Who Knew What. . .

Tomorrow, while most of you are at work, raising a family, and stretching the household budget to make last-minute preparations for Christmas, County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer – two of the highest compensated public employees in Central Florida – are set to be “evaluated” by our elected representatives on the Volusia County Council. 

Although an annual review of salary requirements for these positions is established by Charter – there is no agenda item (that I can find) – and no record of an established performance review protocol for either the County Manager or County Attorney – beyond a cursory mention in previous minutes of an “accomplishments report” which was not attached to the publicly available minutes.

In fact, the only list of “accomplishments” I could find for Mr. Recktenwald were listed on the “County Manager” page of the Volusia County website where the second bullet point touted Mr. Recktenwald’s oversight of “…the construction of the $81 million Ocean Center expansion.”

That was “accomplished” in 2008. . .

Whatever.

For years, the process of evaluating these powerful positions that command more than $200,000 each in public funds, top shelf benefits, and lavish perquisites is a farcical sham – consisting of little more than a few minutes of idle prattle from the dais of power, saccharine praise, and empty accolades that invariably culminate in an obscene pay increase. 

Sound familiar?

In over three-decades in service to residents of a small municipality – a place that put customer satisfaction over the organizational arrogance that often develops in bloated bureaucracies where “bigger is always better” – each year, I received a written performance evaluation which included the observations of my superiors, and a review of both measurable accomplishments and “growth areas” where improvement was expected.

These reviews always involved a face-to-face meeting with my department head or city manager – a time to candidly discuss issues, receive constructive criticism, and a much-needed pat on the back (or a kick in the ass) – a conversation that was memorialized in writing as a roadmap for personal improvement and professional growth.  

Periodically, departments and divisions were subject to external management audits – a top to bottom analysis of operating protocols, procedures, staffing levels, technology, and systems – which included confidential interviews with staff members to provide a 360-degree review and ensure essential services were being provided in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Could these examinations be uncomfortable? Absolutely.

But we were ultimately better for the critique.

This oversight is just one of the benefits of smaller, more manageable governments – places where the concerns of taxpayers are considered, strong leadership is valued, and those who are politically accountable to their neighbors (rather than a handful of oligarchs) demand a high degree of personal and professional responsibility from those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest.

In Volusia County, accountability has become an afterthought – the final yearly postscript of that dysfunctional slapstick troupe on the dais of power – most of whom have committed themselves in thought, word, and deed to the protection of the stagnant status quo that serves the bureaucracy and those influential insiders who control the rods and strings of public policy. 

But how is it that We, The Little People – from which all political power is derived – allow this lopsided power structure to have such enormous control of our lives and livelihoods?

Why did we stand idle while Volusia County government transmogrified into a massive and unwieldy machine that greedily gorges on an ever-expanding annual budget now exceeding $1 Billion – and a legislative branch wholly controlled by a few extremely wealthy powerbrokers with a very expensive chip in the game?

And how is it – year in and year out – our elected representatives ignore the myriad issues and scandals that continue to playout on the frontpage of the newspaper – everything from a dangerously dysfunctional emergency medical system – staffed by a dwindling number of demoralized, disrespected, and overworked first responders, the strategic suppression of commonsense environmental protections and impact fees, the continuing lack of transparency, and now revelations of the horrific abuse of inmates at the Volusia County Jail, etc., etc., etc.?   

Good question. 

With damn few answers. . .

According to an outstanding report by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, on Thursday, just two days after Dyer and Recktenwald will be “evaluated” – a secret meeting will be held behind closed doors to determine the fate of former Director of Corrections Mark Flowers – who requested a hearing to challenge his pending termination on charges of “…harassing employees, creating a hostile work environment, and ordering the possible abuse of jail inmates.”

According to Mr. Flowers’ attorney, he has been the victim of retaliation after blowing the whistle on abuse and misconduct at the jail.

A recently completed internal investigation conducted by Volusia County sustained serious allegations of misconduct against Flowers – to include that he ordered “…a difficult inmate placed in a special unit of the jail, where those held there may be restrained because they pose a danger to others or to themselves. The inmates sometimes are placed in four-point restraints, meaning both arms and both legs are tied down.”

According to the Beacon, when corrections officers advised that placing an inmate in four-point restraints, face down on a concrete slab, in the nude, did not “feel right” – they were told by Flowers that he had “clearance from legal” to engage in the dangerous practice. 

Whoa. 

Now, taxpayers have a right to know what County Attorney Mike Dyer knew, and when.

Because it is one thing for County Manager Recktenwald to be asleep at the switch, ignorant of systemic abuse at the Department of Corrections – it is quite another for the legal department to have authorized the effective torture of inmates in some fetid isolation chamber at the Volusia County Jail.   

In my view, tomorrow’s “evaluation” of Recktenwald and Dyer is, at best, premature – at worst, it gives tacit approval to this horrific mismanagement, gross negligence, and lack of situational awareness.

Given the expanding nature of the accusations and counteraccusations, it is time for a wider external investigation – not a “like it never even happened” sidestep. 

Unfortunately, a deeper dive is highly unlikely – because this iteration of the Volusia County Council embraces plausible deniability – rather than providing effective oversight and letting the disinfecting light of day shine into the inner-sanctum. 

As a result, the status quo prevails.

Why?  Because we have become conditioned to it.

That’s why.

And those who are elected based on the financial backing of influential insiders continue to signal that there isn’t a damn thing you or I can do to change this insulated system.   

In my view, this is exactly why this pervasive disempowerment is detrimental to our representative form of government, as citizens become increasingly apathetic over their lack of substantive input in decision-making, and ultimately refuse to participate in the process.

My hope is that when the “new” Volusia County Council is seated in January – they will have the courage to throw open the curtains at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and get to the bottom of this on-going travesty – then hold highly paid senior administrators accountable for what has happened on their watch.

Those of us who pay the bills and are expected to suffer in silence deserve better.

2 thoughts on “Who Knew What. . .

  1. “My hope is that when the “new” Volusia County Council is seated in January – they will have the courage to throw open the curtains at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and get to the bottom of this on-going travesty – then hold highly paid senior administrators accountable for what has happened on their watch.”
    Mark, you shoulda put the Jug down before writing this paragraph, was this written at Babes?
    I’m sure Jake and Danny have been brainstorming how to make a leaner, less meaner, Clowncil!

    Like

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