Angels & Assholes for July 1, 2022

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               St. Johns River Water Management District

There was a time when anyone who saw the SJRWMD listed as an “Angel” in this space would have me strapped into a straitjacket and committed to a state facility for the congenitally stupid.

Maybe I’m going soft in the head, but I’ll take “progress” on the environmental front when and where I can find it. . .

Way back in the “bad old days,” this blogsite cut its editorial teeth on The Debacle in DeBary – a nasty tale of bullies, thieves, grifters, and opportunistic leeches who set their greedy sights on 102 sensitive acres known as the Gemini Springs Addition. 

To make a very long and filthy story short, some career bureaucrats at DeBary City Hall hired the then Chairman of the SJRWMD – who also happened to own an Orlando-area environmental consulting firm which saw dozens of clients successfully receive permits from the very board he oversaw – to serve as a consultant in a scheme that would have allowed DeBary to acquire the property from the district, then ramrod a massive Transportation Oriented Development near the SunRail station adjacent to the threatened Gemini Springs complex.   

The backdoor scheme was so sleazy that it resulted a shitstorm of epic proportions when former News-Journal environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver doggedly exposed the shim-sham to the light of day. 

In my view, Ms. Pulver should have received the Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reporting.

Several years ago, the SJRWMD finally settled the sordid matter by transferring the land to Volusia County with the understanding it would be held in conservation and protected from development “in perpetuity.” 

In government parlance, the word “perpetuity” can mean “about 10-years or until no one is looking” – and many were uncomfortable with a solution that left the proverbial henhouse in the hands of elected foxes whose political campaigns are bought and paid for by developers.

Whatever.

Upon learning of the transfer, I suggested that the Gemini Springs Addition be placed in the care of a private entity such as the Nature Conservancy – whose first core value is “Integrity above reproach” – a concept that clearly has no correlation to Volusia County government. . .

No one listened.

I was reminded of this ugly period in Volusia County’s sordid history last week when – somehow/by accident – an incredibly controversial item silently appeared on the SJRWMD consent agenda which would have authorized the “surplusing” of some 18,000 acres of conservation land in Central and North Florida.

These ‘throwaway’ conservation properties included 3,000 acres right here in Volusia County. . . 

You read that right. 

In turn, the real heroes of this story – the local environmentalists who sounded the klaxon and spoke out against the ill-thought move – caused the SJRWMD to take a second look, and the item was rescinded.  Fortunately, the outcry resulted in a plan to study the process for identifying surplus properties over the next six-months. 

The valid concerns of residents and environmentalists were also shared by some members of the Volusia County Council who reached out to the SJRWMD.  As a result, at a recent public meeting, County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald reported that “…if there’s any effort in the future (for the sale of surplus land) that they’ll involve all stakeholders.”

Even better, in a June 17 Twitter post, SJRWMD Chair Rob Bradley confirmed:

“The @SJRWMD Board has no intention of considering the sale of district lands.  We are excited about potential land acquisition opportunities in certain ecologically valuable areas in our river basin. Florida forever!”

In my experience, it is the rare regulatory agency that possesses the transparency and clarity of purpose to listen to their constituents and partner agencies – then publicly reverse course and take steps to ensure a mistake is not repeated. 

Kudos to everyone involved. 

It’s been a while, but I think this is what good governance looks like. . .      

Angel               Ponce Inlet Town Manager Jeaneen Witt

We live in an unfortunate era where bigger is always perceived as better.  But in my experience, great things often come from small beginnings. 

I spent my working life in service to the good citizens of Holly Hill – the “City with a Heart” – a tightknit slice of Old Florida on the banks of the Halifax River.   

While I clawed my way up the ladder to become the poster boy for the Peter Principle in Public Service, some of my former colleagues have gone on to make a high mark in service to communities throughout the Halifax area and beyond.     

During three-decades with the City of Holly Hill, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible professionals, to include the incomparable Joe Forte, who rose like fine cream – going from firefighter to his current role as one of the finest city managers anywhere – and Kurt Swartzlander, Holly Hill’s former award-winning finance director who was recently named City Manager of Daytona Beach Shores. 

Early in her stellar career, Jeaneen Witt – a proud United States Air Force veteran – served as Holly Hill’s City Clerk before moving on to roles of increasing responsibility in the beautiful community of Ponce Inlet. 

During her 20-year tenure, Jeaneen served in a variety of roles, to include Assistant Town Manager, before being appointed Town Manager in 2010.  In addition to being a talented chief executive who has stewarded the town through many difficult challenges, she happens to be one of the nicest people I know.    

Last week, it was reported that Ms. Witt will be retiring effective October 22, 2022. 

According to an excellent report by Brenno Carillo writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“It has been an honor to serve this community in this role,” Witt wrote in her resignation letter. “We have accomplished great things together that are visible throughout the town and there are some exciting projects ahead, for which the town is in its best financial position to accomplish.”

To ensure a seamless transition, the Ponce Inlet Town Council has already begun the difficult task of finding a suitable replacement. 

According to the report, Ponce Inlet Mayor Lois Paritsky reassured residents, “…their town government is robust and redundant,” and that “…there will be no disruption in the high level of services that our staff provides to our residents every day.”

Kudos to Jeaneen Witt on the culmination of an outstanding career in service to the grateful citizens of Ponce Inlet. 

Given her wealth of knowledge in multiple disciplines, dedication to excellence in public service, and personal care for those she serves, my hope is that Ms. Witt will find a way to continue to contribute to the community during her well-deserved retirement.

Congratulations, Jeaneen! 

Well done!

Asshole           Flagler Beach City Commission

Where does the buck stop in Flagler Beach?

In a Council/Manager form of government, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services. 

For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, direct the operations of all departments, and control financial, purchasing, and budgetary processes across the scope of the government. 

In turn, We, The Little People elect the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – like a corporate board of directors – who appoint a chief executive with strong managerial and organizational skills to run the day-to-day operations and enact public policy.

Most do an exceptional job serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

The ‘system’ also insulates career civil servants, the frontline professionals who deliver essential services to the community, from the often politically motivated nature of elected officials who are normally prohibited by charter from directing or interfering with operations.

That’s important.

Usually, the chief executive’s safeguards include a prohibitive “Golden Parachute” – a massive severance package that is triggered whenever a chief executive is dismissed “without cause” – and what constitutes “cause” is often narrowly defined in both employment agreements and the law.

Regardless, elected officials have an ethical responsibility to their constituents to ensure oversight and accountability, then act decisively to protect the public’s trust when the warning signs of dysfunction and mismanagement become evident. 

From experience I can tell you when that process breaks down, dreadful things happen.      

In my view, after the travesty in Flagler Beach last week, some highly compensated heads at the top of the municipal administration should be launched out of City Hall like a Saturn 5 – beginning with City Manager William Whitson.

Last Thursday, the Flagler Beach City Commission was clued into the fact taxpayers lost out on a $739,000 capital improvement grant from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council after the city’s administration missed the program’s application deadline.

Inconceivably, they ignored an extension as well. . . 

In short, Mr. Whitson simply ‘missed the boat.’   

According to a disturbing article in FlaglerLive!:

“The failure of the city administration to meet the deadline is a mirror image of its failure to secure in time a contracted booking with its usual fireworks vendor for the July 4 display. Flagler Beach will have no fireworks this year, and potentially for the next several years, as it rebuilds its pier.” (See: “Flagler Beach Could Have Had Its July 4 Fireworks Had It Not Waited Until April 24 to Book the Show,” here: https://flaglerlive.com/175810/fireworks-booking/ )

It’s not as consequential as missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funding. But it reflects equally on an administration that appears to be less in control of basic managerial steps, despite recurring reminders.

“Our last meeting there was a representative here from TDC reminding us about the grant process, and then we had a meeting with TDC. Did we apply for the $700,000 grant?” Commissioner Eric Cooley asked Whitson Thursday evening during the meeting.

“No, it just wasn’t enough time for me to apply,” Whitson said.

There was a pause, the kind of silence that evokes pins not only dropping but stinging.”

Wow.

To make matters worse, last year, Flagler County Tourism Director Amy Lukasik publicly and privately reminded city officials of the application requirements – to include offers of help.

Another contributing factor is that the City of Flagler Beach failed to identify an eligible “shelf ready” capital improvement project – such as the proposed replacement of the city’s iconic pier or reconstruction of the boardwalk – neither of which have been designed.

According to the report, Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley, who chaired the city’s unfortunate Fourth of July fireworks committee, said after the meeting:

“My concern as I heard the city manager acknowledge he failed to meet the TDC Grant filing deadline was ‘here we go again,’” Spradley said. “This is why there will be no 4th of July fireworks in Flagler Beach. That was another failure by the city administration to make timely arrangements. I don’t like the pattern. Plus, each of these failures results in a black eye to the City Commission but undeservedly so in my opinion. The City Commission issues orders and is only as good as the capability of the city administration to carry out those orders. Lately, those orders are not being carried out. This is a problem from my view as a resident, a business owner and a concerned member of the Flagler Beach community.”

You read that right – Mr. Spradley used the terms “failed” or “failure(s)” three times. . .

Now, the Flagler Beach City Commission has a duty to act.

Unfortunately, the abysmal lack of accountability in local government is not limited to the quaint beachfront community of Flagler Beach.

The organizational culture of many local governments abjures the timeless concepts of accountability commensurate with responsibility – never admitting mistakes – communicating with constituents in ambiguous sound bites, official claptrap that allows senior elected and appointed officials to take credit for successes then sidestep blame when errors occur.

In this case, the blame is self-evident, and the taxpayers of Flagler Beach deserve an apology – and accountability.  

Quote of the Week

“The developers are Winter Park real estate investors Andre Vidrine and Stephen Whitley doing business under the name Daytona Land Partners LLC.

“We are fortunate to have purchased this property, both from a strategic location as well as working with one of our preferred governmental agencies, the City of Daytona Beach,” wrote Vidrine in a text message responding to an inquiry by The Daytona Beach News-Journal. “The staff, along with Mayor and Commissioners, are firm but fair and are well respected in our network.”

Vidrine declined to offer details regarding the project. He did, however, say, “We are conservative businessmen if that helps to answer, but not answer the question.”

His response was to an inquiry from The News-Journal asking whether the industrial park was being developed as an entirely “spec” project, meaning they can eventually fill it with tenants, or being built with commitments in advance.

Vidrine said he was bound by a confidentiality agreement from commenting more on the project.”

–Winter Park “real estate investor” Andre Vidrine, as quoted by Business Editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Who will be the tenants in new Daytona industrial park in LPGA area?” Thursday, June 30, 2022

Now we can start another round of the Fun Coast’s favorite pastime – “Daytona Beach Jeopardy” – where long-suffering residents swing a wild-assed guess at what is coming to the site of the latest clear-cut moonscape near Boomtown Boulevard.

As part of our disastrous ‘cart before the horse’ growth strategy, it appears a Winter Park developer is working with the East Volusia faction of their “fair and well-respected” network at the City of Daytona Beach to build something called the “Daytona Commerce Center I and II” at the northeast corner of the Mason Avenue Extension and Dunn Avenue. 

Wait? 

You mean another massive commercial/industrial complex generating umpteen trips per hour is being permitted near the LPGA Boulevard corridor and its Monument to Mediocrity at the Tomoka River pinch point? 

An already congested and dangerous stretch of roadway that transportation experts tell us will soon gridlock – even as those dullards at the County of Volusia drag their well-worn heels on plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to improve capacity and safety between U.S. 92 and Williamson Boulevard?   

You want Barker’s Recipe for Civic Disaster?  Build first – infrastructure later. . .            

According to the report, the 60,000 square foot industrial park will provide space for either light manufacturing or a warehouse operation. 

“I’ll take Another Industrial Warehouse for $200, Alex.” 

Of course, us rubes cannot know exactly what we are getting in this latest grab-bag project because of inane “confidentiality agreements” that developers use to keep us – and our elected representatives – strategically out-of-the-loop until last minute. 

In my view, this statutorily protected secrecy is more about keeping civic meddling to a minimum – and neutering an elected official’s ability to ask questions – than protecting a developer’s competitive advantage. . .

Whatever.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh? 

Perhaps it is time for Volusia County District Schools to begin the process of building “Forklift 101” and “How to lubricate automated robotics” – or better yet – “Feeding an asset limited and income constricted family on $15 dollars an hour” – into the curriculum? 

And Another Thing!

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

–From “Signs” by The 5 Man Electrical Band, 1971

Ain’t that the damn truth. . .

The only campaign sign that would ever cement my vote came from my friend and perennial New Orleans mayoral candidate, Manny Chevrolet Bruno, who just happens to have the best slogan in politics:

“Vote Manny Chevrolet – A Troubled Man for Troubled Times.”

I will never run for public office, but if I did, that’s a tagline I would steal.  (If only for the practice. . .)

Each election cycle, Manny’s satirical grassroots candidacy brings more attention to the myriad challenges facing that beautiful historic city than he ever could if elected.

While tooling around in the Lone Eagle this week, during interminable waits at various intersections, I noted these election year nuisances sprouting like noxious weeds in yards, commercial properties, and vacant lots – appearing overnight on private property and in the public right-of-way, propagating exponentially, multiplying and clustering – becoming so ubiquitous that voters quickly ignore them as they become overwhelmed, burned out, and disengaged.

Maybe that’s the plan? 

Driving east on Granada Boulevard here in God’s Country, I even spied a gaudy sign touting the candidacy of an incredibly well-financed candidate for the Ormond Beach City Commission attached to the side of the tony Gaslamp Shoppes. . .

Look, I’m not even sure that’s legal here in the Fingerbowl District – but who gives a shit, right? 

I found it unsightly and out of place – but so am I. . . 

During my travels, I noted that one candidate for local office was affixing a sign to only one side of those double-sided wooden frames – which prompted the subliminal question, “Does this person get the most out of available assets, or simply buy more. . .?”

I’m weird that way.

This time of the year candidates or their surrogates will sweep through a neighborhood like a herd of sweat-soaked turtles leaving those obnoxious signs to mark their turf.

Subtlety and aesthetics be damned.

When speaking with my neighbors, some tell me they know the candidate whose name appears in front of their home personally – I suspect others simply acquiesce because they do not want to offend – merely trying to close the door and return to the peace and quiet of their lives.     

You rarely see that level of cordiality here at the Olde Barker Place.

Trust me.  I intentionally make this arrogantly shabby cracker box so unhospitable that even the most hardened political shill thinks twice before approaching with a glossy leaflet in hand (yes, the “GO AWAY” doormat means you, Mr./Ms. Candidate) and as a confirmed recluse, I never answer the doorbell.

Yeah.  You do you.  I’m not into “interacting.”   

Especially when it comes to making nice with the smiling visage of some retread politician who proves repeatedly – in thought, word, and deed – that they could give two-shits about what my neighbors and I think once they have been re-elected.

I hate to be rude (no I don’t) but turnabout is fair play. . .

So, the next time a candidate for political office shows up on your doorstep, take the opportunity to ask the hard the questions (because, if elected, you will never see them again) regarding their stance on the issues important to your family and livelihood. 

Then demand the hard answers that go beyond some pithy marketing slogan on a campaign tchotchke or a canned response at a pretentious partisan hobnob. (Politicians endorsing politicians? Really?) 

I guarantee – even if you masquerade as an informed voter – you won’t be bothered by a pesky political knock at the door again. . . 

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

Time for Strong Leadership on Transportation

I was introduced to the preeminent traffic engineer and transportation planner, Maryam Ghyabi, by the late great Big John.  He had a knack for bringing disparate people together on neutral ground then watching as they put differences aside to discover common ground on the critical issues we face.

That cup of coffee resulted in the most unlikely friendship in Volusia County. 

While there are many things we disagree on – and Ms. Ghyabi’s politics are not mine – the fact is, she is one of the smartest people I know. 

Some are all too quick to marginalize Ms. Ghyabi by dismissing her educated solutions as “pro development” because she happens to be the influential homebuilder Mori Hosseini’s sister. 

In my view, that unfortunate bias overlooks her significant regional contributions to finding transportation solutions through diverse public/private consortiums that address current needs and plan for our future – such as her successful stewardship of projects on Oakridge Boulevard and the East International Speedway Boulevard gateway in Daytona Beach. 

In addition to speaking the indecipherable bureaucratic language of transportation (trust me, there are more LOPPs, CMPs, ADTs, TIPs, CACs, TCCs, and TRIPs than you can shake a stick at) she possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the intricacies of every major transportation initiative in Volusia County – and how the planning, engineering, and funding of these incredibly complex (and expensive) projects come together to improve mobility and traffic safety. 

Most important, she cares about Volusia County.    

So, when Maryam Ghyabi speaks about our growing transportation infrastructure challenges, I listen. 

Our elected officials in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand should too. . .

On Sunday, in an informative editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Ghyabi outlined the importance of community input and intergovernmental cooperation in improving LPGA Boulevard between U.S. 92 and Williamson Boulevard – an already congested section that traverses the epicenter of commercial and residential development in ‘New Daytona’ – and a major regional thoroughfare that would serve as a primary evacuation route for points east in the event of an emergency.    

These improvements would include a solution to that Monument to Mediocrity that is the two-lane pinch point across the Tomoka River – a visible and visceral reminder of the absurdity of allowing massive development west of I-95 before adequate transportation infrastructure was in place to accommodate current and future demands.

The disturbing fact is – these current and future needs weren’t even considered when the various developments were approved.

Prove me wrong?

According to an analysis, between 2015 and 2019 there were a total of 514 traffic crashes on the 6.2 mile stretch of LPGA Boulevard – to include 139 involving injuries and five fatalities. In addition, estimates show that traffic volume on LPGA Boulevard will double in coming years, leading to gridlock conditions if improvements are not made:

“Therefore, in order to accommodate existing and future travel demand and improve safety on LPGA Boulevard, the Florida Department of Transportation has initiated a Project Development and Environment (PD& E) study from U.S. 92 to Williamson Boulevard, in collaboration with the City of Daytona Beach, River to Sea Transportation Planning Organization and Volusia County.”

While Ms. Ghyabi praised Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher for working collegially to support local and state efforts to improve conditions on LPGA Boulevard – her editorial subtly “encouraged” Volusia County officials to “…embrace the spirit of the coalition and engage with their constituents to understand their needs.”

Sounds like someone in DeLand is stonewalling. . .   

Historically, playing nice with the municipalities and “engaging with their constituents” has never been a high priority for Volusia County – and our children and grandchildren (in the unlikely event they choose to remain here) will live with the fallout of this bureaucratic arrogance for decades.

For instance, this disastrous ‘cart before the horse’ growth management strategy is just one of the many reasons – collectively referred to as “the trust issue” – why the half-cent sales tax initiative (ostensibly earmarked for transportation infrastructure) was roundly rejected by Volusia County voters who no longer have confidence in our elected and appointed officials to steward public funds in the public interest. 

In the view of many, shoveling even more of our hard-earned tax dollars into the maw of the same bloated and detached bureaucracy is the textbook definition of insanity:  Doing the same thing while expecting a different result. 

For years, we have watched while those dullards on the dais of power in DeLand and the larger municipalities have puled about the coming disaster that is now our overstressed transportation system – even as they rubberstamped more, more, more development across the width and breadth of Volusia County.

It represents the antithesis of concurrency or effective growth management, and now this political cowardice, bureaucratic inaction, and refusal to prioritize has come home to roost.

Now, after years of official procrastination, some $10 million has been allocated for the planning, development, and environmental study of scientific methods to improve volume, safety, and accessibility on LPGA Boulevard.

With thousands of zero-lot-line cracker boxes already complete – and more land being cleared for development on LPGA Boulevard every day – it is now or never

Both the LPGA Boulevard modifications and Tomoka River Bridge projects are currently listed on the River to Sea Transportation Planning Organizations list of prioritized projects, and according to FDOT, the PD&E study will take twenty-two months to complete.

That proves the importance of government entities working in coordination – because nothing about regionally significant transportation projects happens fast – as the bulldozers clear-cutting for more subdivisions continue to roar. . .

In my view, this isn’t about facilitating more malignant growth (look around, that horse has left the barn), but it may represent our last/best opportunity to cure the sins of the past – at least until We, The Little People elect political leaders with the moral courage to ensure the safety and welfare of existing residents and our environment while effectively preparing for future growth.   

Throughout Volusia County, residents are faced with the natural consequences of gross obstructionism, an inability to think strategically, and refusal to plan for future demands – and it is time for the tail to stop wagging the dog at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration complex.  

As this important study moves forward, Volusia County residents should let their voices be heard and demand that our elected officials pull their heads out of the sand and direct their foot-dragging bureaucrats to stop quibbling over trivialities before FDOT takes these scarce dollars off the table and moves forward with other equally pressing projects around the state.    

Best of Barker’s View: Angels & Assholes for June 25, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angels & Assholes is on hiatus this week – a short ‘pause for the cause’ – before the political silly season heats up in earnest. Sometimes it’s fun to take a look back with the clarity of 20-20 hindsight and see what has changed, and what remains the same, as we (hopefully) learn from history so we aren’t doomed to repeat it. (Yeah, right. . .)

This Angels & Assholes appeared one year ago – June 25, 2021.

I am still unemployed – whiling away the hours sipping Gin and cogitating on what passes for the news and newsmakers here on Florida’s Fun Coast. Then jotting my often confused thoughts down hoping to stimulate a larger discussion of the issues we collectively face.

And, I still miss my former profession and those brave and wonderful souls I had the privilege of serving with. . .that hasn’t changed, and I have resigned myself to the fact it never will.

In Deltona, John Peters is still the “Interim” City Manager.

The Volusia County Council is still practicing its official policy of refusing to listen to the needs and concerns of constituents, Ken Strickland is now a sitting City Commissioner in the City of Daytona Beach, and County Councilman The Very Rev. “Dr.” Fred Lowry is a declared candidate for the Volusia County School Board.

Finally, our debt for the courageous service and ultimate sacrifice of 26-year old Daytona Beach Police Officer Jason Raynor can never be repaid. Never forget.

Angel               City of Holly Hill 

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

Do you have a better explanation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven-years into retirement – it was time.  

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

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

The identification number on my randomly issued card was 00008.

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

Wow. Heaven sent? 

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

What a fantastic ride. . .

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

Heaven sent, indeed. 

Asshole           City of Deltona

Respect and communication is a two-way street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoa. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God.

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

Is it? 

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council

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

Absolutely nothing. . .

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And our little dogs, too. . .   

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

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

I damn sure will.  

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Department   

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

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

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

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

Disgusting.     

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

Who could blame them? 

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week

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

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

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

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

And Another Thing!

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

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

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

Strange. 

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

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

It is the foundational principle of our democratic system. 

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

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

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

At best, it was a damnable embarrassment.  

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

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

Did anyone expect anything different?

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

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

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

______________________________________

Thanks for taking a look back. Angels & Assholes will return for your listening and dancing pleasure next Friday.

Food for Thought

With little fanfare, earlier this month Gannett – the parent company of what remains of our hometown newspaper, The Daytona Beach News-Journal – announced an “evolutionary” change that will drastically cut daily opinion pages across its 45-state, 250-title megamedia portfolio.

The reduction in editorial content comes on the heels of a recent restructuring that split Gannett into two domestic business units – Gannett Media and Digital Marketing Solutions – which senior leadership hopes will drive “sustainable revenue and cash flow growth,” as the massive media conglomerate moves toward its goal of becoming a “…subscription-led and digitally-focused media and marketing solutions company…”

That’s corporate-speak for the transition from a newsgathering organization to a ‘heavy on pap, fluff, and advertising/light on local “news”’ online format as newsprint and independent journalism rapidly goes the way of the buggy whip. . .  

I’m no expert – but as a voracious consumer of what passes for “the news” in this foul year 2022 – I worry about the future of print media here on this salty spit of land we call home.

While much of our daily newspaper is now filled with homogenized and regionalized USA Today style crapola – liberally peppered with Gannett’s frequent salvos from the frontlines of the partisan culture wars – we are fortunate to have some of the best local reporters in the business working hard on both sides of the Palmetto Curtain to bring us all the Volusia County news that is fit to print. 

So why are these gifted reporters and investigative journalists being squeezed out of the Local section by dreck from the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida Today, or some syndicated “news service”? 

My fellow News-Journal readers knew something was up last November when former editor Pat Rice sadly announced the departure of opinion editor Krys Fluker as she left for greener pastures at the Orlando Sentinel.

Then came the semi-retirement of the incomparable News-Journal fixture Mark Lane, who cut back to a once-a-week column last month.  Now, his always excellent Footnote piece is the first thing I turn to in the Sunday edition.   

Instead of filling these editorial voids, last week, we learned that the News-Journal has brought on restaurant and dining writer Caroline Hebert (which a staff report reminded all of us stunted dullard’s who have never been north of Bunnell or west of Deleon Springs is pronounced “A-bear”) whose beat will include Volusia and Flagler counties’ “…rich and varied culinary scenes…” 

Wait.  Say what? 

Look, I want to be among the first to welcome Ms. Hebert to our sandy slice of heaven – and I wish her well as she launches on her gastronomic adventure – navigating the “rich and varied” epicurean delights here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – which she might find slightly ‘different’ than the eclectic offerings in her hometown of New Orleans.

I mean, beyond exploring the subtle differences in our corndogs and chicken wings – reporting on the number of failed health inspections and restaurant closings should keep a professional food journalist busy for, oh, a day or two. 

I’m kidding, of course.    

We have some of the best family owned and operated restaurants anywhere – and although our hoity-toity ‘fine dining’ options are limited, we have a few – along with enough casual chain restaurants, great fresh seafood offerings, steakhouses, food trucks, craft breweries, pub grub, international fare, donut shops, sandwich counters, and established neighborhood favorites to satisfy the tastes of locals and visitors alike.   

In announcing Ms. Hebert’s arrival, the News-Journal asked that locals email her with your dining suggestions at chebert@news-jrnl.com.

Gannett’s renewed focus on “empowering communities to thrive” through increased focus on advertising products and local business features is admirable – but who will ensure government accountability by investigating and reporting on the critical issues we face? 

I am certainly not a “journalist.”

At best a dilettante polemicist, at worst, a blowhard with internet access. . .

In my view, independent journalism and community-focused editorial content is important to the checks and balances that ensure our elected officials – and those who seek high office – will act in the public interest, rather than feathering the nests of their political benefactors. 

With the passing of Big John and Mark Bernier we lost two important voices.  Their hyper-local radio forums provided a much-needed salon for the discussion of the issues and politics that affect our lives and livelihoods. 

Admittedly, social media can be a daunting place to make your views heard in the politically charged static that often dissolves into ad hominem attacks rather than a competition of differing ideas.  While Facebook and the Twitterverse may be ‘everyman’s soapbox,’ it is not for the squeamish.    

In most cases, the only winners of these vitriolic online wars are the craven politicians (and those who run interference for them) who understand that when We, The Little People are bickering amongst ourselves – no one is watching them. . . 

This election cycle, after you take a moment to direct our new food reporter to your favorite bistro, consider sharing your thoughts in an editorial comment or letter to the editor of a local news outlet like The Daytona Beach News-Journal, West Volusia Beacon, Hometown News, Ask Flagler, Ormond Beach Observer, or FlaglerLive! – then attend a candidate forum, look them in the eye, and let your unique opinions on the issues be heard. 

Look beyond the tripe and hype of the ‘glossy mailer.’

I guarantee the election season is the only time those who are desperately groveling for your sacred vote will be listening. . . 

In my view, we desperately need more community voices to ask the thought-provoking questions, engage in the authentic debate of competing ideas, and offer the honest criticism that ensures political accountability in a place that desperately needs all three. 

Angels & Assholes for June 17, 2022

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:

DISCLAIMER:

Remember when you were a kid and saw those colorful movie posters outside a cinema that were emblazoned with the glaring teaser: Absolutely no one will be seated during the last five-minutes of the film!” – which meant, you were a little scared of what you might see – but you were definitely going to watch the movie. . .

Last week I was taken to the woodshed on social media by a reader who worked herself into a froth over something I wrote, a swipe which culminated in the exasperated question, “How much more of this tired, trite nonsense must we all put up with?”

The fact is – you don’t have to “put up” with anything

Stop/turnback/ walk out of the theater right now – if you are offended by an alternative opinion to your own views on the myriad issues of the day, just stop reading

You won’t hurt my feelings.  Promise. 

I assure you, absolutely everyone who reads these screeds will eventually be pissed-off over my goofy take on the news and newsmakers of the day – if not this week, then next – but it will happen.  I guarantee that if you care even a smidge about the state of governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast, you will feel something after reading these screeds – rage, encouragement, discouragement, laughter, sadness, hope, futility – sometimes all at once. 

Because that is the raw nature of our current civic affairs. 

Look, I’m not twisting anyone’s arm to read this “tired, trite nonsense” (which is an incredibly accurate descriptor).  I write this blog more as a cathartic salve for my own frustrations, rather than the entertainment or edification of a larger audience. 

So long as we have a right to free expression in this country, I will continue to vent my spleen on the political condition where I live and pay taxes – and my only hope is that these hyper-cynical views will be used by smart readers who “get it” to further a more logical discussion of these important issues in our community than I am capable of.  

Now, dear readers – consider yourself forewarned.  The concession stand is in the lobby.

On with the shitshow. . .if you dare.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Who saw this one coming? 

On Tuesday, another “Special Meeting” of the Volusia County Council was held to discuss growth management, zoning amendments, and planning regulations.

Yeah, right. . .   

Unfortunately, this important, and much-anticipated, meeting was sparsely attended – by our elected officials that is

Conversely, concerned residents turned out in force to speak out on all sides of what many consider the seminal issue of our time.     

For reasons that were never made completely clear – “Dr.” Fred Lowry, Billie Wheeler, and Heather Post had more important things to do – leaving a thin quorum which required an announcement from a highly compensated county attorney that should any sitting member need to use the restroom – a recess would need to be called to facilitate the trip. . .   

It quickly became apparent this was not a public meeting.  It was another farcical production of that timewasting kabuki dance that passes for the “people’s business” in Volusia County. 

You see, it is easier to mewl and coo that decisions should not be reached when large swaths of the county do not have a representative at the table – when those lame duck, politically unaccountable “representatives” are conveniently absent from the table. . .

(Giving Ms. Post the benefit of the doubt, she has been on injured reserve for weeks following a nasty fall in a county owned building.) 

In my cynical view, the Old Guard’s tried-and-true strategy of protecting the status quo by kicking the can down the road became evident early when Councilman Ben Johnson and his ventriloquist dummy, Councilman Danny Robins, cautioned that nothing happens with a sense of urgency in Volusia County government, stressing the importance of more procrastination before anything of substance is ultimately voted down on a 5-2 vote. 

To that end, Councilman Johnson explained in his patented cornpone, “I’m not comfortable doing anything that will be railroaded through.  I don’t want to just do something to do something. And if we do some things too fast, we’re putting ourselves in major liability.”

To his credit, Chairman Jeff Brower did his best to convey the urgency of communicating a comprehensive growth management strategy to concerned residents.    

In an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean entitled, “Volusia’s rapid growth concerns,” Brower was quoted:

“We’re not known for railroading. We’re known for dragging things out,” Brower said. “We don’t have an infinite amount of time. I’m asking that we don’t put it off another year without taking action.”

“Brower was reacting in part to a report from staff members saying they were awaiting the outcome of a grant application for money that would be used to look at implementing low-impact development in Volusia County. Staff said it would take until May 2023 to complete that review of low-impact development, but everything else could be studied in the meantime.”

Wow.

“Awaiting the outcome” of a grant application?  To pay for another study? 

Really?

Does anyone see a trend developing here?  I damn sure hope so.

During the “special” meeting, much hot air was generated over the importance of slowing down the process“pumping the brakes” on an intentionally sluggish, protracted, and ineffectual shim-sham that has yet to produce so much as a definition of what the terms “low-impact development” and “smart growth” mean – let alone how to codify those concepts into planning and development regulations.   

Instead, there was much talk of slowing the train, pulling the reigns, (insert foot-dragging euphemism here) – accompanied by grumbling from a few “landowners” who could clearly give two-shits about preserving what remains of our sensitive environment – so long as they can do whatever they want on their slice of their pie – and to hell with yours. 

Others (who couldn’t be bothered to take their hats off at the podium, because decorum only applies to voices which disagree with the Gang of Four) qualified their remarks by touting their Volusia County pedigree (“My family arrived in La Florida with Hernando de Soto, bought a two-acre ranchette from Mr. Haney and Arnold Ziffel, and we been living our own humid version of Yellowstone ever since…”) – while another pooh-poohed the notion of symbiotic ecosystems by erroneously stating that what happens on his land doesn’t affect what happens on mine.

One went so far as to mock the ongoing development-fueled atrocity in the Mosquito Lagoon when he crowed, “I don’t like being told what to do with my property,” adding that he doesn’t want to “pay more taxes because someone wants to see the bottom of the Indian River.”

Bullshit.

My guess is these “landowners” have yet to come to the realization they don’t “own” anything – they lease it from the government.  Don’t believe me?  Stop paying property taxes and see how much of your slice of heaven you actually “own.”

I have no idea what these guys have been told – or by whom.

These self-styled land barons should understand that these proposed low-impact development policies, environmental protections, and zoning regulations are also designed to protect their properties from the malignant sprawl and slash-and-burn clear-cutting that is inching closer to our remaining rural and agricultural areas every day. . .   

Regardless of where you come down on growth, it was refreshing to see a robust citizen turnout – and to know there remains a wide range of emotions and viewpoints regarding development and environmental protections.   

But at the end of the day, absolutely nothing was accomplished on Tuesday.   

In my view, much of the meeting appeared painfully orchestrated in advance – a textbook example of how to interminably prolong issues of public concern (or at least push them past the election) – effectively stopping any substantive discussion in favor of passing the buck on growth management off to yet another contrived political insulation committee. 

Specifically, the Volusia County Council plans to waste even more time forming another iteration of the Environmental Resources Advisory Committee to prioritize and make recommendations on issues that should rightfully be debated and voted on by our politically accountable elected representatives.  

Anyone remember the “recommendations” of the first Environmental Resources Advisory Council that was disbanded in 2004? The Smart Growth summits of 2003 and 2004?  Or Clay Ervin’s Great Smart Growth PowerPoint of November 2008, with its ominous conclusion, “Where do we go from here…”  How about the good advice of the blue-ribbon Beachside Redevelopment Task Force? The Smart Growth Policy Review Committee of 2013-2014”? Oh, how about the Smart Growth Policy Review Committee of 2015-2016”? Or the last Green Ribbon Panel? 

How about the results of the long-anticipated “Impact Fee Study” Mr. Ervin has been promising for, oh, over a year?

No? 

Me neither. . .   

Because that’s how things are strategically lost in the shuffle here on the Fun Coast.

“Pump the brakes,” my ass. . .

Frankly, the outcome of this horseshit “special meeting” appeared blatantly choreographed by those do-nothing marionettes Councilman Ben Johnson (who actually found a way to lobby for clear-cutting?) and his sycophantic toady, Danny Robins – along with their backroom enablers County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and Growth Facilitator Clay Ervin.   

Many of my worried neighbors across the width and breadth of Volusia County are beginning to throw around terms like “ego,” “mediocrity,” and “incompetence” when discussing these bought and paid for handmaidens of the “Rich & Powerful” – and this “special” meeting is a prime example why the political tide is about to change for these dull tools who do the bidding of an influential few.    

One smart friend described it as “creepy” – saying once you see it, you cannot “unsee” it – like the weird optical illusion it is. . .   

Don’t take my word for it, watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7Uqw5mD_FQ

Depending upon the outcome of this election – I believe we are going to see some high-ranking, incredibly well-paid, bureaucrats on the unemployment line next year as We, The Little People seek a clean slate and a bold new direction.

That decision begins and ends at the ballot box. 

Please remember, your vote counts just as much as the Fat Cats who shovel $1,000 donations into the campaign coffers of those flexible lickspittles who protect their benefactors place in the public teats suckling order.   

In my view, in the face of the most prolific period of malignant sprawl and clear-cut environmental destruction in the history of Volusia County, this stalling and quibbling is a slap in the face to residents, environmentalists, and investors seeking some semblance of political stability and leadership.

Once again, these antics have exposed the extent to which “pay to play” politics has penetrated this bloated bureaucracy – a pernicious chancre on the heart of Volusia County government – that has destroyed the public’s trust.   

As the bulldozers continue to roar. . .

As a member of the public said in his closing remarks before the “special” meeting was clumsily adjourned, “If we don’t change the status quo, we’re doomed.”  

He’s right.

Vote like your quality of life depends upon it. 

Asshole           Ormond Beach “Planning” Board

Guess what? 

Those acquiescent rubber stamps on the Ormond Beach “Planning” Board unanimously approved a request to erect a multi-story apartment complex at the former Regal Theater site on an already congested Williamson Boulevard. 

Who didn’t see that coming, eh?

But what about the low-impact businesses we were expecting – the pharmacy, the RV storage, the drive-thru, the car wash?  What about the increased density and traffic? 

Screw you, rube.  Stow your stupid questions – stop standing in the way of “progress.”  

According to an excellent piece by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“The Ormond Beach Planning Board unanimously recommended approval for a Planned Business Development amendment on Thursday, June 9, to allow the construction of an apartment complex with a maximum of 312 units at 215 Williamson Boulevard, the site of the shuttered Regal Cinemas.”

Regardless of where you fall on the issue of Ormond’s “cram ten-pounds of shit in a five-pound bag while ignoring the giants gathering on your border” growth management strategy, you got to love how these shills convince themselves to believe what they are told – rather than what the rest of us see with our own eyes.

For instance, “City staff also outlined that the traffic analysis determined the apartment complex would reduce average daily trips by 1,850 and 51 peak hour trips, as the movie theater generated 3,912 average daily trips and the apartments are projected to generate 2,062 average daily trips.”

“This is an infill project that we’ve all been looking for,” Planning Board member GG Galloway said.”

You read that right. . .

While board member Al Jorczak sold the massive complex (with rental rates ranging from $1,600 to $2,400 per month) as alternative housing for well-heeled residents of Or-mond’s fingerbowl district:

“Whereas some of our more affluent people are moving out of their homes and they don’t want the maintenance expenses, having an upscale development like this would be something that would be fairly attractive to them,” Jorczak said.”

You read that right, too. . . 

Meanwhile, I guess those struggling families trying to keep a roof over their children’s heads in this artificial economy – and existing residents who are sitting through three light cycles at the intersection of Granada Boulevard and (you name the intersection) can suck shit through a straw?

Because in Ormond Beach, developers eventually get what they want – even if they have to pull a bait-and-switch end run on worried citizens who now have zero representation at City Hall.

My God. . .

Folks, this issue will come before the Ormond Beach City Commission on July 19 – well before the August 23 primary election – which includes Commissioners Troy Kent and Rob Littleton, both of whom are now running for the Volusia County Council District 4 seat. 

Please pay attention to how Kent and Littleton come down on this amendment – and don’t expect a political leopard to ever change his spots. . . 

Quote of the Week

“What a complete and total crock of shit! This project has been renamed MULTIPLE times to sneak one passed the residents of Flagler County. Almost 400 homes in the most fragile and important ecosystems in Flagler County. We are allowing developers to absolutely destroy and strip these natural treasures. This commission is bought and sold by the developers with Chairman Mullins offering them an everything goes pass.  People need to wake up before we become South Florida. Unfreaking real.”

–“Smart Growth” writing anonymously in FlaglerLive! in response to the informative article, “The Gardens, Now Veranda Bay, Clears Last Hurdle Before Construction of First 56 of 334 Homes,” Monday, June 6, 2022

Crock of shit, indeed. . . 

Something tells me We, The Little People across the region are mad as hell and no longer willing to have malignant sprawl shoved down our throats by a passel of greedy speculative developers hiding behind the “property rights” dodge – which now means they get to do whatever they want on their land – even if it forever impacts existing residents. 

This swelling anger is no longer limited to committed environmentalists or a handful of dirt worshiping tree-huggers who oppose all development. Now, people are awakening to the growing threat and fear is taking hold with average citizens who see the debilitating affects of unmitigated sprawl on their quality of life firsthand.

Again, change begins at the ballot box – vote your conscience. 

And Another Thing!

Those who serve in law enforcement have a unique window on the darker side – frequently sorting out the entanglements of people on the worst day of their lives – dealing with the ravages of substance abuse – and observing the horrible cycle of madness, violence, ancillary crimes, and human destruction it brings. 

In Holly Hill, many years ago we had one ‘frequent flyer’ – the term for those who are no stranger to the criminal justice system by virtue of their tragic lifestyle – his name long forgotten.  An elderly gentleman, tall, thin, and frail – another bindlestiff who became a fixture in the Halifax area riding his rickety bicycle around town and sleeping where and when he could.   

Officers on patrol looked out for him as best we could – ensuring he had a semi-regular meal – and someone to talk with other than the demons in his own mind. . . 

I once found him sleeping in a gutter (literally) on a street near Hollyland Park, his body covered with so many ants I thought he was dead. 

At that time, there were few options available for obtaining adequate shelter and services for the homeless (a problem we still face) and he had burned many bridges with the few area social service organizations of the day. 

Following one of his many arrests for minor crimes, we discovered that this dirty and disheveled man was a military veteran – a former United States Air Force officer, in fact.

Unfortunately, like so many veterans, he had long-ago fallen through the cracks of a horribly flawed system.     

Over time, the courts became a revolving door for him, more a means of emergency shelter, medical care, and sustenance for one of the forgotten heroes who, by choice or circumstance, live on the streets, secreted in the underbrush on the periphery of society – out of our sight and out of their mind – one of those lost souls who fall somewhere between pitiful victim and reviled nuisance. 

This American hero’s heartbreaking life came to an equally tragic end when he was found bludgeoned to death in a neighboring community.  I have long forgotten the details of one man’s sad death – but the sense of utter hopelessness I felt remains fresh in my mind. 

Fortunately, in 2013, the legendary former Volusia County and Circuit Court Judge David Beck, a US Army veteran, founded the first Veterans Court“…an initiative in the 7th Judicial Circuit designed to focus on the distinctive needs of veterans in the criminal justice system.”

“Military veterans are unique in that they undergo vigorous physical training emphasizing survival, endurance, and courage. They are also molded to respect authority, serve selflessly, and abide by the codes of duty, honor, and patriotism. Although these are admirable traits, these characteristics have the potential for extreme emotional and mental strain for those leaving military service and reintegrating to civilian life.

The military acknowledges that veterans have distinctive needs and that many veterans require treatment to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and suicidal thoughts. The courts have also recognized these needs and in 2008 the country’s first Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) was implemented in Buffalo, New York. Since then more programs have been implemented throughout the country, including several in Florida.”

Although Judge Beck passed away in 2017, his legacy of service lives on in the “Judge David B. Beck Veterans Court,” which continues to provide substance abuse and mental health services, peer mentoring, and alternatives to traditional judicial outcomes to support the unique needs of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves, or National Guard; including current or former Department of Defense Contractors, and current or former military member of a foreign allied country who have been charged with an eligible crime. 

I can assure you the many benefits to our community are measured in lives saved. 

This month, our friends at the famous Main Street Station are sponsoring a fun raffle in support of the Judge David B. Beck Volusia County Veterans Court!

Donations are $5.00 per ticket – or five for $20.00 – for a chance to win a “Booze Wagon” – I’m talking a regular Radio Flyer, folks – chockfull of premium liquors, with all proceeds going to support the Veterans Court “Giving Beck Fund”! 

It’s a party in a little red wagon!

Now, even if you don’t enjoy the occasional adult beverage, I will just bet you know someone who does (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and this incredible selection of top shelf liquors would make a wonderful gift for anyone planning an event or stocking a home bar.    

Tickets can be purchased at Main Street Station, 316 Main Street, Daytona Beach. 

While you are there, please say hello to the always friendly and civically active Phaedra Lee and Steve Stinson while enjoying some of the best live music anywhere!    

The drawing will be held on Sunday, June 26, 2022.  You need not be present to win. 

I hope you will join me in supporting this outstanding cause! 

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

_____________________________________________

Thank you for reading Barker’s View! 

Angels & Assholes will take a break next week to rest and recharge before the political shitshow starts in earnest! 

Feel free to peruse the voluminous archives at the bottom of this page – and, as always, whether we agree or disagree on the issues. please continue to further the discussion.  It’s important – now, more than ever.

Get involved.  Get informed.  Vote!    

Angels & Assholes will return on Friday, July 1!

Choices, Dilemmas, and Consequences

When it comes to Volusia County politics – those with the wherewithal to finance the campaigns of hand-select “establishment” backed candidates try hard to convince us there is only one viable option.

Unfortunately, others in the race try their damnedest to cement that notion with their complete lack of creativity and independence – the traditional selling point for most successful grassroots candidates.   

This often leaves Volusia County voters with a weird Sophie’s Choice where no outcome is preferable over the others. 

For those seeking substantive change, you can either laugh at the futility of it all – or throw yourself in the floor and cry. . . 

So, I always chuckle when small-minded politicians are asked to describe their strategy for solving difficult issues – then suddenly get that ‘deer in the headlights look’ and revert to the “I don’t think government should be involved in (insert intractable social/civic problem here) – I’m for small government,” dodge.

These are usually the same dullards who address citizen concerns of overdevelopment with flippant answers like, “If you ain’t growin,’ you’re dying!” – which does not hold true in the case of malignant cancer or its civic equivalent – when growth has far outpaced the capacity of existing infrastructure and nature’s ability to produce clean water.   

More times than not, it is these same “small government” ideological hypocrites who have no problem showering corporate welfare and government funded “economic incentives” on their political benefactors – using our tax dollars to pick winners and losers on a skewed playing field – where influential insiders get fat while your small business is left to fight for its survival in an artificial economy. 

And it is these same compromised marionettes who blather about less government intrusion while raising taxes to feed a bloated bureaucracy that now commands an annual budget of $1.1 billion. . . 

Small government?  My ass.  

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on a recent “debate” featuring Volusia County Council At-Large candidates and hosted by the well-heeled Tiger Bay Club. 

Participants included Doug Pettit, Sherisse Boyd, Andy Kelly, and Jake Johansson. 

According to reports, discussion topics included housing, roads, and water, which are all ancillary byproducts of the seminal issue of our time – growth management (or, in the case of Volusia County, the lack thereof). 

Look, this is all just one man’s jaded opinion, but some interesting tidbits were contained in Eileen Zaffiro-Kean’s News-Journal exposé which clearly differentiated the grassroots candidates from the “establishments” latest dull implement. 

And this is why Mr. Johansson stood out to me:

“Johansson has the backing of the current at-large councilman, former Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, who decided not to seek re-election to the Council. He also has donations from some of the power players in Volusia County: Hyatt and Cici Brown; Charlie Lydecker and his Foundation Risk Partners insurance firm; two NASCAR-affiliated businesses; and the political committee controlled by state Rep. Tom Leek.

Johansson has amassed the most campaign contributions of the four candidates, with $77,700 raised so far. Doug Pettit and Andy Kelly each have about $20,000 in their campaign war chests, and Boyd has $2,280.”

Wow. That’s some heavy-hitters, folks. . .

Anyone else see the pernicious influence of uber-wealthy insiders and their various corporate entities dumping vast sums of money into the campaign account of their “preferred” candidate – the perfectly legal age-old practice that grants an almost insurmountable advertising advantage over grassroots candidates seeking substantive change? 

Fortunately, the long-suffering denizens of the Fun Coast have come to the realization that votes beat money – as evidenced by Chairman Jeff Brower’s decisive win over his well-financed/connected opponent in 2020. 

Following a clearly pre-approve playbook, Mr. Johansson said he wants “to bring a collaborative culture to the County Council,” leveraging the work Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard have done to prepare the battlefield against those candidates who support Chairman Brower’s initiatives – painting Brower as an ineffectual outsider whose campaign promises have been maligned and suppressed with consistent 5-2 votes. 

In my view, a “collaborative culture” is Mr. Johansson’s way of letting us know he plans to perpetuate the paralytic lockstep conformity that ensures the status quo by going along and getting along. . . 

Sound familiar?    

When asked about his financial leadership, Johansson showed the exact opposite when he responded, “I can come up with a lean budget.  I can get you to rollback (on property taxes) if you tell me what you want to cut.” 

Hell, anyone can do what their told.  That is part of the problem.   

Apparently, Mr. Johansson forgot that he is seeking a policymaking role where the tough calls are made – well outside his comfort zone as a politically unaccountable city manager who simply follows directions. 

The other pressing issue that went unaddressed at the Tiger Bay “debate” was how candidates plan to address the lack of affordable housing – a consequence of current hyperinflated rent and housing prices – which has left thousands of Volusia County families fearing homelessness in an environment where recent studies show some 45% of working households struggle to afford housing, food, and healthcare. 

In my view, wasting “economic development” resources luring low-paying jobs to a place with historically low salaries – then failing to ensure a diversity of housing options to accommodate those taking the $15 an hour warehouse scutwork and service jobs available to working families – is just another shining example of Volusia County’s piss-poor growth management planning.    

In the view of many, doing nothing is no longer an option – but that seems to be the prevailing sentiment – and not just when it comes to addressing affordable housing. . .

Look, I’m not singling out Mr. Johansson here – I don’t see a lot of substance coming from the other at-large candidates either. Each of these candidates are smart, accomplished people who bring a wealth of personal and professional experience to the table – so why are they trying so hard to avoid specifics?

For instance, speaking in sound bites (because that is what keeps candidates out of trouble), the News-Journal reported:

“Growth is not paying for itself,” Pettit said. “We need to do things to get growth under control.”

What “things”?

“Kelly said if growth isn’t controlled Volusia County will become a metropolitan area without sufficient roads.”

How?  Because that horse is already out of the barn, over the hill, and stuck in traffic on Granada Boulevard. . .

“I would love to see us not spend more money on roads,” she (Ms. Boyd) said.”

What? Our ‘powers that be’ aren’t spending money on roads now, Ms. Boyd – in fact, Volusia County doesn’t seem to have any transportation infrastructure plan at all. 

Have you traveled Williamson, Clyde Morris, ISB, Beville Road, LPGA, etc., etc., etc. lately? 

Because its only getting worse.

But with over $77,000 in Mr. Johansson’s “war chest” even before the end of the qualifying period – We, The Little People (and his wealthy political benefactors, for that matter) should expect more specificity from Mr. Johansson than tired political tropes and “not my yob” evasion on the critical issues of growth, water, housing, and transportation.

Like the biblical phrase taught, “to whom much is given, much is required” – and Mr. Johansson has been given a lot. . .

Now, the informed voters of Volusia County demand answers.

With the August primary quickly approaching, it is time for candidates in all races to stop hedging and start answering the tough questions – demonstrate their independence, acumen, and creativity – and explain to voters their unique solutions to the serious issues facing Volusia County residents.

In my view, voters deserve better than the limited option of more rubberstamped growth and keeping the public teat patent for all the right last names – or giving Chairman Brower a malleable majority for his less than well-defined strategies. 

Angels & Assholes for June 10, 2022

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               Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower

Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower fought hard for us this week.

For what its worth, I was proud of his effort – and his passion reminded me of who, and what, I voted for.     

During one of those predestined land use hearings, an annoying formality for developers who come before the dais of power and tell our elected dullards what they are going to do in their next environmental insult – a “public hearing” where the outcome always appears to be a foregone conclusion – Chairman Brower did the important job he was elected to do, spoke truth to power, asked the difficult questions, held firm to his promises, and represented the interests of We, The Little People with great courage.

Of course, none of that mattered. 

In the end, he was mocked for it by that Confederacy of Dunces he shares the dais with.

On Tuesday, engineer/landscape architect/developer Parker Mynchenberg used the old carrot and stick routine to ‘urge’ the Volusia County Council to approve a land use amendment and rezoning for two adjacent parcels along the threatened Ormond Scenic Loop to accommodate increased density for a housing development known as Dixie Ridge

With our eagerly acquiescent Volusia County Growth Facilitator Clay Ervin sitting behind him – his head bobbing up and down in enthusiastic agreement like a velvet dog in a rear window – Mr. Mynchenberg clearly had the upper hand when seeking concessions which will allow 144 single-family units to be shoehorned onto the property – up significantly from the sixty-four homes that were previously permitted.    

You read that right.

The carrot?  In exchange for the increased density, the property owners agreed to deed some 13.21-acres to Volusia County for a public park with a promise that all traffic generated by the new subdivision will transit Halifax Plantation with no access from Old Dixie Highway.  

The stick?  If Volusia County denied the density increase, the developer will simply take the public park off the table and clear the sensitive land adjacent to the Ormond Scenic Loop to accommodate twenty houses, effectively destroying what remains of this incredible environmental and aesthetic asset.

Rather than simply rollover and consent to Mr. Mynchenberg’s “request” – Chairman Brower described the hue and cry from citizens demanding change to the manner and means by which malignant growth and increased density is being forced down our throats – and he sought compromise to protect sensitive wetlands and preserve more natural space in the face of another zero lot line phalanx of cracker boxes clustered around a retention pond.

Mr. Brower also warned of Florida’s great natural population limiter – water.

As usual, his entreaties on our behalf were condescendingly ignored.

The threat was reinforced by Councilman Ben Johnson, who described it as more of a “promise” – then argued that the very concept of compromise and concession would make developers “not want to work with us in the future” – quibbling that even Ormond Beach environmental activist Suzanne Scheiber had spoken favorably of the project (she didn’t).

To his credit, Mr. Mynchenberg was quick to clarify that Ms. Scheiber was only in favor of the park donation – not the increased density.  Knowing Ms. Sheiber’s passion for preserving the character and ecology of the Ormond Scenic Loop – I’ll just bet Mr. Johnson and his “colleagues” have not heard the last from her. . . 

When Chairman Brower attempted to explain the importance of protecting the quality of life for existing residents – Councilman Johnson barked, “Don’t lecture me!” – using the Gang of Four’s typical obstructionism and bluster to effectively defend the status quo. 

In turn, Councilman Danny Robins – in his own bootlicking way – took Brower to task for not genuflecting to Mr. Mynchenberg, kissing his ass, and expressing gratitude and respect for doing us all a favor when he puled, “I think what we need to do is not look a gift horse in the mouth here.  And also what we need to do is learn how to compromise a little bit better.”

What gift?

In my view, this wasn’t a “compromise” – it was do this or else coercion.

Then, Councilman Robins launched on one of his nonsensical soliloquies, stringing together gibberish and bureaucratic bafflegab that only he understands – arms flailing about, theatrically gesticulating – somehow equating his desire for cookie cutter legislative uniformity to the “Me Too” movement (?).  

(I guess because lockstep conformity takes the thinking out of it?)

Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas of the Ormond Beach Observer aptly captured Robins’ weird analogy:

“At the end of the day, we may not like it, but this can be a hell of a lot worse,” said Robins, who added that government lacks consistency when considering development proposals, and that the council should have considered that before they bought the 36 acres of land in the Loop for preservation, comparing it to the #MeToo movement on sexual abuse and rape culture. “… We have to pick a direction and not keep flip-flopping on issues.”

What in the hell is he jabbering about? 

In my view, what Mr. Robins choses to ignore is that the singular constant in Volusia County government is that those with a chip in the game get exactly what they demand from these stalwarts of the status quo – every damn time – while the real fears of those who pay the bills are arrogantly disregarded.  

To tidy things up, that obstinate stonewaller The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, cemented what everyone knew was coming when he quit picking his teeth long enough to thank “staff” (for what?) then mumbled (without making one inquiry of staff or Mynchenberg) “Looks like a good, ah, matter to me,” then equated Chairman Brower’s attempts to address the concerns of his worried constituents to “micromanagement” before moving approval.

In turn, Ben Johnson quickly seconded Lowry’s motion.

For the uninitiated, “Dr.” Fred Lowry is the same do-nothing political retread that now wants to bring his patented stall tactics and disinterested timewasting to the Volusia County School Board. . . 

Then came the obligatory mewling and cooing of Councilmembers Barb Girtman and Billie Wheeler – who always find a way to support overdevelopment while couching their consistent “Yes” votes with a suitable amount of “hesitancy” in their voice for effect.

Bullshit.

According to Ms. Girtman’s skewed rationale, “I think this project, although it is challenging because it is more, I think there have been concessions made, and I too feel better that there’s not a crowded room standing against it.”

How disappointing.

Ms. Girtman failed to grasp that apathy is what happens when your so-called “public meeting” is held at a time when most members of the “public” are at work – and Volusia County residents have learned the futility wasting their breath before these stone-faced gargoyles – who, by public policy, refuse to answer the public’s questions and concerns.    

As a result, most taxpayers I have spoken with say they are planning to make their voices heard at the ballot box instead. . .    

Interestingly, during the hearing a retired landscape architect stood before the puppet box and asked our elected marionettes to consider the developments ultimate impact on North Beach Street traffic – before explaining the true purpose of wetlands and the importance of maintaining harmony with natural processes. 

At the end of the day, only Chairman Brower gave two-shits about us – as demonstrated by his lone “No” vote when the moment of truth came – and, like clockwork, the developer got everything they demanded on a 5-1 rubber stamp (with Councilwoman Heather Post absent.  Again.) 

Don’t take my word for it. 

Go for a drive along Old Dixie Highway and look just beyond the thin veneer of remaining “natural buffer” at what lies to the west of this once pristine ecological treasure – then watch Tuesday’s travesty here:  https://tinyurl.com/fwt8z92c   

Once you have seen it with your own eyes – ask yourself, “Who do these compromised sock puppets work for?”

And why

Interesting questions this election year, don’t you think?   

Angel              Informed Voters of Ormond Beach  

Anyone else remember the Grand Plans an Ormond Beach developer told us all to expect when he churned an old growth greenbelt on Granada Boulevard into a moonscape to make way for a convenience store, a car wash, a drive-through restaurant, bank, and a specialty grocer with obligatory retail strip center known collectively as Granada Pointe

So, what happened?  Where are all the “public benefits” we were promised?    

Now, the only established businesses are the Wawa and an automated car wash – separated by a stark vacant field that has become an unimproved parking lot for commercial vehicles – accessed by an unsightly dirt road that drains muddy water onto the paved access street – while the remaining cleared parcels on both sides of Granada Boulevard remain vacant. . . 

Many remain appalled by the nightmare of that shocking environmental abattoir – the clear-cutting that destroyed some 2,061 trees – and the roar of heavy equipment as it mechanically chewed historic hardwoods into splinters.

Remember? 

I do. 

There is still a visceral component to what residents witnessed that remains raw four-years on – a mental picture that recalls the wholesale destruction, displaced wildlife dashing about, and the ghastly odor of black muck and decaying vegetation that permeated the area for weeks.

That horrific scene confirmed to many long-suffering citizens how little our compromised elected officials care about our quality of life – or the fragile urban wildlife habitat and natural buffers that are being sacrificed to feed the insatiable greed of a few. 

Now, two perennial Ormond Beach City Commissioners with a proven history of accommodating the profit motives of speculative developers are champing at the bit to facilitate the whims of their political benefactors on a larger stage as they seek to bring their “growth at all costs” strategy to the district 4 Volusia County Council seat.   

These “Developers Darlings” are Commissioner Rob Littleton – with a current war chest of $40,886.92 – and the perennial Commissioner Troy Kent, who was first elected in 2003 and has hung on with his fingernails for the past 19-years, who has a whopping $44,001.59 in his campaign account.    

(I encourage you to check out their long and distinguished list of political benefactors here: https://tinyurl.com/3khvk4wt )

The race also includes former Seminole County Commissioner Michael McLean (?) – who is apparently running to keep the prospect of a half-cent sales tax alive – a cheap money grab that failed miserably due to a lack of public trust in our compromised elected officials. 

In a February interview with the Ormond Beach Observer, Mr. McLean said:

“His decision to run for the Volusia County Council began with the failure of the half-cent sales tax. In 2001, Seminole County passed a one-cent sales tax referendum with 72% approval, and Volusia’s failed referendum surprised him.

But what surprised him most, he said, was that it failed due to a lack of trust.

“I really think we need to re-install a sense of trust in Volusia County local government, where the voters feel that the people they’re putting up there are best to look out for their interests,” McLean said. “They may not necessarily agree with every decision that’s made, but it concerns me when folks are talking about lack of trust in their elected officials, and I like to think that maybe I can do a little bit there.”

Because everyone knows Seminole County politics are as clean as a hound’s tooth – the epitome of trustworthiness – right? 

Right. . .

I also found it disturbing when Mr. McLean explained, “Dealing with the developers, their goal is to make money and there’s nothing wrong with that,” McLean sad. “You just have to be sure that the development is smart, planned and appropriate.”

No thanks.

In my view, we’ve had all the smart, planned, and appropriate development we can stand.

According to campaign finance reports, Mr. McLean has accumulated a healthy $15,431.00 – to include a $1,000 donation from Minto Communities – the Canadian developer who brought us thousands of new neighbors at that faux-beach community over at Latitude Margaritaville. . . 

Interesting.

My suggestion (at this hour) is to consider District 4 candidate Ken Smith – a homegrown grassroots guy and long-time local business owner who lives in Ormond Beach.

According to Mr. Smith’s campaign, his priorities include no property tax increases so long as Volusia County has a surplus, no new sales tax, stop building on wetlands and reinstate protection rules, improve fire and emergency medical services, and taking back control of our county from developers, under the slogan – “Make Volusia Green, Lean, and Clean.”

He is also a proponent of Chairman Jeff Brower’s initiatives and campaign promises which have been stymied at every turn by Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard

Frankly, I like what Mr. Smith represents – and I respect the fact that he has publicly vowed not to accept campaign donations from special interests seeking to “overdevelop” Volusia County – in my view, the seminal issue of our time.

Many residents feel these massive cash infusions to hand-select candidates result in undue influence for those who purchase a chip in the game each election cycle – a process that gives the very real perception of the “pay to play” politics that has destroyed the public’s trust in their government. 

With just $4,737 in his campaign account – most of it from area residents and small businesses – Mr. Smith has an uphill battle ahead. 

For his commitment to preserving what remains of our quality of life, Mr. Smith has received the glowing endorsement of both Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post.

I’m taking a hard look at Ken Smith – as an informed voter, I hope you will too. 

Votes beat money. 

For more information, please go to www.4kensmith.com    

Quote of the Week       

“Today the Dixie Ridge density was increased from 64 to 144 homes. I voted no but was not able to change a single vote. Heather Post was not present.

The article correctly quotes me as saying the public doesn’t want this. The council took refuge in the fact only one person came to speak against the change. Perhaps that’s because Council meetings are held during working hours.

What the article does not quote me on is the larger issue we must begin dealing with. We don’t have the water. We need to change the way we are growing to protect our future.  But when will we start? This was already zoned much lower density and with enough votes a compromise could have been reached to reduce a significant density increase. That’s how it works. But the developer knew he had the votes in his pocket and didn’t need to compromise.

If you want to preserve more natural land, reduce flooding, and use less water, vote in a new council in the August primary. Four Council members are not coming back. That’s the majority. The other two are running for reelection.

Give me a new council and on January 5, 2023, the first day of the 2023 Council, I will have a vote to restore the land use designations in all large-scale comprehensive plan changes that increased density or intensity of development over the last 10 years to their previous status for all changes approved but not yet built out.

That was not even needed here. The zoning gave the landowner the right to build 64 homes. I asked to stay with the existing development rights and suggested taking nothing away from the development rights that came with the land when it was purchased. Yet the council insisted I was changing the deal on the property owner. That was never suggested.

But the deal was changed on every resident of Volusia County who have learned future land use plans, comprehensive land use plans, and established zoning means nothing when it comes to large scale development. The density was increased by a factor of 2.25 times.

The future is in your hands. Help me deliver the votes you want.”

–County Council Chair Jeff Brower commenting on the Ormond Beach Observer’s informative article, “Volusia County Council approves Dixie Ridge rezoning, future land use amendment,” on social media, Tuesday, June 7, 2022

And Another Thing!

Perhaps I’m getting sensitive in my old age.   

Or just intolerant of the over-the-top pandering and panhandling of politicians. . .

Last week, I had a mini meltdown when I saw the umpteenth candidate across a variety of races wrapping themselves in various veteran and first responder organizations – then publishing the accompanying photographs of their smiling visage standing arm-in-arm with real heroes on their campaign’s social media site.

On Memorial Day. . . 

Unfortunately, I saw the same thing during Police Week when a few brazen politicos saw fit to exploit a time set aside to honor and remember law enforcement officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice – conveniently “reminding” us ungrateful sluggards what the day means.   

Frankly, it turned my stomach. 

Is nothing sacred? 

Look, I’m a washed-up old has-been – and my military and law enforcement service were nothing special – but I have an honorable discharge, a police pension, and a tax bill that, in my jaded view, earned me the right to bitch and bemoan the sorry state of governance where I call home.

Besides, dissent and political accountability are the highest form of patriotism.   

Am I off base here?   

In the shit trench of modern political campaigns, is nothing off-limits? 

I’m asking.

All I know for certain is the politics of “personal destruction” is alive and well here on the Fun Coast, where candidates gain an advantage by cavalierly flinging baseless allegations with phony-baloney moral outrage – and the sacred symbols of service and sacrifice are hijacked and used on campaign sites in some weird “See vets, cops, and firefighters like me.  You should too!”

In my view, that’s not patriotism – it’s pandering.

I get it.  The strategy is known as “targeting” – an effective means of getting the candidate’s face and message in front of that demographic most likely to support them – which stirs up the base and helps the all-important fundraising component of any campaign. 

And these exploitative theatrics are far easier than addressing uncomfortable truths and discussing solutions to the issues important to Volusia County taxpayers – or, for incumbents seeking another bite at the apple, defending their often-abysmal record. . .   

I’m not talking about goofy politicians adopting the subliminal connotation of wearing cowboy boots because Ron DeSantis wears cowboy boots – or the political art and science of slapping backs and kissing babies – and if a candidate honorably served, they have every right to that pride and association.

But where is the low-water mark?   

Let’s cogitate on that for a while before the glossy mailers hit our mailboxes. . .

In the meantime, I hope you look at this carefully crafted imagery we are all being inundated with through an objective lens.

Ask yourself how any of this barefaced virtue signaling informs us of the candidate’s thoughts on overdevelopment, affordable housing, the destruction of our environment, water quality and quantity, taxation and fees, beach management and access, government “incentives” and the perpetuation of an artificial economy, transportation and utilities infrastructure, the property insurance debacle, the ongoing atrocity that is the Indian River Lagoon, preserving our history and culture in a place where everything is sacrificed on the altar of greed, etc., etc., etc. . . 

Ignore the contrived window-dressing of modern political campaigns, think for yourself, and demand hard answers from those seeking your vote. 

If you wear – or have worn – a uniform in service to your country or community, understand the reason these pandering politicians are seeking the imprimatur of your honor, service, and sacrifice. 

Regardless, know you cannot hurt these straw-stuffed scarecrow’s feelings – most politicians worth their salt have some hard bark – or lost the human emotions of shame and decency when they accepted their first $1000 campaign contribution. . .     

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

The Old Bamboozle

When I was young police officer, I once arrested a gentleman who was the consummate traveling confidence man, with an extraordinary talent for scamming others using card tricks, sleight-of-hand, and old-timey games like three-card-monte.

The con man would take the ace of hearts and two black queens then flip them back and forth with great flourish while the dupe tried to follow along. Pick the ace and you won the sawbuck that you and your new friend anted up to make it interesting.  

Except, he could manipulate the cards in a way that ensured you were never going to get it right.

The glib showman could talk anyone into, or out of, just about anything – using cunning and distraction (even a fake thumb he carried in his pocket) to get his marks to believe one thing, while ensuring an alternate outcome that always benefitted the bunco booth. . .      

Sound familiar?   

I hate to embarrass Volusia County residents with the litany of civic flimflams, shim-shams, confidence scams, hustles, razzle-dazzles, and good old-fashioned political treachery that we have collectively fallen victim to over the years – but, as an example – in a 2017 article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned:  

“In the 35 years since the Main Street Community Redevelopment Area was established, the city has spent about $123 million trying to improve the piece of the beachside between International Speedway Boulevard and Oakridge Boulevard.”

Really?  Where?

In the past forty-years, has anyone seen the transformative effects of that $123 million? 

I mean beyond the hard-earned progress being made by intrepid private entrepreneurs who continue to fight through the bureaucratic hoops and roadblocks to establish a presence that keeps a heartbeat on Main Street?

How about the $40 million in publicly funded “incentives” we gave the billionaires at NASCAR to publicly underwrite the One Daytona “synergistic” shopping and entertainment complex – which now shows its appreciation by charging us a one-percent “enhanced amenity fee” (a sales tax by another name) on all goods and services we purchase there – a complex that will now host a gigantic Costo Wholesale, which should effectively crush the small boutiques and specialty shops that have struggled mightily. 

So, where are all the “enhanced amenities”

Remember the $4 million that residents of Daytona Beach recently gifted to Amazon – the wealthiest on-line retailer in the solar system – for the privilege of placing a warehouse and logistics operation on the most strategically situated property on the east coast, with immediate access to the nexus of I-4, I-95, and DAB, on a promise of $15 an hour scutwork?

But what about the gridlocked traffic on already strained roadways our elected officials conveniently forgot to consider? 

How about the thousands of new cracker boxes our “powers that be” have permitted directly on top of our aquifer recharge areas west of a two-lane pinch point on Boomtown Boulevard, or the recent $2.5 million approved for a “custom” courtroom in DeLand (not a courthouse – a courtroom), or the “public/private partnerships,” “agricultural exemptions,” “economic development incentives,” etc., etc., etc.

Sorry. 

Now, in what is in my view the latest and greatest bait-and-switch sham in, oh, the last week or so – it is being reported that a group plans to erect 312 new apartments on the site of the former Regal Cinemas in Ormond Beach. 

According to a report by Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas writing in the Ormond Beach Observer:

“The complex is proposed to consist of two four-story buildings and one two-story building on the property’s 12 acres. Per city documents, two access points for the apartment complex are proposed, both on Williamson Boulevard…”

Wait a minute. . .

Anyone else remember when a group that included local developer Paul Holub purchased the property under the “215 Williamson Investors, LLC” then requested and received a Planned Business Development zoning designation?

I do. 

Ahead of the rezoning request, it was reported “…the applicant is asking the city allow a car wash, warehouse, outdoor storage, transient lodging, hospital, museum and a medical marijuana dispensary as possible future uses.”

You know, the kind of enterprises one expects at a planned business development. . . 

At the time, the Observer reported “The applicant said the property is not ideal for a big-box retailer and plans to divide it into five parcels, requiring relocation of retention ponds, for redevelopment.”

During the discussion, there was talk of a covered RV storage lot, a pharmacy, a fast-food restaurant with drive-through, a landscaped buffer and retention pond – but I’ll be dipped if I can find any reference to a massive multi-family complex. . . 

In turn, the Ormond Beach Planning Board unanimously recommended approval of the “more flexible” Planned Business Development classification which would accommodate the uses suggested.    

Now, Ormond Beach residents are about to get gored with the old “switcheroo.”

On Thursday evening the planning board will consider a request from “Southwest I-95, LLC.,” (Wait. What happened to our friends at 215 Williamson Investors?) to amend the Planned Business Development, paving the way for the demolition of the former theater to make room for 312 apartments in an area being blanketed with sticks-and-glue complexes.

I’m not a traffic engineer by any stretch, but I’ll just bet the multi-family development will result in thousands of new “trip generations” per day on already inundated roads and thoroughfares – in keeping with our current shove ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag growth management strategy. . .

Look, us rubes (read: Volusia County taxpayers) have grown used to having growth and increased density floated past us with the dexterity of a card mechanic. 

In some weird trauma response, it appears we have become apathetic to the repeat victimization – simply tuning out when our local elected officials bandy about terms like “planning,” “zoning,” “concurrency,” or tell us fairytales of “low-impact development,” and “conservation corridors.”

We no longer expect anything but more of the same. . .

Because when we balk – developers threaten they have a God-given right to do anything they want on their slice of the pie citing “property rights,” (theirs, not yours) and the adverse impact on existing residents be damned. . .   

A smart friend told me land use and valuation are based on the concept of “highest and best use” – within reason and zoning ordinances – theoretically meaning the City of Ormond Beach cannot allow an industrial medical waste incinerator in your backyard. 

(Somewhere I hear a medical waste incinerator executive with a pocketful of campaign donations saying, “Hold my beer…”)

Whatever.

Unfortunately, we live in an era where anything is possible.

In my jaded view, once again, We, The Little People are being bamboozled – in a weird cups-and-balls ruse we cannot possibly win – told to expect one thing, then forced to tolerate more, more, more impacts on our quality of life as amendments, accommodations, and rezoning approvals ensure the profit motives of speculative real estate developers who never seem to give us all the facts up front. 

Every time. 

And there are no signs that this massive overdevelopment across the width and breadth of Volusia County is going to slow anytime soon as those with a chip in the game take advantage of an overpriced housing market and unsustainable rental rates even as the market becomes saturated and diluted. . .

For instance, on Wednesday evening a neighborhood meeting will be held to discuss the proposed Tymber Creek Apartments project which could see construction of a 300-unit ten building complex near the busy intersection of Tymber Creek Road and Granada Boulevard.

You read that right.     

The meeting begins at 6:00pm at the Coquina Presbyterian Church at 2085 West Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach. 

If you plan on attending, leave early. 

You’re going to need the extra time. . . 

Angels & Assholes for June 3, 2022

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               Daytona Beach Police Department

The fundamentals of crowd management, intervention, and event containment are hard-earned lessons that involve meticulous planning, intelligence analysis, more planning, establishing objectives and expectations, more planning, tasking and deployment, more planning, team communication, more planning, monitoring crowd behavior and dynamics, more planning, decisive command and control, more planning, managing equipment and assets, more planning, coordinating resources, more planning, scheduling rest, water, meals, evacuating casualties, accounting for and supporting deployed personnel, more planning, etc., etc., etc. – all while factoring the myriad considerations of how large groups of people and traffic can safely exit the area should a disturbance ignite, etc., etc., etc.

Did I mention the importance of meticulous contingency planning? 

Managing crowds and dynamic events is both an art and science, and when shit hits the fan, it becomes readily apparent who got it right and who got in wrong. . . 

In my experience, the New Orleans Police Department is among the best in the world at crowd and event management and in 2019 I watched the London Metropolitan Police Department effectively deal with the disruptive Extinction Rebellion climate protests with great skill and efficiency using dialog with organizers, patience, and calming tactics (augmented with an incredibly well-organized uniformed show of force). 

Yet, despite their best planning and intentions, all law enforcement commanders know – when dealing with large groups of people in a confined space – when things go wrong, it happens quickly, and with deadly momentum. 

On Memorial Day weekend, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young understood the assignment.

Unfortunately, the curse of law enforcement is that every day, extraordinary acts of individual heroism, selflessness, moral courage, and kindness go unacknowledged – while every negative situation, both real and perceived, is played out in excruciating detail on the frontpage and six-o’clock news.

As the most visible arm of government – a chain of mistakes months, sometimes years in the making – are often perceived as the fault of law enforcement, especially in the era of omnipresent cameras and social media platforms where everyone becomes an instant expert on (insert travesty of the day here).

Last weekend, Halifax area residents were bracing for yet another “invasion event” – this time known as “Orlando Invades Daytona/Litlando 2022.” 

In previous years, the Memorial Day weekend event resulted in massive crowds, traffic gridlock, gunfire, fights, and out-of-control crowds, culminating in numerous arrests as the event became another blemish on Daytona Beach’s already pockmarked “hospitality product.”

In fact, last year the crush of people caused police to rightfully close all bridges between the mainland and beachside for several hours resulting in angry complaints from residents and visitors – many of whom vowed never to return.

Last Saturday, the potential for overcrowding and stalled traffic was exacerbated by the hundreds of families attending local high school graduations at Ocean Center on one of the busiest days of the holiday weekend.

In his own confident and composed way, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young led his officers and staff with great professionalism while sending the simple message to visitors, “Don’t start nothing, there won’t be nothing.” 

To ensure adequate staffing, Chief Young cancelled days off for his officers and placed barricades along busy sections of A-1-A to keep traffic lanes open and assist with pedestrian safety.  The department’s extensive planning and expert coordination with other law enforcement agencies and support services was evident from the beginning.   

In my view, the Daytona Beach Police Department did an outstanding job of managing a very busy weekend with great skill and have rightfully earned the admiration of a thankful community. 

Kudos to Chief Young and his superb officers, command staff, and civilian support personnel for a job well done!

Angel               Former Volusia County Councilwoman Vicky Jackson

In the early 1990’s, Vicky Jackson served on the Volusia County Council during a period of incredible progress – and tumult – a time when her commitment to ‘balance’ meant that all interests and viewpoints received consideration in the spirit of compromise and conciliation. 

Widely hailed for her incredibly sharp and independent mind, Ms. Jackson championed diverse causes and innovative solutions – such as her proposal for a countywide water authority to find comprehensive answers to future threats to our water quality and quantity (fears which have now come home to roost) always ensuring that all sides of the growth management equation were heard. 

In an October 1990 endorsement by the Orlando Sentinel, Ms. Jackson said: “The builders and developers can claim me just as the environmentalists can.”

As a concerned and involved citizen, in later years Ms. Jackson was an avid reader of Barker’s View and I will miss her astute observations and encouragement whenever she texted me with her insightful thoughts on the issues of the day.

Sadly, the intrepid Vicky Jackson passed away this week – an immeasurable loss to her family, friends, former colleagues, and constituents.   

The steadiness and poise in public service that she represented will be sorely missed.

Asshole           “Partisan Political Operatives”

I happen to believe that Florida has become the biggest whorehouse in the world. 

Your views may differ – that’s cool – and I remember those halcyon days when I lived in a world of blissful naivety, one with cotton candy clouds and big rock candy mountains, where those who ran for elective office were the local butcher, baker, and candlestick maker whose only motive was to serve their community and improve their neighbors quality of life. . .    

Not anymore. 

From experience, I now look at everything coming out of Tallahassee (and DeLand) through a greasy lens of suspicion. 

For instance, when I read about water quality projects, my internal voice naturally drifts to the dark side, “Are these really resource protection measures – or just carefully camouflaged, state funded capacity building projects to accommodate more development in our sensitive watershed?”  

I suppose that pathological distrust comes from the same atavistic instinct that has Volusia County residents asking, “qui bono” each time local government (and its facilitators at the CEO Business Alliance) beg for a sales tax increase to improve our horribly neglected transportation infrastructure – all while the bloated, do-nothing bureaucracy in DeLand continues to grub for more, more, more tax hikes and fees like a parasitic insect slowly exsanguinating its host.

When we question “Why?” our craven elected elite look down their noses and tell us – “Because you asked for it, asshole” – punishing us rubes (read: taxpayers) for having the temerity to fund a means of preserving sensitive lands and saving what is left of our environment, culture, and history.

Some well-meaning people remind me, “Hey, Barker, it’s a political problem that requires a political solution,” conveniently forgetting that our upside-down campaign finance scheme all but guarantees the stagnant status quo by allowing uber-wealthy insiders to shove massive contributions into the swollen campaign war chests of hand select marionettes who always seem of a like-mind when it comes time to vote on the issues important to their title-holder’s bottom line. . . 

Trust me.  It is worse in state and federal elections where the return on investment is exponentially more lucrative for those with a chip in the game.  

In my view, this week’s arrest of a “ghost” and two political operatives – to include the chair of the Seminole County Republican Party – who were allegedly involved in a ‘shill candidate‘ scheme proves that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Public Corruption Unit should be working in shifts. 

Now, before you get your knickers in a wad and paint this as a partisan hit piece – it isn’t. 

I am a true and registered NPA – No Party Affiliate – of the mind that neither Republicans or Democrats have the best interests of our state or nation at heart; instead  paying partisan fealty to the divisive and extremist views of incredibly wealthy shadow warriors who force us into a horrific Hobson’s choice each election cycle.

Last week, FDLE agents arrested the three on campaign-finance violations following an investigation into the activities of Jestine Iannotti, a clueless (and cashless) foil who willingly ran as an NPA candidate in name only, backed and financed by “partisan political operatives” in the state Senate District 9 race in 2020.

In a prepared statement, State Attorney Phil Archer of the 18th Judicial Circuit said:

“Some NPA (no party affiliation) candidates, commonly referred to as ‘ghost’ candidates, have been used by political parties as a way to close elections or siphon off votes.  While not illegal per se, many have questioned the ethics of the practice. However, when that candidate and the partisan political operatives involved violate election finance laws by illegally funding those races and filing false reports, it is the responsibility of government to act. Today’s actions represent our commitment to ensuring the integrity of Florida’s election process and holding those who violate state campaign laws accountable.”

I am not going to rehash the FDLE investigation – and some questions remain – but suffice it to say, the findings waft a whiff of the shit over some powerful sitting state officials, “political action committees,” and several shady “operatives” who manipulate the financial rods and strings of Florida political campaigns. 

Don’t think questionable tactics are used locally?  Think again.

Anyone remember Volusia Citizens for Good Government

I do.  

That strange political action committee linked to Eric “The Prince of Darkness” Robinson that was used against Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower in 2020?

For the uninitiated, Mr. Robinson is a Venice, Florida-based accountant and political operative who likes to call himself “The Prince of Darkness” for his role as the ‘money man’ behind scores of Florida political campaigns.

In 2017, Sarasota Magazine said of Mr. Robinson, “Several of those campaigns tarred opponents in mailers with false accusations and hid the names of donors, often land developers and other wealthy businessmen, behind patriotic-sounding, made-up groups such as “Stand for Veterans” and “Working Together for Florida.”

Ah, the infamous “glossy mailer” – with the candidate, his/her spouse, and their 2.3 children and rented dog, all comfortably barefoot (because they are just like you), clad in white shirts and blue jeans, sitting arm-in-arm on some idyllic beach – those two-sided postcards chock full of dubious accomplishments and horseshit allegations that are now de rigueur for any competitive campaign. 

Watch for those turds to begin filling up your mailbox anytime now – all perfectly legal in today’s no-holds-barred political arena – but, trust me, you are going to want to wash your hands after touching them. . .   

It is scumbags like those behind these ‘shill candidate’ scams – those quisling backstabbers, misleading rumor mongers, political pimps, poseurs, and shakedown artists – who are destroying the public’s trust in our most sacred democratic institution.

In my view, once exposed, these dirty tricksters should all be locked in the jougs and given the bastinado treatment in some dark hole at the Florida State Prison at Raiford as an example to the many others who haven’t been ferreted out.  Yet. 

Unfortunately, we now live in an era where these filthy tactics are expected – and any campaign who doesn’t stoop to them are quickly bested by those who do. 

My God.

In my view, this electoral shim-sham exemplifies the importance of becoming an “informed voter” – doing the research, reviewing campaign finance reports, asking the tough questions, determining debts and loyalties, always calling ‘bullshit’ when you see it – then weighing if a candidate’s promises, deportment, and focus on the issues (or voting record as an incumbent) comport with what you see with your own eyes. 

Unfortunately, sorting the wheat from the chaff is increasingly difficult in this weird place and time when nothing is as it seems. . .

Kudos to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Public Corruption Unit for having the courage to follow the evidence, expose this filth to the cleansing light of day, and bring those responsible for maliciously manipulating our democratic system to justice. 

It’s a good start. 

Now, it is time for those guys and gals to get back to work.  They have a long way to go before they rest. . . 

Quote of the Week

“What goes up is still going up, as Volusia County real estate values and tax roll set new records.

The county Property Appraiser’s Office has just released the 2022 pre-preliminary tax roll, and the figures show double-digit growth in the market values of property in the county.

“It’s hot all over,” Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett told The Beacon, regarding the scramble to buy and hold onto a piece of the county.

Within the past year, the overall worth of all property — land, homes, commercial, industrial, institutional and tax-exempt — increased to $81.6 billion — a whopping 18.8 percent higher than the 2021 high of $68.6 billion.

Of that grand total, $48.3 billion is taxable by the county, cities, state agencies such as the School Board, and special jurisdictions such as hospital districts. The county’s 2022 tax roll is 13.1 percent larger, up from $42.7 billion last year.”

–Al Iverson, writing in the West Volusia Beacon, “Volusia County property values, tax roll set new records,” Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Interesting Factoid:

“Volusia County has one of the highest median property taxes in the United States and is ranked 630th of the 3143 counties in order of median property taxes.  The average yearly property tax paid by Volusia County residents ($1,713.00) amounts to about 3.35% of their yearly income. Volusia County is ranked 433rd of the 3143 counties for property taxes as a percentage of median income.”  (According to www.tax-rates.org

And Another Thing!

Distraction

Something that distracts: an object that directs one’s attention away from something else.  “One created a distraction while the other grabbed the money.”  That which amuses, entertains, or diverts; amusement; entertainment: division or disorder caused by dissension; tumult.

Interesting. . . 

A classic tale of political treachery involves a disturbing strategy often attributed to Lyndon B. Johnson:

As the story goes, during a heated campaign a Texas politician tells his campaign manager to spread a rumor regarding his opponent’s fondness for having carnal knowledge of his barnyard pigs.

“My God!  We can’t do that!  It isn’t true!” the campaign manager protests.

‘I know it’s not true, but let’s make the sonofabitch deny it!” the candidate says. . .

Most smart politicians understand the slaughterhouse politics inherent to Volusia County, and like any good chess player, candidates must strategize at least three moves ahead rather than paint themselves in a corner.   

Others?  Not so much. 

Those rubes take the bait every time – caving to the wants and whims of insiders and those on the periphery of politics who they think can help further their ambitions – or indulge themselves in theatrically overreacting to every perceived slight.    

Last week, I caught some serious back-channel heat for venting my spleen about the unfortunate (and on-going) commotion surrounding the Volusia Teenage Republican Club’s failure to invite At-Large Volusia County Council candidate Sherrise Boyd to a “debate” at DeLand City Hall last month. 

Although one politically astute reader seemed duly impressed that I found a way to publicly spank each of the candidates involved in the dust-up – to include that hyper-sensitive phony Jake Johansson – a declared candidate for the At-Large seat who sparked the whole mess when he got the vapors and cried foul after the fact.

For those new to these screeds, finding fault with others while ignoring my own shortcomings is my only superpower. . . 

Whatever.

At the risk of belaboring this goofy tempest in a teapot, the Volusia Teenage Republican Club is heavily stacked with County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s family members – with his wife serving in an advisory role while his son chair’s the executive board – giving the unmistakable impression that the club is being used as a dull tool to support those candidates Mr. Brower has endorsed.

Naturally, that makes the club a prime target for those Chairman Brower doesn’t support. . . 

Whether true or not – the perception is inescapable – and those who are paid to effectively manage political campaigns are smart enough to exploit that.     

Every time. 

Again, I don’t want to perpetuate this silly bruhaha – but I stand by my original jaded opinion of this shitshow – and the issues, strategy, and players involved. 

Nobody “won” – and any candidate who thinks they did is delusional.

Trust me.  Things are just beginning to heat up this campaign season, and if history is any predictor, these “distractions” are about to get far nastier than a schoolyard spit-spat with a group of partisan adolescents stung by hardball politics. . . 

In my view, the “win at all costs” carnage we are about to witness is the backwash of an age-old Fun Coast Faustian bargain – where mediocre candidates for high office sell their political souls in the name of crony capitalism and the consolidation of power.

That has absolutely nothing to do with representing the interests of the citizens of Volusia County and everything to do with influential insiders and their corporate entities looking to secure a political return from their malleable handmaidens. 

And the stakes are high.

I encourage you to stay focused on the issues – ignore the distractions – and demand that political candidates do the same.

The result of this repeated sleight-of-hand is a slow erosion of the public’s trust in the legitimacy of the political process – diversions that only benefit those few with a chip in the game.   

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

Moratoriums & Morality

Last Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Southgate, Kentucky – a conflagration that took the lives of 165 people and injured more than 200 – the seventh deadliest night club fire in history. 

The carnage resulted in the modernization of fire codes and safety regulations around the world, to include improvements in construction, fire walls, wiring codes, roof support structures, the use of combustible materials, fire exits, occupancy limits, sprinkler systems, and strengthened governmental inspection, oversight, and enforcement.

Because it was the right thing to do – and in the aftermath of a tragedy – regulatory agencies could no longer turn a blind eye to substandard practices, dangerous materials, and construction on-the-cheap. . .

Inconceivably, last year, a Northern Kentucky property developer, builder, and realty group purchased the hallowed site (which some family members claim still hold the unrecovered remains of their loved ones) with plans to begin construction of a “mixed use residential” development known by the macabre name “Memorial Pointe,” which will include 90 homes (from the upper $300’s), 200 luxury apartments, and a senior living facility.

My God. Is nothing sacred?

A previous lawsuit filed by a group called “Beverly Hills Respect the Dead” was settled in 2020 and will allow survivors and family members to raise funds for a memorial to be placed on the approximate location of the supper club’s former Cabaret Room where most of the victims died – with access controlled by the homeowner’s association – and a public memorial, paid for by the developer, to be placed at the bottom of the hill which “characterizes the development site.”

Not much moves me anymore – but this took me aback. 

In context, I thought about the current wrangling in Wild West Volusia where a developer is fighting to place a subdivision – which may one day be home to your children and grandchildren – which is to be built on top of a contaminated former golf course that was once a city dump

You read that right.

According to a December 2021 report by business editor Clayton Park writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, citizens became concerned when pesticides and dangerous chemicals were detected in preliminary soil tests conducted on the former Sandhill Golf Course site by an engineering consulting firm hired by the Orlando developer. 

“The preliminary tests found evidence of both pesticides in the soil from the nearly five decades that the site was a golf course from 1968 until its closure in 2017, as well as contaminants possibly dating back to when portions of the property was a sand mine and city dump used by both area residents and businesses in the 1940s and ’50s.”

Unthinkably, rezoning for the 168-acre site which, when complete, will hold some 600 homes, was approved on first reading by a 3-2 vote in February – with DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar and City Commissioners Kevin Reid and Charles Paiva voting in favor – while City Commissioners Chris Cloudman and Jessica Davis rightfully voted on the side of caution.

(If you vote in the City of DeLand and care about overdevelopment, you might want to jot that down and tape it to the refrigerator.)

The matter will come back before the DeLand City Commission in June once environmental hazard remediation plans are finalized. . .

With former golf courses like Tomoka Oaks, River Bend, and Indigo Lakes firmly in the sights of insatiable developers whose voracious appetite allows no quarter for wildlife, natural places, or environmental dangers – can paving over cemeteries, bulldozing gravestones, and making way for hundreds of zero lot line wood frame cracker boxes be far behind? 

I’m asking. Because it appears nothing is out-of-bounds now.

Open any newspaper in Florida and chances are the ‘Local’ section will have at least one article with the lede, “More than 100 people gathered this week to show their displeasure at a proposed land use and zoning change that could bring more than XXXX housing units to their area. . .” 

Much to the consternation of malleable elected officials whose campaign coffers are brimming with cash from development interests, We, The Little People are becoming increasingly aware of the fact we are caught in a tightening vice of unchecked sprawl across the width and breadth of the Sunshine State. 

The same is true here on the Fun Coast, as residents from Oak Hill to the Flagler County line see malignant growth threatening our quality of life, sensitive wetlands and waterways, and already strained transportation/utilities infrastructure.

Last year about this time, the Deltona City Commission lamented the fact that, like many other municipalities, the public perception is that developers are in control of the land use and rezoning process – because they are.

During a May 3, 2021, meeting “Interim” City Manager-for-Life John Peters suggested a six-month moratorium on RPUD approvals to give the planning staff time to hold workshops and strengthen codes and ordinances. 

One year later (?), on May 18, the Deltona Planning and Zoning Board voted to support a pause on new housing development.  Although the board’s vote is “advisory only,” the City Commission will consider it when they vote on the measure next month. 

According to an excellent article by Al Iverson writing in the West Volusia Beacon, “It would freeze RPUD developments – residential planned unit developments – requesting zoning changes to allow for custom neighborhoods that often are more dense than the land’s regular zoning allows.”

If approved, the moratorium will remain in effect for six-months beginning July 1 and will only affect single-family detached dwellings.   

The measure is being debated during massive sprawl which is consuming the whole of Volusia County – to include the recent approval of another 122 homes at Lakeside Landing in Deltona following a rezoning request that came with a $30,000 sweetener – a “donation” from the developer to be used to resurface Monterey and Tradewinds drives. 

Thirty grand. . .

According to a Beacon report, “The homes will be built on lots generally smaller than those in the older surrounding neighborhood in the south-central part of Deltona.” 

Sound familiar?  Regardless of where you live in Volusia County, it should. . . 

I wonder if this latest approval was the result of the old “Ask for 131 homes, then make them feel like you made a concession for the 120 you wanted” ruse?

In March, the DeLand City Commission approved a lukewarm resolution limiting annexations for residential development. 

What is being called a toothless “non-moratorium moratorium” does nothing to stop developers from submitting applications for annexation for development – or the City Commission for reviewing and approving them – but that is not what it was meant to accomplish.

Clearly, this was a “feel good” move designed to salve the very real fears of DeLand residents who are feeling the claustrophobic effects of explosive growth.   

Of course, even a tap-of-the-brakes on the current lucrative growth at all cost scheme will no doubt result in more clamor from the development community as they demand more, more, more from their marionettes on the dais of power in (you name the jurisdiction) under the mantra of “property rights” – which has become a blanket protection for the ‘do what cha’ wanna’ carte blanche developers have come to expect. 

In my view, many current local planning and zoning ordinances have been exploited by developers in this cram ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag strategy that is now forcing municipalities to consider increasing consumptive use permits allowing more straws in the public drinking water supply to accommodate this unsustainable growth. 

Now, it is time for the pendulum to swing in favor of those of us dealing with the fallout. . .

Look, no one is suggesting that all growth be stopped indefinitely – hell, that’s blasphemous in this build-at-all-cost developer’s paradise. 

The idea of temporary good faith moratoria to allow local governments to determine how they want to grow, what low-impact strategies and environmental designs citizens want, and which ordinances and zoning regulations communities need to protect their finite water quantity and quality amidst the pernicious cycle of: Rezone, Increase density, Build cookie cutter sticks-&-glue project, rinse, repeat – makes good civic sense.  

In my view, now that even contaminated dumps are no barrier to a developer’s greed, placing reasonable restrictions and protective regulations – then sticking to them – is a moral and ethical imperative.    

And only our sacred vote can turn the tide.