The path of an honorable man is difficult.
This is especially true in the pursuit of politics, where the rationalization of unethical actions has replaced the debate of competing ideas with the pursuit of self-serving agendas – often camouflaged by official actions that benefit the privileged few over the needs of many – resulting in moral disengagement and a sense of entitlement among our local ruling class where the ends always justify the means.
In my view, in Volusia County, the idea of “public service” has been replaced by fealty to an oligarchical structure that values loyalty to one’s political benefactors and lock-step conformity to a pay-to-play “system” steeped in quid pro quo corruption.
The result is that some local governments are mired in multi-level organizational dysfunction, polarization and protectionism that stands as an impediment to civic, social and economic progress – coupled with horribly divided loyalties that have distanced our elected representatives from their constituents.
A prime example is the shitstorm of controversy that continues to plagued the feckless First Step Shelter Board – a group which serves at the pleasure of the Daytona Beach City Commission, chaired by Mayor Derrick Henry, and composed of politicians from municipalities with funding commitments and a business leader with contractual obligations to the City.
An oversight board in name only that has been publicly dish-ragged by the real players in the First Step project since its inception.
In May, I applauded the incredible resilience of board members who made a very public commitment to the cause of solving one of the most intractable problems of our time, vowing to move forward with a renewed enthusiasm while keeping the beleaguered First Step Board intact despite withering criticism.
In my view, it took courage to continue the fight – especially when Daytona Beach officials were relentlessly bashing the all-volunteer board – openly maligning their efforts, all while City Manager Jim Chisholm and senior staff kept the committee in the dark, preventing and delaying key operational decisions and destroying the boards credibility and effectiveness.
Then the quagmire deepened – spending, personnel and policy decisions became indefensible – and everyone associated with the project began openly sidestepping the now totally neutered board, choosing instead to deal with the real seat of influence at City Hall.
In fact, many began to question how elected and appointed officials of conscience could possibly continue their involvement in this charade – providing tacit approval for the open disregard of independent oversight and political accountability that is crucial to protecting public funds and ensuring the public’s trust in the process?
So, in keeping with their deep sense of personal honor and professional integrity, Holly Hill City Manager and First Step treasurer Joe Forte – and now South Daytona Mayor and board member Bill Hall – followed former Executive Director Mark Geallis in doing the only thing an honorable man can when they formally resigned from this raging dumpster fire.
I happen to know both Mr. Forte and Mayor Hall personally and I have had the honor of serving with both of these extraordinary gentlemen.
In my experience, they see public service as a calling – and perform their duties as trustees of the public trust – taking their oath of office as the ethical imperative of their profession and a sacred moral contract with those they serve.
That is why I admire and respect them both.
There is no doubt in my mind that this deep sense of service to a cause greater than their own self-interests drove their staunch commitment to the First Step Shelter Board – and, I am also convinced that same dedication to these sacrosanct foundational values drove their departure.
In my view, there is honor in walking away from toxic circumstances that no longer serve the best interests of the community – when you cease to have even a semblance of influence in the outcome – and, by your position of trust in the community, continued participation would only lend credence to an increasingly mysterious endgame gone haywire.
The dysfunction and maladministration we are witnessing isn’t merely “growing pains” or the natural friction of project management and quality assurance – I fear it is something infinitely darker, more ominous.
Now comes the age-old question that has stalked Volusia County taxpayers for decades – Cui bono? – who benefits? – because it damn sure isn’t about providing humanitarian assistance and compassionate shelter to our area’s homeless population. . .
My hope is that Ormond Beach City Commissioner and outspoken board member Dwight Selby – and others on the board who still value the highest ideals of public service – will join Mr. Geallis, Mr. Forte and Mayor Hall in distancing themselves from this growing conflagration before their personal and political reputations are sullied by association – and this farce is allowed to continue unabated.
True public servants know the right path isn’t always the easiest.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal