On Volusia: Accountability in the Age of Absurdity

Way back in 2016, this experiment in alternative opinion blogging was born from the simple notion that someone should say what everyone was secretly thinking.

In fact, an early Barker’s View post grew from my frustration over the Volusia County Council’s lack of an annual evaluation of then county manager Jim Dinneen – a process that became a ridiculous rubber stamp that always resulted in a generous year-end bonus for Mr. Dinneen – apparently to reward his skillful channeling of our tax dollars in all the right directions. . .

In my view, this lack of a comprehensive review for the county manager, and our entrenched county attorney, exemplified all the dysfunction, insider influence and open cronyism that passes for governance in Volusia County.

I could no longer contain my outrage:

“Anyone who can read the printed word and think critically cannot help but be moved to uncontrolled rage by the Council’s continued pandering to a few wealthy and influential insiders, multi-million dollar giveaways, lawsuits against their own constituents, open bullying by the County Attorney’s office, our cartoon character of a Council Chair, the sheer arrogance of the County Manager, and the Council’s continued indifference to the needs and opinions of those they serve.”       

And everything I have written since has been a riff on that same unsettling theme. . .

Now, as we approach 2020, the majority of our elected officials on the Volusia County Council remain the obsequious handmaidens of a system that still abhors accountability and oversight.

What’s changed?

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Heather Post did her level best to convince her “colleagues” on the dais of power that the two most powerful positions in county government – the manager and county attorney – should be evaluated by objective written review.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? 

During my years in public service, I received – and wrote – written evaluations, participated in 360° reviews, single and multi-rater management audits, external promotional assessments, outside inspections and organizational improvement planning – each of which was memorialized in writing to ensure an accurate portrait, year-over-year, of my performance trajectory.

I’ll bet many of you have had a similar evaluation during your working life.  It’s pretty common.

Except in county government. . .

The commonsense process of actually assessing the effectiveness of the highest paid recipients of public funds in our county government was supported by Councilwomen Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman.

Unfortunately, the measure was rejected, out-of-hand, by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – the lockstep voting bloc of Councilmen Ben Johnson and the Very Reverend Fred Lowry, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

But why?

Well, according to Chairman Kelley, “We don’t have an off-the-shelf form at this point.”

Apparently, we don’t employ the talent in our Human Resources office to research and put one together in, oh, an hour-or-so, either. . .

Sad.

Look, I would be reasonably satisfied if the Volusia County Council could have just one meeting where they weren’t required to spend the last half deciphering their twisted votes, mini-moves, amendments and amendments-to-amendments that always leave staff – and their confused constituents – scratching their heads. . .

Perhaps, We, The People should exercise our right to political accountability and use this bimonthly affront to our collective intelligence as our own evaluation of those we have elected to high office, eh?

In government, senior management – and the citizens they serve – deserve a thorough review of their professional performance, accomplishments and growth areas at regular intervals.

It’s a healthy part of the oversight process, and the narrative evaluation provides personalized feedback and a mechanism for communicating expectations for organizational goals and professional objectives that just aren’t possible in the farcical performance art of a Volusia County Council meeting.

Anyone who has ever served in a leadership role understands that performance evaluations are a critical resource for documenting the health and success of the organization – and should be a continuing process at all levels.

But not in the byzantine bureaucracy in DeLand. . .

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to horizontal oversight.  This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, expenditures, and the performance of their subordinate staff.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

You want to know the most serious issue Volusia County residents face?

It is the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement that results in surprise headlines like “Volusia’s overtime tab: $99 million since 2013” and other shocking revelations – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious course of conduct to continue.

 

7 thoughts on “On Volusia: Accountability in the Age of Absurdity

  1. Spot on Barker. I’m so disappointed in Ben Johnson. Ed Kelley was a pod when he was Mayor of Ormond. Got rid of the private pension for all new employees and just a 401k. Already, paid lower than most municipalities, Ormond Beach Employees went 8 or 9 years without a raise, not even a COLA. Those were the inflated years on the”00’s” that killed us at the pumps and the health care providers. All the while Ms. Shanahan got praises and raises with no help from the HR Department either. When Ted MacLeod retired, the HR Director got the Assistant City Manager position just on the suggestion of Ms. Shanahan. The HR Specialist got the HR Director job because…she’s a “YES” Ma’am!
    Now, this thing with the septic to sewer. If Ormond funds the ‘scientific study’ and they decide in a shade meeting, (You do know what a shade meeting is, I know you do.) which way they want the study to go, the contractor, WILL, write the study that way. So, we as Island inhabitants, will get the shaft, where the sewer pipes lie.
    Just can’t get justice!

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    1. Thanks, Jim! I keep telling people that, but, for some reason, they get offended. Why is it that when I tell the truth some folks think I’m insulting them? Oh, well – thanks for the good note.

      MDB

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  2. What I’ve found that works and is being tested right now that politicians that have something to hide is the efficacy of SEO and social media to put issues that make politicians uncomfortable out there. It’s tedious and time-consuming but it’s relatively inexpensive and has the power to bring about more change than going to council meetings that barely anybody from the public at-large know about or trying to send written correspondence or fill out forms to people who just read them and dismiss them. Much can be accomplished with it’s absolutely an effective tool to fight back against lack of transparency and back-room dealing of richer, more powerful politicians that would rather those actions to remain unknown and the will of the people they’re supposed to be serving chilled. Keep doing what you’re doing, and thank you!

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  3. I READ YOUR EVERY WORD!! I also agree with everything you write. Please don’t stop. Hopefully the message will get through at the ballot box. We need some independent thinkers to run for office and some thinking citizens to elect them, for a start. Keep it up Mark.

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