS DENIED,” reporter Dustin Wyatt quoted:

“This scares me,” said County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler. “From what I understand, it would almost privatize areas of the beach and I’m totally against that. Any time you threaten the rights of citizens to the beach, that’s a problem.”

 Right, Billie.

(Note to Ms. Wheeler: Seeing your elected leaders openly cower and shiver in their boots is rarely inspirational.)

I think we can all agree that – just months into her term – Billie has virtually mastered the political art of talking out of both sides of her mouth.  Given her recent vote to extend concessions to the miserably failed Desert Inn/Westin project – which all but assures the removal of beach driving from the strand behind the hotel – it’s patently obvious where her loyalties reside.

And don’t expect reassurance – or even a trace of leadership – from our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley.

No, Big Ed is working off the foregone conclusion that beach driving is doomed – at least if he has his way – and we should all applaud the county for their, “aggressive thinking ahead of the curve for if it happens.”

I think what he is trying to say is, “See, you stupid assholes, this is why we have been spending your hard-earned tax dollars on overpriced parking lots – now, say thank you – and shut the hell up.”

My ass.

Volusia County officials haven’t had an original thought in years – it was beaten out of them by a ‘go along and get along’ system that rewards homogenized conformity and punishes creativity.

They do what they are told by shadowy string-pullers – and follow the dark and slippery path lit for them by Little Jimmy – lest their campaign funding gets turned off like a rusty spigot.

Folks, one of two things have happened here – and neither option instills confidence in what passes for “leadership” in Volusia County.

Either our elected and appointed officials were caught flatfooted – totally unaware of pending legislation that could fundamentally change our way-of-life in Volusia County – and drastically impact our tourist-based economy.

Or, the powers-that-be knew full well that this law could theoretically open the door to privatization of our beaches and, once and for all, eliminate our heritage of beach driving – which has been the obvious goal of the Dinneen administration (read: J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini, Lesa France-Kennedy, etc.) for the past decade – and they used strategic inaction to allow that shit-train to move as far down the track as possible before foisting it on an unsuspecting constituency.

I’ll let you be the judge.



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