The chasm between the City of Deltona and the residents it ostensibly exists to serve widened this week, a gulf of distrust that continues to stifle substantive progress and distort the community’s civic vision for the future.
In my experience, that sense of suspicion is born of political arrogance – when government forgets that its very legitimacy is derived from the will of the people.
Unfortunately, that’s a reality not limited to Deltona.
That does not mean that those constituents who scream the loudest always get their way – or that mob rule should determine public policy.
And it shouldn’t be that whoever has the gold makes the rules.
That is not how a representative democracy is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, when the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – our fellow citizens who stand for election on the promise to represent our interests – turn insular and become self-serving, frustration quickly turns to animosity.
On April 1, by Royal Edict, Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg announced that City Hall and the water utility offices would be closed to public access under the omnipotent power of a “local state of emergency,” which some politicians have come to believe supersedes the United States Constitution and rule of law.
If the coronavirus scare has proven anything, it is how quickly a segment of our society will cave to the tyrannical demands petty dictators and their excessive “executive orders” that have quarantined a healthy population, closed publicly owned facilities and arbitrarily shutdown commerce, while selecting which businesses will live, and which will die, based upon a government definition of “essential.”
That includes craven local officials who have no qualms using fear-mongering and a contrived “virtual” presence to violate our basic right to access public meetings and participate in governmental processes.
While many local governments have used emergency declarations to suspend the peoples business until there could be substantive public input, placing routine decision-making authority in the hands of the chief executive; others continued to operate under a weird remote conferencing scheme where policy makers legislate public policy by phoning it in from the comfort of their bunker.
Last Monday, the Deltona City Commission met in chambers with all elected officials present – practicing social distancing through the use of tables set at intervals below the dais.
Leading the official agenda was a weird CYA diktat which stated:
“Following CDC guidelines, we are not allowing public access into the Commission Chambers and practicing social distancing with the City Commissioners and staff. Though there are restrictions when it comes to public gatherings, we are dedicated to making sure those who would like to make their voice heard are able to.”
I don’t recall anything in “CDC guidelines” that directed, “wash your hands, stay six-feet from other people, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face mask, monitor your health, oh, and don’t allow public access into the Deltona Commission Chambers”. . .
The edict continued with a convoluted process whereby citizens wishing to participate in their government could submit public comment – so long as the input was received three days in advance of the meeting – or contribute via something called an “ecomment” option.
Unbelievably, with citizens (and a working newspaper reporter) physically locked out of the public building, the commission promptly convened a public hearing allowing the subdivision of a section of commercial property.
Except, the hearing was a sham – there were no members of the general public in the room.
Deltona taxpayers were openly denied access.
In fact, as this faux public meeting continued, concerned residents could be heard pounding on the locked doors, screaming for their right to speak, demanding admittance to the meeting as assured by Florida’s open meeting law – only to be arrogantly ignored by their own elected officials.
Commissioner Loren King was the only representative who stood for commonsense and civic decency when he called into question why official action was being taken when residents were excluded from the process?
I felt queasy listening to the booming report of citizens hammering at the locked door – it was jarringly reminiscent of oppressed serfs pounding at the castle’s ironclad portcullis – the great unwashed insisting on being heard by a haughtily detached Monarchy.
In my view, this gut-wrenching display was so unamerican – so contrary to our democratic principles – that it should shock the conscience of anyone who values free and open access to our governmental processes.
According to reports, ultimately a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy was able to gain access to the inner sanctum, and a reporter from the West Volusia Beacon was allowed to monitor the remainder of the meeting in person.
Now self-important politicians are finding unique ways to craft a “new normal” – loosening processes once protected by charter and the constitution – that will allow them to “remove formalities” and take whatever action they feel is “prudent” to protect the public’s health and insulate themselves from political criticism.
This isn’t about a virus anymore.
We are watching the coronavirus pandemic transition from a public health crisis to a civic “scamdemic” – where craven “public servants” take advantage of a bad situation to fundamentally change our system of governance for the convenience of the “system” – while finding innovative ways to further exclude those of us who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence behind a locked door.