On Saturday, a headline in The Daytona Beach News-Journal read: “County wants your comments for virus update.”
No, they don’t.
In recent weeks, I’ve written a lot about unintended consequences – the equal and opposite reaction – the unplanned effect that ill thought governmental decisions have on all of us.
When our elected and appointed “leadership” flail about in the dark, trying to do something – anything – that will give the appearance of competence, without having thought the outcome through, bad things can happen.
To take a few liberties with the thoughts of Frédéric Bastiat, the nineteenth century journalist who explained in his famous essay, “What is seen and What Is Not Seen” – bad decisions come from those who confine themselves to the “visible,” while good judgments result when the decision-maker considers both that which can be seen and those results that must be foreseen.
Unfortunately, in my view, Volusia County government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been conflicted and confusing – a garbled message, poorly executed – with little consideration for the concept of “getting it right the first time” as a means of preserving the public trust.
When it comes to effective communication strategies, the order in which information is presented is important.
The law of primacy tells us that items presented first will have a greater persuasive effect than subsequent information.
In public education campaigns, especially during a crisis, it is important that the information presented be factual, familiar, vetted and consistent – because that which is communicated first will be remembered longest by the community.
It is why most governmental entities develop the framework for strong public information campaigns before an emergency – identifying a single point of trusted information that can effectively communicate the myriad adjustments required to manage the threat – then organizing releases in a manner that keeps the public informed and limits speculation, rumor and panic.
In Volusia County, that logical process began when our elected officials voted unanimously to approve an emergency declaration giving broad powers to County Manager George Recktenwald – which, according to ordinance, directs the manager to “Assume complete operational control of all county forces combating the emergency,” among other responsibilities.
In short, Mr. Recktenwald was formally authorized to enter into contracts, incur obligations, employ workers, utilize volunteers, acquire supplies, materials and facilities, and prudently expend public funds to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the community.
During these extraordinary circumstances, our established emergency management protocols essentially limit the direct involvement of our elected officials to extending the state of emergency, as necessary, in seven-day increments by quorum.
In my view, almost immediately after the emergency declaration, certain council members became panicky, fearing that they weren’t getting the exposure required to let potential voters know how uber-important they are to the effort – how active and engaged – how intimately connected to the highest levels of the federal government they have become.
And that’s when the wheel came off the cart. . .
In time, several of our elected officials took to social media to issue haughty manifestos and poorly thought official releases, which included everything from demanding the closure of public beaches and private businesses, to assuming the role of amateur epidemiology lecturer, and providing information on essential operations, such as airport screening procedures, without context or confirmation.
The effect was directly counter to the principles of proper crisis management and hamstrung Mr. Recktenwald’s ability to control the message – then, things seemed to fly apart like a cheap flywheel. . .
In complete defiance of the legal requirements of Volusia County’s active state of emergency, our elected officials have now mandated weekly council meetings, a “virtual” klatch where council members plan to dial in and insinuate themselves into the decision-making process, while receiving staff “briefings” – a nonsensical make-work effort guaranteed to consume the valuable time of those actually in the arena so a few pompous assholes can preen and posture.
It’s like a passel of recalcitrant children stomping their Buster Browns and screaming “Deal with me!”
According to an article written by Casmira Harrison in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, a press release issued by Volusia County on Thursday afternoon, “…stated there would be no public participation at the upcoming meeting, later that evening the county had made the decision to set up a public viewing area at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center in DeLand. There will also be a “kiosk” set up at the building to provide citizens a physical access point for live, in-person public participation to the virtual meeting.”
Remember that whole Law of Primacy thing I was yammering about?
It is apparent our County Attorney’s Office is burning the midnight oil, figuring out how to make Apple Pan Dowdy out of horseshit, by shoehorning some semblance of “public input” into these “special meetings” to make them quasi-legal in the eyes of the open meetings law.
The problem is – the Volusia County Council lost many of us long before the coronavirus hysteria ruled the day – and our foul memories of their abject disrespect for the will of the people is not soon forgotten.
Many residents I have spoken with in recent days tell me they have no desire to participate in this politically motivated farce – with some lamenting that they now have a different perspective on incumbent candidates, based upon Volusia County’s clumsy and chaotic response to this crisis.
And they should.
Prior to this crisis, in every way, our elected officials have made it crystal clear that they neither needed – nor wanted – our input as they set about crafting public policy in the craven image of their political benefactors.
Many taxpayers simply stopped trying to actively participate in their county government.
They sat down and shut-up like they were told. . .
So, now that the public’s confidence in the process has been destroyed – our elected officials find themselves at the helm of a rapidly sinking ship alone.
In my view, history will not be kind to the Volusia County Council in the aftermath of this crisis – and they have no one to blame but themselves.
Please join Barker’s View this afternoon on Gov Stuff Live! with Big John, beginning at 4:00pm, as we talk politics, discuss the issues of the day and take your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!
Listen locally on WELE 1380am “The CAT” – or via the internet at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button)
Thanks in advance!
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal