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Volusia County Chair-elect faces challenges
West Volusia's mayors offer analysis
By Pat Andrews
posted Nov 9, 2012 - 4:23:56pm
When Jason Davis takes the county chair's seat on the dais at the County Council in January, he will be the top elected official of Volusia County, dealing with a $582 million operating budget, a myriad of county departments, and thousands of county employees.
He has no governmental or municipal experience.
Davis said he's equal to the challenge, however. And, he won't be doing it alone. Davis will seek opinions from a number of people, including county residents.
"It's about everybody running the county," and he wants a lot of involvement, Davis said.
He also plans to consult with experienced county leaders, including his opponent, Carl Persis, who served two terms on the County Council before running for the seat.
"Carl Persis is a great guy. I've gotten to know him and his wife [Susan] fairly well during the campaign," Davis said.
During the campaign Davis said, if he won he would sit down with Persis over a beer and talk, and get Persis' advice. Persis indicated his willingness to do that, and Davis plans to meet with him in a week or so.
Davis acknowledged the makeup of the new council may pose some challenges. The current County Council members have tended more toward the liberal side, with the exception of Joie Alexander, who might be called a conservative.
The new council, including Davis, will tend toward the conservative with a 4-3 split: conservatives Davis, Pat Patterson, Deborah Denys and Doug Daniels versus liberals Josh Wagner, Pat Northey and Joyce Cusack. That split can make for some interesting fights and tugs of war.
He said the council will start with a clean slate, "a very diverse group," that Davis believes can work together, though, "I'm sure we will come to impasse at times," and he may need to call a point of order, Davis said.
He's not planning to make any changes in county administration or employees when he goes in, he said.
"I'm not going to come in with a broad ax and start replacing people," Davis said. He said he will review staff, which he encourages other council members to do, bringing problems to Dinneen's attention.
Under the county charter, Dinneen is in charge of personnel, and the County Council is in charge of Dinneen.
Davis said, "I want to work with Jim Dinneen and the county attorney, making sure everyone is doing the job they were hired to do."
Davis said he doesn't plan to lay off anyone, at least not now. Davis wants to look for ways to "cut overhead, not personnel," by eliminating waste.
Davis plans to bring one new person to the administration, a personal assistant. That's April Smith, who's been his campaign manager, on whom he's been able to rely. Smith has a background in accounting, he said.
Davis doesn't have an easy job ahead of him, some of Volusia's political leaders said.
Former Chair Frank Bruno, who just left office Nov. 5 after 20 years of service, said Davis has a learning curve, and, "that's putting it mildly."
"Sometimes those meetings can be pretty intense, and balancing the agenda and everybody's wishes, and still getting your point across, and still being respectful of everyone — it's a balancing act."
Bruno said he'll be available to Davis and any of the council members who want to talk to him.
Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk said he's met with Davis a couple of times, and he likes what he's been hearing from him. Like Bruno, Masiarczyk believes Davis has a "huge learning curve ahead of him."
"There's an entrenched county machine that he's not really part of that he's going to have to work with," Masiarczyk said, but, "they have a fantastic staff up there."
But, some people, including some political players behind the scenes, like the status quo and are resistant to change and new people, he said. Davis will have to get up to speed quickly, Masiarczyk said.
A fresh set of eyes looking at problems can be a good thing, he noted.
Masiarczyk said he hopes Davis will continue Bruno's practice of meeting regularly with Volusia County's mayors and hearing their concerns.
DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar offered his congratulations to Davis, adding, "The people have spoken."
There will be a learning curve, Apgar said, and Davis will need to become better acquainted with specific county services and intergovernmental coordination with the local jurisdictions, such as DeLand, and work with both county and city officials and staff.
And while Davis will be chair, he's going to have to work with the County Council to get what he wants, Apgar said. Davis will need a majority vote. He'll need the support of the council, as well as staff and other political leaders to accomplish the things he wants.
But, all share a vision for Volusia County to grow and prosper, Apgar added.
Apgar said his best advice to Davis is "to listen, and to work cooperatively, and to be responsive to the citizens that have elected you."
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