About the time I graduated from high school, Dan “Cujo” Eckert went to work as a staff attorney for Volusia County, then clawed his way to senior management and hung on by his fingernails.
For 41-years. . .
During this week’s County Council meeting, in a clearly prearranged and highly orchestrated maneuver, Mr. Eckert announced his retirement as Volusia County Attorney.
While I admire Mr. Eckert’s decades long loyalty and dedication to the public service (and the public teat – impressive), like many long-term bureaucrats in county government and beyond, in my view, Dan Eckert became an acute symptom of a systemic sclerosis on the body politic – a malignancy that is consuming Volusia County government in vivo.
In my experience, no one enters the civil service with the idea their contributions will be solely focused on meeting the needs of the few at the expense of many – just as most government professionals don’t begin their career imbued with an innate sixth sense for anticipating and facilitating the wants and whims of their master’s oligarchical masters.
Yet, in Volusia County government, this malevolent culture which protects the status quo and demands fealty to a system that bears no resemblance to a representative democracy, has resulted in a complete lack of transparency and accountability – a self-perpetuating scheme which totally ignores public input in favor of backroom deals, political choreography and public policy by ambush.
Couple that with the dearth of leadership and parliamentary acumen repeatedly demonstrated by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who has made a mockery of the local legislative process – and continues to personify the adage that diapers and politicians should be changed regularly and for the same reason – and you begin to see the depth of the problem we face.
In my view, Mr. Eckert seemed to make his bones late in his career by building a cottage industry suing his own constituents whenever We, The People exhibited the temerity to seek substantive input into the pressing issues of our time – such as protecting our century old heritage of beach driving and access.
He fought, tooth-and-nail, and the ferocity of his litigation against resident’s and grassroots activists was legendary – always geared toward meeting the subliminal mandate of the uber-wealthy political contributors who seem to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides here in Volusia County – real puppet masters with the ability to sway legislation by their mere presence in the Council chamber.
Don’t get me started on Amendment 10 and the Volusia County Council’s use of Mr. Eckert’s mind and muscle to undermine the sacred will of the voters. . .
The viciousness and aggression with which he came after Volusia County residents in matters large and small is why I gave Mr. Eckert the moniker “Cujo” – because he fought with the tenacity of a mad dog whenever the true seat of power was challenged.
Then came the beginning of the end, when, like Kipling’s Tommy Adkins before him, politicians find it easy to sacrifice their warriors when they become a political embarrassment. . .
This summer, for reasons known only to him, Mr. Eckert became entangled in an ugly quagmire after providing the organizers of a nearly decade old racing heritage parade in Ponce Inlet a demonstrably erroneous legal opinion on the viability of next years event – then stood firmly by his weird recommendation, even after his judgement was challenged by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and Florida’s premiere beach driving advocacy Sons of the Beach, along with a sitting United States Congressman and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In fact, Mr. Eckert’s move to stop the parade was so unilateral – and so blatantly wrong – that it caused many to question his motivations and stirred rabid controversy among citizens and sitting politicians alike.
Inexplicably, Dan didn’t seem to care.
So, for what he must have thought was the best of reasons, on Tuesday, just before he was set to be verbally “evaluated” by the Volusia County Council, Dan announced (in what was supposed to be some hyper-dramatic reveal) that he would be retiring effective next month.
It took the form of a two-line resignation that said nothing. Meant nothing.
In doing so, “Cujo” allowed freshman County Manager George Recktenwald to bask in the universal glory and accolades that showered him from the dais during what passed for a verbal review of his performance – safe in the knowledge that the “system” was intact – and his annual retirement income will far exceed the average income of most Volusia County residents. . .
Given Old Ed’s daft handling of the moment, it became clear to everyone – including The Daytona Beach News-Journal – that Mr. Eckert’s departure had been orchestrated well in advance.
It was typical. And no one paying attention expected anything different.
Only the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys even attempted to feign surprise following the ham-handed announcement – then acted as if finding a replacement for their retiring advocatus diaboli would be tantamount to walking on the planet Mars. . .
To his credit, like all well-entrenched bureaucrats, Mr. Eckert instinctively knew which side his bread was buttered in any situation – and, when needed, he fought tenaciously to keep this dysfunctional and ineffective ship of fools afloat – even after the bilge rats took the helm.
I suspect under different leadership and different circumstances, Mr. Eckert could have served the people’s needs with great enthusiasm and professionalism at times when we needed his best.
But Dan’s motivations were not in our interest – he advocated for a petty, self-justifying and belligerent beast – and it showed.
In my view, at the end of the day, Dan Eckert completed his lycanthropic transformation into what, I’m sure, was everything he hated when he entered public service and the law – a good man, ultimately compromised by a culture that abhors transparency and accountability – while championing the continued paralytic dysfunction that has hampered any substantive progress on the serious issues we face.