I frequently receive heartfelt calls and messages from residents of the Halifax area who are increasingly dissatisfied by the direction our local political “leaders” – from New Smyrna to Ormond Beach – are taking us.
Especially in terms of irresponsible development.
In Ormond Beach, many remain horrified by the sight of the shocking scene of the environmental abattoir that now encompasses both sides of Granada Boulevard.
Recently, to make way for a commercial project spearheaded by local developer Paul Holub, a beautiful hardwood hammock populated by majestic old growth oak trees was clear-cut – I mean decimated and churned into sawdust – to make way for another convenience store, a chicken wing drive-thru and a mystery grocery.
An intrusive, noisy, high-traffic and completely inappropriate commercial beehive plopped at the exact interface of a long-established residential neighborhood and the Granada corridor.
Many times, all it takes is one highly visible insult our collective conscience to awaken the sleeping masses to an important civic issue that, under normal circumstances, many would shrug-off as “politics as usual.”
But this is different. There is a visceral component to the devastation.
What happened to those historic trees and wildlife habitat was wrong.
I recently spoke with a citizen who lives near Mr. Holub’s muddy quagmire on Tomoka Road who, due to his homes proximity to the project, has real concerns about how the radical change in topography will affect flooding issues in his neighborhood and beyond.
The gentleman told me that he called a long-time Ormond Beach city commissioner who – astonishingly – dismissed the citizen’s concerns, then crowed that he had never made a mistake during his over 15-years on the dais of power.
Other neighbors that I’ve spoken to report similar responses to their concerns about the project – and it appears no one on the all-male revue that is the Ormond Beach City Commission seems to see a problem with this wholesale destruction of a natural space that has galvanized our community.
And that, my friends, is the crux of the problem we face.
During my service in municipal government, I learned that all people really want is to be listened to.
They want to know that those who they elect to make decisions that directly effect their lives and livelihoods care enough to hear their concerns – then factor that input into the legislative process.
It really is that simple.
The problem is, in government as in many pursuits where imperfect human beings are granted extraordinary power over others, a mild superiority complex – over time – morphs into unbridled hubris.
This isn’t universally true – I know several long-serving politicians who respect the high office they have ascended to and hold their sacred responsibilities to constituents above their own self-interests.
But it is increasingly rare at all levels of government.
The problem begins when the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker transition from engaged citizen to elected policy maker and begin the slow process of setting themselves apart from their constituents.
Very important people begin to fawn over them, they are invited to social events that they wouldn’t have been allowed to wash dishes at before the election – and the symbiotic relationship based upon, “I need your campaign contribution. Good, because I need your vote on certain issues. . .” begins to blossom.
Once they sell their souls and compromise their independence – some politicians become everything they hated.
Soon after they assume a position of power, the media takes notice, and our newly minted royals are quoted on the front page of the newspaper, no matter how inane – or untrue – their every utterance may be.
They begin to buy into their own schtick.
Add to that the trappings of the office, and the near-constant kowtowing of the sycophantic lickspittles who often populate low-level government offices and elected officials begin to believe they are “different” from the rest of us – which reinforces an overweening sense of infallibility.
The checks and balances of self-doubt begin to evaporate and the “I’ve never made a mistake” pathology takes root.
In Volusia County, the Donor Class have perfected a political strategy of funneling massive amounts of money into the campaign coffers of their hand-select candidates for local offices early in the process – a tactic which scares away otherwise viable candidates without the financial wherewithal to mount an effective challenge.
In short, the electorate begin to feel that the outcome is a foregone conclusion – they are inundated by glossy mailers touting the bought-and-paid for candidate’s attributes and see professionally produced television advertisements of the wannabe and his perfectly coiffed family frolicking on the beach – and the voters natural instincts are dulled.
After all, if an astronomically successful billionaire believes Joe Schmoe is good for our community – who am I to disagree?
And the cycle continues.
It is heartening to see that from the utter shock of the Holub debacle has grown a grassroots effort in the form of CANDO II – a group of concerned Ormond Beach residents who are committed to environmentally responsible growth and accountability in future land use decisions.
So far, one quality candidate has emerged in Ormond’s Zone 3 race to challenge the status quo – who just happens to be – believe it or not – a woman (I mean, its an elected office – not the Ormond Beach Rotary Club, for Christ sake).
In fact, Sandy Kaufman – a veteran Volusia County Deputy Clerk of the Court – recently announced that preserving our greenspace and ensuring that the devastation seen at the Granada Pointe site never happens again is the very foundation of her candidacy.
Good for you, Ms. Kaufman – we need more like you in the mix.
I hope other citizens with a true desire serve their neighbors make the difficult decision to run as well.
In my view, the only way we can overcome the current political climate that has placed the whims and wants of political insiders over the real needs of residents is the power of the ballot box.
I fear it’s now, or never.
To quote Sheriff Mike Chitwood – Volusia County (and, I would add, many of its municipalities) – needs an enema.
In my view, it is time for voters to return a sense of humility and service-above-self to the Halls of Power in Ormond Beach and beyond. We can do this by electing servant-leaders who have proven – by their actions, not the size of their campaign account – a willingness to work hard in the best interests of our county and communities.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal