And after souper gonnen they to ryse,
At ese wel, with hertes fresshe and glade,
To lyken hir, or that hir laughen made.
He song; she pleyde; he tolde tale of Wade.
But at the laste, as every thing hath ende,
She took hir leve, and nedes wolde wende.
–Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde
In the four short years since I retired from life and melted into the semi-reclusive internet troll I’ve become, I keep what’s left of my mind limber by trying to learn something new every day – turning my leisure years into something of a strange sabbatical where I attempt to gain enlightenment and see grace in the mundane things found in my cloistered environment.
Those who know me well are aware that I suffer from social anxiety – I’m awkward, naturally suspicious, and don’t make friends easily – so I impose on the company of a small handful of life-long confidants who understand and accept my quirks.
The result is that I spend an inordinate amount of time alone – lost in my own weak mind – reading, thinking, brooding and contemplating things that most “normal” people might find, well, boring.
Last week, I traveled to my ancestral home in the hills of East Tennessee and availed myself of a week in the quaint community of Jonesborough – the oldest town in the state – a place rich in history, culture, and good music – home to the International Storytelling Center.
Each evening I sat outside, sipped fine locally distilled whiskey, and studied the unique habits of Lampyridae – lightning bugs – small winged beetles of the order Coleopetera who use bioluminescence at twilight to attract mates and prey.
In the past few days, I’ve analyzed every scientific study I could find on one of God’s most captivating creatures – insects who spend most of their lives in the larval stage – and just two short months at the end of their lifespan in flight with their strobe-like butts illuminating the evening greenspace.
I’ve been fascinated by them since childhood – and it was a spectacular scene as hundreds rose from the earth, simultaneously, just at dusk – then disappeared in unison at some naturally predetermined time known only to them.
I was thrilled to see them come out each evening – and sad to see them go.
The English author Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with the idiom, “All good things must come to an end” – a reminder that all human experiences – good and bad – are temporary.
It can be used to express resigned acceptance, a term of regret or as a prophetic warning – and it applies equally to all of us – even fireflies and county managers.
Many members of the loyal Barker’s View tribe have reached out this week and asked how it feels to have my opinions on the machinations of Volusia County government validated in a few short days – and I’ve tried to explain that there is no ‘victory’ in the departure of County Manager Jim Dinneen.
Every end signals a new beginning – just as when we pass away, somewhere in this big ol’ goofy world a newborn baby screams their way to life – and the whole circle begins anew.
Trust me when I say that the forced departure of a mediocre public administrator commanding over $300,000 in tax funded salary and benefits isn’t nearly that important in the great scheme of things – in fact, it is a necessary and beneficial part of the political evolution of Volusia County.
Our ‘powers that be’ will now fumble through the important task of selecting a new county manager – then our wealthy political insiders will begin beating that poor square peg into the round hole of an oligarchical system that will remain entrenched long after Mr. Dinneen is stewarding another community a thousand-miles away from this beleaguered place we call home.
I have always been fond of the quote, “Be humble in victory, gracious in defeat.”
It’s a good axiom to live by.
After all, sometimes winning is not so important as having participated in the debate of competing ideas that shape our collective future – an endeavor that can unite and ultimately strengthen our community bonds.
You won’t find anything more about Jim Dinneen on this blog after today – he’s someone else’s problem now – and I wish him well.
All things must come to an end. This too shall pass.
It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.
Gentle readers, as we mark the end of this uber-weird period of our history, I’d like to dedicate today’s special Volusia-centric episode of Angels & Assholes to Sheriff Michael Chitwood for his personal dedication and professional perseverance – at great risk to his standing and reputation – as he worked valiantly to shine a very bright light on the sinister intrigues of a greed-crazed power structure that damn near sank us all.
Look, it’s not the Volusia County Five-Year Budget Forecast – but it’s all I’ve got.
I covered some of this earlier in the week, but, believe me – it bears repeating:
Asshole: The Volusia County Council
It’s been a hell of a week in the Halls of Power at the venerated Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center in DeLand – a stressful period for county employees, senior management and elected officials alike.
Periods of transition are never easy, and given the enormous power vested in government executives the sense of uncertainty and organizational anxiety that career civil servants feel during times of political upheaval can be almost paralyzing.
Some are worried about “what comes next?” – the ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ syndrome. While others may be concerned that the ethical and procedural lapses that were accepted, even ensured their survival under the previous administration, will come back to haunt them when the sunlight finally filters in.
There is a primal form of Darwinism that takes hold in city halls and county offices during times like these – and trust me – there will be distinct winners and losers when the redistribution of referent power shakes out.
It hasn’t exactly been a picnic for us either, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County, who have taken it on the chin of late – rocked by startling revelations of mismanagement, ineptitude and neglect of essential government services – still reeling from an open letter by emergency service unions which gave us a rare glimpse at just how dysfunctional things truly were under former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration, coupled with the bombshell that a $50,000 tax funded impact fee study was willfully withheld from policymakers and the public.
Unfortunately, rather than salve our fears and demonstrate the stability of leadership necessary to shepherd a worried constituency through a difficult and uncertain period – our elected officials on the Volusia County Council showed just how shallow the depth of their character truly is when they fell apart in a combined emotional meltdown on the dais last Tuesday.
Right before our eyes, we watched as those strong-willed personalities we elected to represent our interests dissolved into whimpering soup sandwiches – openly bawling over the death of a well-fortified pay-to-play system that fed them well during political campaigns – but ultimately cost them the faith and confidence of their constituents.
Then, a pack mentality formed – and they attacked us.
It was a shameful example of what happens when self-absorbed political elites don’t get exactly what they want – a petty hissy-fit at our expense – marked by vicious rhetoric and cutting personal attacks as they worked desperately to kill who they perceived to be the messenger.
At the risk of sounding cruel – racking sobs, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by those in a position of leadership while mourning the messy departure of a grossly overpaid public executive – whose growing list of five-alarm fuck-ups became too flagrant to ignore – doesn’t engender public confidence.
In fact, it makes me question how these hyper-sensitive shitheads would react during an actual crisis?
During over 31-years in public service, I don’t ever recall my senior leadership responding to a serious situation by throwing themselves in the floor and having a good cry.
I mean, the sight of our sitting County Chairman choking back tears like a hyper-emotional Jan Brady?
Perhaps more troubling than grown men and women turning on the waterworks over the hasty resignation of a besieged manager was the complete rewrite of history by our weak-minded politicians with an obvious selective memory.
When will these dullards come to the realization that nobody this side of the east bank of the St. John’s – or the planet Mars, for that matter – believes anything they say anymore?
Or accept that the wee man “Sleepy” Pat Patterson dramatically vowed he would trust with his life to, concealed material information, then blatantly and repeatedly lied to them – and us – leaving our haughty elected officials looking like a passel of out-of-touch pillocks?
And all of these issues are somehow our fault?
I mean, where did Councilwoman Billie Wheeler expect We, The People would turn for scraps of public information on the important issues of the day as she was decrying the witchery of Facebook?
The always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys has claimed strategic ignorance of key issues for months – should we have reached out to her for answers?
Perhaps the cosmic black hole that was the Dinneen administration’s communications strategy was our go-to source?
The hilarious scene of Little Jimmy running like a scalded dog as he avoided questions from WFTV reporter Mike Springer and his cameraman was like a bad Benny Hill sketch.
And they have the temerity to upbraid their constituents for seeking answers and voicing critical opinions on social media?
Councilwoman Wheeler, Ms. Denys and the rest of these shameless sycophants should understand that when a citizenry senses a complete lack of candidness by their elected and appointed officials, they seek information where they can get it – and social media conveniently serves that role.
Instead of communicating with us openly and honestly, our “leadership” used their scheduled discussion period to verbally excoriate their constituents and horsewhip Councilwoman Heather Post – then openly accuse Sheriff Chitwood of ‘cyberbullying’ and other crimes against Mr. Dinneen.
I have a personal rule – I never feel sorry for someone making over $300,000 a year in tax funded salary and benefits (especially in a county with a per capita income of just over $24,000) and I never squirt tears over the ouster of petty autocrat who treated his employees – and the municipalities – like toilet paper and overstayed his welcome by about a decade.
It’s just not worth the emotional capital.
And I certainly never get misty-eyed over politicians who stand for election – do and say everything and anything to win elevation to a position of power and influence – then feign that their feelings get bruised like a ripe peach whenever those pesky citizens who voted for them question why they refuse to represent their interests.
We’re not talking about some hayseed caucus in Hooterville here – these people are in the Big League now – and they have a sacred responsibility to steward hundred-of-millions of taxpayer dollars, ensure the quality of essential government services to some 500,000 people and provide oversight to a massive bureaucracy with a lot of moving parts.
Look, no one expects them to get it right all the time – but what we will not tolerate is this rampant quid pro quo corruption, abject mismanagement and the stench of lies.
We are sick of public policy by ambush – and the base political legerdemain of the type clumsily performed by the Volusia County Council when they shut the door on Councilwoman Post and deftly protected Dinneen’s astronomical severance package.
We are fed up with our County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – a snarling jackal when he’s suing the citizens of Volusia County with their own money, then transforms into Casper Milquetoast when it comes time to defend us – who refused to even consider the possibility of a “just cause” termination.
We are outraged by the wholesale giveaway of the traditions that have made our area a world-famous tourist destination for over a century to here-today-gone-tomorrow speculators.
We are afraid of the grave danger to our families posed by the deteriorating state of our emergency medical services, and other essential government services, that have been allowed to wither on the budgetary vine, while millions in economic incentives, half-price sales of public property to private interests, and other disgusting examples of corporate welfare are flaunted in our collective face.
But it was this hateful lecturing of their constituents – a vile, pointed and sustained rebuke of those they ostensibly represent – all while completely dismissing the reality of how we arrived at this point in history – that has sent shock waves through Volusia County.
Many friends and readers have told me that they cannot recall ever being attacked so viciously by sitting public officials in such a venomous and uncalled for display of political pique – and they are demanding a public apology – or their immediate resignation.
Chairman Kelley lost his composure and allowed a brutal, mean-spirited free-for-all to ensue – all while using the power of the gavel to angrily silence opposition.
That’s not leadership – it’s bullying.
We, The People were forced to sit quietly and absorb the verbal abuse hurled by our elected public servants – and that, my fellow citizens, is counter to our democratic principles.
Well, “sitting quietly” isn’t my way – and this aggression is unacceptable.
Look, I can give as good as I get – but the average citizen, real people who work hard, pay their taxes, raise their children and follow the rules – deserve better from those who ask us to elevate them to positions of high power and influence over our lives and livelihoods.
I call on the Volusia County Council to publicly apologize to their constituents for this unprovoked, self-indulgent attack – or step down from the Ivory Tower and allow true servant-leaders to right the ship and return honesty and transparency to OUR county government.
Angel: Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood
A master woodcarver knows the importance of keeping his knives razor-sharp.
These craftsmen use the right tool at all times, gently coaxing the finely-honed blade through the material, allowing it to perform its intended purpose, while respecting its inherent duality – the ability to create great things – or destroy them.
I’ve found the same true of airplanes I have piloted.
An elegant, well-designed aircraft responds well to gentle control inputs – after all, they were meant to fly, and if given their head, the ship will gracefully lean into the wind and soar like a bird. Conversely, they don’t respond well to coarse treatment or heavy-handed forces – balking, yawing and oscillating through the sky until they invariably try to hurt you.
In my view, Sheriff Mike Chitwood embodies many of these same attributes.
As a veteran law enforcement officer, his mind and hands have been trained for a very specific purpose – the protection of life and property in service to a cause greater than his own self-interests – and he has proven time and again that he does not suffer fools gladly.
If given the freedom and support to independently perform his vitally important role in the community – I believe he can achieve great things and address the problem of crime and victimization that have had such a debilitating effect on many areas of Volusia County.
However, if he is reined in by simple-minded bureaucrats – expect Sheriff Chitwood to push-back. Hard.
Over the course of three-decades in public service, I’ve seen many “good cops” – the highest praise a law enforcement professional can receive from his peers – and Mike Chitwood is most definitely one of the best.
He also has an inherent penchant for self-promotion that rivals the best of P. T. Barnum, and is clearly more at home in front of a television camera than most of his peers – and that’s okay.
He recognizes it, embraces it, and uses the resulting notoriety to his advantage and ours.
Our sheriff has the work ethic of the Amish.
To say that Sheriff Chitwood is opinionated on the issues of the day is an understatement – and in keeping with his ‘no-bullshit’ style of plain-talk that resonates with supporters and rankles his critics – he is notoriously disapproving of chickenshit officials and nonsensical processes that, in his view, do not represent the best interests of the citizens he serves.
As I’ve previously written, love him or hate him, Sheriff Mike Chitwood tells it like he sees it.
For the first time in decades, the citizens of Volusia County have a fresh set of eyes inside the tattered carnival tent that passes for governance here on Florida’s beleaguered Fun Coast – and Sheriff Chitwood’s frequent reports of his observations of the dark side did not paint a pretty picture of the dictatorial oligarchy he found himself mired in following the election.
In March 2017, Sheriff Chitwood publicly expressed his growing concerns about County Manager Jim Dinneen, calling him a “lying sack of shit” and expressing his anger at not having been notified that Volusia planned to oppose a Florida Senate bill that would give our duly elected sheriff more autonomy.
At that time, the Sheriff succinctly detailed just a few of the ways his office was being intentionally hamstrung by our sacrosanct charter:
“Chitwood asked if corrections officers could simply serve warrants on people at the jail instead of pulling a deputy off patrol to come in and do it. The county said no, he said.
Chitwood wants to move his legal adviser from a different department on a floor below to the same floor as the sheriff. The county attorney said no, he said.
And when the county gives the go-ahead, Chitwood said it takes forever. An incentive program that would give deputies a day off if they find evidence in a burglary took more two months to process. “Why in God’s name is everything so hard?” he said.”
And the Sheriff is the one painted as an unprofessional ogre?
Chitwood was right – it was a cheap attempt by Dinneen, and others desperately clinging to power, to keep him out of the loop on an important issue that may ultimately remove our county’s chief law enforcement officer from the oppressive yoke of an omnipotent appointed official with total authority and zero political accountability.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a good start to this weird relationship that makes an elected official a direct report to an appointed one – but it made clear to anyone paying attention that Mike Chitwood was not going to go along to get along.
In a May 2018 column featured prominently in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “County Manager has too much power, too little accountability” Sheriff Chitwood didn’t mince words in laying out the issues inherent to a hijacked Home Rule charter run amok.
The Sheriff’s incredibly insightful article began with perhaps the most chilling revelation I’ve ever heard from a sitting elected official.
“One of the first greetings I got when I was elected as your sheriff was a warning from our County Manager Jim Dinneen. The message was play nice or my time as sheriff would be brief.”
In most places, the shocking nature of that frightening disclosure by the county’s chief law enforcement executive would go through the organization – and the community – like an ice water enema.
In most places, this startling revelation would have been immediately investigated by those charged with maintaining public integrity in government as an early warning of institutionalized corruption.
But not here.
In retrospect, during this climacteric phase we had become desensitized to this brand of Machiavellian intimidation – where “playing nice” is dog-whistle politics for the lock-step conformity required of elected and appointed officials in this self-perpetuating system which places total control in the hands of one marionette.
In my view, this entire stinking mess was created by those who knew (or should have known) better – and they have no one but themselves to blame.
With the departure of their sainted fixer and facilitator, the majority of our elected officials – with the exception of their current political punching bag, Heather Post – took careful aim at perhaps the most popular elected representative in Central Florida – then punished our sheriff from the dais with despicable distortions and allegations of ‘cyber-bullying’ and unprofessional official conduct.
In my view, these stroppy dullards are about to get a taste of their own medicine when they learn that the game isn’t nearly as fun when the piñata hits back.
I can guarantee you Sheriff Chitwood won’t stand idle this election season – and I hope you won’t either.
In our democratic system of governance, the will of the people is the basis of all government authority.
When public officials and institutions lose the trust and consent of their constituents, we have a right and responsibility through the electoral process to replace elected officials who enact policies counter to our collective interests with servant-leaders who will restore honor and basic fairness to the process.
That includes our current crop of cowardly politicians in DeLand who repeatedly turned a deaf ear each time Sheriff Chitwood – and others – sounded the klaxon; valiantly attempting, time-and-again, to expose the depth of Mr. Dinneen’s abject incompetence and maladministration that ultimately brought us to this dangerously low period in Volusia County’s history.
I’m proud of you, Sheriff Chitwood. We all are.
Quote of the Week:
“We have one of the most unprofessional sheriffs I’ve ever seen in my life. This has really put a black mark on Volusia County. The comments are as unprofessional as any I’ve ever seen.”
–Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, during the Volusia County Council meeting of Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Psychologists define hysterical contagion as a strong copycat effect of imitative behavior based on the power of suggestion and word of mouth influence, because the symptoms often include those associated with clinical hysteria.
Look, I’m no headshrinker – but that sounds a whole lot like what I witnessed during the waning minutes of that political shitstorm on Tuesday afternoon.
They lost it. Big time.
One common theme that emerged during Tuesday’s meeting was the council’s hand-wringing over the damage all of this ugliness has cause to the “image” of Volusia County – and what affect that might have on our ability to attract quality candidates to fill Mr. Dinneen’s very expensive shoes.
Trust me – it won’t be that difficult.
However, to put it in my own crude way – if one thing holds true with this godawful iteration of our Volusia County Council, it’s this: These buffoons could fuck-up a wet dream – but we are charter-bound to let them try and replace the most important position in Volusia County government.
Hey VCC, why not let someone else help with the heavy lifting, eh?
Earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal made the following excellent suggestion in an editorial entitled, “After Dinneen, an opportunity.”
“Conduct an open, public search, similar to how DeLand last year hired Police Chief Jason Umberger. The city posted on its website the resume of each finalist, along with their answers to 12 questions about their leadership style and other issues, and it hosted forums to introduce candidates to the community.
“The process was a model of transparency and civic engagement, and so far, appears to have produced a quality result.”
“If the county followed a similar path in hiring the next manager, it would address criticisms that the council and administration have become too insular and unresponsive to public concerns. Because it will take more than removing Jim Dinneen from the equation to restore balance.”
Now that our elected officials have had their temper-tantrum and a good cry, perhaps cooler heads can get down to the real business at hand – drop the power mongering and political posturing – and develop a well-crafted, transparent and objective criterion for selecting a new county manager.
A process that will include input from all stakeholders – including the long-suffering citizens who carry the water – not just the cabal of uber-wealthy political insiders whose undue influence on our democratic system ultimately created a greed-monster of biblical proportions – and irreparably damaged the public’s trust and confidence in their government.
And Another Thing!
“Now with County Manager Jim Dinneen’s sudden and immediate departure, Kelley, along with council members Pat Patterson and Joyce Cusack, lambaste Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s opinions and behavior, and Councilwoman Deborah Denys has reservations about the general public’s participation on social media, with Patterson calling the activism “malarkey.” The sitting council best be reminded that they serve at the constituencies’ pleasure, and the intellectual smugness they have displayed will be remembered by the voters on Election Day.”
–Christopher Durgin, DeLand, Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, ‘Banana Republic’, Friday, June 22, 2018
Wow. Looks like a certain County Council I know needs to start playing nice in the public sandbox, eh?
Change is on the breeze, my friends.
That’s it for me – let’s all take a break and get some rest and relaxation this weekend, okay?
We’ve earned it.