“The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.”
–John Stuart Mill
In a 2009 essay on the nature and effect of mediocrity, political columnist Gareth van Onselen opined that this infectious disease is fueled by apathy and legitimized by indifference, and, if ignored, it will self-replicate, “…generating and reinforcing the very environment in which it thrives; and, the more it comes to dominate public thought, the harder mediocrity becomes to recognize.”
I came up in the police service, spending my entire adult life in a pursuit where my name was at the bottom of my work product – essentially creating a personal “brand” – building a reputation with those who would read and interpret the myriad incident reports, forms, affidavits, investigative notes, and the other documentary and explanatory narratives that I created during my work – including clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, reporters, and the public.
It was important to me that others viewed me as a professional – comfortable that my reports were terse, factual, accurate and well-crafted – something deserving of my name.
Anything less would reflect poorly on myself and my agency.
I was reminded of the importance of professionalism and expectations while reading Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s column in Sunday’s newspaper entitled, “Qualities Daytona’s next city manager needs.”
Among other attributes, Mr. Rice explained, the City of Daytona Beach should look for “..a really good listener, and not just to the city’s perceived power structure,” in other words, someone who listens to the entire community, not just the oligarchical powerbrokers who rule with an iron fist and an open checkbook come campaign season.
In addition, Mr. Rice feels “The next city manager needs to make City Hall more transparent that it is right now,” citing that City Hall has been in “information lockdown,” an environment where the entrenched City Manager Jim Chisholm controls the flow of information to citizens and the media through gatekeepers like Communications Manager Susan Cerbone.
I agree with that assessment.
According to Mr. Rice, depending upon the media request, “…it may take hours, or days, or weeks to get the information requested.”
That is unacceptable – and probably illegal under Florida’s public records statutes.
Most important, Mr. Rice rightfully acknowledged that “The next city manager needs to visibly put just as much energy into the core beach side and Midtown neighborhoods as City Hall currently has to develop downtown and the area around Interstate 95 and LPGA Boulevard.”
In my view, selecting the next municipal chief executive will be the most important decision Daytona Beach city commissioners will make during their tenure – one that will have an enduring effect on the community’s social, civic, and economic future.
So, why have these same elected officials been so willing to accept the malignant spread of mediocrity under Mr. Chisholm for so long?
An institutionalized “averageness” from a manager who will not listen, share information, or focus on areas of the city awash in blight, dilapidation, and economic stagnation – all while exclusively serving the needs of well-heeled political insiders in return for political insulation – ongoing, systemic issues that our local newspaper has only now acknowledged.
I find it strange that just 43 candidates applied for a Florida city manager job currently paying Mr. Chisholm nearly $300,000 (for a city in this condition?) – with many of the applicants having little actual experience in the influential and multifaceted role.
Of the twelve finalists selected by Georgia-based Slavin Management Consultants, newly elected City Commissioner Stacy Cantu said, “I’m not too impressed with the top 12 that we have right now,” explaining that she hopes the firm conducts a thorough background check of the applicants.
My sincere hope is that Ms. Cantu and her colleagues won’t be afraid to wipe the slate and start over if necessary – even employing a different headhunter if that’s what it takes to deepen the pool of candidates.
Unfortunately, this indifference to governmental shoddiness is not limited to Daytona Beach – the problem has made Volusia County a cautionary tale in the eyes of our Central Florida neighbors.
When is enough, enough?
Mediocrity allows bad things to happen, like placing a city-owned/county funded residential homeless assistance center in the middle of nowhere without any consideration for client transportation beyond forcing them to cross a foggy highway in the predawn hours – no crosswalk, no sidewalk – something that has now resulted in the death of a 30-year-old woman who was working hard in the First Step program to change her life and reunite with her 10-year-old daughter.
In response to this compound tragedy, Volusia County Vice Chair Billie Wheeler mewled in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Of course from the beginning we knew it would be a logistical problem, but the city of Daytona Beach said they would take care of it.”
It is this excuse-based, finger pointing, “not my yob, man” approach to government that is killing us. Literally and figuratively.
How tragic. How utterly preventable.
Mediocrity also distracts focus from serious issues and reduces expectations.
It lowers the bar – and allows our elected and appointed officials to appease us with bluster, gibberish, and tall-talk – rather than taking definitive action to resolve the serious issues we face.
We get what we accept.
The time to demand positive change is now.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal