The Bureaucratic Magician

The unique vantage point that forms my weird opinions on the issues of the day comes from over thirty years surviving and observing the machinations of local bureaucracies – learning the prestidigitations of small-town politics as I clawed my way to middle management and hung on by my fingernails.

I certainly do not have any preternatural insight – I simply know the tricks and illusions of the bureaucratic magician – an art always performed with more misdirection than abracadabra. . .

It is this polished sleight-of-hand that leaves taxpayers (and newly elected politicians) standing outside the fortified portcullis of government – trying in vain to wipe away the grease and grime from the opaque window – desperately clamoring for a glimpse inside. 

The fact is, it is not that hard to figure out the maneuvering and intrigues when you apply the principle of Occam’s razor to any analysis of local government, a scientific problem-solving technique which says the simplest explanation is usually the right one. 

Trust me.  Most government administrators are not that sophisticated – but they have an incredible survival instinct.

Normally, government slugs along at a snail’s pace – not very nimble and with far too many moving parts to spool-up quickly.  Even simple actions can take months of deliberation and study, the hiring of consultants, commissioning studies, forming political insulation committees, and holding meetings to weigh options – buying time until the final “solution” bears no resemblance to the original goal.

In fact, so much of the mechanics of government are just busywork formalities, a bureaucratic corn maze, designed by upper-level shovel leaners and highly paid contractors who speak in acronyms and complicate most issues far beyond acceptable reason.

I was reminded of that strategy last week when I listened to Volusia County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald put the ether to his gullible bosses on the dais of power – lulling them into an almost paralytic stupor on the issue of simply moving a Votran stop to the First Step Shelter following the tragic death of a client who was killed crossing a dark and foggy stretch of International Speedway Boulevard. 

You could tell Recktenwald’s hypnosis prank had the desired effect on his audience when all seven of our elected representatives began figuratively nodding in unison, like a synod of dashboard bobblehead dogs. . .

Then, on Thursday, Mr. Rectenwald chaperoned a meeting between Chairman Jeff Brower and Abbas Abdulhussein, who owns the controversial Hard Rock Daytona, to discuss the traffic-free beach behind the hotel that Mr. Abdulhussein was gifted by Volusia County back in 2015. 

From the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Brower has stated he wants the poles removed and beach driving restored behind the hotel – and it appears he means it.

Clearly, Mr. Rectenwald was not going to let his newest charge get too far afield without adult supervision. 

After all, we cannot have ungoverned progress breaking out, right?

That might disturb the delicate sensibilities of some uber-wealthy political insider with ulterior motivations. . .

Whatever.

In an excellent piece by reporter Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mr. Recktenwald was quoted:

“To decide anything would require a public meeting and policy decision of the entire County Council, as well as the state and federal permitting agencies,” he said. “No decision could be made without all that being legislated.”

Nevertheless, Recktenwald said it was important for the hotel’s owner and management to meet the new County Council Chair. He also said that the exchange was productive.

“It’s always productive when people get to meet and get to know each other,” Recktenwald said. “This is the first time they have met, so it’s important to get together.”

Priming the crowd for more hoops, hurdles, and obstructions. . .    

In 2015, the ordinances that allowed a past iteration of the Volusia County Council to giveaway something that did not belong to them were crafted with the full support of the ultimate political insider, King J. Hyatt Brown – who patted his loyal minions on their pointy heads and said, “It is a positive step. It is one that we will never regret, and it is a step that in the future we will look back and say, ‘Good job you all.’”

In keeping with tradition, J. Hyatt’s mere presence in the Council Chamber was all it took and the ordinances passed on a 6-1 vote. . .

Of course, the beach driving ban was couched as an “inducement” for the developer to complete the infamous hotel’s renovation to exacting performance standards by a date certain.

In the eyes of many, that didn’t happen.

But after a series of off-the-agenda ambushes, extensions, and a rush to “completion” everything went swimmingly for Mr. Abdulhussein.

By and large, beach driving supporters believe that progress, and the revitalization of our beleaguered core tourist area, can be enhanced when investors and developers embrace and incorporate this unique aspect of our rich heritage.

Others are on the public record stating that a traffic-free beach is the panacea for all our social and economic woes – and that the removal of beach driving represents the only viable way forward in terms of “economic development.”

The difference being that those who have a direct financial interest in opposing beach driving are infinitely more politically influential than us helot’s whose role in this godforsaken artificial economy is to fill menial service jobs and provide a steady flow of tax dollars.

I don’t often agree with Pat Rice of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, but at least some of his Sunday editorial rang true:

“A variety of issues have led to our beach — and especially Daytona Beach’s core beach side area — being one of the most underdeveloped and least prosperous stretches along the East Coast. It will take a LOT more than adding beach driving or decreasing it to cure what ails our beach’s economy.”

It is abundantly clear that further limiting beach driving and access isn’t the answer.

This lack of civic vision, stagnation, blight, and bureaucratic impediments to entrepreneurial investment simply cannot continue.

To his credit, Chairman Brower seems intent on stopping the effective privatization of our beach and returning the draw of beach driving to the strand – and that transformation can begin the minute he realizes that there is no obligation to toe the line and conform to the existing state of affairs.    

In my view, like most tenderfoot politicians, Mr. Brower must find a way around the bureaucratic flypaper that puts time and distance between pressing civic issues and any substantive progress – always ensuring that a diluted version of the original intent can be crafted so that no one in government can ever be held accountable for any conceivable outcome.

(Anyone remember the results of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee?  Me neither. . .)

Make no mistake, Mr. Recktenwald is a master of the bureaucratic arts – with the unique ability to maintain the status quo regardless of who We, The People may elect to represent our interests. 

Because that is how the system works.

My sincere hope is that Mr. Brower, and his fellow elected officials who reached their seats on a promise of returning power to the citizens of Volusia County, will develop the political savvy to recognize when they are being manipulated and patronized – or when their initiatives are being neutered by the sloth-like nature of a massive bureaucracy that feeds on public funds and excretes inefficiency – one desperately in need of reform. 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

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3 thoughts on “The Bureaucratic Magician

  1. I supported Brower for chair, not any longer.
    Brower states he sampled the installed “no driving poles” behind the hotel managed by hardrock Corp. and he submitted for chemical analysis. He is now telling us that the results of the analysis of the pole samples contain arsenic.
    What he did not tell us is all simialr wooden poles that are treated contain arsenic. Even the pressure treated wood you buy form the big box stores. The difference, the chemically coated poles do not leach (dissolve) into the soil or ground water. That is basic chemistry 101, I am an environmental engineer.
    So Jeff, no longer do I support you.

    The poles should remain in place, and who is it for the citizens of Daytona to find “driving on the beach” a priority? No where else in the US is there such an uproar about allowing folks to drive on the beach. Daytona citizens, stop living in the past.

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    1. Yet the state has even stated they do leach into the ground! Do some research! The fact you have stated this and then stated your education makes me think you should get your money back on that “degree”!

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  2. Shame on you Derrick Henry I have traveled the coasts of Florida from Ormond Beach to Miami Beach for 50 years and lets forget beach driving now as your beachfront looks like shit all the time and I am embarrassed to take friends and relatives there.Coney Island looks better. .We go to Ormond by the Sea or St.Augustine. I have a yearly beach pass and that is the least of my problems as I enter from Granada ..Politicians and builders are not my friends.Looks like things are never going to change in Volusia..We are starting to look in other parts of Florida for a NEW home.

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