I like to chuckle along with the farcical slapstick and hopeless absurdity that permeate the Volusia County Council’s semimonthly hootenannies.
But what happened at the Aug. 2 meeting was no laughing matter.
The meeting dissolved into an orchestrated political hit job that simply could not have occurred without careful coordination outside the public’s eye.
As usual, the big losers of this shambolic shim sham were the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County.
The Gang of Four — Council Members Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler and The Very Rev. “Dr.” Fred Lowry, led by the grandpappy of the Good Ole Boys & Gals network, Council Member Ben Johnson — worked cooperatively at this meeting to dismantle the biggest threat to their control, County Chair Jeff Brower, and to bring him and his “Volusia Values” slate of like-minded candidates to heel before the August primary.
Like the dutiful handmaidens they are, the Gang of Four once again proved their devotion to Volusia’s Old Guard — those stalwarts of the stagnant status quo inside government and out — who are scurrying like cornered weasels to protect the interests of their political benefactors and consolidate power in the hands of a few well-heeled insiders.
During his closing comments, Council Member Johnson launched into an obviously rehearsed soliloquy — thundering away in his patented cornpone, openly labeling Chair Brower a liar for Brower’s support of the now-quashed Florida Wildlife Corridor workshop, and cutting into Brower’s recent effort to challenge the pending environmental atrocity that is the proposed Interstate 95/Pioneer Trail interchange.
Of course, Mr. Johnson’s opening salvo was quickly supported on all flanks by his dutiful minion, Council Member Danny Robins, and the mean-spirited lame duck Council Member Billie Wheeler, who took turns cutting into Mr. Brower (and Council Member Heather Post) with a ferocity and faux indignation that demonstrated to their political overseers they are earning their keep.
Using political gaslighting to maximum effect, Council Member Johnson painted Brower as having “politicized” the Florida Wildlife Corridor workshop. Johnson cited emails with presenters and organizers wherein Brower asked that the meeting be held in advance of the primary elections, so voters could better understand the concept and benefits of the conservation effort.
There were also ominous rumblings about a $20,000 donation by a supporter of the Wildlife Corridor to a political action committee that supports the Volusia Values candidates, who are backed by Brower.
(I guess PACs that shower money on candidates are acceptable only when used to fund the campaigns of hand-selected developers’ shills.)
“You have made this a political event,” Johnson crowed. “A cheap political stunt to enhance your Volusia Values candidates. This is wrong all the way around.”
At the end of the day, the Gang of Four got what they wanted all along. The Wildlife Corridor workshop, with some 200 people already registered to attend, will be “postponed” to an uncertain date after the November election. Brower and Post voted to keep the already-scheduled August meeting in place.
What is the Gang of Four afraid of? An informed electorate?
Speaking of the electorate, most of the people I talk to are not looking for a “perfect” candidate — because that mythical political unicorn exists only on those glossy mailers that end up cluttering your mailbox.
We, The Little People, are seeking candidates of character with a fire in the belly to serve. Candidates who dedicate themselves, in word and deed, to the highest ideals of public service and constantly strive for ethical leadership, accessibility and fairness. Candidates who are committed to serving the best interests of all citizens of Volusia County.
We are looking for candidates who will represent existing residents and who believe that clean water, green space and our threatened natural places are more important to the lives of our children and grandchildren than the overstuffed pocketbooks of extremely wealthy land speculators and the sutlers who make their living on the crumbs left in their wake.
Those candidates are out there.
— Barker writes a blog, usually about local government, at barkersview.org. A retired police chief, Barker says he lives as a semi-recluse in an arrogantly shabby home in coastal Central Florida, with his wife and two dogs. This is excerpted from his blog, lightly edited (he swears a lot) and reprinted with his permission.
Editor’s note: In case we’ve made you curious about the Volusia Values candidates endorsed by County Chair Jeff Brower, they are Doug Pettit for the at-large seat, Ted Noftall in District 3, Ken Smith in District 4, and Julio David Sosa in District 5.