Members of a free society abhor the idea of alienation and estrangement – defined as the experience of being separated or held out from a group or activity in which one should be involved by virtue of a perceived physical or ideological difference.
In fact, our national motto – E Pluribus Unum “From many, one” – speaks to the notion of unity, a shared identity, our unique ability to come together, regardless of our disagreements and dissimilarities, and be a contributing part of something exceptional.
The idea that we are all equal under the law – the bedrock of our democracy.
Because when powerful people begin singling out those they see as lesser – labeling those who think, act, worship, or look different from them or vehemently disagree with public policy – bad things happen.
As recent history teaches there is a fine line between a functioning symbiotic society governed by a representative democracy and an autocratic dictatorship founded on fear and divisiveness, where the rule of law is ultimately replaced by diktats of powerful bureaucrats, and an “Us vs. Them” mentality sets in – both in the streets and the gilded Halls of Power.
For the past several years, I have brooded on the increasingly insular nature of local government – a strange phenomenon marked by a growing disconnect and distrust between our elected and appointed officials and those they serve.
As a former career civil servant turned dilettante political analyst, I frequently observe elected officials – good men and women who run for high office on a promise of changing the status quo and returning responsive government – then become everything they hated once they are taken into the maw of a self-serving bureaucracy.
That personal and political transilience happens more rapidly than one might think.
Once fawned over by career staff, wealthy insiders, and hangers-on who laugh at their jokes – the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker quickly become convinced of their own infallibility – and secretly become addicted to the fact people are forced to listen as they drone on during the policymaking process.
Over time, these malleable nitwits become confident they are the smartest person in any room.
This near constant ego massage, coupled with the innate fear of losing the prestige and perquisites of their haughty position, breeds a weird political paranoia – especially when those citizens whose concerns they once championed turn angry and sullen, crowding the chamber, demanding access, and input in a process our High & Mighty are now convinced is the exclusive domain of the ruling class.
In turn, any semblance of “public participation” becomes a sham – where our superiors stare into space, gripped by some egomaniacal catatonia – refusing to even acknowledge the presence of their constituents – as concerned citizens try desperately to make themselves understood.
Some dismiss me and this blogsite as the ravings of a bloviating blowhard who always sees the dark side of any civic issue – a demented, half-drunk Henny Penney with a chip on my shoulder – and perhaps that is true.
But the fact is – I don’t make this shit up.
And the growing evidence of this incredibly divisive, circle the wagons, mindset in major local governments keeps my eyes open and my ear to the track.
For instance, this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a disturbing report on the City of Palm Coast’s despicable practice of placing persons they arbitrarily label “difficult citizens” on a secret list maintained by senior administrators at City Hall.
You read that right.
Perhaps most sinister, those who are pigeon-holed as undesirables – the modern equivalent of an Untermensch, who, in Nazi Germany, referred to those held out as inferior, even subhuman – are never told they have been officially registered as “difficult.”
No due process.
And no means of mitigating the damage to their character and reputation in the community.
Let that sink in for a moment. . .
I find it unfathomable that the administration of a modern municipality of some 90,000 residents met in a backroom in the bowels of Palm Coast City Hall and determined it was right and proper to establish and maintain a list of 24 taxpaying “difficult citizens” – whose transgressions range from verbal spats with code enforcement officers to throwing a “spear-like object” at a city truck – a mysterious official register that even some of the city’s elected officials were unaware of.
In fact, Council member Ed Danko (who is no stranger to controversy) was left wondering if he was on “The List” as well. . .
Apparently, the criteria for being labeled a “difficult citizen” consists of little more than being nominated by a city employee or official following a problematic contact or an open challenge to municipal authority – information, much of which is non-criminal in nature, is then compiled and forwarded to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for reasons that are not completely clear.
You see, the scope of Palm Coast’s domestic intelligence gathering operation against its citizens remains murky – and no one knows to what extent those appearing on the list are subject to surveillance, monitoring, or disparate treatment – because the cowardly City Manager Matt Morton refused to answer questions from the working press – referring that uncomfortable task to his mouthpiece, city spokeswoman Brittany Kershaw.
According to Kershaw’s practiced backspin:
“It’s two-fold. It’s a way to protect the city staff from walking into an area where there might be someone who doesn’t want other people on their property and has either threatened city staff in the past or has done something that caused concern. It’s also a way to protect the employee and also it’s a way to respect our residents if they don’t want us on their property.”
Trust me, Ms. Kershaw – this has nothing to do with respect for your residents and everything to do with imparting fear and intimidation in anyone who may challenge the reach and power of Palm Coast government.
Although we are told “The List” was started under former City Manager Jim Landon in 2016 – the practice was clearly approved and continued under Mr. Morton’s tyrannical reign.
Look, don’t take my word for it – read for yourself the copious news reports of how whistleblowers and internal critics have their careers destroyed and lives turned upside down by Mr. Morton’s wrath.
But this is different – because it involves average citizens like you and I who happen to run afoul of a government run amok.
As Orlando constitutional attorney Howard Marks stated in an interview with the News-Journal:
“No due process, no way to challenge and potentially defames citizens and sets up a procedure where they are treated differently than other citizens. If it is a public record, which it is, this can be published to all citizens and creates a situation where the people on the list can be treated as second-class citizens with less rights than other citizens.”
While we cannot know if the media’s discovery of this foul practice weighed into the recent decision by Palm Coast Mayor Melissa Holland to abruptly resign her position – it should have.
By any metric, this appalling practice is indefensible, corrosive, and wrong.
In my view, Mr. Morton – and any other municipal administrator who participated in or condoned this pernicious classification system – should follow Ms. Holland’s lead and resign immediately – or face termination.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal