Article II, Section 8, Florida Constitution: “A public office is a public trust.”
For many, public service is a calling – a true willingness to serve others, a chance to work hard in a cause greater than ones own self-interests – and make their community, state or nation a better place.
For others, it is a means to an end.
A “gig” where you get to make the rules – and play with other people’s money with very little direct oversight – and employment protections the average citizen will never know.
Sometimes those in positions of power – with incredible influence over the lives and livelihoods of others – get confused.
When everyone laughs at their jokes, complements their tie, and agrees with them on decisions large and small – these “leaders” lose touch with reality and consider themselves invincible – blinded by that hubristic feeling of pompous omnipotence.
Add the external pressures of an enormous salary and benefits package – and near total political control over those elected to set public policy – and bad things happen.
It’s a problem as old as politics – and the ash heap of history is littered with the festering political carcasses of shitheels who couldn’t balance power with humility.
I see my role as an alternative blogger – a shit-stirring, pain in the ass critic who “points out where the strong man stumbled” and pokes fun at these haughty egomaniacs – as important to maintaining balance and accountability in a process that has neither.
Now that County Manager Jim Dinneen is on the ropes – many others are coming forward, shining a very bright light on a very dark and slippery period of our history here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
From public safety unions to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Councilwoman Heather Post – to the average Joe and Jane Lunchpail on the street – every day more citizens are openly calling for the immediate removal of this greedy little shyster who has for a decade stood as a mean-spirited barricade to substantive progress – the very personification of a weird brand of quid pro quo corruption that has gone from the shadows to the norm in Volusia County.
Like the old Bedouin proverb teaches, “As the camel falls to its knees, more knives are drawn. . .”
A smart friend recently called and asked how it feels to have everything I’ve written in the past two-and-a-half years validated over the course of two-days?
The answer: It’s bittersweet.
Look, there is no ‘victory’ here – and even if County Manager Jim Dinneen is run out of town on a rail at today’s County Council meeting – he still walks with a quarter-million-dollars of our money stuffed in a greasy paper bag, thanks to a one-sided employment contract that was specifically written to ensure a soft landing when Dinneen’s sins against the public trust were inevitably exposed.
Some call it a “golden parachute” – but it’s more akin to good old-fashioned buggery – and the county attorney who swallowed an antiemetic and approved it should be placed in stocks and given the Bastinado treatment in front of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center.
If you haven’t read it – I urge everyone to take note – because We, The People will be entering into another employment agreement with yet another itinerant manager in coming months.
In a 2011 rewrite of the agreement – just days before the Florida Legislature limited severance packages for public officials to an amount no greater than 20-weeks salary – Mr. Dinneen was permitted to include onerous language which skirts the law and provides him with a prize package worth nearly $250,000 for some convoluted assistance in finding his replacement.
Now, County Attorney Dan Eckert – a recipient of public funds who continues to serve his master like the neutered lapdog he is (Dan’s a tiger when he’s suing the citizens of Volusia County, but yellow to the core when it comes time to protect them from a little man with a God complex) – is doing his level best to convince those dullards we elected to represent our interests that Dinneen – who has now been exposed as a weeping chancre on our system of governance – has a lead pipe cinch on his obscene severance package.
Something tells me this isn’t going to end well for Dan, his Machiavellian prince – or any elected official who continues to support this absurd, bullying farce that has destroyed the public’s trust and confidence in their government.
Like some maniacal Paul Revere on a drunken midnight ride, I’ve been screaming to anyone who would listen that Volusia County has, for the past decade, been hijacked by a cabal of cheapjack greed-heads who use our intentionally squirrely campaign finance laws to pour hundreds-of-thousands of dollars into the war chests of hand-select candidates as a means of maintaining direct access to the public trough.
Damn if I wasn’t right after all.
If you don’t believe me – simply take a stroll down memory lane and match the campaign contributions to the names, addresses and corporate entities – then see how our honorable council members voted when it came time for their sugar daddies to collect a return on investment.
I have a working theory that this bastardized “system” works, in part, because it is wholly facilitated by the ultimate authority under our holy and hallowed Home Rule Charter – County Manager Jim Dinneen.
In turn, the oligarchs who routinely use our tax dollars and public assets for personal profit motives provide Mr. Dinneen with a level of political protection not seen since the days of Gangland Chicago.
How? By controlling the campaign funding spigot.
The true sin surrounding Jim Dinneen’s skullduggery is that some of those we have elected and appointed to positions of high public trust continue to defend the indefensible – even as physical and anecdotal evidence mounts that his actions may well represent a textbook case of official misconduct.
In my view, despite Dan Eckert’s spineless quibbling – I believe our elected officials have all the evidence they need to dismiss Mr. Dinneen’s hastily crafted resignation – then jettison his mendacious ass under the “just cause” provisions of the termination clause of his contract, which specifically prohibits a “violation of applicable state or County ethics provisions.”
In July 2015, the Volusia County Council – including current members Joyce Cusack, the always arrogant Deb Denys and The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry – voted 6-0 to appropriate some $50,000 in public funds for a study of impact fees by Texas-based Duncan Associates (“Sleepy” Pat Patterson was strategically absent that day.)
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “But what members of the County Council, most of the public, and even those city leaders didn’t know is this: The county received a 52-page impact fee study two years ago that recommended fees almost three times higher in some categories and a change to a county ordinance the consultants deemed overly generous to developers.”
Shocking? You bet your ass it is.
When the results of the study were received by Mr. Dinneen and his staff in September 2016, the expert’s findings weren’t what they wanted to hear – and they damn sure weren’t what area developers (who have turned our democratic process into little more than a livestock auction) wanted to hear.
So, a study conducted in the public interest, and paid for with public funds, was willfully and intentionally suppressed – never allowed to see the light-of-day – even as the county council struggled mightily with the impact fee issue both before, during and after the half-cent sales tax debacle was formally removed from the ballot due to mounting citizen concern that developers were not carrying their fair share of the load.
Turns out they weren’t.
In an asinine, and incredibly self-incriminating statement to News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, the hapless Clay Ervin, Volusia County’s director of growth and resource management (?), claimed the report was a mere “draft.”
“Whenever you go out for public review, you want to make sure the documentation is accurate and reflects the intent and purpose.”
What consultant with a shred of credibility sends a “draft” of their $50,000 findings – as if to say, “If you fellas don’t like these figures, I’m sure we can dig around the store room and find something you like better.”
To add insult, just two-weeks ago, Dinneen, Ervin and Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald sat in stone silence like the Three Wise Monkeys as those hapless dupes on the council voted to expend even more public funds with Duncan Associates.
That was the exact second their careers – and what little was left of their professional credibility – gave up the ghost.
I mean, if Duncan’s methodology was so “flawed” that senior staff dismissed their findings out-of-hand – and kept the study out of sight for two-years – then why in the hell would anyone in their right mind go back and pay them even more for a second bite at the apple?
So, what exactly was the “intent and purpose” of physically suppressing this study?
I have another working theory – and it doesn’t bode well for Little Jimmy’s severance:
In my view, Mr. Dinneen and others in senior management have used their public positions to secure an incredibly lucrative financial benefit for specific members of the development community – a group which, for years, has infused massive campaign contributions into the coffers of sitting public officials, then extracted millions of dollars as a return on that investment in infrastructure and incentives – like ensuring that impact fees remain at 2003 levels while the credits they earn for proportionate share agreements are based on current costs.
If true, that’s criminal – and Dan Eckert damn well knows it.
Florida State Statute 112.313 specifically states that it is a Misuse of Public Office when a public officer corruptly uses or attempts to use his or her official position – or perform his or her official duties – to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself or others.
Gentle readers, this smoking gun cannot simply be explained away by some mid-level bureaucrat with his hair on fire trying feverishly to save his pension.
Appropriating $50,000 in public funds for a study, conducted in the public interest, to educate our elected policy makers on impact fee upgrades – then maliciously hiding that important information from them as they dither and dawdle for answers before pissing good money after bad is base malfeasance and neglect of a public duty.
Clearly, Dinneen and his senior staff are ethically, morally and professionally compromised – and if those we pay to investigate public corruption will get off their collective ass – I suspect we may soon see just how deep this abject degeneracy goes.
Now, the finger of suspicion is rightfully pointing where it must ultimately – at those addle-brained assholes we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power – those who took an oath to protect the public trust and uphold the constitution of the State of Florida – then held us out to dry.
It is time our elected officials realize that reasonable people are rightfully questioning how they could not have known that this study existed – given that at least three sitting members voted to appropriate the tax dollars two-years ago – and, more importantly, why they are refusing to take definitive action to protect their constituents and excise this virulent and metastasizing cancer from the body politic now that they clearly know of the depth of the problem?
I believe there is a reckoning coming at the ballot box this fall – long overdue – as Volusia County Council incumbents learn that a public office truly is a public trust.