On Volusia: The End of an Era? Let’s hope so

Hi, kids!  Yosemite Sam here!

The roughest, toughest, rootinest, tootinest, poot-pootinest, blogger whatever packed a pencil!

I opine on those lily-livered, bow-legged varmints who inhabit the halls of power – the idgit galoots who we elect and appoint to positions of high power – them flea-bitten scalawags who invariably serve the special interests of rich and powerful insiders – then forget all about us sufferin’ suckers who pay those rascally bills!

This week, I got a kick out of Daytona Beach News-Journal editorialist Scott Kent’s admonition to Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood that his frequent harsh criticisms of County Manager Jim Dinneen are “unprofessional and unbecoming of an elected official.”

“Chitwood should leave that Yosemite Sam stuff to the bloggers.”

 I don’t know.  Why should I have all the fun?

I’m kidding.

The fact is – I can only pontificate on the news-of-the-day – the dribs and drabs of information that slowly seep out of county government in canned press releases, carefully orchestrated soundbites or from what passes for public communication from our elected officials.

Besides, I like Sheriff Chitwood’s brash, no-holds-barred style.

He calls it like he sees it – and his pointed criticism of an entrenched system originates from the first fresh set of eyes to see the internal machinations of a decade-old administration that seems more focused on managing the county council than the administrative and operational aspects of a large, bloated and unwieldy bureaucracy.

I’m often asked why I “hate” Jim Dinneen – a natural assumption based upon my frequent screeds taking him to task for the disaster du jour – the seemingly endless gaffes, mistakes, howlers and good Old Fashioned, five-alarm fuck-ups that dominate the news these days.

The fact is, I don’t hate Mr. Dinneen – I’ve never met the man.

Only a small-minded bigot hates someone they don’t know or understand; however, I intensely dislike his cheapjack means to an end and manipulation of our system of governance to meet the private profit motives of political insiders.

Trust me, I understand Mr. Dinneen’s methods all too well.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating at this pivotal moment in our county’s history:

During a period of my long career in municipal government I served, for a time, as acting city manager.  Once, while dealing with a crisis, I placed a telephone call to Mr. Dinneen to request assistance from the County’s Road & Bridge Department.

It wasn’t a big deal – I needed to borrow some specialty barricades until we could purchase our own – and Volusia County had a warehouse full of them right down the street from my office.

Mr. Dinneen refused to speak to me.

I don’t know why – but he wouldn’t take my call.

I tried twice, then took the hint.

Perhaps its my law enforcement background – where we help one another regardless of jurisdiction, provide mutual aid and operational support to ensure the mission is accomplished – realizing the importance of cooperation in this mosaic of sixteen municipalities where crime and emergencies don’t recognize jurisdictional borders – but Dinneen’s refusal to assist really rubbed me wrong.

And it told me a lot about the man, his management style and his relationship with the municipalities.

Someone recently opined on social media that the primary role of a city/county manager is to serve as a scapegoat for the elected officials.

I disagree.

It’s an incredibly important role in the life of a community – and when things go bad – real damage can result.

During my career, I saw – and have been an active part of – some manically dysfunctional administrations.  I’m talking historic incompetence, palace intrigue, Machiavellian subterfuge, personal vendettas, unethical conduct and rabid small town political infighting – a real hell-broth of fear and dysfunction.

All of it brought by the incompetence and ineptitude of a few appointed managers.

In a Council/Manager form of government, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services.  For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments, agencies and services of the government and administrate all financial processes and budget recommendations.

We, The People, elect the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – similar to a corporate board of directors – who appoint a manager with ostensibly strong managerial and organizational skills to run the day-to-day operations of the government, make policy determinations, approve budget allocations and serve the legislative function.

Most do a fine job – and some do an exceptional job – serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

The system also insulates career civil servants – the professionals who provide government services to the community – from the often politically motivated nature of elected officials who are normally prohibited by charter from directing or interfering with operations.

That’s important.

Perhaps the one aspect of the system that gives the manager ultimate power is the fact that he or she personally controls the flow of information to the members of the elected body.

That can be dangerous.

Florida’s open government laws specifically prohibit two or more elected officials from discussing matters coming before the collective body in private.  As a result, the only conduit they have to the “real story” – the nuts and bolts of the issues – is through individual meetings with the manager.

While elected officials do have some leeway to conduct independent fact-finding – some charters, and transparent managers, allow commissioners to speak with department heads – but most rely solely on what they are told by the manager.

As a result, many times the legislative process dissolves into little more than a rubber-stamp of the manager’s prerogative.

In our representative democracy, the only thing standing in the way of a government executive transmogrifying into a tyrannical despot is the elected body – politically accountable policymakers charged with the direct oversight of an extremely powerful individual.

It’s a tough gig – on both sides – and requires a balance of power that is influenced by many factors.

In Volusia County, a big factor is the enormous sums of cash which are infused into local political campaigns by those special interests seeking continued access to the public trough.

Look, I poke fun at them a lot – but the fact is, local and county elected officials have a tough job serving as the face of our government.

The motivations and drive to hold oneself out for public office are as varied as the people who participate in the process – a desire for community service, civic involvement, a need to change the status quo, the real ability to make a positive impact, patriotism – and the less noble reasons of power, prestige, personal and professional benefit and outsized ego.

They are our insurance agent, realtor, dentist and clergy, farmer, school teachers and retirees, business owners and attorneys – folks from all walks of life, experience and backgrounds.

They take the late-night phone calls about trash collection, patiently listen to citizen complaints, explain the labyrinth of government processes, set budgets, hear zoning disputes, sit on boards and committees, listen to mind-numbing presentations, raise funds and awareness, endure relentless lobbying and persuasion from “power brokers” and competing interests, field personal insults and inquiries, and attend myriad ribbon cuttings, chamber events and rubber chicken civic functions.

All while being beaten up for their every misstep by wise-asses like me.

In most cases, they serve in the public interest – but a few succumb to the temptation of power and become everything they hated when their political journey began.

Others are simply weak-minded or unprepared for the reality of politics – and are quickly taken into the maw of the “system” – a machine that feeds greedily on tax dollars and rejects creativity or individual thought in favor of homogenized conformity and allegiance to the shadowy, behind-the-scenes shot-callers who use the public purse for personal enrichment.

As a result, many who stand for public office quickly realize it is simply easier to go along, and get along.

I have it on good authority – from at least two independent sources – that our beleaguered County Manager’s days at the helm of Volusia County government are coming to a close.

While I’m not sure what form his departure will take – or even if what I am hearing is correct – I think we can all agree that the time has come for Mr. Dinneen to go.

From District 4 County Councilwoman Heather Post’s videotaped disclosures on social media describing the ugly internal issues, lack of transparency and pathological information control measures currently in place – to Sheriff Chitwood’s scathing critique of Mr. Dinneen’s micromanagement and untruthfulness – the problems are getting too big, and too numerous, to ignore.

Even the Daytona Beach News-Journal is calling for change.

I encourage our elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand to muster the personal and political courage to show Jim Dinneen the door – sooner rather than later.

It is time to restore honesty and transparency in a government that has come off the rails – and lost the trust and confidence of those it exists to serve.







One thought on “On Volusia: The End of an Era? Let’s hope so

  1. Mark, a screed that wasn’t. It’s my hope if and when Mr. Dinneen is let go, that it happens closer to, better yet, post election day, when hopefully there’ll be some new “one faced” council members installed. New board members who will listen to and consider their constituents views before taking actions that impact all Volusia County residents. New board members who also aren’t controlled by or aligned with the infamous “5 Families” as they participate in the interview process and eventual approval of Volusia’s next county manager. If not, the current yahoos will simply ratify an oligarch approved carbon copy of Dinneen or possibly someone worse, to fill the position.


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