beresford reserve development gets the ok deland
FIGHTING CITY HALL — Members of the public watch as the DeLand City Commission debates the proposed Beresford Reserve development July 25. The development got the city’s OK in a 3-2 vote, despite vociferous public objection over a two-year period. BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN

It is often said that you cannot fight city hall. That is not true. You can fight city hall. If you have a horse, you can also tilt at windmills.

Sure, you should expect to lose because things are stacked against you. That does not mean you cannot try. And at least with windmills, if you jam your lance in just the right spot in the gears, you may win.

<p><p>Tanner Andrews</p></p><p></p>

That does not happen so much with city hall. At one time, there was some hope that citizens could have their concerns placed on an agenda to be heard. The modern “administrative state” has overcome that. Staff determines what goes on the agenda, which determines what the commission can do. So if staff have caused a problem, you can be sure of one thing: It is not going to be fixed.

This provides a catch-22 for the citizens. The city will not act on something not on the agenda. And they will not let you have something put on the agenda. Thus, while they can go through the motions of listening at the public-input time, as a matter of policy, nothing will come of it.

I do not have to go far to see this problem. My office is only about a block from DeLand City Hall. And, sure enough, staff control the agenda to keep the pesky public under the government thumb. Forget trying to talk to the manager; he is always out when you call.

If you can condense your problem into three minutes, you can talk about it at a meeting. That lets you feel better. Still, no one is going to face consequences, no matter how screwy things are in the corridors of power. Bureaucracy takes care of its own.

It works two ways. Bureaucrats make sure that the elected officials do not rock the boat. And elected officials respect civil service protections. No bureaucrat gets sacked, and very few officials lose elections.

It works out, in a way. The officials get to ignore what the public is thinking, at least if they stay awake through the public-input time. And we already know what the bureaucracy is thinking — if they can keep the public off the agenda, then their jobs are more secure.

— Andrews is a DeLand-area attorney and a longtime government critic. For purposes of the column, he finds it convenient that there is so much government to criticize.

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