I am fond of saying that if you care about good governance in your own community, you should care about good governance everywhere – because in the mosaic of municipalities in Volusia County – the actions of one city will invariably affect the quality of life in others.
Especially when the topic turns to the multifaceted problem of unchecked sprawl.
For years, there has been a gaping divide between Deltona City Commissioners and the citizens they are sworn to serve, one that many residents and observers find grimly disturbing – a real sense of mistrust fueled by the very real perception that, regardless of the issue or the intensity of their dissent – the will of the people is repeatedly suppressed by the wants of an arrogant and disconnected elected body who have seemingly nothing in common with those they represent.
In my view, Mayor Heidi Herzberg presides over the most consistently dysfunctional group of elected dullards in this long-suffering community’s existence – a weird group who run the intellectual gamut from bright and engaged to borderline morons with a chip on their shoulder – all complicated by a secretive and organizationally unsound City Hall that has resulted in a well-founded “Us vs. Them” mentality that continues to divide and frustrate taxpayers.
Following former City Manager Jane Shang’s reign of terror – and the election of the intrepid civic activist Dana McCool – many residents saw a glimmer of hope, a return to “normal” after public meetings dissolved into outrage, with vehement, even profane, protests as alienated citizens fought back against a tyrannical and insular “system,” one they could neither understand nor control.
On Monday night, our deepest fears for the future of Deltona became reality as many watched late into the night while, one-after-another, area residents dutifully approached their elected officials and literally begged them to disallow zoning changes that would permit a wholly inappropriate zero-lot-line development to be crammed onto 110-acres of environmentally sensitive land near bucolic Osteen.
In fact, the procession went on for hours as nearly 50 concerned residents – augmented by some 30 emails – spoke passionately about the environmental, civic, social, safety, and potential flooding issues presented by shoehorning 189 cracker boxes into a rural agricultural area abutting conservation land, ranchettes, and threatened wetlands.
While residents spoke of the quiet solitude of rural life, the joy of hobby farms, their love for the scenic byway that traverses their slice of heaven, and the inherent value of the woodlands, pastures, and unspoiled wildlife habit to future generations – most of their elected officials sat on the dais of power staring back like indifferent gargoyles – apparently only interested hearing from the developer’s land use attorney who, in typical fashion, stood before them with a handful of gimme and a mouthful of much obliged. . .
Following the overwhelming outpouring of opposition from area residents – and the recommendation of their own Planning Board – only Commissioners Loren King, Dana McCool and David Sosa stood with their constituents as the majority voted to sacrifice another slice of Old Florida by caving to the demands of a speculative developer.
I was proud of their courage and willingness to hold firm to the principles of a representative democracy.
After the final vote was taken – long after midnight – I found it difficult to sleep as I pondered the bigger question of what this growing political alienation means as increasing numbers of citizens feel disconnected from their local government, cravenly ignored by haughty policymakers who make irreversible decisions that will forever transform the land and the character of the community.
What happens when We, The People no longer feel we have any way to effect public policy, when the concept of civic engagement becomes meaningless, and the negative consequences on the public trust and polarization continue to erode our foundational principles?
What happened in the Deltona City Commission chambers in the early morning hours was nothing short of absurd – like watching recalcitrant children defiantly force a jigsaw puzzle piece into the wrong space despite all evidence to the contrary.
It was ugly and patently insulting, as the needs of rural landowners and the fervent pleas of those concerned about the very future of Deltona and beyond were openly shit on by those who have forgotten where their political power originates.