“Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations.”
This phrase is often credited to Roger Stone, the infamous political consultant and “dirty trickster” whose antics go back to the Nixon-era. He’s currently embroiled in the Mueller investigation, along with his former business partner – Paul Manafort – in the Washington-based lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone.
More accurately, the expression has been the mantra of spies and cops working undercover as a means of avoiding detection, and limiting scrutiny, by putting anyone who challenges you on the defensive.
The strategy appears to be working equally well for certain elected officials on the Volusia County Council.
In perhaps the most important revelation of the inner-workings of Volusia County government since the rotten reign of former County Manager Jim Dinneen ended with him fleeing the building like a cheese-stealing rat – this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s intrepid reporter Dustin Wyatt exposed an August 6, 2018, correspondence from James Pericola, Volusia County’s federal lobbyist who is paid some $90,000 annually to seek funding for local needs in Washington, wherein Pericola spills the beans on a shocking “lack of transparency” and paralytic dysfunction in county government.
It should – because Pericola’s stark revelations serve to confirm everything I’ve written about the Dinneen administration, and our bought-and-paid-for stooges on the Dais of Power in DeLand, for the past two-years – and proves I am not alone in my near-constant criticism of the cult-like cloak of secrecy that permeates every aspect of Volusia County government.
Since taking office, Sheriff Michael Chitwood has screamed about the County Council’s complete lack of transparency and backroom dealings to anyone who will listen.
Most recently, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post also sounded the klaxon – exposing horrific issues with essential county services from the deterioration of the Sheriff’s Office evidence facility, questioning the debacle at the Medical Examiner’s Office and shining an uncomfortable light on the myriad problems at EVAC which continue to place your family and mine in grave jeopardy.
In his incredibly revelatory letter to Chairman Ed Kelley and members of the Volusia County Council, Mr. Pericola described an organizational structure and culture that. “. . .promotes a lack of transparency which leads to a dysfunctional and ineffective process that largely leaves the Council out of the loop.”
In perfectly describing the truly frightening process at play where critical information is “filtered” by the County Manager and senior staff – or withheld altogether from policymakers – Mr. Pericola wrote:
“As a result, countless opportunities are missed, and mistakes are constantly repeated because there is no oversight from the Council other than the hiring and firing of firms. This process is also filtered, as the Council relies heavily on the Manager’s recommendation. Remaining in the good graces of the Manager has been prioritized over establishing an open and collaborative process. Once the Council hires a firm, staff actively works to limit contact or are ordered to filter information and opportunities to the Council. Thus, the Council does not see actions, recommendations and proposals the staff choose not to act or report on either because they don’t want additional work, or because they do not understand the issue, or possibly have another agenda.”
The letter went on to describe serious missed opportunities for federal funding to address important issues such as the opioid crisis and the County’s failure to pursue USDA water grants.
Even while Volusia County drug rehabilitation programs faced serious budget cuts and the raging opioid epidemic continues to take hundreds of local lives each year.
This isn’t the first time a lobbying firm has expressed critical concerns about the abject dysfunction in DeLand. In November 2014, Richard Gold, a senior lobbyist with Holland & Knight, decided they no longer wished to represent Volusia County due to “. . .clear and apparent fractures in the County Council.”
Again, any of that sound familiar?
On September 4, the Council selected a state lobbying firm – Southern Strategy Group – who just happens to represent Consolidated Tomoka Land Company, and Mori Hosseini’s fiefdom over at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – both heavy-hitters who pour tens-of-thousands of dollars into the campaign accounts of County Council incumbents – while Pericola’s Seward Square Group will serve out its current contract through December.
Almost immediately, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – and his lockstep confederate, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – initiated their patented strategy of circling the wagons, marginalizing the messenger and protecting the ‘system’ at all costs.
In a clearly orchestrated tactic to systematically disparage Pericola and trivialize external criticism, both Kelley and Patterson described the lobbyist’s damning revelations as “sour grapes.”
“How would he know anything about our (level of) transparency? I don’t know what he could be referring to,” Kelley said. “It would be ridiculous to say that we have no interest in grants. There would be no reason for us to not pursue a grant.”
You don’t know what he’s referring to?
The lack of transparency in County government is legendary – and literally everyone who is paying even marginal attention has watched in utter disbelief as Jim Dinneen and senior county administrators perpetuated one colossal five-alarm fuck-up after another.
We have seen our elected dullards stand idle as Mr. Dinneen foisted his “public policy by ambush” strategy – using off-the-agenda revelations to ramrod the hidden agenda of uber-wealthy insiders who provided him the political insulation needed to operate what amounted to a shadow government – totally devoid of external accountability – more akin to a protection racket than a representative government.
I’ve said it before – in my view, either Ed Kelley is suffering from a weird form of cognitive dissonance that allows him to create alternative facts, ignore material evidence and blatantly lie to his constituents whenever it serves the needs of this bastardized Oligarchical system – or he’s the dumbest human being to ever hold elective office.
In light of Mr. Pericola’s revelations, now there is no doubt as to why this doddering asshole has fought like a rabid badger to prevent a forensic audit of county finances and operations – and the machinations of that ineffectual, narcoleptic marionette, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, have now become self-evident.
In addition to Heather Post, it appears Councilwoman Billie Wheeler may well be coming to the realization that all is not as it seems in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building.
Better late than never, I guess.
According to the News-Journal, “Wheeler, who had a phone conversation with Pericola this week, said it’s clear that there are still changes that need to be made going forward. “If the lobbyist is saying we (council members) need to be more involved, I want to make sure we step that up.”
More involved? Christ, you’ve been asleep at the switch since taking office!
Billie – please – wake up and smell the coffee.
Things have happened in spite of you, not because of you – get it?
Your “staff” has willfully and intentionally kept you out of the loop – now, do something about it, dammit!
Gentle readers, this incredible turn-of-events may well expose – once and for all – the internal intrigues that have plagued Volusia County government and continue to hamstring any substantive progress on the serious issues we face.
With millions in public funds funneled to the private project’s of well-connected insiders and campaign contributors – facilitated by an internal structure that filters information, conceals the results of independent studies paid for with tax dollars, demands lock-step conformity by elected officials charged with representing our interests, and besmirches the character and reputation of whistle blowers or marginalizes anyone who dares to expose the truth – we have finally seen the first real evidence of the gross mismanagement and abject corruption that has plagued us for years.
The situation is now undeniable.
Folks, in my view, this one is important – stay tuned – things are about to get interesting for Old Ed and the Funky Bunch. . .