On Volusia: A Theater of the Absurd

“Absurd”

Ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life, meaningless, silliness or foolishness  

I enjoy the art of using words to paint a picture.

I’ve never been very good at it; but those who are have the ability to craft an image that can transport us to another time and place – or compare our current situation with what could be – in a way that can transform our understanding and inform our opinion.

The great philosopher Aristotle was of the view that the way we use words to define an issue sets the tone for how we approach the problem – and make no mistake – we have a serious problem. . .

Last week, during what should have been a relatively benign discussion of the circumstances surrounding a canceled beach parade, the Volusia County Council, under the direction of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, proved once and for all the depth of dysfunction that is destroying any hope for civic, social or economic progress.

As The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt described it, “There was a lot to unpack Tuesday.”

Look, I’m not going to rehash the debacle – by now, everyone is painfully aware of how our county attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, was caught mischaracterizing the federal environmental permit issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a means of unilaterally cancelling a very popular parade honoring the history of racing on the old beach course in Ponce Inlet.

In my view, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County should learn from the ugliness that so embarrassingly played out on the dais last week – a public meeting run amok, the will of the people ignored in favor of self-promotion and arrogant grandstanding, a lockstep fealty to an entrenched system that has traded independent thought for hegemonic opinions of deep-rooted bureaucrats and political insiders.

It would be a comedy of errors if it wasn’t so damnably tragic in both form and function – another one of Old Ed’s utterly confusing hootenanny’s that will long serve as the very antithesis of a functioning participatory democracy.

Because so much of what I write about the machinations of local government seems almost supernaturally incongruous to the precepts of good governance, I’m often fond of saying – “Don’t take my word for it,” or “I don’t make this shit up, folks.”

I encourage everyone to access the Volusia County website and listen to the “discussion” of the beach parade farce for yourself. . .  Please.  (As I recall, it starts around 4:38:30 on the archived audio.)

The fact is, I don’t possess the eloquence to compose a work of fiction that could possibly top our current reality – and you owe it to yourself, as a taxpayer, to see firsthand just how far afield things have gotten.

And the hits just keep on coming. . .

This morning, the News-Journal exposed that in just the past six-years, you and I have paid nearly $100 million in overtime, ostensibly due to under-staffing and a management theory that believes its better to work existing employees to the point of exhaustion, rather than attract and retain quality public employees.

Look, I understand better than most the use of overtime in meeting operational needs – I also know that the practice can be effectively managed to limit an incredibly expensive burden on the agency and the taxpayer.

I know that Sheriff Mike Chitwood is doing his level best to recruit, train and field deputies and emergency communications personnel in a nationwide environment that is no longer attractive.

That’s a difficult reality – one I believe will have serious social ramifications in the next decade.

I also understand that there are inherent inefficiencies in government that can only be identified by comprehensive management audits, honest introspective reviews and a focus on constantly evaluating and redefining goals, objectives and service delivery.

Unfortunately, if history has proved anything, it is that Volusia County isn’t big on internal reflection and self-examination. . .

Trust me.  This issue isn’t limited to one errant sheriff’s deputy “sitting on his ass” in Oak Hill for 12-hours – it’s institutional – and it predates Sheriff Chitwood and much of what passes as the county’s senior leadership.

It is a crisis of culture in a government that believes astronomical tax increases, sales tax referendums and a budget approaching $1 billion is an acceptable alternative to effective management strategies.

According to our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald – who was raised in the “piss good money after bad” school of public finance, “In his 20-year career in Volusia County, Recktenwald said he’s heard requests for overtime more often than he’s listened to complaints about it.  “It’s been my experience that people enjoy the opportunity for overtime.”

 Really?  That’s the basis for why $99 million in taxpayer dollars have been spent on overtime since 2013?

One might have thought – “as managers and supervisors” – senior leadership would consider right-sizing this bureaucratic behemoth, or at least do the math, and come to the sobering realization that by filing the 249 current vacancies, (400 openings were announced this summer?) even with the cost of employment benefits, taxpayers would have saved nearly $3 million over what was paid out in overtime just last year.

Whenever these inefficiencies are shockingly exposed, it always astounds me that our local newspaper can make a quick calculation and determine savings – yet, those senior executives, budget analysts, human resource “experts” and financial wizards who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to serve in the public interest can’t seem to figure it out?

What gives? 

 In my view, Patrick Gavin, executive director for U. S. Congressman William Posey, was right when he described the pigheaded, irrational and totally counterproductive shit show that passed for a Volusia County Council meeting as “absurd,” later exclaiming it was the single most confusing meeting he had witnessed in 23-years in government service.

My hat’s off to Mr. Gavin.  Well said.

In my view, his excellent descriptor aptly applies to the breadth of county “leadership.”

It is horribly absurd.

As Volusia County residents awaken to the abject dysfunction that continues to obstruct substantive change, restrains true economic development in favor of funneling tax dollars to political insiders and continues to ignore the needs of thousands of disadvantaged residents – this election cycle will be critical to returning fiscal, operational and administrative sanity to our county government.

Those of us who ultimately pay the bills deserve better than this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “On Volusia: A Theater of the Absurd

  1. Once again a brilliant and provocative piece. You are truly a genius with the written word. I truly appreciate your articles. Thank you.

    Like

  2. I totally get it in this day and age in regards to recruiting personnel in Law Enforcement or any equivalent first responder position in today’s society. However, as much as I agree with Mike Chitwood’s policies and procedures, I still don’t understand if we are struggling to recruit and fill positions. that some of us stilling willing to serve, are considered useless, that no one thinks out of the box to place us in a court room, school or other location at the least to show the colors of Law Enforcement while still being effective to serve the community at a minimal cost. Sure, some may not make the grade anymore, but others can. As an untapped resource, we /I are willing to put ourselves out there with the same ideals we had when we were first sworn in and never forgot to uphold the values of our community and fellow man. Such a waste of talent.

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  3. Thanks Mark, I generally do take your word for it, but this time I took your advice and watched the video of the Volusia County council session. My god! I now understand your nickname for Ed Kelley. He seemed utterly addled. How embarrassing that the Executive Director for Congressman Bill Posey was there to witness the shit show of confusion and borderline incompetence. My heart goes out to you and the residents of Volusia County (I moved to the southwest 25+ years ago, but I still have family in Ormond Beach, Holly Hill, and Deland).

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  4. Hear! Hear! Truth is indeed stranger than fiction! Thanks for keeping us aware of the weirdness that passes/poses as county government. Keep up the oversight and their feet to the fire.

    Mike D Sent from my iPhone

    >

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