After 27 controversial years, it is now safe to say — based on the empirical evidence — that the City of Deltona has been a failed experiment, a cartoonish sideshow that has destroyed the public trust and organizational effectiveness of the local government.
Prove me wrong?
For instance, the municipality has had at least a dozen city managers or acting city managers since its incorporation just 27 years ago. The longest-serving manager was Fritz Behring who held the volatile post from 1999 to 2005.
Smarter people than me have tried to figure out why Deltona is so hard on chief executives — but no one in their right mind would willingly enter a political meat grinder — which is why they have such poor luck finding quality talent from outside the organization.
For instance, anyone remember the horrific five-year regime of Jane Shang, who damn near destroyed the municipality from the inside out?
In Shang’s tumultuous wake, Deputy City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper was tapped in January 2020 by unanimous vote of the City Commission to serve in the acting role — then, just 10 months later, he was unceremoniously sent back to his former position on a 4-3 vote.
Cooper subsequently left for the top job in Forest Park, Georgia — and recently settled a discrimination suit he filed against Deltona for a reported $45,000.
In turn, the city’s public-works director, John Peters III, was elevated to acting city manager.
Although Peters received high marks from the elected officials and enjoyed the support of many residents, in June 2021 things hit the skids when he publicly threatened (in the media) to take his football and go home, citing allegations that two commissioners were treading into day-to-day operations in contravention of Deltona’s charter.
The melodrama ended in an emotional meeting, with Peters breaking down on the dais, wailing “I am damned principled!” before putting his threat on hold when everyone agreed to play nice going forward.
That ploy only works once.
Just one month later, Peters received his second $2,500 bump following a satisfactory performance review — and in November 2021, he asked for a 2.8-percent pay raise, a phone allowance, and an increase to the car allowance.
In my view, the unaddressed issue that has tainted Mr. Peters’ tenure is that, from the outset, his appointment was based on an unspoken workaround, a convenient means of circumventing the city’s charter, which requires the manager to live within the city limits of Deltona.
Mr. Peters resides in neighboring DeBary and had no known plans to uproot and move to the community he manages — thus, the perennial “acting” status.
In my view, that arrangement is disingenuous and does nothing to promote stability in a place that desperately needs it.
On Monday evening, Sept. 19, as per usual, the Deltona City Commission meeting fell into confusing disarray — stretching into the early hours of the morning — ultimately concluding with the elected officials voting 4-3 to accept Peters’ resignation “effective immediately” — with the majority rejecting his request to return as director of public works.
Essentially, the final vote put Peters out on his a– with full pay and benefits until Nov. 17, jumped the deputy city manager, and shoved the city’s contracted attorney, Marsha Segal-George, into the wheelhouse for at least the next two weeks.
I don’t understand it either.
Look, a city manager’s job of juggling the wants and whims of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker who were each elected to make difficult decisions for their neighbors — while keeping the pitchfork-wielding villagers marginally content — is a damn hard dollar.
If the City of Deltona is to remain a legitimate entity, then the elected officials must begin the painful process of sorting through the divisive baggage and set a collective vision, putting aside the mean-spirited “gotcha” politics, collusions and accusatory maneuvers, to find a means of working cooperatively with community stakeholders to achieve civic equilibrium.
The good citizens of Deltona deserve better.
— 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.