At a recent County Council meeting, Council Member Ben Johnson — who has spent most of his life in public service — decried the “unwarranted, unnecessary, out-of-line criticism” government officials are subjected to.
Frankly, my heart sank.
Our democratic processes work best when vigorous political discussion produces a variety of views and opinions. This is why the United States Constitution places such emphasis on protecting our inalienable right to free speech, allowing the competition of ideas to elevate the best solutions, resulting in informed and inclusive public policy.
For far too long, Volusia County taxpayers have been told by their elected representatives that their thoughts on the issues are wrong, or that we lack the capacity to understand the intricacies of things like impact fees, government spending and the inevitability of tax increases.
Smart elected and appointed officials understand that harsh criticism can be an effective barometer of how their constituency views current politics and policies.
On the other hand, silence can reinforce that sense of bureaucratic invincibility that pervades the halls of power.
I see value in exposing the absurdity of policymakers and senior executives who succumb to an overweening sense of infallibility and an aloof arrogance of power that builds an impenetrable barrier between them and those they were elected or appointed to serve.
We live in a time when elected officials sit stone-faced on their gilded perches — gazing down on their subjects, placing stringent limitations on the public’s right to participate in their government, and hiding behind “civility and decorum ordinances,” while obstinately refusing to communicate, answer questions, explain decisions or even listen to the fervent pleas of those they serve.
When a frustrated constituent reaches out to their elected representative to seek answers or assistance, they are often met with a terse response that their concerns will be “forwarded to staff.”
Staff invariably follow up with a canned reply explaining how (enter problem here) is the taxpayer’s own damn fault for seeking fiscal responsibility and spending cuts during the budget cycle.
The only time these monotonous elected marionettes break character is when they are groveling for our vote (or a campaign contribution), or whenever one of their uber-wealthy political benefactors enters the chamber.
John and Jane Q. Public no longer seem willing to take time off from work and attend daytime Volusia County Council meetings in an atmosphere where stodgy members of the Old Guard have made it clear that even constructive criticism is unwarranted, unnecessary and out-of-line.
Please consider the issues of accessibility and transparency in government when you vote during the 2022 election cycle.
It is time for a culture change at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center. We, The Little People, deserve a voice.
— Barker, a retired police chief, writes a blog at barkersview.org. This is excerpted from his blog, lightly edited (he swears a lot) and reprinted with his permission.