“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first–verdict afterward.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice.
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.”
–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
The City of DeBary never disappoints.
Anyone who enjoys a good, old-fashioned political shit show need look no further than this quaint community on the banks of the St. John’s river.
In fact, this blog cut its teeth on what was known as “The Debacle in DeBary” – a horrific look at the caustic reaction that occurs when greed, malleable politicians and environmentally sensitive land come together.
But what sets DeBary apart is their weird city charter – cobbled together in 1993 – with a provision that allows a majority of the city council to overturn the will of the people and unseat any sitting elected official who is found to have “violated any express prohibition” of the charter.
Under what passes for DeBary’s warped sense of justice, the City Council assumes the role of witness, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner – then, a few entrenched bureaucrats who consistently paint themselves as pseudo-victims pout their “testimony” before the wholly illegitimate Kangaroo Kourt – a compromised and patently un-American sham that ignores the people’s sacred vote – turning what was once a representative democracy into an internal popularity contest.
Don’t take my word for it, ask former Mayor Clint Johnson how it worked out for him. . .
The problem is, what constitutes a charter “violation” appears to be at the sole discretion of thin-skinned middle managers who have no qualms initiating the ‘nuclear option’ anytime a council member makes them “uncomfortable.”
For instance, on Wednesday evening, the City Council held a “hearing” to determine the fate of Councilman Stephen Bacon on charges he violated the charter when he, “…improperly ordered City Clerk Annette Hatch to include some material in the minutes of a recent meeting.”
As I understand it, when Bacon attempted to hand Hatch his speaking notes following a May council meeting – which he asked to be placed in the meeting minutes – Hatch refused to accept them, saying, “she didn’t need them.”
A brusk interoffice contretemps ensued.
“You need to take these. You need to put them in the minutes,’” Hatch said.
“He said, ‘You need to do your job.’”
Apparently, that exchange was followed by a spat between Mr. Bacon and the emotionally fragile City Records Manager Erick Frankton (who was a key player in Johnson’s removal) who demanded that a sitting elected official “apologize” to Clerk Hatch, and things went south from there.
In turn, City Manager Carmen Rosamonda “investigated” the incident (without speaking to Bacon?) then banned the duly elected Councilman from accessing any non-public area of DeBary City Hall.
With that, the die was cast for the next DeBary coup d’état – and city attorney Kurt Ardaman did what he does best and immediately hired outside counsel to “prosecute” a frustrated old man who can’t seem to grasp the council/manager form.
Following the initial “hearing” – something Mr. Bacon’s attorney aptly called a “travesty” – he was essentially found guilty of violating the charter – setting the stage for the second “hearing,” which essentially constituted the penalty phase.
Trust me. Everyone in the council chambers – and those watching online – were convinced that Councilman Bacon was about to “forfeit” his seat on a vote of his colleagues.
Fortunately, following a contrite statement, wherein Bacon agreed to work as a member of the “team” and follow the rules, his fellow council members agreed the dust-up didn’t rise to a terminable offense and Bacon was allowed to continue serving the citizens of DeBary.
It made for great political theater – the name Clarence Darrow was invoked by Bacon’s lawyer, and the city’s hired bulldog skillfully earned his keep – but the inherent unfairness of making up rules on the fly as the ham-handed “process” slugged forward was frightening to anyone who values good governance and due process.
Stuff and nonsense, indeed. . .
Clearly, Councilman Bacon is a cantankerous asshole with a caustic personality and an inability to follow established procedure – but it was painful to watch the elderly official fumble and bumble his way through the “hearing” – clearly confused, alternately speaking into the battery pack of his microphone and shrieking that his “constitutional rights” were being violated (because they were).
In the end, Mr. Bacon was openly humiliated for his transgression – and the City Council remained intact.
Kudos to the remainder of the DeBary City Council for – after publicly spanking Mr. Bacon – allowing the will of the people to stand.
It was the right thing to do.
Now, it is time for this small town’s ‘powers that be’ to revisit the charter and craft a section for prohibitions on the activities of elected officials that permits an independent outside arbiter to sort the wheat from the chaff – then let the citizens ensure their sacred vote can’t be discarded every time a staff member gets their knickers in a twist.
For now, there is an election quickly approaching, and Councilman Bacon has a very capable opponent in William Sell.
This is a political problem that requires a political solution.
That’s how a representative democracy is supposed to work.