On Dec. 9, we learned that county officials plan to fire besieged Corrections Director Mark Flowers.
Depending upon whom you believe, the planned firing announced late on a Friday afternoon is either a retaliatory act by craven senior administrators to silence a whistleblower, or a long overdue comeuppance for a dictatorial and unpredictable ogre.
The abrupt notice of termination followed competing allegations by Flowers’ attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, who claims Flowers was retaliated against after he came forward with information about the abuse of inmates at the jail.
An internal investigation by Volusia County documented serious policy violations, including accusations that it was Flowers who ordered the abuse of inmates, along with anecdotal information leaking from the Department of Corrections that Flowers was a vacillating leader with the management skills of Attila the Hun.
These diametrically opposed claims have left many wondering whom to believe.
Chanfrau alleged that Flowers repeatedly reported misconduct by corrections officers — including the abuse of an inmate who reportedly “… suffered two black eyes after a beating administered by correctional officers.”
But the county’s internal investigation turned the tables, sustaining a laundry list of violations against Flowers that includes ordering the isolation of inmates, violating suicide protocols, creating a hostile workplace, and directing that corrections officers place an unidentified inmate in a four-point restraint — prone and naked on a hard surface — for days.
Flowers has appealed his termination and, according to news reports, has filed claims of unfair treatment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and others.
Chanfrau is actively preparing a lawsuit on Flowers’ behalf, according to news reports.
Regardless of how this conflagration plays out, guess who is ultimately on the hook? We taxpayers.
More important: Who do we hold responsible for the ongoing troubles at the Volusia County Jail?
One thing is clear. Inmates have been subjected to horrible abuse inside the isolated walls of Volusia County’s Abu Ghraib — and a hostile workplace exists for an already demoralized and overworked corrections staff who perform a difficult and dangerous job for far less than they are worth.
Regardless of who is eventually found culpable, County Manager George Recktenwald bears personal responsibility.
This repugnant scandal is directly under the purview of the county manager. The inviolate rule of command is that responsibility may be delegated, but ultimate accountability cannot be abdicated.
Mr. Recktenwald either knew, or should have known, what was going on at the Department of Corrections.
If history repeats, no one in the county’s bloated maze of overlapping senior managers, department directors, division directors, a deputy county manager and beyond will ever be held to account.
But this is different.
The Flowers debacle involves credible allegations of the sadistic physical and psychological abuse of inmates under the legal care, custody and control of the Volusia County Department of Corrections. These are acts that, if proved true, would represent systemic civil rights violations that should send a chill up the spine of anyone who values the rule of law or respects the time-honored obligations and responsibilities of leadership.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” is not a privilege afforded those who are held to exacting standards of professionalism and personal accountability — and who command annual salaries in excess of $200,000, plus benefits and perquisites.
— 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.