Angels & Assholes for July 30, 2021

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               Museum of Arts and Sciences at 50

In a 1966 opinion, Chief Justice Michael Musmanno of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania wrote:

“As man cannot live by bread alone, a city cannot endure on cement, asphalt and sewer pipes alone. A city must have a municipal spirit beyond its physical properties, it must be alive with an esprit de corps, its personality must be such that visitors—both business and tourist—are attracted to the city, pleased by it, and wish to return to it.”

For a half-century, the Museum of Arts and Sciences – along with the beautiful Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Planetarium, The Root Family Museum, and the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum – have helped shape the best of the Halifax area’s unique personality. 

As one of the few vestiges of arts and culture available to Halifax area residents, the museum has become the destination for school field trips, a memorable afternoon for visitors wishing to explore the rich history of our area, and a welcome respite for anyone with an appreciation for fine art.

In an area best known for wild nightlife and no-holds-barred events – the MOAS provides a much-needed oasis for locals and tourists alike – a special place that preserves our local culture and showcases the important influences that have shaped our history. 

I attended St. James School in Ormond Beach with several of Chapman and Susie Root’s children – a family of caring philanthropists with a generational commitment to improving our collective quality of life. 

As a child, we had the opportunity to travel together by rail on a class trip to Washington D.C., departing from the DeLand train station on the old Seaboard Coast Line. 

During our journey, Mr. Root had his personal observation car – the “Silver Holly” – a former passenger car converted into an elegant private coach, attached to the train and invited us kids to explore the beautiful liner with its kitchen, salon, and bedrooms, giving us the opportunity to watch the scenery go by from the car’s glass enclosed dome. 

I never forgot Mr. & Mrs. Root’s kindness and hospitality in extending that enriching and memorable experience.

Today, the Silver Holly is on display at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in the Root Train Station – which also includes the beautiful Dell Rapids Milwaukee Hiawatha sky-top lounge car – one of the last remaining liners built for the Milwaukee Railroad. 

The extraordinary Brown Museum of Art contains the largest selection of Florida art in the world – and the 94 seat Lohman Planetarium is a must-do, with fascinating science and astronomy programs, full-dome films, and laser concerts offering an unforgettable experience for all ages. 

Thanks to the continuing generosity of its many sponsors and local benefactors, the Museum of Arts and Sciences continues to be a world-class place of discovery, exploration, and preservation, “To inspire, cultivate curiosity, and promote lifelong learning in art, science, and history.”

Congratulations to the Museum of Arts and Sciences on 50 wonderful years! 

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

“The superintendent recommends approval of the purchase and sale agreement for the acquisition of 1.3 acre parcel adjacent to DAC for purposes of administrative office expansion.”

That’s it.

The above sentence represents the full notice and explanation to wary taxpayers of how, and why, Volusia County District Schools want to spend $995,000 for the purchase of the former Trinity Methodist Church in DeLand.

The Superintendent’s recommendation was accompanied by a boilerplate real estate contract. 

No appraisal. 

No cost/benefit analysis. 

No justification. 

In the days leading up to Tuesday evening’s School Board meeting, I began receiving inquiries from interested residents asking if I – or anyone outside the gilded Ivory Tower of Power on North Clara Avenue – knew why the board was being asked to approve nearly $1 million for the purchase of property adjacent to the DeLand Administrative Complex.

I hadn’t a clue. 

I’ll bet you didn’t either.

It was a typical wild goose chase for information that district staff, students, and parents have come to expect, another conundrum wrapped in an enigma, a weird jigsaw puzzle – where the gatekeepers make sport of shrouding substantive information in absolute darkness – withholding press releases past media deadlines, putting out dribs-and-drabs of pseudo-data on social media (sometimes on nights and weekends), actively stymying any reasonable attempt by the working press to report on the latest debacle in DeLand. 

For instance, on Tuesday morning (the day of the meeting), we were treated to a less-than-informative article by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter, Cassidy Alexander, which announced the pending purchase – without comment or explanation from anyone at Volusia County Schools – an article fluffed for publication with factoids about the historic Trinity Methodist Church and its pending move to a “smaller footprint” on Plymouth Avenue.

The only soupçon of substance?

“The Volusia County School Board is in the process of reviewing its budget for the next fiscal year. The $995,000 for the purchase of the church property comes from capital funds, which are separate from the general fund from which it pays salaries, bills and instructional costs.”

Look, it is not Ms. Alexander’s fault – she can only work with the information provided by school officials – or the tidbits she can ferret out from sources on the inside. 

In my view, Ms. Alexander has proven to be a tenacious journalist who has expertly covered the district’s on-going financial meltdown – most recently reporting that Volusia County Schools plan on using one-time federal coronavirus relief funds to cover a projected $46 million budget shortfall.

At the time, the News-Journal quoted Superintendent Scott Fritz’ take on the district’s grim financial outlook, “I hate to say a sinking ship, but that’s what you’re doing: you’re plugging those holes.”

Damn. “A sinking ship”?

So, what better time to purchase and renovate a $1 million property for “administrative office expansion,” eh?

My God. 

Adding insult, last month, the “communications team” at Volusia County Schools was honored with three “Publications and Digital Media Excellence Awards” from something called the National School Public Relations Association. 

With an apparent straight-face, Dr. Fritz wrote:

“These awards represent the innovation and dedication of our Community Information team to overcome hurdles in a very challenging year,” said VCS Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz. “At VCS we understand strong communication is critical to accelerating student achievement and our communications team works extremely hard year-round to keep our school families, staff and community informed in a constantly evolving environment. To be recognized for our district’s efforts is a testament to the outstanding work performed by our communication professionals.”  

Bullshit.

No offense to the “team” – but that self-congratulatory horseshit does not hold water in an environment where the Number One complaint regarding Volusia County Schools is the continuing lack of effective communication from senior administrators – leaving teachers, staff, board members, and baffled families to eke out information from a privately operated Facebook page or a handful of Twitter accounts.

On Wednesday, following the contentious meeting the evening before, when the School Board approved a tentative budget exceeding $1 Billion (you read that right), I searched far and wide for any shred of information regarding the relatively paltry $1 million purchase of the church property – hoping against hope that our award-winning “communications professionals” would have burned the midnight oil to update the website, issue a press release, spread the news on social media, etc., etc.

Nothing.  Zero, zip, zilch. 

Finally, I took to social media and privately asked the question of someone “in the know.”

I then went to YouTube and found a video of the School Board meeting. . . 

YouTube

Apparently, “preliminary negotiations” have been ongoing since “April or May” when church officials approached district honchos– but after several unanswered questions regarding appraisals, financial impacts, and the potential cost of renovating the church facilities – it became apparent most of the sitting members were as out-of-the-loop as I was. 

The one citizen who spoke on the issue – Kim Short, the moderator of the Volusia County School Forum on Facebook – described the proposed purchase of the property as a “terrible idea.”

I agree.   

Thankfully, the expenditure was postponed until August 10 when, perhaps, more answers are available. 

So much for that “strong communication” we keep hearing so much about. . . 

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Angel               Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

Any member of the Van Winkle clan needing additional evidence of the abject dysfunction that grips what passes for governance in Volusia County should look no further than Tuesday’s workshop.

The purpose of this stilted confab was to determine how to spend some $107 million in federal coronavirus relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act.

During the meeting, our elected officials essentially rubberstamped the laundry list of “recommendations” presented by County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – but when talk turned to building three “respite stations” intended to give paramedics and EMS personnel a much needed private space to rest and decontaminate after calls – the astute District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post pointed out that while the facilities are ultimately necessary – at this point, the proposal is merely masking the symptoms of a much more acute problem that exists within the horribly understaffed medical transport system itself. 

When Ms. Post advised she had spoken with the City of Daytona Beach regarding housing EMS personnel at city fire stations between calls – allowing these one-time federal dollars to be spent on fundamentally improving the way Volusia County deploys ambulances and provides essential critical care services – she was curtly blasted by a visibly angry Councilman Ben Johnson for “overstepping her boundaries.”

Wow.

To her credit, Ms. Post would not be silenced.

“I can see in five years building additional buildings, but how about we fix the actual system first so that we actually have the people to respond to these calls?” Post said. “I hate to see us be getting a lot of money from the federal government and us not using it to address that operational side.”

Following a testy exchange with our wholly ineffectual Director of Public Protection, Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo, wherein Ms. Post presented the obvious while Pozzo tap-danced around the issue – the lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler attempted to kick the can down the road and end the clearly uncomfortable conversation – explaining that she had a “previous commitment across town” (which was apparently more important than fulfilling her elective role in debating the expenditure of over $100 million in federal funds) resulting in an exasperated Ms. Post asking for a metaphorical two-minutes to finish her point.    

In a typical display of petty theatrics, the council’s self-anointed eminence grise, the uber-weird Right Reverend Fred Lowry, took out a timer and tut-tutted, “I’m gonna time it.  Two more minutes.” 

Bullshit.

As a resident of District 4 – my gut reaction was, “Who in the hell is this pompous ass to shut down substantive discussion by my elected representative on a matter of serious concern to all citizens of Volusia County?”

In a refreshing display of bold independence, Ms. Post held her ground, and made the most apt and cogent point of the meeting when she said, “So not only are we keeping the public from speaking today, but also one of our councilmembers. . .”

Bravo, Ms. Post.  Bravo.

Of course, Ms. Wheeler responded in her own hyper-dramatic style – brusquely leaving her seat before sweeping off the stage like some self-absorbed Bette Davis character – rather than remain at her duty station and participate in an important discussion of how to improve emergency medical services in Volusia County. 

Once again, Volusia County’s Old Guard – those stalwarts of the status quo – did everything in their considerable power to marginalize Councilwoman Post and punish her for deviating from the choreographed storyline.   

As Ms. Post undoubtedly learned during her first term, “mavericks” – freethinkers who dare consider solutions outside the aging box of conventionality – are not welcome in the inner sanctum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex.

That is the domain of those who understand the benefit of getting along and going along – a cloistered place where toeing-the-line buys politicians admittance to a very exclusive club – and shuns anyone who dares to think for themselves or question the why of things.   

Quote of the Week

“The fate of the Ormond Beach Union Church (est. 1883) has been sealed. No matter how hard “we the people” tried to save it, the bulldozers are at the ready and soon will train their weaponry on this historic building, thus reducing it to rubble. Oh, why not! After all, the restaurants on Granada Boulevard are desperately in need of another 24 or so parking spaces for their customers! How can we possibly refuse their plaintive cries?

Perhaps the three commissioners who sounded the death knell for the Union Church would be interested in looking at others to condemn. Why stop with just one church, especially one with historical value? How about sending a couple of “experts” to other cherished places and have them dig up some convincing-sounding excuses for demolition? Besides, history no longer matters in Ormond Beach. It’s irrelevant. It’s not important anymore. Just ask City Hall — but don’t expect an answer. Common sense, innovation and creative thinking is a thing of the past.”

–Ormond Beach resident Cathy Wharton, as excerpted from her Letter to the Editor in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Ormond Beach Union Church: What’s next?” Monday, July 26, 2021

And Another Thing!

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”

–Dwight D. Eisenhower

I have a great deal of respect for our neighbors who stand for elective office – those with the fire in the belly to enter the arena, work hard in the public interest, giving their all in a service that is far from a part-time profession, all while subjecting themselves to the often-caustic criticism that naturally comes with setting public policy and allocating scarce resources.

When done right, those with the courage to stand for high office – who practice the art and science of local politics wanting only that which is best for their community and constituents, who dedicate themselves to a pursuit greater than their own self-interests or those of their political benefactors – can have an incredibly positive and lasting influence on the future.

In my view, two-term Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado was a member of that increasingly rare breed who enter public life with a clear mind and open heart – free of the divisive personal agendas and lockstep allegiances that always hamper substantive progress – committed to making his community a better place to live, work, learn, and play.

As a close observer, I found that Commissioner Delgado brought a calm, contemplative presence to the dais, with the innate ability to sense all sides of an issue then strategically consider the pros and cons of available solutions.

Like all good attorneys, he has the dexterity to play both offense and defense – yet remained sensitive to the unique needs of residents and stakeholders.   

I did not always agree with Commissioner Delgado – but I never doubted his heart was in the right place. 

When he wanted the unvarnished truth on the issues of the day – he reached out to his harshest critics – rather than listening to the glad-handers and lickspittles who loiter around the political watercooler and maintain relevance by telling elected officials what they want to hear. 

In my view, that willingness to put ego aside and hear a street-level appraisal of matters which affect the lives and livelihoods of Daytona Beach residents represents a level of political maturity, intellectual honesty, and quiet self-assurance that is solely lacking on many area councils, commissions, and advisory committees.

In a heartfelt letter to his constituents this week, Commissioner Delgado announced he would be stepping down now that his family is moving to their “dream home” in Ormond Beach – a personal decision no-doubt made in the best interests of his young wife and children. 

While he continues to have real estate interests in Zone 2, rather than quibble the residency issue – Commissioner Delgado acted in the spirit of transparency, and the best interests of the City of Daytona Beach, in protecting the integrity of the office and resigned – rightfully paving the way for a special election to allow the citizens to select a new representative.

I know that Commissioner Delgado is a fighter – quite literally a talented mixed martial artist and a fierce advocate for his clients in the courtroom – and I have no doubt it was difficult for him to walk away from the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

But it was the right thing to do.

I admire that.   

My hope is that Mr. Delgado will continue to be a persuasive and influential voice in Volusia County politics and consider future opportunities for elective service in Ormond Beach and beyond.    

Thanks for the good effort, Commissioner Delgado. 

Those of us who care about the future prosperity of the Halifax area are glad you passed our way. 

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

Ignoring the Obvious

Cheborneck

Come here.

(What?)

What that

(I don’t know)

Look like dog shit to me

(Yah.  Looks like dog shit to me too)

Hmm. Pick it up

(What?)

Pick up

Oh

Feel like dog shit?

(Yah.  Feels like dog shit)

Smell

(Hm?)

Smell

(*sniff* uh)

Smell like dog shit?

(It smell like dog shit)

Taste

(Huh?)

Taste

Taste like dog shit?

(Yah.  Tastes like dog shit)

Hmm.  Good thing we don’t step in it. . . 

–Cheech & Chong, Los Cochinos, 1973

The ability to form logical inferences from the characteristics of an object or situation is what separates human beings from beasts.

While most animal behaviors are instinctual – much of human behavior is learned – experiences and ideas passed down from generation to generation, our minds capable of abstract analysis, problem solving, imagination, powers of invention, and the ability to express ourselves through complex narratives.

For instance, most of us can readily identify an unknown by the sum of its parts using the simple Duck Test:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

It is this ability to presume and interpret from our retained experiences that allows us to determine what is normal and what is not – and when viewed through the prism of our conscience and value system – reasoning informs our moral judgment and allows us to differentiate right from wrong, that which is positive from those things we have learned can cause us harm.

In other words, unless you are a member of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority – most of us do not require a highly paid consultant to point out those steaming piles of dog crap experience tells us to avoid. . .

Last week, the HAAA board decided that after decades of blight, neglect, and fast-buck events, now is the time to begin rehabilitating the Daytona Beach Resort Areas abysmal reputation as an anything goes party town, “elevate our customer base,” and “redefine” our image in Florida’s hyper-competitive tourism market. 

To accomplish that, our leaders in the hospitality industry feel the need to have an out-of-town expert tell them that abominations like truck meets and pop-up viral shitshows, events marked by gridlocked traffic, public urination, and drunken debauchery – a shock to the conscience that terrorize area residents, frighten trapped visitors, and destroy “the brand” – do nothing to promote quality tourism.

I guess the eyewitness account of Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young, his agency’s overtime bill, the horror stories told by local business owners, the fervent pleas of locals that the marketing slogan Wide. Open. Fun. sent the wrong message, and the abject disgust exhibited by guests who pledge never to return as they flee beachside hotels are not convincing – so, the search is on for another ‘consultant’ to conduct yet another study to tell ostensibly smart people what they should already know.   

Why ignore the obvious?

After decades of more of the same – our ‘powers that be’ in the convention and tourism industry still have their heads in the sand – hoping against hope that variations on the same outrageous marketing tactics will somehow result in a different outcome. 

For instance, in February 2020, the HAAA previewed a calamitous “new” advertising campaign by our out-of-town marketing shills dubbed – “Think You Know Daytona Beach?” – to replace the equally disastrous “Wide.  Open.  Fun.” debacle.

A strategy that continues to play on all the double-entendres and worst perceptions potential visitors have come to associate with the Fun Coast: “Endless Parties,” “Kids Getting Wild,” “Hitting the Clubs,” “Going Topless,” “All Day Beach Bashes,” and “Just a bunch of kids making pour decisions.”

This from the same agency who last year explained “We (Daytona Beach) have a perception issue and it’s a big one…”

Tragically, as of June, the ad is currently running in a virtual test market on social media under the tag “What do you think of our latest video for Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau?”

Well, if you really want to know – I think it sucks

I think it sends a conflicting message. 

I think it perpetuates all the worst stereotypes one associates with our unofficial slogan, “The Dirty.”

But who cares what I think?

Why don’t we listen to the experts?

A decade ago, the Volusia County Council commissioned a comprehensive analysis of area tourism marketing by a Georgia-based consultancy which concluded the condition of our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development.

More ominously, the $100,000 study found, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”

What’s changed?

Still not convinced?

In 2018, following The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on the condition of our core tourist area, the Volusia County Council formed the Beachside Redevelopment Committee chaired by former Brown & Brown executive Tony Grippa – a Blue Ribbon think tank comprised of our best and brightest minds – the crème de la crème of our social, civic, business, and political elite – who, after months of deliberation, came up with the simple suggestion:

“Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors.”

Among the panel’s wholly ignored recommendations was improving “…the perception of the entire region, with a focus on a variety of residential, recreational, cultural and entertainment opportunities in the area.”

So, how many more costly studies are required? 

 As I said in the aftermath of Truck Meet 2021:

“If we have repeatedly been warned by numerous high-priced marketing gurus – expensive out-of-town “experts” with a nice suit and briefcase – that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is widely perceived as a down-at-the-heels, anything goes, trash strewn honky tonk, then why are stalwarts like Daytona International Speedway and the Convention & Visitors Bureau (the event was listed on their website) still tacitly promoting these horribly corrosive three-day/two-night beer-soaked debauches that advance the very image everyone tells us must change if we want to survive as a tourist destination?”

My God.     

Studies and political insulation committees are as ubiquitous in Volusia County as grains of sand on the beach – each saying the same thing – yet, time-and-again, there seems to be something lacking between the recommendation and implementation. 

I think that missing link is called ‘leadership.’

Angels & Assholes for July 23, 2021

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

On Tuesday, I wasted another day – 7 or 8 hours of my life that I will never get back – listening to the monotonous drone of the Volusia County Council meeting and waiting patiently for an item of interest on the published agenda to be discussed – only to have the rug pulled out from under me when our elected representatives lost their stamina and postponed the issue.

I guess when it comes to Volusia County government, the best way to avoid disappointment is to expect the unexpected – and accept the unacceptable. . . 

The meeting had an undercurrent of the “tail wagging the dog” syndrome that sees senior staff making decisions ahead of scheduled workshops and hearings by setting policy and budgetary priorities in the cloistered environment of a bureaucratic office rather than a public meeting.

In other words, it was business as usual in Deland. 

Predictably, our elected officials had a testy chin-wagging session to telegraph how they plan to raise our taxes yet again – complete with the usual handwringing and scary stories of the cataclysmic fiscal destruction that awaits Volusia County if our elected officials fail to squeeze even more blood from us desiccated turnips to support a proposed $1.1 Billion budget.

You read that right.  $1.1 Billion – and not one penny can be cut from the encrusted fat that won’t result in financial Armageddon.

Now is the time for all good citizens to accept our punishment for voting against the proposed half-cent sales tax – and pay the piper for the precious few quality-of-life improvements we asked for last year – because in Volusia County, refusing to obey the powers that be always comes with a cost.  

During what passed for the millage rate “discussion,” the gang viciously bludgeoned Chairman Jeff Brower for attempting to hold true to his personal convictions – and campaign promise – of full rollback and a 5% across-the-board spending reduction in all areas except public safety. 

When Councilwoman Heather Post even suggested that her “colleagues” use this time to carefully examine operations, leverage federal coronavirus relief funds, and look for ways to save money – she was openly scoffed at and dismissed as a lunatic.   

It was interesting to watch the strange lycanthropic transformation of Ben Johnson, Danny Robins, Billie Wheeler and The Very Reverend Fred Lowry – each of whom hold themselves out as staunch Republicans 364-days a year – then morph into something completely different when it comes time to raise our property taxes – at which point they never met a massive bureaucracy or bloated budget they didn’t love. . . 

My ass.

Then, inexplicably, our self-anointed eminence grise, the uber-weird Dr. Fred Lowry, made the left field suggestion that agenda Item 19 – the innocuously titled (but incredibly important) “Discussion and direction regarding public meeting rule ordinance” governing such things as “decorum” and “public participation” – be moved to the next meeting.

They simply kicked a properly noticed agenda item down the road, apparently because they didn’t feel like dealing with it – and to hell with us lower caste members of the booboisie who waited patiently to learn what limitations will be placed on when, where, why, and how we will be permitted to participate in our government – and under what conditions we will be unceremoniously tossed out of the chamber on our ass should we insult the Monarchy’s sensitive feelings and sense of decorum.   

I guess they had done enough damage to their political futures for one day, eh?

Look, raising taxes is as foreseeable and expected as getting hit by an uninsured motorist in Volusia County – it happens all the time – but whenever a small group of hubristic dullards start manipulating our ability to seek redress of grievances before our government – or speak out on the issues important to us – that frightens me.  

Increasingly, small-minded politicians and entrenched bureaucrats attempt to quash dissent and civic activism by cloaking their overweening censorship in “civility ordinances,” “rules of decorum,” and other asinine suppressive measures not seen since Mao Zedong’s Double Ten Directive.

It has become obvious to most that some local governments would prefer taxpayers acquiesce to symbolic “meetings” – choreographed shams where predetermined policies and expenditures are rubber-stamped – while the ‘people’s business’ is hammered out behind closed doors and shaped by insider influence, far from the prying eyes of us rubes who are expected to pay the bills and keep our pieholes shut.    

In my experience, ministerial edicts designed to enforce a subjective notion of “decorum” is usually the first sign that an elected body is in serious trouble.

The symptoms begin with the discussion of a “civility ordinance” as a means of maintaining the dignity of public meetings – which, by their very nature, should be contentious, participative, and filled with the vigorous debate of competing ideas – because the lofty decisions that come from these deliberations directly affect our lives and livelihoods.

In January, when Chairman Jeff Brower gaveled to order the first meeting of the current iteration of the Volusia County Council, our elected representatives promised an unprecedented level of transparency and public involvement. 

Remember?

It represented a demarcation from the bad old days when former Chair Ed Kelley made sport of restricting public participation – lording over anyone with the temerity to approach his elite domain with petty problems, and brusquely dismissing citizens who overstayed their begrudged three-minute audience like the Great and Powerful Oz – all while marginalizing Councilwoman Post with eyerolling histrionics whenever she refused to go along with the lockstep majority.

Unfortunately, the openness and collegiality we were promised soon dissolved into the tired old harrumphing of perennial politician’s intent on protecting the status quo while seeking to neuter Chairman Brower at every turn. 

They don’t like applause.  They don’t like signs.  They don’t like videos.  And they don’t like you.

When will they learn that good governance does not occur in a vacuum?

Good citizenship is not silent subservience to an entrenched power structure convinced of its own infallibility – and the process of crafting inclusive public policies should not be at the comfort and convenience of a few hypersensitive prima donnas perched on the dais of power.

If citizens cannot make themselves heard before their elected representatives at a public meeting – in a building paid for with their own hard-earned tax dollars – among bureaucrats and senior staff who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – then where can they be heard on matters of civic importance?

In my view, it is time those who hold high elective office understand that all political power is derived from the consent of the people

This continuing undemocratic effort to alienate constituents and limit meaningful public participation – especially by curtailing the use of posters and video technology to get a point across (while staff relies almost exclusively on PowerPoint presentations that are more effective than sedative hypnotics) – is contributing to the lack of trust in government and fostering a malignant cynicism that continues to erode public confidence and hamper substantive progress. 

Angel               Port Orange Councilman Chase Tramont

Clearly, Chase Tramont is not averse to hard work or civic involvement, and the Port Orange city councilman, First Step Shelter board member, and announced candidate for the Volusia County Council won some hearts-and-minds this week.

At their recent meeting, the First Step Shelter board continued to cry the Poormouth Blues when it became apparent that another fiscal year has come and gone without adequate private funding to meet the annual operating needs of that elaborate self-esteem seminar in the hinterlands west of I-95.

That left some First Step board members instinctively returning to the public teat – that ever-flowing fount of tax dollars that the “shelter” drags its leaky bucket to, time-and-again, for its lifeblood – while many private donors continue to shy away from what has been an incredibly expensive and terribly confusing bait-and-switch scenario from its inception.

Unfortunately, the First Step’s governing board never reconciled the fact that what we were sold is not what we received – and all the fancy marketing videos and “look at our progress!” social media campaigns in Mike Panaggio’s extensive repertoire cannot change that. . .

This week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran an informative piece by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean entitled, “Shelter relying on public dollars,” which opened:

“For now and the foreseeable future, the city-owned homeless shelter for adults run by a nonprofit will continue to get the vast majority of its funding from local governments.”

“In the current budget year, $975,754 of the $1.39 million annual budget is being covered by seven Volusia County governments. The balance comes from an array of private donations and grants.”

Wow.

The First Step board members quibbled about what each contributing municipality should pay for the privilege of attaching themselves to the “shelters” true raison d’être – the legal and political insulation that allows government entities to claim a dubious level of “compliance” with federal protections against criminalizing homelessness.  

A point not lost on Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry:

“Henry pointed out that a government’s ability to stay compliant by offering the shelter’s safe zone as an option to jail is a value for cities that should be adequately paid for, even if a city isn’t referring many of its homeless to the shelter residency program.”

But just how much of our hard-earned tax dollars is that protection racket worth?

According to the First Step board, the municipalities should be ponying up an amount equal to .258% of their 2016-2017 fiscal year fund balance – with some cities paying more, and others less, while the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County have each promised $400,000 annually for the first five-years the “shelter” is in operation. 

To his credit, Chase Tramont stood firm – proving his worth as a good steward of the public treasury – when he rightfully declared that the “shelter” should not be perpetually carried “on the back of taxpayers.”

During the meeting, Mr. Tramont argued that governments should have the ability to contribute what the individual community feels it can afford – rather than be lashed to some arbitrary formula. 

According to the News-Journal’s report, “Tramont was the sole vote against continuing to make the fund balance percent the standard funding request.”

At the end of the day, the First Step board did what most elected and appointed governing bodies in Volusia County do and opted to maintain the status quo – using the fund balance formula as a “suggestion” while accepting whatever the municipalities agree to pay.

Because, what else are they going to do? 

In my view, “beggars cannot be choosers” – meaning one must accept that which is handed to them – especially if they do not have the means to acquire it themselves.  

Whatever.

I know it is gauche to bring up not-for-profit executive salaries, but when First Step director Victoria Fahlberg was hired in 2019 – with an annual salary totaling some $75,000 in wages and benefits – she told us the “shelter” would need to raise $500,000 each year on top of local government contributions – assuring us she would be “applying for grants,” working with foundations, and putting the arm on businesses and individuals to make ends meet. 

At the time, I thought, “That’s gonna take a lot of bake sales, raffles, and walkathons. . .” 

Along the same line, Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby reasonably suggested a financial study to determine if the “shelter” had enough money coming in to meet its monthly nut, as quoted in the News-Journal:

“A cash flow analysis is of dire importance,” said Selby, an Ormond Beach city commissioner. “We need to clarify that the cash will flow in at least at a level equal to what we’re burning.”

Now, I am not sure if that basic budgetary examination ever happened – or if the board simply decided it wasn’t necessary, so long as it could count on City Hall to keep writing checks. . .

I have often wondered how Director Fahlberg and the First Step board members must feel as they stare out the window and watch P$S Paving – a private company – haul millions-of-dollars in publicly owned fill dirt from their backyard while they continue to hold the begging bowl? 

My God.

Kudos to Mr. Tramont for holding firm to the basic principle that the First Step Shelter should be required to stand, or fall, on its own merits by consistently demonstrating value to the citizens of communities from which it receives its funding.

But for now – and the foreseeable future – be prepared to keep hand-feeding this insatiable beast from the public trough. . . 

Quote of the Week

“As soon as you get off I-95, it’s impressive all the way down (International Speedway Boulevard) until you start to get to about U.S. 1, and then,” he said with a pause. “It’s dilapidated.”

–Daytona Beach resident Richard Martinez, as quoted by Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark Harper, “Public reacts to roadway proposals,” Saturday, July 17, 2021

I am a big fan of Maryam Ghyabi-White, CEO and president of Ghyabi Consulting and Management, a professional traffic engineering and transportation consultancy, who has put her time, talent, and considerable influence into developing workable solutions for our challenged beachside.

In a recent interview with The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Ghyabi-White said, “Every project I’ve done with public input has been so much better. I truly believe in it.”

She understands the inherent benefit in listening to those who use our streets and roadways before millions in scarce public funds are literally set in concrete.   

Last week, a public charrette was held at The Plaza Resort and Spa attended by approximately 100 citizens desperate for substantive change in our core tourist areas of East International Speedway Boulevard, North Atlantic Avenue, Main Street, Oakridge and Seabreeze Boulevards. 

Now that the asinine suggestion of a traffic loop-de-loop at Volusia County’s busiest beach approach at East ISB and A-1-A has been put to rest, the Florida Department of Transportation is rightfully seeking public input on improvements to the long-neglected and desperately blighted gateway to the World’s Most Famous Beach. 

According to an informative report on the helpful suggestions received during last week’s planning session in the News-Journal, reporter Mark Harper wrote:

“The latest concepts will all be more fully developed for the September meeting, where public comment will also be sought, Ghyabi-White said.

“This is not going to solve all our problems. It’s not going to make it better 90%. Perhaps 70%,” she said. “But it’s better than what we’ve got.”

One thing I really liked was the idea of a bicycle lane physically separated from vehicular traffic using the Zicla Zipper system (look it up) – which will keep the bumper of my rig a safe distance from that peloton of middle-aged cyclists, dressed cap-a-pie in spandex (ugh), who compete for space in the right lane with that shirtless 48-year-old dude still doing nollie-heelflips and frontside shuvits on his skateboard during peak traffic hours. . . 

These solutions would not have been possible without Ms. Ghyabi-White’s tireless efforts to bring stakeholders together at the same table, a collaborative effort of citizens, business owners, and government entities, that demonstrates true progress is possible when the hearts and minds of decision-makers remain open to new ideas and information. 

Here’s to new beginnings – no matter how long overdue. 

And Another Thing!

While watching the Volusia County Council meeting this week, I got a troubling sense that all is not well in the exalted Halls of Power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Complex. 

I could be wrong – but I’m not. 

There was a palpable strain in the air. 

It began with that abomination in New Smyrna Beach, where the family of Kenneth Parker was forced to spend an estimated $250,000 defending their beachfront home from the threat of a forced parking lot – a paved pad and accompaniments that would have destroyed sensitive dunes and protective vegetation – an expensive push that, in the end, no one, from New Smyrna Beach officials to the Volusia County Council, seemed to give two-shits about. 

According to an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Mary Helen Moore, entitled “Off-beach parking lot plan dropped,” we learned:

“The county spent an estimated $110,000 on the plan for a parking lot, including more than $87,000 on designs, $2,600 on permitting and $20,300 on a court hearing.

“That does not include staff time. That’s checks cashed to consultants,” Coastal Director Jessica Winterwerp noted.  Staff have logged an estimated 2,525 hours on the project, including 325 from the legal department.”

My God.

It appears everyone ensconced in wingback swivel chairs in the executive offices in Deland were aware of what was going on – except those mushrooms we elected to represent our interests and steward our tax dollars.  

At the end of the day, the Parker’s were understandably left in tears – the good citizens of New Smyrna Beach are apparently getting a simple walkover – and Director Winterwerp went back to doing whatever it is she does at the Coastal Division, whose motto should forever be:

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”

Then, during the “preliminary” budget presentation, it appeared that Volusia County’s Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski – an appointed department head with no political accountability – had already cobbled together next years budget.

It was all cleverly spelled out on a colorful PowerPoint tableau – complete with the various allocations and millage rates already decided upon – leaving little for our elected officials to do but stop meddling in the work of professional bureaucrats and rubber-stamp their “recommendations.”

It was obvious to anyone watching that Chairman Jeff Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post would prefer to think for themselves. 

They seemed absolutely stupefied that this granular level of budgetary detail would be presented one week before a workshop to allocate millions in federal American Rescue Plan Act Transition funds.   

In my view, it epitomized Volusia County’s historic problem of senior staff directing the outcome of important issues, and effectively taking those with political accountability out of the equation, by limiting options with forgone conclusions. 

It appears the majority of those impressive mimics on the dais of power won the day on a 5-2 vote – but I doubt Ossowski and Co. have heard the last from Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Post. . .

Then, perhaps most disturbing, Councilwoman Post brought up a dangerous occurrence earlier this month, as reported by the Deltona firefighter’s union, after a city ambulance “…was denied the ability to transport a Trauma alert patient during a large motor vehicle accident” by Volusia County’s emergency services hierarchy.    

Why?

Because – who cares about your sucking chest wound, your child’s open head injury, or your mother’s stroke – the transport fell outside the arbitrary hours set by Deltona’s agreement with Volusia County. 

That’s why.

As the brave men and women of Deltona Fire Fighters Local 2913 so aptly put it:

“The time has come to revamp this outdated system that Evac ambulance uses (VCEMS) and grant the city fire departments the ability to have full transport. The Deltona fire stations in the city are strategically placed throughout the city to provide adequate coverage to the 100,000+ residents.”

Amen. 

Unfortunately, when former Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin stood up for the safety of his residents and staff, proved his emotional investment, and demanded his department be permitted to transport residents in need – an act of impudence that gravely offended the delicate sensibilities of Volusia County’s Director of Public Protection Joe “Blue Falcon” Pozzo – he was summarily fired, drummed out of the corps, and had his professional reputation tarnished in the newspaper as an example to others who would raise their head.

Bullshit.

Under Ms. Post’s glare – Pozzo tap-danced in his own inimitable style – but I am not sure the Councilwoman got the answers she wanted – other than the tired old ditty, “change” is coming.

In turn, Chairman Brower asked why – with a dearth of paramedics in Volusia’s emergency medical service – 19 current vacancies – the Public Protection Division does not provide adequate facilities for these professionals to clean-up and decompress after handling calls for service?

A situation that now requires they use convenience store bathrooms for personal hygiene and pathogen decontamination – a point driven home by Mr. Brower’s disturbing visual of EMS personnel removing a dirty hypodermic syringe from a public sink before washing-up.

My God.

It was a simple request – a necessary convenience that would show first responders, who put it all on the line to protect and serve the public, that the Public Protection Division cares about their health, safety, and welfare. 

Again, Pozzo did his best soft-shoe – never seeming to grasp that recruitment and retention isn’t about throwing money at professionals – it is about strong leadership that values their contributions.  

In another weird moment, when Chairman Brower asked Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin about the long overdue impact fee study – he got a song-and-dance that explained the study has not yet commenced, and ended with, “…we plan to have it ready to rock-and-roll in October.”

Say what?

Look, I like County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald – and he does an admirable job protecting his department heads from the heat.

He’s an old school manager and master of that weird language known as “bureaucratese” a persuasive (and equally confusing) dialect that keeps the uninitiated (including the elected officials) guessing.   

I may be the Carnival Barker but serving as Ringmaster of this Three Ring Shitshow is a hard dollar – something Mr. Recktenwald does extremely well.

However, I can tell you from experience that elected officials do not like to be embarrassed in front of their constituents by senior staff – and they aren’t big on surprises either. . . 

Ultimately, Mr. Recktenwald runs a fine line trying to orchestrate a modicum of progress despite the political dysfunction on the dais – especially during the budget cycle – all while his department head’s attempt ham-handed end-runs on those we have elected to make the difficult decisions. 

This bears watching. . .

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

The Way Things Work

A wise and weary Halifax area philosopher once explained to me the ‘way things work’ here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

The old sage concluded – with the hard-earned clarity of someone who has scratched out a living here for decades – that our incestuous artificial economy in Volusia County is based on “…the same five people passing the same nickel around…” 

Increasingly, that well-worn coin originates from the tattered pockets of struggling taxpayers in the form of “economic incentives,” tax credits, infrastructure improvements, and lucrative “job creation” refunds.

For instance, in 2014, the proposed Trader Joe’s distribution center in Daytona Beach garnered some $6.6 million in “economic incentives” from government entities – including $4.7 million from Volusia County and approximately $2 million from the City of Daytona Beach – for a warehouse serving a specialty grocery chain that will not locate a store in our area because our average annual salary is too low. . .

In 2015, Tanger Outlets received a combined $4.5 million from city and county coffers – for what The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported covered “everything from landscaping to sewer pipes” – and who can forget our collective investment in Daytona International Speedway’s One Daytona project, a combined $40 million from Volusia County and Daytona Beach taxpayers, which “…went to pay the bulk of the $53 million bill for roads, water and sewer pipes, sidewalks and retention ponds.”

In my view, it is the quintessence of corporate welfare – a dodgy system that reduces risk, creates an unlevel playing field for an influential few, and provides a competitive advantage to those with easy access to the public teat.

Then, in 2017, His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown – our High Panjandrum of Political Power – gifted us rubes with the be-all and end-all ‘gamechanger of all gamechangers’ – when he announced at an invitation only gathering of our “Rich & Powerful” – that a long-neglected vacant lot on Beach Street would be the site of Brown & Brown’s new ten-story headquarters building. 

The relocation of the multi-billion-dollar insurance intermediary’s HQ was billed as the ultimate Halifax area panacea project – the providential answer to our fervent prayers – a glass-and-steel monolith with the supernatural power to transform our historically neglected downtown into an effervescent hub of tony retail, dining, and entertainment, all fueled by young, upwardly mobile, Brown & Brown executives and staffers brokering deals over a plate of chilled lemon and arugula capellini and a delightfully articulate Chablis in a Beach Street bistro.

All of this could be ours for the asking – but only if we agreed to pony up a combined $15.5 million in city, county, and state incentives – on the promise of “hundreds of jobs” paying an average of $41,300 annually. 

Otherwise, there was ominous rumblings that King J. Hyatt and his Knights of the Roundtable would uproot and move the whole kit-and-kaboodle to Atlanta, Georgia – effectively ending the behemoth’s 80-year presence in Daytona Beach on a sour note – and dooming our downtrodden downtown to decades of more dilapidation and strategic neglect. 

Remember? 

I do.  

In total, the City of Daytona Beach got down on their hands-and-knees and offered up millions-of-dollars for infrastructure improvements and property tax abatement – while Volusia County taxpayers provided some $4.5 million for infrastructure and $900,000 to help Brown & Brown qualify for an additional $4.58 million in state tax credits for new job creation – which, at the time, were reportedly worth an estimated $7,500 per job. . .

Look, my math could be off a million here or a million there, it all gets so confusing and convoluted that, after awhile, it becomes difficult to keep up with who is responsible for what, how many “new” jobs have been created and how many were shipped in from other areas, and how much money the public’s largesse ultimately created for the private beneficiary.       

Perhaps that’s the plan?

It seems our newspaper of record, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, is too busy fighting the culture wars – removing ancient statues, alienating the “unvaccinated” like social lepers, and giving national attention to some guy in Detroit who found 160 bowling balls behind his house (?) – yet precious few investigative pieces on our return on investment – the public benefit of these tax breaks, credits, and refunds.    

On Saturday, the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean reported in a front-page article “Brown & Brown buys downtown buildings – 400 to 600 jobs expected to be created at three sites,” that King J. Hyatt has expanded his realm to include three office buildings formerly owned by the Ormond Beach-based Root Company. 

According to the report, Sir John Albright, President & CEO of CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as that good ol’ boys investment club Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company), “…whose company owns most of the block that fronts the east side of Ridgewood Avenue and runs between International Speedway Boulevard and Bay Street,” said the Brown & Brown purchase represents “…very good news for downtown as investors, developers and businesses will have confidence in Brown & Brown’s sizable presence and commitment to downtown.”

Now, everyone who is anyone is using extravagant descriptors like, “spectacular,” “fantastic,” “huge impact,” “ripple effect,” etc., etc.

What else are they going to say?

And why didn’t we see this Renaissance Effect before? 

I’m asking.

Because even the suggestion that Brown & Brown’s growing presence downtown may be overblown, or, God forbid, these edifices become just another 9-to-5 insurance or financial office building – one that captures employees with an internal restaurant operated by a France-based hospitality company, complete with a 24-hour self-checkout kiosk, even prepared meals that workers can bring home for dinner – is too grim to consider for Beach Street merchants who have hung on by their fingernails for decades

I am certain Brown & Brown’s real estate expansion is “great news” for those elite few with a chip in the game, and that mysterious Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance (which King J. Hyatt chairs and Sir John Albright is a member) – but I am still trying to figure out what it cost us – you know, We, The Little People?

One jaded observer of our local political sleight-of-hand took to Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry’s Facebook page to question the cosmic irony that the $14 million Brown & Brown paid for the three commercial buildings closely matches the $15.5 million in public “incentives” Volusia County taxpayers gifted King J. Hyatt to lessen the burden on his Beach Street “Taj Mahal.” 

Apples and Oranges!  No direct nexus, Barker – you ungrateful asshole!  You blasphemous Esplanade denier!

Perhaps, but I found it funny as hell. . . 

I also found a glimmer of hope that long-suffering Volusia County taxpayers are beginning to question ‘how things work’ in this artificial economy, where the same players pass the same nickel around, while those of us who foot the bill are asked to expect a different outcome.      

Angels & Assholes for July 16, 2021

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           Palm Coast City Council

The City of Palm Coast was conceived in the mind of a marketing executive, a planned unit development funded by an international telecommunications corporation, meticulously laid out for maximum transportation efficiency, with neighborhoods designed in “sections” designated by roadways starting with letters of the alphabet – such as the “R” section or the “P” section – with feeders to major thoroughfares and a main commercial corridor known as Palm Coast Parkway.    

When I was a young boy, what would become the City of Palm Coast was 22,000 acres of unspoiled pine scrub and swamp in the hinterlands of Flagler County – at the time, a largely agrarian economy with commercial farms, lumber mills, and working cattle ranches surrounding the small town of Bunnell at the intersection of US Highway 1 and State Road 100. 

It was a sportsman’s paradise, with abundant whitetail deer and world-class fishing complimented by the ‘Old Florida’ charm of its quaint coastal communities like Flagler Beach. 

Given that the project was expertly marketed to residents of the Northeast Corridor, many wondered how the inevitable clash of cultures would affect the whole of Flagler County and beyond. 

As it turns out, given the massive influx into Palm Coast that continues to this day, the original settlers and those who made their life off the land were slowly displaced by a different kind of ‘pioneer,’ and, in recent years, the area was identified as the “fastest growing metropolitan area in the country” by the US Census Bureau.      

 According to the Palm Coast History Brief:

“From their start in 1969 until International Telephone & Telegraph (Development Corporation) withdrew, the corporation provided most of the services and leadership in Palm Coast. They had planned, built, and maintained a model environmental community. In a unique private/government relationship, ITT had financed Palm Coast’s most necessary improvements. The interchange at I-95 and the Hammock Dunes bridge were funded at relatively unnoticeable cost to local taxpayers and the state. As ITT withdrew from Palm Coast, the void left by its departure was increasingly felt in the community.

Then (in 1995) the complicated and often contentious process of incorporation began. Flagler County residents’ opposition groups debated. The county authorized a feasibility study, the state legislative delegation sponsored incorporation, the Florida state government approved the referendum and (in 1999) we elected our first City Council.”   

And Frankenstein’s monster has never been the same. . .

Whenever I get too close to a sensitive topic in this space, or ruffle the feathers of our ‘powers that be,’ some thin-skinned politician will puff up like a toad and not so subtly suggest that I shut up and mind my own business – usually in the form of “that blowhard doesn’t even live here,” etc. 

My response is if you care about good governance where you live and pay taxes – you should care about good government everywhere – because turbulence in one county or municipality directly impacts the social, civic, and economic stability of other communities that comprise the mosaic of east Central Florida.   

As a rabid observer of local politics – I equate the stability of local elective bodies to that plate spinning novelty act on the old Ed Sullivan Show. 

In my estimation, all government entities in the Deltona–Daytona Beach–Ormond Beach metropolitan statistical area (which includes Palm Coast) are just a few bad moves from total civic meltdown. 

Don’t take my word for it – tune into any “meeting” of the Deltona City Commission – or the Volusia County Council, for that matter – to confirm my weird theory. 

The grim consequences when “government” (in the loosest sense of the word) runs amok were emblazoned across the front page of The Daytona Beach News-Journal last Saturday – tragic tales of international intrigue, and how the lives of the governed can be turned upside down by the self-serving machinations of a few power-mad politicians and hangers-on desperate to maintain power.

In my view, the articles were perfectly juxtaposed. 

One told the unfolding story of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse by what one state official described as “foreign mercenaries and professional killers,” a bungled coup d’état that has further destabilized a long-deteriorating internal situation and plunged the challenged nation into chaos.   

Now, acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph is fighting to prove his legitimacy, and calling for United States assistance in stabilizing the threatened nation at a time when Haiti’s Senate and Supreme Court both lack a majority of seated members.    

Then, above the fold, was a shocking piece by News-Journal reporter Frank Fernandez entitled, “Councilman called fugitive – Sheriff says Barbosa may be wanted in Costa Rica,” which detailed an investigation by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office into whether Palm Coast Councilman Victor Barbosa is an international fugitive from justice – and a request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for an executive investigation. 

Councilman Barbosa claims its all a big mistake.

As what passes for governance in the City of Palm Coast continues to come apart like a cheap flywheel – an aimless Banana Republic wracked by partisan rancor and upheaval – this shocking revelation has further destabilized a long-deteriorating internal situation and threatens further chaos and confusion in one of the largest municipalities in our region.    

Wow.   

To say that Palm Coast, now a monstrosity of over 94,000 residents, is a shit show of epic proportions is an understatement – an atmosphere of perpetual dysfunction that recently saw the mysterious departure of embattled Mayor Melissa Holland and former City Manager Matt Morton – leaving the rudderless ship in turmoil with just four horribly conflicted members on the torn and hopelessly deadlocked City Council. 

Now, speculation over Councilman Barbosa’s status will no doubt inflame an already terrible situation going into the special mayoral election set for July 27, a race that has taken on the characteristics of a bad Twilight Zone episode.    

In a recent editorial by former Palm Coast City Council member Robert Cuff writing in FlaglerLive, the importance of avoiding voter apathy was evident:

“It is vital for all voters concerned for the future of the city to vote for the next mayor. Without a large turnout by voters who truly appreciate smoothly functioning government and who are concerned about the future of their city, there is an excellent chance that we will be saddled with partisanship, division, and dysfunction for the next three years.”

You can find the remainder of Mr. Cuff’s opinion here: https://flaglerlive.com/165524/robert-cuff-palm-coast-future/  

On Monday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal will host a mayoral debate moderated by editor Pat Rice featuring candidates Cornelia Manfre, Alan Lowe, Doug Courtney, Carol Bacha, Kathy Austrino, and David Alfin.

If you care about good governance – and the future of Palm Coast – this is a forum you will not want to miss.

The public is invited to attend the debate which will be held at Buddy Taylor Middle School, 4500 Belle Terre Parkway.

The shenanigans begin at 6:30 p.m. and doors will open at 5 p.m.

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

On Tuesday evening, the Ormond Beach City Commission gave residents an opportunity to expend some useless hot air before their elected representatives as they sought a reasonable six-month moratorium on demolition of the historic Union Church on North Beach Street. 

Six-months.

In an informative article by Brian McMillan, executive editor of the Ormond Beach Observer entitled, “Kent, Littleton, Persis stand by decision to demolish church on Beach Street,” some 100 emails and 25 speakers – including a respected former member of its own planning board – could not convince the majority of elected officials to take a brief pause in their rash dash to destroy the building.

“Many in the audience saw the 1960 church as a historic asset for the city, comparing it with The Casements and the Anderson-Price Memorial Building next door. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” said former Planning Board member and longtime community activist Rita Press.”

Ms. Press is right. 

Historically, many municipalities in Volusia County could give two-shits about, well, our “history.” 

Structures of significance and sensitive greenspace are routinely razed and exploited to pave the way (literally) for a narrow version of “progress” with little, if any, input from those of us who see these tangible connections to our past as integral to our quality of life.

It seems we live in a time and place when a convenience store is considered preferable to 100-year-old specimen hardwoods, environmental buffers, and urban wildlife habitat – gaudy “theme” communities have become more important than the wellspring of our drinking water – a shell parking lot more desirable than one of the last remaining examples of mid-century architecture in the Halifax area.  

A previous church which stood on the property served the citizens of Ormond Beach – including the community’s most famous resident, John D. Rockefeller – since 1886, and the current building anchors the city’s last remaining historic district on Lincoln Avenue. 

As of 2009, the Ormond Beach Union Church was prominently featured on the city’s “Historic Landmark List.”

So, why did it become a mold-encrusted blot on the civic landscape when the city took ownership? A dilapidated eyesore of no viable use to the citizens of Ormond Beach?

According to the Observer’s report, Judith Stein, president of the Ormond Beach Arts District, announced that the Union Church building will be named among the ‘Eleven to Save,’ a list of the state’s most threatened historic properties, by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation at an awards ceremony next week – a distinction that will both increase public awareness and garner “assistance from the organization to identify custom solutions,” including the identification of funding sources. 

“Knowing this now, it would be even sadder if the building received this award ‘posthumously,’” Stein said.

Unfortunately, it appears the destiny of the Union Church has been written in an irrevocable agreement with a demolition contractor.   

Despite the fervent desire of many concerned residents – and the persuasive arguments of Commissioner Dwight Selby and Mayor Bill Partington – Commissioner Rob Littleton could not be swayed, calling even a short delay a “fool’s errand,” a sentiment clearly supported by Commissioner Susan Persis and the always obstinate Commissioner Troy Kent.  

Perhaps Commissioner Littleton is right – trying to communicate our thoughts and opinions to our elected officials on matters of civic importance has become a farce – a wasted effort that is infinitely frustrating for residents seeking input on the future of their community.    

With each disappointment, concerned citizens learn the terrible truth that their voices are meaningless to those we have elected to represent our interests. 

Citizens throughout Volusia County face almost insurmountable obstacles whenever they seek to make themselves heard – labeled cranks, naysayers, and paranoiacs – for having the temerity to question the motivations of an entrenched power structure with a preconceived agenda and behind-the-scenes “plan” that those of us on the outside looking in cannot begin to understand. 

Environmentalists who fight for the preservation of our dwindling greenspace are repeatedly stonewalled by this cloistered system – or have their motives questioned by powerful politicians who bend over backwards to accommodate every need and whim of speculative developers who just happen to be featured prominently on their campaign contributions list.    

Bullshit.

I find hope in the words of author and cultural anthropologist Margret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”   

To the members of the Ormond Beach Historical Society, the Ormond Beach Arts District, Ormond MainStreet, other civic organizations, and the committed residents who are trying desperately to save this important structure from destruction and preserve our unique quality of life here in Ormond Beach – I encourage you to keep the faith.

Never quit.

And, most important, please remember this latest insult at the ballot box. 

Angel               Volusia County Clerk of the Court Laura Roth

The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers honored Volusia County Clerk of the Circuit Court Laura Roth, as their 2020-2021 Clerk of the Year at the organization’s annual installation banquet last month.

The Clerk of the Year Award is presented to an FCCC member who has demonstrated outstanding leadership skills and a commitment to improving the ability of clerks and comptrollers to serve Floridians through professional education, legislative action, and public awareness of the office.

According to a media release by the FCCC, the award was presented by outgoing FCCC President Tara S. Green, Clay County Clerk of Court and Comptroller:

“Clerk Laura Roth has been an instrumental voice in our plans and decision-making as an association, especially so during this last year,” said Green. “She’s a fierce advocate for her constituents, and she never shies away from taking on new responsibilities or initiatives for the benefit of all Clerks. Most recently she served as Chair of the Best Practices Committee and spearheaded our efforts to implement the new Best Practices Excellence Program swiftly and with consistent and clear direction. We thank Clerk Roth for her exceptional service and are proud to present her the 2020-2021 Clerk of the Year award.”

I cannot think of a more deserving recipient for this prestigious award. 

In December 2020, during a meeting of Volusia’s new independent constitutional officers – which include Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis, Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett, and Tax Collector Will Roberts – Ms. Roth suggested that the group form a charity drive to assist the needs of hundreds of homeless students in Volusia County.

In my view, Ms. Roth sets a shining example of true leadership and a welcome concern for the needs of those she serves. 

As the official custodian of court records, Ms. Roth has championed government transparency by hosting one of the most user-friendly public websites in the State of Florida – allowing her constituents easy access to thousands of public records, literally at the stroke of a key, at www.clerk.org .  

According to her impressive bio, Ms. Roth earned her bachelor’s degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and her law degree from the University of Arizona. She became the Volusia County Clerk’s office first in-house legal counsel in 2004, and was appointed the Chief Deputy Clerk, the lead administrator, in 2011.

Ms. Roth first ran for office and became the Clerk of Court for Volusia County in 2016.

Clearly, Ms. Roth and her exceptional deputies work extremely hard each day to live up their motto: “We Love Helping People.”

Congratulations to Clerk Laura Roth on this well-deserved accolade!

Quote of the Week

“Ignoring the voice of the people, not listening to your residents, is a very dangerous, dangerous thing to do. … This is an opportunity to be a hero or not.”    

–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, from his closing comments at Tuesday’s controversial special meeting to discuss a delay in destroying the historic Ormond Beach Union Church, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, Wednesday, July 14, 2021

And Another Thing!

I enjoy being around smart people with noble intentions in their heart – that is how I learn – and those good neighbors who comprise the Bellaire Community Group never disappoint. 

Last evening, I had the distinct pleasure of taking a break from the drudgery of politics and get myself some cultcha’ when I was invited to co-host a writer’s roundtable with the extraordinary civic activist Steve Koenig. 

The entertaining hour featured local authors Jeffrey Boyle and Derek Catron – two incredibly talented creatives and gifted storytellers who graciously took questions and gave the attentive audience a glimpse into the fascinating, and intensely personal, process of composing artistic works of fiction. 

A book signing followed the program. 

For anyone new to the Halifax area – or those looking for constructive insight into the civic, social, and economic issues facing Daytona Beach and beyond – I encourage you to attend a meeting of the Bellaire Community Group, which meets the third Thursday of every month at the Schnebly Recreation Center, 1101 N. Atlantic Avenue, beginning at 6:00pm.   

The evening starts with a delicious dinner ($5 donation suggested) and includes monthly reports on crime and safety from a member of the Daytona Beach Police Department’s command staff, followed by an enlightening program featuring topical civic issues which affect our lives and livelihoods on Florida’s Fun Coast.

The meeting ends promptly at 7:30pm. 

A special thanks to Chairman Koenig and everyone who made the Bellaire Community Group’s writers roundtable such an enjoyable experience!

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

Angels & Assholes for July 9, 2021

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             Ghost of the Orange Avenue Bridge  

“On the northeast side of the Orange Avenue Bridge, just at the bridge approach, there have been many reports of a cloaked young woman with long, dark hair over the past few decades. No one is quite sure who this young woman was, but her spirit is very active, and sometimes violent.”

Doris “Dusty” Smith Founder & Chief Researcher, Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, Inc., “Encyclopedia of Haunted Places – Ghostly Locales from around the World”

Last summer, just before those of us who paid for it could use it (“…after you, my liege”), the first vehicles trundled across the “new” Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge carrying our best and brightest from the Daytona Beach City Commission and Volusia County Council.

Our political elite, all resplendent in their finery, were so busy patting themselves on the back (after nearly five-years of crippling delays and public disappointments) they were willing to ignore the cosmetic punch list items that remained incomplete.    

After the umpteenth setback, the point man for this debacle, Volusia County Engineer Tad Kasbeer, had become the punchline of a very bad joke – and Mr. Kasbeer stopped making scientific wild-ass guesses in public about when the bridge would finally open.

“It’s up to the contractor to tell us when they’ll open,” a clearly annoyed Kasbeer said in May 2020.

And time marched on. . . 

So, soon after the bridge was determined to be structurally sound by the Florida Department of Transportation – it became clear the span was going to open to traffic come hell or highwater – and the surface warts and blemishes could be addressed later.

In the contractor’s defense, they weathered three hurricanes, a lightning strike, unstable ground, a toppled crane, bad engineering advice, and at least one blooper where the old “measure twice – cut once” apprentice rule was apparently ignored resulting in the height of the bridge railing being “miscalculated.”

Sorry, that should read “at least two bloopers” involving that old craftsman’s axiom.

It seems after the structure was complete, an inspection found that the slope of the bridge exceeded limits set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. . .

You read that right.

The bridge had become our own “I-4 eyesore” – a perpetual ‘pardon our progress’ behemoth, an absurd comedy of errors, beset by an embarrassing series of construction missteps (for which the contractor was ultimately fined some $2.28 million) – all while Beach Street merchants continued to grin and bear it – waiting patiently while even more customer access to their struggling businesses was detoured or blocked in keeping with “the plan.”     

It was the final insult in this farcical slapstick that left concerned onlookers scratching our heads.

Or was it?

Earlier this week, according to an article by the exceptional investigative reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, nearly a year later there are still “a few loose ends” being addressed:

“Before the bridge straddling the Halifax River opened to the public on Aug. 6 last year, there were sporadic cracks in the sidewalks that line both sides of the bridge. The cracks lingered over the past year, and it was just three weeks ago that the contractor covered one small section of the narrow voids with a black sealant as a test to see how that would work.”

Wait.  Did she say Cracks?

“…narrow voids?”

“…test to see how that would work?”

Say what?

According to the News-Journal’s report, Mr. Kasbeer has assured us the “cracks” are more aesthetic than structural (thank God), but to his trained eye, the black sealant used to fill the voids takes away from the overall appearance of the structure. 

Unfortunately, nobody ‘in the know’ sounds completely convinced the goo will ultimately solve the problem.

Hey, what do you want for ~$45 million? 

So, what is the explanation for all this? 

Is the span really cursed by a poltergeist?

Look, I don’t put much stock in the “supernatural.” 

When I was a small boy, my mountain granny, an old soul from the dark hills and hollows of southern Appalachia, explained to me, “It’s not dead people you have to worry about – it’s the live one’s that will get you every time. . .”

She was right.    

Interestingly, a recent Google search led me to a fascinating märchen by Doris “Dusty” Smith, founder of something called the Daytona Beach Paranormal Research Group, a spooky yarn about a mysterious shrouded phantasm who haunts the approach to the Orange Avenue bridge.

According to the campfire tale, “No one is quite sure who this young woman was, but her spirit is very active, and sometimes violent.”

I got to thinking – perhaps this ethereal specter is not malevolent at all – just the righteously pissed-off lost spirit of the long-suffering Volusia County taxpayer? 

A troubled soul, forever doomed to wander the ramparts of the bridge – cloaked in the shame, embarrassment, and outrage our elected and appointed officials seem incapable of – inescapably trapped on a weird astral plane marked by bureaucratic ineptitude, unaccountability, and waste. 

An otherworldly reminder to those of us who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence that our role will forever be to stoke the insatiable furnace of these do-nothing bureaucracies and accept gross mediocrity as our destiny.   

Sound plausible? 

Hell, even a dubious ghost story makes more sense than the ‘he said/she said’ finger-pointing and lame excuses proffered by contractors and government entities as to why our long overdue Veteran’s Memorial Bridge remains substandard five-years on. 

Rock on, ghost girl. 

We need your haunting reminder of the grim fate that awaits when we keep electing and appointing the same dullards to positions of power and expecting a different result.

Angel               Beach Clean-Up Volunteers   

When I was a wayward child, I loved fireworks. 

On our frequent family trips to visit my grandparents in East Tennessee, we would pass those garish roadside stands that dotted old highway 221 in South Carolina – wooden open-air markets with names like “Pyro Joe’s Fireworks & Peaches” painted with kitschy scenes advertising Black Cat firecrackers, Atomic Howlers, Sonic Screechers, and Volcanic Fizz-Bangs.

A twelve-year-old boys dream. . .    

For the rest of the trip, I would sit in the backseat meticulously inspecting my pyrotechnic treasure trove – waiting for that moment I could borrow my dad’s Zippo and let ‘em blast among the big black walnut trees that shaded the backyard.  

Poppers and boom-booms, flying saucer-like things gloriously spewing showers of fire as they arced through the night sky – the rockets’ red glare the whizzers bursting in air.

It was magnificent! 

Right up until my goofy little sister would invariably step on a hot sparkler wire – hopping around and screeching like she had been branded by Beelzebub’s own iron – then, my fun was over as quickly as it began. . .  

As I approach 61-years-old next month – now the quintessential ‘crotchety old bastard’ – I am no longer a fan of fireworks.

My two shell-shocked dogs will second that emotion.

But we suffer in silence. Even a cantankerous crank like me can tolerate anything for a few days – and I didn’t want to spoil the fun on our nation’s 245th birthday – but what I cannot abide is personal irresponsibility, especially when it endangers wildlife and disrespects our most precious natural asset.    

As in years past, last weekend’s Independence Day holiday saw thousands of revelers take to Volusia County beaches to celebrate with heavy artillery (loosely termed “fireworks”) of all calibers and types. 

Unfortunately, when the party was over, some careless beachgoers left tons of debris behind. 

Just walked off and left the smoldering mess for someone else to worry about. 

It happens every year. 

Who does that?

Most of us who call this salty piece of paradise home were disgusted by the sight – a job which always seems insurmountable in the light of day.        

I was reminded of a quote by the great Fred Rogers who once said his mother reacted to disturbing news by telling him, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’

It’s true. 

On Monday morning, dedicated volunteers from all walks of life assembled along the width and breadth of our coastline to assist waste management contractors and Volusia County employees with the monumental task of collecting and disposing of trailer loads of trash – dangerous debris which poses a threat to sea life and shorebirds that can ingest or become entangled in it.

In addition, these selfless citizens smoothed divots and trenches in the sand that can be deathtraps for endangered sea turtles. 

A special thanks to the groups, individuals, elected officials, and beach management personnel from throughout Volusia County and beyond – the helpers – who so graciously donated their time to help clean our beautiful beach and protect this sensitive environment.

Once again, you have filled my beat-up old heart and restored my faith in the basic goodness of Fun Coast residents.    

Quote of the Week

“This week I got the unfortunate privilege of being the target of Barker’s Angels and rearends. Barker appears to be a wannabe reporter or columnist that could not procure gainful employment with a legitimate news organization so he made up his own little space.

On one hand he touts his humility as a member of the Peanut gallery, in the next paragraph he brags about taking the News Journal to task.

If one were to assess what Barker really thinks of himself, it would be a safe bet that he thinks pretty highly of himself.

Barker try’s to defend and deflect from his unwarranted attacks on elected officials by insisting that they are getting down in the mud with him which is really a deflection from the fact that he doesn’t like to be challenged, so he uses this fake humble persona to try to make the target appear petty for addressing his diatribe. Barker seems to delight in his comments being controversial, as if he is stirring up some huge clandestine hornet’s nest, further making my point that he is eat up with his own self importance.

Barker seems to have the world view that it’s us against them or in other words the rich against the poor, and that the wealthy and powerful are all out to get people in the “Peanut gallery” as he puts it, a world view that I find narrow and paranoid.

Barker has tried to paint suspicion around my intentions as a city commissioner because I attended a meeting with what he appears to suggest are the wealthy oligarchs of Volusia county. This gesture on my part was the act of a neophyte in his opinion, and points out that no other elected official was there. It’s a good thing that guilty by association isn’t a flogging offense because Barker would have me tied to the whipping post.

I feel that it is in the best interest of my constituents that I know what’s going on in our community. I have attended many events since I have taken office and this is just one of the many. If that means that I must suffer the fate of criticism from wannabe reporters that don’t even live in my district and have never held public office, so be it.

If my constituents are happy with the job I am doing, that’s all I need to worry about, but Barker doesn’t live in my zone, he doesn’t even live in Daytona Beach, so if I appear to be a bit insensitive to his personal observation, he’ll just have to get over it. But I found his indictment of my accepting an invitation to the welcoming of our new city manager unwarranted and unsolicited.

I have no problem with criticism when it is justified, but making predictions or indictments based on conjecture and paranoia don’t pass the smell test. If someone wants to make themselves look more important by criticizing an elected official, then at least have something of substance to criticize them on. Trying to create suspicion based on some false perception of something as harmless as an invitation to a welcoming of a city employee is the work of a neophyte.

My intentions and world view doesn’t change with the direction of the political winds, and I am not easily manipulated. So my advice to Barker is to chill, and if you want to criticize me in the future, feel free, but know this, I won’t resist the temptation to get down in the mud as you call it, if I think the charge is unfounded, petty, or silly. Just my view.”

–District 4 Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu, writing on Facebook, Friday, July 2, 2021

I like freshman Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu.

She’s got spunk. 

And clearly a good judge of character. . .

But Chill?  Nah.

Regrettably, I am everything she claimed: Brash, opinionated, crude, a vainglorious and egomaniacal blowhard who enjoys kicking the hornet’s nest of local politics, prying open backroom doors, and pointing out where those who are actually in the arena stumbled. 

A crass critic of the status quo – a wary observer of the issues and newsmakers of the day.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I will accept Ms. Cantu’s pleonastic flogging in the spirit in which it was offered.

The fact of the matter is – it does not matter who, or what, I am.

Because my decisions do not affect the lives and livelihoods of 70,000 residents and countless small business owners who eke out a living in the City of Daytona Beach – or the thousands more in the Halifax area who depend upon a level social, civic, and economic playing field.

During my many years in government, I knew more than a few who assumed elected leadership positions and subscribed to the “A lion doesn’t explain themselves to a sheep” philosophy, which means they do and say whatever they want, when they want.

Damn the perceptions. 

The potential downside to that extraordinary level of self-confidence and sense of infallibility often comes during times of crisis, when hubristic elected officials are left adrift as staff, gadflies, and constituents come to realize their input is neither welcome nor considered. 

It can be hard to watch.   

In my experience, smart elected officials use criticism, disapproval, even unwarranted blame, to their strategic advantage, and realize early that the slings and arrows of harsh criticism comes with the territory. 

Being a good listener is a universal quality of exceptional servant-leaders – a learned skill that requires they develop some hard bark – and the humility to not take themselves too seriously. 

They know that listening to detractors and civic naysayers provides a unique educational opportunity that many of their thin-skinned colleagues miss – a window into the thoughts and opinions of those they serve – a practice that builds trust as citizens realize their voices are being heard.   

I hope my previous assessment of Commissioner Cantu’s appearance at a private soiree held by our “Rich & Powerful” to “welcome” Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher to the ways and means of how things are done here on the Fun Coast is wrong. 

In my view, Commissioner Cantu’s grit is refreshing – and she has real potential to help foster the positive transformation everyone in the Halifax area has waited patiently for. 

My hope is that she will remain focused on the myriad issues facing her challenged community – and remember that it is not windy magpies like me that she must concern herself with.

Rather, the real threat to Commissioner Cantu’s political effectiveness and longevity – and that of her colleagues on the dais of power – remains with the legions of long-suffering Daytona Beach residents who have become so disillusioned that they no longer complain out loud to politicians who seem to take their marching orders from a few insiders with a chip in the game.

Instead, they make their voice heard at the ballot box.

If memory serves, I think that is how she came to this important seat in the first place. . .  

And Another Thing!

In 1854, Abraham Lincoln wrote the “…object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”

In my view, this includes providing for the protection of life and property by ensuring compliance with codes governing the construction and maintenance of buildings and facilities where we live, work, and learn – laws that are typically passed in the horrific aftermath of fires, floods, and failures that take human life in often predictable incidents that ‘should have, could have, would have,’ been addressed long before tragedy struck.   

During my working life, I was once a guest at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City – a beautiful downtown hotel and convention center that had an eerie feel of familiarity to it. 

While having a cocktail on a mezzanine overlooking the lobby, I realized that this was the site of the 1981 collapse of two overhead walkways that took the lives of 114 people and injured 216 more – at the time, the deadliest non-deliberate structural failure in American history. 

I later spoke with a Kansas City police officer who had been a first responder and his vivid recollections of that warm July evening when a tea dance turned to tragedy were the stuff of nightmares. . .    

After an exhaustive investigation, it was concluded that the cause of the collapse was a lack of communication between architects, engineers, and the materials manufacturer following a simple design change.

The original structural engineer later remarked, “Any first-year engineering student could figure it out, if only it had been checked.”

Damn.

Earlier this week in the beachside community of Surfside, the catastrophic results of what happens when greed, poor maintenance practices, and lackadaisical government oversight combine, as the teetering ruins of the disastrous Champlain Towers South condominium were demolished to make safe the grim chore of recovering the remains of victims. 

Trust me – when the finger-pointing is done – there will be enough internal and external blame to go around – cold comfort for the loved ones of the 159 souls reported missing and now presumed dead. 

Following the unfathomable disaster in Surfside, many Volusia County residents became rightfully concerned about the age and condition of our own beachside construction – after all, we face the same corrosive environmental conditions here – and, in my view, the same bureaucratic mediocrity. . .

For instance, the intrepid civic activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, recently took to social media to post disturbing photographs he took three-years ago of what appear to be crumbling concrete support columns in the underground garage of the Hard Rock Daytona – a hotel that was built on the bones of the former Desert Inn Resort – which once held the dubious distinction as one of the dirtiest hotels in America.

In February 2018, Mr. Zimmerman first brought the photos to light as the newly renovated hotel raced to meet a completion deadline which would ensure 410’ linear feet of traffic-free beach behind the property. 

At the time, in a News-Journal article by former reporter Dustin Wyatt, Abbas Abdulhussein, CEO of Summit Hospitality Management Group, assured everyone, “There were some cosmetic failings, which we repaired,” he said. “The building’s not going anywhere.”  

Earlier this month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that Paulita Kundid, the owner of the two-story Sea Dunes, which sits in the shadow of the Protogroup’s towering Daytona Grande hotel, filed a short-lived code enforcement complaint concerning the unsightly condition of rusted and corroded reinforcing steel supporting what will be the foundation of the North Tower. 

According to the News-Journal’s report, the code enforcement investigation was closed the following day when it was determined the area is an “active construction site”:

“The inspector observed rust on the rebar, but since it is an active construction site, with a current building permit, any inspection, violation or monitoring of the project falls under the jurisdiction of the city’s building department,” Susan Cerbone, city spokeswoman, said by email. “The contractor, as well as the owner Alexey Petrovich Lysich, are well aware that before they go vertical on the north tower, a structural certification needs to be performed by an engineer and submitted to the city.”   

Let’s hope so. . .

Last week, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower proactively reached out to Governor Ron DeSantis detailing his efforts to stiffen inspection requirements for beachside structures:

“We inspect our own bridges every two years but there are no requirements to re-inspect multilevel beachside structures – at any time after construction – in the Florida Building Code or by County Ordinance. In Volusia, most of the condominiums, hotels, and motels are within the city limits of our municipalities but there are also a number in unincorporated Volusia County. 

This is a potential hazard, as we have all seen, that I hope we can come together on as local governments.

Since the Florida legislature is not in session it will likely be faster to take precautions at the local level. That is also our responsibility. I am asking for a discussion to be placed on our July agenda so the Council can start creating a plan that is reasonable and productive for the safety of employees, residents, and guests who use these structures in unincorporated Volusia County. I have also brought this up to our Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials.”

On Wednesday, during an informative appearance on WNDB’s Marc Bernier Show, Chairman Brower indicated that he is already receiving “mind your own business” pushback from certain camps. . .

Frightening. 

I hope you will join me in supporting Chairman Brower’s lifesaving push for heightened inspection requirements for aging high-rise properties during the Volusia County Council’s discussion on July 20th. 

Let it never again be said, “If it had only been checked.”

This one is important. 

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

Why Bother? Because it’s important.

“I need money

I need love

I need a Cadillac

To give me a shove

And get me out of this up-tight

Midnight

Into some limelight… Again

Yeah ’cause I know

My ego

Ain’t my amigo

Anymore…”

–Terry Allen, My Amigo, from the album Lubbock (on everything), 1979

Since retiring from municipal service, I have staggered through life like a demented Diogenes, my dim lamp in hand, always searching for an open and honest politician who puts their long-suffering constituents before their craven self-interests and those of the powerful forces who control them.    

Good luck with that, Barker. . .

I have learned a few things along the way. Such as the fact politicians seek high office for myriad reasons.

But the truth is, no one of sound mind enters that dark and bloody arena without a hunger for power and influence. 

Some find themselves drawn to elective service for purely altruistic reasons – a burning desire to effect positive change in their community, state, or nation – motivated by a pure, unadulterated sense of civic duty and a willingness to devote their time and talents to improving the quality of life of their neighbors. 

I think most neophyte politicians – those bright-eyed newcomers who, in their naivety, still believe they can be all things to all people without crossing lines – begin with the innocent notion that politics is a noble pursuit, an honorable means to a fair and just end. 

During my three-decades in government service, I had the pleasure of working with some genuinely good people who sought elective office for all the right reasons – open to constructive criticism, focused on the rules of quality governance and their fiduciary responsibility, always fighting against the forces of bureaucratic mediocrity, willing to put ego aside and practice the art of negotiation, never compromising their personal ethics or sense of fairness.

Fortunately, there are many of these selfless elected officials who work tirelessly on boards, councils, commissions, and committees throughout Volusia County.

Trust me.  That is not an easy proposition in an environment where well-heeled factions work hard – and spend exorbitant sums of money – to influence public policy to their advantage – and many local candidates are hand-selected by the fusty upper crust of various partisan fishing camps (and those they report to behind the scenes), chosen exclusively for their malleability, in a place where any grassroot candidate faces an uphill battle, often from their own party infrastructure. 

Don’t take my word for it, ask Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower how beating the Darling of the Donor Class by simply holding firm to his principles and running on a noble platform of serving the needs of We, The Little People has worked out for him?

I have also seen my share of well-meaning elected officials slowly succumb to the heady lies of their own inflated self-importance and surrender to the trappings and perquisites of office, finally becoming everything they despised upon entering politics, consumed by their own ego, as they are granted temporary membership in that very exclusive club – where important people fawn over them and laugh at their jokes – right up until the moment they are no longer of use to them.

That process typically starts when a D List politician develops an overweening sense of infallibility – convinced that those of us who point fingers and challenge their warped version of our grim reality have no right to criticize how the sausage is made.

Sound familiar?

So, they bleat and coo, posture, and preen – all while telling us commoners to ignore that little man behind the curtain – driven by the arrogance of power, immersing themselves in the ceremonial aspects of their “public service” – presenting puffy proclamations, rubbing elbows with the elite, and posing for pictures with “celebrity politicians” – while thousands of their constituents continue to live below the poverty line, work dead-end jobs, and suffer in silence while blight and dilapidation grips forgotten areas of the community and malignant sprawl threatens our sensitive green places and drinking water supply.

Then, rather than maintain laser focus on problem solving and developing a sustainable civic vision – they waste valuable time squabbling with their harshest critic (me), clowning for their supporters, painting a surreal picture of prosperity, and subliminally warning those who blow the whistle on this lopsided, incestuous, oligarchical system to keep their nose out of what should be the people’s business.

In my view, it is this abject arrogance that has brought us to this dim place in our history – and why many grassroots activists in the Halifax area are so passionate about changing the political culture and leveling the playing field. 

I am often accused of opining on issues that do not occur where I vote – marginalized by the narrowminded argument, “He doesn’t even live (insert city, district, or zone here),” dismissed as a malevolent outside agitator, even as they crow about spending millions in federal dollars, or approving massive developments that affect the lives of tens-of-thousands who live outside the jurisdictional boundaries of the community in question. 

Many ask why I bother. 

After all, what is there to be gained from constantly going against the grain, pushing back against an entrenched culture that has proven, time-and-again, that it abhors constructive criticism and outside input, then works overtime to demonize and dismiss anyone who points out the absurdities of government and politics here on the Fun Coast?

Because it is important that our local government not be the exclusive playground of what The Daytona Beach News-Journal has called our “Rich & Powerful” and those cowardly marionettes who serve them from the dais of power. 

That’s why. 

The fact is, if you care about good governance in the place you live, work, and pay taxes, you should care about good governance everywhere – because in the mosaic of communities that make up Volusia County – we are wholly interdependent, with more in common than not. 

Dysfunctional politics begets defective policy – and, perhaps worse, perpetuates the lack of vision and defined civic direction that has turned the World’s Most Famous Beach and beyond into a social, civic, and economic cautionary tale. . .    

Now is the time for civic minded people to begin the mental and physical process of considering a run for office in 2022 and 2024. 

Why bother?  Because its important. 

It is a sacred call to service that should not be taken lightly – especially when political contests here on Florida’s Fun Coast have taken on the characteristics of an industrial meatgrinder. 

But for those intrepid few with a fire in belly – with the courage to put ego and selfish motives aside and wield the enormous power and influence of high office to make a true difference in the life of your community – the opportunity to effect substantive change where we live, work, learn, and play is worthy of the effort and sacrifice.   

Angels & Assholes for July 2, 2021

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 School Board

I am not the most financially savvy guy you know.

In fact, my wife and I have one of those classic “spender vs. saver” relationships – where Patti looks to the long-term viability of the household while I indulge every hedonistic impulse.

However, even a profligate wastrel like me knows that when funds are low and debts are high, it is time to tighten the ol’ belt, patch financial leaks and ooze, and, most important, stop spending money. 

In my experience, many governmental organizations and taxing districts have a hard time grasping this basic economic concept because the assets and resources they are tasked with stewarding are not their own – an environment where public funds are viewed as a gift from the mythical money tree, manna from heaven, the byproduct of a dyspeptic goose that continuously lays golden eggs – all while strapped taxpayers are forced to ante up, or else.

By all accounts, Volusia County District Schools are facing a serious financial crisis. 

With a $992.1 million budget (you read that right) our hapless School Board continues to cry the poormouth blues while failing to staunch the small cuts and gaping lacerations that threaten to exsanguinate district coffers. 

For instance, the School Board recently announced that they plan to use federal coronavirus relief funds (a completely unsustainable source) to cover an estimated $46 million deficit for the next fiscal year – while simultaneously gifting Superintendent Scott Fritz with a wholly unwarranted $10,000 performance bonus for his role in developing a “strategic plan” – a trifling list of run-of-the-mill “goals” facilitated by an outside contractor.

What was the number one strategic objective on the much-anticipated list of “measurable, attainable, smart goals with key performance indicators” established for Volusia County schools – those ambitious targets that were carefully crafted by the best minds our money can buy following nine-months of burning the midnight oil?

Engage all students in high levels of learning every day.

You also read that right. 

As opposed to what?  Circling the wagons, showering senior executives with lucrative bonuses, denying learning opportunities, and allowing students to wallow in abject mediocrity every day? 

If Superintendent Fritz makes good on these unremarkable aims – where success or failure is left to the eye of the beholder – he is eligible for additional annual bonuses equaling 10% of his $205,000 base salary – for a potential personal windfall of $20,500 each year. . . 

In a district where teacher salaries (you know, those who are actually in the classroom, struggling mightily to engage students in high levels of learning each day?) are ranked in the lower third of school districts statewide, while executive compensation ranks among the highest in Florida. 

My God.

Did I mention that the school board failed to set new “goals or standards” for Dr. Fritz for the current year? 

Because no one in the Ivory Tower of Power is held responsible for anything. . .

Every bloated bureaucracy knows that once it starts down that slippery slope of setting high standards or holding people accountable – those pesky constituents who pay the bills start expecting things – and that never ends well.

Perhaps more disturbing, last week, with only days to spare before his contract expired, the Volusia County School Board gifted their longtime attorney, Ted Doran, with a new three-year contract and a whopping 25% pay increase, bringing Doran’s lucrative hourly rate from $195 to $245. 

According to Doran, we are getting a bargain, because his standard fee for private clients is $400 an hour. . .

Which begs the logical question – why is Mr. Doran wasting his valuable time shepherding around these buffoons when he could be farting through silk for the rest of his life if he just paid more attention to his day job? 

Perhaps my odd curiosity was answered in an informative piece by education reporter Cassidy Alexander writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, cleverly entitled, “Volusia School Board attorney gets raise, new 3-year contract”:

“Last fiscal year, Doran and his firm were paid between $400,000 and $450,000 total for work with the school district (the final numbers are not yet available). The majority is for other legal services they provided to the district. The district contracts with six to eight outside law firms for various legal services and specializations.”

Whoa. 

Kudos to educator and board member Carl Persis, who pointed out the painfully obvious when he suggested that taking up the expensive issue of entering negotiations with just one week to spare on Mr. Doran’s contract seemed “forced.”

“I feel like right now we’re being forced into something,” Persis said. “Let’s not feel like we’re held hostage in this and make a poor decision.”

To allow the board an opportunity to seek alternatives after 19-years under Mr. Doran’s counsel, Mr. Persis rightfully moved for a one-year contract. 

His commonsense effort fell victim to the abject absurdity that has perpetually plagued the Volusia County School Board.     

Ultimately, most of our elected “hostages” on the dais succumbed to a weird form of political Stockholm Syndrome and approved a three-year deal on a 4-1 vote – with Mr. Persis casting the lone “No.” 

According to the News-Journal’s report, “Board members expressed frustration at the timing of the discussion, and board chair (Linda) Cuthbert apologized for not realizing when Doran’s contract was up.”

Wait.  Are you telling us not one of our elected representatives – not even the chair – “realized” that Mr. Doran’s contract was up for renegotiation? 

Say what?

Perhaps it is this lackadaisical approach to awarding lucrative contracts for goods and services that has contributed to the current financial quagmire the district finds itself in – a distinct lack of urgency or organizational discipline that allows our elected officials to conveniently forget when their attorney’s contract is up for consideration – one of only two positions the board hires, directs, and supervises. 

What a damnable embarrassment. 

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Officer Jason Raynor

By any metric, it has been a difficult week here in Volusia County.

On Monday morning, a Volusia County employee identified as Tim Swiger, 52, a tradesworker in the Facilities Management Division, died tragically in a motor vehicle accident involving a Votran bus.

The horrific crash injured 14 others.

By all accounts, Mr. Swiger was a gifted carpenter who specialized in cabinetry, framing, and special projects – a much-admired craftsman who took great pride in the quality of his public service. 

In a recent evaluation, Mr. Swiger’s division director commended his personal dedication and commitment to seeing a job done well, “Tim takes pride in his work and enjoys what he does. He goes above and beyond to help others and is a true asset to his division.”

That evening, Phil Vanderhoof, a homeless person who became a beloved fixture in the community – known far and wide for his remarkable talent for knife sharpening – passed away at Halifax Health Port Orange.

Mr. Vanderhoof was fondly remembered in hundreds of messages of condolence on social media this week – a fitting memorial for a simple man who left such an indelible impression on the many who knew Phil and relied on his skill.     

Then, the legendary professor, political scientist, and statesman Dr. T. Wayne Bailey died during the early morning hours of Tuesday. 

He was 86.

Professor Bailey was world-renowned for his keen insight into all strata of governance and politics – and his learned opinions were frequently quoted in local, national, and international news articles and scholarly writings – but he will most be remembered for the fatherly mentorship and devotion to the holistic education of Stetson University students.

It was this depth of care and positive influence on the lives of so many that will remain his enduring legacy.   

In addition, Dr. Bailey had a direct role in shaping modern Volusia County government as one of the founding fathers of the county’s original home-rule charter.  He also chaired the first two Charter Review Commissions before serving as a member of the commissions in 1995, 2006, and 2016. 

I did not always agree with Dr. Bailey politically, but I invariably learned something new and important whenever he weighed in – perpetually impressed with his ability to disagree with those who thought different from him without being disagreeable. 

The mark of a gentleman – and a scholar.   

According to an article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal announcing Dr. Bailey’s passing:

“There are few people I know who receive the regard given to Stetson University Professor Emeritus T. Wayne Bailey,” said Stetson University Provost and Executive Vice President Noel Painter. “The impact of his 53-year career at Stetson has produced ripples across the country, with Stetson students pursuing meaningful careers in the fields of law and public service due to his mentorship, teaching and sage advice.”

These remarkable gentlemen, each from different walks of life, will be widely missed and long remembered by all who were touched by their lives and contributions. 

The traumatic line-of-duty shooting of 26-year-old Daytona Beach Police Officer Jason Raynor has galvanized our community in such a profound way, uniting us in the common goal of supporting this young man’s recovery, while expressing our sincere appreciation for all those brave souls who serve and protect. 

In ways large and small, the community has expressed just how much the dedicated men and women of law enforcement mean to us – and we continue to honor the sacrifice of Officer Raynor and his family by donating food, money, and resources, holding prayer vigils, establishing fundraisers, and participating in heartfelt tributes.    

I know those we send in harms way to protect my family and yours are thankful for the gratitude shown by many of our local and state elected officials this week – some of whom spoke from the heart, dropping the ‘politically correct’ façade to authentically express their outrage – and their deeply held admiration for Officer Raynor and his brothers and sisters in blue.

An openness which resulted in withering criticism from some misguided groups and individuals with a larger, more divisive, agenda. 

My hope is you will seek out a meaningful way to support Officer Raynor in the days and weeks to come – it is important – and your love and encouragement mean everything to those precious few who sacrifice so much in service to our community. 

A GoFundMe account has been established to assist Officer Raynor and his family during this difficult time.  Please find it here: https://tinyurl.com/5k3t4kks

Also, the Daytona Beach Police Department is offering double-sided yard signs for a $20 donation with all proceeds going to the Raynor family.  For more information, please contact Sergeant Lissette Deschamps at (386) 671-5367 or DeschampsL@DBPD.us or Eva Ziehl at (386) 671-5408 or ZiehlEwa@dbpd.us.

Tomorrow morning the Daytona Unity Walk will honor Officer Raynor, while helping heal and bond the community.  The walk begins at the City Island parking lot (near Jackie Robinson Ball Park, 105 East Orange Avenue) at 9:00am. 

Participants will traverse the Veterans Memorial Bridge before returning to City Island for an event offering free food, music, and presenters. 

Daytona Strong – Raynor Strong.

Angel               Civic Activist & Change Agent Sherrise Boyd

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of participating in the popular public affairs forum Live with Boyd! a production of the extraordinary Daytona Beach civic activist Sherrise Boyd.    

In my view, Ms. Boyd, a former mayoral candidate for the City of Daytona Beach, is emerging as a true change agent who possesses the bona fides, innate curiosity, and depth of character to make a true difference in the future of the Halifax area. 

In addition, Sherrise brings her educational accomplishments and extensive public service experience to her role as Chief Executive Officer of Boyd Consulting, a local branding, marketing, and lobbying consultancy offering a wide range of administrative and operational services to government, non-profits, and the private sector. 

The multitalented Ms. Boyd also produces Breakfast with Boyd, a weekly dialog offered across a variety of social media platforms, which introduces viewers to various area politicians, business leaders, environmental activists, and civic influencers.  

In other words, Ms. Boyd is everything a tired old blowhard like me is not – and I find it refreshing that a creative with her impressive professional attributes and inquisitive mind is using her voice to elevate the discussion – working hard to effect positive change in Volusia County and beyond.

I sincerely appreciate that Ms. Boyd included me early on her important journey.   

Whenever someone is kind enough to ask me to speak on a topic of community concern – or take part in a larger conversation on the social, civic, and economic issues we collectively face – I do my best to help. 

The Great Mystery of our Time is why anyone would be interested in listening to my goofy thoughts, but I appreciate the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone, and I always gain valuable insight from interacting with civically active people with different views and perspectives.

For anyone interested (and if you are, you probably need a hobby worse than I do) I will be contributing to the discussion at the following civic and professional organizations soon:

On Thursday, July 15, 2021, at 6:00pm, I will join the Bellaire Community Group at the Schnebly Recreation Center, 1101 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, for a roundtable discussion with area writers, to include the exceptional Derek Catron, former managing editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal and a talented novelist, who has published two incredibly well-received works, Trail Angel and Angel Falls.  (For more information, please find Derek’s work here: http://derekcatron.com/)

Also on the dais will be former Ormond Beach City Commissioner, longtime community activist, (my high school civics teacher, so blame him), and award-winning author Jeffrey Boyle, whose novels Nam Story and Hidden Truths can be found on Amazon.  (See more at http://jeffboyleormondwriter.com/ )

I am embarrassed to mention my name in the same breath with these talented authors – which is a gross affront to real writers and journalists everywhere – and I have no doubt these gifted artists risk being expelled from the guild for having agreed to sit next to me – yet here we are. . . 

The event is open to the public and I hope you can join us. 

In addition, I have been extended a most generous invitation to luncheon and speak with the New Smyrna Beach Board of Realtors on August 26 at 11:30am, at the beautiful waterfront Brannon Center. 

Now, I have no earthly idea what to say to a roomful of distinguished realtors and business leaders – but I shall do my best.    

If you are a member of this prestigious professional organization, I look forward to meeting you!   

Quote of the Week

“The 800 members of Daytona Dog Beach, Inc. are disappointed and angry with the Volusia County Council’s June 22nd vote, based on an inaccurate/incomplete report by their staff, which ignored the voices of residents and taxpayers asking for compromise to allow expansion of leashed dog friendly beach options.

For longtime resident members, it confirmed their long-held cynicism that their county leaders don’t value their voices. Instead, they listen to those who pull their strings and take away the simple pleasures and freedoms residents once enjoyed growing up along the beaches.”

— Nanette McKeel Petrella, president of Daytona Dog Beach, Inc., as excerpted from her Letter to the Editor in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia ignored our proposal,” Monday, June 28, 2021

“…their county leaders don’t value their voices. Instead, they listen to those who pull their strings…”

Anyone else see a disturbing trend here?

For years, the Volusia County Council has suffered from what has become colloquially known as “The Trust Issue.”

Many look to this loss of public confidence as the foremost reason the half-cent sales tax money grab went down in flames – and why smart people know it will fail again, so long as the same greed-crazed hands remain on the tiller – and I don’t mean our elected officials, those wooden bowsprits on that ship of fools in DeLand, who serve as mere placeholders for the influential few with a chip in the game.  

The 800 members of Daytona Dog Beach, Inc. – and the thousands more who carve out a life on this salty piece of land – are growing tired of being ignored and dismissed by our ‘powers that be’ – sick of watching helplessly as those who make a valiant effort to represent our interests are marginalized and pilloried by those do-nothing obstructionists whose gut reaction is always the path of least resistance. 

In Volusia County, trying something – anything – new, fun, or marginally innovative to accommodate the needs of long-suffering taxpayers is considered verboten in a place where lockstep conformity is valued over anything remotely inventive or original.

The 2022 election cannot get here soon enough. . .

And Another Thing! 

Most sitting politicians are smart enough to consider the source and ignore the slings, arrows, and petty criticisms from up here in the peanut gallery.    

Others cannot resist getting down in the mud and wallowing around with me – trying desperately to spin the narrative or defend the indefensible – adding to the suspicion and speculation that fuels my often-controversial opinions in the first place. 

Last week, I took The Daytona Beach News-Journal to task after they were caught out by their friends and benefactors among the Halifax area’s “Rich & Powerful” – those privileged few who, for far too long, have controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on Florida’s Fun Coast. 

Awkwardly, a News-Journal reporter and photographer were initially denied entry to an elegant private soiree at the tony One Daytona last week – a very exclusive affair organized as a reception for Daytona Beach’s new City Manager Deric Feacher and “50 of Daytona Beach’s most influential leaders,” which apparently included invitations to members of the Volusia County Council and other area elected officials.

What?  You didn’t get an invite, but your elected representative did? 

Me neither. 

Why is that? 

See how these uncomfortable questions beget questions from us unwashed rubes left standing outside, staring at the inner workings through that greasy opaque pane that separates us from the anointed ones? 

Once inside, reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean discovered that the only elected official in attendance was freshman Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu – who, after explaining she did not feel the need to explain herself on social media – explained that she went because she received an invitation, the event was to “…welcome our new city manager,” and the hotel where the ‘reception’ was held happened to be in her zone. . . 

She also felt the need to explain, “I don’t rub elbows, I associate with people. Just saying.”

Clear enough?  I didn’t think so. . .

In my jaded view it was a rookie mistake – a classic example of a neophyte politician’s inability to read a room – and I said so. 

Rather than stop while she was ahead, Ms. Cantu went on to justify her presence by clarifying, “I wasn’t aware being (an) elected official that I needed permission from anyone to attend events that I’m invited to.  Hmmm, that’s a new one.”

In my view, her disturbing lack of situational awareness aside, Commissioner Cantu is right.

She can do whatever she wants

So long as the letter and spirit of Florida’s Sunshine Law are followed – and the suspicions, concerns, and perceptions of her constituents no longer matter.      

Trust me.  There is a reason her more experienced colleagues on the dais of power in Daytona Beach and Volusia County were not in that space:

Because the optics sucked. Just sayin’. . .

After jotting down my thoughts, I was taken to the woodshed by a few of Commissioner Cantu’s most ardent supporters – all of whom are bright, civically active residents who rightfully look to her as a breath of fresh air after years of civic stagnation – an elected representative who dutifully questions the who, what, when, where, why, and how much of things and works hard to make public policy decisions in the best interests of her constituents. 

I admire Ms. Cantu’s hands-on representation.  But only time will tell if I am right or wrong. 

I hope I am wrong.

Call me a cynical asshole, but I know how things work in the Halifax area – and who works them. 

So do you.

Perhaps that is why when Commissioner Cantu tells us – just six-months into her term – not to be “paranoid” of her personal and political associations, it raises the wary eyebrows of those who have seen more than one “for the people” politician transform into everything they hated after being taken into the maw of “The System.”  

My sincere hope is that Commissioner Cantu is everything her desperate constituents hope she is – and more – a true champion of the long-suffering citizens and small business owners of Daytona Beach who are rightfully suspicious of anyone who promises substantive change in an environment where the status quo reigns supreme. 

Through hard-earned experience, I never hitch my wagon to a politician for the same reason I do not touch a hot stove twice. 

Here on the ever-shifting sands of the Fun Coast, blind loyalty is tailormade for disappointment. 

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

One Daytona? Hardly. . .

If you have four or five reasonably functioning senses – do not let anyone sell you on their distorted version of reality. 

In the lucrative world of politics, there will always be self-serving elected officials, and the powerbrokers who own the paper on their political souls, who try and convince us that what we see, hear, and think isn’t true by painting an alternative reality that they can control.   

For instance, last month, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an editorial which arrogantly lectured Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower for having the cheek to live up to those campaign promises that resonated with voters – while encouraging him to stop fighting, rollover, and accept the status quo – to embrace the stagnant “go along and get along” good ‘ol boy system that has served all the right last names for years. 

“There are people whispering in Brower’s ear (or thundering on Facebook) who suggest it’s all a pleasant-seeming front. That each of his colleagues — with the occasional exception of (District 4 Councilwoman) Post — are controlled by a dark cabal of the wealthy and powerful. That the true agenda is to scrape Volusia County residents (and their cars) off the beaches, drain them dry through taxes and fees, destroy the environment and otherwise crush the county’s 500,000-plus residents into a state of miserable submission while throwing the door open for marching hordes of monied, retired invaders.”

The newspaper used several contrived examples to drive the point home, one claiming that the Brower-supported purchase of environmentally sensitive land along the Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail resulted from the “emotional blackmail” of elected officials – rather than the hard work of civic activists, the political leverage embodied in the 70,000 citizens who signed a petition supporting the purchase, and thousands more who plastered the community with banners, signs, and bumper stickers.

The piece continued by gaslighting already suspicious Volusia County residents who have been continuously told, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

In my view, the piece played on our well-founded fears, and asked that citizens question their own thoughts and opinions – to doubt their perceptions and distrust the empirical evidence they have seen and heard with their own faculties – using the illusory truth effect, where a lie repeated often enough is accepted as truth. 

“In fact, all opposition seems to be considered as a sign that the forces of darkness are aligned against the chairman. Even as we write this, we can imagine the howls of inchoate fury that will rage across social media Sunday morning. Clearly, they will say, The News-Journal is in on it.

To which we’d reply: If we are, we’re not doing a very good job. In fact, the Evil Committee of Evil To Destroy Volusia County seems to be the most inept band of scoundrels ever to plot destruction.”

So, what happens when The Daytona Beach News-Journal – which long-ago assumed the position as a cheap propaganda organ for our “wealthy & powerful” – is openly embarrassed by its own manipulative influencers?

When the grim perception of backroom deals and the undue influence of the uber-wealthy few we have all been told does not exist proves true? 

When our newspaper of record makes us out to be rubes and fools in a shameless smokescreen to hide the truth about ‘the way things work’ here on Florida’s Fun Coast?

Last week, our worst fears were realized during an exclusive cocktail party at the publicly funded One Daytona shopping and entertainment complex, which is wholly owned by Daytona International Speedway, where “50 of Daytona Beach’s most influential leaders” apparently attempted to carve out some private time with new Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher.

During this swellegant soiree, the crème de la crème of the Halifax areas civic, social, and business elite noshed on hors d’oeuvres while subliminally explaining to Mr. Feacher which side his bread is buttered on. . .

The exclusive guest list included some heavy hitters, to include NASCAR Executive Vice Chair Lesa France Kennedy and His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown – along with a host of lesser ‘movers & shakers’ all seeking to set the tone for Mr. Feacher’s tenure. 

The fête contrasted in the most extraordinary way with a townhall hosted at the Dickerson Center earlier this month – demonstrating the stark social and economic divisions that still plague the fractured Halifax area – a dynamic that has given an influential few far too much access, for far too long.   

During that community meeting, some 200 residents enjoyed a simple sacked meal while getting acquainted with their new city manager, who willingly answered their questions, and did his best to assuage the lingering fear and trepidation after nearly 20-years of being dismissed and ignored by those untouchables at City Hall.   

According to a report by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Keen writing in the News-Journal, Mr. Feacher promised the assembled residents that he would never do anything “illegal, immoral or unethical,” and “…vowed to steer clear of any “under-the-table deals” and clandestine conversations.”

“It’s not going to happen,” he said.”

He also explained how he made all department heads reapply for their jobs – rightfully observing, “Some of them have been working slow for a long time,” he said, adding that’s no longer acceptable.”

I found Mr. Feacher’s personal dedication to avoiding even the appearance of impropriety a refreshing change from our abysmal past.   

Interestingly, when Zaffiro-Keen and a News-Journal photographer attempted to enter the exclusive “gathering” at One Daytona last week, both were initially denied entry. 

I don’t make this shit up.  You read that right. 

“Organizers of Tuesday’s event said they intended the gathering to be private. But they invited County Council members, and having two or more elected officials from the same government body at an event means the public has to be allowed to attend under Florida’s Sunshine Law.”

I’ll bet they did – because when the conclave was exposed to the light-of-day – it had all the earmarks of just another slimy attempt at undue influence by all the right last names. . .    

After all, why wouldn’t Eileen be permitted inside?

She works for a media outlet that buys printers ink by the barrel and is well-versed on the local issues – which makes her incredibly influential – and she has a stellar reputation for reporting the news of the day in a fair and unvarnished way.

So why keep her out?

I’ll let you answer that disturbing question for yourself. . .

Ultimately, “organizers” of this intimate affair must have realized the appalling optics of denying the working press access, and, ultimately, Zaffiro-Kean and her photographer were allowed inside.

According to reports, only one elected official, freshman Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu, was found rubbing elbows inside the reception – no doubt enjoying the fawning and perquisites that come with high office – completely clueless to the ugly image her attendance presents to long-suffering constituents.

Let’s chalk it up to a ‘rookie mistake,’ eh? 

Whatever.  

In one moment, the damage to the well-crafted narrative was complete – and We, The Little People will never again be deluded into believing that a powerful few aren’t working hard, behind closed doors, to feather their own nest, control public policy, and maintain their suckling order at the public teat – while the great unwashed hordes suffer the civic and economic stagnation that always results from an unlevel playing field. 

One Daytona?  Hardly. . .

Photo Credit: NOT The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Angels & Assholes for June 25, 2021

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               City of Holly Hill 

Theologians can point to my life as evidence of divine intervention – the empirical proof of God’s mercy and direct intercession in the lives of sinners, drunks, and fools – which makes me triple-sanctified. . .

Do you have a better explanation?

The fact is, my life has been blessed in innumerable ways, thanks to my fortunate association with “The City with a Heart.”

On March 28, 1983, I walked through the doors of the Holly Hill Police Department for the first time to take the Oath of Office from then Chief John P. Finn – a lifelong mentor and friend who somehow saw faint promise in a 22-year-old kid with little life experience and no educational accomplishments beyond a high school diploma. 

Some 38-years later – my tangible connection to this wonderful community will come to a quiet end today.   

Following my retirement as Chief of Police in 2014, Chief Stephen Aldrich graciously allowed me to remain with the department in a part-time reserve status, which kept my Florida law enforcement certification active, provided a much-needed psychological buffer to losing my professional identity, and an opportunity to put my emergency management training and experience to use during severe weather events and other occasions when an extra set of hands proved helpful.

In turn, I served when and where I could – well compensated by the sheer pleasure of working shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers and sisters in blue – a way of giving back to the citizens who have given me so much, a life I could never have imagined all those years ago when I was given the opportunity to do what I loved with a remarkable group of talented and dedicated people, providing an important service to a community who genuinely appreciated the effort.

I can say this now:  I would have paid them for the privilege.   

Like any career, or life worth living, it was not without its humps and bumps, but I was fortunate to work for leaders with the courage to allow me to make mistakes and learn from them – a humbling exercise that taught me taking responsibility for personal and organizational shortcomings is not always fatal – that people can forgive what they see themselves doing – and that honesty alone builds trust.

I was gifted the opportunity to work in that magnificent coquina building on Ridgewood Avenue – a place that became a sanctuary from the storms of life, a refuge where I felt the love and respect of friends and colleagues – a mighty structure that next year will have anchored the municipal government for 80-years

Most important, I was given the chance to serve with some extraordinary people who would later become family – devoted public servants who taught me the enduring strength of friendships forged in fire – and the deep satisfaction that comes from dedicating one’s life to cause greater than our own self-interests.    

Two-weeks ago, I submitted my resignation from part-time status with the Holly Hill Police Department effective today.     

Seven-years into retirement – it was time.  

After all, at some point, “old has-beens” like me take up too much space in the modern world of law enforcement – time waits for no one – and all good things eventually come an end. 

I recently completed firearms qualification leading to the issuance of a credential which authorizes retired police officers to carry the lifesaving tool of their trade under HR 218, known as the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act

The identification number on my randomly issued card was 00008.

No doubt sensing my sadness and trepidation in severing formal ties with the department I have loved so well, for so long, a young police sergeant who I have watched grow into a gifted leader reminded me of the biblical significance of the number 8 – a symbol of “New beginnings.”

Wow. Heaven sent? 

To the outstanding elected and appointed leadership, the incomparable City Manager Joe Forte, Chief Aldrich and his remarkable staff, my former colleagues in Volusia County law enforcement, and the wonderful citizens of Holly Hill – Thank You!

What a fantastic ride. . .

My hope is that I have at least one more great adventure, one exciting “new beginning,” left in me before I take up the rocking chair in earnest – but no matter what life has in store – nothing will compare with the greatest privilege of my life in service to that beautiful community. 

Heaven sent, indeed. 

Asshole           City of Deltona

Respect and communication is a two-way street.

Earlier this month, during an emotionally charged melodramatic performance worthy of an Academy Award, Deltona’s Interim City Manager John Peters III, cemented his role with public accusations that several elected officials insinuated themselves into the day-to-day operations of city government. 

These were serious allegations that constituted violations of the city charter and most certainly had a chilling effect on any elected official seeking to keep an eye on the inner sanctum at City Hall.   

To drive the point home in the newspaper, he threatened to take his football and go home.

Given that the City of Deltona has now had three chief executives in less than a year-and-a-half, perhaps an extra set of eyes was warranted – someone elected by the taxpayers to ensure that things did not go off the rails as they had under the tumultuous reign of the tyrannical Jane Shang.

While Mr. Peters commands the respect of many in the community, I felt his very public threat to resign and return to the relative comfort of his role as Deltona’s Director of Public Works could be perceived as a cheap powerplay – one designed to virtually eliminate external oversight and neuter the people’s representatives – in a place that desperately needs strong checks and balances.

Earlier this week, in an informative article by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Wild West Volusia correspondent Katie Kustura, we learned that Circuit Judge Randell H. Rowe III was giving serious consideration to finding the City of Deltona in contempt of court for its failure to live up to the terms of an April settlement agreement with a resident whose home was flooded with raw sewage in 2018, after the city’s wastewater system was found “to be in a state of continued disrepair.”

According to reports, on April 19, the city entered an agreement with the homeowner for approximately $250,000 – which assistant city attorney B. Scott George said he would “strongly advise the commission to approve” at a meeting later that month.

Ultimately, the matter did not appear on the commission agenda until Monday. . .

According to an order filed June 9, Judge Rowe said “…the city has shown “willful disregard” and “gross indifference” to the court’s orders as this was the third issuance of a show-cause order in the case.”

Further, “Rowe wrote that the goings-on with the case led him to believe that, prior to his most recent order, the “mayor and commissioners may not have been told about this settlement agreement.”

Whoa. 

Commissioners Dana McCool and David Sosa – two of the elected officials publicly gibbeted by Peters – ran on a personal commitment to champion the interests of long-neglected residents.

Now, both watchdogs are walking on eggshells, even as the City of Deltona is under threat of criminal sanctions handed down by a righteously pissed off Judge Rowe.    

In my view, the fact Sosa, McCool, and their colleagues were not made aware of the terms of the agreement until Peters sent them a belated email on the matter speaks volumes to the continuing pact of secrecy amongst the upper echelon at City Hall.

At the end of the day, Mr. Peters was left uncomfortably staring at his shoes when the hard questions were asked – while City Attorney Marsha Segal-George tap-danced around the issue of who dropped the ball and when with a weird “not my job” argument, yammering about insurance companies and blaming Deltona’s notorious personnel turnover – all while the elected officials looked on like a befuddled troupe of out-of-the-loop bumpkins. 

In my experience, one ignores a court order at their own peril – and I am not sure the good citizens of Deltona received a clear explanation as to how their hapless ‘powers that be’ got into hot water with Judge Rowe. 

At the end of the day, the elected officials voted unanimously to approve the settlement agreement.   

In the meantime, Peters is now trying to get his staff off their ass to develop a game plan for fixing the decades old engineering problems that have led to a citizen’s home being inundated with a virtual tsunami of human waste – multiple times – without previous mitigation.   

My God.

According to the perpetually perplexed Mayor Heidi Herzberg, “It’s a new day.” 

Is it? 

Or just another variation on the same tired theme that has left the largest city in Volusia County in this seemingly endless and utterly dysfunctional quagmire.    

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Once again, our ‘powers that be’ heard your fervent pleas on an important issue of public concern and opted to do what they do best:

Absolutely nothing. . .

After getting everyone’s hopes up by directing county staff to research and present various options that would expand where dogs are permitted on Volusia County beaches – then mechanically “listening” to residents who took time away from their lives to present their views on both sides of the issue – the entire expensive exercise became a horrible waste of everyone’s time when At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson moved to maintain the status quo – a parliamentary action that was instinctively seconded by his dutiful mentee Councilman Danny Robins.

As has become the fashion, the idea went down in flames on a 5-1 vote with Chairman Jeff Brower, once again, in the minority (it would have been 6-1, but Council member Dr. Fred Lowry left the building to nurse a sore knee).

Unfortunately, Chairman Brower’s common-sense suggestion to allow leashed and permitted dogs in a small section of beach convenient to Halifax area residents (University Boulevard to Zelda Boulevard) on a limited trial basis – rather than maintaining the onerous requirement that District 4 taxpayers and beyond drive their pets to either Smyrna Dunes Park or Lighthouse Point Park – north and south of Ponce Inlet – was pooh-poohed (pun intended) by our elected officials in favor of sitting on their thumbs.

Why?

Because your elected officials do not trust you to clean-up after your dog. 

Remember those glad-handing political hacks who asked for your trust and begged for your sacred vote during their last election? 

Well, they are firmly convinced that responsible dog owners should be punished for the sins of those irresponsible few who leave steaming piles of dogshit in the sand – rather than the other way around.    

Because trying something – anything – new, fun, or marginally innovative to accommodate the needs of beachgoers and pet owners is considered verboten in a place where lockstep conformity is valued over anything remotely inventive or original. 

Because here on the Fun Coast, the tail wags the dog (another weak pun intended) – and public policy decisions regarding beach management and access issues will always be based upon the amount of “extra work” it requires from our exalted executives, beach management poohbahs, paid pooper scoopers, beach specialists, environmental gurus, turtle whisperers, waste managers, toll takers, etc., etc., more, more, ad infinitum – a massive and obstinate bureaucracy where the word “NO” has become the operative, and immediate, response.   

Because creative adaptation to changing needs is no longer considered a virtue on the Volusia County Council.

Look, no one asked that roving packs of wild curs be given unfettered access to all 47 miles of Volusia County beaches – just a reasonable accommodation for the 99.999% of residents living north of Ponce Inlet who want a convenient dog friendly section of beach. 

Get used to it, rubes.  We’re screwed. 

And our little dogs, too. . .   

Pay your taxes and shut your pie hole, John Q. – No one in a position of power at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center gives two-shits what you think.

My hope is you will remember this latest insult at the ballot box next year.

I damn sure will.  

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Department   

On Wednesday evening, 26-year-old Daytona Beach police officer Jason Raynor was gravely wounded during an encounter with a cowardly piece of human waste while investigating a suspicious incident on Kingston Avenue. 

This horrific incident serves as a reminder that while we go about our daily lives and sleep comfortably at night – brave men and women stand a thin line between peace and chaos, defending justice and the rule of law against civil and social anarchy – protecting us from the ever-present evil in the world and the predatory criminals who prey upon the weak and vulnerable.    

Unfortunately, the sacrifices of these brave souls often become an afterthought, or worse, our law enforcement officers are forced into the role of societal scapegoat – a punching bag to absorb the anger and frustration that result from our collective civic, moral, and cultural failures – villainized by fringe elements whose perverse cries of “defund the police” have been brought into the mainstream by pandering politicians and cowardly bureaucrats who kowtow to radical activists and charlatans – blunting the tip of the spear in an effort to appease craven opportunists who seek to divide us.

A topsy-turvy Twilight Zone where everything our officers do from the mundane to the extraordinary – including instantaneous life-and-death decisions – are recorded by jeering mobs, then painstakingly analyzed by an out-of-touch media and mercenary lawyers, picked apart frame-by-frame, with every perceived misstep used to further the current sport of destroying the lives and careers of those we have asked to do the unthinkable in our defense.

Disgusting.     

As a result, many law enforcement officers rightfully feel abused and abandoned by those they have sworn an oath to serve and protect – and the gulf between us and those we ask to go into harms way grows wider – all while highly trained and experienced officers continue to flee the police service in droves.

Who could blame them? 

In my view, this exodus from my beloved profession will continue so long as the protected find it fashionable to beat and muzzle the sheepdog, even as the flock sleeps safe and sound under the cloak of protection these heroes provide at such great personal and professional risk.   

Am I venting?  You bet your sweet ass I am – and anyone who is not moved to rage by this violent attack on one of the best our community has to offer should remember this young man took a bullet to the head while defending you and your family from a similar fate. 

As a career law enforcement officer, it was heartening to see hundreds of my brothers and sisters from throughout the region descend on Daytona Beach to assist in the search for the suspect – acting in the finest traditions of the service – demonstrating the strength, amity, and camaraderie inherent to those who are called to this special profession. 

Please join me and my family in prayer for this dedicated public servant, someone who so willingly risked his own life to protect ours – and for the safety of all law enforcement officers, who, time-and-again, selflessly face the forces of evil to safeguard all that we hold dear.     

Quote of the Week

“The promotion and management of our tourism and our events has been in the hands of bed tax funded entities for far too long. As a tourist destination Daytona Beach must take control of marketing itself. Create a tourism and events Department. Hire professional tourism marketers that will implement 21st century techniques and away from the same old tired 20th century ways of “we have always done it this way.”

The Speedway, the promoter, our elected officials, and our paid bureaucrats failed miserably with managing the truck event. Leaving it up to the DBPD to manage and control the attendees. Our DBPD are law enforcement that are here to protect and serve our residents not events Manager’s.

The Speedway and the promoter made money, while residents paid $175,000 in overtime for policing of the event as police officers had vacation time canceled. This doesn’t include the inconvenience to Daytona Beach residents. We control our own destiny Daytona. Demand better.”

–Ken Strickland, civic activist, and former Daytona Beach mayoral candidate, in response to the Barker’s View op/ed “Daytona Beach: If Not Now, When?” writing on Facebook’s “East/West Volusia Forum,” Monday, June 21, 2021

And Another Thing!

It is said that to experience the human emotion of shame, one must first have standards.

On Tuesday, during the latest preposterous production of that théâtre de l’absurde known as the Volusia County Council, several important civic and religious leaders made a very convincing case for the resignation of our self-anointed éminence grise, District 5 Council member The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry. 

Of course, Crazy Fred just sat at his perch on the dais, lost defiantly in his own bizarre thoughts, slowly shifting a lozenge around in his mouth, totally unfazed by the storm of criticism raging in the gallery – clearly refusing to give those ungrateful bastards he represents the satisfaction.

Strange. 

Following a now infamous sermon at his Deltona church in May, Dr. Lowry was appropriately taken to task by the Orland Sentinel for his macabre thoughts on Hollywood’s alleged connection to satanic rituals involving the exsanguination of children to produce a hallucinogenic youth serum, the outright denial of the Coronavirus pandemic, and other uber-weird and hyper-political conspiracy theories taken literally from the lunatic fringe. 

Look, as a blowhard blogger I understand better than most the importance of our First Amendment protections ensuring free speech – the inalienable right to form individual opinions, no matter how outlandish or repellant – and publicly express our thoughts on the issues of the day.

It is the foundational principle of our democratic system. 

However, I also believe those who are elected to represent the interests of all residents of Volusia County, have an obligation to speak the truth, to hold themselves accountable – a responsibility to instill public confidence in both the process and their important role in it – and have the decency to step aside when they lose the sacred trust of their constituents.

Much of the ruckus over Dr. Lowry’s odd proselytizing has dissolved into typical partisan opportunism, with area democrats exploiting a clear political misstep, while stodgy republican operatives continue to defend their weakest link and remain sore over the fact their Darling of the Donor Class was soundly trounced by a plebian like Chairman Jeff Brower in the last election.   

Clearly, many residents on all sides of the political spectrum remain concerned that these deranged beliefs – when voiced by a sitting member of the Volusia County Council who places the respected title “Doctor” before his name – have compromised his ability to effectively represent the broad and varied interests of residents and visitors.

At best, it was a damnable embarrassment.  

Unfortunately, when it came time to protect the institution – to step down from the dais of power and return to the sanctity of his ambo at the Deltona Lakes Baptist Church, a place where he is free to preach anything his conscience, and congregation, will permit – he refused to do the honorable thing.

In a terse email to The Daytona Beach News-Journal following the contentious meeting, Dr. Lowry smugly responded to his critics: “I will not be resigning. That is all.”

Did anyone expect anything different?

In my view, Fred Lowry may well be meshuga – but he isn’t going anywhere – not unless and until the voters have their fill of this pompous ass.   

As a Stalwart of the Status Quo and senior presiding member of Volusia County’s “Old Guard,” Dr. Lowry continues to play an important role – defending the crumbling ramparts of this dysfunctional citadel that shelters the forces of mediocrity in DeLand – a dull tool of those influential interests who seek to marginalize Chairman Brower and torpedo his vision of addressing the needs and wants of average taxpayers, not just the whims of the self-serving few with a chip in the game.  

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