Times of transition offer a brief glimpse into the inner workings of government – and in the aftermath of the failed half-cent sales tax initiative – we are most definitely in a time of transition. . .
Some believe the referendum forced our elected officials to finally listen to the voice of the people and turn over a “new leaf” – a change in tack many see as a catalyst for real change.
Others (like me) are of the cynical opinion these self-serving dullards are merely changing tactics.
Time will tell.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that what passes for “governance” here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast has become so horribly dysfunctional, opaque and fatuous that many citizens who are getting their first peek behind the curtain are still in denial – dumbstruck that something so important to our lives and livelihoods could be so horribly perverted by greed and abject cronyism that our very quality of life is threatened.
Late last week, I was surprise by a series of social media posts by my friend and civic activist Greg Gimbert – a long-time beach driving advocate who has, for years, lobbied long and hard to open sections of the Tiger Bay State Forest for All Terrain Vehicle access – who gushed about our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, recent support for his efforts – and praised Old Ed for leading “…a bold council to do a courageous thing.”
While I haven’t always agreed with Greg’s vision for this environmentally sensitive area – much of which is considered a wildlife refuge with extensive wetlands and unique habitats that are vital to protecting rare fauna and replenishing our aquifer – his enthusiasm and activism for causes he feels strongly about is infectious.
By way of full-disclosure – unlike Chairman Kelley, and Council members Ben Johnson and Fred Lowry – I’m not an ATV enthusiast.
I take my recreation at the bottom of a whisky glass (hey, don’t judge) – a pursuit that can be just as bumpy and adventurous as a 4-wheeler on a washboard dirt road – but the fact is, I’m getting a little long in the tooth to be careening around the woods on a scooter. . .
However, I certainly don’t deny others their fun.
In my view, those who enjoy riding ATV’s should have a publicly accessible place to enjoy their pastime – I’m simply not convinced an ecologically sensitive state forest is the “right fit.”
Maybe it is – but I think anyone paying attention will agree that the cheap slight-of-hand Chairman Kelley attempted last week isn’t the way to go about it. . .
After hearing from Mr. Gimbert, last Tuesday the Volusia County Council pulled one of its patented off-the-agenda, public policy by ambush maneuvers when Old Ed polled the council members – out of the blue – and all agreed to become signatories to a letter advising state forestry officials that Volusia County supports allowing ATV’s and motorcycles the exclusive use of “up to 10%” of Tiger Bay.
It was a typically ham-handed affair – a move that caught everyone by surprise and shocked the conscience of many residents and environmentalists who were under the mistaken impression that Volusia County had already rejected allowing vehicular access to Tiger Bay after the forest service cited “environmental damage, maintenance issues and fire danger” in 2013.
It also appeared to have been well-choreographed in advance – especially when Old Ed whipped out a pre-produced “rough draft” of the proposed letter of support – before anyone on the dais had even been surveyed. . .
More disturbing was the fact that no one who may have opposed the idea, or had an alternative solution, was permitted the opportunity to let their voices be heard – either behind-the-scenes or in a public hearing – an infernal trick used to ramrod controversial matters that has become standard protocol for the Volusia County Council.
According to an interesting article by News-Journal reporters Dinah Voyles-Pulver and Dustin Wyatt, “…less than 24 hours later, after protests from former council members and others, at least two members of the council had second thoughts, and County Chair Ed Kelley said he would ask for a motion for reconsideration of the action at the council’s next meeting. If it’s approved— which appears likely — the letter of support would be placed on an agenda for discussion at a future meeting.”
Apparently, at least three former council members, including Pat Patterson, Joie Alexander and Pat Northey, had a visceral reaction to the unannounced, off-the-agenda action that essentially reversed years of established public policy.
Then, things started to fall apart for Old Ed’s “bold council” who had just done a “courageous thing” when members Heather Post and Deb Denys began backpedaling faster than Austrian circus acrobats. . .
In a late-night email to County Manager George Recktenwald (who has clearly mastered the art of political survival by simply acquiescing to anything and everything the elected officials want to do) Councilwoman Post asked that her name be removed from the letter of support.
By the following morning, the always arrogant Deb Denys had reached out to County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert requesting an exit strategy for rescinding the vote.
Then, within hours, Old Ed issued an email “…saying he had asked for a motion of reconsideration at the next meeting.”
So much for that whole “conducting public business in an open, transparent and public forum” thing, eh?
What an unmitigated embarrassment. . .
As a result of this bungled mess, our elected officials have painted themselves into a dark place that requires they either go back on a promise made to Mr. Gimbert and those seeking access to Tiger Bay – or they proceed with the previously approved letter of support – and alienate residents who are concerned about the potential environmental impacts, yet weren’t noticed that the council would be taking decisive action to reverse existing policy.
Frankly, Mr. Gimbert – and those who support and oppose his ideas – deserve better from their elected officials.
Look, I happen to know that freshman Councilman Ben Johnson is a very intelligent man with good political instincts – that’s why I’m so surprised he would be caught up in something like this?
I also happen to believe that Chairman Kelley is a compromised buffoon who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution. Nothing he does or says – regardless of how nonsensical – shocks me anymore.
Perhaps this will finally teach Mr. Kelley’s “colleagues” that it’s never wise to follow that crotchety dipshit down the rabbit hole. . .
In my view, this monstrous lack of concern for our democratic principles – intentionally blindsiding constituents with important public policy decisions simply to deny dissenting opinions a voice – serves no one.
This latest three ring circus underscores the depth of dysfunction and complete lack of effective internal and external communications that continues to drive a wedge between citizens and Volusia County government.
New leaf, my ass. . .
Gentle readers, please join me this afternoon on Govstuff Live with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.
Enjoy the forum locally at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).
Our guest today will be Tom Caffrey – a civically active entrepreneur – owner of The Pallet Pub and Hopcycles – who is a big part of the Main Street renaissance!