What elephant?

In a famous scene from the Broadway play Billy Rose’s Jumbo, a police officer stops Jimmy Durante who is leading a live elephant and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?”

Durante’s reply, “What elephant?”

 I was reminded of that comedic exchange this week. . .

 Despite the consternation this blog site continues to bring to the Hallowed Halls of Power in DeLand and beyond, I remain a Quixotic rube lost in the wilderness – nothing more – a bombastic blowhard with internet access who pontificates on the issues of the day – and ponders on the perennial politicians, insiders and bureaucratic do-nothings that, in my view, are actively destroying our quality of life – clumsily plowing forward with no semblance of a comprehensive vision for our future other than an insatiable appetite for more tax dollars.

It’s why I’m easy to dismiss as a hypercritical lunatic.

But sometimes I stumble upon an uncomfortable reality it seems no one but me wants to talk about. . .

Between the weird political Couéism that continues to permeate most public meetings – the recurrent self-aggrandizing autosuggestion of “Day by day in every way we’re getting better and better” – I notice a sustained attack on those citizens who are critical of the political intrigues and missed opportunities to encourage public input in solving some of the most vexing civic, social and economic problems of our time.

Quite simply, no one who should will listen, and they haven’t for a long while now.

The ingrained trait of turning a deaf ear to our concerns is embodied in many elected officials who obsessively refuse to accept the public’s voice – the Will of the People – especially when it relates to questions that have already been put to a vote.

Earlier this week, the Knights of the Roundtable – a bizarre shadow régime comprised of mayors, managers, county officials and various parasitic hangers-on, led by the illustrious Illuminati at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – resurrected the specter of the half-cent sales tax initiative which was resoundingly rejected by the electorate just six-months ago.

From Amendment 10 to the sales tax debacle, when will they listen to the voice of the people?

It is an insult to our intelligence – and our revered democratic system – to continue repackaging this shameless money grab and putting back on the ballot until they get the answer they desire.

That’s not how this works.

Our ‘powers that be’ asked the question in the very expensive manner and format they were told would be most advantageous for the desired outcome – and we answered.

Loud and clear.       

What I never hear is a substantive discussion by our elected officials – particularly on the Volusia County Council – regarding the real reason this referendum ended in defeat:

The universal distrust of disenfranchised citizens – and our well-founded suspicion that this oligarchic sham that passes for governance here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast no longer represents our interests – or bears any resemblance to a representative democracy. 

In fact, at this weeks roundtable, the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys condescendingly dismissed the notion that the public’s trust played any role in the defeat of the sales tax – and joined CEO Business Alliance president Kent Sharples (whose involvement in debacles from the American Music Festival to the downfall of Bethune-Cookman University are legendary) in frightening us all with scary stories of losing out on pie-in-the-sky deals with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance if we don’t tax ourselves NOW.

“Saying the sales tax failed because of a lack of trust is not the answer, I’m sorry that answer is wrong from here on out,” Denys crowed.

“There’s too much at stake.”

How dare you.  I mean, what happened to the common human emotion of shame?

Sorry, Deb.  You’re not going to devalue our concerns and sidestep responsibility that easily.

Not this time.

Rather than confront the elephant in the room, our elected dullards stumble about in some stupor of conceit – unable to comprehend that We, The People would deny the very same elected and appointed numbskulls who got us into this damnable infrastructure quagmire in the first place even deeper access to our wallets.

That’s the uncomfortable truth no one in a position of official or unofficial power wants to address.

“What elephant?” indeed. . .    

In my view, no one who truly cares about the real needs and concerns of their long-suffering constituents should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

In my view, it’s time we begin that difficult discussion.

 

On Volusia: Ignoring the will of the people. Again. . .

Well, it would appear the Knights of the Roundtable – that goofy pseudo-government comprised of local mayors, managers, county officials and parasitic hangers-on – led by the secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – still can’t accept the Will of the People. . .

What gives?

Inexplicably, during Monday’s mid-day confab of our Templar’s of Taxation, the failed half-cent sales tax referendum was exhumed from it’s freshly tamped grave and laid upon the catafalque of public opinion, as our powerful political forces and farces attempted to reanimate its festering remains.

How utterly macabre?

Perhaps that’s why Volusia County failed to put the meeting’s agenda on their website in advance of the revelation?

Earlier this year, following an incredibly expensive “special election” – a weird mail-in ballot scheme which was ushered in on a full-frontal assault by our ‘powers that be’ and their friends at the CEO Alliance – We, The People overwhelmingly stood firm and screamed ‘Hell No’ to a pernicious plan which would have saddled every man, woman and child in Volusia County with a half-cent sales tax ostensibly for transportation and water-quality improvements.

By any analysis, the brutal death of this shameless money grab was due – almost exclusively – to the citizen’s utter disgust with the machinations of arrogant elected officials on the County Council and beyond – a sense of ostracism which has many feeling excluded and led to an almost universal distrust in local government.

What’s changed since the people spoke just six short months ago?

A moratorium on permitting and building massive “theme” and “lifestyle” communities on our sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitats? 

Strict enforcement of fertilizer ordinances, strengthening development regulations or a stop to septic systems on new construction near delicate estuaries? 

Have we stopped pumping partially treated effluent into the Halifax River? 

Increased public transportation options to the mega-shopping areas on LPGA Boulevard and beyond to decrease vehicular traffic on our already overburdened roadways?

Moved to reduce spending as a means of funding critical infrastructure repair or transportation improvements beyond taxing the eyeballs out of Volusia County residents?

Seen a more responsive, transparent and communicative city and county government? 

Discussed substantive changes to our perverse campaign finance system?

Commissioned an independent outside forensic audit of Volusia County government to alleviate taxpayer’s very real fear that we continue to hemorrhage money from orifices our elected and appointed officials don’t even know about?

Or – perhaps the worst example – following the least transparent selection process in governmental history, now County Manager George Recktenwald is set to announce he’s finally hiring the long-awaited “independent” Internal Auditor – one day after the sales tax initiative was resurrected?  Really?    

Bullshit.

Unbelievably, some of our elected officials now want a full one cent tax.

The fact is, absolutely nothing has fundamentally changed – except our property taxes were drastically increased on a swollen Volusia County budget now approaching $1 Billion – and some municipalities are mysteriously finding unencumbered funds immediately after significantly raising taxes. . .

Jesus.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

When will ‘No’ finally mean ‘No’?

These incompetent shitheels still think we are too stupid to understand that they desperately need the money for infrastructure improvements after painting themselves into a dark corner with over-development and a lack of appropriate impact fees or substantive growth management.

Trust me.  We get it.

However, as clearly stated in the failed first attempt, we simply will not piss good money after bad with the same craven assholes who got us into the mess in the first place. . .

That’s a recipe for disaster – and no one should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

Look, there is little doubt our elected and appointed officials will continue to punish us like recalcitrant children with exorbitant property taxes and fees – and allow even more malignant sprawl to pressure our infrastructure – until We, The People cry out for mercy.

Perhaps that was the dog-whistle our always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Deny’s sent to her “colleagues” on Monday when she screeched something about “tough decisions” and “political willpower”?

(As opposed to the abject political cowardice Deb exhibited when she haughtily demanded that each municipality prostrate themselves before the High Altar in DeLand and pledge support for the sales tax earlier this year?) 

Political willpower?  My ass. . .

Now, several dear friends of mine – intelligent, dedicated citizens whose opinions I trust – are of the opinion that a bottom-up approach – policed by an independent committee of responsible stakeholders who are not beholden to the special interests whose fingerprints were all over the original plan – can effectively carry a new referendum past wary voters then efficiently steward the millions in tax dollars resulting from their “new and improved” sales tax scheme.

I disagree.  Vehemently.

You see, I come from a place that says, ‘Leopards don’t change their spots,’ and our current crop of entrenched perennial politicians, who are demonstrably controlled by those uber-wealthy individuals and industries who stand to benefit most, have proven they will never change their character.

Stay tuned, kids.  It’s going to be a long, hot election season – and this shit show has legs.

 

 

 

 

Hello? Is anyone there?

If I didn’t know better, one might think I’m suffering from some weird persecutory delusion of late – an irrational fear that my progeny, this humble blog site, has become the object of collective hostility by our ‘movers & shakers’ – who seem increasingly worried by this lone voice in the wilderness.

On occasion, well-meaning members of the Halifax area Illuminati will sit me down and point out where I erred on one civic issue or another – or try and persuade me to change my opinion on some important project or asinine development that stands to benefit the few at the expense of many.

Sometimes these arguments are compelling – other times they speak to the mercenary needs of those who seek an advantage – and, over time, I’ve developed the unique ability to differentiate the two within nanoseconds. . .

I understand the motivation – and I do my level best to explain to members of this clique, ostensibly bright people who continue to mistake the size of someone’s bank account with their level of intelligence and civic vision – that Barker’s View is simply one man’s jaded opinion on the vexing issues of our time, and it’s popularity speaks to the growing number of citizens who no longer feel any connection to their local government.

It’s good to know that I am not alone in this dreaded feeling of alienation, marginalization and suppression of substantive public input – or my fervent desire to see a fundamental change in the manner and means by which uber-wealthy oligarchs and their hangers-on control their environment, and our lives and livelihoods, by purchasing political loyalty through our perverse campaign finance system.

This increasingly cloistered and enigmatic society of those who have influence, was evident in Sunday’s The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In a telling piece by reporter Jim Abbott, which explored the looming January deadline for the languishing “$192 million” beachfront condominium and convention center being developed by the Russian-owned Protogroup, a project which remains painfully ‘under construction’ near Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue in the heart of our core tourist area.

In fact, even casual watchers are stunned by the cadaverous appearance of the site – and many are concerned about the fate of the towers – and the $1.6 million in CRA funds the City of Daytona Beach is slated to release to Protogroup for a beach approach and utility work as outlined in a “loose” public/private “agreement.”

Unfortunately, Protogroup, and the City of Daytona Beach, have both become equally (and suspiciously) uncommunicative – leaving the rest of us to suffer in fear and speculation of what will become of our beachside if this key section of real estate is abandoned mid-construction.

In fact, according to reports, Protogroup hasn’t responded to requests from the News-Journal “for months,” and calls seeking comment from the construction contractor “weren’t returned.”

In my view, perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Daytona Beach officials – those elected to represent the interests of their constituents – are also actively avoiding mounting questions from the press on the fate of what is quickly morphing into a grotesque white elephant.

In a weird twist, Mr. Abbott reports that, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry as well as Commissioner Rob Gilliland.”

Then, a full week after emailed questions regarding the state of the towers were sent to Commissioner Quanita May (as she requested?), the News-Journal received a series of one-word non-answers apparently compiled by municipal mouthpiece, Shelley Szafraniec:

“Are you satisfied with the progress of the construction to this point? Yes.”

“Are you concerned about the project not making this deadline? No.”

Jesus.  How can a sitting public official be so patently out-of-touch – or unresponsive?

In my view, this clumsy dodge by the Daytona Beach City Commission is cowardly, and speaks to the isolation many residents rightly feel from elected officials with a sworn personal and fiduciary responsibility to those who pay the bills.

Interestingly, on Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps the answer is that average citizens no longer see their “place” in anything local government does.

Long-suffering constituents watch as their elected and appointed officials openly ignore the working press – communicating with us through spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear.

Citizens stand helpless while even more environmentally sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted and the bulldozers roar over a slash-and-burn moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

Residents watch in horror as those same compromised politicians pay mumbling lip service to things like resiliency, concurrency and sustainability – while hiding and suppressing publicly funded studies recommending higher impact fees for speculative real estate developers.

When outlets like this blog site – or courageous civic activists – speak out and demand answers, our ‘powers that be’ do their level best to marginalize our collective voice and persuade us their rotten “vision” is more important than our own, all while suppressing dissent and alternative opinion by extraordinary measures.

For instance, when we try and participate during county and municipal governmental meetings, citizens are regularly harangued by their mayor, or our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to remain courteous and professional when they prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and seek their benevolence.

At “public meetings,” politically accountable elected officials have purposely severed the television feed during the “public comment forum” – which has been relegated to the bitter end of the meeting and allows taxpayers just 2.5 minutes to address their exalted “representatives” – ensuring that their constituents concerns and criticisms are contained within the four walls of the chamber.

And they do so with the confidence that, come election time, they’ll simply outspend their challengers with money taken directly from the pockets of those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

All while reminding us Dalits how “responsive” they are to our needs. . .

Things have gotten so bad that, in Daytona Beach, intrepid activists are now demanding a municipal charter amendment to ensure that those who pay the bills are afforded at least 3-minutes to address civic issues and provide input at public meetings.

My God. 

Perhaps its time The Daytona Beach News-Journal stop asking muted citizens why they refuse to engage with their local governments – and start asking these arrogant “public servants” who are clearly no longer accountable to anyone other than their wealthy handlers – why they have effectively walled themselves off from their constituents and the media?

Just make sure you’re courteous and professional when you do it. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 15, 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              Rose Schuhmacher

During my public service, I had the honor of working with a diverse group of very bright professionals who shared their unique training and talents to provide the community with quality essential services.

As a young man just starting out, I respected those with the depth of experience and strong leadership skills to teach me the fundamentals – the tactical and interpersonal skills that would help me survive the job, both physically and politically.

These veterans taught me that before you can truly lead others, you must learn to follow.

As a mid-career professional, I admired those with the vision to recognize the need for doing things differently – not just enacting change for change sake – but the real ability to transform an organization, to work smarter, more efficiently than before.

By watching those with the ability to analyze problems and breakdown the “we’ve always done it this way” routines – then develop a better way forward and encourage buy-in for the solution – I learned that with experience comes the ability for critical thinking and good judgment.

Because I lack a formal education, my professional development was derived from mimicking those with inherent leadership skills who earned my respect by their own inspirational example.

At the end of my career, there was one defining personal trait in those wonderful servant-leaders that I came to admire the most:  The importance of being there.

And Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Schuhmacher was always there.

Last week, after thirteen years at the helm, one of the very best people I know – my friend, the beautiful, irrepressible Rose – revealed she is moving on.

Apparently, her decision was born of irreconcilable differences with a generationally diverse executive board with equally varied ideas for the organization’s future. . .

In my view, in an increasingly unpredictable economic environment, instability is the last thing the Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce needs.

The announcement shocked many in the small community – and Rose’ departure leaves a void that will be incredibly difficult to fill.

During her tenure, Rose brought the Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce back from near insolvency and dissolution (trust me, it was close) and under her outstanding leadership, the chamber thrived with a robust and very active membership.

I watched as Rose stewarded her struggling members through the depths of the Great Recession, propping up lagging spirits, offering sound advice, often a shoulder to cry on, and, most of all, using her unyielding dedication to physically hold the business community together during challenging times.

Her efforts earned her the distinction of being the longest serving Chamber of Commerce executive in Volusia County.

However, her service to the City of Holly Hill went far beyond the business of supporting business.

Rose Schuhmacher was one of those mentors who taught me the intrinsic importance of being there.

During her distinguished service, Rose was a fixture at community events – serving as the always effervescent emcee of the Holly Hill Christmas Parade and a hundred other civic events – a buoyant, energizing and endearing cheerleader for our small city in good times and bad.

In short, Rose Schuhmacher exemplified the premise that the strength of a small business community is in its relationships – building networks, supporting each other’s unique efforts, and working with local government in a collaborative way that helps everyone grow.

In my experience, a chamber executive must have the ability to play both offense and defense in a hyper-political environment – and Rose Schuhmacher is a superior talent with the smarts and across-the-board cachet to get things done.

That’s a tough trait to find in today’s ‘modern’ workforce.

I only hope the spirit of genuine care, personal loyalty and steadfast commitment to the community’s collective success that Rose brought to this important role won’t be lost as the chamber seeks a new vision.

Godspeed, Rose.  You can be very proud of your accomplishments and contributions.

All best wishes for success in whatever great adventure awaits this unique talent.

Asshole           Flagler County School Board

Like many of you, over the past year, I’ve given more than a passing glance to the dysfunctional roil that is Volusia County Schools – in fact, it’s had my full and undivided attention – like being psychologically incapable of averting one’s eyes from an unfolding disaster. . .

From an active U.S. Department of Justice investigation, to credible evidence that the district continues to use unqualified staff in critical roles – such as student counseling services and the all-important safety and security role – it is becoming increasingly clear that the issues facing Volusia County schools have become deeply ingrained in the district’s culture of mediocrity.

Given the frightening regularity of these serious issues – to include a reverse cheating scandal that affected the scholastic lives of hundreds of students at Mainland High School – and sustained allegations that the school’s disgraced former principal pencil whipped passing grades for student athletes – it quickly became apparent that district officials would prefer we believe these egregious violations of the public trust was a localized anomaly.

However, it is also clear that negligence, concealment, deception and downright dumb decision-making is epidemic in both Volusia and Flagler County schools.

Last week, the disturbing case of Robert Sprouse, a former Flagler Palm Coast High School teacher, who brought allegations of gross harassment and bullying of students to light – only to be marginalized and ultimately dismissed for his efforts – was settled with a paltry $30,000 and a commitment from the school board to review disciplinary procedures and determine whether student’s are taken seriously when they seek help.

Say what?

When Mr. Sprouse reported the harassment internally, he was apparently taken to task by his superiors for putting his concerns in writing (in other words, for leaving a paper trail that could be discovered by the public) – then found that the referrals he and other staff submitted in 2017 and 2018 (some involving shocking descriptions of sexual harassment and complaints of Ku Klux Klan references and anti-Semitic “jokes”) had completely disappeared from school records. . .

Despite a history of exemplary evaluations, in May, the district opted to not renew Sprouse’s contract without explanation.

According to the report, when Mr. Sprouse asked for clarification, a senior district official said, “Under Florida Law I don’t have to tell you.”

You can read the compelling material evidence provided by Mr. Sprouse at FlaglerLive.com:  https://tinyurl.com/u5pqk84

Following a grievance hearing last week, several members of the Flagler County School Board either agreed – or compromised – on how best to address serious allegations brought by Sprouse, which include students being discouraged from submitting written documentation of harassment and bullying, the missing  disciplinary referrals, and a pattern of victims being ignored or belittled.

What took so long?

In an age where families live in constant fear of school violence – and taxpayers eagerly support elaborate reporting programs and security upgrades – why is it that some Florida school districts seemingly refuse to protect our vulnerable children from abhorrent harassment and violent bullying in favor of self-protection, cover-ups and painting senior administrators as something they are clearly not?

My God.

Once again, we find a disturbing situation where a school district will once again investigate itself in the face of serious allegations of abject mismanagement that potentially exposed children to physical and mental injury.

I have the highest admiration for brave whistle-blowers like Robert Sprouse and other educators  who put their careers and reputations on the line to expose wrongdoing and protect children in their charge as their professional ethics – and the law – requires.

When will senior school administrators start treating these courageous few who report systemic problems like the heroes they are – instead of marginalizing their sacrifice then shunning them as trouble-making provocateurs?

And when will someone – anyone – start holding these arrogant assholes accountable when they brutalize whistle-blowers, destroy their livelihoods and send a chilling warning of the fate that awaits others who would dare expose corruption or worse?

In my view, it is past time for the Volusia/Flagler state legislative delegation – and our state and federal law enforcement apparatus – to begin living up to their sacred obligation to the haunting spirit of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act and ensure that school administrators who show indifference or ignore and belittle complaints of bullying – a cruel behavior that has been directly linked to school violence – are held civilly and criminally accountable for their base inaction.

I mean, in the lead up to the 2020 session, maybe our illustrious state senators or representatives could find a minute between legislative committee meetings, being soft-soaped by backslapping lobbyists and smooching the sizable backsides of their major campaign contributors – to show some leadership and actually do something that would fundamentally benefit thousands of their most vulnerable constituents?

Perhaps that can begin by getting Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran off his ass and in the field to fulfill his sworn duty to oversee compliance with the law in places like Volusia and Flagler County – out-of-control districts that continue to make a mockery of our children’s safety and security.

Quote of the Week

“The only thing they can do is try to look for another place that’s not a flood prone area.  That’s basically the lowest part of the city.”

–Daytona Beach City Manager James Chisholm, speaking with the intrepid WFTV reporter, Mike Springer, who sought suggestions on what residents of low-income and subsidized housing along Caroline Street can do to protect themselves from frequent floodwaters that have plagued the area for decades.

Move. 

That’s the official answer for low income families seeking answers from city officials on perennial flooding issues in their neighborhood.

In turn, the City of Daytona Beach has apparently asked the State of Florida for help keeping the Nova Road drainage canal free of debris and vegetation, a problem identified as a substantial contributor to the frequent overflow and inundation of residential areas.

But that’s not what Mr. Chisholm said. . .

In his own inimitable style, WFTV’s unflinching investigative reporter Mike Springer was able to bypass the stilted press releases and obfuscation of the city’s professional spinmeisters to ask the public’s pointed questions of the only decision-maker who matters.

City Manager Jim Chisholm.

I’m just not sure anyone was expecting his brusque response. . .

In most politically accountable government hierarchies, the elected official who has a personal and fiduciary responsibility for serving and protecting the interests of constituents living in the Mid-Town neighborhood, might have taken exception to Mr. Chisholm’s rather cavalier response to citizen concerns.

But not here.

The roles have been reversed for years. . .

In Volusia County, non-elected appointed executives who enjoy the personal protection of those oligarchical insiders who trade in candidates for elective office like cheap livestock, know that as long as their “bosses” are effectively neutered – they can essentially do, or say, any damn thing they want.

What are you going to do about it – complain?    

Look, Mr. Chisholm is a highly experienced government administrator with decades in the fishbowl of municipal service – and he knows how the game is played.

So, fielding a reporter’s questions about a common storm water issue should have been limited to a simple explanation of “working with our partners at the state” to ensure drainage.

Done.

Something tells me Mr. Chisholm was making a very clear statement that had nothing to do with a soggy housing project – and everything to do with his complete independence from the news media – and the people. . .

Most folks I know who follow Daytona Beach politics don’t want to hear this, but I happen to think Jim Chisholm epitomizes strong leadership and the force of personality that gets those projects and agendas that are important to him (and all the right last names) passed with minimal disruption or involvement by the elected officials.

You don’t have to agree with his vision or tactics – but it’s true.

This is what power looks like in its natural political environment.

The problem is – when the parliamentary process and political oversight that normally accompany the creation of public policy is no longer relevant – a lot can get ignored, delayed, ramrodded or pushed aside in that laser-focused environment where decisions are made long before the biweekly public spectacle in the commission chambers.

It has become apparent to everyone paying attention that Mr. Chisholm enjoys the political insulation of some well-heeled players with a personal agenda for downtown Daytona, City Island and beyond.

In the Halifax area, when an appointed city or county executive is cloaked in the Monarchs supreme protection – there are few men or beasts (elected or appointed) who can touch them.

So, hide and watch.  Because that’s about all anyone can do.

I suspect Mr. Chisholm will comfortably take up the rocking chair the very minute he decides to – and not one second before.

And neither you, me, nor the hapless handmaidens on the dais of ‘power,’ are going to do a damn thing about it.

And Another Thing!

Congratulations to Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz on his appointment as the new Superintendent of Volusia County District Schools!

On Tuesday, the Volusia County School Board formally selected Dr. Fritz from a group of three very impressive finalists.

He currently serves as Chief of Staff for Teaching, Leading, and Learning for Osceola County Schools and is set to take the reins in DeLand this December following the formalities of an employment contract.

In recent days, the top candidates were put through their paces during open interviews with School Board members, participated in one of those awkward grip-n-grins with members of the public, then met individually with the elected officials.

Look, I like to give everyone the benefit of moral support and confidence whenever they step into the fray – boldly say “send me!” – and demonstrate a pure calling to serve our community.

To say Dr. Fritz has his work cut out for him is an understatement – he better pack a lunch and bring a flashlight with him, because it’s going to be well-past dark when he’s done. . .

To be successful, he will need both internal and external input, grassroots encouragement and the backing of both union and elected officials as he works toward the revivification of a district lost in an awful quagmire of maladministration and mediocrity.

I’m obviously not a member of the well-established Volusia educational clerisy, just a bumpkin with a naïve desire for reasonably responsive governance in my lifetime – but I do have one suggestion for Dr. Fritz as this long and arduous process begins:

Get rid of that wormy “Superintendent’s Cabinet” – a ridiculous amalgam of overpaid posers, fools and incompetents who are wholly responsible for dragging Volusia County schools into this dark place.

You’re welcome.

Good luck, Doc.  You’re gonna need it. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back, Henry. . .

If recent reports are accurate, it would appear the Halifax area’s on-again-off-again relationship with Canadian developer Bayshore Capital is warming again. . .

The News-Journal reported this week that the long-awaited Max Daytona – a 12-story, 72-unit uber-luxurious condominium project recently broke ground on its oceanfront lot in Daytona Beach Shores.

According to reports, “Prices for condo units at Max Daytona range from the low $400,000s to $1.4 million.”

In a market that last year saw a median sale price for beachside condos at just $207,000? 

(Dammit.  I promised myself I would stay positive here, so never mind my nay-saying, hypercritical horseshit.  I simply want to take a nostalgic walk down memory lane. . .)

On Monday, Bayshore officials assured the News-Journal that “phase 1” of their sales program has met expectations, permits are in hand, and the project is set to come out of the ground within days – although Mr. Wolfond reports that “Out of respect for our owners’ privacy, we will not be sharing the amount of units sold.”

Call me crazy, but I get the heebie-jeebies whenever a developer plays sales figures close to the vest.  After all, way back in February 2013, the News-Journal wrote of Bayshore’s highly-touted ‘next big game changer,’ the ill-fated Hard Rock Hotel & Café condominium project:

“A month after beginning a sales blitz for the condos at the Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe planned for the oceanfront, more than half of the units have been snatched up by buyers. “We’re targeting to be sold out by June,” said Henry Wolfond, CEO of Canada-based Bayshore Capital Inc.”

And, “Going into the Daytona 500 race weekend, Wolfond said he had 49 reservations for the 99 condos. After courting potential buyers in a rented suite at the Speedway for four days, that tally is sailing past 70, Wolfond said Monday afternoon.”

Apparently, that courtship was short-lived, because we all know how that adventure ended for us. . .

I’m not sure how salving the fears of your skeptical neighbors is being discourteous to Max Daytona owners, but I suppose we skittish residents of the Halifax area simply must come to grips with financial intrigue and uncertainty as the “new normal” when “new” friends come to town, правильный? (Correct?)

To say our relationship with Bayshore CEO, Henry Wolfond, has been complicated is an understatement.

You may recall that back in 2013, Mr. Wolfond came to town full of promise – telling everyone who is anyone in Volusia County’s political and social hierarchy that if we just agreed to sacrifice our century old heritage of beach driving in support of his proposed Hard Rock Hotel/Condo/Café, it would serve as a panacea for all the social, civic and economic ills that plague our very sick core tourist area.

At the time, Mr. Wolfond told us, “The gorgeous beach, hot cars, bikes, great hospitality and the sound of rock ‘n roll music together will celebrate Daytona Beach’s resurgence.”

And our “Rich & Powerful” swooned. . .remember?

“The city and county have been working hand-in-hand to rejuvenate the city of Daytona Beach, and we’re thrilled Hard Rock and Bayshore Capital have chosen ‘The World’s Most Famous Beach’ as its newest location for expansion,” said Derrick Henry, Mayor of Daytona Beach. “The synergies between Daytona Beach and Hard Rock are limitless, and we cannot wait for the brand to open the Hotel and Cafe.”

Wow.

Then, when the idea was rightfully questioned by beach driving advocates and those concerned about public access – to include a protracted legal challenge to the effective privatization of our beach – Mr. Wolford wrote a haughty opinion piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal labeling us all damnable “obstructionists” before taking his football and stomping back to Toronto in a huff.

Apparently, it never occurred to Mr. Wolfond that his investors may have been more than a little wary of a project that sought Palm Beach prices in a Hooterville market. . .

No, at the end of the day, it was our fault – and the power brokers and failed developer du jour – stood together and pointed their collective finger in our face like some demented Ebeneezer Scrooge – blaming We, The People for shitting on yet another cure-all.

Given that we’ve heard these pie-in-the-sky false promises from out of town speculators before, giving up more of our drivable beach was hard to swallow – and exposed the fact our Volusia County Council had no qualms about legislatively exploiting our most important economic and natural amenity as a cheap incentive.

When Mr. Wolfond threw in the towel, another developer, Summit Hospitality, ultimately turned the haunted ruins of the old Desert Inn into a diluted semblance of a real Hard Rock Hotel – complete with 410’ of traffic-free beach – and everyone got a chance to see, once and for all, just how little effect that combination had on the revitalization of the suppurating lesion that is our beachside. . .

Whatever.

Now, everyone in the know is thrilled with the groundbreaking at Max Daytona.

Hell, it’s ‘the next big thing,’ right?

Right.

Once again, the long-suffering denizens of the Fun Coast will forgive and forget – despite our instincts – and extend a hearty welcome to Mr. Wolfond and Bayshore Capital as they take another bite at the apple.

No hard feelings, Henry.  We’re glad you’re back.

I hope you’ll forgive our trepidation.

It’s just that the residents of this salty piece of land have been screwed over so frequently, for so long, that suspicion and cynicism have become a physiological reflex.

Max Daytona is expected to open in “late 2021.”

 

 

 

 

 

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. . .

Time is a strange thing.

While it doesn’t heal all wounds as we’ve been led to believe, like water flowing over rock, it does takes the edge off and dulls sharp memories – good and bad.

Time can make heroes out of heels, and vice versa, and change our perceptions of people, places and times gone by.

Over time, the origins of ideas and answers begin to blur.

And only the monuments remain. . .

As a result, with the passage of time, we often get trapped in the “halos and horns” conundrum, where we view people from the past through our hypercritical modern lens, often demonizing historic figures for their acts and omissions – while canonizing others as we rewrite history or engage in collective denialism.

That judgmental arrogance allows us to paint our modern selves in a morally and ethically superior light as we criticize the ghosts of long-dead notables.

Recently, there has been a brewing tempest in a teapot over a long-forgotten coquina monument, originally erected to memorialize a forgotten Daytona Beach mayor, Edward Armstrong – a politician of a different era – who is now best remembered as a dictatorial shithead and corrupt ward healer with few redeeming civic qualities.

Normally, I like to stay focused on the present – rarely averting my eyes from current events – but I found the strange saga of Mayor Armstrong and his ill-fated marker intriguing.

Born in 1880, Mayor Armstrong was a Halifax area grocer who served five terms during the 1920’s and 30’s – ultimately becoming the undeniable Boss of Daytona Beach politics during the Great Depression.

A big part of his political success was due to his ability to garner support from African Americans – making jobs available for minority candidates during a time of segregation and focusing on community improvements – and in 1935 he won by a landslide after receiving 91% of the black vote.

He also had an unwritten requirement that city employees kickback 10% of their pay. . .

In addition, according to reports, “…the Daytona Beach News-Journal, often accused him of corruption that included buying votes, squandering and misappropriating funds, political favoritism and tampering with elections.”

In a recent treatment by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Mark Lane, we learned that, in addition to his underhanded political machinations, Mayor Armstrong was instrumental in building some of the Halifax area’s earliest infrastructure – to include a public transportation system, a waterworks project, municipal airport – and seeking New Deal funding for an ocean side park, built by the Works Progress Administration, that included the Clock Tower, Boardwalk, Bandshell – and the Edward H. Armstrong Monument. . .

Mayor Armstrong is perhaps best known for his involvement in “The Battle of Daytona Beach” which saw police officers, armed city employees and supporters in a standoff with Florida National Guard troops at City Hall following a state investigation into “fiscal irregularities.”

You can read all about it – it’s a quaint part of our colorful history here on the Fun Coast. . .

When Mayor Armstrong died in January 1938, the Daytona Beach City Commission and all the right last names of the day couldn’t agree on the wording for the Armstrong plaque – ultimately voting 3-2 against putting up anything at all.

The brouhaha got me pondering what local historians and cyber-archaeologists will think of us a hundred years from now?

I mean, what’s changed?

Although we haven’t had the National Guard show up (yet), is our local government anymore responsive or transparent than it was when the Armstrong Machine was in power?

Could our elected and appointed officials be more disrespectful of our concerns or irresponsible with our hard-earned tax dollars?

At least we don’t have politicians who play favorites based upon our ability to contribute to a political campaign – and we don’t hear rampant claims of “fiscal irregularities” – or widespread criticism of the lack of oversight that allows egregious abuses in government spending or the use of public funds for private projects. . .

Thank God that type of political corruption, corporate welfare and bureaucratic dysfunction is a quaint part of our past, right?

Interestingly, the Armstrong controversy is centered just feet from “Ritchey Plaza,” a sempiternal monument to another former Daytona Beach mayor and founding member of the Halifax area’s present-day ‘in-crowd,’ Glenn Ritchey, which was built smack-dab in the smoldering remains of our once thriving Boardwalk – the epicenter of the now tattered and fading World’s Most Famous Beach.

With the scourge of unrestrained blight creeping in all directions, and the pungent odor of urine wafting on the sea breeze, I always questioned the optics of the monument – complete with Adirondack chairs and eight (count ‘em) Royal Palm trees – strategically positioned around one of those “Remember, I coughed up cash” plaques commemorating the largesse of the donor class and reminding Mayor Ritchey who really cares. . .

I guess it’s only right, though – it’s a Halifax area tradition – and Mayor Ritchey deserves his due.

After all, Mr. Ritchey’s contemporaries – like our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hossieni, has his name emblazoned on more buildings at Daytona State College and Embry-Riddle than you can shake a stick at – and His Royal Highness Hyatt Brown has a museum, and will soon have his name emblazoned on the tallest building in downtown Daytona complete with a sprawling riverside esplanade – while our own First Family of Auto Racing, the France Dynasty, has statuary galore.

I guess at the end of the day, Mayor Armstrong’s only true sin was not cementing his own legacy by ensuring his constituents paid for a plaque to adorn the self-aggrandizing monument to his own self-importance.

Fortunately, around here, we always learn from history, right?

Right.

___________________________________________

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.

Listen locally at 1380am The Cat, or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

We’ll be talking local issues and taking your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!

 

A Real Eye-Opener

Barker’s Eye-Opener

A generous pour of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey into a large earthen mug.  Top with hot, bold, dark roast coffee, preferably Café Bustelo – enjoy, repeat as necessary.   

 _______________________________

I don’t work anymore.  That’s obvious.

Partly of my own slothful volition, but mostly because no one in their right mind would hire me. . .

Now, I mainly criticize the handiwork of those elected and appointed officials who accept public funds, ostensibly to “serve” in the public interest.

As a result, I can enjoy indulgences like a wee dram or two in my morning coffee – an anesthetic of sorts, for my twisted thoughts and opinions on the insanity of the world outside my window.

My avocation requires that I be a voracious consumer of the news.

I read multiple online newspapers, public affairs journals, several local sites along with a broad  sweep of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook – a daily regimen that keeps me reasonably up to date on the issues.

In addition, I sometimes idle away the morning reviewing archived video of various government meetings as a means of masochistic self-torture. . .

The real curse is, I’m often drawn to the minutia of events – the seemingly esoteric parts of public meetings and official press releases that are so often used to obscure and deflect the true issues.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of my years as an entrenched bureaucrat – but reading between the lines has become my stock in trade – the art of deciphering the pettifoggery inherent to administering the people’s business.

Unfortunately, that means my morning whiskey is becoming more of a necessity than a treat.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council held its bimonthly théâtre de l’absurde, a farcical stage production of bizarre performance art that leaves both staff and constituents mourning the fact that what passed for a public meeting represents hours of their lives they will never be able to reclaim. . .

It can be both infuriating and terribly disheartening.

For instance, one rather benign item was listed on the agenda as “2020 state legislative agenda.”

As is their habit, this time of the year, most local governments – and the do-nothing ancillary organizations they fund – engage in the annual make-work exercise of setting “priorities” for the coming year.

Normally, these urgencies are wide-ranging and flexible – like “We support legislative efforts to improve water quality!” – so that literally any nexus to a reasonably sanitary glass of water can be hailed a rousing success by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, during his obnoxious “State of the County” address in January.

This year’s hodgepodge of legislative desires was no different.

During his painful presentation, our in-house lobbyist, Government Affairs Director John Booker, yammered, stammered, spit, sputtered, fidgeted, fumbled and stumbled his way through the short list of Volusia County’s legislative agenda – all but admitting that “over the past year or so” he’s wasted precious time collaborating with like-types on how other jurisdictions stage their own list of priorities – then um, ah, eh, he “took a stab” at creating a 20-page glossy booklet (the first five pages of which is an elaborate tableau vivant of our illustrious county and state politicians). . .

Look, I don’t mean to be a nitpicking, mean-spirited asshole – and I realize that some folks just aren’t comfortable public speakers, but, like an emergency room doctor who can’t stand the sight of blood – awkwardness in front of a governmental audience usually doesn’t inspire confidence in lobbyists – who spend most of their time, well, speaking publicly in front of a government audience. . .

So, don’t take my word for it.

Watch Mr. Booker’s disastrous performance for yourself – then ask if we are getting the most from our $90,000 annual salary in the Government Affairs role – which was created for Mr. Booker when Volusia County promptly fired former professional Washington lobbyist Jamie Pericola, after he dared speak truth to power regarding the utter dysfunction in county government.

The council’s “priorities” also include a cockamamie one-sentence authorization to permit the Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade – which everyone who is anyone outside of Volusia County government agrees is a non-issue.

Considering state legislative committee meetings are already underway – and the 2020 session starts in January – even Mr. Booker admits we’re “ah, a little bit late in the game” in getting our agenda together – but what do you want for $90 grand, eh?

Jesus. . .

The meeting continued with the usual gibberish and ham-handed attempts to stitch together some semblance of public policy – which ultimately required that Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman attempt to demystify the previous official actions of the council dealing with a simple special exception for a rural event center.

That humiliating exercise resulted in this nearly verbatim jabber by the clearly parliamentary and cognitively challenged Ed Kelley:

“Motion to amend the additional amendment to remove the amendment to the amended. . .”

(In an attempt to shorten the embarrassment, something in that mess was moved by Rev. Fred Lowry – I think – then passed unanimously?)

“Need a motion to approve the amended motion that was amended.”

(Again, something in that prattle was moved by Councilwoman Girtman – I think – and passed unanimously?)

Look, I don’t make this shit up, folks.

You couldn’t possibly exaggerate it. . .

In my view, we stand at a crossroads in Volusia County – a government clearly run amok with no clear order or direction – which continues to hold firm to the ‘old ways’ which allow the same tired puppets to occupy the same seats of power and “play government” – until they are needed to rubber stamp the wants of those who truly control the rods and strings.

As a result, I believe that after these nonsensical “meetings,” County Manager George Recktenwald, with the help of other senior officials, simply interpret what they think our elected officials might have meant when they took official action from the dais, authorized expenditures, passed resolutions or established critical public policy – then blend it all together into some semblance of order that will ultimately effect our lives and livelihoods for years to come.

Is there another explanation? 

I also happen to believe it’s intentional.

Because there is no other logical reason for this continuing dysfunction and confusion.

Talk about an eyeopener. . .

In my view, the fact that Chairman Kelley – knowing full-well the utter chaos, disorder and nervous snickering which continues to plague any meeting he presides over – can still stand and face his bewildered constituents and ask for another four years at the helm of this ship of fools –  speaks to his egomaniacal inability to put the true needs of those he is expected to serve over his own self-interests.

Enough is enough.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

Angels & Assholes for November 8, 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:

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

This week, the incomparable Mark Lane, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, let us know that no bad idea is ever really dead – especially once a self-serving bureaucracy, and the elected officials it controls, get dollar signs dancing in their heads and engages the legislative machinery.

Earlier this year, Daytona Beach residents learned that City Manager Jim Chisholm, and his minions on the City Commission, were working surreptitiously to have public use deed restrictions on City Island removed so they can ultimately accommodate the avaricious greedheads looking to exploit the land.

Even Volusia County – who has a courthouse and library on the property – and His Royal Highness J. Hyatt Brown, who controls everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide in this community, claimed they were blindsided by the news. . .

Last December, former Governor Rick Scott and his Cabinet voted to remove the deed restrictions, which date to 1925, if the City of Daytona Beach agreed to render unto Caesar a handsome ransom of $8.77 million.

When the scam was uncovered, citizens of the Halifax area were rightfully and royally pissed off – I’ve found that is the expected reaction whenever We, The People find out those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests have ulterior motives – however; it appears now that our collective push-back has receded, Mr. Chisholm is moving full speed ahead with plans that could ultimately privatize City Island by lobbying the state to remove the fee.

Or at least he tried to. . .

At their last meeting in October, as commissioners reached one of the final Administrative Items on the agenda, the rather benign topic of setting the city’s legislative priorities for the coming year, there it was, in a resolution request from the City Manager’s Office on line 10-B – buried amongst the innocuous state and federal funding requests:

Support for release of state-owned rights and restrictions on riverfront area property to the City at no cost to the City.

My God. . . 

After the city’s always effervescent Government Relations Administrator, Hardy Smith, used his patented ‘dry as a popcorn fart’ delivery to explain the city’s legislative priorities – he tossed it over to Commissioner Rob Gilliland – who proceeded to lecture us on how the initial exposure of the City Island debacle was “completely misrepresented by the News-Journal,” then did his level best to assure us that “there’s nothing underhanded going on here. . .”

Bullshit.

Even if there isn’t, we’re all way past the old governmental “See, nothing up my sleeves!” trope. . .

To her credit, Commissioner Ruth Trager spoke directly to the controversy – and the will of the people – in calling for an end to this quest to turn “the peoples” island over to what she aptly described as “some big entity” for private profit.

Hell, even Mayor Derrick Henry formally acknowledged the “trust issue,” the clear and convincing message that We, The People unequivocally – do not want to see Jackie Robinson Ballpark and other areas set aside for public use and recreation put under a bulldozer blade.

The whole exercise was stilted, uncomfortable and clumsy – and it was clear to everyone that Mr. Chisholm shouldn’t have tried to shoot this political hot potato through the grease – because it just brought more unwanted attention and official yammering to the original shit storm. . .

It was equally apparent that the elected officials and the City Manager’s Office were working from two completely different sheets of music, and none of the policymakers (except, perhaps, Mr. Gilliland) seemed completely comfortable with what was happening or why.

In politics, perception often becomes reality – and given the community outcry the first time around – tossing this cause célèbre in with the miscellany of a legislative priorities package was wrong.

This should never have been sprung on the citizens this way.

At the end of the day – at the very smart suggestion of Commissioner Aaron Delgado – the elected officials agreed to pull the item from the mishmash of municipal lobbying “priorities” until visual aids (they didn’t have maps before now?), various development restrictions (and a narrative that makes some semblance of sense) can be produced to ameliorate the very real fears of a citizenry that has been fooled before.

Look for this to come back for discussion later this month. . .

Angel              OBS Association & Ormond Beach City Commission 

It always amazes me, and restores my faith in our battered and bruised democratic system, when a small group of committed citizens band together to protect their civic interests – and are actually listened to by government.

That takes guts – and a degree of mutual trust and diplomacy that’s sorely lacking in local government today.

However, that is exactly what happened this week when the Ormond Beach City Commission agreed to table its push to convert thousands of Ormond by the Sea homes from septic to municipal sewer until further inquiry can be made.

On Tuesday, members of the OBS Association and other residents of the unincorporated north peninsula took to the podium at the Volusia County Council meeting to express their fervent view that the environmental argument brought by the City of Ormond Beach doesn’t hold water (pun intended) unless an independent study scientifically proves that their septic systems are a significant contributor to pollutants and nutrients in the Halifax River.

Needless to say, the concerned citizens didn’t get much of a response from their elected representatives in DeLand. . .

In an unfortunate turn, one clearly angry individual used an extremely poor choice of words when he said council members “should be shot” for their handling (or lack thereof) of the highly contentious septic-to-sewer measure.

That’s wrong.  And dangerous.

I’m all for speaking truth to power – and I am a staunch defender of a citizen’s right to voice criticisms and seek redress of grievances before those they have elected to serve their interests – but no one has the right to evoke even the suggestion of violence toward our elected officials or anyone else.

That crosses a very bright line – and I agree with Chairman Ed Kelley that violence has no place in the public discourse.

Fortunately, the Ormond Beach City Commission was more receptive to residents’ concerns.

During the meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to research a scientific analysis – and look at alternative environmental protection projects that can be completed in the interim.

There was also substantive discussion of a moratorium on new septic systems in Ormond Beach.

Kudos to the intrepid civic activist Jeff Brower – candidate for Volusia County Chair – who boldly stepped into the fray and spent his own time and money to bring independent soil testing to the conversation.

I was also impressed by Commissioner Dwight Selby – who has been the city’s very visible point man for this issue from its inception – and was incredibly magnanimous in agreeing to seek answers for north peninsula residents.

In addition, Commissioner Troy Kent showed signs of the responsive civic leader I once knew when he openly contemplated how the city got so deep into this issue – knowing well the residents of Ormond by the Sea didn’t want it – then looked introspectively at the larger issue:

“We need to get our own house in order first.  We need to get our own residents — all of them — off septic before we introduce this into other jurisdictions.”

At the end of the day, I understand why some don’t believe that the proposed study will be independent or objective – and only the City of Ormond Beach can alleviate those fears through complete transparency and on-going collaboration with their constituents and north peninsula residents.

But, in my jaded view, this was a good start.

Look, I don’t agree with much coming out of the Ormond Beach City Commission chambers of late, but this high-minded compromise in the interest of concerned citizens showed real statesmanship.

A job well done by both sides of this difficult and divisive challenge.

Angel              Seabird Island Residents and the Halifax River Audubon Society

As I mentioned in the screed above – bad ideas in Volusia County, from sales tax initiatives to the wholesale giveaway of public resources to for-profit interests and colossally stupid development schemes – just seem to reanimate and claw from their moldering graves the very minute our attention wanes.

After a few fits and starts a decade ago, most of us thought the sclerotic plans to develop Seabird Island – one of the most sensitive and accessible nesting rookeries for brown pelicans, great herons, egrets, wading birds and other species on Florida’s east coast – were dead and properly buried.

They weren’t. . .

This week we learned that a pair of former Seminole County Firefighters-turned-developers (?) are resurrecting plans for a 102-slip deep-water marina on the south side of the Port Orange causeway under the Dunlawton bridge.

Which proves my long-standing belief that, in the Sunshine State, literally anyone – regardless of education, training, vision, experience, funding or motivation – can make the lycanthropic transformation into speculative developer. . .

Whatever.

According to reports, the original plans brought by Melbourne-based developer Joe Calderwood, never got past the design stage.

This incredibly complex project would require filling some 1.2 acres of sensitive wetlands and river bottom to make way for 87 parking spaces – then dredging other areas of the site to allow boats enough draft to maneuver.

Historically, residents of the long-time mobile home park have been less than receptive to the idea of having their quality of life – and the habitat of the birds and wildlife they share the island with – irreparably disturbed by some cockamamie development scheme.

Obviously, there are more questions than answers right now – and any plans for disturbing this  protected critical wildlife area and develop what the two former firemen envision as Pelican Key Marina (I don’t make this shit up, folks) – would need to start from square one.

Good.

I admire the young men’s determination – but taking on a massive marina project in the worst possible location – adjacent to a protected seabird colony involving the destruction of sovereign submerged lands, a natural sandbar and sensitive estuary – in an environment where residents have proven their desire to be left alone might be a little ambitious. . .

But stranger things have happened here on the Fun Coast. . .

Kudos to Seabird Island residents and the Halifax River Audubon Society for your dedicated advocacy for this sensitive ecosystem and sanctuary.

Keep up the good fight.

Quote of the Week

“Facebook is the domain of trolls who live not to provoke thought but simply to provoke. Facebook is also the platform that refuses to police political advertising. Candidates at all levels will need to deal with false narratives on Facebook.”

“A final point: Social media can be ugly, but it’s inexpensive, and 2020 could be a year when money will have less influence, and may even be a liability.”

–Pat Rice, Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Predictions for 2020 elections,” Sunday, November 3, 2019

On Monday, I wrote a piece which asked the question – Whose opinion matters most?

I also learned this week from several reliable sources that there are plans afoot in Volusia County government, and its hyper-redundant “economic development” apparatus, to increase their social media presence as a means of confronting what is being referred to, in the parlance of Mr. Rice,  as “false narratives.”

In my view, that means any point of view that doesn’t comport with the official glittering generalities that pass for “public information” – regardless of how patently misleading or biased those messages may be.   

Perhaps I’m clinically paranoid – but since I am the only guy sitting around in his boxer shorts pounding out an alternative opinion blog focused exclusively on the machinations of Volusia County politics which is read by thousands each month – I get the sneaking feeling they’re talking about me. . .

Clearly, this forum is upsetting what passes for the Halifax area haut monde.

Maybe it should. 

Frankly, I could care less what these damnable political hypocrites think.

In my view, Volusia County government isn’t known for employing the best and brightest in its senior management ranks – that’s just a sad reality – and we’ve had a front row, center ring seat to the intellectual limits of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his Boo-Boo the Addlepated Clown act for the past three years. . .

Let’s just say, our Brain Trust in DeLand doesn’t inspire confidence.

So, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the Ivory Tower of Power had the dull-witted idea to bring their bureaucratic agitprop to social media as a means of marginalizing citizens who point out the utter dysfunction we’ve suffered for years.  

Here’s an educated prediction from up here in the cheap seats:

If the long-suffering citizens – those who pay the bills with their hard-earned tax dollars – suspect for one minute that highly-paid governmental mouthpieces are being dispatched to the lower parts of the internet to battle “trolls” and bicker with frustrated citizens on Facebook as a means of influencing the outcome of a local election – or to hawk flawed public policy – the political shit-storm that accompanies that level of official waste and overreach is going to be felt strongly at the ballot box.

For the uninitiated in the Halls of Power, this is a simple exercise in critical thinking – a rapid cause-effect analysis – an evaluation of all potential outcomes beyond the momentary ego-massage of answering a critic. . .

I would remind Mr. Rice – and the others who feel the need to do something, anything, to stop the near-constant criticism of a system that no longer represents the interests of its constituents – of the effectiveness of Facebook in the defeat of the recent sales tax referendum.

The fact is, social media represents a bully pulpit for the masses, a clear and equal voice for “citizen journalists” – and bombastic blowhards like me – who ventilate when they realize they can no longer afford political representation in this oligarchical caste system we find ourselves in.

And anyone who doesn’t embrace that concept won’t be in politics – or the news gathering business – in the coming decade.

Consider that some free advice from out here in the hinterlands – an alternative view you might not get in that bastion of obsessive groupthink in DeLand. . .

In my view, Mr. Rice is right about one thing – the citizens of Volusia County are most assuredly coming to the realization that the pernicious use of massive campaign contributions to purchase the loyalties of compromised perennial politicians is counter to the civic, social and economic progress we deserve.

So, go ahead and set ‘squabbling on Facebook’ as a governmental priority for 2020 – rather than attempting to learn from the varied – even scathing – criticism of a constituency grown tired of neglect, and let’s see how that strategy works come election time. . .

I’ve mentioned this before, perhaps it’s time for Volusia County, and those ancillary quasi-governmental organizations that drag on the public tit, to focus on the foundational elements of public service – transparency, honor, fidelity to our democratic values, service over self-interest, ensuring a level playing field for everyone – regardless of their ability to pay, and a commitment to providing fact-based information in the public interest, rather than engaging in this base form of political insulation.

And Another Thing!

Kudos to Richard Wahl, the New Jersey Mega-Millions lotto winner who recently invested $13.65 million in the revitalization of our desperately downtrodden core tourist area by purchasing the rotting corpse of the former La Playa Hotel & Resort – with the intent of transforming the festering eyesore into a timeshare property.

For his trouble, Mr. Wahl was all but labeled a fool and a rube by those whose opinions matter in the Halifax area tourist and hospitality industry. . .

In a recent report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, our own Bob Davis, Chief Maharishi of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, didn’t sound overly encouraging of Mr. Wahl’s vision:

“He (Wahl) had to invest his money to get the tax credit,” Bob Davis said. “It’s a good piece of property in a good location, but I think that timeshares have had their day. People aren’t investing in timeshares (like they once were) because they can’t get out of the contracts. If that’s what he wants to do with his money, God bless him.”

Awesome reception for our new investor, Bob!

Wait until Mr. Wahl meets the Welcome Wagon over at the City of Daytona Beach Permits & Licensing Department. . .

As you may recall, the decrepit ruins of the La Playa were owned by Summit Hospitality group – those darlings of the Volusia County Council responsible for permanently removing some 410’ linear feet of beach driving behind their Hard Rock Hotel – who kept stringing us along with tall tales of renovating the dump as a “name brand” hotel.

Somewhere in that process, Volusia County gifted an adjacent beach approach to Summit – apparently contingent on the developer constructing a “dune walkover” and a beachside parking lot.

No word yet on the fate of our beach approach. . .

Stay tuned.

It’s painfully clear that local government can’t dig us out of this festering quagmire of blight and dilapidation that our ‘powers that be’ have turned a blind eye to for years.

No, the issues are now so horribly entrenched that “The Brand” has been irreparably damaged, with a corresponding impact on occupancy and room rates.  Yet, I doubt Mr. Davis – or anyone else who makes their living prognosticating on Fun Coast tourism – will confirm my suspicions. . .

In my view, the only thing that can reverse our fate is the stimulating effect of entrepreneurial investment on the beleaguered beachside.

By forming a strategic vision for the future which incorporates quality hotels, family-priced resorts, private convention and entertainment venues, well-managed short-term rental properties, wholly owned condominiums, first class timeshares and the “condotel” concept into a comprehensive plan which embraces our century old traditions of beach driving and open access – I believe good things can happen on Atlantic Avenue and beyond.

That plan should include a commitment from notoriously lead-footed Daytona Beach bureaucrats to remove the onerous hoops and hurdles that have seen the dreams of more than one new business owner dashed before ever opening the doors – and foster a “business friendly” approach to welcoming new enterprise on the beachside.

Unfortunately, according to our Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce’ “Government Relations E-News Update!” the legislative committee is busying themselves rehashing “priorities” for the coming year, that – like most years before – will never come to fruition (how’s that east ISB looking?), rather than focus on using their collective clout to breakdown the official barriers and bureaucratic interference that is the true obstacle to outside investment and revitalization.

I know some of these Chamber types personally.

They are incredibly bright minds with a history of personal success – so, why they engage in these annual fiddler’s conventions while our beachside burns continues to escape me. . .

Interestingly, I almost never see the kind of negativity that greeted Mr. Wahl from our exalted city/county “leaders” when ill-fated businesses throw good money after bad by rolling the dice in places like One Daytona – where the average life expectancy of even nationally recognized restaurants and shops is about that of an asthmatic Mayfly. . .

Why is that?

Good luck, Mr. Wahl – and welcome to the Fun Coast!

You’re gonna need it, buddy. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Accountability in the Age of Absurdity

Way back in 2016, this experiment in alternative opinion blogging was born from the simple notion that someone should say what everyone was secretly thinking.

In fact, an early Barker’s View post grew from my frustration over the Volusia County Council’s lack of an annual evaluation of then county manager Jim Dinneen – a process that became a ridiculous rubber stamp that always resulted in a generous year-end bonus for Mr. Dinneen – apparently to reward his skillful channeling of our tax dollars in all the right directions. . .

In my view, this lack of a comprehensive review for the county manager, and our entrenched county attorney, exemplified all the dysfunction, insider influence and open cronyism that passes for governance in Volusia County.

I could no longer contain my outrage:

“Anyone who can read the printed word and think critically cannot help but be moved to uncontrolled rage by the Council’s continued pandering to a few wealthy and influential insiders, multi-million dollar giveaways, lawsuits against their own constituents, open bullying by the County Attorney’s office, our cartoon character of a Council Chair, the sheer arrogance of the County Manager, and the Council’s continued indifference to the needs and opinions of those they serve.”       

And everything I have written since has been a riff on that same unsettling theme. . .

Now, as we approach 2020, the majority of our elected officials on the Volusia County Council remain the obsequious handmaidens of a system that still abhors accountability and oversight.

What’s changed?

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Heather Post did her level best to convince her “colleagues” on the dais of power that the two most powerful positions in county government – the manager and county attorney – should be evaluated by objective written review.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? 

During my years in public service, I received – and wrote – written evaluations, participated in 360° reviews, single and multi-rater management audits, external promotional assessments, outside inspections and organizational improvement planning – each of which was memorialized in writing to ensure an accurate portrait, year-over-year, of my performance trajectory.

I’ll bet many of you have had a similar evaluation during your working life.  It’s pretty common.

Except in county government. . .

The commonsense process of actually assessing the effectiveness of the highest paid recipients of public funds in our county government was supported by Councilwomen Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman.

Unfortunately, the measure was rejected, out-of-hand, by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – the lockstep voting bloc of Councilmen Ben Johnson and the Very Reverend Fred Lowry, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

But why?

Well, according to Chairman Kelley, “We don’t have an off-the-shelf form at this point.”

Apparently, we don’t employ the talent in our Human Resources office to research and put one together in, oh, an hour-or-so, either. . .

Sad.

Look, I would be reasonably satisfied if the Volusia County Council could have just one meeting where they weren’t required to spend the last half deciphering their twisted votes, mini-moves, amendments and amendments-to-amendments that always leave staff – and their confused constituents – scratching their heads. . .

Perhaps, We, The People should exercise our right to political accountability and use this bimonthly affront to our collective intelligence as our own evaluation of those we have elected to high office, eh?

In government, senior management – and the citizens they serve – deserve a thorough review of their professional performance, accomplishments and growth areas at regular intervals.

It’s a healthy part of the oversight process, and the narrative evaluation provides personalized feedback and a mechanism for communicating expectations for organizational goals and professional objectives that just aren’t possible in the farcical performance art of a Volusia County Council meeting.

Anyone who has ever served in a leadership role understands that performance evaluations are a critical resource for documenting the health and success of the organization – and should be a continuing process at all levels.

But not in the byzantine bureaucracy in DeLand. . .

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to horizontal oversight.  This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, expenditures, and the performance of their subordinate staff.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

You want to know the most serious issue Volusia County residents face?

It is the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement that results in surprise headlines like “Volusia’s overtime tab: $99 million since 2013” and other shocking revelations – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious course of conduct to continue.

 

On Volusia: Whose opinion matters?

“Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.”

–Dirty Harry Callahan, The Dead Pool, 1988

 

Sometimes the news on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast sounds like a broken record.

“For a city already working with its trust issues. . .”

“After a former Volusia County Council member proclaimed in a public meeting this summer that trust in county government had never been lower. . .”

“What they’re most divided on: how much trust the public has in county government.”

“Much has been written about Volusia County government and a lack of transparency.”

“They got caught doing something that now seems deceitful.”

Sounds like a bad Barker’s View screed, doesn’t it?

It’s not.

These quotes came right from the pages of The Daytona Beach News-Journal – picked from feature stories, editorials and letters from readers who have grown suspicious of the machinations of our elected and appointed officials and the uber-wealthy special interests who seem to control it all.

Unfortunately, in the oligarchical system that has come to dominate our lives and livelihoods here in Volusia County – constructive criticism is neither welcome nor accepted – and those who attempt to shine a bright light into the dank corners where public funds and private interests intersect are often marginalized, painted as lunatics, or worse, labeled as “trolls” who reside in the lower parts of the internet and exist simply to poke, prod and provoke the “Rich & Powerful” who can still afford political representation.

So, we are forced to ask the question: Whose critical views on the myriad issues of the day are more accurate and worthy of our attention?

Which opinion matters most – an amalgam of viewpoints of an editorial board – or the concerns voiced in the contentious realm of social media, something News-Journal editor Pat Rice calls the “domain of trolls who live not to provoke thought but simply to provoke”?

More often than not, on those rare occasions when our newspaper of record calls foul on the editorial page, they sound like that kindly-yet-critical old aunt, who, at the risk of offending, softly suggests you might want to “run a comb through your hair” – as opposed to the blunt message of the overbearing truth-teller in the family who calls it like she sees it, “It looks like rat’s are nesting on your head, Lois – do you even own a hairbrush? Look in a mirror for Christ sake. . .” 

It seems whenever the News-Journal has cause to offer a gentle suggestion to the perennial politicians and governmental insiders who are seen as “friends” and conflicted associates of the newspaper’s senior leadership – the paper comes off like a mewing, declawed kitten with a raging case of  Taijin Kyofusho.

The true editorial scolding is saved for ordinary citizens and grassroots efforts with the temerity to challenge the status quo – voice a call for fundamental change to this disparate scheme that has resulted in the social and economic quagmire we find ourselves in – or use the every-man’s civic soapbox of social media to vent frustration, voice an opinion or engage in a no-holds-barred debate of the issues.

Whenever someone from outside the fraternity offers a pointed criticism, calls out missed opportunities for substantive change, or brings attention to the utter incompetence and dysfunction that have come to permeate the halls of power in DeLand and beyond – they are invariably treated as a threat to the “system” – branded an opinionated malcontent without credibility and immediately set upon by those who still stand to benefit.

That’s not shaping public opinion – that’s an exercise in not ruffling the right feathers. . .

Sound familiar? 

It should, because marginalization – the process of making others feel their opinions are insignificant or secondary to those held by insiders – is the exact tactic used by members of the Volusia County Council to ensure lockstep conformity.

In my view, the most important opinion is your own.

I happen to write down my goofy thoughts on the issues we face and circulate them on this blog site as a means of stirring the pot, calling attention to the seemingly intractable problems we face and stimulating a greater discussion in the community.

Why? 

Because our ‘powers that be’ hate it when We, The People focus on the machinations of the politically unaccountable insiders behind the curtain – or expose the self-serving maneuverings of  their bought-and-paid-for politicians who are repeatedly returned to office on increasingly larger piles of campaign cash originating from those who the system now exists to serve.

In my view, when citizens educate themselves on the issues of the day – then formulate individual opinions that come together into a collective vision for the future through the debate of competing ideas – it results in quality public policy, civic revitalization, collaborative problem solving and fosters a true sense of ‘community building.’

So, to hell with what I, or anybody else thinks – or what the News-Journal tells you about the role of social media and non-conventional communication in contemporary politics.

Take the time to educate yourselves and your neighbors, learn the players and the issues, contemplate our collective needs – then form your own opinions – and express your views in whatever forum you feel comfortable with.

If you are a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe, I naturally consider you an ‘informed voter’ who looks at all sides of an issue then makes a knowledgeable decision.

If not, I encourage you to get involved.

Talk to candidates for public office, hold their feet to the fire on issues that are important to you and your family, voice your point of view on the issues of the day, be bold, be brave and let’s return a respectful and responsive “government of the people” to DeLand and beyond this election cycle.

Let’s restore the public’s trust in our local government by electing those who value it.

It’s important – now, more than ever.