On Volusia: Prepare for Disappointment

On Terman’s original Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, my “IQ” and cognitive function would be classified as “Dull Normal – Bordering on Feeble-Minded” – in other words, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But what I lack in smarts is compensated for with a highly-developed sense of right-and-wrong – an almost instinctual ability to discern those with a highly evolved sense of moral and ethical behaviors – such as honesty, fairness, respect, dignity and kindness – from those who compromise their personal and professional values for an unquenchable thirst for money and power.

I suspect you can too.

It’s part of why I find it so interesting to watch the machinations of government – where by popular vote we elect others to represent our collective interests, provide essential services and utilities, enact laws and ordinances, steward our hard-earned tax dollars and set a strategic vision for our future.

Invariably, with time, we see some weak-minded politicians become everything they hated when they stood for election – compromised by the trappings of high office or beholden to those who use massive campaign contributions to gain influence and control their personal and professional environment.

Once assuming power, these horribly broken politicians say one thing – then do something completely different – serving their new masters like lapdogs – acting contrary to our collective best interests and counter to what we thought were their core values and vision when we voted for them.

But in the council/manager form of governance – it is the city or county manager that sets the agenda and serves as the sole source of information on the important issues of the day – and that places him or her in the catbird seat.

I’ve previously described it like this:

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 who they hope has the strong managerial and organizational skills to run the day-to-day operations of the government, make internal policy determinations, suggest budget allocations and provide information to 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.

Why?  Just take a look at what’s happening in the City of Edgewater.  That’s why. . .

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, perhaps the biggest 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.

This morning, I read an interesting editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Openness key to manager search.”

Following the departure of former County Manager Jim Dinneen in June – and now that our “new” County Council has finally been seated – the time has come to select our next chief executive.

I happen to agree with the News-Journal’s opinion that the process should be open, transparent and include the suggestions of constituents – you and I – whose lives and livelihoods will be directly impacted by this person’s decisions.

Don’t hold your breath.

In keeping with government’s need for political insulation, Volusia County has employed the services of a headhunting firm, Georgia-based Slavin Management Consultants (the same group that brought us Little Jimmy in the first place. . .), to handle the logistics of selecting qualified available candidates based upon the leadership and administrative strengths (and salary and benefit package) established by our elected officials.

On the surface, it will appear to be a canned process that will bring in a few “managers in transition” (read: those that have been thrown out on their ass elsewhere) and others who are looking to move to a warmer climate.

There will be the obligatory public interviews, goofy “meet-n-greets,” and, ultimately, those dullards we have elected to represent our interests on the dais of power will select the final contenders and roll the dice.

At least that’s how it will appear to uninitiated.

But this is Volusia County – we pride ourselves on being the most dysfunctional political shit-show since those heady days of the Duvalier regime – so rest assured our “Rich & Powerful” overseers who manipulate the strings and wires of the political marionettes they have bought and paid for in this bastardized oligarchy will have something to say about who ultimately serves as our next county manager.

Trust me.  We can “hope” for public input in this important process all we want – but at the end of the day – the successful candidate will be the one who gets the nod of the Camera Stallata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance and the anointment of our High Panjandrums of Political Power in the real estate development, insurance and motorsports industries – not that absurd clown troupe on the dais of power in DeLand.


The good suggestions of the News-Journal – and us peons who are expected to pay the bills and keep our collective piehole shut, have already fallen on deaf ears – because We, The People, have become totally irrelevant in an environment where special interests influence our elections with unlimited campaign contributions to hand-select candidates.

After all, the chief executive stands at the nexus of public funds and private interests – and if the reign of Jim Dinneen proved anything – its that when influential insiders provide the manager with protection from any reasonable political accountability – their access to the public trough is assured.

Please don’t expect that to change.

















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