The word ‘character’ is derived from the Greek word charattein, meaning to engrave.
The late United States Army Colonel Eric G. Kail, in his excellent series on leadership character wrote, “The engraving process that is the development of our character requires courage and transparency to forge this true integrity. My integrity is what it is today because of painfully valuable lessons with consequences, born from accountability to moral and ethical principles.”
When it comes to defining the character of a civic leader, which traits do you find most important?
Collaboration and the ability to truly value the opinions of others?
In my view, personal integrity, built upon solid moral and ethical values, is perhaps the greatest attribute of leadership – because it builds trust.
This is especially important in government service, because the confidence of those our elected and appointed officials serve is so extremely fragile.
Once the public’s trust in their government processes is lost, it is nearly impossible to recover.
(Just ask the Volusia County Council. . .)
Having the courage to speak the truth and the inherent ability to recognize situations where your personal integrity and that of your office are jeopardized, then taking the right course of action, for the right reasons, regardless of circumstance, are key to forging bonds among subordinates and constituents.
It doesn’t mean perfection in our personal and professional lives – and it doesn’t require blindly “going along to get along.” We all have ethical lapses, and if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize them, learn from our mistakes and failures, then strive for self-improvement.
It’s when people and organizations refuse to recognize their personal and systemic shortcomings, become self-delusional and develop a sense of infallibility – or selfishly ignore the needs and responsibilities of others – that results in a loss of transparency and dysfunction.
In my view, public officials who manipulate community perceptions on issues of serious civic concern by self-aggrandizement and posturing – turn insular and opaque – or maliciously use oversight committees as a cheap political insulation mechanism to rubber stamp unilateral decisions involving public funds and resources have lost the moral authority to lead.
To shut out others who have a clear responsibility to protect and steward public funds and resources is dishonest and destructive to the foundational elements of collegiality and trust.
On Friday, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte, who, in my over three-decades of experience working with and for him, personifies the great character traits mentioned above along with a deep faith and inherent willingness to put the needs of others above his own self-interests – formally resigned from the First Step Shelter Board.
When it became apparent that he could no longer effectively serve the mission of the board, protect the interests of citizens (who have generously pledged public funds to underwrite the First Step project) and meet the needs of the less fortunate, Mr. Forte did the honorable thing and distanced himself from the pernicious actions of those who have hijacked the process.
For a thoughtful man who respects the ethical and moral values of good governance, it was the only viable option.
Clearly, the other members of the First Step Shelter Board – which is almost exclusively comprised of sitting elected officials from the various cities who contributed, or private business leaders (some with direct ties to the City of Daytona Beach) – must realize that City Manager Jim Chisholm has no intention of permitting them to set policy, exert control, properly manage funds or establish a direction for the shelter.
In fact, Mr. Chisholm is intentionally bypassing the oversight committee altogether – ramrodding his personal will to the exclusion of any reasonable outside supervision – and is now meeting with contractors and employees who ostensibly report directly to the board – something that has made an embarrassing mockery of board members and effectively neutered their management ability.
I applaud Mr. Forte’s moral courage in recognizing when his position was being compromised – and taking definitive action to protect his personal and professional reputation.
As a taxpayer and citizen of Volusia County who has watched this shit show play out for years – I took personal offense to the social media comments of Jane Bloom, posting under the First Step moniker, following Mr. Forte’s announcement.
Apparently, Ms. Bloom is one-half of a bizarre co-interim executive director position – a duo actively shilling for the City of Daytona Beach now that Rev. L. Ron Durham has mysteriously been removed from the leadership role by Mr. Chisholm – a move that added to the sense of utter chaos and confusion that has destroyed the public’s faith in the project and all but ensured an end to municipal funding sources and private donations.
In her ill-advised post, Ms. Bloom, by all appearances on behalf of First Step Shelter, audaciously lectured:
“You can walk away when the going gets tough. Or you can toughen up and work through adversity and make it happen. This is not doom and gloom. It is growing pains and while issues arise, many of us will continue with the goal of a new service to meet the needs of those who are homeless and want to use it. There is not one answer. There is not a right answer. There is a community working to offer options and while there are disagreements, at least there are various possibilities. Better to do something than do nothing. Better to stand up and make things happen then to quit and not keep taking a stand to have your voice heard. When you are done and go without being demeaning to the efforts of those who remain.”
While Bloom later tried to clean up her steaming mess – and attribute her post originally published under the First Step Shelter flag as her own personal views – the damage to Mr. Forte’s service and exemplary reputation was complete.
Who the hell does Ms. Bloom think she is?
In my view, the First Step Shelter Board should immediately move to terminate her involvement as co-captain of Mr. Chisholm’s no-holds-barred push to wrest any reasonable control from those who generously volunteered and worked hard to fund and administrate this horribly compromised process despite withering criticism and roadblocks – along with a letter of reprimand for her blatant misuse of First Step Shelter’s social media presence and public communications resources.
Despicable. This cannot stand.
Frankly, the First Step Shelter Board can sit idle while Daytona Beach officials expose and exploit them as feeble weaklings – and compromise their personal and professional reputations and openly destroy their political careers – but I will not sit silent as Jane Bloom denigrates the exemplary service and commitment of Joe Forte as he boldly does the only thing an honest and ethical public official can under these disastrous circumstances.
Hey First Step Shelter Board – what happens when Ms. Bloom comes for you?
This is a new low.
The opposite of values-based leadership.
The antithesis of ethical, moral and transparent governance.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal