Defending the Indefensible in New Smyrna

There is an adage that says people can forgive what they can see themselves doing.  After all, we’re all human beings – subject to the same faults and foibles.

God knows I have my share.

Conversely, people cannot forgive that which is patently reprehensible.

For those who have been living on the dark side of the moon for the past decade, we live in an era where the very idea of privacy is as antiquated as the buggy whip.

In fact, literally everyone you meet on the street has the capability at hand to capture you and your environment on video – the good, the bad and the ugly of daily interactions – and then broadcast our every action or omission to the masses via social media.

How you are perceived by those anonymous masses will touch your life forever.

In many ways, cellphone video has become the Great Equalizer – especially when it comes to the people’s interaction with their government.  In police work, every officer worth his or her salt knows that their every word and move will be openly recorded by bystanders and posted on YouTube for later criticism.

In fact, it’s a key reason why the use of body-worn cameras has become so popular with law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.  Rather than capture evidence of misconduct – 9 times out of 10, these devices record mitigating evidence that confirms the officer’s version of events and exonerates them from false allegations.

Cameras don’t lie.

But they capture only one perspective in a three-dimensional environment, and we can never be sure of the exact context – you know, what happened just before or immediately after the camera was activated is known only to the participants.

That’s why I had second thoughts about opining on the growing uproar surrounding a 17-second video of New Smyrna City Manager Pam Brangaccio acting like an arrogant asshole in the hours following Hurricane Irma.

I just chalked it up as one of those, “it is what it is” unfortunate encounters during what was a stressful time for everyone.

Then, I read the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s article on the subject – which included Commissioner Judy Reiker’s defense of the indefensible – and I’m sure my reaction was much the same as yours.

This wasn’t an isolated incident at all.

This is clearly indicative of an organizational culture.

For those who have been experiencing 16th Century Florida without power for the past week – or occupied bringing your lives and livelihoods back to normal – here’s what went down:

Following the storm, Rev. Jeffrey Dove, the prominent pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church, sought permission from the City of New Smyrna for several area congregations to hold a community luncheon at the Babe James Center last Tuesday.

Initially, he was granted consent from Leisure Services Director Nancy Maddox.

Hours later, the Reverend Dove received a text message from an unidentified telephone number rescinding authorization for the meal.  It was later determined that City Manager Brangaccio had summarily commandeered the Babe James Center to host a lunch for city maintenance employees.

Confused as to why feeding public employees took precedence over, well – the public – Rev. Dove arrived at the community center and found Ms. Brangaccio – arms crossed/smirk fixed – standing in the doorway.

The Rev. Dove rightly took exception to the fact that residents were being denied access to cool air conditioning and a hot meal at a community center, to which Brangaccio replied – “It’s not the pastor’s center.  It’s my center” – to which Rev. Dove appropriately responded – “It’s the peoples center.  It ain’t your center.”  

 To make matters worse, when an off-camera voice reminds the City Manager that he pays taxes – Ms. Brangaccio openly challenges the resident with, “Sir, I don’t think you pay taxes.”

When those words escaped her mouth, Ms. Brangaccio exposed the operational values of the city’s administration that many would have preferred to keep hidden away.  It was, perhaps, the crudest, most brusque and openly humiliating public exchange I have ever witnessed between a municipal manager and an irate constituent.

(Notice I prefaced that with the word “public.”)

As news of the exchange between Dove and Brangaccio went “viral” – the City Manager wrote a memorandum (just ahead of a city commission meeting) apologizing for her “responses that were inappropriate,” blaming her boorish conduct on physical exhaustion after “38-hours” in the city’s emergency operations center.”

 Bullshit.

According to Brangaccio’s lukewarm mea culpa, her intent was to “provide a hot meal for 50 city maintenance employees.” 

During Wednesday’s commission meeting, Brangaccio gave a half-hearted attempt to make self-depreciating fun when she told the elected officials, “You all know I stepped in it pretty well around noontime Tuesday.  I’m quite the viral sensation – and not in a good way.”

Then – apparently not content to just have it on her shoes – Brangaccio got down on the floor and wallowed in it by offering the galactically stupid excuse that she “didn’t know she was being taped.”

 In other words, “if I had known a record was being made, I would never have exposed the real me – the super-arrogant asshole that denies homeless persons a hot meal, questions the motives of taxpaying citizens – and takes over community centers to put the needs of public employees in front of those who pay the bills.”

Look, I served in municipal government for over three-decades.  The City of New Smyrna has any number of non-public locations within the infrastructure of government that could have comfortably hosted 50 maintenance employees – especially after the Babe James Center had been reserved by faith-based organizations to feed exhausted residents and the homeless population.

I guess what added insult to injury was the fact that in the immediate aftermath – with hundreds of signatures on a petition to remove Brangaccio from office still wet on the paper, and hundreds more still legitimately offended by her treatment of those less fortunate – Commissioner Judy Reiker takes the low-road in defending the City Manager’s self-described “inappropriate” conduct in an open public meeting.

“To post something like that on social media, I feel, is unforgivable, particularly from someone who is a Christian and a pastor, because to ruin someone’s reputation that way is an abomination.”

Really?  An abomination?

Were you stuck in the head by flying debris, Judy?

For the record, Ms. Reiker, your painfully arrogant City Manager – the city’s chief executive – publicly berates a prominent pastor and several residents – to include a passel of homeless persons just looking for a hot meal – and the fact her disgusting conduct was captured for posterity and posted for her constituents to see her true colors is an “abomination”?

You cannot be serious?

Note to Commissioner Reiker:  Resign.

Take Brangaccio by the hand and just leave the building by the nearest side-door.

You have – in one colossally absurd statement – exposed yourself as a clueless asshole.  You just identified as part of the problem – and I guarantee the citizens of New Smyrna will make you part of the solution at the polls.

In my view, public apologies by influential public officials should come from the heart – not be watered-down with the stench of excuses and lame explanations – or ignorantly supported by elected officials who are supposed to hold the appointed powerful accountable.

The mark of a leader is how he or she conducts themselves in the heat of the fray, and Pam Brangaccio proved she just doesn’t measure up.

It’s easy to show strong leadership in fair winds and sunshine – it’s quite another to demonstrate strength of character, honor and compassion when the chips are down – in the immediate aftermath of a maelstrom that has affected everyone in your community – when you are mentally and physically exhausted.

That is when the true nature of the person – and their organization – is exposed.

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Fortuitous Opportunity

Florida hangs off the continental United States like a weird appendage – a salty protuberance inhabited by an eccentric tribe that, since prehistoric times, have carved out their lives and livelihoods in the state’s swamps, pine scrub and coastal dunes.

For some, it’s the end-of-the-road – a chance for a fresh start in good weather.  For others, Florida represents the subtropical paradise of post cards, a tourist and retirement mecca for refugees from the Northeast who are trying to reclaim and recharge what’s left of a life spent servicing a corporate machine’s “customer base” that never even knew their name.

As the local, state and national media outlets flogged the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma last week (something I think we, as an advanced civilization, need to reexamine) – whipping every man, woman and child in the Southeast into a froth of fear and trepidation – residents of the Sunshine State got a stark reminder of just how vulnerable we are to the fury of Mother Nature’s processes.

Last week, Michael Grunwald, a senior staff writer for Politico and author of “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise” (Simon & Shuster 2006) wrote an excellent (if, in hindsight, slightly premature) piece entitled, “A Requiem for Florida, the paradise that should never have been.”

 According to Grunwald:

“The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830’s. 

 And they hated it.

 Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote.  “It was the most-dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.”  An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.”

The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida.”

The descriptor that I enjoyed most was attributed to an early visitor who remarked that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

I suspect if that wise sage could see things today, he would hold the same opinion. . .

In the late 1800’s, smart people realized that if man could control the flow and retention of water, much of Central and South Florida could be transformed from fetid swampland into something suitable for development – and sale.

And, quite literally, the floodgates of people and money began flowing in to the state and it hasn’t stopped for over one-hundred years.

Now, as old Robbie Burns reminded us, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry – and those of us who choose to live here know deep in our hearts that we are but one good blow away from returning to that “God abandoned” place so aptly described by those weary soldiers way back in the 1880’s – yet, we continue to do it the same way – time-after-time – hoping against hope that we can somehow fool nature and escape the inevitable.

Our colorful history also includes pirates and privateers of all stripes who prowled the waters of Florida plundering anything of value in the name of King or greed, and openly preying on the weak or disabled.

And they’re still coming – gaudy costume and cutlass replaced by thousand-dollar suits and Gucci loafers.

Earlier this year I wrote in the opinion piece, “On Volusia: Gird your loins for the Big Boom!” that it appears the idea of “growth management” in Volusia County – like representative democracy – has been effectively neutered, compromised or simply sold-off to those who stand to benefit most.

After all, it’s no longer about We, The People.

When it comes to managing development on this exposed spit of land, and the threat of urban sprawl and environmental exploitation, the public is no longer considered part of the discussion – our two-cents were outbid by a guy with two-dollars.

Instead, we learn about enormously intrusive and expensive projects in ambush-style, over-the-top announcements by County Manager Jim Dinneen – or get a glimpse of what our life will look like from some glitzy corporate press release, enhanced and regurgitated verbatim by our local news media – with glamor shots of our elected officials wearing goofy hardhats on their swelled heads wielding golden shovels to turn-over damp loam atop a water recharge area or the barrier dunes in the name of “progress.”

Here, on the “Fun Coast,” our “powers-that-be” never once consider the communal impact of massive development.  They are driven solely by the all-important question of who stands to make the most money in the most expedient way possible.

Then, those who receive public funds to serve in the public interest ignore their ethical responsibilities and work quickly to remove all obstacles and assume any potential risks to the developer through the liberal application of public funds and economic incentives.

With the hindsight of the potential loss an eyewall hit by a powerful hurricane could have posed to our extremely vulnerable area still fresh in our minds – perhaps we should use this as a fortuitous, God-granted, opportunity to reexamine the environmental and infrastructure impact of proposed residential projects from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Just maybe, before we start churning thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive lands into “brand-immersive lifestyle destinations,” we should consider the effects – positive and negative – that massive, unchecked development will have on our collective quality of life beyond the short-term benefits to a few well-connected insiders.

 

Hurricane Irma: Of Mice and Men

There are a lot of things that divide us here on the Fun Coast.  Sometimes, Volusia County takes on the appearance of a weird caste system.

But Mother Nature is the great equalizer.

She doesn’t care who or what we are.

The awesome power of her magnificently efficient systems and natural processes serve the earth – not us – yet our very survival depends upon them.

We have merely learned to adapt through highly developed symbiotic relationships, based on a well-evolved sense of self-preservation and species-proliferation.

Periodically, nature reminds us in the most extraordinary way that there are some things our “advanced” intellect simply cannot control.

Even though we’ve developed sophisticated insurance and financial systems that allow us to build our homes and sources of income where we probably shouldn’t – and to rebuild and replace them when we are invariably caught out – the power of nature can be difficult to comprehend when we’re face-to-face with it.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma – a Category 5 monster with ferocious winds in excess of 180-mph and torrential rains – is bearing down on the State of Florida.

At this stage, neither man nor beast is safe, and we are all actively preparing to support and sustain ourselves in the increasing likelihood that Irma pays us an unwelcome visit early next week.

Mice and men are actively preparing to ‘hunker down,’ or get the hell out of Dodge, equally vulnerable to the fury of this massive whirling buzz-saw.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the devastating floods that have left much of southeast Texas underwater – with its heartbreaking scenes of the very young, and the very old, who suffer the consequences of these catastrophes the most – raging fires in the west, and now the most powerful storm ever recorded roaring across the Atlantic Ocean – I’ve heard some ask why God would allow this suffering and trepidation.

The answer is – I don’t know.

What I do know is that we strange little creatures – odd sentient beings that have harnessed many natural powers, developed complex civilizations, split the atom and even transported ourselves to other planets – still need the essential elements, seasonal changes and temperate air to survive.

Look, I’m not an overly religious sort, but even a sinner like me can see that a power greater than all of us has developed a wonderful natural order – systems and patterns that constantly supply us with the fundamentals necessary to sustain and propagate life on Earth – despite our strange desire to kill one another with mindless efficiency and pollute our only environment like a foul bird shitting repeatedly in its own nest.

Meteorologists tell us that hurricanes are the earth’s air conditioner.  They very capably transport warm air from the mid-latitudes to the colder polar regions.

They also serve to move warmth from the lower-levels of the atmosphere vertically; conducting solar heat from the surface to the top of the troposphere, thus mixing the atmosphere and ensuring a temperate balance and climate.

This natural quest for global horizontal and vertical thermal equilibrium requires a powerful force to transport all that latent heat produced by the Sun – and that is the exact purpose of these monster storms.

We just happen to get in the way sometimes.

According to scientists, hurricanes also oxygenate seawater, help replenish barrier islands and deposit a huge amount of quantifiable energy into other parts of the globe.

While we can measure it, the purpose of this energy exchange isn’t fully understood.

I suspect it has something to do with Mother Nature’s constant search for balance.

During my law enforcement career, I was witness to natures wrath on several occasions– including Hurricane Andrew, numerous tropical storms, the “Florida Fire Storms,” the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and our local historic flooding of 2009.

I received advanced training from FEMA, attended the National Emergency Management Training Center at Emmitsburg, Maryland, and received the Florida Professional Emergency Manager designation.

But no matter how much you study, experience and learn about the process, best practices and protection measures, I have always stood in utter awe at the incredible power and seemingly cruel efficiency of these extreme weather systems – and their ability to bring out the best, and worst, in all of us.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I was a young patrol sergeant who was sent to Miami-Dade County to supervise a group of experienced law enforcement officers in support of recovery efforts.

We were billeted on the beautiful campus of Barry University in Miami Shores, where the Dominican nuns took outstanding care of their increasingly scruffy and grumpy charges.

My unit was assigned to the challenged Liberty City area of northern Dade County, working 6pm-to-6am conducting preventive patrols and loosely enforcing the countywide curfew that had been put into effect to limit looting in the more heavily affected areas to the south.

I saw the best of humanity.  I also saw the depth of man’s inhumanity as well.

Over the time we were there, people from all over the country contributed tons of food, water, clothing and other materials.  It happens following every disaster, and managing the literal flood of supplies is a science unto itself.

In fact, there was such an overwhelming flow of consumables and donated items that we were quickly running out of space at the police substation where we were based.

My partner, a crusty old Metro-Dade sergeant who had been assigned to a desk in the Criminal Investigations Division after being shot and seriously wounded in the line of duty, quickly organized our two-man effort to feed and support the large homeless population in our area of operations.

We quickly emptied a closet – an entire storage room – that was stacked full of donated pizzas – loading them into the trunk of our tattered Dodge Diplomat patrol car and set up an impromptu feeding station at a Florida East-Coast Railroad freight yard.

We did this night-after-night, sustaining the dazed, confused, mentally ill and down-on-their-luck alcoholics and addicts – the walking wounded, the people of the night, some wearing little more than rags.

We also fed people from the neighborhood, some who had exhausted their preparedness supplies or had been displaced by damage to their homes and had no where else to go.

There were no social or economic separation – we were all just people trying hard to help one another survive during extraordinary circumstances.

We simply embraced the challenge and did our best to keep smiling.

Some of our fellow officers laughed at us – and my commanding officer with Metro-Dade warned that I would be required to take these “lumpers” home with me if I kept feeding them – but we kept on supplying what we had until a more organized and sustainable support system was up and running.

We did this in between calls-for-service – handling everything from homicides, suicides, sexual batteries and domestic fights.  The good, the bad and the ugly of everyday policing in what the Miami Herald later described as a “War Zone.”

I learned that under the worst of conditions – when you’re tired, scared, wet and hungry – when you finally break the mental and social barriers and realize that we are all in this together – that the inherent goodness of men and women shines brightest.

As we prepare for what may well be the catastrophic impact of the most powerful storm in recorded history – let’s take this unique opportunity to show compassion and kindness, to help our neighbors and the less fortunate prepare, and, if necessary, to get safely out of harm’s way.

I have seen the incredible power and resilience of the human spirit under difficult circumstances – and I am very proud to see the incredible way our community is responding to this collective threat.

Look, I complain a lot about politics – but trust me – our local, county and state government officials, and first responders at all levels, are extremely experienced and incredibly well-equipped to deal with the planning, response and recovery phases of this emergency.

Let’s quibble over our differences later.  Now is the time for unity – and generosity.

Please continue to follow the directives of our local and state emergency management officials – and, most of all – please help one another.

And keep smiling.  It helps more than you realize.

May God bless and keep each of you safe as we face the unknown together.

 

 

On Volusia: “Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

There was a time in this country when a person’s worth was measured by their ability to stand on his or her own two feet – to pay their own way in the world.  In another era, successful men and women took personal pride in the fact that with wealth came independence – the American tradition of self-reliance.

My father taught me that these were admirable traits, and that with hard work came self-sufficiency, and a sense of contribution to the collective good.

In some places, successful corporations generously give back to the community where they do business, often in the form of parks, recreational facilities, public swimming pools, greenspace, ballparks and other common amenities.

This sharing and corporate giving costs billionaire businesses and industry relatively little, but demonstrates in a most profound way a tangible appreciation for their employees and neighbors.

Then, there’s Volusia County – a place where nothing is as it seems.

Here, those self-reliant people and generous businesses are called “suckers.”

This weekend, I opened the Daytona Beach News-Journal and was immediately struck by a gigantic front page headline announcing, “INSURANCE GIANT PLANS 10-STORY DOWNTOWN HQ.”

I’m sure you must have seen it – the entire Sunday edition of the paper was devoted to it.

You know the drill, “Daytona finally lands the “Big One!”  Whoop-Whoop!

Happy Days are here again.  Again.

My immediate reaction was absolute delight – kudos to Brown & Brown, I thought – what a perfect addition to Daytona’s constantly struggling downtown.  A place so strapped that a criminal courts complex is viewed as an “up-scale” improvement.

Finally, something substantial to replace those horrific, weed-strewn car lot foundations that have sat like an open wound on the landscape for years.

Then, in small letters at the top of the page, I read the dubious, but obligatory, assurance “600 new jobs coming to Daytona Beach.”

 That’s when my heart sank.  (Or maybe it was just agita, I don’t really know.)

In typical fashion, whenever the right last names propose a local project – be it an Embry-Riddle money grab with the promise of “high paying” research & development jobs – or the promise of part-time retail work at a cheap outlet mall on the frontage road – We, the People, will invariably be asked to slop the government trough with our hard-earned tax dollars and pay for critical infrastructure, provide tax abatement’s, cash handouts and other “economic incentives” to see the private development to fruition.

And the return on our collective investment is always touted as the ambiguous – and never adequately verified – promise of “jobs.” 

You know, “. . .for our kids.”

 I shook my weary head, chuckled to myself, and thought – I’ll just bet this is another “Game Changer.”

‘Cause it has all the earmarks of a good, old-fashioned Volusia County “Game Changer.”

Then, it virtually jumped off the page at me:

“It’s absolutely one of the biggest things that’s happened to downtown Daytona Beach in the 13 years I’ve been here, and probably longer than that,” said City Manager Jim Chisholm.

“It’s a game changer for the downtown area.”

 (Wait.  I thought the $260-million-dollar Taj Mahal that will be our next courthouse was the game changer?  Or was that a “huge deal”?  Oh, screw it – who can keep track. . .)

Of course, J. Hyatt weighed in while holding court in front of an exclusive “invite-only” crowd and quipped, . . .when companies and their leaders achieve some success they reflexively think they have to go where “people are cool and suave.”  We think the people of Daytona Beach and Volusia County are cool and suave,” he said to laughter and more applause.”

No, he doesn’t.

Mr. Brown thinks the people of Daytona Beach and Volusia County are hapless dupes and rubes.

Because we are.

(What, no laughter and applause?)

He also knows that he has a sizable majority of sitting Volusia County politicians, at all levels of government, comfortably ensconced in his hip pocket.

Why?  Because he bought and paid for them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, that’s why.

(I wonder if this is why so much cash was injected in local races during the 2016 campaign?  Hummm. . .)

That’s the reason Mr. Brown’s perverse joke is so devilishly funny – and frightening – all at the same time.

Even our “High Panjandrum of Political Power” King Mori Hosseini weighed in, noting that Volusia County is “a loser county,” but he assures us that we’ll all be considered “progressive” when J. Hyatt’s riverfront edifice is complete.

I found Mr. Hosseini’s quote interesting, given the fact that no one – and I mean no one – has wielded more personal or political power in Volusia County.

No individual or entity has been granted more unfettered trips to the public tit – for roads, infrastructure, the half-price sale of public land to his private university, etc. – or commanded the allegiance of influential politicians and appointed officials – real players who could have changed the economic face and direction of Volusia County on a mere nod from the King at any time he saw fit.

We’re losers, alright.

According to the brass tacks of the News-Journal’s gushing announcement – while there has been no “specific ask” yet – it is increasingly clear that Brown & Brown will be putting the arm on you, me and our neighbors for “help” with costs associated with the buildings “new water, sewer and storm water systems.”

I’ll just bet that’s not all.

Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm also confirmed that, “more than $1-million in property tax abatement over 10-years has been in discussion.”  And unlike you or me, Brown & Brown may be given “a pass” on paying taxes on any increased value their building would create.

“. . .talks with the county have included ideas involving impact fees, tax abatement and ECHO funds, which are targeted for environmental, cultural, historic and outdoors projects.”

Our ECHO funds are in play?  For a private development?

Say what?

Unfortunately, County Manager Jim Dinneen said “tax abatement” is “off the table.”

I say “unfortunately,” because Jim Dinneen is a congenital liar with an almost physical aversion to the truth.  That means Brown & Brown is virtually assured to receive tax abatement’s – and anything else they damn well want.

That’s in addition to the massive money dump Brown & Brown receives on the regular in the form of Volusia County employee insurance premiums. . .

“We’ve been working with them behind the scenes on an incentive package,” he said.  Dinneen said county financial help could prove to be a great investment for taxpayers.

I’ll bet you have.

Too bad Mr. Dinneen’s “confidentiality agreement” – you know, something he pulled out of his ass to avoid those pesky public records laws – prohibits him from answering the hard questions about the proposed transfer of public funds and services to a private entity.

And, as usual, our doddering County Chair Ed Kelley is enjoying nawny-nawny time, comfortably asleep at the wheel – while our other elected officials on the County Council receive their collective marching orders.

Time to give back to a man who has given them so much.  Literally.

Sad really.

Given the ugly fact Volusia County perennially falls below the state average in virtually every substantive category – wages, household income, poverty, schools, infrastructure, etc. – everything, it seems, except blight and crime – (We lead the way in those important categories) along with the deplorable physical condition of wide swaths of the community that serve as blight and crime incubators – and I seriously wonder how these people sleep at night?

Look, it’s a nice new building, situated in an area that could really use a nice new building.

But everyone who is anyone in this suffering dump should understand that you lost all credibility with the “game changers” and “catalyst” projects years ago.

Pouring hundreds-of-millions of tax dollars into Big Fish sporting goods stores, panacea hotels, goofy mega-gas stations and outlet stores isn’t going to substantially change our quality of life in the Halifax area – or stimulate our decomposing economy – and they goddamned well know it.

And I assure you that no one will even mention – let alone confirm – what became of the promised “600 high-paying jobs” when J. Hyatt’s monument is ultimately complete.

When our self-serving ‘movers & shakers’ get serious about fundamentally changing our artificial economy, one based upon massive injections of public funds, private looting and giveaway “economic development incentives,” and begin cleaning up the abject blight, corruption and dilapidation that prohibits real economic development – and the real jobs that come with it –  then I’ll join our “rich and powerful” in their wild celebration of the next big thing.

As Mr. Brown said, “Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

I’ll just bet he’s right.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for September 1, 2017

Hi, kids!

Wow!  It’s Friday once again – September 1st – time 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.

It’s been quite a week here at Barker’s View.

Thanks to you, our blogsite put up some record numbers during the month of August, capped by an Honorable Mention this week in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

For a wippy opinion blogger, that’s like being called up to the Big Leagues.

As always, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to read my weird take on the issues of the day – I sincerely appreciate the effort – and your always thought-provoking comments on the site and social media.

Sharing opinions, getting to know each other, and opening our minds to differing points-of-view.  The pessimist in me says, “It can’t help” – but the hopelessly lost romantic in me says, “It can’t hurt.”

I think that’s what it’s all about.

Now, let’s take a closer look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

As the sketchy analysis and petty bickering over attendance estimates for July’s Shriners International Imperial Session continues, it is increasingly clear that the event didn’t draw the originally anticipated 15,000 to 20,000 visitors – or even the more realistic 10,000 revelers of later estimates.

Look, I’m an opinionated blowhole – not a convention and tourism guru, or even a highly paid hospitality marketing analyst – but I’m officially joining the growing number of local realists who estimate the total attendance at more like 4,000.

And that’s okay.

Let’s chalk it up to a good start.  You know, the “We’re gonna build on the momentum!” thing.

I happen to agree with the Daytona Beach News-Journal – the numbers being provided by the CVB and its hired mouthpiece, Mid-Florida Marketing, just don’t add up.

In my view, what the CVB should understand is that nothing – and I mean nothing – has worse “optics” than a tourisim official trying to convince people that an event met expectations, when it is clear to everyone that it didn’t.

With some $400,000 in public incentives and in-kind services over the transom, it looks like you and I – the taxpayers who so often foot the bill for the “Grand Plans” of others in our community – spent about a $1,000.00 for every Shriner that rolled into town.

And I’m okay with that.

You must start somewhere, and, frankly, this plan was visionary.

I poked fun at the local ‘movers and shakers’ who took personal credit for the Shriner’s convention, but the fact is, they should be proud of what was accomplished.

This endeavor – expensive as it was –  broke our standard, self-defeating mold and said, “We can do better.  We don’t have to accept the status quo.” 

But defending hazy occupancy and attendance numbers, laying blame, and trying to paint the Shriners Imperial Session as something it was not will cost the CVB much more than money.

Good leaders, like good marketing experts, know that when you lose trust and credibility – you’re doomed.

When the public suspects they are being hoodwinked by a quasi-governmental agency attempting to spin an alternative narrative, they won’t buy it, and that will have serious consequences when they attempt to sell us on future “mega-conventions” – or anything else.

Angel:             The City of Holly Hill

I always equate the City of Holly Hill to the late, great stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield:

“It can’t get no respect.” 

 Earlier this week, the city closed on the sale of the infinitely beautiful “The Market” – a historic complex of coquina rock construction that has served our community well since the late 1930’s, when it was built by the Works Project Administration as a farm-to-market stand.

According to reports, the property was purchased by local Jon Xynidis of Xcel Wealth Management, a Seabreeze High School graduate and former standout defensive back at the University of Florida.

Old-time Halifax area residents have known the building as a courthouse, back before we needed Waldorf-Astoria-like facilities (Too soon?), the place you went to get your driver’s license, and later, the Public Defender’s office.

Most of all, it was part of the fabric of our area.

Nearly a decade ago, the building suffered serious damage during heavy flooding, and – in typical style – Volusia County officials simply allowed the building (located in a quaint residential neighborhood) to sit stagnate, growing an internal patina of thick mold and mildew, inexplicably content to sit idle while another public asset rotted into the ground.

Several years ago, the City of Holly Hill acquired the property from Volusia County for $30,000 and spent nearly $1.5-million in remediation and renovation to save the historic structure.

In addition, flood-damaged furniture that was abandoned by the County was cleaned, polished and put to good use at City Hall.

I know, I served as Interim City Manager at the time of purchase – but not the renovation.

Ultimately, a new city manager was hired and I happily returned to my duties in the police department.  At the time, I didn’t agree with every expenditure related to the project – but I understood the comprehensive vision for the property.

City leaders went to great care to ensure that period fixtures and architectural designs remained true to the original construction – and the main section of the facility was outfitted with restaurant-quality equipment and ventilation, and is now home to the highly successful Chucherias Hondurenas restaurant – which ranks among the best fine dining experiences in the Daytona Beach area.

Originally planned as an up-scale community meeting and wedding facility, the purpose changed to commercial office space to capture a more stable revenue stream.

The project essentially took an abandoned, dilapidated blight generator and applied CRA funds to transform it into one of the most exceptional venues anywhere in Volusia County.

If you haven’t seen the courtyard – with its century-old oaks and glimmering tealights illuminating a delightful walk and water feature – then you are missing out on something special right here in our own backyard.

As County Manager Jim Dinneen might say, “It’s second-to-none.”

Rather than congratulate the community for trying to build economic momentum through long-term investment, the News-Journal’s business writer, Clayton Park – who can artfully knit a silk purse out of a sow’s ear when the right last names are involved with any public/private project – began by opining that the city took a “$900,000” loss on the deal.

Honestly.

Have you ever heard Mr. Park salivate over some corporate shill’s description of an oversized gas station on the frontage road – or dutifully coo about the career highlights of some stuffed-shirt blowhard from the CEO Business Alliance?

I have.

Yet, when a small local community and business owner invest strategically to develop a solid commercial anchor-point for future redevelopment, Clayton drops a deuce in their proverbial punchbowl.

In my view, it was a cheap-shot that served no legitimate purpose, other than to accentuate the negative.

That’s my job, not his.

Unfortunately, “The Hill” can’t catch a break – even when they get it right.

Not all expenditures have an immediate return on investment.  Sometimes the true profits are taken over time, and an astute business writer like Mr. Park knows that.

The fact is, the City of Holly Hill knew in advance that this wasn’t a speculative real estate deal.

In my view, city leaders spent their limited redevelopment dollars as intended –  to restore a blighted historic building with solid bones, a community landmark that fell victim to Volusia County’s abject neglect – and in doing so, they developed a beautiful jewel which will serve as a strong commercial incubator in the lower part of this lovely, but challenged, community.

An investment that will now pay dividends – and taxes – for years to come.

Angel:             Beachside Redevelopment Committee

 Earlier this year, the Volusia County Council established a committee charged with examining workable solutions to the scourge of neglect and dilapidation that has left large swaths of Daytona’s beachside a virtual no-mans-land and has hampered legitimate economic development for decades.

The cumulative effect has been stagnation, and the evaporation of millions of dollars in redevelopment funds, with little, if anything, to show for it.

Look, I was hyper-critical of both the make-up of the committee – and the county-imposed limitations on what elements of the issue were open for discussion.

My view hasn’t changed – and, when all is said and done, I suspect the powers-that-be will ignore the group’s recommendations.

I’m weird that way – I still predict future performance by examining past performance.

However, the committee has taken a very thoughtful, in-depth look at the important factors that have brought us to this dark place in our community’s history – and it has all the right people reading from the same page – and talking substantive progress.

As a result, important people in the region are beginning to ask important questions – like, “Are there viable alternatives to our special-event driven economy – and how can these seasonal influxes enhance a more stable year-round marketplace?” 

In my view, for the first time in a long time, these discussions represent real advances – and my hat is off to Tony Grippa and the members of his committee for thinking strategically to develop a vision for the future.

I just hope our elected officials are willing to put aside their back-door alliances and self-serving biases when the group’s actionable suggestions are presented early next year.

 A recent editorial in the News-Journal questioned if it’s time for a “character change” in the Daytona Beach Resort Area.

In my view, the answer is obvious – we simply cannot continue down the same dreadful path and expect measurable improvement in our quality of life, or the “visitor experience” for those we spend to attract.

It’s now, or never.

Quote of the Week

“There is no mistake here, ladies and gentlemen. It’s called a scheme.”

Assistant United States Attorney Embry Kidd, speaking in open court, describing the continuing course of criminal conduct that ultimately convicted former Daytona Beach City Commissioner and State Representative Dwayne Taylor on nine counts of wire fraud for misuse of campaign funds.  Taylor faces up to 20-years in federal prison on each count when he is sentenced in November.

Have a great weekend, y’all.

On Volusia: Even more lies, damn lies and statistics

Earlier this week I wrote a goofy opinion piece on the Volusia County Council’s recent implementation (read: rubberstamp) of a $2.50 per day “Customer Facility Charge” levied on those who use rental car agencies at the Daytona “International” Airport.

According to airport officials – and County Manager Jim Dinneen – the fee is expected to generate an annual “Cash Flow” of +/- $850,000.00 – funds which have been earmarked for a $12-million-dollar cosmetic “modernization” of a perfectly serviceable facility; to include improved rental car facilities, parking lots, and access roads.

It’s okay, because every other airport in the free world is doing it – and vacationers and business travelers never remember being fleeced, anyway.  Right?

Right.

According to our always hyper-exuberant County Manager, the rental car user fee is part of a mysterious “larger strategy” (one I’m sure we will learn all about during an off-the-agenda “Grand Reveal” at a yet-to-be-determined County Council meeting after Little Jimmy gets all the benefactors lined-up.)

“We have a plan in place that we are moving forward with to modernize our airport and it will be second to none when it’s done,” Mr. Dinneen announced.

In other words, Dinneen believes our elected officials are too addle-brained to understand the “big picture” mechanics of a $12-million-dollar expenditure – so we’re all asked to simply accept the fact he has a “plan” in place – a cryptic “larger strategy” – that “we” are moving forward with.

My ass.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how any of this is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, our elected ‘leadership’ is once again just along for the ride.  This proves the tail isn’t just wagging the dog in Deland – it’s dish-ragging our entire elected body around the Council Chambers like the pathetic political weaklings they are.

When the original article appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Dustin Wyatt told us that the user fee, “. . .is expected to generate $850,000 a year for the airport that will (be) used to help fund a number of interior and exterior projects in the near future.”

So, a smart friend of mine took the liberty of doing the math:  $850,000 per year, divided by 365-days, equals $2,328.76 a day, on average.  Divide that by the $2.50 per day user fee – and airport agencies would need to rent an average of 931 cars per day to meet the revenue projection.

In addition, our friend contacted rental agencies doing business at DIA and discovered they have a combined inventory of approximately 250 cars on-site.

So, if we take all the cars in inventory and apply the national rental average of 25-days per car/per month – that’s 300 rental days per year/per car – or 75,000 rental days on total available inventory each year.

If the entire vehicle inventory at DIA were rented virtually all the time – the County’s new Customer Facilities Charge will only generate approximately $187,500 annually.

That’s not chicken feed – but it’s not $850K either.

I called bullshit on the numbers provided by Volusia County – and threw a shit-fit on this forum (as I am wont to do) explaining to anyone who would listen that I felt we were being openly lied to by Mr. Dinneen and his senior administration.

I also suggested that, perhaps, someone (like our local media outlets?) should attempt to peel the onion on this one and find out why we – and our elected officials – are being force-fed inflated revenue estimates on a seemingly innocuous airport project?

In response, the News-Journal reached out to Volusia County for an “explanation.”

Unfortunately, their dogged investigative efforts were stymied by a staff spokesperson (not our elected representatives or our highly-paid county manager) who clarified, in essence, that Barker is an ignorant shitheel who doesn’t understand the concept of “transaction days.”

You see, according to spokeswoman Shelley Szafraniec, if a customer rents a vehicle for seven days, the $2.50 user fee would total $17.50.

Oh!  I get it now – $2.50 X 7 = $17.50!  (Don’t I feel like an asshole?)

And the airport “estimated” 396,116 “transaction days” in 2016.

“So, here’s the formula: 396,116 X $2.50 = $990,290.  Airport officials reduced that total by 15 percent to be conservative ($841,745) (?) and then rounded up to $850,000 (?).”

See Barker, you dipshit, there’s nothing to see here!

Have another drink, you ignorant fop, and stop questioning important people about the obvious.

It’s simple math – don’t you understand the concept of “transaction days”?

Wait a minute.  (Doing my best Columbo impression.)

Why in the hell are “airport officials” still estimating rental car transactions for 2016 in late August of 2017?

Is it possible that in some weird effort to determine the operational and economic effectiveness of services at DIA, our highly-paid “airport officials” might drop by the old kiosk and ask the rental car agencies how many cars they rented last year?

The problem is – despite Ms. Szafraniec’s best efforts to spin this dry turd into something palatable – 396,116 “transaction days” would mean DIA car agencies collectively rented 1,085 vehicles per day – every day – in 2016 (for Volusia County accountants, that’s 396,116 “transaction days” divided by 365-days.  It’s worse if you use the national rental average.)

Now, I seriously doubt Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – one of the busiest hubs in the world – rents a collective 1,000 cars per day.  I could be wrong.

Once our intrepid Volusia County spokeswoman sorted out the mathematical wheat from the chaff on the rental car figures – the News-Journal boldly pressed the stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars about why this is considered a “fee” or a “charge” and not a good, old-fashioned “tax.”

Well, Ms. Szafraniec looked down her nose at our local newspaper and explained, “It is not a tax, because of its purpose.”

 Oh.  Okay.

To make sure we all understand, the Volusia County Office of Media Relations trotted out yet another “spokesperson” from their virtual clown car of spin doctors and took the News-Journal to task for adding the word “tax” in the headline of the story announcing what is clearly a “Customer Facilities Fee.”

According to spokeswoman Joanne Magley, “On the other hand, a user fee is for users that wish to use the product or service, and solely benefits the users that choose to utilize the service.  The public views the word tax as negative.” 

Hey, News-Journal – what part of that don’t you get?  “A user fee is for users that wish to use a service.” 

(See page 12 of the Rocko & Sluggo School of Government Mass Communications: ‘How to camouflage a tax by any other name – and sell it lock, stock and barrel.’)

Folks, there was a time when the only thing government truly feared was the public exposure of a free and unfettered press.

That was when media outlets demanded answers directly from the decision-makers – especially when they were caught with their pants down – and weren’t “put off” by insulating spokespersons and “media relations” talking heads.

Look, I’m not knocking Dustin Wyatt – he’s a good young reporter with a very bright future, and he works for a much larger system – my issue is with the relatively new general acceptance that permits government entities to openly lie to their constituents with no apparent fear of public accountability.

Especially when their sketchy math and dubious “estimates” are diametrically opposed to the facts.

Trust me.  This rental car user fee scheme stinks – and Jim Dinneen is, once again, selling us a slick bill of goods.

Because he can.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

On Volusia: More lies, damn lies and statistics

I’m like most of you – show me a reasonable, fact-based explanation of need – and you have my support.

Having spent most of my adult life in municipal government, I get it better than most.  Sometimes we must collectively bite the bullet and kick-in for a neglected public infrastructure project – like roads or water distribution improvements.

If the actions of our elected officials comport with their rhetoric – in other words, if the government entity requesting funding lives within their means and generally serve as good stewards of our tax dollars – We, The People, will step up and do our part to pay for quality public services and upgrades.

This is especially true when user tolls or impact fees can be used to pay the freight without increasing our taxes.

But, tell me a lie and you’ve lost me forever.

In this weird Land of Oz we inhabit, our elected officials are manipulated like a troop of marionettes by a little man who works the controls of government as directed by a clique of politically influential power brokers.

As a result, nothing is truly as it seems, and time-and-again we fall victim to anther bait-and-switch scheme which erodes our confidence and leaves us questioning literally everything our County government does and says.

It is increasingly obvious that those we have elected to represent our interests are mere tools of a much more powerful shadow system.  Every time County Manager Jim Dinneen launches another sneak attack – his patented “public policy by ambush” that I’ve crowed about ad nauseum – our County Council members are left looking just as flummoxed as the rest of us hapless dupes.

That shouldn’t be, but it is.

And when fools like me have the temerity to question his motivation, Little Jimmy comes back before his “bosses” with his hat-in-hand, stares at his wingtips, and explains that he has an “ethical obligation” to keep everyone in the dark, work out the important details behind closed doors, ensure all the right recipients of public funds are in position, then throw a surprise party so as not to create “confusion” during the early stages of any project – even when that project is a proposed $260-million courthouse/office complex that will be the most expensive undertaking in the history of Volusia County.

Or a $12-million-dollar airport renovation. . .

In my view (and that of our High Sheriff Mike Chitwood), Jim Dinneen is a congenital liar – a crooked screw-worm with the situational integrity of a broke-back snake, who has no qualms telling people what he thinks they want to hear.

Then, when people catch wind of his bullshit – Jimmy salves everything over with talk of his “ethics” and “obligations” – professional qualities he read about somewhere, yet lacks the basic ability to comprehend in a public service context.

On Saturday, the Daytona Beach News-Journal published an interesting piece announcing Mr. Dinneen’s autonomous implementation/Council rubberstamp of a $2.50 per day “airport user fee” on car rentals originating at Daytona “International” Airport.

It’s no secret that our “leadership” in Deland never met a tax – or a revenue stream – that they didn’t embrace like a ratty Teddy bear.

“Who cares, Barker?”

“We live here you asshole!  We don’t rent cars at the airport – so why not let those luckless rubes who bought the Danica Patrick ads pay for our airport renovations whenever they pick-up a mid-size economy sedan at DIA?”    

 Hey, I agree.  Sounds like the perfect scam to me – put the burden on tourists and business travelers.  I get it.  And like airport officials said, “Everybody’s doing it.”   

Where I have a problem is the weird connection between renovation costs and the revenue estimates generated by this user fee.

Over the weekend, a smart friend of mine sent me the arithmetic on the numbers provided in the News-Journal piece.  Specifically, Volusia County told us that the fee, “. . .is expected to generate $850,000 a year for the airport that will (be) used to help fund a number of interior and exterior projects for the near future.”

According to Little Jimmy’s always “Over-the-Top, Biggest and Bestest” rule of mass communications, “This rental car fee is part of a larger strategy.  We have a plan in place that we are moving forward with to modernize our airport and it will be second to none when it’s done.”

 Wow.  Second-to-none.  Again.

So, my friend took the liberty of doing the math:  $850,000 per year, divided by 365-days, equals $2,328.76 a day, on average.  Divide that by the $2.50 per car user fee – and airport agencies would need to rent an average of 931 cars per day.

That’s a butt-load of cars.

Because I’m a mathematical illiterate – I asked another smart friend to check what my grandmother used to call, the “ciphering.”

The figures were spot-on.

In addition, my suspicious friend estimated that all the rental companies doing business at DIA have a combined inventory of approximately 250 cars on-site.

So, if you take all the cars in inventory – and apply the national rental average of 25-days per car, per month – that’s 300 rental days per year/per car – or 75,000 rental days on total inventory each year.

According to my calculations – if the entire vehicle inventory were rented virtually all the time – the airport user fee will only generate approximately $187,500 annually.

So, what gives?

Where is the additional +/- $662,500 per year Little Jimmy’s administration promised?

I’ll give you two guesses – and the first one doesn’t count.

Ultimately, the bulk of the cost will be borne by you and me – the taxpayers of Volusia County – to renovate a perfectly beautiful, and serviceable, airport with just three major carriers in residence.

Folks, this is the ne plus ultra example of what I call the “bullshit factor” in any Volusia County revenue estimate, and it is Jim Dinneen’s stock-in-trade.

He will lie to us – on the front page of the newspaper – when the truth would serve him better.

Once again, Sheriff Chitwood was right – Dinneen is a “lying sack of shit.”

How sad that our elected officials must sit idle and watch, powerless to do anything substantive to remedy Mr. Dinneen’s near-continuous missteps, gaffs and outright lies.

That’s what happens when you sell your soul for a campaign contribution.

Word to the wise:  Look for more of it – piled higher and deeper – in the lead-up to the one-cent sales tax “gloom-and-doom” snow job that we will all be hearing more about very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

On Daytona: The more things change, the more they stay the same…

I’m often asked by regular readers of this forum, “Hey Mark, why is it that nothing ever changes in the Halifax area?” 

Since I have an opinion on literally everything, I do my best to camouflage the fact that I don’t have a flipping clue when it comes to active solutions to the myriad issues we face here on Florida’s fabled “Fun Coast.”

As I’ve reported before, I’m more of a complainer than a doer.

But I don’t want my blatant ignorance to show either.  That’s considered poor form for an opinion blogger.

 So, in my practiced way, I lean back and pensively massage my beard like some wise old sage contemplating the meaning of life, tap the eraser of my Blackwing Palomino on the desk, stare contemplatively into space, then lean in close, like I am about to impart some ancient secret, before offering my best Yogi Berra-like answer sotto voce:

“Things never change here, because they always stay the same.”

Invariably, smart people call me a fool and storm off in a huff, like some country rube who just got fleeced at a backwoods carnival – as I chase after them screaming, (in my best Jack Nicholson impression), “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

 It’s true, you know, nothing changes here because our core machinery – the system – and those with direct control of the money that fuels it – has remained effectively locked-down and stagnant for decades.

The internal structure of this long-term scheme is easy to discern, because their time-tested strategic ignorance of the obvious as an effective modus operandi is evident in everything they do or say – regardless of the issue or circumstance.

In the aftermath of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé, “Tarnished Jewel,” which pointed out years of waste, blight and abject corruption on Daytona’s beachside, our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County formed the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, an ad hoc group charged with developing workable solutions to the festering shithole that is our core tourist area.

As is their way, members of the County Council ham-handedly selected and appointed all the right last names – and even (begrudgingly, right Ms. Post?) gave long-time beach advocates, Paul Zimmerman and Dave LaMotte a seat at the big-people’s table.

Then, at the first introductory meeting, former insurance executive and current Committee Chairman, Tony Grippa, immediately put Zimmerman and LaMotte in their place by admonishing that the group’s mandate required they “steer away from beach issues.”

As the News-Journal described the exchange, “Part of the discussion Monday night got into a tug-of-war between those on the committee who thought beach access needs to be part of their discussions, and those who reminded them that their marching orders from the County Council were to steer away from beach issues.”

Specifically, Grippa announced, “Beach management is not within the purview of the committee.  Certain issues have kept the community from developing.  Let’s start with things that can bring the community together.” 

So there.  Sit down and shut the hell up, you beach-bums.  You’re among Very Important People here – so, act the part, get along and go along, okay?  (Grippa didn’t say that, I just thought it summed up my opinion of the exchange – and because I’m a cynical asshole.)

Any rational person (if there is such a thing anymore) was left with the unmistakable impression that the committee’s focus was on blight and dilapidation in that no-mans-land west of State Road A-1-A.

And while the group is comprised of movers-and-shakers from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores, everyone knows the concentration is “redevelopment” of the fetid squalor that encompasses many areas between Atlantic Avenue and the Halifax river.

And, for a while anyway, it appeared things were moving along smoothly for Mr. Grippa’s blue-ribbon committee.

All the right people were heard from – even Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm appeared before them and sketched out an overview of previous efforts, although I’m not sure he ever fully explained how $120-million in redevelopment funds seemingly evaporated with little, if anything, to show for it.

Then – at the August 21st meeting – “The System” injected its will and telegraphed the true ulterior motivation of our politically influential power brokers into the mix.

And just like that, the Beachside Redevelopment Committee lost all credibility.

During the meeting, the committee heard a report from Evelyn Fine – owner of Fine Research and Marketing – AKA Mid-Florida Marketing – the company that has been telling the Halifax Area Advertising Authority what it wants to hear for decades.

For $54,000.00 annually.

In what we all knew in our hearts was coming, Ms. Fine started by explaining the reason folks don’t want to vacation here is because of some “lingering stigma” associated with Spring Break – an event that has been dead and buried since the early 1990’s.

Then, Evelyn dropped the inevitable on the committee:

“There’s this big disconnect between people who come here and are very satisfied, and are comfortable with the cars on the beach because they’ve learned to accommodate it and learned to live with it, versus those people that have no vision of how their children and cars can coexist on a beach,” Fine said. “And that’s very real — same thing with spring break.”

Well, there you have it.  Ta-Da!

The HAAA, the Daytona Regional Chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau – and any other entity wholly influenced by county politics – and those who control it, i.e., J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hossieni and Lesa France-Kennedy – interjected their goals into the process by condemning beach driving as the boogeyman who has thwarted progress and redevelopment for the past 100-years.

Bullshit.

In my view, Evelyn Fine is a shill – an overpaid mouthpiece for the outmoded and wholly ineffective groups that pass for “tourist” and “visitors” efforts in Volusia County.  Their collective order is to blame beach driving for anything and everything – while ignoring the festering neglect and filth that is eating Daytona Beach like a malignant cancer.

Why?  Because that’s what our “Rich & Powerful” want.  That’s why.

Frankly, Mr. Grippa should have shut that sideshow down, asked Ms. Fine to leave the building, and reiterated the committee’s mandate to “steer away” from beach issues.

But he didn’t.

You may remember that way back in 2011, the Volusia County Council commissioned a $100,000 tourism study conducted by the Strategic Advisory Group of Duluth, Georgia.  The net-net of that expensive report found that the current condition of the “tourism product,” notably the beachside of Daytona Beach, was a serious impediment to attracting visitors.

That includes the condition of hotels, storefronts in high-volume areas, a lack of attractive streetscapes in key locations – and widespread concern from stakeholders that “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.” 

“Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline.  An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”

Unfortunately, little, if any, of the recommendations made in the SAG study were implemented, a waste of effort – and money – that no doubt collects dust on County Manager Jim Dinneen’s credenza.

In a nutshell, despite the machinations of Ms. Fine and her programmers, members of Mr. Grippa’s committee should embrace the notion that no one wants to vacation in filth, crime and shabbiness – and our heritage of beach driving is the only thing that makes us unique in the marketplace.

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 25, 2017

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 Daytona Beach Shores

Anyone remember the old Charles Atlas advertisement in the back of comic books, “The insult that made a man out of ‘Mac’”? 

It depicted a little guy and his girlfriend sitting on a beach towel while the strongman kicked sand in their face.  Given the bully’s size and strength, there was little Mac could do about it.

Sound familiar?

Earlier this week, the City of Daytona Beach Shores sent a clear message to Volusia County:

You’re not going to kick us around anymore.

In a 4-1 vote, the Shores City Commission strengthened their comprehensive plan by specifically prohibiting parking lots east of State Road A-1-A.  The full effect of the new ordinance sets the stage for a legal confrontation between the small municipality and the County of Volusia – who planned to build two beachfront parking lots on land the Shores would prefer become part of their geographically limited tax base.

Cities can be weird that way.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, Volusia County has developed a frightening reputation as the biggest bully in the sandbox – pushing the cities around, arbitrarily removing or reducing services (remember your neighborhood library?), forcing its will on residents of incorporated areas and actively suing its own constituents (with their own money) to effectively remove the public’s standing and input in beach driving and access issues.

The lone dissenting voice was Shores Commissioner Richard Bryan – who, inexplicably, still believes the community can “work something out” with their aggressor and find a “win-win.”

My ass.

Eventually, even Commissioner Caspar Milquetoast must understand that you simply cannot bargain with an aggressive tyrant who has proven he will fight you – tooth-and-nail – to get his way.

Especially when these parking lots are a prerequisite to the county’s ultimate goal of eliminating beach driving.

In Volusia County, concessions in the face of belligerence is perceived as weakness – not compromise – and it emboldens the likes of County Manager Jim Dinneen and his well-paid muscle, County Attorney Dan Eckert.

In their world, the county’s omnipotent power will always supersede the right of municipalities to local governance and self-determination.

The next step in this convoluted (and very expensive) process calls for a public “conflict resolution” meeting between Dinneen and Shores City Manager Michael Booker.

Anyone want to bet how that soiree will turn out?

Asshole:          City of Daytona Beach

 In the aftermath of the barbarism in Charlottesville, I went on social media and posted my personal thoughts on the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces – and the asinine calls from some radical elements to desecrate the graves of Confederate soldiers and war dead.

In my view, the rancor over Civil War statuary is a modern problem spurred by the relative few in the strange post-election “Antifa” movement – a loose knit group of self-described anti-fascists – who act a whole lot like fascists – and a relative few “neo-Nazi” white supremacist turds and bedsheet wearing douchebags on the extreme right.

Both groups have discovered the value of media coverage, which reaches its zenith whenever a few dozen militant weirdos clash in a public park – preferably under the guise of “protecting” or “protesting” a monument, incident or other contrived cause célèbre.

How do I know this?

Because in all my years – including sixteen-years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies – I never once saw these historical pieces set-upon by bat-wielding kooks in black hoods.

Not once.

In my view, this entire ruckus has been carefully crafted in these uncertain times to fit the narrative of rightfully marginalized elements of our society who are desperate to gain some smidge of relevance in the chaos that passes for national discourse.

These groups – on both sides of the spectrum – are base opportunists, and they feed during times of instability.

I am blessed with an incredibly diverse family.

Our son-in-law is African American and a promising young law enforcement officer, my infinitely talented Hispanic godson is a popular DJ and up-and-coming Hip-Hop recording artist, and my dear little niece is mixed – as my precious granddaughter will be when she makes her grand entrance to this big ‘ol goofy world in early October.

My ex-wife is Dominican of African heritage – and during our time together we experienced the ugliness of racial intolerance first-hand – mainly from bigoted assholes who liked to make fun of things their limited minds couldn’t possible understand.

My great-grandfather’s-father – Harrison “Brewster” Crockett – a farmer from Lee County, Virginia, served in the 25th Regiment of the Virginia Cavalry, and my great-great uncle, Stephen Barker, served in the Union Army as a member of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery.

He died at the Battle of the Crater and is buried under a simple marble stone at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg, Virginia.

Destroying my Grandfather Crockett’s U.S. Government-supplied Confederate grave marker can’t erase my family’s past – or change the history of this nation – anymore than it could make me love my family more than I do.  He was from a different era – but his lineage beats in the heart of those I love and hold dear.

His granddaughter, my grandmother, was the most loving and accepting person I have ever known.  She taught me that character – not race or status – is most important, and she abhorred prejudice or injustice in any form.

I bore arms for my country, like my father before me, with malice towards none but our country’s enemies.

In other words, the Barker’s are just like any typical American family.

People can do what they will – but leave me and mine alone.

We know love, accept our past, and nothing can change the devotion and commitment we feel toward our nation’s future – or our family’s love.

Last week – literally under cover of darkness – and without any open discussion or public input, the City of Daytona Beach found it necessary to preemptively scour all vestiges of the Civil War from public spaces.

Like me, I’ll bet you didn’t know there were any Confederate monuments in Daytona Beach until the News-Journal found it necessary to dig through every nook, cranny and long-forgotten graveyard in the tri-county region to ensure our area wasn’t left out of the controversy.

Hell, they even did a front page, above the fold, full-spread on a monument in the City of Palatka.

Palatka.

We are told the local markers will be cleaned and moved to a “more fitting” venue – like the dusty backroom of a museum.  There the plaques will receive the same attention and significance they had when they sat virtually unnoticed in Riverfront Park – absolutely none.

Now that we have erased these historical markers from the local landscape, perhaps we will have more room for yet another monument commemorating the self-importance of some stuffed-shirt politician or local blowhard?

Now there’s something we should all find offensive.

Angel:             The Sun and Moon

Kudos to those familiar celestial bodies who joined forces to put on one heck of a show for a wide swath of North America this week.

For the first time in a long time, people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and political persuasions came together in awe as we collectively gazed toward the heavens to witness a total eclipse of the sun.

Somehow nature knew – as she always does – that we weird little creatures that inhabit earth needed a diversion from the ugly divisiveness, violence, hatred and base inhumanity that passes for political discourse in this terrible Summer of ‘17.

For a couple of hours, we all focused on something larger than ourselves – and our petty self-interests – and were reminded in the most extraordinary way how insignificant, yet infinitely interrelated, we all are in the vastness of the cosmos.

However, not everyone was permitted to take-in this incredible natural phenomenon first-hand.

My nine-year-old niece, Genesis, attends elementary school in upper-east Tennessee – a place where education is left to the municipalities – not the county or state.

Every student in the community was provided a pair of solar eclipse glasses, proper parental releases were obtained and plans were set in place to ensure that each child had the opportunity to view and participate in this uber-historic event.

The city’s schools partnered with local businesses to obtain the protective glasses, and dismissals were delayed by 15-minutes to ensure optimum viewing and transportation safety.

Following the event, Genesis excitedly called and gushed about what an awesome sight the eclipse was – something she will never forget.  I won’t either – it was cool.

Unfortunately, Volusia County School students weren’t so fortunate.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a seventh-grade science teacher, Jaclyn Dukette, of Creekside Middle in Port Orange went into her own pocket to purchase 30-pairs of solar eclipse glasses for her students.

What a wonderful act of kindness by a teacher obviously devoted to her profession – and her student’s education.

Then, in their infinite stupidity, district officials refused to permit Ms. Dukette – or anyone else under their control – to view the eclipse with their students outdoors, directing that they watch the event unfold on television.

Really?

That’s like listening to a Mardi Gras parade on the radio – there’s a lot missing in the translation.

Obviously, Ms. Dukette, and other dedicated teachers like her, were “brokenhearted” and “saddened” that their students were denied this matchless chance to experience “real time science,” all because some risk averse paper-pushers in Deland thought it better to deny every child in Volusia County Schools this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Apparently, the district’s irrational fear was that the children in their charge would collectively gawp at the fiery orb in the sky until their retinas resembled crispy pork rinds in some weird eclipse-induced psychosis conjured by the Sun God Ra.

Who the hell knows – it’s the Volusia County School Board, your explanation is as good as mine – but imagine how the student’s must have felt?

Here’s a cosmic riddle for the ages:  Why is it that when faced with reasonable choices – Volusia County officials invariably opt for the most absurd, ridiculous, or expensive?

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Angel:             Mr. Bill Jones and Metra Electronics

It’s no secret that Holly Hill School is struggling mightily – a situation made worse by the Volusia County School District’s odd strategy of treating the students and faculty like second-class citizens, playing hop-scotch with top administrators and doing everything possible to create uncertainty and instability.

Look, ineptitude and institutional incompetence in Deland is one thing – the safety of children and teachers in neighborhood schools is quite another.

When classes began earlier this month, Holly Hill School administrators discovered they did not have enough internal communications radios for faculty and administrators.

In my experience, given the importance of timely information-sharing during a campus emergency, when the ability to direct evacuations and critical services is all important, this represents a serious safety violation.

With no good options from district officials – those clueless bureaucratic dullards who constantly cry poor-mouth over their inability to live within an annual budget totaling in the hundreds-of-millions or build more Taj Mahal facilities without strapping you, me, our children and grandchildren with additional crippling debt – the Holly Hill Police Department stepped up to help.

The department’s Top Brass reached out to their long-time community partner, Metra Electronics, which is headquartered in Holly Hill.

Without hesitation, Mr. Bill Jones, the incredibly successful and philanthropic owner of Metra – and the genius behind Ormond’s West Granada Boulevard renaissance – generously offered to fund the project and ensure that Holly Hill School is adequately equipped and prepared.

Now, key school personnel will have a sound network – with expanded capabilities to allow direct communications between school officials, law enforcement and first responders.

I recently used this forum to express my love for the City of Holly Hill and the beautiful people who make it such a wonderful place to live and do business – well, this proves my point.

Kudos to Mr. Jones and his outstanding team at Metra – you are the epitome of Hometown Heroes!

Angel:             Chief Craig Capri and the Daytona Beach Police Department

The tragic suicide of a 23-year old man in Daytona Beach earlier this week underscores the fact that our mental health system – at all levels – continues to fail those who need it most.

In the aftermath of what was originally reported as an officer involved shooting – Chief Craig Capri and his outstanding team of professionals responded to the emergency with transparency and professionalism.

In exceptional fashion, Chief Capri, Mayor Derrick Henry and others urged calm – and the agency countered rumor and speculation in the immediate aftermath with solid facts and reassurance.

Once again, Chief Capri and his team at the Daytona Beach Police Department have demonstrated a textbook example of how modern, community-based policing practices bolster the public’s trust in law enforcement – and open lines of communications during times of crisis and uncertainty.

In my view, law enforcement administrators across the nation can learn from Chief Capri’s example.

Quote of the Week:

“They have joined the Chamber, so they have already made a commitment to the community by investing in that. It’s certainly a destination-type business and because of the national recognition, they will be a draw for people interested in their type of establishment.” 

“It will definitely be one of the more visible additions to the area, but I think they are cognizant of being part of the community.  That’s reflected by them looking at how they can be an effective partner with the Chamber. So, I think it’s a positive.”

Nancy Keefer, President and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, yammering in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, (I think) welcoming the new “Coyote Ugly” saloon to Seabreeze Boulevard and ushering in a refreshing new era of “Honky-Tonk” – beer, racing, tits and bikes.

Apparently, the Chamber is pushing some new economic development strategy:

Seasonal, special event-driven commerce on Daytona’s beachside!

Hey, it’s not light manufacturing – or the high-tech research and development jobs we were promised – but you do get a shot of El Poko-Loko Tequila when you dance on the bar, so, we’ve got that going for us. . . (sigh)

That’s a “positive,” right?

That’s it for me – have a great weekend, kids.

 

On Deltona: Standing on Principle

There are many pathways to public service – the willingness to commit ourselves to a cause greater than our own self-interests and work hard for the common good.

Some make a career of the civil service or serve in the military, others seek appointment to public positions of high responsibility, or volunteer with grassroots efforts to affect positive change in their communities.

And then there are those intrepid few who stand for election to public office.

The motivations and drive to hold oneself out as a political candidate are as varied as the people who participate in the process – a desire for community service, civic involvement, a need to change the status quo, the real ability to make a positive impact, patriotism – and the less noble reasons of power, prestige, personal and professional benefit and outsized ego.

In local government, those we elect to serve are our friends and neighbors – the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – average people who give of their time and talents to serve in our collective interest. They are our insurance agent, realtor, dentist and clergy, school teachers and retirees, business owners and attorneys – folks from all walks of life, experience and backgrounds.

They take the late-night phone calls about trash collection, patiently listen to citizen complaints, explain the labyrinth of government processes, set budgets, hear zoning disputes, sit on boards and committees, listen to mind-numbing presentations, raise funds and awareness, endure relentless lobbying and persuasion from “power brokers” and competing interests, field personal insults and inquiries, and attend myriad ribbon cuttings, chamber events and rubber chicken civic functions.

In most cases, they serve in the public interest – but a few succumb to the temptation of power and become everything they hated when their political journey began.  Others are simply weak-minded or unprepared for the reality of politics – and are quickly taken into the maw of the “system,” a machine that feeds greedily on tax dollars and rejects creativity or individual thought in favor of homogenized conformity and fealty to the shadowy, behind-the-scenes shot-callers who use the public purse for personal enrichment.

For their trouble, everything our elected officials do and say is subject to withering criticism by louts like me.

Many who stand for public office quickly realize it is simply easier to go along, and get along.

But a few brave souls stand firm to their personal convictions, reject conformity, corruption and the status quo, and take a principled stand to serve their constituents honorably while fighting the strong currents of special interests and those elected and appointed officials who are indebted to them.

While I did not always agree with him, in my view, Deltona City Commissioner Brian Soukup was one of those.

His often-unique take on the issues of the day were always centered on the needs of his constituents – with a sensitivity for how decisions made today would ultimately affect the future of Volusia County’s largest municipality.

Unfortunately, his efforts were often met with a belittling arrogance by certain members of the City Commission who are clearly conflicted in their civic loyalties.

Last fall, in a Barker’s View post entitled, “Deltona: Welcome to 1984,” I described a dust-up wherein Commissioner Soukup had the abject temerity to question the motivations of City Manager Jane Shang – in my view, a compromised foul ball who feeds on drama and dysfunction – when she approved a highly unusual mid-service payout of some $93,000 in unused leave as part of a firefighter’s internal promotion.

Commissioner Soukup took issue with the questionable expenditure and publicly stated he believed Shang lied to him by omission when he made inquiry into the matter.

Mr. Soukup’s remarks were met with suspiciously sharp rebukes from Mayor John Masiarczyk and Vice Mayor Chris Nabicht (a retired Deltona deputy fire chief) both of whom thought Soukup’s comments somehow insulted the delicate sensibilities of the Deltona fire union.

During the ensuring brouhaha, Nabicht barked, “You’re out of line, Soukup.”

Out-of-line?

Questioning a $93,000 in-service payout is out-of-line?

A sitting elected official publicly announcing that he may have received questionable information from the City Manager is out-of-line?

Really?

Then, in perhaps the most chilling move ever witnessed from a local municipal government (at least since the coup d’état in the City of DeBary) – Deltona officials proposed something they called a “civility ordinance” – a screwy law designed to control the manner and means by which the people’s elected representatives could point out the errors and omissions of senior executives and voice critical opinions of staff performance or address constituent complaints.

Although the measure ultimately died unceremoniously, it exposed the rapidly metastasizing cancer that is the Shang administration to the air and light of day.

As the “system” will, other self-protection measures were soon implemented, such as denying elected officials ready access to corroborating information by imposing onerous fees for public records requests (you read that right: the City of Deltona charges elected officials for access to public records) block voting on important issues, the selective release of information to individual commission members, marginalizing those who are critical of the majority, open hostility towards constituents who speak critically of Deltona government, a decision barring individual commissioners from placing items for discussion on the agenda without majority approval and a perverse measure which allows only “positive and short comments during commission comment time.”    

On Monday, Commissioner Soukup gave up his fight for government of the people, by the people and for the people in the City of Deltona.

In his scathing letter of resignation, Mr. Soukup wrote:

“I can no longer be part of an elected body that, in principal and in practice, continues to create and operate in a culture of injustice and unethical and possibly illegal practices. It is a culture that absolutely refuses to respect, to include and to serve in the best interest of its residents. And worse, it is a culture that willingly condones and covers up unethical practices. It is clear that Deltona is being run by special interests and highly paid consultants, concerned only with lining their own pockets. I won’t be complicit in that!”

 The citizens of Deltona have lost a principled leader – an elected official who served in the best traditions of our democratic system of governance – and worked hard to make Deltona City Hall more accessible, transparent, and inclusive.

Unfortunately, the bastardized “system” of what passes for government in Deltona abhors those attributes.

In my view, it is time for Deltona residents to seek answers to the dark questions posed by Mr. Soukup’s resignation.

Now is the time for taxpayers to question the motivations of an elected body – and a city administration – that would stifle the free and open discussion of civic issues, engage in the misrepresentation, manipulation and controlled distribution of critical information, and demonstrate such a complete disregard for citizen concerns and input.

It is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately request the resignation of City Manager Jane Shang, and order an independent investigation into the improprieties and unethical practices detailed by a man whose character could no longer tolerate his association with them.

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal