On Volusia: A Comparative Analysis

I find the best way to study a problem is often a simple comparative analysis – such as an examination of results over time – that give us an idea of where we’ve come, and where we are going. 

Tomorrow, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, will join with his fellow political flapjacks on the dais of power – along with our ‘movers & shakers’ in local governments across Volusia County and the puppet masters who control them – to pat each other on the back and try their level best to deflect attention away from the train wreck that was 2018.

In my view, the only positive change to occur last year was when former County Manager Jim Dinneen fled the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building like a diseased rat with a sack full of severance money and apparently a new job in the commercial real estate industry. 

But what’s changed? 

In a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, we all learned that interim County Manager George Recktenwald – who was Dinneen’s second during some of the most tumultuous shit-storms in the history of Volusia County – is now “interested” in taking the job full-time – after originally assuring us he wasn’t. . . 

(Until the waters calmed, anyway.)  

So, given the fact the majority of our elected officials have already telegraphed how they plan to vote on the issue, effectively dissuading any decent candidates from throwing their hat in the ring, you can bet your bippy we’re all going to take a ride on the “Georgie Go-Round” in 2019 – because the only thing our entrenched bureaucrats, and the oligarchs who greedily feed themselves off their skewed decisions, abhor more than oversight and accountability is change to the status quo. 

Other than that – we’re swimming in the same slit trench we were this time last year – only now – our ‘powers that be’ are working overtime to shove a sales tax increase down the throat of every man, woman and child in Volusia County to clean up the mess after they strategically permitted speculative developers to build thousands of new homes and commercial developments without adequate transportation and utilities infrastructure to support  them. 

Am I wrong?   

Now, even as those we have elected and appointed to represent our highest and best interests tell us what an apocalyptic calamity we face if We, The People don’t pony up and approve their outrageous tax increase – these callous assholes have the temerity to stand before their peers and constituents to crow about all they have “accomplished” in the past year?

My ass. 

So, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at a piece I wrote this time last year immediately following the “2018 State of the County Address” and let’s take a comparative look at what has changed – and what has not – during the year that was:

On Monday, the annual political bacchanalia known as the “State of the County Address” was held at the languishing Ocean Center – a beautiful county-owned facility with a 42,000-square foot arena, and seating for over 9,000, that has been reduced from staging Elton John and Bob Dylan concerts to hosting quilting bees.

Everyone (who is anyone) dutifully gathered for this spectacle of vanity run amok – an orchestrated opportunity for our elected officials to showcase dubious “accomplishments and achievements” – slap some backs and take credit for the work of others during the past year.

According to News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, (who relegated their coverage of the soiree to page C-1), the theme of the event was “Accelerating to new heights.”

It beats “Going to hell in a hand basket,” I suppose.

This year, just like every year, our delusional elected officials in DeLand aptly took credit for their true role in the Dinneen regime – facilitating “local financial support” (read: corporate welfare) for all the right last names – to include gifting millions of dollars in public funds to Brown & Brown, the billionaire international insurance intermediary, for a new headquarters building.

Oh, Old Ed threw in a few zingers – like claiming responsibility for a couple of public parks and nature trails – and grabbed the glory for “opening” beach ramps that were arbitrarily and inexplicably closed years ago.

(I’m not sure giving back something we already had can be considered an “accomplishment” – but here in the Twilight Zone, anything is possible.)

Of course, our High Panjandrums of Political Power took time to grovel for their handlers, and gush appreciation for their “sponsors” – comprised almost exclusively of county contractors or political insiders – who ponied-up the estimated $30,000 so our movers & shakers could enjoy a “free lunch.”

Free lunch?  Yeah, right. . .

I noticed Mr. Kelley didn’t take credit for the strategic neglect that has left county-owned facilities throughout Volusia County in a state of utter dilapidation – to include prime real estate held off municipal tax roles as potential “off beach parking” – deplorable conditions that contribute to blight in Ormond Beach and elsewhere – or the recurring gaffs and mistakes, open theft of our heritage of beach driving, off-the-agenda sleight-of-hand, tax addiction, lack of infrastructure planning, astronomical fee increases, or the pathological secrecy that shrouds everything this administration does or says.

And I’m sure Ed didn’t mention the bizarre “public policy by ambush” strategy that has become Mr. Dinneen’s modus operandi, a Machiavellian scheme that continues to seriously undermine public trust in Volusia County government

Perhaps most mindboggling was Mr. Kelley’s warm embrace of recent hard-won homeless initiatives as a county “achievement.”

My ass.

For years, Volusia County fought tooth-and-nail to obstruct any reasonable solution to the homeless problem; that is until the City of Daytona Beach, Mrs. Forough Hossieni and other local leaders took the reins and developed workable solutions to this pervasive countywide problem, one that continues to hamper real “economic development” and adds to the overall sense of hopelessness that pervades many areas of east Volusia.

Shameless.

When this snoozefest was resurrected last year, I wrote:

“Note to Chairman Kelley: The benefits of a lavish State of the County address are lost on us uncultivated rubes who gaze in amazement at the cringe-worthy state of affairs in DeLand – where our Sheriff has rightfully and openly exposed our County Manager as a “lying sack of shit” on the front page of the newspaper – and we keep rehashing corporate welfare projects and an increasingly artificial economy as “progress.”

Frankly, given our current imbroglios – it really is poor optics – either pure arrogance or utter denial.

What’s changed?

The 2019 Volusia County State of the County address by County Chair Ed Kelley and County Council Members will take place tomorrow afternoon from noon to 2:00pm at the Ocean Center, 101 N. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach.

 The event is open to the public – you’re not welcome, mind you – but by law a public meeting must be, well, open and accessible to the public.  Reservations are required and seating (for peons) is limited—RSVP by phone at 386-943-7026.

 Enjoy your “free lunch.”   

 

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm as we discuss the issues facing the long-suffering denizens of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast on the fastest two-hours in radio!

Listen locally at 1380am The Cat – or internationally at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button!)

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Angels & Assholes for January 10, 2019

Hi, kids!

I hope you will indulge me, gentle readers.

One of the great blessings of making our home in the Halifax area is the many outdoor recreation opportunities available to us.  From “The World’s Most Famous Beach” to our many spring-fed lakes, rivers and lush woodlands – residents and visitors can enjoy world class fishing, golf, boating, kayaking and hiking opportunities – and the temperature this time of year is perfect for exploring all Volusia County has to offer.

I’m publishing an early abbreviated edition of Angels & Assholes – our weekly compendium of my hypercritical screeds highlighting the noble and the nefarious – to selfishly accommodate my annual fishing trip to delightful West Volusia.

For the next few days, some old friends and I will be on the hunt for the elusive Speckled Perch, making camp at the famous Highland Park Fish Camp on the beautiful Norris Dead River with access to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge – the perfect natural setting just five-minutes from bustling downtown DeLand (and Persimmon Hollow Brewery, woot!)

Look, we have our fair share of seemingly intractable issues and political problems on this salty piece of land we call home – and, in my view, it is incredibly important to remain vigilant and well-informed on the issues of the day.

It is equally important to avail oneself of all opportunities to rest and recharge – to take full advantage of the clean air, fresh water and natural places we have left – before they are exploited, slashed, burned, hauled off and turned into another godforsaken strip center or ridiculous “theme” subdivision – where speculative developers pave paradise and erect a faux-version of the ideal they destroy to satisfy an insatiable greed for more, more, more.

Thank you for understanding.

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

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

Angel:             City of Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via

At the risk of sounding like the curmudgeonly old bastard that I am – I’ve known Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via since he was knee-high to a June bug.

It’s one of the great privileges of serving in a small town – you get to know people.

As friends and neighbors.

Unlike many places in Central Florida that have become hard and mean, in Holly Hill, the community shares the good times and braves the challenges together, with a hometown closeness you only find where good people truly care about one another, even when they disagree.

On Monday, Mayor Via earned his stripes when he exhibited the courage to ask the difficult question at a meeting of the exalted  “Roundtable of Elected Officials” meeting – which was planned as a well-choreographed Kabuki to demonstrate synchronized support for the languishing half-cent sales tax increase.

As our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, openly salivated over the very thought of controlling a $45 million annual revenue stream – Mr. Via threw cold water on the onanistic circle-jerk by asking his “colleagues” why they are prepared to spend an estimated $500,000 in tax dollars for a special election to decide the sales tax hike – rather than simply wait until the general election in 2020?

Sounds logical, right?

Since when did logic, reason, sound judgement and lucidity play even a walk-on role in this obscene theater of the absurd that passes for governance in Volusia County?

Money – and a lot of it – is on the table, dammit – and the “Rich & Powerful” won’t have some small-town peon questioning the methods which the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, and their hired chattel on councils and commissions throughout the Fun Coast, have carefully crafted behind-the-scenes to fleece already tax-strapped residents to pay for their weird retroactive transportation infrastructure scheme.

Since this cheap flim-flam was reanimated from its shallow grave several weeks ago – the sole focus of our ‘powers that be’ is not on what is morally, ethically and economically appropriate in an environment where speculative developers have been allowed to gorge in the pine scrub off LPGA Boulevard and beyond, while paying little if anything to mitigate the gross impact their residential and commercial sprawl will have on the quality of life of current residents outside “Boomtown Boulevard” – but on the crude mechanics of getting the damn thing past the voters.

Clearly, these greed-crazed bastards have become obsessed with how they can all but ensure passage of this tax grab by skewing the playing field ahead of this horribly expensive special election.

For having the temerity to ask the obvious question on behalf of his long-suffering constituents (and for those residents whose elected “representatives” have dissolved into catatonic marionettes) Mayor Via was lectured by Old Ed Kelley and his sycophantic co-conspirators about “leadership.”

That’s rich.

I’ve said it before – in my view, either Chairman Kelley is suffering from a weird form of cognitive dissonance that allows him to create alternative facts, ignore material evidence and blatantly lie to his constituents whenever it serves the needs of this bastardized Oligarchical system – or he’s the dumbest human being to ever hold elective office.

Perhaps more disturbing than the fact Mr. Kelley has the brains of a ventriloquist’s dummy is his deliberate cruelty in imposing a sales tax increase on those who can least afford it.

My God.

Old Ed has proven time-and-again that he confuses pandering to the powerful with strategic leadership – and in doing so – he makes an absolute fool of himself and victims of those who rely on him.

In my view, Chairman Kelley and the insiders who direct his every official move, are terrified by fresh, bright and assertive young politicians like Chris Via and District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post who, with the support of their long-suffering constituents, will ultimately challenge the status quo and return a sense of fairness and common sense to local government.

I tend to judge people, administrations and dogs by past performance.

It is the only true predictive indicator of future behavior – and we’ve been stumbling down a very dark trench for a very long time. . .

Let’s face it, Volusia has one of the highest tax rates in the state of Florida and a surfeit of toxic problems that have left wide swaths of our area awash in blight, dilapidation and hopelessness – with many struggling families living at or below the poverty line – trapped in a service-based artificial economy built on the same five people passing the same nickel around.

Our fuel tax scheme has long been maxed out and our elected officials have proven that they have no qualms about handing millions of our hard-earned tax dollars to fund the private projects of billionaires, building infrastructure to benefit wealthy political insiders while ignoring the needs of the public, and paying exorbitant salary and benefits packages to the pimps who control the nexus of public funds and private interests.

Don’t take my word for it – incredibly expensive reports by outside experts prove that various iterations of our Volusia County Council took nearly two-decades to raise impact fees on developers – several of whom are actively raping the land and throwing up wood frame cracker boxes off LPGA Boulevard even as you read this.

Why?

For starters, during our last election, developers and builders donated more hard cash to political candidates than any other industry.  According to an August 2018 study by the News-Journal, “$1 of every $5 has come from a developer or someone in the construction or building industry, The News-Journal analysis found. That’s nearly twice the next-leading industry.”

 ROI, baby – Return on Investment.

That’s why.

As the intrepid civic activist and long-time resident Linda Smiley pointed out when she spoke truth to power earlier this week:

“Daytona Beach resident Linda Smiley attended Monday’s meeting to ask officials why if the county was in no hurry to raise impact fees to bring in more road revenue there should be such a rush to approve a sales tax increase.”

“Yes, we know that we need things here, but we don’t like the way that you go about trying to get them,” she told officials.”

Linda cares enough to ask the hard questions – and smart enough to know that she’ll never get a straight answer. . .

Why do you think the millionaire members of the Star Chamber at Volusia’s CEO Business Alliance are so damned determined to see this tax increase become a reality?

I have my own suspicions.

Screw these piggish money grubbers – and their “well-executed” pernicious campaign to wring even more tax dollars from an already strapped constituency.

These people should be ashamed of themselves.

Its time Volusia County government, and the many representatives of the municipalities who are groveling at the feet of their masters, learn to live within their means as other communities do.

In my view, returning sanity to this shit storm of abject greed begins at the ballot box.

Asshole:          Deltona City Commission

“A request to rezone a vacant tract in Deltona for a new subdivision has raised fears of more traffic, flooding and the loss of animal habitat, even though city regulations already permit housing on the land.”

“This is going to develop — that’s not a question,” City Commissioner Chris Nabicht said.”

In an excellent article by Al Everson in The West Volusia Beacon entitled, “Neighbors object to plans for Deltona subdivision,” we learned that our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini, and his mega-development enterprise ICI Homes, has set their greedy sights on developing 131 acres between Fort Smith and Saxon Boulevards.

Despite the fact area residents have expressed grave concerns about the development’s environmental impact and raised the very real quality of life questions developers and their shills on the dais of power hate to answer (hell, even the Deltona Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously to recommend that elected officials reject the proposal) you can bet your bippy that Commissioner Nabicht is right:

The picturesquely named “Hampton Oaks” abomination is going to happen whether the long-suffering citizens of Deltona like it or not – because that’s how it works here in Mori’s Kingdom.

On December 17, 2018, the City Commission tentatively approved the residential planned unit development on first reading with the final vote coming later this month.

If anyone is interested in witnessing some Tier One showmanship – I’m talking P.T. Barnum-style, World Class huckstering – avail yourself of an evening with ICI Homes President David Haas as he attempts to explain to those most effected why 228 new homes, and the nearly 600 new Walmart shoppers that will inhabit them, is good for you – and good for Deltona!

Mr. Hass will bring his traveling medicine show to Deltona City Hall, 2345 Providence Boulevard, on Tuesday, January 15 beginning at 5:30pm.

Enjoy that. I’ve heard it all before. . .

Angel:             Former Bethune-Cookman University Track Champion Summer Brown

Recently, former B-CU track and field standout, Summer Brown, received the life-altering diagnosis that what was thought to be a benign, but persistent, lump in her left leg was actually Stage 4 lymphoma.

Now, the former conference long jump and pentathlon champion is fighting her disease with incredible courage – and the full support of the Wildcat Nation.

According to a report by B-CU’s senior writer and historian, Dan Ryan:

“This whole mess has been going on for over a year. The excruciating pain in her left thigh was first thought to be a charley horse, then it was sciatica, then Iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome or even a tendon strain. Every time she was sent home.

 Two days after Christmas, Brown couldn’t even walk. Malik Lewis, another former Wildcat track star and father of their two-year old, Aycen, drove her to the ER. . .again. They did the X-rays and MRIs.

“Boom,” Brown said, actually laughing.

“I found out there’s a tumor in my leg that’s been growing this whole time,” Brown said. “Yeah, it’s crazy.”

There wasn’t time for sadness or even anger over how the heck this could have been so misdiagnosed for so long.

“We’re going around in complete 360s,” Brown said. “We didn’t have any time to dwell, we had to make decisions.”

Tuesday [January 8] was day five of chemotherapy as well as physical therapy to get more mobility back out of the leg.  Wednesday should see her going back home and beginning four months of outpatient treatment.

Even though the tumor’s been growing for a year, the cancer, normally rapid growing, has stayed localized in her leg. “Actually, a blessing,” Brown said. However, this is still a critical juncture in keeping the cancer from spreading to the kidneys and other internal organs.

While “Stage 4” sounds extremely scary, it’s an automatic designation for when the cancer has spread outside the lymphatic system and originated internally. Brown wanted to reiterate that, and that she’s in good condition.

She notes she still “has youth in her favor” and while she’s a little removed from the body that won her the long jump at the 2015 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Outdoor championship and the 2014 indoor pentathlon, she’s in good physical shape.

“I’m very positive, very high,” Brown said.”

Stay positive, Summer.  Godspeed and God Bless.

Please follow Summer’s progress at Bethune-Cookman University’s official twitter feeds @bcuathletics and @bcutrackxc for updates.

Quote of the Week:

“Increased sales taxes hurt the little guy— the people on marginal incomes who have to buy clothes for their kids to wear to school or buy gas to drive to work, or the older people who need new glasses or hearing aids. Don’t you think it’s time we started worrying about all the folks who live here and not the fantasy ones who aren’t here?”

“Whenever this is put on the ballot, I’ll vote against it.”

–Jane Glover, Ormond Beach, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “No more sales tax,” Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I like Jane Glover.

She’s smart, civically active and has an incredibly firm grasp on the issues facing us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – and I enjoy reading her periodic editorials.  In my view, her unique insight on this crude money grab is spot-on.

In my view, it is ethically, morally and economically wrong to raise the sales tax on people suffering under one of the lowest median household incomes in Florida, while the myriad civic, social and economic issues remain completely unaddressed and our spineless elected officials maintain laser focus on this massive revenue stream.

Watching this unfold is ugly – and I suspect it will get more so before whatever passes for a special election is held.

I mean, how long will it be before the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys orders her slavish subjects on the various municipal councils and commissions to prostrate themselves before her at the dais of power in DeLand and pledge fealty to  their masters before the crumbs are distributed?

(Don’t laugh – that’s exactly what happened last time. . .)

Ms. Glover is right.  It is high time we start caring.

And Another Thing!

I couldn’t let another minute go by without formally congratulating Volusia County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert and our own Golden Boy, Interim County Manager George Recktenwald (who has a preternatural knack for surviving political shit storms and being in the right place, at the right time) on receiving their annual salary increase!

Way to go, fellas!

Yep!  Without much fanfare, that time-honored Volusia Yuletide tradition of handing out exorbitant salary and benefits hikes to the County Attorney and County Manager played out last month when – in their last official buggering of their long-suffering constituents – our former Volusia County Council heaped glowing praise and bestowed a 4% pay increase on the two senior bureaucrats.

Eckert’s new annual salary will be $227,042 – with Recktenwald pocketing $189,944.

Their bosses – our elected representatives – said they’re worth it. . .

Just when I thought District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post was beginning to “get it,”  she shocked my delicate sensibilities by telling Cujo, “We are certainly blessed to have you.”

Say what?

Perhaps Ms. Post – and her “colleagues” on the dais of power in DeLand – need a history lesson in how our weaponized County Attorney’s Office has “served” the best interests of their brutalized constituents.

And maybe Council Member Billie Wheeler – who cooed, “I trust you, Dan. … You will always give us the right advice,” should consult her neighbors in Daytona Beach Shores who are still reeling from their recent tangle with Mr. Eckert over their right to self-determination on perhaps the most expensive slice of beachfront real estate on the Fun Coast (which will soon become an “off beach” parking lot – just like Volusia County wanted.)

Dan Eckert – who works like a rabid dog when he’s suing the eyeballs out of Volusia County taxpayers with our own money, then turns into a toothless lapdog when it comes to holding speculative developers and other political insiders accountable – has built a cottage industry arguing in courtrooms throughout Volusia County and beyond how those of us who pay the bills should sit down and shut-up in matters large and small because We, The People don’t have “standing.”

In fact, it’s become his mantra – and an effective way of suppressing any opposition to the County Council’s wholesale giveaway of our beach, aggressive land-grabs inside the municipalities, and now, the provisions of Amendment 10 – which is the first real threat to the status quo that has paralyzed Volusia County for decades.

Unfortunately, when Ms. Post made a plea at the same meeting to cobble together even a cursory written evaluation process for these two incredibly powerful positions – which currently haul in a combined $417,000 in public funds before benefits annually – she was ridiculed as a fool for even suggesting that level of base oversight and accountability.

Blessed?  That’s not the adjective I would have used. . .

Have a great weekend, y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: An Insatiable Appetite for Taxes

The Sunday edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal had an interesting juxtaposition of news articles on the front page which, in my view, perfectly illuminated the most perplexing problem facing Florida’s fabled Fun Coast:

Our continuing crisis of leadership.

In an excellent article by reporter Cassidy Alexander, which, once again, examined  the failure to thrive syndrome that has plagued Volusia County schools for years, a comparative analysis of Florida’s A-rated districts by the News-Journal painted a grim local picture, “. . .Volusia has the lowest median household income and the second-highest percentage of students living in poverty; it has the lowest average teacher salary and the lowest level of average teacher experience; it has the highest rate of chronic absenteeism among students; and the lowest rate of residents who have at least a bachelor’s degree.”

“News” like that should shock the conscience of every sitting politician and entrenched bureaucrat in Volusia County.

But it doesn’t.

Because problem solving is no longer a priority (if it ever was), now replaced by a seemingly insatiable appetite for more tax dollars – and no matter how much we are forced to pay at the pump, point of sale or in ad valorem taxes – it will never be enough.

Immediately to the right of Ms. Alexander’s piece was a headline by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt, “Plans call for tax vote,” detailing the umpteenth attempt by our ‘powers that be’ to foist a half-cent sales tax increase on every man, woman and child in Volusia County.

As in the past, this latest money grab is being billed as a way for local governments to pay for a weird retroactive transportation infrastructure scheme where developers have been allowed to build thousands of new homes and commercial centers – then worry about how we pay for the streets, roadways and utilities infrastructure required to support tens-of-thousands of new residents after-the-fact.

In most places, where insiders with a profit motive are allowed to create an acute crisis that others are then required to pay for, there is some level of political accountability.

But not here.

In Volusia County, the political playing field is skewed by massive infusions of cash into the campaign coffers of our horribly compromised elected officials who have proven their willingness to perpetuate a pernicious cycle of legalized quid pro quo corruption and ensure that all the right last names maintain their suckling position at the public teat.

Rather than logically and patiently wait until the 2020 general election, later today, officials from Volusia County and the municipalities will gather to determine when a countywide vote will be held on the sales tax initiative.

The special election will cost taxpayers an estimated $548,000.

You read that right – $548,000.

If our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has his way (which is to say, if those who pull Old Ed’s strings like the demented marionette he is have their druthers – and they will) we could see a special election as early as May.

And the reasoning for cramming this sales tax increase down our collective throat this spring have absolutely nothing to do with the rapid implementation of smart growth initiatives, improving public infrastructure to keep pace with development or curing the myriad quality of life issues that out-of-control sprawl naturally brings – and everything to do with the odds of success for the measure passing at the polls.

Apparently, the Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – whose deep involvement in a sales tax increase speaks volumes about where at least some of the estimated $45 million in annual revenue will ultimately land – conducted a mysterious “updated” survey of a smattering of Volusia County voters with incredibly short memory’s.

According to the News-Journal, the survey was narrowly focused: “The key question was how the public would respond to the question of a tax after the county delayed taking up the question of raising impact fees on developers.”

 Ah, there’s that old impact fee shim-sham bugaboo again. . .

Not to worry, on Sunday the Big Cheese of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples – that financial wizard who brought us the American Music Festival debacle and just last summer resigned from the Board of Trustees of Bethune-Cookman University in the midst of a catastrophic crisis – assured everyone who is anyone, “The response is still positive; even more so.”

Shameless asshole.

Yep.  The gangs all back together for another bite at the apple, with Joe Yarbrough – the recently retired and now completely unaccountable South Daytona city manager – having agreed to stay on and “lead the charge” for the sales tax until the vote.

Great.

Folks, what we are witnessing here is the antithesis of leadership, strategic vision and participatory democracy.

It is the gross manipulation of our system of governance by influential insiders and their chattel on the dais of power to ensure the passage of a massively lucrative revenue stream which, like every other tax increase ever passed, will ultimately end up earmarked for anything and everything with a dubious nexus to its original intent.

The fact is – nothing has changed since this initiative went down in flames last year.

For instance, at a December Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post made a legitimate plea to her “colleagues” for a comprehensive evaluation process for the omnipotent County Manager position (an individual who stands at the very intersection of public funds and private interests.)

She was all but laughed out of the room.

This small, but telling, vignette shows the utter disdain our elected “representatives” in DeLand continue to have for the concept of reasonable accountability and oversight – yet they demand more of our hard-earned money to remediate their unforgivable sin of failing to ask their incredibly wealthy political benefactors in the real estate development community to pay their fair share.

As the News-Journal recently pointed out in a cogent editorial on the problem, any politician worth his or her salt knows that if they allow things to get sufficiently bad, invariably local voters will clean up the mess when it begins to impact their quality of life.

Sound familiar?

In my view, until the Volusia County Council – and certain municipal representatives who appear in lock-step conformity on the issue of saddling their citizens with a sales tax increase – can demonstrate a real commitment to openness, transparency, strategic planning, long-term problem solving and constituent input (you know, the basic fairness of actually listening to the suggestions of those who pay the bills) then this latest money grab should rightfully end up in the overflowing ash bin where the bad ideas of our compromised politicians go to die.

When will these greed-crazed bastards understand that raising taxes on a population trapped in a service-based artificial economy is morally, ethically and economically wrong?    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Round and Round and Round we go!

Is it really necessary for me to preface these logorrheic screeds by stating the obvious? 

Okay, fine.

In the interest of full disclosure:  I’m not a traffic engineer.

I don’t know squat about transportation planning, roadway design, “lane flow equations” or the geometry of intersection mapping.

Hell, I’m lucky if I put my shoes on the right foot four out of five days each week. . .

I’m just an over-sauced asshole with a chip on his shoulder and an opinion about everything – a dull oaf who graduated Magna Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks. . .

But, like many of you, I have a finely honed Sixth Sense, a preternatural sagacity, carefully cultivated by years of experiential learning and sharpened by repeat victimization that permits me to see and avoid bullshit from a mile away.

That said – in my professional opinion – putting a “roundabout” at the intersection of East ISB and A-1-A is a catastrophically bad idea.

It just doesn’t work there.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of the many who seem to have a pathological hatred of all roundabouts – in fact, I know of several places where traffic circles work well.

I was recently in my birthplace of Kingsport, Tennessee, a progressive community that is transforming itself from a down-at-the-heels industrial town into a very livable place with a plethora of amenities, quaint pocket parks and revitalized neighborhoods where 1930’s mill worker houses are being transformed into very desirable real estate.

The city is unique in the fact it was one of the first in the nation to be designed by a city planner and landscape architect.

Nicknamed “The Model City,” the community was organized into distinctly separate areas for centralized shopping, worship, commercial space and tiered neighborhoods escalating from starter homes at the foot of the hill, then rising in a weird, almost caste-like system by income to estate properties at the crest.

These early planners incorporated some of the first roundabouts in the United States into the city’s transportation infrastructure – and in that suburban setting – they work well, calming traffic and moving people from point A to B with an efficiency that signalized intersections simply cannot match.

In fact, studies by the Federal Highway Administration show that traffic circles can increase capacity by 30 to 50 percent compared to traditional intersections.

The fact that many of the traffic calming circles in Kingsport have been beautifully landscaped and adorned with modern sculpture simply adds to the charm of traversing the community.

In my uneducated view, the key factors for the successful implementation of circular intersections are location and application – considerations that simply don’t “work” at a major intersection which hosts the busiest beach approach in Volusia County.

Being the narcissist that I am – it confounds me when ostensibly smart people can’t immediately recognize the same potential problems that I do – like the fact putting a roundabout at East ISB and A-1-A simply isn’t a “good fit” – then wasting weeks, months and years debating the issue, ad nauseum, at interminable public meetings, “visioning” sessions and perpetual presentations before spending millions in public funds on consultants and the preliminary design of things that may never happen.

I suppose it represents the life cycle of a tax dollar once it’s taken into the gaping maw of the Florida Department of Transportation – but the “process” (if that’s what you call it) still baffles me.

At a recent public meeting on the issue, many residents rightfully and adamantly opposed the roundabout, citing a variety of legitimate issues from special events to beach access and the radical impact the required widening of East ISB will have on long-established local businesses.

During that meeting, a consulting engineer, whose firm is being paid handsomely to assist in the planning and design phase, did his level-best to assure the assembled long-suffering residents of the Halifax area that, “We’re here to listen. We want to provide a design that fits your needs. At this point we’re an open book.”

 That’s when my highly-developed bullshit detector I was telling you about kicked in. . .

Whenever someone paid with public funds to provide political insulation to bureaucrats uses the words “we’re here to listen,” “fits your needs” and “we’re an open book” in the same sentence, it evokes an immediate pilomotor reflex that causes every fine hair on my body to stand erect like porcupine quills.

That’s when I know to gird my loins.

When I was in the military, we used the acronym BOHICA – Bend Over, Here It Comes Again – now, I just refer to it as Volusia County government in action. . .

Trust me – with the roundabout plan supported by the Daytona Beach City Commission, something called the “International Speedway Boulevard Coalition” and the illustrious River to Sea Transportation Planning Organization (a group which, I assume, is at least partially responsible for approving massive residential and commercial developments on LPGA Boulevard just west of the patently obvious pinch point at a two-lane bridge over the Tomoka River, among other massive infrastructure deficiencies) – and some $5 million in public funds already spent to purchase property on East ISB and another $750,000 allocated for project design – you can bet your bippy we’re getting a traffic circle whether we like it or not. . .

I happen to agree with a recent editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:  Everyone agrees we need to “do something” with that horror show on East ISB – our “historic and symbolic” gateway which looks more like an avenida in some third-world shithole than a seaside tourist destination.

(Don’t take my word for it – take the family for a drive on East ISB – or have a gander at the intersection of Main Street and A-1-A – the epicenter of our core tourist area – a place that has left more than one family in tears, regretting their annual vacation selection, as they ask for directions to anywhere but here. . .)

But the nightmare conditions in our core tourist area aren’t limited to one stretch of roadway – and all the $24+ million roundabouts in the world won’t repair the fundamental social, economic and civic issues that have been allowed to fester for years.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be putting the cart before the horse here?

With an estimated $120 million “spent” on panacea projects and bonds (or directed to all the right hip pockets) in the Main Street Redevelopment Area over the past 35-years – with nothing to show for it but crippling stagnation, blight and dilapidation – we find ourselves in a true conundrum that will require a level of strategic vision and strong leadership that I fear we simply don’t have here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I hope you won’t lose sight of that fact as our ‘powers that be’ keep us distracted  with cheap talk about fancy roundabouts and far-off traffic improvement projects on our beleaguered beachside.

Because that is exactly what they are doing.

And with our “civic award season” just around the corner – don’t be surprised when a bunch of preening assholes with all the right last names keep taking personal credit for a project that, even under perfect circumstances, won’t turn dirt before 2023. . .

We’ve heard it all before.

Good luck and God bless.  We’re going to need it.

 

 

 

 

Angels and Assholes for January 4, 2019

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:              Lowell & Nancy Lohman

It is my sincere pleasure to bestow the very first “Angel” status of 2019 on Nancy and Lowell Lohman for their incredibly generous donation to the Jerry Doliner Food Bank – a much-needed infusion that made the Holidays a little brighter for those less fortunate.

Recently, the Lohman’s presented Marvin Miller and Gloria Max of the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties with a $10,000 check to help meet the needs of disadvantaged families in the region.

Thanks to the Lohman’s kindness, the food bank was able to provide dinners and groceries to the poor on December 21, 22 and 23, along with bags of toys, gift cards and other presents for children and families in need.

Last year, the Lohman family followed the lead of local philanthropist (and all-around good guy) L. Gale Lemerand, and donated some $12,000 to the food bank to provide nourishment for impoverished families in our community.

Mr. and Mrs. Lohman – thank you for your incredible generosity – and for reminding us all of the true reason for the season.

Asshole:          Florida Department of Health

As we enter 2019, the State of Florida continues its desperate fight to crush the will of more than 71% of voters who approved a 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

Last week, attorneys for the Florida Department of Health filed a brief with an appeals court challenging the ruling of Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who found a 2017 law regulating the state’s medical marijuana industry (which was passed by the legislature in special session) unconstitutional and counter to the will of the majority of Florida residents.

Judge Dodson issued a temporary injunction requiring the Florida Department of Health to begin registering medical marijuana firms to do business in the state.

In the meantime, Florida residents suffering from cancer, ALS and other life-altering diseases are being denied access to medical marijuana as the state continues its draconian efforts to limit treatment center licenses.

Earlier this week, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis indicated in a filing with a state appeals court that the Florida House may not contest an earlier rejection of a ban on patients smoking medical marijuana.   In June, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers ruled that the provision banning smokable marijuana violated the state Constitution.

According to Arek Sarkissian writing in Politico, “If the House document is correct about the governor-elect’s intentions, it would be DeSantis’ first significant move on marijuana policy, using the most high-profile courtroom challenge of the policy, which has been paralyzed by lawsuits since it was approved by the Legislature more than a year ago.”

Regardless, why are Florida lawmaker’s intent on denying thousands of eligible patient’s compassionate care by continuing to defend a law they must know is both unconstitutional – and contrary to the will of the voters?

Angel:             Jantzen Bathing Beauty

Last April, Barker’s View lamented the fact that The World’s Most Famous Beach had lost yet another cultural icon when the 20-foot fiberglass diving girl, with her red swimsuit and Mona Lisa smile, that graced the front of Stamie’s Swimwear Shop on Ocean Avenue for over 50-years was unceremoniously removed from her perch and hauled away.

This week, she made her triumphant return to Daytona Beach – now soaring over the breezeway at the One Daytona “synergistic” shopping and entertainment complex – continuing her long career as a marketing draw for retailers selling overpriced  tchotchkes to tourists. . .

Seriously – I’m glad she’s back.

According to those in the know, the glamorous girl who became as much a part of the Daytona Beach Boardwalk as that tireless saltwater taffy machine in the front window of Zeno’s Sweet Shop, was one of only six of the timeless advertising symbols ever made.

In fact, she was so unique that Roadside America – a website that catalogs oddball tourist attractions – listed our bathing beauty as a must-see when visiting the Halifax area.

In my view, we owe Daytona Beach News-Journal editorialist, Krys Fluker, a huge debt of gratitude for her efforts to stir public support for the Jantzen girl’s return.  She worked hard encouraging letters to the editor and creating a buzz on social media to bring our girl back to the beach.

(Perhaps more impressive, Krys somehow got Old Ed Kelley and a few of our “community leaders” to momentarily act like they give a tinkers damn about our local history – that’s not easy to do.)

Welcome home, old friend.

Angel:             City of Fort Walton Beach

It’s true.  Once developers and their hired shills on the dais of power in communities large and small set their sights on what passes for “progress” in the Sunshine State – you can bet your bippy “progress” is going to come, hard and fast, whether you like it or not.

However, just sometimes, elected officials have the courage and forethought to save our historic places before the wrecking ball forever alters the landscape.

When a Louisiana company planned to develop a 100-room Residence Inn by Marriott on a parcel of land where the historic Gulfview hotel stood – the City of Ft. Walton Beach made the smart choice by physically moving and repurposing the 107-year old structure.

In April, the structure was moved by barge to its new home in the community’s historic district.

Once renovations are complete in February, the former hotel will serve as a welcome center, operated by the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department.

According to a report by Gatehouse Florida, “The building also will house a retail shop operated by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, space for the William Augustus Bowles (Billy Bowlegs) Museum and leased office and meeting space.”

 With historic Daytona Beach homes currently facing obliteration to make way for the Brown & Brown headquarters building in downtown – including unique coquina architecture and other structures of historical significance – and the fate of the Josie Rogers House still very much in limbo as city leaders decide how to best serve the needs of J. Hyatt Brown – perhaps the City of Daytona Beach could take a second look at how other Florida communities are finding innovative ways to repurpose our states historic places?

Like our environmentally sensitive areas that are currently under assault by speculative developers from Farmton to the Flagler County line – once these beautiful reminders of our past are gone – they are gone forever.

Asshole:          Edgewater City Councilwoman Amy Vogt

I have a problem when politicians stand for elective office on a promise of bettering their community, representing their constituents with honor and integrity and bringing stability to local government – then act like a bull in a china shop before jumping ship mid-term.

And it appears that is exactly what Edgewater City Councilwoman Amy Vogt has done.

After joining with two other council members to fire former City Manager Tracey Barlow in an off-agenda ambush – a move that resulted in a political shit storm which later saw Police Chief David Arcieri unceremoniously railroaded out of office – and drew public outcry over perceived Sunshine Law violations, now Councilwoman Vogt gave residents one-day notice that she is resigning her office effective today.

After allowing rumors to swirl for a month – on Sunday Vogt posted on social media that she would be moving to Kentucky.

How’s that for constituent communications during a crisis?

Maybe she has a valid reason for fleeing Florida, but those who put their trust in her will never know, and the special election to replace her is estimated to cost the good citizens of Edgewater some $30,000.

If there is an upside to this travesty, it is that this irresponsible dullard is no longer making decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of Edgewater residents.  Now, maybe this troubled community can get on with the business of healing. . .

Good riddance.

Quote of the Week:

“The court is concerned the Constitution is being treated as just a recommendation.  It cannot be. The Constitution is the law of the land — the supreme law of our government, which we must all live by. The medical marijuana amendment of the Constitution is specific. Much of that specificity is being ignored.

 — Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson found the 2017 law regulating and licensing medical marijuana firms unconstitutional, and issued a temporary injunction requiring state health officials to begin registering medical marijuana firms to do business

Unfortunately, this is what happens when lawmakers decide they know better than those who elected them to high office.

In addition to doing everything legally possible to paralyze the implementation of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment – now, we’re seeing similar shenanigans beginning to play out with Amendment 4 – which allows people convicted of certain felony crimes the right to vote.

The measure was approved by 65% of the voting public during our last election – but early moves show it may face similar legal challenges.

Look, I don’t necessarily agree with the automatic restoration of voting rights for criminals convicted of serious crimes – I happen to believe we need a fair and clearly defined path for the restoration of a felon’s civil rights – but my opinion, nor those of obstinate Florida lawmakers, does not matter now.

We, The People have spoken – our democratic process worked.

Judge Dodson is right, our constitution is not a mere suggestion, it is the supreme law of the land and governs us all equally – including misguided and power-mad legislators seeking to subvert the will of the Florida electorate once again.

And Another Thing!

Way back in 2014, the Volusia County Council entered into a performance and access agreement with Russian developer Protogroup to ensure the public’s right to enter our beach after the Oakridge Boulevard ramp was closed to facilitate construction of the massive convention center and hotel.

For weeks, the developer has been in violation of that apparently toothless agreement – finally coming up with a goofy idea to ferry beachgoers across the construction site in a golf cart. . .

Last week, this was the scene at Oakridge Boulevard and A-1-A as residents and astonished visitors attempted to navigate the scene of a trailer being unloaded using a boom crane in danger-close proximity to motorists and pedestrians.

protogroup trailer 1

protogroup trailer 3

The result was gridlocked traffic which stretched south beyond Main Street.

Isn’t this the very reason Volusia County agreed to give up public access to the Oakridge approach? 

Jesus.

When do our ‘powers that be’ begin looking out for us – the long-suffering residents (and the visitors we spend handily to attract) instead of compromising our safety and access to our most precious natural amenity to accommodate construction of yet another hideous high-rise?

That’s all for me – have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year from Barker’s View!

New Year, New Me?  Hardly. . .

No, I’m still the same cantankerous asshole that I was last week.

A little older.

A little wiser, perhaps.

New beginnings are a good time for reflection and introspection.  So, this week I took some time out to take stock of what’s left of my mind and the vessel that contains it.

The results of this solipsistic navel-gazing weren’t pretty. . .

At this age and stage, I find that “personal growth” comes hard, if at all, and those acerbic personal traits and bad habits that have taken years to carefully cultivate have become an important part of what it means to be “me,” now worn like a warm robe of familiar comfort – an impenetrable bark that protects me from the slings and arrows of modern life.

I drink too much whiskey and howl at the moon, smoke Marlboros like a chimney and can consume my body weight in greasy fast food.  As a result, I’m almost certain that my long-suffering heart and liver are the size, shape and consistency of a Honey Baked Ham (something I could confirm if I ever bothered to go see my equally long-suffering doctor. . .)

When it comes to any semblance of “work,” I procrastinate to the point of crippling dysfunction – a byproduct of my inherent laziness and Walter Mitty-like daydreaming – and my weird personality quirks, raging social anxiety and continuing struggle with OCD are legendary.

However, I still have some very old-fashioned notions of what it means to conduct oneself as a gentleman – and I represent the ultimate hypocrite: An unrepentant sinner with a strong moral compass.

Most people instinctively dislike me – and I get that – because I hate me too.

I like dogs more than most people – and when it comes to holding a grudge – I never forget or forgive a perceived slight.  As most know, I would rather argue than eat – and always see the worst in others and situations (and I’m usually right, not that I would admit it if I were wrong).

I may not know the difference between Empirical Realism and Ontological Realism – and at 58 years old, I still haven’t mastered basic multiplication – but I can smell bullshit from a mile away.

The older I get, I have little patience and don’t suffer fools like I used to – and I have developed a molecular disdain for assholes who hold positions of power, charged with upholding the public’s trust in our governmental institutions, yet find a way to line their pockets – or serve the profit motives of their friends and political benefactors – and, in doing so, shit on everything We, The People hold dear.

Sadly, for good or for ill, I have no burning desire to change.

Worse yet, I take a perverse ego-driven pride in it all.

Screw it.  In the words of the immortal Popeye the Sailor, “I yam, what I yam. . .” 

Given the grim results of my recent self-examination – don’t be too hard on yourself if you are over 40 and find that those changes you promised to make in early January become less important, or fall by the wayside altogether, come mid-February.

However, there are a few pragmatic civic resolutions that I plan to keep this year – personal pledges that I hope all of you will decide to adopt as well:

In 2019, I refuse to accept the sleight-of-hand that is increasingly drawing attention away from the challenges of Mid-Town, our languishing beachside and Downtrodden Downtown – in favor of focusing exclusively on the promise of “New Daytona” currently under construction in the pine scrub off LPGA Boulevard.

How does the dilapidation that has become the pockmarked face of our core tourist area comport with Minto’s purpose-built, artificial paradise Latitude Margaritaville with its catchy marketing schtick “Palm trees swaying to an ocean breeze” and “Everyday feels like an escape”?

How does the threadbare Volusia Mall, or nearly deserted Volusia Square, compete with fashionably new, publicly-underwritten, “synergistic” shopping and entertainment venues like One Daytona or Tanger Outlets with their built-in “enhanced amenity fees” to cover overhead and reduce risk?

They don’t.  They can’t.

Trust me, the people who stand to profit most wish that people like me would stop making the obvious comparison in public.

As I’ve written before, blemishes are meant to be covered – not openly discussed – especially when they transmogrify into gruesome tumors.

As the big money moves west, so does the focus and attention of our ‘movers-and-shakers’ – you know, the Chamber of Commerce set, our goofy elected officials and their friends in high places, like the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, etc.

Like victims of a contagious pandemic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, our elected and appointed officials – and those who make their living grubbing from government coffers – will conveniently forget the fetid mess on what remains of the beachside and much of the mainland as developers continue churning ecologically sensitive land west of the Interstate into the “Next big thing.

I also resolve to hold accountable those who stood for public office on the promise of representing our highest and best interests in the halls of power throughout Volusia County – then proved themselves to be little more than the dull tools of their uber-wealthy political benefactors.

I will no longer accept the blathering of incompetent shitheels like our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, when he tries to convince us that Volusia County government is as transparent, open, honest and fiscally efficient it can possibly be (even as the next ugly scandal or shameful revelation surfaces like a festering boil) or yammers incoherently that sea level rise is a sham perpetuated by those who oppose his “friends” in the pro-growth community.

I will no longer accept the “Us vs. Them” mentality in places like the Ormond Beach City Commission Chambers or the haunted halls of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building, where speculative developers and the sutlers who subsist off the crumbs of unchecked growth, have hijacked government of the people, by the people and for the people, and replaced it with an oligarchical system which places profit motive over quality of life.

I will no longer equate the size of a person’s bank account – or the motivations of corporate poohbahs and university “trustees” who spend millions of other people’s money erecting phallic monuments to their own self-importance – with their inherent intelligence or strategic vision.

I will no longer stand silent while Volusia County Schools – a public taxing authority with a duty to educate our precious children and the largest budget of any government entity in Volusia County – remains mired in a pernicious cycle of mediocrity, seemingly incapable of reversing its perennial legacy of underachievement and shoddy organizational standards that have become ingrained in Superintendent Tom Russell’s administration.

I vow to honor the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women who police and protect our streets, fight fires, provide emergency medical services, manage and mitigate disasters, protect our environment and wildlife, treat and distribute safe potable water, strive to promote ethical economic development and tourism, provide essential services and work hard to humbly and professionally serve the true needs of their constituents in elected and appointed positions throughout Volusia County.

And I will never forget that those we have elected work for us – not the other way around – and continue to demand an end to the wholesale giveaway of our beach – Volusia County’s most important natural amenity and economic engine – and ensure the continuation of our century-old tradition of beach driving and access for all residents and visitors.

I still believe these things are important.  I hope you do to.

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes of 2018

Happy New Year, 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 year that was:

Wow.  It’s hard to believe we’ve made another trip around the sun together!

As the ball drops on another year, I want you to know how much I’ve enjoyed the ride – pointing out the winners and losers – pontificating on the good, the bad and the ugly of our weird life and times here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I really wish I had something deep and profound to pass on as we reach the end of 2018, some kernel of wisdom or pearl of insight shucked from my weary mind that would shine a bright light on our path as we walk collectively toward whatever challenges and opportunities lay ahead.

But I don’t.

Frankly, I’m just as dumb, perplexed and frustrated as I was this time last year. . .

The curmudgeon in me says nothing much has changed – and that if I called in all the wagers I’ve made through the past year with those infernal optimists and wide-eyed rubes who were firmly convinced that the Halifax area is/was poised on the very precipice of “great things” based exclusively on the unchecked growth raging in the pine scrub to our west – well, I’d be a rich man.

Don’t take my word for it – look around.

Do you notice any measurable difference in the deplorable condition of much of the East ISB “gateway” – or any positive change to that dystopian wasteland that is the Daytona Beach Boardwalk?

Do you notice one damn thing that was accomplished by the infamous Beachside Redevelopment Committee?  That political insulation consortium of our “best and brightest” formed in the direct aftermath of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on our beachside which lost some $677  million is assessed value since 2008?

I don’t.  But it doesn’t stop with the blight, dilapidation and rot which is consuming many of our core tourist areas from Ormond-by-the-Sea south.

For instance, can anyone remember way back in December 2017, when anyone and everyone who passes for Volusia County “Dignitaries” gathered in their finery on a barren parcel of public land off U.S. 92 and patted each other on the back for breaking years of jurisdictional in-fighting and gross stagnation on the corrosive problem of chronic homelessness as they “broke ground” on the First Step Shelter?

It was hailed as a “Historic Day” in Volusia County.

It was the pageantry of politics in all its swaggering splendor – something so positive – yet so far off – that every elected official in the region could take credit for it without actually having done anything substantive in the process.

There was high praise for what was billed as a “Herculean endeavor” to bring our homeless assistance center to life – along with hubristic talk of political “legacies” – as our ‘powers that be’ preened for pictures wielding goofy golden shovels to turn the earth in a symbolic “groundbreaking” ceremony.

Now, over one-year later, that same parcel sits equally barren – except for what we are told is the “site prep” work – ostensibly completed (for dubious reasons) by someone other than the actual contractor. . .

And what was once the greatest social achievement of our time – is now an orphan of failure and skyrocketing costs – maligned as a bottomless money pit, even as hordes of homeless mendicants beg on all four quadrants of virtually every major intersection from Ormond Beach to Edgewater and doze under the Main Street Pier.

Oh, I forgot,  we may not have gotten the First Step shelter out of the ground – but our “leaders” were able to cobble together a cozy insider deal that will allow a prolific private contractor to make a fortune selling public dirt to speculative developers that are busy turning what’s left of our wetlands into tony “theme” subdivisions of wood frame cracker boxes along the spine of east Volusia from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Yet, we are still no closer to providing actual services to the throngs homeless than we were this time last year – and I would venture to guess that not one mile of new transportation infrastructure has been laid outside the immediate needs of Mosaic or Margaritaville. . .

Here’s some more “strategic vision” to look forward to in 2019:

Earlier this year, the shit show that was former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s reign of abject incompetence ended when he fled the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building with a sack full of severance cash – unfortunately, the “system” remains firmly entrenched – with the same uber-wealthy political insiders deftly wielding almost omnipotent influence over our elected and appointed officials.

Then, when there is any reasonable attempt to change the status quo, they trot out their weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, who has built a cottage industry suing his own constituents with their tax dollars. . .

Now, with our “new” Volusia County Council set to take the helm in early January – and a nationwide search for a professional County Manager ongoing – long-suffering residents of this salty piece of land we call home were looking forward to the “fresh starts and new beginnings” that a new year, and new administration, promises.

Unfortunately, our hopes were dashed earlier this week as we collectively opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal and gazed forlornly on reporter Dustin Wyatt’s front page/above the fold essay entitled “Volusia faces 2019 transitions” and we came to the sobering realization that we can expect more of the same in the long year ahead. . .

In keeping with their patented strategy of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, certain sitting members of the Volusia County Council let all of us (and any prospective candidate) know that they have no interest in bringing a fresh set of eyes (or an outsiders perspective) to bear on the entrenched problems and influential parasites that have stalked the halls of Volusia County government like malevolent lycanthropes for years.

According to the article, “The majority of the returning council members said in recent interviews that they’ve encouraged interim Manager George Recktenwald to put his name in for the position.

“I’m hoping that he (Recktenwald) will be in the running,” Councilwoman Billie Wheeler said. “His leadership has been a breath of fresh air. He’s been so open, and employees feel like they are being heard.”

Wheeler said the search process needs to run its course as planned, but “at the end of the road, I’d love nothing more than to have George as our manager.”

Look, I don’t have anything against George Recktenwald.  In the aftermath of the Dinneen debacle – he’s been as close to a “breath of fresh air” as anyone who clawed their way to middle-management in local government and held on with their fingernails can bring. . .

However, in my view, Mr. Recktenwald does not represent the radical cure for the metastatic disease that continues to consume tax dollars like a jet-fueled incinerator while steadily chipping away at our public amenities and natural places to sate the greed of speculative developers and others who make their living at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

This became painfully obvious to me just weeks ago when we saw Mr. Recktenwald trot out the tried-and-true Volusia County strategy of sidestepping responsibility by laying the blame on the municipalities.

Following a dispute with the City of Daytona Beach over a very real public safety concern at the scene of a massive hotel and convention center currently under construction by Russian developer Alexey Lysich’s Protogroup – an issue that has blocked public beach access for months – Mr. Recktenwald told a whopper when he snowed-over the concerns of the now cooing Councilwoman Billie Wheeler.

Unlike the highly polished Jim Dinneen – who long-ago mastered the fine art of lying blatantly, with extreme confidence, when answering the inconvenient questions of the people’s representatives – George handled Billie’s softball questions with all the finesse of a punch-drunk Mountain McClintock. . .

According to Recktenwald, “The city, which we have partnered on for many projects, I don’t think has been much of a partner in this case here.  This is the first time in my 21 years (with the county) I’ve ever encountered that another government didn’t support us or work with us.”

Bullshit.

Volusia County has been at war with the municipalities for over a decade – in fact, I cannot recall one “partnership” – from the issue of homelessness, to shitting on the citizens of Ormond Beach by allowing a haunted shopping center to literally rot in the center of their core tourist area, to the expensive debacle in Daytona Beach Shores – that didn’t dissolve into a quagmire of lawsuits, angry rhetoric and open political bullying.

Can you?

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley,“…keeping Recktenwald on as leader makes sense because the county is already in the midst of a major transition that could be difficult for a new manager unfamiliar with the county’s unique government structure.”

 (And by “unique government structure” I assume Old Ed means a bastardized oligarchy where elected officials are bought and sold like chattel at a livestock auction and quid pro quo corruption is openly practiced by anyone with the financial wherewithal to pay-to-play?)

In typical fashion, after spending thousands in taxpayer money on a headhunting firm to scour the countryside for the best and brightest chief executive we can afford to oversee this monstrous bureaucracy – with its bloated $770 million budget – and thousands of ineffectual moving parts – the Three Stooges comprised of Ed Kelley, Billie Wheeler and the always arrogant Deb Denys – decide it’s somehow wise to tip their hand and discourage any legitimate candidate from participating in a now compromised process that already appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Jesus.  Does it ever end?

The only thing I can promise you in the New Year is that I’ll be here – watching and waiting – providing you, the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe, with my jaded perspective and skewed perspective on the news and newsmakers of the day.

As always, I appreciate your taking the time to read – and your friendship.

That’s all for me – here’s wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

2018 Asshole of the Year:

For all the obvious and perennial reasons, the Volusia County Council have been named Asshole of the Year for 2018 by the author, editor, chief cook and bottle-washer of Barker’s View!

I recently had a good conversation with Volusia County Councilman-elect Ben Johnson – a long-time law enforcement colleague who skillfully won the at-large seat earlier this year.  During the call, I explained my continuing concerns about the “business as usual” strategy that has resulted in a lack of transparency and the loss of public trust in county government.

We also discussed the sense of possibility that presents whenever the players change – and I have promised others that I will keep an open mind.

Mr. Johnson assured me that he will serve with honor and integrity, and make funding and policy decisions in the best interests of all citizens.  Given his years of service to the citizens of Volusia County, I have no reason to doubt his sincerity – and I have every confidence he will do just that.

Don’t expect Ben Johnson, or incoming District 1 Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, to be change agents.  However, in my view, they will bring a much-needed sense of stability, character and respect to a body that desperately needs it.

Time will tell.

2018 Archangel of the Year:

After careful consideration, and several rounds of fine Tennessee sipping whiskey, I have selected those intrepid souls from Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – Sons of the Beach – as our Barker’s View Archangel for 2018!

Since 1984, Sons of the Beach has been fighting hard to preserve our tradition of beach driving and the unique access it provides Volusia County residents and visitors.

Trust me – it’s not easy to challenge a well-established power structure with the ability to influence public policy through massive campaign donations and financial relationships with hand-picked political candidates.

But there is strength in numbers – especially when it comes to effecting political change – and I encourage everyone to join Sons of the Beach in 2019.  We need these courageous civic activists now, more than ever.

Learn more at www.sonsofthebeach.org

To everyone who appeared in Angels and Assholes this year, wear it with pride!

Your presence on these pages means that, regardless of status, you are relevant and important to the larger conversation on the issues and opportunities facing all of us.

Thanks for being in the arena.

Retrospectives can give us unique insight on the important issues.

Let’s take a look back at who tried to save us – and who tried to screw us – during the year that was:

January 2018

Assholes

Chairman Ed Kelley and the Volusia County Council

Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees

Lake Helen City Council

Rep. Randy Fine & Sen. Jeff Brandes

Volusia County Elected Officials Round Table

Angels

Former Volusia County Medical Examiner, Dr. Marie Herrmann

Tim Curtis & L. Gale Lemerand

Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett

Jeff Feasel, CEO, Halifax Health

Fran Gordon, Mid-Florida Housing Partnership

Political Consultant Mike Scudiero

Deland Citizens for Conservation & Responsible Growth

Root Family Foundation

Concerned Constituents Committee of Bethune-Cookman University

Big John

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

February 2018

 Assholes

Volusia County Council

Brown & Brown

Angels

Jim Purdy, Public Defender

Paul Zimmerman

Kevin Lowe

Chief Craig Capri & Daytona Beach Police Department

Sons of the Beach

First Step Shelter Board

Bethune-Cookman University Athletics

March 2018

Assholes

County of Volusia

Geosam Capital

Volusia County Council

Hard Rock International

Daytona Beach City Commission

Volusia County Attorney’s Office

Angels

Former Senate President Don Gaetz

Volusia County Collegiate Women’s Basketball Teams

City of Daytona Beach

Sons of the Beach

Palm Coast Councilwoman Heidi Shipley

Volusia Bureau of Investigation

April 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Daytona Beach City Commission

Flagler County School Board

Bethune-Cookman Board of Trustees

Angels

Daytona Blues Festival Organizers

Flagler Sheriff Rick Staley

Bellaire Community Group

Chris Noe

Governor Rick Scott

Chief Gerald Monahan, Jr.

Gus Massfeller

Daytona Beach Police Department

Jantzen Bathing Beauty

May 2018

Assholes

Former Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen

Former DeBary City Manager Dan Parrott

Former Palm Coast City Manager Richard Kelton

County of Volusia

Volusia County Beach Safety Department

NASCAR

Summit Hospitality Group

New Smyrna Beach City Commission

Angels

Peggy Belflower

Brownie the Town Dog

Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte

Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza

Dr. Sara Zydowicz

Bethune-Cookman Athletics

Chief Stephan Dembinsky

City of Holly Hill & Second Harvest Food Bank

June 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Volusia County School Board

Maryam Ghyabi

John Albright

Former Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen

Daytona Beach Leisure Services

Angels

Bellaire Community Group

Pat Northey

Lyndsey Edwards

Sons of the Beach

July 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Hard Rock Daytona

Volusia County School Board

Deltona City Manager Jane Shang

City of Daytona Beach Shores

Angels

Votran Driver Paul Okumu

Judge Belle B. Schumann

Hyatt & CiCi Brown

Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood

WNDB’s Marc Bernier

August 2018

Assholes

Former Volusia County Councilman Art Giles

Former Volusia County Councilman Frank Bruno

Former Volusia County Councilman Josh Wagner

Former Volusia County Councilwoman Joie Alexander

Governor Rick Scott

Volusia County School Board

Former Bethune-Cookman Trustee Joe Petrock

Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees

City of Ormond Beach

Volusia County Council

Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France

Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert

Angels

Bethune-Cookman Marching Wildcats

Taxpayers of Volusia County

Holly Hill Mayor John Penny

Holly Hill Police & Fire Departments

Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis

Citizens of Deltona

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

September 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Volusia County School Board

Former Lake Helen City Manager Jason Yarborough

First Step Money Pit

“Fun Coast” Gonorrhea

Defrocked Judge Scott Dupont

Republican Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter

Angels

Civic Activist Amy Pyle

First Step Shelter Board

Dr. Kelly Long, Tomoka Pines Veterinary Clinic

Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

Bethune-Cookman University’s Lee Rhyant

Gloria Max, Jewish Federation of Volusia & Flagler Counties

Director Lynn Thompson, B-CU

Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

October 2018

Assholes

Volusia County School Board

Volusia County Councilman Pat Patterson

Daytona Beach “International” Airport

Daytona Beach City Commission

Angels

Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

Krys Fluker, Daytona Beach News-Journal

CiCi Brown

Eddie Hennessy

November 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Volusia County School Board

City of Edgewater

Baffling Bullshit of “Project Palm”

Daytona Beach City Commission

Angels

Daytona Beach Police Officer Kevin Hird

Teresa Rand, Volusia-Flagler YMCA

Local Journalists

December 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Angels

The Barker’s View Tribe

Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas from Barker’s View

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

–Luke 2:4-14

May peace be with you and those you hold dear.

From the Barker family to yours, Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a happy, healthy and most prosperous 2019!

Mark & Patti

Angels & Assholes for December 21, 2018

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.

They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever experienced anything like the monstrous virus that swept through Barker’s View HQ last week.

I’m convinced it was some genetically modified mutant version of the 1918 H1N1 – a tubercular Mega-Bug – that has left my long-suffering wife, Patti, battling pneumonia and me flat on my back for many days.  Ugh.

Despite massive doses of over-the-counter medication, unguents, ointments, a trip to a Florida Health Care clinic and bombardment by the best modern pharmaceuticals my health plan can afford, this virulent organism has romped around my respiratory tract unfazed.

In fact, it has now hung around so long I’m going to claim it as a dependent.

Sometimes, I find the old ways are the best, and my long-standing tonic for the treatment of all illnesses – physical and mental – seems to have beaten the bugger back.  I’d be happy to share the patented Barker Cure-All with you (for medicinal purposes only):

Pour three-fingers of Wild Turkey 101-proof Kentucky bourbon into a sturdy earthen mug to ensure proper heat retention.

Add a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon and a dollop of good honey (the darker the better – I use a limited edition 17-year wild oak honey – a delicious multi-floral that had been aging deep inside the trunk of a century-old oak tree in Holly Hill.  It was only discovered during a freak overnight lightning storm which cleaved the tree in half, revealing the sweet treasure inside.  All the bees were saved, thanks to the wonderful work of a dedicated third-generation apiarist, and they continue to produce incredibly delicious honey to this day.  If you would like some truly fine locally produced honey, please contact my friend Michael Blauberg at Tomoka River Basin Honey, 386-451-8782).

Top this off with strong hot black tea (preferably a Bai Lin Gong Fu or properly steeped Darjeeling) – then take liberally, as needed.

It might not help, but it can’t hurt.

Fortunately, I’m feeling stronger every day, and Patti has returned to work, so she can keep me in the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed as a semi-retired Gentleman of Leisure.  After doing hand-to-hand combat with the bastard for over a week, I’m happy to report the Barker’s appear on the road to recovery.

Tradition dictates that I devote the last Angels & Assholes column before Christmas to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

It’s true – the Great Scorer has bestowed many good things on this salty piece of land we call home – including a wealth of philanthropic people and organizations who work hard in the best interest of the many less-fortunate individuals and families in our area who truly deserve a hand up.

Unfortunately, the good work of these unsung angels is too often overshadowed by the steady drumbeat of political rhetoric and virulent criticism.

The “good news” is drowned out by the plaintive cries of those of us who feel powerless to stop the slow erosion of those traditions and amenities that make the Halifax area such a beautiful and unique place to live, work and play – as we remain trapped in a cycle of low paying service jobs and an artificial economy totally controlled by the same five people passing the same nickel around.

Clearly, I’m guilty of focusing on the problems – rather than the many good people in both the public and private sector who are working hard to find solutions.

But I simply refuse to remain silent.  And I know you won’t either.

So, as the Christmas Spirit fills what’s left of my broken and battered old heart – I want to dedicate this edition to YOU – the loyal readers and ardent warriors of the Barker’s View tribe – Angels all – who have made this experiment in alternative opinion blogging such a rich and rewarding experience.

Since those early fits and starts in January 2016 – little more than written outbursts borne of a growing frustration over the deteriorating condition of our hometown that ultimately evolved into Barker’s View – these bitter diatribes and tales from the dark side have been viewed some 271,058 times and have attracted thousands of followers who regularly receive these blog posts by social media and email – including readers from 118 countries around the globe.

It is incredibly humbling – and the kindheartedness of readers continues to be a source of great happiness and personal pride.

Your continued engagement and active participation in the debate of competing ideas has returned a much-needed sense of purpose to my life, a desperately important part of my soul that I lost upon retirement from public service.

Earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal described Barker’s View as  “a must-read for locals interested in county politics” in a cogent editorial on growing local political dissent – and a dedicated reader recently shared in a good note, “I (we), many people are so fortunate you found your calling of sharing your writing and critical thinking with us.”

Wow.  I’m not an emotional guy, but that one got me. . .

Look, I get it.  These often-maniacal ravings aren’t for everyone – and not all of the messages I receive from readers and leaders are as kind as the ones I shared above – but that comes with the territory.

A wise prophet once said that a man with a greed for the Truth should expect no mercy, and give none. . .

I often sound like a broken record – a serial grumbler – a contrarian with a chip on his shoulder and no workable remedies to contribute.  Some call that the textbook definition of “whining” and perhaps they’re right, but the alternative is to suffer in silence, and in my jaded view, that only perpetuates the problem(s).

At the end of the day, please know that these rambling jeremiads are the product of a frustrated “every man” – neither always right, nor always wrong – but the important wisdom I receive from the smart observations of my readers tells me that I am not alone in my basic belief that the citizens of Volusia County deserve better.

So, if you keep reading and driving a larger discussion of the issues that affect us all – I promise to keep adding fuel to the fire – and maybe, just maybe, we can foster the fundamental change in our sacred system of governance that levels the playing field for everyone, returns a sense of fair play that benefits all citizens, honors our natural places, helps those less fortunate, supports entrepreneurial investment, ensures unfettered access to the most beautiful beach in the world and restores the sense of fun and possibility that made our region a premiere destination for millions of visitors.

Here’s wishing all of you – family, friends and political foes alike – a very Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Much love,

Mark

(Please join Barker’s View for a very special Christmas Eve appearance on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.  We’ll be discussing the important issues of the day – and I would love to take your calls and learn about what’s important to you as we face the challenges and opportunities of 2019.  Locally, please find us at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org Listen Live button!) 

On Volusia: The Political Personality

Most loyal readers of this alternative opinion forum know that I have a rather jaded view of local politics and those who practice it.

In reality, I have a great deal of respect for those who give of their time and talents to serve the highest and best interests of their neighbors – to hold themselves out for elective office and courageously participate in the knife fight that is modern politics.

It’s not for the weak at heart.  I get it.

But the process of governance sure seems to attract some interesting characters. . .

In over three decades serving and observing local government, I’ve seen every variety and subgenus of politician imaginable:

The “Glad-Hander”:  Tries desperately to be everything to everyone (all the time), seeking approval by flip-flopping positions depending upon their audience.  The backslapping ‘good ol’ boy’ who is always endearing, totally ineffectual and rarely on the wrong side of a controversial issue or majority vote.

Quick to compromise – or co-opt themselves – the glad-hander tends to enjoy the social aspect of elective service and can always be found front-and-center at those ubiquitous rubber-chicken banquets and award ceremonies where politicians go to congratulate their own performance.

The “Angry Warrior”:  Entered politics to settle a score or right a perceived wrong.  Incendiary by nature, focused on a single-issue and usually painfully ignorant of the larger processes, departments and services they are making funding and policy decisions about.

The warrior is often a one term wonder who quickly tires of the time-consuming ancillary duties expected of elected officials after becoming totally disillusioned by the effort required to advance even minor issues in the bureaucratic labyrinth they find themselves in.

The “Powermonger”:  Intent on building a political machine by using their domineering personality to seize control of external civic groups and unofficial power centers (social clubs, service organizations, local political party infrastructure, etc.) and aligning themselves with the ‘Rich & Powerful’ who set the backroom agenda.

These narcissistic shitheels could care less about the needs and wants of their constituency, and enjoy driving decisions behind-the-scenes by coercion and fear, usually developing a close personal relationship with the appointed chief executive and wealthy political insiders who control the campaign purse strings of their “colleagues” on the dais of power.

In Volusia County, we have an inordinate number of these power-hungry politicos who serve as perfect counterparts to our “Kingmakers” – uber-wealthy insiders who use their considerable influence to control political succession and further their own personal and professional agendas at the local, state and national levels.

The “Rookie”:  The newly minted council member or commissioner who is always dangerously close to meddling in operational issues because they are everywhere, all the time.

The bane of city and county managers everywhere.

These well-meaning greenhorns are always underfoot – like a rambunctious puppy seeking attention – wandering the halls of administrative offices and popping in on department heads just to “say hello,” normally drawn like a magnet to any Emergency Operations Center.

Often found sitting at a vacant desk in a dusty corner of City Hall pouring over budget reports, nodding contemplatively and acting like they actually understand the figures and analysis.  (Might as well be staring at War and Peace written in ancient Chinese characters. . .)

Can be easily identified by their long-winded soliloquies during the “commissioner comments” section of the agenda – regaling everyone with how much they learned this week about the nuances of the wastewater treatment process as their colleagues roll their eyes and stare at their wristwatches – before asking the police chief if they can have a “badge” to identify themselves to officers (who never seem to recognize them) whenever they suddenly appear at crime scenes. . .

The rookie will eventually transition into some combination of the other types mentioned.

The “Sellout”:  Typically, a second-year politician who started out as an angry warrior-type – or campaigned as a change agent – only to become a cog in the wheel once elected.

The sellout is usually wholly dependent on big money donors making them extremely susceptible to compromise by big money interests.  This dynamic makes the sellout a prime candidate for the all-too-frequent Faustian bargain that quickly removes any semblance of political independence.

Generally, the elective office may be the sellout’s only identifiable source of income – or their interests are heavily reliant on their political benefactors for success – and they become completely enamored by the symbols of wealth and the gilded trappings of office.

The sellout is easily swooned by wealthy special interests who lavish faux-praise and massage their fragile ego while providing access to a social circle they have never been part of – and will never be again.

The sellout quickly becomes everything he or she hated when they entered the political arena as they are slowly used like cheap tools, then casually discarded by the powerful interests who control them when they are no longer relevant.

The “Servant Leader”:  Increasingly rare in local politics – this is the individual who seeks elective office for all the right reasons.

Usually a local business owner, professional or long-time resident with a simple desire to build a better community.  The servant-leader can be counted on to do the homework, study the material, come prepared and make fact-based decisions.

These community leaders make themselves available to their constituents – return telephone calls and emails – and frequently meet informally with citizens and civic groups to gain a better understanding of the issues facing those they serve.

The servant-leader deliberates with an open mind and considers diverse opinions – men and women of vision who humble themselves to the role and wield political power in the public interest, never for personal gain.

This type is far from perfect, but when they make an honest mistake – personally or professionally – they speak the truth, admit the error and work hard to set things right.  They never quibble the facts or engage in cheap cover-ups that destroy organizational credibility – and understand the essential importance of honor, integrity and governmental ethics to maintaining the public’s trust in the system.

They take a holistic approach to governance, rather than focusing exclusively on meeting the needs of special interests, and they do not succumb to the cancer of political cowardice – relying on inane and incredibly expensive “studies” and “consultant reports” before making difficult decisions – unless absolutely necessary to developing a comprehensive view of complex issues.

Perhaps most important, the servant-leader fundamentally understands the role of local government and stewards tax dollars and public assets in a way that ensures a return on investment for all citizens

Not averse to controversy when its required to affect positive change, these leaders refrain from unnecessarily “stirring the pot” and work hard to bring a sense of stability and professionalism by setting a positive example, following the rules, and instinctively working to further the highest and best interest of their constituents.

As we enter the “out with the old, in with the new” period that marks the peaceful transition of power in our democratic system, where term-limited and defeated politicians ceremoniously exit the public stage and make way for newly elected officials, let’s demand that those who stand for elective office remain true to the promises they made during the long, hot summer that was.

Let’s demand accountability for the dismal state of our beach management, our emergency medical transport service, the revelatory exposures of whistle-blowers on everything from the “filtering” of information and withholding publicly-funded studies from decision-makers altogether – to the paralytic dysfunction that has hampered significant progress on the most intractable regional problems of our time.

With the new year upon us, let’s all vow to attend more public meetings, make yourself – and your opinion – known to those for whom you have cast your sacred vote, and let us collectively demand a return of “Servant-Leaders” to the halls of power throughout Volusia County while there is still something left to worry about.

If we truly deserve better – now is the time to demand it.