If words were bullets, there would have been casualties at opposite ends of the Volusia County Council dais Sept. 6.
The County Council meeting included a verbal battle between two members, Ben Johnson and Heather Post.
The pair wrangled over whether Post had improperly carried a firearm. The dialogue became fierce and personal.
“This place is a circus,” Post concluded in her final shot on the matter.
Reports and rumors of the incident, in which Post suffered a severe leg injury, have circulated for weeks. Speculation was made about whether she had a gun inside the Council Chambers — where no one except law-enforcement officers may be legally armed — but Post said she carried her firearm, with a permit, only outside the chambers.
Anyone with a concealed-weapons permit may go armed into the Thomas C. Kelly County Administration Center and its other offices and public spaces, but not inside the Council Chambers.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not,” former County Council candidate Sherrise Boyd said during the morning round of public comment. “The public has a right to know.”
On April 5, Post attended a County Council meeting. The meeting broke for lunch, and Post didn’t return after the break.
Apparently, during the break, Post was on her way to the county manager’s office and fell, injuring both legs. When she injured herself, Post was carrying a purse in which she kept a pistol. Her critics say the gun fell out of the purse, but she denies it.
“I fell down the stairs, the flight of stairs directly outside the county manager’s office,” Post said. “Anyone that comes up to the county manager’s office in the lobby is allowed to carry if you have a concealed-weapons permit. That is an absolutely legal area to carry. And that’s where I was carrying. So there was nothing illegal about that in any way.”
“No one knew I had a weapon in my purse,” Post told The Beacon later. “At no time did I have a gun that was not secure.”
As for the claims that she had a gun inside the meeting room, Post said, “There was no firearm in the chambers.”
She also noted she has a state permit to carry a concealed weapon.
In any case, Wendell Dallarosa, a private citizen who watches the county government, called upon the council to order a “fair investigation” of the incident.
Given the questions raised about Post and her gun, Post asked County Manager George Recktenwald to ask Public Protection Director Mark Swanson to inform the council what he had learned about the incident.
“No EMS [Emergency Medical Services] personnel reported touching any gun,” Recktenwald said during a later round of debate.
“By the way, I did not fall in the chamber; it was in another part of the building,” Post said. “I hope that we can quash this.”
“They did do drug tests at the hospital, and I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t on any type of drugs. I fell on a flight of steps,” Post said.
Post said, after the fall, she handed off her firearm to a law-enforcement officer.
“I was absolutely responsible in handing it over — even in my pain and what was going on — in my training, my extensive training in firearms, I had the foresight to call over Mark Flowers, the director of corrections, who is a law-enforcement officer, and specifically told him, ‘Hey, I have this. I’m going to give it to you,’ and he took possession of it,” Post said. “I think that was the right thing to do. I think that George and Mark would agree on that.”
Flowers, she said, later gave Post’s gun to Post’s husband, a sheriff’s deputy. Both Recktenwald and Swanson backed up Post’s story.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Recktenwald said.
Swanson also rebutted two other swirling allegations.
“No weapon ever went inside an EVAC ambulance. No ambulance ever delivered a weapon anyplace,” Swanson told the County Council and the audience.
After receiving first aid from DeLand Fire Department medics, who arrived on the scene first, Post was taken to AdventHealth DeLand. After being treated for her injuries, she said, she was released from the emergency department and sent home for recovery.
The story did not end there. The two lame-duck County Council members, who often argue, continued to snipe at each other.
“You fell down the steps, and were hurt, and had to be transported, and there was a gun in your purse. And the concern was, where was that gun going?” Johnson asked Post.
“Where were you going to put that gun between the steps and the 50 feet to get over to the council? That’s a question,” he continued. “I wasn’t going to bring it up, but there’s people in this room — some of them staff — that said after that happened, that they were concerned that you might be bringing it back here. … What were you planning on doing with that firearm once you got back to council?”
“You honestly expect me to announce in the general public where I put my firearms and how I operate with them? I’m not going to do that,” Post said.
“Because you can’t,” Johnson interjected.
Post answered, “No, no — my point is, I was absolutely in a legal area to carry a firearm.”
“That’s not disputed,” Johnson interrupted.
The cross-talk intensified, as the two tried to suppress each other. No other council members injected themselves into the fray.
“Let’s all be searched as we come into the chamber,” Post said.
“You’re turning the facts of where would you put the firearm,” Johnson said.
“You can insinuate, and you can suggest, and you can dream up any possible scenario you want, just like the people who were in here today. You can do that, but it’s not correct,” Post said.
After she repeated her defense of her legal right to be armed inside the public building, Post said she is concerned about the safety of county personnel.
She noted she had supported the new policy of setting up the weapons checkpoint outside the County Council Chambers, “when we have people coming in suggesting they are going to cause harm to the staff.”
“Your answer is an answer in itself. Thank you,” Johnson told Post.
“And your behavior is an answer in itself,” she shot back. “I hope we can put this to bed. Every one of these questions has been answered. … This is ridiculous. … The politics of this is absolutely unreal, the stuff that keeps coming up and keeps coming out. The ridiculous dwelling on certain things is so political, it’s not even funny. This place is a circus.”
Both Johnson and Post are wrapping up their tenure on the County Council. Johnson, who is an at-large member, and Post, who represents the county’s District 4 (northeast Volusia), were each elected in 2018, and neither is running for re-election.