One of my favorite movies is the cinema classic, Cool Hand Luke.
In an iconic scene, after shackling Luke the road captain says to the gathered inmates, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
Wow. Does that ring true for the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County, or what?
I naturally assume Barker’s View readers are what political scientists call “high-information” voters – individuals who take the time to read alternative opinions, analyze all available information then form your own independent views on the issues of the day.
Trust me when I say, it is getting increasingly difficult to stay well-informed in the “low transparency” environment of Volusia County government.
In a Sunday piece by Dustin Wyatt writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that our ‘powers that be’ failed to consider a very expensive unintended consequence of their recent hasty decision:
“The last-minute decision to delay putting a sales tax increase on the ballot this year could cost Volusia County voters as much as $1 million.”
Let that soak in a minute.
With so many pressing matters threatening our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast – crumbling infrastructure, blight, dilapidation, homelessness, hopelessness, low wages, underpaid and underappreciated teachers, unchecked growth, etcetera, etcetera – one might think that pissing away $1 million dollars on a special election is a damnable waste of already scarce assets.
Because it is.
Rather than consider options, attempt to rebuild trust and confidence then honestly communicate with those of us who will ultimately foot the bill, our elected officials on the Dais of Power in Deland march boldly forward like a herd of turtles – stuck on stupid – publicly discussing bringing the sale tax initiative before voters next year before they have had the first discussion of impact fees – or taken step one to ensure mega-developers (read: campaign contributors) pay their fair share.
According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “If we have to wait until 2020, I think we will get further behind the eight-ball” on infrastructure needs.”
I swear – we’re so lucky to have his vision and insight at the helm. . .
Look, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but if Old Ed and the Funky Bunch think we’re going to accept a superficial increase in impact fees glossed over with some cheap sleight-of-hand by real estate developers – they need to think again. Hell, they need to think period.
My God. They just don’t get it.
Trust me – with $45 million in annual revenue at stake, we’re having a special election next year whether we want one or not.
Why is it so hard for our elected and appointed officials to understand – We, The People want a meaningful dialog with our government on these extremely important – and expensive – issues?
Everyone knows the pitfalls of making decisions in a vacuum – forming conclusions or making judgement calls with little outside information, or worse, in the isolation of a system convinced of its own infallibility – yet it happens with startling frequency in county government.
In my view, communication between elected officials and their constituents is the single most important role those who hold high elective office play in our system of governance. They serve as a liaison of sorts, our advocate, an intermediary between a cloistered, seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy and the citizens it ostensibly exists to serve.
At least they should.
In this technologically advanced age, what passes for “government communication” is increasingly a one-way monologue – not a dialog.
Every politician from the President of the United States to the Mayor of Lick Skillet, Arkansas bangs out “Tweets,” “Snaps” and other electronic snippets like ‘tweens on a social media binge as they attempt to address the issues of the day in 140 characters or less.
But when it comes to local government transparency, truth in spending, or the development of public policies that affect our lives and livelihoods and how those priorities were arrived at, we want to hear those explanations right from the horse’s mouth, preferably in an open forum that allows us to question assertions and address the issues in an open discussion.
The fact is, Volusia County Council meetings have dissolved into little more than staged theater – a weird Kabuki scripted well in advance by our scheming County Manager – with each elected and appointed official playing his or her role to the letter, never wavering from the well-orchestrated libretto.
Sometimes this takes the form of claiming that anyone without a political honorific is simply too stupid to grasp the intricacies of a given issue – never more apparent than during what passed for the council’s “discussion” of impact fees in Volusia County.
The reasons for this lack of candor are relatively easy to discern.
Sitting politicians never want to be embarrassed by hacks like me; opinionated assholes who lay in wait for the slightest miscue, then bash them over their collective head with it – but in Volusia County it is a manifestation of a government that considers citizen input and oversight anathema to the closet manipulation of public policy to benefit a special interest while avoiding public outcry and controversy.
Needless to say, this leaves little room for independent thought – or, God forbid – honesty, clarity and openness from county officials.
Take the curious case of the uber-weird first-year District 4 County Council member Heather Post.
From the minute Ms. Post took her seat, any attempt to exhibit independence, or speak objectively on behalf of her constituency, was met with a thundering rebuke from veteran “colleagues” who publicly beat her like a borrowed mule – ultimately forcing Post into the lock-step conformity required in this bastardized oligarchy that passes for governance in Volusia County.
As a result, Councilwoman Post no longer speaks to local media outlets – communicating almost exclusively through a canned Facebook page where she can control all aspects of her message without challenge.
I’m pretty sure that’s not how any of this is supposed to work.
So, the cycle continues to perpetuate itself – destroying innovation, marginalizing independent thought and discouraging citizen engagement at all levels of government.
Earlier this month, I wrote a piece regarding the clear attempt by some local governments to stymie constituent participation by inexplicably moving public comment to a predetermined time either before the meeting starts, or after the people’s business has been concluded, then placing subjective limitations on what residents can or cannot discuss during their 2.5 to 3.0 minutes of constitutionally guaranteed participation in their government.
As a result, most citizens I have spoken with feel that their elected representatives no longer care what they have to say.
Clearly, our elected and appointed officials could give two-shits what we have to say.
Yet, our haughty Roundtable of Elected Officials still don’t understand why their constituents don’t trust them – especially when it comes to increasing the sales tax for every man, woman, child and visitor.
With the 2018 election cycle beginning to heat up, the long-suffering sheeple of Volusia County will begin hearing – ad nauseum – all the wonderful things those standing for high office will do for us in exchange for our sacred vote.
That’s why it is so vitally important for voters to watch the differences between what incumbent politicians say during their campaign – and what they do once in office.
For instance, if a politician tells you they support beach driving and crow that they would never vote to remove cars from the beach – then they vote to remove cars from the beach – well, you can brand that person a damnable liar and learn a valuable lesson.
It’s the easiest way I know to become a “High Information” voter.
In my view, until we change the composition and mindset of the Volusia County Council – nothing, and I mean nothing – is going to change.
The underlying system that controls our current crop of elected officials, deflects accountability, cloaks the backroom machinations and churns public funds into private profits for all the right last names remains firmly entrenched in the form of our enormously overpaid County Manager Jim Dinneen.
That simply must change.
Frankly, this never-ending shit-train of political missteps, mistakes, and bloopers is getting old, and terribly expensive for those of us who pay the bills – and our elected officials seem completely incapable of communicating why they continue to allow it to happen with honesty, clarity and candor.
I hope you remember this at the polls. I know I will.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal