The old saying “If I knew then what I know now” speaks to the universal themes of wisdom and regret, perils and pitfalls, the consequences of our choices, hard lessons learned.
It is an age-old lament that has been translated into every language in the world and muttered by all people of a certain age as both an affirmation of the benefits of hindsight and retrospection – and a warning to those behind them on the trail of life.
The process of gaining knowledge through experiential learning is painful – and dreadfully expensive – and the often-embarrassing nature of learning from our mistakes keeps some from admitting their fallibility or changing course, because doing so would break with homogenized lockstep conformity, knowing the best way to camouflage oneself is to stick with the herd.
We see this a lot in local government – especially in the molasses-like quagmire that is Volusia County – where a firmly rooted status quo moves at a glacial pace and things of substance often wither and die of age and neglect.
As District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post learned during her first term, “mavericks” – freethinkers who dare to consider solutions outside the aging box of conventionality – are not welcome in the inner sanctum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.
That is the domain of those who understand the benefit of getting along and going along.
A place where toeing the line buys politicians admittance to a very exclusive club – and wraps them in the welcoming blanket of political patronage provided by powerful insiders with the wherewithal to influence elections – and public policy.
For nearly four years, her long-suffering constituents watched as Ms. Post was beaten like a borrowed mule by her “colleagues” on the dais of power – openly maligned, marginalized, and discredited personally and professionally – as Volusia’s ‘Old Guard’ attempted to pound a square peg into the round hole of conformity.
The melodramatic eyerolling and histrionics on display whenever Ms. Post would attempt to move an issue forward – or, God forbid, question a member of senior staff – was ugly and painful.
Perhaps more important, the open obstructionism and ostracism of Councilwoman Post by perennial elected officials – political retreads who had long overstayed their effectiveness – denied the residents of District 4 the equal and effective representation they voted for and deserve.
This political shunning – the physical and emotional rejection of a duly elected member of the Volusia County Council as a means of modifying behavior, limiting influence, and forcing allegiance to the status quo – is now being wielded against Council Chair Jeff Brower.
On Tuesday, Chairman Brower attempted to discuss an innovative idea to sell naming rights and sponsorships of beach approaches as an alternative revenue source – one that would reduce the burden of beach management on taxpayers – possibly leading to the elimination of onerous beach access tolls for Volusia County residents.
Almost immediately, Mr. Brower’s request was met with the foot-dragging excuses that typically result in good ideas and unconventional solutions being lost in the bureaucratic ether, only to return months/years later in a form or function that bears no resemblance to the original thought.
Disappointingly, Councilman Ben Johnson said that, while he was not opposed to discussing the issue, he wanted it postponed until after the new budget takes effect (why would anyone delay discussion of something that could have a positive impact on the budget?) – a delaying tactic that was quicky advanced by the stonewalling Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who mewled about how overworked senior staff is, you know, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and all (read: counting and stacking the $225+ million in federal CARES Act largesse).
And, once again, a good idea – one which held the potential of true and lasting benefit to the people of Volusia County – was kicked down the dusty political trail. . .
If you are interested, I discuss Tuesday’s public pillorying of Chairman Brower in tomorrow’s Angels & Assholes column (because, in my jaded opinion, this embarrassing episode surely represents the height of political assholery).
On April 27, Chairman Brower will present the State of the County Address – billed as “…an annual opportunity for the County Council to celebrate partnerships, reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year and outline the County’s future goals” – which, in years past, has been little more than a toffee-nosed klatch of our civic and social elite.
My sincere hope is that – rather than regurgitate a laundry list of pseudo-accomplishments as claimed by those do-nothings at Team Volusia or the mysterious CEO Business Alliance – Mr. Brower will use this opportunity to shine a very bright light on the dysfunction, sloth-like foot dragging, and obstructionist mentality of the political in-crowd that has resulted in economic and civic stagnation.
Now that Chairman Jeff Brower knows what many of his constituents have known for years, it is time this cult of mediocrity be publicly exposed for what it is.