During my working life in a very active municipal law enforcement agency, few things took precedence over the afternoon episode of Days of Our Lives – and, over time, the long running soap opera became a staple in our daily lives.
As the smooth tones of MacDonald Carey spoke the famous introduction, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,” cops in uniform, detectives, and administrative staff would gather in the department’s training room to eat lunch and watch the latest goings-on in the fictional town of Salem.
It was a way to tune out the real madness for 30-minutes and immerse ourselves in the silly escapism of a contrived human drama, a brief distraction from the inhumanity police officers deal with as a matter of routine.
Besides, we all enjoy a good drama, a well-constructed plotline with memorable characters and an interesting arc, artistically presented with building action and an exciting climax, something we can relate to on a social or personal level.
I suppose us weirdos who enjoy observing and analyzing local politics are inescapably drawn to this grotesque genre by the theater of politics.
For instance, I have always been fascinated by the actors who play the various roles in this serial tragicomedy, the mental gymnastics of anticipating the unfolding plotline, watching the interaction of the various cast members and guessing at the behind-the-scenes influences.
Any given public meeting of a Volusia County elected body will have all the right elements – conflict, tension, surprise, extraordinary characters, strange behavior, controversy, mystery, comedy, and suspense – often leading to a bizarre double-cross twist at the end that pulls the rug out from under the audience in a dramatic conclusion that rivals anything M. Night Shyamalan could dream up.
Good politicians are natural actors, with a knack for self-promotion, timing, and the instinctive ability to paint themselves into the lead role in any situation – shameless scene-stealers who always hit their mark and adapt to whatever environment they find themselves in.
Don’t believe me?
Just watch any of our local elected officials as they deftly jockey for position, theatrically schmoozing and posturing with Governor Ron DeSantis whenever he makes one of his increasingly frequent appearances in Volusia County – classic Shakespeare. . .
Getting elected to high office is an increasingly difficult proposition at all levels of government.
A successful candidate must possess the ability to be many things to many people – in an environment where “likeability” outweighs competence – a compromised electoral process that requires a lot of money to make it to the dance.
In an age of 24/7 political marketing, where voters are inundated with television, radio, and roadside advertisements, every “press conference” and personal appearance a highly scripted one act play – it is difficult for a grassroots candidate to be swept into office on a groundswell of popular support – and almost impossible for them to survive in this cutthroat environment if they do.
This cash-as-fuel atmosphere has allowed a relatively small group of uber-wealthy elites to exert extraordinary influence over local policymaking as they manipulate the outcome of elections through artificially large campaign contributions to hand select candidates willing to sell their political souls in a Faustian bargain for the power and perquisites of office.
As a result, virtually everything We, The Little People see is choreographed with “winners and losers” decided in advance and what passes for “public policy” a foregone conclusion.
With a practiced eye, it becomes easy to discern the often-blurred line between a manufactured theatrical representation and the actual intrigues of those engaged in the “people’s business,” especially when those who are elected and appointed to represent our interests become enmeshed in petty plays and slapstick skits.
On Monday evening, the ongoing shit show that is the City of Deltona “jumped the shark” during the overly dramatic conclusion of the “Interim City Manager John Peters submits his resignation” episode – and everyone involved, from Peters to the hapless elected officials – played their supporting roles with practiced perfection on a grand stage set before an emotionally charged gallery.
The evening began with cage match between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the Deltona City Commission; wherein Sheriff Chitwood used a CompStat presentation as a feint to lambaste the elected officials for their abysmal reaction to a false report of misconduct by a deputy accused of inappropriately touching a citizen when her leg brace setoff a metal detector at a previous commission meeting.
Ingeniously, Sheriff Chitwood used the contretemps to effectively quash rumors of a mysterious “study” into whether Deltona is ready for its own police department.
Frankly, the elected officials should have covered up, backed into a corner of the ring, and taken their pummeling with a smile – because their incredibly weak and yammering individual defenses to Sheriff Chitwood’s masterful beatdown was akin to punching back against an enraged Mike Tyson in his prime.
Sometimes it is better to take the inevitable political ass beating and live to fight another day, especially when your much larger opponent is as skilled and light-on-his-feet as Sheriff Chitwood. . .
Then, discussion of Interim City Manager John Peters’ dramatic threat to resign over veiled “interference” from a few elected officials dissolved into emotionally charged theatrics – with Peters’ voice cracking in a tear-stained explanation of the horrific trauma he was subjected to by a couple of middle-aged neophyte neighborhood politicians, culminating in a theatrical self-defense, “I am damned principled!” – all while those he once worked for tripped over themselves – virtually begging him to reconsider and stay in the catbird seat until at least January, effectively anointing Mr. Peters with almost dictatorial powers, free from any meddling oversight by the people’s elected representatives.
Trust me. This won’t end well. . .
Look, by all accounts John Peters is a good guy who is trying to do the right thing, under difficult circumstances, as he works hard to change the perverse culture of a damaged and dysfunctional governmental organization that is responsible for establishing and implementing policies that affect the lives and livelihoods of some 90,000 souls.
Unfortunately, this dramatic intrigue is not limited to Deltona – or Daytona Beach, Debary, Edgewater, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, or – hell, you get the drift. . .
Next Tuesday, get your seat early for the latest production of that weird Kabuki theater masterfully acted by the Volusia County Council and directed by County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald – an episode I am sure will be chockful of farcical fits, misdirection, self-serving showmanship, and edge-of-your-seat dramatic machinations.
Make no mistake – absolutely nothing of substance will be accomplished – but I guarantee it will be fun to watch.
It is what keeps us all coming back for more. . .