During my three decades in public service, I learned many things – an experiential education that taught me a lot about human nature and the effect of unbridled power on small minds.
Through the years, the citizens I served graciously expended public funds to educate my mind and body, allowing me the opportunity to develop those skills necessary to serve the community effectively and efficiently.
I have never forgotten their generosity – or the important life lessons learned.
Now that I am a washed up “has been” – firmly ensconced on the back bench here on the ash heap of history – my enormous ego conveniently allows me to forget my own myriad mistakes and failures while haughtily pointing out the faults and foibles of those still in the arena in some vain attempt to remain relevant to the civic discussion well after my expiry date.
Thanks to this hard-earned skill set, I have developed the ability to identify the symptoms of bureaucratic dysfunction – and an essential understanding of the internal intrigues and machinations of government that most laypersons mistakenly dismiss as ‘politics as usual.’
But I’ll be dipped if I can figure out what is going on in the City of Deltona.
Like many of you – I have more questions than answers. . .
I do know that an inability to attract and retain quality senior administrators is a key indicator of a government in trouble – and by that metric the City of Deltona is a shit show choreographed, produced, and performed in the inferno of a raging dumpster fire. . .
Unfortunately, reversing this grim trend requires that the elected leadership have the capacity for introspection, a sense of self-awareness, and the capacity to understand their individual and collective role in the council/manager form of government.
Then adjust course and stay in their lane.
And the acting City Manager should not blindside his bosses by dropping public allegations of misconduct with no good way for them to defend themselves – or mitigate the speculation and instability which is sweeping the community.
Earlier this week, Interim City Manager John Peters III informed the Deltona City Commission of his intent to resign and return to his role as Director of Public Works following what The Daytona Beach News-Journal conservatively called “a long series of controversies” that have plagued this West Volusia behemoth since former City Manager Jane Shang’s reign of terror ended.
Astonishingly, Mr. Peters’ resignation marks the third change in leadership in less than a year and a half. . .
According to reports, the crux of the problem is on-going “interference” by elected officials in operational decisions – but I suspect the issues run far deeper – the lingering effects of old wounds that refuse to heal because someone is constantly picking at the scab.
Interestingly, in an article by reporter Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, Mr. Peters made the cryptic statement, “I don’t have a choice. There’s too much interference. If I resign, I can speak out about it.”
I found that official statement strange, because I am not sure stepping down so he can speak publicly about the seething turmoil inside Deltona City Hall is a good career move. . .
He went on to explain that the meddling is coming from city commissioners who oppose his measures on code enforcement and personnel decisions.
“That’s a breach of the charter,” Peters told the Beacon.
That’s a serious charge, and if he’s right, the City Attorney has a duty to act to protect the integrity of the city’s guiding document.
However, the term “interference” can be subjective – especially when applied to the separation of powers in a municipal government.
For instance, is an elected official congratulating an employee on a job well done considered interference? Or is it limited to “If you don’t stop code enforcement activities in my district, hire my cousin, fire the finance director, pave my street, etc., etc., I’ll move to fire you”?
It is one reason why most chief executives have an employment agreement which contractually protects them from the power struggles inherent in local government.
In addition, most county and municipal charters clearly delineate the authority and responsibilities of the manager – setting parameters that provide the political insulation to allow the chief executive the latitude to run the day-to-day operations free of intrusion from the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker – who are elected by the people to make policy decisions and direct the expenditure of public funds.
When that civic equilibrium is disturbed by either side of the equation, the resulting oscillations can become so turbulent that the public begins to distrust its government.
That is typically when good executives follow their moral compass and depart for greener pastures rather than compromise their professional ethics and personal reputation – and bad executives jump from the flaming wreckage and run for the hills, usually with pitchfork wielding villagers in hot pursuit. . .
In an unusual move, Sheriff Mike Chitwood entered the fray on social media last week, calling it a “sad day” in Deltona before praising Mr. Peters for doing a good job, “…with the transparency, accountability and professionalism Deltona sorely needed.”
Then, Sheriff Chitwood set about naming-names. . .
“Unfortunately, I believe he was up against interference from certain City Commissioners named Dana McCool, David Sosa and Anita Bradford.”
One thing is certain, Sheriff Chitwood has a sharp mind and a well-honed political instinct – but I hope against hope that he is mistaken in his assessment.
I do not know Sosa or Bradford personally, but I have great respect for Commissioner Dana McCool – who got into politics for all the right reasons – after years of fighting an out-of-control City Hall from outside the ramparts as a frustrated civic activist intent on making her community a better place.
I suppose time will tell which of the sitting elected officials have pure intentions and which do not; however, I believe the seemingly intractable issues plaguing Deltona predate Ms. McCool by years. . .
In a prepared agenda item for the June 7 Commission meeting, Mr. Peters oddly outlined three possible choices – one of which would keep him at the helm for the remainder of the year:
Accept his resignation immediately and designate an interim City Manager.
Accept the resignation effective upon the completion of the draft budget in mid-August and designate an interim City Manager at that time.
Accept the resignation effective Dec. 31, to allow the Commission to complete a search for a City Manager.
Look, this isn’t a Chinese restaurant – and if Mr. Peters finds his position that desperate and untenable – why didn’t he simply give adequate notice and take his football and go home?
To add to the speculation, after Mr. Peters made his shocking announcement – and dropped the serious allegations of official interference – he refused to clarify his stunning statements:
“I’m really not talking about it at this point,” Peters told a News-Journal reporter last week, fanning the sense of drama.
Naturally, this intrigue has caused some to wonder if this entire fuss is a well-orchestrated powerplay by Peters to force the issue of his “acting” status (which has now drug on nearly six-months) – and worry that if the Commission acquiesces to any behind-the-scenes demands then get down on their knees and beg him to stay – it would clearly grant him near dictatorial powers.
And, if his intent was to return to his former role, why wouldn’t Peters simply finish his temporary “Queen for the Day” appointment and shuffle on back to the relative comfort and obscurity of the Public Works Department?
Others ask why, if Mr. Peters wants the fulltime role, would he paint himself into this very narrow corner – after all who in their right mind would take this tumultuous job on a 4-3 vote of a clearly divided commission?
These are legitimate questions that deserve answers. And fast.
The fear, of course, is that this dysfunction is going to get worse as the finger pointing begins and there will always be self-serving opportunists on the sideline waiting to take advantage of a leadership void – charlatans with one good suit and a briefcase, “consultants,” and failed screwballs looking for work – who will offer their services in hopes of backdooring a six-figure city manager gig.
In my view, between now and the June 7 agenda item, this situation will continue to fester as speculation builds.
Now is the time for Mayor Heidi Herzberg to rally her wayward “colleagues” and start a public dialog with the goal of amicably repairing things with their temporary placeholder – then begin the important process of selecting a strong permanent replacement.
In my view, it is wrong to allow Mr. Peters to languish in an interim status for months on end – and, if the meddling he describes is so deleterious to the operational effectiveness of the municipal government that he has no choice but to step down – those violations of the separation of power defined in the city’s charter should be investigated, aired publicly, and swiftly dealt with according to law.
While questions abound, one thing is certain – the good citizens of Deltona deserve stability – and time is of the essence.