The “Yuck” Factor

According to psychologists, “Gaslighting” is loosely defined as a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own reality or judgment, maintaining power through invalidation and marginalization. 

In politics, this insidious form of domination and control is often facilitated by repeatedly presenting a skewed narrative, demanding fealty to their authority, then attacking the character and reputation of those who speak the truth and demonstrate the courage to throw off the traces and trappings and think for themselves. 

Gaslighting bullies use tactics such as distorting reality, telling us different things at different times, pitting likeminded people against each other, deflecting, distracting, and refocusing our attention, scapegoating, and projecting their own failures and negative qualities on others.   

Sound familiar?  It should. 

I call it the “Yuck Factor” – the ugly side of politics and governance that most people find detestable. 

Earlier this month, the Volusia County Council meeting erupted into an embarrassing and counterproductive donnybrook when Councilman Ben Johnson – the elder sage of the stodgy Old Guard – attacked Chairman Jeff Brower in a clearly preplanned ambush, labeling him a “liar” who “politicized” a planned Florida Wildlife Conservation Corridor workshop, among other contrived violations of the lockstep conformity that protects the stagnant status quo.

In addition, Councilman Johnson accused Chairman Brower of fearmongering and lying to area residents about the “toilet to tap” potable reuse concept that is gaining popularity among local governments across the state as they work to destigmatize drinking processed wastewater as a means of accommodating even more growth and development.

Hell, Ben Johnson would have us believe he had never even heard the term “Toilet to Tap” mentioned in Volusia County. . .

As always, Councilman Johnson was supported by the remainder of the arrogant Gang of Four – Councilman Danny Robins, the lame duck Billie Wheeler, and The Very Rev. “Dr.” Fred Lowry – who pompously harrumphed and preened for their political benefactors in the real estate development community as Johnson viciously dismantled Chairman Brower.     

Bullshit.

In 2017, Central Florida residents became concerned about the future of our water quality and quantity when it was announced that the City of Daytona Beach had entered a partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District to study treating reclaimed water flushed from toilets, tubs and washing machines to the purity of potable water.

Not everyone liked the idea of this Soylent Green-style approach with many repulsed by another “yuck factor” – consuming our own recycled sewage. . .

By October 2018, Daytona Beach had begun a two-year “proof of concept” research study called the “Demonstration Testing System.”  According to reports, “The purpose of the study was to determine if the City’s reuse water could be treated to national and state drinking water standards.”

At the time, everyone was aware that the small capacity testing process would not introduce the treated toilet water into the city’s potable water distribution system.  The local research was completed in October 2021, and a final report on the results of the study is currently being prepared by a consultant.

The fear was (and remains) that in the future, as malignant development continues its spread across Volusia County, a larger “T2T” plant will be constructed to accommodate more growth by postponing the coming water crisis when consumption outpaces our natural supply.   

The fact is, under a similar project also funded by the SJRWMD, the City of Altamonte Springs’ “PureALTA” plant has already demonstrated that wastewater can be treated to drinking water standards – and the practice is already being used internationally and in several communities around the American west as drought conditions worsen. 

According to the International Water Association, the WateReuse Association has now secured $1 billion for water recycling as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 – and Florida’s Potable Reuse Commission (which was organized to develop a framework for advancing the implementation of potable reuse in Florida) has generated a report that found “…Potable reuse treatment processes are proven, safe, and protective of public health and the environment.”

Last year, One Water Florida – a glossy marketing shim-sham of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – began desensitizing residents to the fact we will soon be consuming our own treated waste, touting “The evolution to a One Water perspective.”

Why?

According to the Potable Reuse Commission’s January 2020 report:

“Clean water is vital for a healthy life and successful community. Here in Florida, we use nearly 6.4 billion gallons of water per day. And that number is growing. An estimated 1,000 people move to the state each day and are projected to use an additional one billion gallons per day by 2040. Our supply is not endless, expanding the use of recycled water is one way we can help ensure there is plenty of water to meet this demand.”

Don’t take my word for it, read the report for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/33v7z6dw

Trust me.  Despite Councilman Johnson’s strategic ignorance – “Toilet to Tap” is in the Sunshine State’s future. 

Later this week, the City of Daytona Beach will vote to surplus equipment associated with the demonstration testing system.  The move to scrap the material was announced in a weird agenda report clearly written to assuage citizen concerns. 

Last week, Ben Johnson’s dutiful sock puppet, Councilman Danny Robins, piled on by releasing the Daytona Beach City Commission’s agenda report on social media to the strains of “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead.”

“Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Just more of Brower’s fearmongering and hype.

Under the misleading header, “TOILET TO TAP can finally be put to bed,” Councilman Robins cherrypicked nuggets that fit his narrative from the Daytona Beach agenda report, then branded anyone who expressed concern about direct potable reuse as liars, “The list of lies carefully crafted to create fear to the citizens of Volusia County is despicable and the exact reason why people don’t trust government.”

Bullshit.

Sure.  That’s why people no longer trust Volusia County government, Danny. . .    

Is it possible that the bulk of incumbents on the Volusia County Council are totally unaware of the state’s push for direct potable reuse? 

Or, with the primary quickly approaching, are they merely gaslighting voters – claiming “toilet to tap” doesn’t exit – twisting our real fears of overdevelopment as a means of marginalizing Chairman Brower and those “Volusia Values” candidates he supports, who, if elected, have vowed to pass an ordinance banning the process here – something that could naturally limit growth and development?

I’m asking.  Because those beholden to the development community seem awfully frightened of the prospect of losing their grip on power. . . 

While Florida water experts agree that conservation is the best means of protecting our finite water supply, the grim reality is that many of our sitting elected marionettes who have been compromised by the massive campaign contributions of speculative developers lack the political and moral courage to enact commonsense low-impact development and environmental protection regulations.

Instead, they engage in gutter-wallowing and character assassination – while accusing their opponents of “fearmongering” – hoping that an apathetic electorate won’t recognize this political gaslighting for what it is. 

This election cycle, those practitioners of the Politics of Personal Destruction on all sides have seized their weird version of the narrative – demonizing anyone who disagrees with their goals – using fear, bullying, and personal embarrassment as a weapon in a win at all cost strategy that many believe is fundamentally destructive to our democratic principles.  

However, there remains one fundamental mechanism which will allow We, The Little People to prevail over the influential insiders and well-heeled donor class that seem intent on trading our lifestyle and heritage to outside speculators:

It is the ultimate power of the ballot box.

With early voting underway in Volusia County this week, I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical, and visionary members of our community to high public office, we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness, and the spirit of democracy in Volusia County government.

Vote like your quality of life depends upon it. 

Because it does.

Angels & Assholes for August 12, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole                Gannett Company

Last week we learned the grim news that Gannett – the international media conglomerate that owns The Daytona Beach News-Journal – is well on the road to financial ruin after reporting massive losses. 

Once again, Gannett is announcing that draconian cost cutting measures are eminent:  

According to the nonprofit Poynter Institute, “Media division head Maribel Perez Wadsworth, in a note to staff, warned of impending layoffs. “In the coming days,” she wrote, “we will … be making necessary but painful reductions to staffing, eliminating some open positions and roles that will impact valued colleagues.”

What a damnable shame.  I mean that.

In my jaded view, Gannett’s leadership has no one to blame but themselves.   

In June, the international media giant announced that it would be cutting editorial pages across its 45-state, 250-title megamedia portfolio.

This reduction in editorial content came on the heels of a recent restructuring that split Gannett into two domestic business units – Gannett Media and Digital Marketing Solutions – which senior leadership hoped would drive “sustainable revenue and cash flow growth,” as the company moves toward its goal of becoming a “…subscription-led and digitally-focused media and marketing solutions company…”

That’s corporate-speak for the transition from a newsgathering organization to a ‘heavy on pap, fluff, and advertising/light on local “news”’ online format as newsprint and the concept of “independent journalism” rapidly goes the way of the buggy whip.

Several weeks ago, while Volusia County residents focused on the civic, economic, and environmental consequences of pending local elections – the News-Journal went in another direction – taking great pains to tout the racial, gender, and cultural composition of what remains of its newsroom (?)

Look, some News-Journal reporters have made a valiant effort to cover local elections (mostly “what you should know” gloss overs and coverage of the sensational shenanigans and mischief that most people could care less about) overall the paper’s focus on the local issues remains tepid, at best. 

While its readers point to the most pressing issues of our time, our hometown newspaper dutifully follows Gannett’s orders for even more virtue signaling. . .

Rather than analyze the preferences of Volusia and Flagler residents – then provide unbiased reporting on the issues important to most – Gannett continues its long march into oblivion, choosing to make its final stand with regionalized pap and propagandized horseshit shoehorned between food reviews. . .   

In my view, we are fortunate to have some of the best local reporters and investigative journalists in the business working under difficult conditions for far less than they are worth in a pursuit that is vitally important to the health of our community. 

According to reports, on Monday the News-Journal’s new executive editor, John Dunbar, will assume the helm of this crippled ship with a promise of “good accountability journalism, good community journalism.” 

I hope so. 

Look, I’m not a media business analyst, just a concerned subscriber and voracious consumer of the news who agonizes over the botched neutering of my hometown newspaper at a time when we desperately need it.

No pressure, Mr. Dunbar.  But a lot of people are counting on you. . .   

Angel                    Daytona Beach Commissioner Stacy Cantu & The Marine Corps League

Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu and I have one thing in common – we are the children of former United States Marines. 

As the great author Pat Conroy wrote on the death of his father, Col. Donald Conroy, USMC:

“We were raised by the men who made the United States of America the safest country on earth in the bloodiest century in all recorded history.”

Thanks in part to Commissioner Cantu’s extraordinary dedication to supporting veterans causes in Central Florida and beyond, next week the Marine Corps League and Military Order of the Devil Dogs will host their 2022 National Convention at the beautiful Daytona Hilton Oceanfront Resort!

For the uninitiated: 

“The Marine Corps League perpetuates the traditions and spirit of ALL Marines and Navy FMF Sailors, who proudly wear or who have worn the eagle, globe and anchor of the Corps. It takes great pride in crediting its founding in 1923 to World War I hero, then Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune. It takes equal pride in its Federal Charter, approved by An Act of the Seventy-Fifth Congress of the United States of America, and signed and approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 4, 1937.

The League is the only Federally Chartered Marine Corps related veterans’ organization in the country. Since its earliest days, the Marine Corps League has enjoyed the support and encouragement of the active duty and Reserve establishments of the U. S. Marine Corps. Today, the League boasts a membership of more than 60,000 men and women, officer and enlisted, active duty, Reserve Marines, honorably discharged Marine Veterans, qualified Navy FMF Sailors.”

According to a release by the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau:

“Daytona Beach is proud to host the Marine Corps League 2022 National Convention,” said Lori Campbell Baker, Executive Director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). “The Marine Corps League National Convention is the largest military convention ever to be held in Daytona Beach and is a great opportunity to showcase this destination to visitors. During the convention, the attendees, as well as their families and friends, will be able to enjoy numerous activities within the destination and bring positive economic impact into the community.”

In addition, the Military Order of the Devil Dogs, a subsidiary of the Marine Corps League that consists of 6,000 members, will present a check for $83,000 to Halifax Health Systems and President/CEO Jeff Feasel during the Daytona Tortugas game on August 16 at Jackie Robinson Ballpark!

Last week, Commissioner Cantu was also instrumental in securing a special parking space at Daytona Beach City Hall reserved for combat wounded recipients of the Purple Heart. 

The dedication coincided with National Purple Heart Day and included remarks and commemoration by Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, the Daytona Beach City Commission, Senator Tom Wright, Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 316, and other Volusia County veterans and service organizations. 

Kudos to Commissioner Cantu, the Daytona Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, and everyone who worked hard to bring the 99th Annual Marine Corps League National Convention to the Fun Coast!

If you are out and about next week and see Marine’s enjoying all that the Daytona Beach Resort Area has to offer – please take a moment to thank them for their service. 

Trust me.  A group of Marine’s is not hard to spot – they are loud, proud, and patriotic! 

Semper Fi!  Welcome to Daytona Beach!

Asshole                Volusia’s “Economic Development” Apparatus

It seems every week we are treated to more self-congratulatory toot-tooting from Volusia County’s multilayered “economic development” apparatus celebrating another “Big Win!”

This usually comes in the form of another warehouse – an umpteen-thousand square foot monstrosity built on a clear-cut swath of pine scrub near the nexus of the I-95, I-4, and (insert overburdened surface road here).

Another “logistics & distribution” operation offering our best and brightest Volusia County graduates the opportunity to schlep boxes from point A to B for $15 an hour. . .

I hate to be the proverbial ‘turd in the celebratory punchbowl’ (that’s not true, I relish the role) but what happens when we lose an important long-time local business?

Who stands up, raises their hand, and takes responsibility for that?

Who determines how something that resulted in such a visceral reaction from residents could have been prevented? 

Earlier this week, I vented my spleen on the loss of the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant at Deleon Springs State Park – considered by many to be the most unique breakfast spot in America.  For over six-decades, the restaurant has been operated by long-time Volusia County residents doing business as Schwarze Enterprises, Inc.  

They didn’t ‘go under’ like some unfortunate rent-burdened retailer at One Daytona

They were outbid on a state concession solicitation by a larger out-of-state national hospitality management corporation.

According to an informative article by reporter Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week:

“On Tuesday, John Michaelos, managing partner for family owned Schwarze Enterprises, confirmed that the company had been outbid by another vendor, Guest Services Inc., for a contract with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to operate the restaurant as well as provide other services at the state park that include kayak rentals and the gift shop.”

(According to a 2018 article in the West Volusia Beacon announcing Mr. Michaelos’ takeover as managing partner of Schwarze Enterprises – formerly owned by the Schwarze family – it was reported that Mr. Michaelos’ family has been a fixture in West Volusia since 1925.  In fact, the historic J G Michaelos Building on Woodland Boulevard in DeLand is named after his grandfather.) 

Cooking your own buckwheat pancakes on an open griddle at your table in the cozy little eatery has been a family tradition in Volusia County since I was a small child. 

Generations of visitors to the park have gathered around the beautiful clear spring, toured the museum, and walked the grounds while they wait – often for hours – for a table in the 100-year-old wooden building.

Recently, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection accepted a competing bid from the Virginia-based mega-hospitality management company Guest Services, Inc. effectively ending the locally owned Schwarze Enterprises successful operation and destroying a local small business. 

According to information received from a Barker’s View reader (which originated from State Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff’s office):

“The department received five proposals in response to this solicitation, including one from the current vendor, Schwarze Enterprises, LLC, which were distributed to independent evaluators for review in late June. Staff then also received in person (virtually) presentations of the top four proposals in mid July. The Call for Business Plans include the criteria the department evaluated in making the award for the concession agreement. Guest Services, Inc. was ranked first, while Schwarze Enterprises, LLC was ranked fourth.

While the final concession agreement is currently in development, I can share that Guest Services, Inc. was selected as the new concessionaire for De Leon Springs State Park. To clarify, Guest Services, Inc. will continue all the services and experiences that have made the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House such a treasured part of a visit to De Leon Springs State Park. The restaurant’s famous cook-your-own pancakes will still be available in the authentic, sugar mill building overlooking one of Florida’s most beautiful natural settings.

In addition, Guest Services, Inc. will take over merchandise resale, tour boat operations and recreational equipment rentals, including canoes and kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddles and associated safety equipment, for visitors.”

Wait.  “Independent evaluators”? 

(They have those?  State-funded experts who analyze the fine points of operating a pour-your-own-pancake place in an obscure Florida State Park?)

“Criteria”?

(You mean there is a greater metric of success than lines of fifty people or more willing to wait hours for a seat?)

Outside of appropriating the hard-earned business practices and recipes of Schwarze Enterprises, how will a Virginia-based mega-corporation begin to “continue all the services and experiences” visitors have come to expect at the Old Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House? 

And what will become of the jobs now held by local residents?

I’m asking. 

Because the real-life ramifications transcend the “Oh, Well – that’s how the bureaucratic cookie crumbles in the dog-eat-dog Florida pancake vendor solicitation process.”

In my view, someone who accepts public funds to serve in the public interests should have been aware of that – and lobbied to keep those dollars here. . .

Earlier this week I also wondered what became of the commonsense notion of municipal, county, and state governments providing preference in procurement and contracts to Florida-based businesses as a means of bolstering the local economy, generating jobs and regional supply chains, and creating an “economic multiplier” effect in the community where those dollars originate?

You know, all that happy horseshit our “economic development” gurus spew when selling us on another corporate welfare shim-sham for an influential local billionaire or mega-donor to all the right political campaigns?

(And please don’t give me any of that tripe about fair competition in a ‘free market economy’ until mom-and-pop receive the same tax-supported largesse and access to the public teat as an insurance magnate or some well-heeled developer with a chip in the game.)

Anyone else curious what could have been more important to those do-nothing Volusia County bureaucrats sitting atop piles of federal Covid-19 recovery funds – or those pompous “experts” over at Team Volusia – when we needed them to assist a long-time area business forced to jump through hoops by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after 61-years of success in the same location?

Were they caught unaware?

After the public outcry in 2017 when there was concern the restaurant’s contract would not be renewed by FDEP, didn’t anyone think to assist in keeping this Volusia County staple local?

Whatever.

I received the following response from someone close to Volusia’s “economic development” apparatus:

“To answer your question Mark, Team Volusia is not charged with expansion and retention of local businesses. That task is under the purview of Volusia County’s Economic Development department. But hey, never let lack of research get in the way of undeserved criticism…”

Sorry.  My bad.

I didn’t realize just how redundant and compartmentalized things have become in that shadowy tax-supported domain of “economic development.” 

Putting the “Not my yob, man – that department’s down the hall” bureaucratic bullshit aside – in my view, it should be everyone’s responsibility to protect, retain, nurture, and expand small businesses in Volusia County, which form the very backbone of our economy.   

So, say goodbye to a time-honored local tradition that became part of the culture of our community – a small, family-owned business that for over six-decades worked hard to support West Volusia’s tourism industry and provide a memorable experience for generations of residents and visitors.   

Say hello to a faux version of the original.

“Undeserved criticism”?  My ass. . .

Angel                    The Smoking Truth Podcast

The tragic loss of iconic talk show hosts Marc Bernier and the irrepressible Big John created a huge vacuum in the local political discourse.  Their wide-ranging forums provided a comfortable place we could listen to the debate of competing ideas and learn more about the issues of the day.    

As an avid daily listener and sometime contributor, I did not realize just how much I would miss their extraordinary contributions to our community.     

Now options are limited to the “everyman’s soapbox” of social media – which has transformed into a dark and dangerous political minefield – frequently the scene of vicious ad hominem attacks where the politics of personal destruction has replaced the exploration and understanding of differing viewpoints.    

Fortunately, with advances in digital media platforms, consumers have more options than ever – to include the convenience of listening to original content produced by local creatives in our own convenient time and way. 

I first met Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool back in 2018 when she made international news for standing up for the rights and concerns of Deltona residents.

In a masterful, and completely peaceful, protest of overcharging by the Deltona water utility, Ms. McCool walked into City Hall and paid her $493 bill with a wagonload of 49,369 pennies.

Trust me.  She got her point across. 

At the time, Ms. McCool explained that each of the coins represented a resident that needed a voice.

To her credit, Ms. McCool decided to further her community involvement by making a successful run for elective office and has become a very responsive and accessible member of the Deltona City Commission! 

It was recently announced that Ms. McCool has joined long-time Chief Legislative Aide for the Florida House of Representatives, Eric Raimundo, in launching The Smoking Truth podcast!

According to www.thesmokingtruth.live – discussions will focus on the “…Political Wars by examining issues that all political persuasions have in common. We believe in tackling issues by approaching them in a way that solves the issue instead of attacking sides.  Although very different in political ideology, Dana & Eric will provide provocative conversation in a forum that will allow everyone to participate in getting to the middle.”

I like that.

The idea for this unique format came from Dana and Eric’s “enthusiastic” conversations over fine cigars as they searched for common ground on the issues that divide us while seeking amicable solutions to the myriad civic issues we face. 

In my experience, the harmonious and good-humored search for a happy medium in the cesspool of partisan politics is increasingly hard to find as the front lines of the “culture wars” creep closer every day.

Kudos to Dana and Eric for furthering the discussion in our community using this interesting and informative medium!

For more information, find The Smoking Truth at the link above – on Twitter at @SmokingTruth – or on Facebook at The Smoking Truth Podcast.

To contact Dana and Eric with questions or suggestions, please email them at Gonzo@thesmokingtruth.live

Quote of the Week

“Ormond Beach is essentially a town of very attractive residential districts. It has survived many storms, economic troubles, wars, and the ever-present threat of overdevelopment. However, the city government and the people of Ormond Beach have managed so far to value the natural beauty of the town and surroundings above the material value of indiscriminate development, and destruction of ecological and historically important areas. The early pioneers of Ormond, who endured great hardships to found the town, would appreciate and approve the concern and efforts of its present citizens to preserve these valuable assets so that in another hundred years Ormond Beach will survive as a town that is noted for its conservative approach to development, and which has retained its God-given beauty and attractions.”

Alice Strickland (1912-2003) was a researcher and an author of Florida history. Her book, “Ormond-On-The-Halifax,” was published in 1980

–Ormond Beach Mayoral Candidate Rob Bridger quoted Ms. Strickland in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Alice needs a champion,” Tuesday, August 2, 2022

My God.

If Ms. Strickland could see us now. . .

And Another Thing!

Looking for something fun to do this weekend?

Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy – will be hosting a fundraiser on Sunday, August 14, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at The Oasis Tiki Bar behind the Fountain Beach Resort, 313 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach!

A great location to enjoy lunch and libations overlooking The World’s Most Famous Beach in a relaxing setting while listening to the fantastic sounds of the Sons of the Beach Band. 

In addition, Sons of the Beach swag will be available for a small donation! 

I will just bet a few candidates for local elective offices will make an appearance (they are tenacious as ticks this time of year) and this presents a terrific opportunity to ask the tough questions and get a better understanding of their stance on issues important our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast ahead of early voting next week.

As a long-time member, I can report that Sons of the Beach is a wonderful organization comprised of civic-minded individuals doing important work in our community.  Most important, Sons of the Beach provides a fun opportunity to get involved and become acquainted with likeminded advocates working to preserve our unique heritage of beach driving.

Membership in Sons of the Beach is free! 

Simply go to their website at www.sonsofthebeach.org and complete a short application, then print your membership card.   

On the website you can also access a petition opening beach parking from International Speedway Boulevard to Main Street and make a secure online donation to this most worthwhile organization.   

Anyone who donates to the cause of a free and open beach is automatically enrolled as a member of SOB!

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all! 

____________________________

Barker’s View will be on the road next week.

After you have given of your valuable time to read these long-winded screeds, I hate to ask more of you – but this one is important:   

Early voting in Volusia County begins tomorrow – Saturday, August 13, 2022 thru Saturday, August 20, 2022 – between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

The primary election will take place on Tuesday, August 23. 

In my view, participating in our democratic process by casting your sacred vote is the ultimate civic obligation of every citizen.  Regardless of who you support – I ask that you please take this opportunity to cast your ballot and take an active role in shaping our future.    

If, like me, you want to change the stagnant status quo – please make your voice heard at the ballot box!  

For a list of early voting locations – or more information on Volusia County elections – please visit the Supervisor of Elections informative website at www.volusiaelections.gov

Thank you! 

Pancakes and Politics. . .

Vacuous bureaucrats have a way of looking at things that work – traditions and proven best practices that make sense.  Then, with the right application of unimaginative routine, sterile processes, and robotic paper shuffling they find a way to muck things up. 

Unfortunately, over time we have been sold on the fallacy that bigger is naturally better – and our faux-reality is often crafted by some corporate marketing image group. 

I hate to break it to you, but Cracker Barrel isn’t really a ‘country store.’ 

It is a 633 location publicly traded mega-chain built upon the concept of identically laid out retail outlets that serve as a convenient waiting area for the theme restaurant – strategically funneling hungry customers toward branded food, apparel, toys, and tchotchkes to provide maximum product exposure.   

And, for the uninitiated, Latitudes at Margaritaville is a zero-lot-line ‘immersive lifestyle’ gated subdivision based on Jimmy Buffett’s well-crafted sense of escapism, built on top of eco-sensitive pine scrub miles from an actual beach. A fabricated Eden blanketed with wood frame cracker boxes “starting in the mid $300’s.”  

That pseudo-utopia may appeal to some, but to my taste, that contrived horseshit is as far from paradise as one can get. . .     

Why is it that our ‘powers that be’ fail to recognize and protect those things that are truly distinctive – a place, service, or attraction that is genuinely sui generis and unrepeatable in nature – things built on hard work and time-honored tradition that become part of the unique culture of our community by virtue of their longevity?

When the hard-earned success of these one-of-kind places becomes attractive to those with resources and a profit motive, it suddenly becomes survival of the fittest, as government engages in corporate welfare schemes to skew the economic playing field in favor of influential insiders – or falls back on narrowly defined procurement policies and officious processes that fail to take anything into consideration other than the size of the bid.       

According to reports, next month, after six-decades of continuous family operation, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant at Deleon Springs State Park – thought by many to be the most unique restaurant in America – will cease to exist as we knew it thanks to a recent decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection who oversees state park concessions. 

Cooking your own buckwheat pancakes on an open griddle at your table in the cozy little eatery has been a family tradition in Volusia County since I was a small child.  Generations of people have gathered around the beautiful clear spring, toured the museum, and walked the grounds while they wait for a table in the 100-year-old wooden building.

This wildly popular local attraction has been lovingly operated by the Schwarze family for 61-years.

Recently, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection accepted a competing bid from the Virginia-based mega-hospitality management company Guest Services, Inc. effectively ending the Schwarze family’s successful operation and destroying a local small business for a few dollars more. . .    

According to the family’s post on social media earlier this week:

“After 61 years, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill will be closing its screen doors.

While it is unfortunate, the state has decided not to renew our contract and move forward with another concession in the DeLeon Springs State Park. We have been blessed to serve as a Central Florida staple since 1961. We sincerely thank you for making us your “go-to” for when you’ve got company or a chocolate chip pancake craving.  Thank you again for sharing those memories with us. The Sugar Mill was without a doubt the coolest breakfast restaurant in America. Our business will close September 12, 2022.”

The Schwarze family specialized in chocolate chip hotcakes. 

Guest Services, Inc. specializes in monetizing what now passes as “hospitality” to drive revenue across a range of services to public and private entities.

Nothing wrong with that – but they are not the same. . .

You may remember in 2017 when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection came under scrutiny when they ghosted the Schwarze family ahead of their quinquennial contract renewal – simply refused to communicate with them – leaving the operation in limbo.    

Following a massive public outcry some faceless bureaucrat in Tallahassee finally got off their ass and did the right thing. . .

Now, here we are again. 

Only this time, a business carefully built by the blood, sweat, and tears of our neighbors – an experience that can never be duplicated – is lost forever.

What happened to the commonsense notion of our municipal, county, and state governments providing preference in procurement and contracts to Florida-based businesses as a means of bolstering the local economy, generating jobs and regional supply chains, and creating an “economic multiplier” effect in the community where those dollars originate? 

You know, all that happy horseshit our “economic development” gurus spew when selling us on another corporate welfare shim-sham for an influential local billionaire or mega-donor to all the right political campaigns? 

Yeah. Don’t give me any shit about competition in a ‘free market economy’ until mom-and-pop receive the same tax-supported largesse and access to the public teat as an insurance magnate or some well-heeled developer with a chip in the game.

Speaking of those do-nothing Volusia County bureaucrats sitting atop piles of federal Covid-19 recovery funds and those self-congratulatory “experts” over at Team Volusia – where were they when we needed them to protect a long-time area business? 

What was more important to these empty suits than saving a family-owned business that has created jobs and served our tourist industry for six-decades?

And why did they sit idle as the Schwarze family was summarily out bid for a high-profile local contract by a national hospitality management conglomerate?   

And where were our incumbent local and state politicians who are so damn busy groveling for our sacred vote – telling us everything they think we want to hear – bickering, backbiting, and grooming their abhorrent records, while the Schwarze family and the unique experience they provided to our community, was being outsourced to an out-of-state mega-corporation specializing in “…luxury communities, hotels, resorts, government and business dining facilities, full-service restaurants, state and national parks, outdoor recreation, boathouses, marinas, museums, conference centers, senior living communities, health care systems, school and university dining facilities, and specialty retail stores.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for answers.

What a damnable shame. . . 

Angels & Assholes for August 5, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole           Volusia County Council’s Gang of Four

I like to chuckle along with the farcical slapstick and hopeless absurdity that permeates those bimonthly hootenannies of the Volusia County Council.

But what happened earlier this week was no laughing matter. 

In my view, the meeting dissolved into a vicious and highly coordinated attack – something darker, more sinister – 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.

On Tuesday, the craven 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, Councilman Ben Johnson – worked cooperatively to dismantle the biggest threat to their control, Chairman Jeff Brower, and bring him and his “Volusia Values” slate of likeminded candidates to heel before the August primary. 

(According to a report by Jarleene Almenas detailing the tempest in a teapot for the Ormond Beach Observer, “The “Volusia Values” candidates include Doug Pettit (at-large), Ted Noftall (District 3), Ken Smith (District 4) and Julio David Sosa (District 5).”)

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 by any means necessary. 

Following the typical shitshow of a business meeting where absolutely nothing of substance was accomplished – during his closing comments, Councilman Johnson launched into an obviously rehearsed soliloquy – thundering away in his patented cornpone, openly labeling Chairman Brower a liar for his support of the now quashed Florida Wildlife Corridor workshop, cutting into Brower’s recent effort to challenge the pending environmental atrocity that is the proposed I-95/Pioneer Trail interchange, while showcasing his own abject ignorance of the “Toilet to Tap” reclaimed water scheme which is emerging as the seminal issue of our time.

Of course, Mr. Johnson’s opening salvo was quickly supported on all flanks by his dutiful minion, Councilman Danny Robins and the meanspirited lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, who took turns cutting into Mr. Brower (and Councilwoman Heather Post) with a ferocity and faux indignation that demonstrated to their political overseers they are earning their keep. 

It was interesting to watch these cheap shot artists at work.

Using political gaslighting to maximum effect, Councilman Johnson painted Brower as having “politicized” the Florida Wildlife Corridor workshop – citing 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 of a $20,000 donation by a supporter of the Wildlife Corridor to a Political Action Committee which supports the Volusia Values candidates. 

(I guess PAC’s that shower money on candidates are only acceptable when used to fund the campaigns of hand-select developer shills, eh?)

“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 got what they wanted all along when they confederated to successfully “postpone” the Wildlife Corridor workshop to an uncertain date after the November election – with Brower and Post voting to keep the already schedule August meeting in place (with some 200 people already registered to attend). 

What are they afraid of – an informed electorate? 

Of course, Robins and Wheeler eagerly piled on while “Dr.” Lowry phoned it in (literally), wallowing in their phony moral outrage, twisting Brower’s every word to support their fabricated witch hunt, then screeching about their “integrity.” 

Bullshit.

In the most cogent comment of the day, Councilwoman Heather Post said she had never seen a “bigger circus” staged by Robins and the others – then accurately described the haughty snobbery that marks these arrogant tools for what they truly are:

“This holier than thou attitude that four people on this council have suddenly devised or come up with that everyone has to fall under the standard except them.  It does not show integrity, and I’m a little offended as a resident of Volusia County. We’re having all of these different discussions that we’ve been having over ridiculous stuff.”

Trust me.  Ms. Post knows of which she speaks. 

From the first day she took office, Volusia’s Old Guard demanded lockstep fealty to the status quo – working overtime to beat any vestige of independent thought or innovation out of her – marginalizing Ms. Post’s every initiative and depriving District 4 of equal representation. 

Sound familiar? 

It should – because they have done the same to Chairman Brower every meeting since he took office – callously shitting on the citizen mandate that resulted in his trouncing of a well-funded insider in 2020.

Then, in the longest reach of the day, Councilman Johnson pressed the attack by accusing Brower of misusing his position when he sent a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis last week requesting an investigation into the Florida Department of Transportation’s decision to waive environmental exclusions for the proposed Pioneer Trail interchange.  

According to Johnson, Chairman Brower’s letter made it appear the remainder of the County Council agreed with the request.

Again.  Bullshit.

Anyone with two functioning synapses understands that anything our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini, disagrees with the Gang of Four must also disagree with – because they know what side their political bread is buttered on – and their hypocrisy knows no bounds. . . 

To kiss the sizeable backsides of their political benefactors in the influential development community – and ensure that everyone who is anyone understands they could give two-shits about environmental impacts to the sensitive Spruce Creek watershed – the Gang voted 4-3 to send a letter to Governor DeSantis explaining the request for an inquiry was Chairman Brower’s doing – not theirs. 

What a contrived crock of shit. . .

Anyone remember when Councilwoman Wheeler willingly took part in the public humiliation of Councilwoman Heather Post after former Chair Ed Kelley wrote a letter on behalf of all residents and the County Council supporting Ms. Post’s candidacy for a leadership role with the Florida Association of Counties?

I do. 

It would have been the first time in the 90-year history of FAC that a sitting Volusia County representative had been a candidate for the Executive Board.

Speaking on behalf of every man, woman, and child in Volusia County, Kelley wrote in his glowing letter of recommendation:

“Volusia County enthusiastically supports County Council Member Heather Post’s candidacy for a Vice President position with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC).”

Then, when the time came to make good on their promise – in perhaps the most shameful display of quisling, meanspirited, cut-throat political backstabbing on record – Old Ed and Billie Wheeler openly campaigned for her opponent in a bait-and-switch artifice that violated the public trust and exposed the depth to which the Old Guard would stoop to embarrass and demean Ms. Post.

Yeah.  That whole “Integrity” thing again. . .

To add to the confusion, during Tuesday’s abomination, Councilman Johnson – now fully enrobed in his demented Inspector Clouseau character – raved about a comment Chairman Brower made at a meeting in Seminole County regarding our threatened natural resources wherein he mentioned the publics concerns over the widely-publicized “toilet to tap” strategy that will have us all drinking recycled sewage to ensure developers can shoehorn more, more, more cracker boxes “starting from the low $300’s” on top of our aquifer recharge areas. 

Acting as though he had just deduced it was Professor Plum, in the library, with a lead pipe – Johnson ensured the Chair’s embarrassment was complete by having a clip of Brower’s comments loudly broadcast through the Council chamber.

For anyone listening, it would appear that Councilman Johnson had just returned from the dark side of the moon – because everyone who has paid even marginal attention to recent events is aware of the City of Daytona Beach’s operation of an experimental treatment plant to process reclaimed sewage for public consumption.

The results of this gross Soylent Green-style testing are currently being condensed into a report by local and state researchers. 

But it’s all news to Ben Johnson?

Apparently, our addled At-Large Councilman is unaware of the massive development across the width and breadth of Volusia County his inaction on issues like impact fees and low-impact development helped facilitate – tens of thousands of new homes and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space – out-of-control sprawl that has some municipalities already requesting additional groundwater withdrawals to keep up with soaring demand.    

How is it possible that a sitting elected official could be that out-of-touch?

Or that compromised. . .

Don’t take my word for it, watch it for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/32m3wu3m

Angel               Volusia District Schools Whistleblower Alex Kennedy

We have a problem, folks.  

Last month, the Volusia County School Board took delivery of a shocking report detailing the results of an operational audit of district processes and administrative activities conducted by Florida’s Auditor General during fiscal year 2019-20. 

The summary findings were a guided tour through a disturbingly dysfunctional organization where the concept of accountability commensurate with responsibility is a cudgel reserved for silencing whistleblowers who point out the flagrant waste and incompetence all around them. 

For instance, the audit’s first significant finding explained:

“District personnel did not always verify vendor bank accounts before electronic payments were made to those accounts and, as a result, electronic payments totaling $359,566 for vendor services were made to a wrong bank account.”

According to the report, due in part to lackadaisical security and independent vendor verification procedures, the district fell victim to what the DeLand Police Department later described as an “overseas fraud scheme,” which resulted in some vendor service payments being routed to an unverified account.

Fortunately, $193,869 of the theft was recovered from the “District’s bank” and the remainder – $140,697 – was paid by the district’s cyber insurance company.

Volusia County taxpayers were on the hook for the $25,000 deductible. . . 

Most telling, the report detailed the massive waste of time, money, and resources related to the district’s horribly compromised software program – something former Assistant Director of Applications and Infrastructure, Alex Kennedy, tried multiple times to warn key decisionmakers about until he was suddenly fired in 2020. . . 

Auditors determined that the installation and implementation of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was beset with issues from the beginning – complicated by the district’s failure to keep minutes of “steering committee” meetings when the software was selected – with little effort to ensure that the project progressed through implementation according to the terms of the contract. 

Then the committee was disbanded without explanation – which destroyed any institutional knowledge or project continuity – leading to even more expensive delays due to personnel changes. 

Ultimately, the program cost Volusia County taxpayers millions of dollars in cost overruns and functionality issues. 

It also cost the only person in the district who gave a damn his livelihood. . .

From the outset, Mr. Kennedy raised concerns about the School Board’s adoption of the financial software because it was not designed for use in a K-12 setting, which required that the district spend millions of dollars re-engineering the program – the fact that no other K-12 school system had successfully adopted the program – and that there were other software options that cost less and were designed for the district’s needs.

In August 2018, Mr. Kennedy authored an email to the highest echelon of district leadership, which ended with the dire warning:

“More importantly, if we are ever lucky enough to “make” this software work it will most likely be the most expensive ERP solution ever brought forward to a K12 institution with both the minimal and most complicated functionality. As an employee and tax paying citizen I strongly recommend putting this project on hold and having it reassessed by a third party state agency such as DMS (Department of Management Services).”

Unfortunately, his expert opinion was ignored. 

Had district leadership listened to Mr. Kennedy instead of acquiescing to those who told them what they wanted to hear it is estimated taxpayers could have saved over $4 million on the project.

On May 14, 2020, without warning that his employment was in jeopardy, Mr. Kennedy was abruptly terminated – because that is the fate that befalls anyone who breaks the Code of Omerta in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and sounds the klaxon on misfeasance, the gross waste of funds, or the organizational incompetence that permits it.  

In a recent appeal of his previously dismissed whistleblower lawsuit, Mr. Kennedy’s attorney wrote:

“His repeated complaints resulted in his termination, so Mr. Kennedy brought a claim under the FWA (Federal Whistleblower Act).  The FWA protects public employees from retaliation when they raise allegations of government negligence and waste.”

Considering the findings of state auditors – I wish Mr. Kennedy the best of luck. 

In my view, the audit was a scathing indictment of a cloistered system that now commands an annual budget in excess of $1 Billion with little oversight or answerability. 

In addition to these serious issues, the audit also uncovered a lack of accountability in the disposal of tangible personal property (fixtures, furniture, equipment, and motor vehicles), lax access privileges to sensitive student data that could result in fraud and other financial crimes against individuals, the fact 5% of employees with direct contact with children had not received a required five-year background check, and a history of weak information technology security training, authentication procedures, and written guidelines which could further compromise sensitive data.

My God.

These scandalous revelations should send a shudder through parents, teachers, students, and staff – and enrage Volusia County taxpayers who are forced to pay for this continuing institutional incompetence.

Quote of the Week

“If you don’t grow, you die,” he said.

And Florida is growing.

“Our state has seen an influx of people, about 1,000 per day,” he said. “Those people need a place to live.”

He said property rights need to be protected, but he thinks “development should happen.”

“It’s important for the economic growth and maintenance of the county,” he said.

Johansson said he prefers to see infill development in cities versus new development in rural areas, but he doesn’t want to force any local governments to do anything…”

–Volusia County Council At-Large Candidate Jake Johansson, as quoted by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Where do at-large Volusia Council candidates stand on exploding growth?” Monday, August 1, 2022

And Another Thing!

Believe it or not, well-meaning readers sometimes ask if they can advertise their goods and services on Barker’s View.  

As a dilettante editorialist, it is very humbling to think someone would want to be associated with this tripe, but I always graciously decline.

There is a reason I do not accept advertising on this blogsite – and I damn sure do not take money to express opinions with a certain slant or advocate for the well-funded candidate of some special interest with deep pockets.    

That bought-and-paid-for propagandized bullshit is readily available if you want it.

Just not here.  

Right or wrong, the views expressed on Barker’s View are my own.

If I favor one political candidate over another – it means I have done some research and come to believe that they will serve the broad public interest – rather than function as another malleable marionette for all the right last names.

I am not infallible – subject to being duped like anyone else.

And I don’t have a crystal ball.

My only advantage is that I spend an unhealthy amount of time studying the particulars of public meetings, analyzing the “issues,” talking politics on barstools, picking the brains of those “in-the-know,” before forming a viewpoint on the news and newsmakers through the jaded prism of over three-decades in local government.  

But make no mistake – these jumbled thoughts are mine alone. 

That is why I rarely tell people who to vote for anymore.  Not my role.

I believe it is important for people to educate themselves on the candidates and where they stand on the issues – then vote their own conscience, experience, and vision.

Given modern campaign tactics, that’s not as easy as it seems.  

Like everyone else, I make my share of analytical mistakes; but I still believe that past behavior is the most accurate predictor of future performance, because a leopard is incapable of changing its spots. 

Yet, each election cycle, some very smart political strategists and their surrogates use every tool at their disposal to convince us otherwise – or put just enough dust in the air so the average apathetic voter becomes so confused they simply give up. . .

When educating oneself on the differences in ideology, values, and loyalties of candidates, I always employ the idiom: If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck – it’s a duck, regardless of how anyone presents it. 

Although perennial politicos and their handlers try to deny it, as the voting records of many incumbents prove, the source of campaign funds are a prime indicator of future loyalties. 

I don’t care if an elected official envisions a different path for the future or disagrees with me on solutions so long as they are open and honest about who benefits – and why

As naïve as it sounds, I still believe character counts

I suspect you do to. 

That is why political camps are spending so much time (and money) dredging up, embroidering, and trotting out their opponents’ past peccadillos while downplaying their preferred candidate’s faults, foibles, and ethical lapses.

I have rarely met an adult who hasn’t had at least one bad day, a youthful indiscretion, or lapse in judgement they aren’t proud of.

Have you?   

The fact is no one is perfect in their personal and professional lives – regardless of how impressive their accomplishments may be.  That is what makes us human, and, in my experience, why most people can forgive what they see themselves doing.  

What they will not tolerate is the stench of lies, machinations, and a continuation of the self-serving duplicity that has created an “Us vs. Them” mentality in Volusia County government and beyond.

A continuing degradation of the “trust factor” that has destroyed public confidence in the process – a pay to play system where the very presence of those who have purchased a chip in the game with massive campaign donations elicit a Pavlovian response from their hired rubber stamps on the dais of power. 

Unfortunately, the results of that pernicious quid pro quo – all perfectly legal under our imperfect campaign finance system – are evident across Volusia County. 

In my view, if a candidate is actively taking thousands of dollars from well-heeled insiders and the entities they control – then telling voters that he/she has no intention of ensuring those political benefactors a return on investment – that is disingenuous – and unfair to contributors.

And it causes me to wonder what else that candidate is hedging on. . .     

Most people I talk to are not looking for a “perfect” candidate – because that mythical political unicorn only exists 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 – who dedicate themselves in word and deed to the highest ideals of the public service and constantly strive for ethical leadership, accessibility, and fairness – committed to serving the best interests of ALL citizens of Volusia County.

Candidates who will represent existing residents and believe that clean water, greenspace, 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.

They are out there. 

You will not find them anywhere near those partisan political fishing camps and the backslapping ‘Good Ole Boy’ networks that exist to serve the stagnant status quo.

Time to do your homework, folks. 

This one’s important.

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

Angels & Assholes for July 29, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               Daytona Beach Commissioner Quanita May & ECHO LLC

It is no secret that Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May and I have had our differences. 

But I never take politics personally and fairness demands that I give our elected officials credit when it is due. In my view, Ms. May’s efforts to bring alternative housing options to the Halifax area deserves recognition.

Last week, I read an informative article by Charles Guarria writing in Hometown News Volusia entitled, “Tiny houses could help Volusia neighborhoods.”

Thanks to the support of Commissioner May and others in Daytona Beach government, a developer known as Economical Community Housing Organization LLC (ECHO) recently hosted a meeting at Allen Chapel AME Church in Daytona Beach to discuss a proposed mini-home development called Brentwood Village.

You may recall that in November 2021, Commissioner May arranged for a tiny house manufactured by a Longwood company to be brought to Daytona Beach so people could see the concept for themselves. 

At the time, Commissioner May said in the Daytona Times, “We have been speaking about various housing options, and this was an option we had not yet explored and the community had not yet experienced. I look forward to hearing feedback from the mayor, city manager, and staff as well as the residents.”

“The city’s goal is to provide multiple housing opportunities, from rentals to ownership. My focus is home ownership for as many people as possible in multiple forms.”

Ms. May took the initiative when others would not. 

Now, things may be coming to fruition. 

According to the Hometown News report, “Representatives from ECHO, Omni Lending Group and Realty Pros were on hand to explain Brentwood Village would be a 28-house development offering four different models on 3.5 acres of land managed by a homeowner’s association.

According to the plans, the Key West style homes will be either single or two bedrooms with an equal number of bathrooms. One model offers an upstairs; each has two parking spaces. The square footage ranges between 385 and 532. ECHO LLC is hoping to bring the houses to market at a $145,000 starting price.”

Unfortunately, the “tiny home” concept has not been well received by many governments in Volusia County – because innovation isn’t a big priority in a place where the stagnant status quo is defended with the ferocity of a rabid badger – but it appears the majority of the Daytona Beach City Commission see the intrinsic benefit of this type of development in an era where the price of a single-family home has far outpaced the average wage. 

When the First Step “Shelter” first opened, there was talk of building one hundred tiny homes on the city-owned property – and some suggested placing mini-homes on the site of the Hope Place family shelter.

In addition, Mark Geallis, the former executive director of both First Step Shelter and Halifax Urban Ministries, has made several attempts to sell the idea of a tiny house village in Volusia County to accommodate the needs of those who fall through the crack between traditional housing and rental options. 

Now, it appears ECHO LLC – in cooperation with local non-profits, specialty lenders, and business interests – is committed to building the areas first of its kind “…innovative, environmentally friendly, safe, and socially conscious homes for the community at affordable prices.”

I like that.  Because it makes sense.

While Volusia County government is busy generating hot air and kicking the can down the dusty political trail on the growing crisis of affordable workforce housing – the City of Daytona Beach is doing something about it – providing first-time homebuyers (to include law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders, and teachers) an affordable alternative to skyrocketing rental rates.   

Kudos to Commissioner May and others for helping this important alternative become a reality.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board’s Linda Cuthbert  

“What do you mean by ‘trust’?”

–School Board Member Linda Cuthbert, July 26, 2022

Most people define trust as the foundational element of any relationship – business, personal, or fiduciary – a firm belief, based on firsthand experience, in another’s reliability, truth, and strength of character.  A hard-earned confidence, built over time, that a person or entity has our best interests at heart.

And once it is gone, it is impossible to get back.

The opposite of trust is dubiety, uncertainty, skepticism, dysfunction, and a lack of faith in the very underpinnings of a relationship. 

That distrust and suspicion can spread through an organization like wildfire. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the Volusia County School Board held a workshop (with Carl Persis conspicuously absent) to discuss a tool for evaluating the board’s long-time attorney, Ted Doran.

Despite the fact an annual evaluation has been required by district policy since 1974, Mr. Doran – whose current three-year contract specifies an hourly rate of $245 – has not received a performance review in over twenty-years. . . 

You read that right.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the meeting consisted of lame duck member Linda Cuthbert buying time by quibbling every insignificant aspect of the proposed instrument, haggling over minutia in her patented overdramatic fashion, placing emphasis on the importance of each syllable – even lobbying for the complete elimination of the section evaluating the attorney’s “professionalism” (calling it “completely redundant”) – then arguing what Mr. Doran does in his “private life is his own business” and should have no bearing on his firm’s continued association with the School Board.

Say what?

Inconceivably, during one of her time-wasting soliloquies Ms. Cuthbert mewled the asinine question, “What do you mean by ‘trust’?

Really?

Don’t take my word for it, watch the workshop for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/yembxmyu

Most organizations who value their reputation and internal stability require senior leaders and influencers to agree to a morality clause in their employment agreement – a legally binding document that holds the individual to certain behavioral standards to avoid bringing disrepute, contempt, or scandal that would adversely impact public perception. 

I think most reasonable people would agree that image, character, and trustworthiness are relevant when evaluating an attorney or law firm commanding hundreds-of-thousands of dollars annually from a public school district.    

In an October 2013 article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, it was reported that Mr. Doran agreed to a 60-day Florida Bar suspension following a series of complaints, to include his “lawyering” in a 2006 divorce case, personal relations with another divorce client in 2010, and what were described as “flirtations” with an opposing lawyer during a trial in South Florida.

None of the allegations involved his work for Volusia County Schools – but the suspension and subsequent renewal of his district contract did not sit well with some parents, teachers, staff, and taxpayers.   

According to the News-Journal report, “The Volusia County School Board renewed its contract with Doran’s law firm for one year on July 23 (2013). Three weeks later, on Aug. 13, the board extended that contract to three years. Doran signed his agreement to the 60-day suspension on Aug. 19, six days after the contract extension.

School Board members reached Tuesday said they were aware of the pending complaints, but not the coming suspension, when they approved both contracts. The board did not publicly discuss the issue; Doran said he spoke privately with board members before the contract renewal.”

Is this relatively ancient history still pertinent when discussing Mr. Doran’s performance?

I don’t know, but it was the 500-pound gorilla in the room on Tuesday afternoon. 

During the workshop, it became uncomfortably apparent that Ms. Cuthbert was more concerned with cementing Mr. Doran’s place at the public teat than protecting the interests of her long-suffering constituents.

What is there to hide? 

Why are teachers and staff held to a higher standard of performance, professionalism, and conduct than one of the most responsible and highly compensated positions in the district?

What professional wouldn’t welcome constructive criticism?

In my view, Ms. Cuthbert was the best lawyer Mr. Doran never paid for. . . 

At every opportunity, Cuthbert used her condescending bloviation to pare the evaluation tool down to a useless farce – arguing redundancy with hairsplitting pedantry – and belittling the review process as “subjective.”

During the back-and-forth, the board needed Mr. Doran to look up the definition of the term “forthright.” 

How gut-wrenchingly telling. . .

Ultimately, Cuthbert tipped her hand on this strategic procrastination when she painted the evaluation of Doran’s professionalism as “demeaning,” suggesting the language on the form was a means of “setting him up to fire him.”

Bullshit.

Even after a form was finally agreed upon, in her most preposterous objection of the meeting, Cuthbert suggested that – after over twenty-years serving in the role – the Board somehow owed Mr. Doran a “professional courtesy,” to allow him even more time to learn the performance standards expected of him before any formal evaluation should take place.

For the record – Mr. Doran actively participated in the entire meeting.   

After promising taxpayers and staff a firm timeline – which included an assurance of a formal evaluation once the tool had been voted on – it was decided (once again) to postpone the review until a meeting in late August.   

My ass.

To their credit, Chairman Ruben Colon joined members Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette in holding firm to the spirit and objectives of the overdue evaluation, upholding their sworn obligation to protect the public interest in the face of Cuthbert’s obnoxious obstructionism. 

Interestingly, Volusia County Schools already have a General Counsel in the capable Kevin Pendley – a veteran attorney who serves as chief legal officer and performs all legal services on behalf of the district. 

As the district continues to face the specter of a self-described financial catastrophe – while we are on the topic of unnecessary redundancy – perhaps it is time for the School Board to determine the need for separate (and incredibly expensive) legal representation?   

Quote of the Week

“There was no quid pro quo. This was social relationships,” Latvala told the Commission. “If you’re going to start making that the basis for complaints — having sex with lobbyists — you’re going to be a very busy Commission.”

–Former Florida State Sen. Jack Latvala’s testimony before the Florida Commission on Ethics, as reported by Gary Rohrer in Florida Politics, “Ethics case against Jack Latvala moves to administrative judge after panel rejects settlement,” Friday, July 22, 2022

Something tells me tiny peapods are shriveling in house and senate offices across the Sunshine State in the wake of Mr. Latvala’s disturbing revelation of widespread sexual misconduct in Tallahassee.

And it has nothing to do with this damnable heat. . . 

As the late, great political thinker and outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson so eloquently wrote:

“Sex and power have a long history of feeding on each other.  In 18th century England, the king and half his ministers were involved in a whole network of strange and violent sex clubs, whipping parlors and half-secret cults that embraced everything from Satanism and human sacrifice to flagrant white slavery and public bestiality.”

“These were no amateur degenerates, like the ones we sneer at today.  They put the whole British Empire on the road to ruin and thought nothing of it – nor cared, for that matter. . .”  

Sound familiar?

Last week, the Florida Commission on Ethics – that “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” clique of toothless political appointees responsible for protecting the public trust in what is arguably the most corrupt state in the nation – rejected a proposed settlement and found probable cause to allow three alleged violations of state ethics law against former Sen. Jack Latvala to move to an administrative hearing. 

Four-and-a-half-years after the shocking allegations first became known. . . 

So much for that whole ‘justice delayed’ horseshit, eh?

If an administrative law judge upholds the charges, it could result in the Florida Senate levying a slap-on-the-wrist in the form of a public censure, reprimand, or a fine up to $10,000.

In Mr. Rohrer’s informative piece in Florida Politics, we were reminded:

“Allegations against Latvala first became public in a POLITICO story in 2017, citing six anonymous women, including lobbyists and Senate staffers, detailing allegations of groping and sexual innuendo. A subsequent Senate investigation into the matter revealed Latvala’s repeated sexual harassment and allegations that he would vote favorably for a lobbyist’s issues in return for sexual favors.”

Wow. 

Accepting sexual favors from a registered lobbyist in return for a favorable vote buys you a reprimand?

Really? 

What does it take to put these power-drunk shitheels in jail?

Just to show you that this gross abuse knows no partisan boundaries, during the hearing:

“Commissioner Jim Waldman, a former Democratic House member, said the allegations by Rogers (a staffer who came forward with sexual harassment violations against Latvala), that she went along with his groping and sexual innuendo because she believed Latvala was a powerful Senator with influence over her employment even though he wasn’t her direct supervisor, didn’t rise to the level of probable cause.”

“Just because she thought it, doesn’t make it actionable,” Waldman said.”

Yeah.  That. . .

Of course, after admitting to “poor judgement” in having a long-term sexual relationship with a lobbyist, Mr. Latvala is now beating his chest and vowing to fight tooth-and-nail the allegations he sexually harassed the former Senate employee, who reached a $900,000 settlement with the Florida Senate in 2019, concluding a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case:

“Latvala told the commission that the “biggest mistake I made was not standing and fighting right then.”

“My not fighting stops today,” he said. “I didn’t do what she (the former staff member) accused me of doing.”

Whatever, dude. . .

In my view, the far more disturbing revelation coming from last week’s hearing was proffered by Latvala himself – that pasty-faced asshole and alleged serial harasser who used his powerful position for his own onanistic pleasure – when he suggested if the Commission on Ethics is going to inconvenience themselves with allegations of lawmakers selling their vote in exchange for sexual relations with lobbyists – then they are going to be a “very busy commission.” 

Whoa. 

In November 2017, the stories gushing out of Tallahassee read like a Penthouse Forum –describing in graphic detail a frat house atmosphere where lawmakers engaged in sexual hijinks, public indecencies, open assignations for political influence, and outright criminal assaults in the hallowed halls of our state capitol.

Revelations of impiety and debauchery that would make Gaius Caligula blush. . .

This isn’t the first time a high-powered lawmaker has been caught with his pants down (literally) – nor is it the first time a knowledgeable insider has sounded the klaxon on self-indulgent conduct that undermines the legislative process – and the public trust.

Look, if these shameless degenerates we elect to represent our interests want to hold mass orgies behind closed doors at the Tennyson apartments – what do I care?

But when those tawdry fumbling’s in public offices and dark parking garages involve powerful lawmakers and registered lobbyists paid to influence political outcomes – or the sexual debasement of vulnerable legislative assistants – I have a big problem with that.

You should too.

In my view, Dr. Thompson was right. 

This unbridled hubris is what the road to ruin is paved with – and it demands a full and public investigation into just how pervasive this abhorrent (and patently unethical) conduct is in Tallahassee. 

Don’t hold your breath.      

This is Florida.  The rules are different here. . .

And Another Thing!

Last week, citizens who took the time out of their busy lives during business hours on a workday to prostrate themselves before our Elected Monarchy at the Volusia County Council meeting were met with an unexpected impediment to public access in the hallowed Halls of Power in DeLand. 

I’m not talking about the insuperable rules governing public input – the gargoyle-like blank stares and deafening silence from the dais whenever a citizen asks a question – or the inviolate “three-minute rule” limiting our ability to address the exalted literati.      

This is something much more visual – and visceral.   

Without notice (at least I didn’t hear about it), last week, taxpayers entering the gilded council chamber were ordered by uniformed Volusia County sheriff’s deputies to hand over their bags, surrender their personal affects, empty their pockets, and submit themselves to a search with a hand-held magnetometer in an apparent effort to prevent citizens from bringing weapons into the inner sanctum. 

In an excellent article by Al Everson writing in the West Volusia Beacon entitled, “The new normal? Going to the County Council now like getting on an airliner,” he asked the pertinent question:

“Is it an invasion of privacy or a necessary preventive measure?”       

Based upon the non-answer provided by County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald, it would appear to be both. . . 

According to the report, “We’re upgrading the security throughout the building, with all the things that are going on in the world,” County Manager George Recktenwald told The Beacon.

Recktenwald added he would not specify what other precautions have been implemented.

Asked if a particular threat of violence prompted him to order the screenings, Recktenwald replied, “Nothing specific.”

Exactly. 

It is this lack of specificity that has taxpayers wondering why the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex is being transformed into a Supermax Bunker for the ruling class? 

Look, I get it.  It is a disturbing sign of the times.    

But transparency demands those of us who pay the bills be given reasonable notice and education, so taxpayers aren’t frightened to enter the chamber and participate in their government.    

As always, this public policy by ambush has led to more questions than answers.

Is this enhanced security posture a temporary precaution or will these measures become permanent? 

Who made the determination and authorized the security screening? 

Does the “All Bags Subject to Search” policy apply to county employees, administrators, and elected officials working in and around the building? 

And what about other county offices – can we expect more of the same?

Was a comprehensive security evaluation of the complex conducted by outside experts or did someone just throw up some card tables, a sign, and reassign deputies from other duties?

How were these physical security needs determined?  And who is providing (and paying for) the 24/7 monitoring required for critical areas of the facility? 

Was a “Red Team” assessment or real-world penetration testing conducted after confidential plans were finalized, briefed, and rehearsed to identify vulnerabilities? 

What are citizens allowed to bring with us when we spreadeagle and beg entrance to the Inner Sanctum?  What items should we leave in our cars?  You know, to avoid the interminable walk back to the steaming parking lot when we are refused admittance to a public meeting for being ignorant of the unannounced rules?

And what did it cost to turn the TCK Complex into an impenetrable fortress? 

I’m asking.

I don’t want an answer. 

These measures should rightly remain confidential, but someone inside the organization better damn sure be asking these questions – because once security measures are implemented – the protocols need to become habitual, constantly reviewed, and rigorously tested – or, like so many other things about Volusia County government, they will become little more than expensive eyewash. 

Sadly, local government buildings were once places where people could come to be heard, to solve problems, and genuinely participate in the often messy, contentious, but infinitely healthy debate of public policy. 

A place We, The Little People should feel welcome – because we pay for these trappings of high office.   

Now, the bureaucratic response to even non-specific fears is to wall off these important “public spaces” from the “public” they exist to serve – with no notice or instruction.

In my view, this is another terrible example of the gross lack of communication that has come to define Volusia County government. 

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

Politics is not for the squeamish

Almost hourly, I receive emails, calls, and messages from exasperated fellow rubes (read: Volusia County voters) which begin, “Did you see (insert latest ad hominem personal/political attack here)?”

These notes are always accompanied by a clip of the latest social media salvo, disruption, diversion, character assassination, complaint, allegation, or personal affront – usually heaped on a candidate’s supporters, rather than the candidate themselves.

The fact is politics in 2022 is a blood sport.  And there appears to be no bottom to the rhetoric, posturing, and personal destruction that permeates every race.

Why? 

Because elections have profound consequences.  With so much as stake – neither side is willing to simply rollover, nor should they, and the truth is always the first casualty of these wars.   

I’m not talking about legitimate criticisms of an incumbent’s record – or sincere scrutiny of a political newcomers’ motives, background, and platform.  I am referring to a targeted strategy designed to demolish the character and reputation of civically active individuals who wade into this fetid swamp to run for office – or dare to support one slate over another. 

Earlier this week, the West Volusia Beacon reported that Chairman Jeff Brower is responding to allegations that he repaired the roof of his house without first obtaining a permit for the work – you know, like the rest of us are required to do? 

According to Brower’s mea culpa in The Beacon, “I made a mistake. I didn’t know that I had to have a permit to do work on my own roof,” he told The Beacon, adding he applied for the permit after being informed of the requirement.”

Volusia County spokesperson Kevin Captain confirmed that remediation strategy:

“County staff contacted Mr. Brower and he is cooperatively working with staff,” Captain replied in an email response to a query from The Beacon. “If findings indicate that a permit is required, Mr. Brower will need to get an After the Fact permit. The work would then be inspected by the appropriate staff to ensure adherence to the current Florida Building Code. This type of complaint is common.”

According to the report, the complainant also filed a formal action with the Commission on Ethics claiming that Brower was gifted the materials used to repair the roof.  According to the article, Mr. Brower later produced a receipt from a local building supply company as evidence he paid for the supplies himself.   

You can read the details here: https://tinyurl.com/mrvkw563

Chairman Brower isn’t up for reelection this year – but he is aggressively supporting a group of likeminded candidates under something called the “Volusia Values” platform – and that makes him fair game for the dirty tricks and mudslinging that now define Fun Coast politics.  

He is also a powerful elected official who should understand the importance of keeping his public and private life unsullied as an example. 

Even when that means pulling a permit like everyone else. . . 

Then, on Wednesday, in a frontpage/above the fold story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal we learned of persistent whisperings of anger, veiled threats, and sharp-elbows being shared by opponents of an extremely ambitious Volusia County School Board candidate. 

It read like one of those Lifetime movies featuring an unhinged parent set against the melodrama of PTA politics. . .    

Don’t take my word for it, read the details here: https://tinyurl.com/yybsmx68

In my view, these diversionary tactics are effective in turning voter attention away from the significant issues we face and onto the theater of politics (which I love) – and these scorched earth methods are nothing new.   

Trust me.  There is a reason our “Rich & Powerful” (the News-Journal’s descriptor, not mine) are pouring tens-of-thousands of dollars into the campaigns of hand-select candidates, because, as always – this election is about money and, more important, who has access to it.

And the strategic timing of these political attacks against Mr. Brower is becoming self-evident. . . 

Earlier this week, Chairman Brower hosted a press conference during which he called for an investigation into the Florida Department of Transportation’s decision to ignore environmental concerns regarding the proposed I-95/Pioneer Trail interchange – which environmentalists believe will pose a grave threat to sensitive areas of Spruce Creek Preserve while serving as a catalyst for even more development.  

Because it will. 

According to an excellent article by Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Brower said FDOT’s exclusion was also “issued in direct violation of the opinion rendered in this case by District Judge Paul Byron of the Middle District of Florida … that the construction of a highway interchange cannot avoid full environmental review under the NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act, through a designation of a categorical exclusion.”

“All of this land that you see around here are the watersheds, the wetlands, that filter the water before it gets (to Spruce Creek),” Brower said. “If we develop all of this area, that just gets worse,” he said referring to the degradation of the area’s environmentally-sensitive wetlands. “The exclusion says that the main goal of this interstate (interchange) is to promote development, exactly the opposite of what the NEPA says should be done here … Most citizens of Volusia County that I hear from want this land to be preserved.”

I admire that. 

For the first time in a long time, instead of sitting down and being beaten like a borrowed mule, Chairman Brower has come off the ropes, demonstrated leadership, and started punching back on an issue many of his constituents are rightfully passionate about. 

Of course, Brower’s challenge woke the biggest bear of them all when our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini (who has contributed mightily to the campaign war chests of pro-development candidates opposed by Mr. Brower) weighed in on the issue this week:

“Mori Hosseini, the chairman of ICI Homes, said, “I don’t know what Chairman Brower is talking about by saying the interchange would encourage development. The development has already occurred and we and other developers already have approvals to build additional houses. Woodhaven is already home to hundreds of families who need that interchange to help alleviate traffic congestion and provide another needed hurricane evacuation route.”

Mr. Hosseini knows exactly what Chairman Brower is talking about.

In my view, the fact Mr. Hosseini and other developers were permitted to build mega-developments across the width and breadth of Volusia County without adequate infrastructure in place to support the increased density speaks to the seminal issue of this election.

And the pernicious influence of Big Money on Volusia County political contests. . .

Many area voters are now of the opinion that we should not sacrifice more of our threatened greenspace, wetlands, and wildlife habitat to accommodate this failed shove ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound bag strategy that has resulted in conspicuous overdevelopment and its devastating effects on the quality of life of existing residents.   

Now, it is becoming clear to even those with a passing interest in the machinations of local politics what is at stake this election season – and why things are about to get ugly for those grassroots candidates who oppose more of the same. 

While the dust flies, some incumbent candidates for the Volusia County Council are trying desperately to appear above the fray – campaigning on their skewed version of events and spouting trite slogans like, “Vote your conscience,” (trust me, that is the last thing any local incumbent candidate wants) in a weird game where legitimate concerns and the historical record are twisted and shouted back as a diversion.  

When Chairman Jeff Brower overwhelmingly defeated an entrenched and well-funded “establishment” (again, a media moniker, not mine) candidate on a citizen mandate of substantive change, the Gang of Four on the dais of power turned their sights on marginalizing his campaign promises, openly shitting on the will of Volusia County voters, and obstructing his initiatives at every turn, all while painting Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post as “ineffectual” losers with forced 5-2 votes. 

People haven’t forgotten that. 

As the August primary grows near, Volusia’s entrenched Old Guard are rightfully nervous – chilled by the thought that after years of being ignored – We, The Little People have finally decided that protecting our threatened environment and already overburdened infrastructure outweigh the wants and whims of speculative developers with a chip in the game. 

By all means – vote your conscience

Elections have consequences.    

Angels & Assholes for July 22, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               News-Journal Executive Editor John Dunbar

I want to be among the first to welcome John Dunbar to Florida’s fabled Fun Coast!

Last week, we learned that Mr. Dunbar was named the new executive editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal and the St. Augustine Record.  He brings more than 25-years’ experience in various newsrooms with a “…focus on investigative journalism.”

According to an excellent article by the News-Journal’s Jim Abbott touting Mr. Dunbar’s impressive credentials:

“…Dunbar spent 14 years, including two as CEO, at the Center for Public Integrity, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom in Washington, D.C.

His work there included investigations about money in politics and the impact of the Citizens United decision on the funding of elections. He also created a project investigating all 50 state legislatures and ran coverage focused on the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown. As CEO, he took over the organization during a financial crisis and returned it to stability. He raised more than $10 million in grants over five years.

As an editor and reporter, Dunbar has created or supervised work that has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Investigative Reporters & Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association, and the George Polk Award for Business Writing among others.”

I don’t care which dark alleys and dank political jungles Mr. Dunbar has plied his trade in the past – the man has his work cut out for him here. . . 

For the better part of a decade, our newspaper has become something of a somnolent monitor – similar to the Sam Sheepdog cartoon character – which is an unfortunate comparison, because the News-Journal has a stable of some of the finest investigative journalists in the business, reporters who have more than demonstrated their commitment to both the newspaper and the long-suffering residents of Volusia and Flagler Counties.

Unfortunately, they are rarely let off the leash. . .   

Hell, things have gotten so brazen that, more times than not, we read where even C-list elected officials refuse to so much as return a reporter’s phone calls. Sad.

Like you, I have watched as The Daytona Beach News-Journal morphed from a hyperlocal daily into a poorly edited, homogenized, and neutered version of US Today, as the bones of the paper were outsourced and good reporters furloughed, “downsized,” assigned to specialized “groups” within Gannett, or just run off by bad management.

I’ve got news for the News-Journal – and those faceless corporate shills who are busy regionalizing our local newspaper – no one who reads The Daytona Beach News-Journal gives two-shits about happenings in St. Augustine. 

That’s an hour up the road and a million miles away – more akin to Jacksonville than the Fun Coast – and stuffing our hometown paper with pap from the St. Augustine Record is confusing when things are bursting at the seams here at home.      

The editorial page has been pared down by Gannett edict, some of the best opinion writers and columnists anywhere retired or moved on, and what passes for the “Local” section became a hodge-podge of cut-and-paste nonsense from places like Palm Beach, Naples, and Gainesville while riveting multi-page fluff such as “Where to get the best corndog in the Tri-County Area” is wedged between hearing aid advertisements.

During many years in public service, I made my bones at a time when the News-Journal served as a potent watchdog – an objective overseer that caused our ‘powers that be’ to take a beat and think, “How will this decision/expenditure/policy play on the frontpage tomorrow?” – a time when everyone (well, almost everyone) was judged equally under the facts without the cozy “Who’s Who” factor that has destroyed public confidence in both the paper and local government.

In my view, for a variety of reasons, the accountability pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that there is little, if any, substantive oversight of the machinations of government.

And the results are self-evident. . .

Now, public funds are gifted to all the right last names in barefaced corporate welfare shim-shams, “economic development” is limited to the low-hanging fruit of warehouse jobs, and factious elements on elected councils and commissions whose malleable loyalties are purchased each election year with massive campaign donations confederate to protect the stagnant status quo and facilitate the malignant overdevelopment that is enveloping Volusia County – a voracious monster now growing at a pace that is frightening even those who created it.

My hope is a veteran investigative reporter like Mr. Dunbar will see through the tony “welcome receptions” and cocktail parties in his honor that will be hosted by our uber-wealthy “Movers & Shakers” – hold firm to the finest traditions of the Fourth Estate – and return that equilibrium and accountability the taxpayers of Volusia and Flagler Counties so richly deserve. 

Let’s hope so. 

Good luck, Mr. Dunbar.  I hope you have your journalistic whip and chair at the ready, because something tells me you are our gonna need ‘em this election cycle. . .   

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Earlier this week, reporter Elieen Zaffiro-Kean wrote an informative frontpage piece for The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Volusia County adopts plan to increase affordable housing,” which is technically accurate.    

What bothers me is what they didn’t do. 

In my view, the reason for the Volusia County Council’s craven procrastination on one of the most pressing issues of our time became painfully evident during that théâtre de l’absurde that passed for a public meeting on Tuesday.

After years of summits, workshops, “affinity group” (I had to look it up, too) meetings, webinars, analysis, paralysis, and copious amounts of good old-fashioned political soft-soap, this week, while tens-of-thousands of asset limited/income constrained working families struggled to make ends meet, feed themselves in an era of rampant inflation, and place a roof over their children’s heads on a warehouse worker’s wage, our elected dullards callously kicked the can down the dusty trail on the growing affordable housing crisis.    

Then, they patted themselves on their fat backs as if they did something to alleviate the problem. . . 

My God.

On Tuesday, Volusia County’s Facilitator of Growth and Resource Mismanagement, Clay Ervin, trotted out another prevaricating dog-and-pony show – complete with a monotonous PowerPoint, peppered with strategically confusing acronyms, and wrapped in non-committal bureaucratese – that gave the appearance our ‘powers that be’ care about workforce housing.

They don’t.

When I heard hollow terms like “Create an environment supportive of new affordable housing development,” and “Discuss and receive direction on possible development of a trust fund,” “Using state law to waive impact fees” (because we’ve seen how well waiving building permit, inspection, and impact fees works out long-term) I realized it was more mumbo-jumbo geared toward creating yet another political insulation committee.

Then it became frustratingly clear that nothing of substance would happen quickly – if ever.

After making absolutely certain that nothing they approved would have any lasting impact on the problem – the Volusia County Council voted to accept what will become another five-year plan – which, if they started working on the myriad issues today (they won’t) it will be 2027 before their “plan” begins to gel.

Trust me.  These “strategies” that took years to put on the same page have been in use by communities around the nation for decades.  (Don’t these dipshits ever get out of this backwater and see what other communities are doing?)

For instance, over the past several years, I have spent time in Raleigh, North Carolina, where residents and city officials have placed a true emphasis on workforce housing through the renewal and renovation of historic neighborhoods. 

Beginning in 2016, the City established an aspirational goal to create 570 affordable housing units a year for 10-years, with a grand total of 5,700 housing units by 2026.

To that end, in November 2020, following a period of public input to develop regulations and best practices, the City of Raleigh placed a bond referendum on the ballot which received the highest approval in their history with 72% of residents voting for the measure.

Proceeds generated from the bond – when coupled with other private, federal, state, and local funding sources – can be loaned to nonprofit and for-profit real estate developers, who use the money to create and preserve affordable housing opportunities for citizens with limited incomes and limited housing options.

I know, I know. I had the same reaction you did.

But I have seen the results with my own eyes – and they are impressive.

I am not saying this is an option for Volusia County – a relatively poor county with a lot of very influential people at the public teat and a government that lives a champaign lifestyle on a budget now north of $1 Billion – a bloated bureaucracy that would rather talk the talk while doing everything in its power to ensure the stagnant status quo. 

Who has time for “affordable housing” when 3/2 wood frame cracker boxes shoehorned into zero-lot-line “theme” communities start in the “low $300’s”?

According to the News-Journal’s report, Anne Evans, chair of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, outlined the growing problem to our elected dullards on the dais of power:

“Fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Volusia County is now $931 based on figures provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Evans said. That jumps to $1,135 for two bedrooms, and $1,505 for three bedrooms, she said.”

“That’s completely unattainable for the more than 70,000 people in the county who have earnings below the poverty level. Someone making $13,600 per year can only afford $340 per month, and someone making $27,000 per year can’t afford more than $690 rent, she said.

“You’ve heard all this before. It’s nothing new,” Evans told Council members. “What is new is now the county has made affordable housing a priority.”

While I admire Ms. Evans’ enthusiasm – I will bet her a Donnie’s Donut we are still talking about what went wrong five-years from now – long after her committee’s clever “strategies” are gathering dust in a dead records morgue in the bowels of the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex. . . 

Asshole           Halifax Area Advertising Authority

Guess what? 

The Daytona Beach Resort Area just got a new marketing slogan:  Beach On. 

Beach, please. . .

Quote of the Week

“It breaks my heart to see all the wild animals that are being run out of their places to live because of all the houses that are being built that was once wooded areas.

I live in a residential area but now see deer that come over during the night and now even in the daytime. Last week, I was watching a mother turkey and her six little ones in my side yard.

This outrageous building of all these house complexes has got to stop as the poor animals have nowhere else to go and find food.”

Rants & Raves, Hometown News Volusia, July 22, 2022

If you are not seeing displaced wildlife in your neighborhood – give it time. 

I encourage anyone who is concerned about the future of Volusia County’s threatened greenspace and wildlife habitat to attend the Wildlife Corridor Workshop hosted by Volusia Forever.

The workshop is a public event and will be held August 13, 2022, from 8:30am to 1:30pm at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach.

Lunch will be served following the workshop.  (Hell, go for the “free lunch,” if nothing else. . .)

Tickets are required due to space considerations and may be obtained here: https://tinyurl.com/2cwp9ut3

And Another Thing!

“Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins, who is seeking re-election, this week falsely claimed that the Fraternal Order of Police’s Flagler/Palm Coast lodge and the local 10-13 club of retired New York City Police officers support him. Presidents of both organizations sharply disavowed the claim and criticized Mullins for the fabrications.”

–Pierre Tristam, writing in the online news outlet FlaglerLive, “Joe Mullins Falsely Claims 2 Associations of Retired Cops Support Him, Drawing Sharp Disavowals,” Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Clearly the red-faced residents of Flagler County haven’t seen the nadir of Chairman Joe Mullins’ assholery. . . 

The ugly saga of Joe “Hot Shoe” Mullins continued into its third week when FlaglerLive reported that Mullins has now falsely claimed the endorsement of two prestigious Flagler County law enforcement organizations in an apparent effort bolster his flagging reelection campaign. 

Just when you thought ol’ Joe couldn’t stoop any lower, eh? 

According to another excellent report by Pierre Tristam writing in FlaglerLive:

“Twice last month Mullins disrespected and attempted to pull rank on Florida Highway Patrol troopers in two separate speeding incidents. He was trying to avoid getting ticketed by abusing his authority, claiming that “I run the county” or that he is “over the state.” It did not work: in one encounter, a trooper warned him that he would go to jail if he persisted in defying orders.”

After verbally abusing Florida Highway Patrol troopers, flagrantly violating Florida traffic laws, and endangering law enforcement and other motorists on area highways, now Mr. Mullins has the impudence to claim the support of both the Fraternal Order of Police and the 10-13 Club – attempting to cloak himself with the imprimatur of their honor, service, and sacrifice.

What a classless scumbag. . .

It’s a convoluted story, one better told by Mr. Tristam here: https://tinyurl.com/3dsspaa5

Frankly, Joe Mullins’ latest fabrication is so egregious that it should incense every law enforcement officer and citizen in Flagler County and beyond. 

In my view, through his arrogant instincts, Mr. Mullins has demonstrated that rather than Back the Blue – he reviles it – bullying and berating law enforcement officers in the lawful performance of their duty, then stealing their valor and hard-earned public trust by claiming a false endorsement. 

Disgusting. 

In my view, Joe Mullins represents everything that is wrong with local government today – a discordant screw job whose personal ethics are lower than a broke-back snake and an indelible stain on his high office.  

Unfortunately, it is increasingly evident that Chairman Mullins lacks the strength of character to resign and save the good citizens of Flagler County the embarrassment of his association. 

As a concerned resident and former first responder identified only as “Ron” said in response to the FlaglerLive report this week:

“As a former NYC Police Officer and NYC Firefighter Mr. Mullins continues disrespect our first responders. He continues to fabricate the truth.

Joe Mullins does not deserve the respect or our vote. Let’s stop this abuse and vote for his opponent in the primary.

Let’s send a clear message to all the county commissioners. You are supposed to be representing your constituents.”

Amen, brother. . .

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages… Welcome to Volusia’s Théâtre de l’absurde!

This week’s théâtre de l’absurde that passed for a meeting of the Volusia County Council exposed just how far those stalwarts of the status quo will go to maintain their tenuous grip on power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex.   

Not pretty.  But smashmouth politics never is.

It also became glaringly obvious that the Old Guard’s strategy going into the August primary will be to use any means necessary to continue the procrastination and obstructionism that allows those speculative developers and home builders with a chip in this very lucrative game to make hay while the sun shines.

Even a jaded political watcher like me became disheartened as the hours droned on with absolutely nothing of substance having been accomplished for the long-suffering residents of Volusia County.

Yeah.  Don’t give me any mealymouthed tripe about that token election year tax rollback hype – anyone who didn’t see that “throw those peons a bone” horseshit coming isn’t paying attention.

Even that whackadoo, our self-anointed éminence grise The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, saw it as a short-lived election season sham when Senior Writer Jarleene Almenas quoted him in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“Rollback is awesome,” Councilman Fred Lowry said. “But next year — I won’t be here but I don’t see that happening.”

Me neither. . .

I’m talking about all the important things that didn’t happen this week as county staff – with the help of a highly practiced political disruptor who got under Chairman Brower’s skin with the skill of a practiced dunk tank carny – led our elected dullards through the weeds like a lumbering odd-toed ungulate with a ring in its nose. . . 

I must admit.  It was impressive to watch.    

Unfortunately for the rest of us, while tens-of-thousands of asset limited/income constrained working families struggle to make ends meet, feed themselves in an era of rampant inflation, and place a roof over their children’s heads on a warehouse worker’s wage, once again, our elected dullards kicked the can down the dusty political trail on the growing affordable housing crisis.     

On Tuesday, Volusia County’s Facilitator of Growth and Mismanagement, Clay Ervin, trotted out another prevaricating dog-and-pony show – complete with monotonous PowerPoints and strategically confusing acronyms, all wrapped in non-committal bureaucratese – that gave the appearance our ‘powers that be’ care about workforce housing. 

They don’t.       

When I heard gassy terms like “Create an environment supportive of new affordable housing development,” and “Discuss and receive direction on possible development of a trust fund,” “Using state law to waive impact fees” (because we’ve seen how well that works out long-term) I realized it was more mumbo-jumbo geared toward creating yet another political insulation committee.

Then it became frustratingly clear that nothing of substance would happen quickly – if ever. 

After making absolutely certain that nothing they voted on would have any lasting impact on the problem – the Volusia County Council voted to accept what will become another five-year plan – which, if they started working on the myriad issues today (they won’t) it will be 2027 before their “plan” begins to gel. 

Another waste of paper containing a long-winded “report” to take-up more space in some musty dead record morgue in the bowels of the Thomas C. Kelly Complex. . .

Bullshit.

When talk turned to the formation of the much-anticipated reanimation of the long defunct Environment and Natural Resources Advisory Committee – designed to make recommendations on minimum environmental standards to protect what’s left our greenspace – the focus became vetting potential political appointees – not conservation.

This isn’t exactly the National Security Council.  Just another time-buying and politically motivated obstructionist barricade erected on the path to substantive progress. 

Look, absolutely no one on the dais gives a damn about who serves on these committees, so long as they are of a like mind with the needs, wants, and whims of their political benefactors – and they care even less about the lukewarm “recommendations” coming out of these time-wasting charades.

Just another waste of time while the bulldozers roar. . .

The next civic atrocity came when Councilmen Ben Johnson and Danny Robins attempted to paint the August 13, 2022, Wildlife Corridor Workshop at Ocean Center as a political hit-job – then came razor-close to having this important information-sharing session postponed until after the November election.

(Anyone see a pattern here?) 

Please don’t take my word for it.  Down a strong antiemetic, block off nine-hours of your life you will never get back, and watch it for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/bdhpy2r8

Whether you agree with the “establishments” scorched-earth strategy or not, it was a highly effective way of cutting into a few of their political opponents while prolonging the process to ensure nothing of substance changes. 

Ever.

In my jaded view, the growing frustration surrounding this paralysis and destructive in-fighting is why of the 93 candidates seeking election in Volusia County municipal elections, 17 ran unopposed and were automatically elected. 

According to an excellent piece by the great veteran reporter John Bozzo writing in Hometown News, “The number of unopposed candidates rises to 26 after a county judge spot and every open seat on the Soil & Water Conservation Board and West Volusia Hospital Authority Board are included.” 

Anyone want to take a dip in the shitpit of Volusia County politics?

Me neither. . .

Angels & Assholes for July 15, 2022

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

I thought we might have some fun this week and resurrect a little game I like to call Name that Eyesore! 

The rules are simple:   

Contestants study the image below then swing a wild-assed guess which of the hundreds of local civic carbuncles is depicted. 

C’mon, play along! 

(Cue the Final Jeopardy theme)

Is it:

  1. A weed-strewn blotch on Ormond Beach’s main thoroughfare? 
  2. A suburban hog wallow?
  3. The Shoppes at Granada Pointe?

Any of the above would be considered theoretically correct – because it’s all those things! 

So, give yourself a hearty pat on the back and a Gold Star

Yep.  The photograph depicts the current condition of a vacant parcel in the virtual epicenter of Ormond’s West Granada commercial corridor where the weeds are as high as an elephant’s eye! 

What we were promised would be a tony retail complex has become a muddy unimproved parking lot – now bookended by a Wawa convenience store and a drive-thru carwash – that was once the site of hundreds of specimen oaks and hardwoods that an Ormond Beach developer was permitted to churn into a muddy moonscape in the name of “progress.” 

In total, some 2,061 old-growth trees were clear-cut and ground into splinters when the urban wildlife habitat and historic natural buffer became an environmental abattoir in 2018 – the same year Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington had the unmitigated gall to accept a Tree City USA designation from some shim-sham called the “Arbor Day Foundation.”

Remember?  I do.   

Of course, us rubes (read: Ormond Beach taxpayers) were repeatedly promised a specialty grocer, complete with posh “shoppes,” upscale retail, restaurants, a bank, and other amenities – advertised as being no different from any other commercial development on the boulevard. 

Yet, four-years on – much of the 32-acres (including 1.3 acres of “mitigated” wetlands) that were publicly sacrificed on both sides of Granada Boulevard remain vacant – with unsightly weeds, tall grass, and a washed out mudhole replacing the beautiful “reforestation” we were all promised. 

Perhaps it is time for the City of Ormond Beach to begin evaluating past performance before rubber stamping additional projects for developers with unfinished business elsewhere in the community? 

Whatever.

If you are tired of this bait-and-switch profiteering that is routinely facilitated by those developer shills on the Ormond Beach City Commission, I hope you will let your voice be heard at the ballot box. 

You can bet your sweet ass I plan to. . . 

In my view, it is time that we let these compromised perennial politicians know there is some shit we won’t eat. . .

Thanks for playing!  

Angel               Project Linus

Yesterday, my three-year old granddaughter was admitted to Halifax Hospital with chronic pulmonary issues, and, before I continue, please know she is doing well and (hopefully) will be released by the time you read this. 

When she was admitted, the wonderful nursing staff in the Betty Jane France ‘Speediatrics” Center gifted her a blanket lovingly crafted by Project Linus volunteers – a national organization who selflessly provide “…love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”

Look, I’m as crusty as they come, and I had no idea this service existed – but I was moved to tears by this incredibly compassionate gift.

From what I know, Volusia County has an active chapter of Project Linus dedicated to providing beautiful blankets to local children in need, and I could not be more thankful for their kindness. 

Please find more information here: https://www.projectlinus.org/  

On behalf of a grateful grandfather – the volunteers of Project Linus are doing God’s work – and I will forever appreciate the compassion they have shown my family. 

Thank you.  From the bottom of my heart – Thank you.   

Angel               Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune

On Wednesday, like all Floridians, my chest filled with immense pride as the glorious marble statue of pioneering educator, civil rights activist, and trusted advisor to five U.S. presidents, Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune, was formally enshrined at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

Born the fifteenth child of former slaves, Dr. Bethune rose from humble beginnings in rural South Carolina to the hallowed National Statuary Hall after a lifetime of helping others achieve the American Dream through the opportunity of higher education and basic human rights. 

According to an excellent article documenting this momentous occasion by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean who traveled to our Nation’s Capitol to report for The Daytona Beach News-Journal – in addition to U.S. Senator Rick Scott, (R-FL) who as governor of Florida commissioned the statuary to represent our state in Washington – the observance was attended by some 100 local, state, and national dignitaries:

“Also in Statuary Hall to honor the 20th century champion for Black Americans were some of the most powerful elected leaders in the country: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL).”   

In addition, the unveiling ceremony was also attended by a local delegation led by Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, which included Bethune-Cookman University officials and alumni, the B-CU chorus, and Ormond Beach philanthropist Nancy Lohman, Chair of the Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune Statuary Fund Board, along with a distinguished group of six board members representing those Halifax area industries and individuals who so generously dedicated their time, talent, and resources to see this long journey to memorialize Dr. Bethune’s remarkable legacy become a reality.

Dr. Bethune’s statue is one of just two sculptures representing the State of Florida in the U.S. Capitol and the first Black person to stand in the state collection.  

As Mayor Henry said during remarks last year when Dr. Bethune’s statue was displayed at the Daytona State College News-Journal Center:

“When history records how we as a community responded to our role as custodians of this great legacy, let the record read that Daytona Beach passed the test with straight superiors.”

A special thank you to everyone involved in this wonderful and important endeavor.

Well done!

Angel               Daytona Dog Beach, Inc.

The mission of Daytona Dog Beach, Inc. is to “put paws in the sand” by promoting the added amenity of safe, controlled, and environmentally sound dog friendly beaches on the World’s Most Famous Beach.

I like that. 

Although my own beloved dogs – Nola and Benny – are ill-tempered curs like their old man who hate the thought of “socializing” with others, I know many people who enjoy spending time with their pets on the expansive dog-friendly areas of Flagler Beach.

Unfortunately, in Volusia County government, the instinctive answer to any public request is “No.” 

Because many bureaucrats in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand abhor anything that requires a modicum of creativity – “No Way/No How!” is the pat answer to any grassroots suggestion that may improve our quality of life or enhance the beachgoing experience. 

For the uninitiated, dogs have been effectively banned from Volusia County beaches since 1987, when the greatest civic mistake ever perpetrated placed all 47-miles of shoreline under the county’s dictatorial control.

As those who have spent our lives here will attest – things have never been the same. . . 

Last spring, the Volusia County Council raised the hopes of many pet owners when they asked staff to research options for permitting dogs on identified areas of the strand in the Daytona Beach area.   

As things often go when citizens seek change to paralytic and outdated public policies, enthusiastic and well-meaning residents took time away from their busy lives to prostrate themselves before our Elected Monarchy – who sat like stone-faced gargoyles gazing down from the dais of power – before opting to maintain the tired status quo.    

Fortunately, those who support bringing a convenient dog-friendly beach closer to population centers in the Greater Daytona Beach area have continued their efforts to educate and partner with residents, visitors, and area businesses – to include a regular “Yappy Hour” at the beautiful Streamline Hotel. 

Under the leadership of Nanette McKeel Petrella, Daytona Dog Park, Inc. continues to be a force for good in our community. 

For the past two-years, this wonderful group of civically active citizens have dedicated themselves to monthly cleanups of a one-mile section of beach of between Seabreeze Boulevard and Zelda Boulevard.

According to Daytona Dog Park, Inc., the popular “People & Paws” cleanup event will take place tomorrow morning, Saturday, July 16, from 8:30am to 10:30am.  To add to the fun, dogs will be allowed to accompany their owners under a special permit issued by Volusia County!

According to Daytona Dog Park, Inc.:

“Participants are invited to join us at the cleanup, with or without their dog. Rules include that dogs are leashed, under control, vaccinated, licensed and cleaned up after. Waivers will be mandatory for all participants, those under eighteen must be accompanied by an adult. An additional waiver will be mandatory for those bringing their dog.

Participants must sign in at “Daytona Dog Beach, Inc. Clean up Station,” which will be on the beach at the University Parking Lot area. After completing waivers, instructions and cleaning supplies and dog waste bags will be provided. Participants are asked to return to the station at the end of the cleanup for weigh-in of trash. We will keep a running tab of the amount of trash collected. We will also track volunteer hours for those wishing/requiring it. A prize will be given to the participant who collects the most trash.

Daytona Dog Beach, Inc. will provide complimentary breakfast items, and water. Dogs will be provided water as well.”

If you are interested in volunteering for this most worthwhile effort, free tickets are required in advance and available here:  https://tinyurl.com/3kjwm9k4

Learn more about this wonderful organization and how you can help here: www.daytonadogbeach.org

Angel               Daytona Beach City Commission

I opined on this amazing turn of events earlier in the week – but it bears repeating. . . 

During their July 6 meeting, the Daytona Beach City Commission – after approving another 352 housing units near Municipal Stadium off LPGA Boulevard (with some 800 more on deck) – discussed a building moratorium for “New Daytona” along Boomtown Boulevard and areas west of the City’s Monument to Mediocrity at the Tomoka River pinch point.

I must admit, when a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe made me aware of this, I initially thought they’d been drinking (I know I was) – I mean, a building moratorium? 

In Daytona Beach?

Say what?

But once I had a chance to review a video archive of the meeting – I was incredibly impressed with the sincerity and openness of the discussion into something that has been considered verboten across the width and breadth of Volusia County.

While listening in, I was surprised how little the elected officials seemed to understand about their vital role in growth management or their collective authority when approving new projects – and I think they were as confused as I was by the soporific tone of Deputy City Manager Jim Morris’ sleep-inducing explanations. . .      

I also found it interesting that Mayor Derrick Henry appeared in complete agreement with Commissioner Ken Strickland on the always contentious topic of a moratorium. 

Wow. 

Let’s face it, during this period of explosive growth, little consideration has been given to the quality or quantity of approved projects – as evidenced by the dull appearance of those zero-lot-line behemoths that continue to sprout from slash-and-burn moonscapes – with no consideration for developing a comprehensive sense of place.

While cogitating on what this bombshell notion of a moratorium might mean, I was reminded of the tragic story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his hellishly ambitious determination to create the Monster – and, in the end, his equally driven motivation to stop his terrible creation before it could do more damage. . . 

Regardless of the Commission’s true motivations – I am afraid it is now or never. . . 

For instance, in an excellent article by Charles Guarria writing in the Hometown News, “More warehousing, more houses, just more in Daytona,” we learned of a gargantuan 893,000 square feet of warehousing, cold storage, and retail space collocated with some 400 apartments and townhouses to be built on sixty-five acres at the northwest corner of US-92 and Tomoka Farms Road.

You read that right.

According to reports, the Daytona Beach City Commission will hold a workshop to discuss the fine points of a possible building moratorium on August 24. 

With thousands of new homes and apartments already built – and thousands more waiting to break ground (with some 9,000 units already approved on LPGA Boulevard alone) – many Halifax area residents are saying a temporary halt is too little, too late.   

Of course, at the mere mention of a slowdown, some commercial realtors are already crowing about how the measure will stifle the city’s ability to attract “jobs” and already non-existent “affordable housing.”  

Bullshit. 

The very thought of a pause to allow infrastructure to catch up with even current demands will go through the development community like an ice water enema – because anything that disrupts the boom/bust cycle of rapid growth and quick profits in favor of a measured strategy is anathema to those hauling cash out of what remains of our threatened pine scrub and aquifer recharge areas west of I-95. 

This one bears watching. . .

Quote of the Week

“I run the county.”

–Flagler County Commission Chair and King Hell Blowhard Joe Mullins describing his ‘Authoritah‘ to a Florida Highway Patrol trooper during a traffic stop for speeding on Interstate 95 in Flagler County, June 19, 2022

Last week in this space, I opined on a disturbing article in the online news outlet FlaglerLive regarding the officious assholery of Flagler County Commission Chair Joe Mullins as he tried to flex his muscles and wheedle his way out of at least two traffic citations last month after putting motorists and law enforcement officers at risk on area highways.

According to media reports, it wasn’t the first time Chairman Mullins has thrown his weight around with law enforcement. . .

This week, additional information was released by FlaglerLive and other print and electronic media, to include The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, and Orlando network television affiliates, representing an international embarrassment to the citizens of Flagler County.

According to FlaglerLive:   

“Just as the trooper was telling him the citation would have to be paid within 30 days, with three options, Mullins interrupted him. The trooper did not understand at first. “I’m sorry?” the trooper asked him.

“I run the county,” Mullins tells him.

“You run the county?” the trooper asks him, clearly nonplussed for an instant–as Mullins says he’s the “chairman of the county commission,” a ceremonial role that requires him to run commission meetings, when he is there to run them (the task has on a few occasion gone to Greg Hansen, the vice chairman, in Mullins’s absences), but that does not give him any more power than other commissioners, let alone the authority to “run the county.” Doing so would be a breach of law. The actual running of the county is the responsibility of Heidi Petito, the county administrator. Commissioners only set policy and direction for Petito to follow, without administrative interference from commissioners. Not all commissioners understand or respect the boundary.”

Equally egregious, in a report by Frank Fernandez in the News-Journal, we learned that an FHP report detailing another June traffic stop on I-4 “…described Mullins as a “county commissioner” and “extremely condescending, belligerent, illogical and disrespectful,” and noted that he “flashed his business card to get out of ticket.”

“The trooper who spoke to Mullins warned that if he got out of the SUV, he would be arrested, according to the audio from the dash cam. According to the dispatch notes from FHP, Mullins “stated it would be a carrer [sic] ending move if I arrested him for failing to obey a lawful order.”

My God.

In the interest of saving his constituents from further embarrassment, humiliation, and distraction – it is high time for Chairman Mullins to resign his lofty position of trust and withdraw as a candidate for the Flagler County Commission. 

In my view, it is the buffoonery of self-important shitheels like Joe Mullins – whose antics play to every despicable stereotype of the entitled Fat Cat politician – that is destroying the public’s trust in our government.

By his own arrogant instincts, Chairman Mullins has lost the moral authority to lead. 

And Another Thing!

Yea!  We’re Number One!

Wait. . .

According to an informative report from Smart Growth America, you are more likely to be killed while walking in the Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach metropolitan statistical area than anywhere else in the nation. 

Anywhere else in the known galaxy, for that matter. 

That grim statistic is the finding of Dangerous by Design 2022, an in-depth study by the Washington based non-profit which analyzed federal pedestrian safety data between 2016 and 2020. 

According to the report, some 140 of our neighbors died in the region during the study period – that’s 4.25 deaths per 100,000 people. 

Damn. 

While local and state government spinmeisters are working overtime this week to convince us otherwise, in my view, it appears the dangers inherent to piss-poor planning, nonsensical land use and zoning decisions, and massive overdevelopment are coming home to roost. 

It makes one wonder – now that we’ve hit rock bottom on pedestrian safety – what else have our ‘stewards of the public trust’ failed to address while allowing their political benefactors in the real estate development community to “make hay while the sun shines”?  

In the view of many, there are more civic pitfalls ahead as our greenspace is scraped and burned to make way for more, more, more – even as transportation experts like the esteemed Maryam Ghyabi publicly sound the klaxon on potential gridlock and increased dangers on LPGA Boulevard and beyond – and We, The Little People continue to hear official murmuring of ‘toilet-to-tap solutions’ to the looming water shortage. 

That’s not fearmongering.  These are legitimate and on-going discussions happening in government offices throughout Volusia County. 

Unfortunately, our fervent concerns are increasingly answered by compromised elected officials who bellow the catchall phrase “Private property rights!” – which is complete horseshit – as every private property owner who has ever tried to do anything on their slice of the pie without paying the government for the privilege will attest. . .  

Hell, in Volusia County, our ‘powers that be’ cannot even spell “Smart Growth,” let alone define it.

According to Smart Growth America:

“Smart growth means reinvesting in America’s downtowns and main streets, the economic engines of big cities and rural towns alike. Smart growth means creating homes for families of all income levels alongside one another in locations where daily needs are close by. Smart growth means diversifying our transportation system so Americans have a choice in how they get around. Smart growth means building streets that are safe for people walking, bicycling or using any sort of assistive device, as well as driving. Smart growth means protecting our open green spaces for generations to come.”

 Any of that sound familiar? 

Yeah.  It didn’t ring a bell with me either. . . 

Unfortunately, for the past decade or so, various iterations of the Volusia County Council have been dragging their well-worn heels on the idea of transportation capacity and low-impact development regulations – allowing unchecked development on top of our aquifer recharge areas (?) – then failing to even outline the concept of “smart growth” or, God forbid, tap-the-brakes to allow common-sense concurrency before shoehorning another garish “theme” community west of I-95.  

Smart Growth America believes planning and design can have a tremendous impact on traffic safety while “fostering distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.”

For instance, the organization promotes developing within existing communities, rather than filling every acre of undeveloped land to take advantage of existing roads, bridges, utilities, and other public infrastructure – which speaks to the infill and revitalization that is desperately needed on our ignored and terribly blighted beachside. 

It all begins with community involvement, a civic atmosphere where elected officials solicit and value the perspectives of everyone with a stake in how, when, and where we grow – rather than sitting on the dais like catatonic knobs being hypnotized by some staffer’s PowerPoint – before approving more development with Pavlovian conditioning.  

This controlled growth strategy should include encouraging developers to build quality projects, ensure adequate infrastructure to manage the increased demand, and require a range of housing opportunities, all with an eye toward environmental sustainability. 

Trust me.  For all the spiffs and say-sos developers have been granted – those concessions are not too much to ask. 

In the view of many, it is time for a quantum shift in the way our ‘powers that be’ prioritize Volusia County’s myriad needs – a fair and balanced democratic system where our elected and appointed officials give as much consideration to the safety, security, and quality of life for existing residents as they do when rubber stamping the wants and whims of well-heeled speculative developers.

That change begins at the ballot box. Choose your representation wisely.

I can assure you those with a real chip in the game are working hard to ensure the status quo – and protect their place in the suckling order at the public teat.    

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

More, more, more?

As the election season heats up, many existing residents are letting it be known that they consider ‘too much, too soon’ overdevelopment the seminal issue of our time. 

Last November, during a West Volusia town hall forum on growth management hosted by Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, it became evident that a growing number of residents support a temporary moratorium on development until public infrastructure catches up and land use regulations amended to help conserve community resources and protect our limited water supply.

At the time, I equated a potential ‘tap of the brakes’ to a hotel that reaches maximum occupancy and hangs a “No Vacancy” sign to alert potential lodgers that the property has reached its limit. 

Because packing guests like cordwood in every nook and cranny, placing cots in hallways and ballrooms, overburdening recreational amenities, gridlocked parking lots, and overcrowding facilities is unsafe and unsanitary.

In short, people living on top of one another is not sustainable over time.   

Letting potential customers know there is no room at the inn is a short-term measure that protects the property from excess and overuse, frees staff to meet current needs, and ensures existing guests have a quality experience.

It also allows management time to plan and improve infrastructure to accommodate more customers so that expansion does not infringe on neighbors or detract from the unique character of the place that attracted visitors to begin with.

Unfortunately, our ‘powers that be’ here on Florida’s Fun Coast have failed to grasp (or manage) the myriad issues that occur when one attempts to shove ten pounds of shit into a five pound sack – a crude metaphor for the malignant growth that is rapidly metastasizing along the spine of Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that is now threatening communities and once rural areas with high-density development and its detrimental impacts to our environment, infrastructure, and quality of life.

With evidence mounting that unchecked growth is the principal concern of residents across Volusia County, why do those we have elected to represent our interests continue to ignore the fears of their constituents?

When you consider that $1 of every $5 in recorded campaign contributions in recent Volusia County elections originated from real estate developers and the building industry – you begin to understand just how cozy (and incredibly lucrative) that symbiotic relationship has become – resulting in the approval of every want and whim of speculative developers, to include rubber stamping land use and density changes, while perpetuating a ‘hurt here/help there’ environmental mitigation strategy.   

In my view, the quid pro quo effect of these massive campaign donations to malleable candidates is exemplified in the erosion of water quality and quantity, traffic congestion, unsightly cookie cutter subdivisions, “roads to nowhere” that facilitate future development, and the continued suppression of impact fees and concurrency regulations. 

Recently, in an excellent article by Charles Guarria writing in the Hometown News, “More warehousing, more houses, just more in Daytona,” we learned of a gargantuan 893,000 square feet of warehousing, cold storage, and retail space collocated with some 400 apartments and townhouses to be built on sixty-five acres at the northwest corner of US-92 and Tomoka Farms Road.

In his informative piece, Mr. Guarria aptly described the enormous development as a “monster project.”   

In my jaded view, it is more accurately the Monster that ate our Quality of Life – and now the voracious beast is getting too big and unruly to ignore – even for those elected officials who facilitated his lycanthropic transformation. . . 

During their July 6 meeting, the Daytona Beach City Commission – after approving another 352 housing units near Municipal Stadium off LPGA Boulevard (with some 800 more on deck) – discussed a building moratorium for “New Daytona” along Boomtown Boulevard and areas west of the City’s Monument to Mediocrity at the Tomoka River pinch point.

I was surprised how little the elected officials seem to understand about their collective authority when approving new development – an almost strategic ignorance of their vital role in growth management – and I found it interesting that Mayor Derrick Henry appeared in complete agreement with Commissioner Ken Strickland on the topic of a moratorium. 

Let’s face it, during this period of explosive growth, little consideration has been given to the quality of approved projects – as evidenced by the overall lack of character and appearance of those zero-lot-line behemoths that sprout from slash-and-burn moonscapes – with no consideration for developing a comprehensive sense of place and community.

More important, with no end in sight, why is no one looking out for the interests of existing residents? 

According to reports, the Daytona Beach City Commission will hold a workshop to discuss the proposal on August 24. 

With thousands of new homes and apartments already built – and thousands more approved and waiting to break ground (some 9,000 along already overwhelmed LPGA Boulevard alone) – many Halifax area residents are saying a temporary halt is too little, too late.    

Of course, some developer shills are already crowing about how a moratorium will stifle the city’s ability to attract “jobs” and “affordable housing.”   

Bullshit. 

The very thought of a temporary slowdown to allow infrastructure to catch up with demand will go through the real estate development community like an ice water enema – because anything that disrupts the boom/bust cycle of rapid growth and quick profits in favor of a measured strategy is anathema to those hauling cash out of what remains of our threatened pine scrub and aquifer recharge areas west of I-95. 

Unfortunately, if history repeats, I don’t think those uber-wealthy insiders who are actively preparing the playing field with massive campaign contributions to likeminded candidates have anything to worry about. 

In Volusia County – greed always prevails.

During this election season, I hope you will take this unique opportunity to identify those candidates who share your values and concerns, demand answers to the tough questions regarding how we plan, prepare, regulate, and execute future growth.

Then hold their feet to the fire politically by demanding concurrency and managed development.

Regardless of where you fall on the issue of growth management, we can all agree there is a lot at stake.

It appears the City of Daytona Beach is finally coming to the realization that We, The Little People are rightly concerned about increased density, traffic congestion, and the environmental impacts of unchecked sprawl – those things we see with our own eyes – something many believe will have a drastic impact on local elections.    

This one bears watching. . .