“SERVICE IS THE PRICE YOU PAY FOR THE SEAT YOU OCCUPY. DO YOUR JOB!” Marjorie Johnson, Daytona Beach resident to the City Commission
The first few times I heard Ms. Johnson make this statement I didn’t quite understand her vehemence and insistence. That’s because the first few times I attended City Commission meetings, it all seemed so benign; her outrage was puzzling. After sitting through these meetings for almost three years, I am right beside her with frustration and anger. The City Manager doesn’t pay any attention to the City Commission and neither the City Manager nor the City Commission pays any attention to the citizens. For the most part, when citizens address the City Commission, they are just spitting into the wind.
At the end of every City Commission meeting, during citizens’ comments, Ms. Johnson speaks up. Ms. Johnson raises many questions and often asks the same questions repeatedly. She has to ask the same questions over and over again because no one answers her.
Ms. Johnson’s questions are not unreasonable. At a recent Commission meeting she asked what the plans were to replace the benches that had been removed from City Island about a year ago. This is a question she has raised many times in the past year. This is a question others have raised repeatedly in the past year. And still, no one answers. No one EVER answers.
When I wrote my post about the hiring of the ombudsmen for the MLK Lofts project, I had to listen to quite a few Commissioner comments to find the right meeting. The meeting of December 2, 2015 had an interesting moment.
Commissioner Reed asked the City Manager, “Mr. Manager, does staff keep a running list of the inquiries that come before us so that we can address them?” Mr. Manager replied that we do have a list of everything that comes up here; we have name and address because they give them to us. And then Mr. Manager said, “We do follow up with most of them. Some of them we don’t because there’s not really a consensus…there’s not great public interest in some of the stuff.”
Please, do not pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Very clearly there IS great public interest in the plan to replace the benches on City Island. This is just ONE of the many issues raised by multiple citizens before the Commission on a regular basis. And just as regularly, citizen inquiries are ignored by the City Commission and the City Manager.
Not only does the City Manager ignore the questions of the citizens, he ignores the questions of the Commissioners. At a recent meeting, Commissioner Trager asked what was happening with the Orange Ave Rec Center. The City Manager didn’t even look up at from his doodling, didn’t even acknowledge that he’d been asked a question. And Commissioner Trager just kept on stepping, because, I can only surmise, she expected to be ignored and that was okay with her.
At the next meeting, I asked Commissioner Trager if she’d received an answer to her question and was rather tartly informed that she had not. Again, there seemed to be no expectation that her question should be answered or ever would be answered. On what planet is this acceptable?
Now I don’t expect citizen inquiries to be answered in the moment of the Commission meeting; I understand that is not possible. What I do not understand is why, exactly why, the City Commission doesn’t expect the City Manager to EVER actually answer our questions? Or their questions? Or why they don’t even expect him to come prepared to discuss the items on the agenda?
At the City Commission meeting February 7, 2018, there was an agenda item to discuss the First Step Shelter development. Commissioner Gilliland asked the City Manager about the progress being made by the architect. The City Manager casually replied that he thought they were about 23% done with the plans and he’d have to look into getting their timeline for the rest of the plans. Great specifics on the 23% but why wasn’t he prepared with that timeline? The completion of the shelter is a very hot topic. Since we are paying the architects $182,000, we can expect them to give us a timeline. Since we are paying our City Manager $242,000, he should come to that meeting with that timeline.
But the casual acceptance of the City Manager’s specific non-answer and lack of preparation was just business as usual for the City Commission. It is very clear that our current City Commission has abdicated their authority to the City Manager. To put it another way, it is very clear that the City Manager has neutered the current City Commission. No matter how you say it, the City Manager IS the leader, the sole “decider”, for our city; apparently our current City Commission is powerless to resist him.
Now I have spoken with many individuals on the City Commission and many of them seem to be reasonably bright, thoughtful, articulate people who care about our community. But put them all together in a Commission meeting and all power of critical thinking evaporates. Why? Are they too lazy to pursue any path other than that of least resistance? Are they completely satisfied with the status quo? Have they forgotten they need to represent ALL their constituents? Are they only looking for a quick end to the meeting? Are they afraid of the City Manager? Do they not understand that they CANNOT look through their constituents, that their constituents actually have a right to be answered? Short of some magical mind-control potion, there really is no acceptable answer.
Our City Commission is not providing adequate supervision of our City Manager and that is their job. Marjorie Johnson is 100% correct when she tells them, “Service is the price you pay for the seat you occupy. Do your job!”