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
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
Call me a soothsayer, but I just knew the innovative ideas of creating a dog friendly section of beach – and freeing Volusia County residents from the odious burden of double-taxation in the form of beach access fees – were dead on arrival when the bureaucracy started presenting its own “facts” ahead of the public meeting last week – prefaced by the fearmongering line, “What you are not being told about Free dogs on the beach and Free beach driving passes…”
Upon taking office in January, District 4 Councilman Troy Kent expressed interest in establishing limited dog friendly sections of beach in each coastal community – and resurrected the possibility of allowing residents to drive on the beach toll-free by charging out-of-county visitors a little extra for vehicular access and parking in beachfront parks.
The idea had originally been a campaign promise of Chairman Jeff Brower – but, of course, the initiative was universally shit-on by the previous iteration of the council because, well, it was a campaign promise of Chairman Brower…
Sadly, in lockstep conformity with the bloated bureaucracy he serves like an errand boy, in February, Councilman Danny Robins moved to squash the idea early, wringing his hands and crying the Poormouth Blues, championing the cause of nickel-and-diming strapped residents at every turn:
“The big elephant in the room is, how are we going to pay for it? I don’t want to hear that we have a $1.2 billion budget — that’s not a sufficient answer … We’re in an economic decline.”
Yeah. Let’s get the inconvenient fact “…we have a $1.2 Billion budget” off the table early…
The truth is, area families are the ones suffering from inflation, rising housing costs, and “economic decline” – while Volusia County government remains flush with cash – as the increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy gets larger and more distended by the day.
On Monday, literally one-day prior to the discussion, Volusia County officials received an email from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service warning that opening a dog friendly pilot site near Bicentennial Park in Ormond-by-the-Sea could violate provisions of the Incidental Take Permit that protects shorebirds, sea turtles and other threatened species – which, some warn, could potentially end our century-old tradition of beach driving.
So, after sitting stone-faced as over twenty residents spoke both for and against the proposal – and the hyper-emotional Councilman Robins engaged in a few of his nonsensical stream-of-consciousness histrionics – some of our elected representatives suggested ruthless penalties for anyone found in the company of a dog without a “doo-doo bag” in their hand, more signage, adding a full-time animal control officer to patrol the short stretch of sand writing citations commanding hundreds of dollars in fines, having pet owners pay a fee and register with Volusia County, and generally making it so burdensome that no one in their right mind would visit the “dog friendly” area – the council deferred their decision on creating a test site near Andy Romano Beachfront Park in Ormond Beach until staff can obtain more information from the feds.
It was interesting to watch Deputy County Manager Suzanne Konchan at work – a true Master of the art of Bureaucratese and Pettifoggery – as she dispassionately inflated costs for the trial program by swinging a wild-ass guess that the dedicated animal control officer would cost $104,000 and a few waste bag dispensers would set us back nearly $6,000.
(Just for grins, I did a quick Google search and found durable aluminum pet waste bag dispensers with keylock holding up to 700 bags for $61.00 each – and 6,000 replenishment bags for less than $200.00…)
While we’re talking about inflated costs for services – another Google search found that the combined salaries of the three senior staff members who spoon-fed the canned PowerPoint presentations to council members totals almost $500,000 annually (2021 govsalaries.com) excluding benefits.
Wow. Talk about the Old Bamboozle…
In my view, this was a perfect example of government taking a simple suggestion – the establishment of a small area of our 47-miles of beach to accommodate dogs on a leash – and making it so onerous, complicated, and expensive that it takes the fun out of the concept, paints any elected official who supports it as a spendthrift, and exasperates supporters until they simply give up and go away.
Even with a generous donation of $100,000 in start-up funds gifted by Ormond Beach philanthropists Nancy and Lowell Lohman – and an anticipated favorable nod from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – it would be at least November before the proposed trial period would begin, giving senior staff something to micromanage, analyze, trifle over, dissect, worry, and bicker about for the next, oh, seven-months.
Look, most people of average intelligence could create a dog friendly section of beach before lunch with little consternation, additional staff, or added cost – but not county government.
In the cloistered Halls of Power in DeLand, by splitting hairs, arbitrarily setting an astronomical budget estimate, bringing to bear multiple levels of government and federal regulatory agencies, parading high-paid lawyers, division directors, and deputy managers before the dais of power – the bureaucracy ensures the status quo – and innovation is quickly suffocated to the strains of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Well, mission accomplished, fellas…
When talk finally turned to Councilman Kent’s well-thought plan for increasing revenue using paid off-beach parking for out-of-town visitors to allow Volusia County residents toll-free vehicular access to our beach, Councilman David Santiago immediately employed some parliamentary slight-of-hand to effectively cut Kent off at the knees to ensure nothing of substance could be done to change the current fee schedule.
Once the status quo was safe, “staff” began down a byzantine path as the lawyers were once again trotted out to explain why a “uniformity requirement” of the County charter demands the general fund “buy down” the difference in the cost between residential and non-residential annual passes.
I don’t get it, either.
But it apparently means you and I – the stoop-shouldered Volusia County taxpayer – will continue to pay twice for the privilege of accessing our beach for the rest of our lives…
As the “discussion” continued, to ensure that We, The Little People keep paying through the nose for a day at the beach, those stalwarts of the status quo used their patented scare tactic – raising the specter of burying us with even higher property taxes – never once considering hacking the thick rind of fat off the redundant, ever-expanding (and grossly ineffective) Coastal Division and its various and sundry support functions.
Look, you and I both know they were never going to let us off the hook for beach tolls.
That was telegraphed last week, well before Tuesday’s hot-air session, when Councilman Robins published a laundry list of “facts” on social media so everyone (including his “colleagues” on the dais) knew how he planned to vote – announcing that the “Beach Budget is roughly $14 million dollars” (the beach management budget is actually $24,527,613. The $14 million represents the amount the “beach budget” is subsidized by the general fund under the “buy down” requirement).
He also embroidered a fancy dress for this tax by another name and labeled it a “user fee.”
$24.5 million annually?
To ham-handedly “manage” a natural shoreline that could manage itself without any interference from Volusia County?
I defy anyone to point to a single beach management service – from closed ramps to officious wardens, impassable walkovers, the lack of a comprehensive erosion control plan, a chronic lifeguard shortage, and the ever-expanding ugly forest of poles, signage, and cones littering the strand – that works well for residents and visitors.
Ominously, in a weird (but not unexpected) twist, Councilman Don Dempsey showed us serfs the whip by threatening an increase in beach access and parking fees for residents as well.
You read that right.
That will teach us ungrateful helots from getting our hopes up, eh?
I realize that getting the government’s heavy hand out of our pockets and away from every aspect of our daily lives – including a day at the beach – is frightening to our powerful elected elite and those entrenched mandarins who control our lives and livelihoods from the Ivory Tower of Power in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.
As things stand now, the Council voted 6-1 – with Chairman Jeff Brower casting the lone “No” vote, to direct staff to bring back recommendations for charging out-of-town visitors for off-beach parking.
Now, many are wondering who this “new” iteration of the Volusia County Council exists to serve – We, The Little People who pay the bills, or the omnipotent bureaucracy, now containing so much mass and internal momentum that antiquated notions of oversight, policy implementation, and political accountability no longer matter?
On Thursday, Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, wrote an excellent summation of this latest exercise in futility on social media:
“The County Council kills the dog beach, AND free beach access for their own residents…miraculously the FEDs send a letter to the county the day before the vote threatening the ITP (Incidental Take Permit) and HCP (Habitat Conservation Plan) if dogs are allowed…
The bureaucratic staff flexing their muscle…just showing who is in charge and how they can sabotage any action that runs contrary to the bureaucrat’s agenda. Sadly most of this new council are too dim to realize they are being manipulated…or they are part of the problem…hard to believe but this council may be worse than the last one…we seem to have 2 that represent the citizens and 5 the status quo, 5 are incapable of independent thought or investigation.”
I sincerely appreciate the fact that Councilman Kent made good on his promise to bring these innovative ideas to the table, working to make our beach a more fun and attractive draw, and presenting a commonsense plan for increasing revenue to feed the insatiable machine while removing some of the burden from Volusia County residents.
Stay tuned, folks.
When Councilman Don Dempsey callously admonished struggling Volusia County families to “suck it up” and expect to pay more, something tells me enjoying a day at the beach is about to get more expensive for everyone – even as annual pay raises and perquisites for senior administrators expand exponentially.
Sadly, the tail continues to wag the dog in DeLand…
Angel Florida Commission on Ethics
No. I haven’t suffered a closed head injury.
Just like a blind hog finds an acorn on occasion – sometimes even those toothless and somnolent watchdogs over at the Florida Commission on Ethics get it right.
Last week, the Ethics Commission exonerated Deltona City Commissioner Dana McCool after spurious allegations she misused her public position were brought by thin-skinned Vice Mayor Maritza Avila-Vasquez.
In dismissing the frivolous complaint, the state’s ethics apparatus rightfully determined that the mishmash of butt-hurt babbling and hyped-up horseshit that Avila-Vasquez cobbled together in an attempt to destroy her “colleague” lacked legal sufficiency.
According to Avila-Vasquez’ grammatical nightmare of a formal complaint (I’ll spare you the transcript) to the Ethics Commission, the entire tempest in a teapot stemmed from a testy off the dais tête-à-tête between the two elected officials last year during which Commissioner McCool is alleged to have dropped the “F-bomb” (the Vice Mayor’s word, not mine).
In my jaundiced view, the pettiness of the complaint had a whiff of political revenge about it and it rightfully backfired. I’m glad the Florida Commission on Ethics (which, given the shady nature of politics in the Sunshine State, should be working in shifts) dismissed Ms. Avila-Vasquez’ ridiculous complaint for what it was.
I’ve said it before, if the Lost City of Deltona is to restore the public trust, then the elected officials must begin the painful process of sorting through the divisive baggage and set a collective vision, putting aside the mean-spirited “gotcha” politics, self-serving collusions, and accusatory maneuvers, then find a means of working cooperatively with community stakeholders to achieve civic equilibrium.
Perhaps that healing process could begin with a sincere and public apology from Vice Mayor Avila-Vasquez to Commissioner McCool for her wholly disproportionate reaction to a perceived personal slight – and for putting a colleague through the emotional wringer of an Ethics Commission review.
Or maybe it is time to vote petty politicians/shit-stirrers like Vice Mayor Avila-Vasquez out of office altogether?
Regardless, the good citizens of Deltona deserve better.
Quote of the Week
“In a blockbuster investigation published last week, the Washington Post may have cracked at least part of the code. The Post spoke with five independent insurance adjusters, hired by insurance companies to deal with the crush of Ian claims. Each and every one of them reported the same thing: Their professional appraisals of damages was altered – always downward, in some cases as much as 90%. Photos documenting ravaged homes were removed from reports. Descriptions of damages were changed. Jordan Lee, an adjuster who inspected dozens of homes for Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co., said that when he looked back at the final version of his reports, 100% had been altered.
The Post spoke with adjusters who were working with three insurers, none of whom would talk to reporters. There’s no proof that other insurers were engaging the same tactics to avoid paying claims. But there’s also no getting around the fact that more than one-third of claims filed after Hurricane Ian are seriously overdue, or were denied any payment at all.
Yet lawmakers thought insurance companies needed more leeway to deny claims – and put them at risk of having to pay their own insurer’s legal bills if they took them to court and lost.”
–Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, “This is what a real insurance emergency looks like, Florida,” The Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, March 19, 2023
While the legislature is in session, perhaps it should consider making Florida’s new state slogan: “Prioritizing profits over people…”
And Another Thing!
As regular readers of these screeds have no doubt noticed, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of our sacred rights enshrined in the United States Constitution – and how quickly our foundational truth that all humans are granted certain freedoms and liberties by God, and the state does not have the power to usurp or infringe upon those rights – is being rapidly eroded by those we have elected to represent our interests at all levels of government.
The farther afield things get in Tallahassee and Washington (and DeLand, for that matter), I’m quick to let people know that I am a proud No Party Affiliate.
After spending most of my adult life as a staunch Republican – I came to the realization that neither the Democratic nor Republican parties represent Lincoln’s idea of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
It is a feeling secretly shared by many, who now whisper their fears in private, careful not to be seen as disloyal to the lockstep conformity required by those partisan firebrands on both sides of the Great Political Divide determined to seize power at any cost.
As the wild-eyed fringe elements of both political parties wrested control from moderates – those more interested in good governance than fighting the never-ending “culture wars” – we watched as national politics descended into chaos, the pandemic proved how willing we were to be locked inside our homes and have our businesses shuttered by cowardly politicians who now deny their Draconian measures, inflation strained family budgets, and we collectively came to the frightening realization that both state and local governments are actively figuring out ways to operate independent of We, The Little People by trying their best to assure us the omnipotent bureaucracy knows best.
I have a theory that it’s easy to bury someone alive if you convince them each scoop of dirt is a gift, and that you are doing them a favor by lavishing them with rich soil.
After a while, they no longer have the ability to complain…
It is all in how you spin the “facts.”
As a practiced observer with enough experiential scars to recognize when someone in an expensive suit is pissing down my back and telling me it’s raining – I believe what is happening in Tallahassee this legislative session (and closer to home at the Volusia County Council) is truly alarming.
In my view, the théâtre de l’absurde that passes for all levels of government has grown so outrageous that many people I speak with have simply tuned-out – always expecting the worst – refusing to watch or read the “news,” constantly pushing the boundaries of what they once vowed never to accept, and suppressing that queasy feeling that our freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights are being usurped for the convenience of tetchy politicians seeking to suppress the legitimate criticism and participation of those citizens who cannot afford a chip in the game.
Trust your best instincts, folks.
That weird feeling in your gut is right – these asinine bills working their way through the Florida legislature that suppress free expression, demand that bloggers register with the government, lower the bar to allow petty politicians to sue anyone who speaks out against their money-grabs and incompetence, and wield the full might of the state government like a cudgel to punish political opposition, limit our access to public records, and silence critics – are inherently wrong – and a damnable slap in the face to every veteran of the United States who served and fought to defend our sacred democratic principles.
You know, those same veterans that shameless politicians embrace for photographs each election cycle?
The next time a politician asks for your vote (because you will rarely see them again after they get elected) remind them that the government did not give us our rights – and it cannot take them away with the wave of a legislative wand.
The United States Constitution is not there to tell American’s what our rights are. It exists to limit the power of tyrannical despots when they infringe on those inalienable rights.
In my view, that is something all citizens should remember.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!