On Volusia: What’s Changed?

If anyone still believes our elected representatives on the Volusia County Council have anything but utter distain for you and me – their long-suffering constituents – you should watch the council comments section at the bitter end of their June 16th public meeting.

Over the top.

It was like watching the outbreak of some virulently contagious form of emotional dysregulation disorder wash over the chamber.

Following a meeting which saw County Manager Jim Dinneen pull off his latest escape –  with the political dexterity and deft manipulation of Harry Houdini – Mr. Dinneen clearly orchestrated a maneuver whereby he “asked” to vacate the contractual obligation of a six-month transition period – allowing him to saunter out of the building with a groaning wheelbarrow full of greenbacks on his way to his next “gig.”

The rest of us?  Well, we’re left holding the bag. . .

Get used to it – it’s not the first time a sketchy city/county manager slipped the noose and beat for the hills with a sack full of cash – and it won’t be the last.

In fact – lucrative severance packages are this mercenary professions stock-in-trade – and Jim Dinneen has already forgotten the name “Volusia County.”

You see, getting sentimentally attached to the rubes you fleece just muddies the water in his business.

But what happened next on the dais was truly disturbing – like watching some goofy community theater troupe botching an extemporaneous performance of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Look, I’ve been around the block a few times – but rarely have I seen this brand of overacted melodrama – it was Pomposity on Parade – marked by the hyper-emotional venting of our thin-skinned politicians during what transformed from a slightly uncomfortable public meeting into the exorcism segment of the Rite of Beatification for Saint James Dinneen.

It was an extraordinary example of a shamefully self-indulgent political pity party – a juvenile overreaction by a camarilla of self-centered egomaniacs acting out – and it was painful to watch.

At the risk of sounding cruel – open weeping, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by those in a position of leadership mourning the loss of an appointed official with a long history of five-alarm fuck-ups – especially one who commanded over $300,000 in salary and benefits – doesn’t engender confidence.

Seriously, to see Old Ed weeping like a lachrymose grandmother over the death of an entrenched power structure doesn’t inspire confidence in his leadership – or emotional stability.

In fact, it makes me question how these hyper-sensitive blowhards would react during an actual crisis?

Scary.

From Billie Wheeler’s angry indictment of citizens exercising their sacred First Amendment right to voice  political dissension on social media – to “Sleepy” Pat Patterson using his one fleeting moment of lucidity to call Sheriff Mike Chitwood “the most unprofessional” he’d ever seen – to our doddering fool of a County Chair questioning the veracity of the grieving mother of a dead child who desperately tried to call attention to the serious issues at the Medical Examiner’s Office – it was repugnant.

Then the always arrogant Deb Denys spewed the stunner, “If anyone here thinks the next manager is going to walk on water, I need to launch you on the next rocket out of here!”

dinneen door
“You see over there?  That’s the door.  Don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out.” 

Really, Deb?

Hey, Deb – no one expects an omnibenevolent, supernatural deity in flowing robes at the helm – just a hardworking chief executive with the smarts and professional ethics to conduct the people’s business in a fair, transparent, inclusive and efficient manner that builds consensus and shows respect for the sanctity of the democratic process – and our hard-earned tax dollars.

Is that too much to ask?

Whatever.

More troubling was that the incessant rambling and fawning from the dais incorporated a complete rewrite of history by weak-minded politicians with an obvious selective memory.

After tidying up the Dineen ugliness – a performance that was clearly choreographed in advance – our “leadership” used their open discussion period, not to communicate and calm the fears of a worried constituency, but instead, they used it as another opportunity to horsewhip Councilwoman Heather Post – up to and including openly accusing her of ‘cyber-bullying’ and suggesting her condemnation of Mr. Dinneen’s maladministration was criminal.

Fucking hypocrites.

I have a personal rule – I never feel sorry for someone making over $250,000 a year.  It’s just not worth the emotional capital – and besides, I don’t think Little Jimmy is too worried about where his next meal is coming from.

And I certainly never feel sorry for politicians who stand for election – do and say everything and anything to win elevation to a position of power and influence – then feign that their feelings get bruised like a ripe peach whenever those pesky citizens who voted for them question why they refuse to represent their interests.

We’re not talking about some hayseed caucus in Hooterville here – these people are in the Big League now – and they have a sworn responsibility to steward hundred-of-millions of taxpayer dollars, ensure the quality of essential government services to some 500,000 people and provide oversight to a massive bureaucracy with a lot of moving parts.

No one expects them to get it right all the time – but what we will not tolerate is open corruption, abject mismanagement and the stench of lies.

Regardless, dry-up the waterworks and grow some bark.

As Harry S. Truman was fond of saying, “If you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen.”

In my view, any politician worth his or her salt should understand that We, The People have a right and a responsibility to petition our government for the redress of grievances – and when our voices are ignored, and our concerns dismissed as they have been for months, then there will be calls for change.

Sometimes vehemently.

We have stood helplessly and witnessed a slow erosion of trust and public confidence in Volusia County government.

Institutions and processes we once thought were inviolate have been compromised by uber-wealthy opportunists who routinely access public funds for private profit motives with the full acquiescence – and encouragement – of those we elected to represent our interests.

Then, when mechanisms put in place by our supposedly sacrosanct Home Rule Charter to provide oversight and accountability of a county manager with overwhelming, almost autonomous power, are disabled or ignored – we have a right to be concerned – and to voice our frustration by the most expedient means possible.

Councilwoman Billie Wheeler should understand that thanks to social media, citizens now have the opportunity to identify others who are similarly situated – with the same values, fears and concerns – then join together to exchange ideas and discuss their collective vision for the future.

Those of us who use social media are neither always right, nor always wrong, but it is clear that technology is changing the way people take their news, form opinions and view their government.

Frankly, we’re a group of taxpayers that have collectively realized we’re all mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

As elected officials, the Volusia County Council should understand this growing frustration and embrace the real-time political thermometer that social media represents to savvy politicians – then use it to their advantage, and ours, as Heather Post has done.

Our own elected Rip Van Winkle “Sleepy” Pat Patterson wearily lamented from the dais today that friends often ask him “What’s changed?” – why is everyone so mean-spirited these days?

The answer is, everything has changed – and nothing has changed.

Just a different ass in the same leather wing-back chair – with the same controlling factors at play.

Unfortunately, those awkward dullards on the dais of power cannot seem to grasp that issues and opinions now move at the speed of the internet – and cheapjack political sleight-of-hand like we saw today no longer fools anyone.

Frankly, today marked the end of a sad chapter in a book full of political mistakes, malfeasance,  power-plays and tin-pot tyrants that have plagued the Fun Coast since our inception – and so long as Mr. Dinneen vacates our public administration building by close of business Friday – we can all rest comfortably knowing he’ll soon be someone else’s problem.

Unfortunately, the sins of Jim Dinneen were merely a symptom of a much deeper, much darker issue in Volusia County government.

It is time to fundamentally change this foul oligarchical system by electing servant-leaders who place service above self – and the needs and wants of their constituents above the private profit motives of the few.

That change begins at the ballot box.

 

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: “A Public Office is a Public Trust”

Article II, Section 8, Florida Constitution: “A public office is a public trust.”

For many, public service is a calling – a true willingness to serve others, a chance to work hard in a cause greater than ones own self-interests – and make their community, state or nation a better place.

For others, it is a means to an end.

A “gig” where you get to make the rules – and play with other people’s money with very little direct oversight – and employment protections the average citizen will never know.

Sometimes those in positions of power – with incredible influence over the lives and livelihoods of others – get confused.

When everyone laughs at their jokes, complements their tie, and agrees with them on decisions large and small – these “leaders” lose touch with reality and consider themselves invincible – blinded by that hubristic feeling of pompous omnipotence.

Add the external pressures of an enormous salary and benefits package – and near total political control over those elected to set public policy – and bad things happen.

It’s a problem as old as politics – and the ash heap of history is littered with the festering political carcasses of shitheels who couldn’t balance power with humility.

I see my role as an alternative blogger – a shit-stirring, pain in the ass critic who “points out where the strong man stumbled” and pokes fun at these haughty egomaniacs – as important to maintaining balance and accountability in a process that has neither.

Now that County Manager Jim Dinneen is on the ropes – many others are coming forward, shining a very bright light on a very dark and slippery period of our history here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

From public safety unions to Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Councilwoman Heather Post – to the average Joe and Jane Lunchpail on the street – every day more citizens are openly calling for the immediate removal of this greedy little shyster who has for a decade stood as a mean-spirited barricade to substantive progress – the very personification of a weird brand of quid pro quo corruption that has gone from the shadows to the norm in Volusia County.

Like the old Bedouin proverb teaches, “As the camel falls to its knees, more knives are drawn. . .”

A smart friend recently called and asked how it feels to have everything I’ve written in the past two-and-a-half years validated over the course of two-days?

The answer: It’s bittersweet.

Look, there is no ‘victory’ here – and even if County Manager Jim Dinneen is run out of town on a rail at today’s County Council meeting – he still walks with a quarter-million-dollars of our money stuffed in a greasy paper bag, thanks to a one-sided employment contract that was specifically written to ensure a soft landing when Dinneen’s sins against the public trust were inevitably exposed.

Some call it a “golden parachute” – but it’s more akin to good old-fashioned buggery – and the county attorney who swallowed an antiemetic and approved it should be placed in stocks and given the Bastinado treatment in front of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center.

If you haven’t read it – I urge everyone to take note – because We, The People will be entering into another employment agreement with yet another itinerant manager in coming months.

In a 2011 rewrite of the agreement – just days before the Florida Legislature limited severance packages for public officials to an amount no greater than 20-weeks salary – Mr. Dinneen was permitted to include onerous language which skirts the law and provides him with a prize package worth nearly $250,000 for some convoluted assistance in finding his replacement.

Now, County Attorney Dan Eckert – a recipient of public funds who continues to serve his master like the neutered lapdog he is (Dan’s a tiger when he’s suing the citizens of Volusia County, but yellow to the core when it comes time to protect them from a little man with a God complex) – is doing his level best to convince those dullards we elected to represent our interests that Dinneen – who has now been exposed as a weeping chancre on our system of governance – has a lead pipe cinch on his obscene severance package.

Fucking coward.

Something tells me this isn’t going to end well for Dan, his Machiavellian prince – or any elected official who continues to support this absurd, bullying farce that has destroyed the public’s trust and confidence in their government.

Like some maniacal Paul Revere on a drunken midnight ride, I’ve been screaming to anyone who would listen that Volusia County has, for the past decade, been hijacked by a cabal of cheapjack greed-heads who use our intentionally squirrely campaign finance laws to pour hundreds-of-thousands of dollars into the war chests of hand-select candidates as a means of maintaining direct access to the public trough.

Damn if I wasn’t right after all.

If you don’t believe me – simply take a stroll down memory lane and match the campaign contributions to the names, addresses and corporate entities – then see how our honorable council members voted when it came time for their sugar daddies to collect a return on investment.

I have a working theory that this bastardized “system” works, in part, because it is wholly facilitated by the ultimate authority under our holy and hallowed Home Rule Charter – County Manager Jim Dinneen.

In turn, the oligarchs who routinely use our tax dollars and public assets for personal profit motives provide Mr. Dinneen with a level of political protection not seen since the days of Gangland Chicago.

How?  By controlling the campaign funding spigot.

The true sin surrounding Jim Dinneen’s skullduggery is that some of those we have elected and appointed to positions of high public trust continue to defend the indefensible – even as physical and anecdotal evidence mounts that his actions may well represent a textbook case of official misconduct.

In my view, despite Dan Eckert’s spineless quibbling – I believe our elected officials have all the evidence they need to dismiss Mr. Dinneen’s hastily crafted resignation – then jettison his mendacious ass under the “just cause” provisions of the termination clause of his contract, which specifically prohibits a “violation of applicable state or County ethics provisions.”

In July 2015, the Volusia County Council – including current members Joyce Cusack, the always arrogant Deb Denys and The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry – voted 6-0 to appropriate some $50,000 in public funds for a study of impact fees by Texas-based Duncan Associates (“Sleepy” Pat Patterson was strategically absent that day.)

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “But what members of the County Council, most of the public, and even those city leaders didn’t know is this: The county received a 52-page impact fee study two years ago that recommended fees almost three times higher in some categories and a change to a county ordinance the consultants deemed overly generous to developers.”

Shocking?  You bet your ass it is.

When the results of the study were received by Mr. Dinneen and his staff in September 2016, the expert’s findings weren’t what they wanted to hear – and they damn sure weren’t what area developers (who have turned our democratic process into little more than a livestock auction) wanted to hear.

So, a study conducted in the public interest, and paid for with public funds, was willfully and intentionally suppressed – never allowed to see the light-of-day – even as the county council struggled mightily with the impact fee issue both before, during and after the half-cent sales tax debacle was formally removed from the ballot due to mounting citizen concern that developers were not carrying their fair share of the load.

Turns out they weren’t.

In an asinine, and incredibly self-incriminating statement to News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, the hapless Clay Ervin, Volusia County’s director of growth and resource management (?), claimed the report was a mere “draft.”

“Whenever you go out for public review, you want to make sure the documentation is accurate and reflects the intent and purpose.”

My ass.

What consultant with a shred of credibility sends a “draft” of their $50,000 findings – as if to say, “If you fellas don’t like these figures, I’m sure we can dig around the store room and find something you like better.” 

To add insult, just two-weeks ago, Dinneen, Ervin and Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald sat in stone silence like the Three Wise Monkeys as those hapless dupes on the  council voted to expend even more public funds with Duncan Associates.

That was the exact second their careers – and what little was left of their professional credibility – gave up the ghost.

I mean, if Duncan’s methodology was so “flawed” that senior staff dismissed their findings out-of-hand – and kept the study out of sight for two-years – then why in the hell would anyone in their right mind go back and pay them even more for a second bite at the apple?

So, what exactly was the “intent and purpose” of physically suppressing this study?

I have another working theory – and it doesn’t bode well for Little Jimmy’s severance:

In my view, Mr. Dinneen and others in senior management have used their public positions to secure an incredibly lucrative financial benefit for specific members of the development community – a group which, for years, has infused massive campaign contributions into the coffers of sitting public officials, then extracted millions of dollars as a return on that investment in infrastructure and incentives – like ensuring that impact fees remain at 2003 levels while the credits they earn for proportionate share agreements are based on current costs.

If true, that’s criminal – and Dan Eckert damn well knows it.

Florida State Statute 112.313 specifically states that it is a Misuse of Public Office when a public officer corruptly uses or attempts to use his or her official position – or perform his or her official duties – to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself or others.

Gentle readers, this smoking gun cannot simply be explained away by some mid-level bureaucrat with his hair on fire trying feverishly to save his pension.

Appropriating $50,000 in public funds for a study, conducted in the public interest, to educate our elected policy makers on impact fee upgrades – then maliciously hiding that important information from them as they dither and dawdle for answers before pissing good money after bad is base malfeasance and neglect of a public duty.

Clearly, Dinneen and his senior staff are ethically, morally and professionally compromised – and if those we pay to investigate public corruption will get off their collective ass – I suspect we may soon see just how deep this abject degeneracy goes.

Now, the finger of suspicion is rightfully pointing where it must ultimately – at those addle-brained assholes we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power – those who took an oath to protect the public trust and uphold the constitution of the State of Florida – then held us out to dry.

It is time our elected officials realize that reasonable people are rightfully questioning how they could not have known that this study existed – given that at least three sitting members voted to appropriate the tax dollars two-years ago – and, more importantly, why they are refusing to take definitive action to protect their constituents and excise this virulent and metastasizing cancer from the body politic now that they clearly know of the depth of the problem?

I believe there is a reckoning coming at the ballot box this fall – long overdue – as Volusia County Council incumbents learn that a public office truly is a public trust.

Best of Barker’s View: Time to Clean the Litter Box

My favorite author and spiritual guide, the late great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, described himself as a “Roadman for the Lords of Karma” – I’ve tried to live in that same philosophical vein.

Here’s a prescient essay I wrote sometime back – as topical today – in these Uber-weird times – as it was then:

In 1814, the Austrian statesman Baron Johann Wessenberg said at the Congress of Vienna, “Nothing in the world is more haughty than a man of moderate capacity when once raised to power.”   

Ain’t that the damn truth?

Loyal readers of these screeds know that – in politics and life – I consider myself a realist, one who trusts that past actions are the only true predictor of future performance.  I also believe that “hope” is not a tactic – and all the good thoughts one can muster won’t fundamentally change the trajectory of a crisis.

It’s just one reason I don’t put much stock in the latest “Good Times are Here Again” corporate marketing schtick constantly being regurgitated on the Business page of our local newspaper for the benefit of those slaphappy Pollyanna’s over at the Regional Chamber of Commerce.

During a career spanning three-decades in law enforcement, I learned that only decisive and strategic intervention – skillfully executed – can positively change the course of a calamitous situation.

I believe the same holds true for a dysfunctional organization that has clearly lost its moral compass – and forgotten its true purpose.

In my view, we find ourselves locked in a true predicament here in Volusia County – a place of great beauty and potential, with wonderful recreational amenities and a wealth of civically active citizens committed to the betterment of their community – yet shackled to a bastardized form of local governance that no longer reflects the tenets of our democratic principles, nor works in the best interest of those it was formed to serve.

In most successful public and private organizations, positions of high responsibility have a corresponding level of accountability that balances power with oversight.  An accepted precept of leadership is that responsibility can be shared, accountability cannot.

The very concept requires that people in positions of supremacy are ultimately held answerable for their actions; for that which they do – or fail to do – in the conduct of their individual or collective responsibilities.

In our democratic system of governance, the will of the people is the basis of all government authority.

When government loses the trust and consent of the people, we have a right – through the power of the electoral process – to replace elected officials who enact policies counter to the interests of their constituents with servant/leaders who will restore honor and basic fairness to the process and ensure effective management.

But what happens when We, The People, no longer have a say in the political process – or the policies and taxation that control our lives and livelihoods?

What happens when a select few incredibly wealthy individuals insinuate their personal influence deep into the inner-workings of local, state and federal governments and institutions – everything from our university system, judicial appointments and the disposition of public assets – and have the ability to command massive “economic incentives” for select private projects?

In my view, when those in positions of high responsibility – both elected and appointed – are allowed to operate without any reasonable oversight, administrative constraints or professional ethics – when mismanagement, malfeasance and irresponsibility are protected by influential interests in a self-serving effort to preserve the status quo – it calls into question the legitimacy of the government entity.

In Volusia County, we find ourselves locked in an oligarchical system which has found an effective means of subverting our sacred political process, and subjugating the will of the people, by substituting a craven little autocrat with a raging Napoleonic complex, someone who is restrained by no legitimate civic authority beyond those wealthy political abettors who control public policy through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for seemingly benign local offices.

While Mr. Dinneen may not directly manipulate the figurative rods and strings that animate our elected marionettes on the dais of power – he does dress the stage, and personally directs the “L’Opera deî Pupi” the public sees – ensuring that the selfish needs of those with the ability to control the outcome of elections are consistently met and properly camouflaged by the affectations of government.

In fact, history shows that in Volusia County, the mere presence in council chambers of any one of those who the Daytona Beach News-Journal refer to as our “Rich & Powerful” – usually backed by a claque of toadies enlisted to give the appearance of faux-enthusiasm – is enough to physically direct public policy by controlling the outcome of pivotal votes by their elected chattel.

That’s frightening.

Last week, I listened to a radio interview with Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who – love him or hate him – is, in my view, the last vestige of independent thought and political courage in the squalid cesspit of quid pro quo corruption, ineptitude and strategic ignorance that is the Thomas C. Kelly Administrative Center.

During the discussion, Sheriff Chitwood intimated that when he was first elected by the people last November one of his first communications with His Royal Highness Prince Dinneen was a not-so-veiled threat that unless he “played nice in the sandbox,” he would not be re-elected.

The ominous inference being – that if he failed to go along-and-get along – the Sheriff’s path would be made dark and slippery, ending with a humiliating defeat orchestrated by bullies on the playground who understand the importance of lockstep conformity in Volusia County government.

If that statement doesn’t send a chill up your spine, nothing will.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is not democracy – and it is not a legitimate council/manager form of government, either.

It is base political repression.

In my view, the “sandbox” Little Jimmy euphemistically refers to has become a fetid litter box – a system soiled by those who shit on our governmental systems and processes as a means to a very lucrative end – and its high time we use the power of the ballot box to sift these turds out and reclaim a transparent and responsive government of the people, by the people and for the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Barker’s View: “This is what we were looking for. . .”

“It’s great,” city Redevelopment Director Reed Berger said.  “This is what we were looking for.  It’s something to do on the Boardwalk.”

–Daytona Beach News-Journal, “New Rides open on Daytona Boardwalk,” June 23, 2017

News networks around the world are leading with a story this morning – dateline Daytona Beach – reporting a derailment of the wobbly “Sand Blaster” roller coaster at the Boardwalk.

Early word shows multiple people injured and others were trapped in the wreckage until firefighters could conduct technical rescues overnight.

These photographs were taken one year ago – June 2017.

What’s changed?

Except “The World’s Most Famous Beach” is now the worldwide face of a near tragedy.

When will our ‘powers that be’ see that this dilapidation, blight and disrepair is damaging the “brand”?

When will our elected and appointed officials admit this abysmal state of affairs cannot continue?

My God…

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Angels & Assholes for June 15, 2018

Hi, kids!

Wow. What a week, eh?

So sorry we’re a day early AGAIN, but BV is on the road.

Today, Barker’s View comes to you from the beautiful Tri-Cities area of upper East Tennessee!

As many regular readers know, I was born a Hillbilly, among the mountains and deep river valleys of this gorgeous part of the country – an area that is both culturally and geographically a part of Appalachia.

Let’s face it, for years this area has desperately needed a better Public Relations firm.

Invariably, books, movies and media coverage of these hills involve tales of moonshiners, isolated barefoot ridge-runners and banjo pickin’ nephson’s with peak hats and flintlocks – always depicted as something between the Beverly Hillbillies and the director’s cut of ‘Deliverance’ – an intemperate, even violent people who don’t readily accept outsiders.

Look, Ned Beatty’s unfortunate experience aside, we get a bad rap up here, but trust me when I say that many communities in the region are doing things right – and it is quickly becoming a haven for Florida ex-pats fleeing the heat, humidity and abject corruption of the Sunshine State for a new start in the fresh mountain air.

We moved to Florida when I was about three-years old – but I spent summers here with my maternal grandparents and these mountains will always be very much a part of who I am.

My distant family moved over the mountain into Lee County, Virginia in the 1800’s following a protracted clan feud in Harlan, Kentucky that resulted in several deaths and lingering hostilities between the Smith and Cawood families.

I’m told partisan politics was at the root of it (of course it was.)

My family lineage is right out of Dogpatch.

In Virginia, my great-great-grandparents established a tobacco farm and homestead in the White Shoals area of the Powell River Valley near present day Rose Hill.

The family farm was located on rich bottomland at the end of a very rough wagon trail, still not a road really, constructed primarily of smooth grey flat river rocks.  The rutted path wound through the dense woods past the entrance to a system of karsts and caverns which were used to hide troops, provisions and cattle during the Civil War.

The land they settled was so inaccessible, so hidden away, that if it had not been for the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority, I’m not sure my people would have ever been found.

I’m convinced that wars could have been fought, presidential administrations could change, depressions and recessions come and go, and my great grandparents would never have known until they hauled their barn-cured Burley tobacco to market and heard the news from other farmers at the auction.

I have a small, well-worn leather pouch that belonged to my great-grandfather, Creed Smith.

Inside is a crumbling quarter-sized dried fish scale – perhaps a good luck piece – a few coins, and a paper ledger. The old man and his mule would plow neighboring fields and he would record the cash transactions in the journal – sometimes he traded labor for eggs.

He always charged more for the mule than he did for himself.

Eventually, my grandparents packed up their young daughter – my mom – and carried her out of an old wooden cabin in the Southwest Virginia backwoods for work helping build the great hydroelectric dams at Norris and Fontana.

(My maternal great-grandfather died of tuberculosis in 1938 – and he and my great-grandmother were buried behind that old cabin.  A modern house has been built there now, and they rest under a green apple tree in the side yard.  Guess they don’t bother anybody, but it seems weird by today’s standards. . .)

When my grandmother got tired of traveling with the TVA, they ultimately settled in Kingsport, Tennessee, where I was born.

My grandparents are long-since gone, but we kept their small 1920’s mill worker house on a quiet street near the heart of one of the first professionally planned communities in the nation – a neighborhood that is quickly being “gentrified” by young professionals who are buying these older homes, modernizing them, then actually living there – all while keeping the very best qualities of the wonderful, maple-lined streetscapes.

The economic engine of the area is a large concentration of heavy industry, to include the headquarters of Eastman Chemical – a massive plant manufacturing advanced materials that covers well over 4-square miles and employees tens of thousands of people working around-the-clock.

Rarely will you go a day in modern life without coming in contact with something that contains a chemical or polymer made in Kingsport.

Other regional employers include BAE Systems/Holston Army Ammunition plant, a main supplier of explosive compounds to the Department of Defense, and Domtar, which produces specialty and technical paper for the printing and publishing industry.

I realize living in an area with a paper mill in your backyard isn’t for everyone – but the economic benefits cannot be denied.  I admit, there is a pervasive odor in the air from the various processes at work – but it smells like money to area residents.

The result is low taxes, high-paying jobs and many public parks and amenities provided almost exclusively by the parent companies of regional manufacturers – along with a plethora of shopping and entertainment venues, excellent healthcare and ample professional services.

It’s good to get away – and there is something about the mountains that allows us a different perspective and an opportunity to clear the head.  I hope you find the time to vacation with your families and friends this summer.

It’s important.

I’ll be back hip-deep in the fray next week – yapping at the heels of our ‘powers that be’ and trying hard to bring you a legitimate alternative opinion that, I hope, inspires you to explore the issues that effect our lives and livelihoods on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Until then, pack some Burley tobacco in my corncob pipe and pass the moonshine. . .

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen

I’ve been thinking about County Manager Jim Dinneen’s recent announcement that he plans to retire in January.

Who gives their notice six-months in advance?

What chief executive willingly becomes an overnight lame duck – then holds up progress by warming a seat until January?

Reports say the formal letter of intent will come later today.

Look, I won’t kick a man when he’s down, but something doesn’t smell right here.

While we wait for the other shoe to drop, let’s have a look back at this weeks Tom-n-Jerry routine that shocked the conscience of many in Volusia County.

I spent most of my life working in a small police department, and by necessity, every officer wore a variety of hats.

One of mine was Public Information Officer – the liaison between the news we made and those who reported it.

I had no formal training on “information management” until much later in my career, but I learned early the importance of transparency and assisting hard working reporters get the information they needed to perform their vital work, often under difficult deadlines.

I had the pleasure of working with the incomparable veteran anchor and reporter Claire Metz, and soon-to-be-stars of tomorrow, like Fox News’ own Shepard Smith, Chicagoland’s Anita Padilla and the very talented Blaine Tolison – who now anchors the morning news for WSOC in Charlotte.

To my good fortune, I also had the opportunity to work with many of the News-Journal greats, like Kathy Kelly, Barry Gear and many other “old school” beat reporters who not only led and inspired future journalists, but excelled at their own desk as well.

I learned from former News-Journal reporter and current Daytona Beach Police PIO, Lyda Longa, that it was possible to develop a deep sense of trust with reporters – a relationship which allowed me to fill in the gaps on the who, what, when and why of a story in complete confidence – knowing that sensitive information would be held until the appropriate time.

And when I was wrong, or we screwed-up, they took me to task – like professionals should – because ensuring accountability, seeking the truth and exposing important community issues is the critical service the press performs in the public interest.

Many of these wonderful professionals have remained life-long friends – along with the intrepid photojournalists who capture the very essence of a story in film and photographs – and I will forever remain in their debt for teaching me the right way to perform this important role.

Perhaps that’s why I was so sickened by the disturbing footage of County Manager Jim Dinneen, Volusia’s chief executive who commands over $300,000 annually in public salary and benefits – as he slithered – like a broke-back snake – away from WFTV reporter Mike Springer earlier this week.

Mr. Dinneen has been gutlessly avoiding Springer’s probative questions on the debacle at the District 7 Medical Examiner’s Officer for well-over a month – and when finally cornered at the haughty Knights of the Roundtable of Elected Officials meeting at Daytona “International” Airport on Tuesday – he turned-tail and skedaddled like a greasy roach caught in the light.

It was embarrassing – not a “good look” as they say in the business.

It amounted to cowardice under fire by our top public official and a stark reminder of all that’s wrong with Volusia County government.

The worm is beginning to turn, Dinneen is bailing (apparently) but his coterie of do-nothing middle-managers, and those elected officials who have done everything in their power to protect the status quo remain.

In a recent article entitled, “New ME eager to end ‘bad luck,’ The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported on Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s concerns regarding Dinneen’s “shady” process for hiring Dr. Jon Thogmartin to serve as interim medical examiner after Dr. Sara Zydowicz blew the whistle on years of budgetary neglect, overcrowding and substandard facilities which compromised the integrity of this vital public service.

Just as they did for Dr. Z – now, it appears our ‘powers that be’ have set their sights on discrediting Sheriff Chitwood and marginalizing his efforts to shine a very bright light on the machinations of a county government run wild – a clearly concerted effort to protect the one who facilitates access to the public spigot at all costs.

No one disputes the fact that Dr. Thogmartin is a highly qualified pathologist with a positive track record of correcting administrative and operational issues in offices statewide.

But neither can anyone deny that the manner in which Thogmartin was brought onboard – immediately after his out-of-hand dismissal of the issues brought by Dr. Zydowicz and complete exoneration of Jim Dinneen – followed by his near instantaneous confirmation by the Volusia County Council without so much as a written contract in place – smells a lot like payback.

It also may have violated the spirit of established purchasing and procurement policies, among other things.

But who cares, right?  The rules are different here. . .

When Sheriff Chitwood publicly questioned the timing of Dr. Thogmartin’s hiring – and provided documentary evidence showing the chronology was different than what Dinneen described to the County Council – he was set upon by Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the Florida Medical Examiner’s Association, who called the Sheriff’s criticism “counter-productive.”

“Nobody is going to want to come to an office that is in constant turmoil, that has stakeholders throwing constant barbs on social media,” said Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the commission. “This is not part of what a search should be for a professional. We are not talking about a dog catcher; we are talking about a pathologist and there’s only about 400 in the country.”

Look, I don’t care if pathologists are scarce as hen’s teeth – with $780,000 of the people’s money at stake – we have a right to expect a proper vetting, to include unfettered questioning by our elected representatives – before a rush to hire.

We also have a right to know how we arrived at this goat rodeo in the first place – and who dropped the ball.

Call me skittish, but this isn’t the first time Jim Dinneen has created a pseudo-emergency to facilitate a very expensive solution – a point that seemed evident by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, near pathological stonewalling of Councilwoman Heather Post’s sincere efforts to get at the truth – and hold Dinneen publicly accountable for this debacle.

Another thing that raised more questions than answers was Dr. Nelson’s interminable defense of Mr. Dinneen, “There’s nothing nefarious here,” Nelson said. “He (Thogmartin) spent all day at the morgue, watched people conduct autopsies and was looking at policies at the morgue and procedures. On the way out of the door, he talks to the county manager and told him that this isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.”

 All day?  Really?

If I understand this, Dr. Thogmartin was able to determine that Dr. Z’s allegations – and those of the National Association of Medical Examiners who yanked the office’s professional accreditation in 2015, issues which were confirmed in correspondence from former ME Dr. Marie Herrmann, or the horror story brought by the grieving family of a dead child whose misidentified body lay in the morgue for days – are all complete falsehoods or the maniacal ravings of an inexperienced chief – in just one day? 

Then, in lock step support of the one common denominator in all of these fiascos – Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – sounding for all the world like Rip Van Winkle in an Ambien stupor  – piled on Dr. Zydowicz, further minimizing her very real concerns with the asinine remark, “A lot of this has been ginned up that I think is undeserved.”

But WHY? 

Why would a professional – a trained physician in perhaps the most in-demand segment of her field – jeopardize a hard-earned professional reputation by “ginning up” serious allegations of administrative negligence and mismanagement at the morgue she was responsible for?

Why? 

Why would Sheriff Chitwood – a politically accountable elected official and highly respected law enforcement professional with a pristine reputation – suddenly transform into the Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Why?

And why would Dr. Stephen Nelson viciously turn on his colleague, Dr. Z – then question the motives of Volusia County’s chief law enforcement officer as he openly calls bullshit on a clearly compromised process – one that reeks of remuneration for a favorable evaluation?

(Even if that isn’t the case – one simply cannot dismiss the appearance of it.) 

Why would Mr. Dinneen lope like a scalded ape away from the glare of a news camera – doing his level best to dodge questions on this issue from the working press if he has nothing to hide – then announce his retirement six-months in advance?

Why?

In my view, the cowardly method of self-preservation used to openly destroy the good reputation of Dr. Zydowicz is certainly more prohibitive to attracting quality candidates than a duly elected sheriff attempting to protect, serve and educate his long-suffering constituents.

After all, what professional in his or her right mind would take a job knowing that if they bring serious concerns regarding this essential medicolegal service to the attention of elected officials – or the state’s regulatory commission – they face the very real possibility of personal and professional destruction?

I’m asking, dammit.  Because none of this makes sense.

Given all that has occurred – and the stench of lies and corruption that continues to ooze out of the impenetrable information lock-down in DeLand – perhaps it is time for State Attorney R. J. Larizza to join Sheriff Chitwood, District 1 candidate Jeff Brower and the chorus of other concerned citizens calling for an independent investigation of these serious issues by an outside law enforcement authority.

What we are witnessing is not normal.

It is not legitimate.

It bears no semblance to good governance.

It is wrong.

Mr. Dinneen is a big part of the problem – but others bear responsibility as well – and it is time for answers.

Asshole:          City of Daytona Beach Leisure Services

Like many of you, I recently saw a disturbing report – also produced by the intrepid Mike Springer of WFTV’s Daytona Bureau – who reported that picnic tables, pavilions and fishing piers at various public parks in the city have been literally chained off – and some  benches removed all together – ostensibly to keep them “clean” for those with the $300.00+ required to rent the tax funded amenities.

Clearly, the measure is designed to keep homeless out of the parks – something city officials won’t say publicly.

City officials should understand that there is a swirling undercurrent of distrust surrounding the publicly subsidized Brown & Brown headquarters which will soon be built on Beach Street – a project that includes gifting the nearby park and public amenities east of the campus to Mr. Brown – something we are told will allow J. Hyatt to make “improvements” for his employees and the general public.

In my view, the idea of cordoning off public recreation facilities as a stop-gap measure to control the homeless population in Downtrodden Downtown ultimately penalizes the long-suffering residents of Daytona Beach – the very people who paid for these features in the first place.

In keeping with the old-timey Fun Coast tradition of piss poor public communications, the City of Daytona Beach takes draconian action to control concentrations of vagrants in recreation areas – yet fails to educate the general public on why these measures are necessary – and when they will be repealed.

Nobody is saying it isn’t necessary – just give us the lowdown!

When you couple that with the fact the Daytona Beach City Commission has done everything humanly possible to discourage participation in public meetings short of barbed wire – one gets the idea that city government marches to the beat of its own drummer – and citizen input is limited to paying exorbitant taxes and staying out of sight and out of mind.

Unfortunately, this tactic only perpetuates the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that many see at City Hall.

I’m not sure current sitting officials understand just how dire this pervasive feeling of disenfranchisement and exclusion is in the neighborhoods.  In fact, this shocking lack of substantive information exchange, and public policy by ambush that seems all the rage in local government, ranks at the top of reader complaints I receive here at Barker’s View HQ.

Something tells me we are going to see a distinct change in the composition of the Daytona Beach City Commission – an infusion of accessible and responsive new blood who understand the importance of listening to the needs, wants and suggestions of a constituency concerned about their dwindling quality of life and lack of sway in matters important to the health and future of Daytona Beach.

It’s a simple fix – city officials should tell the unvarnished truth as they know it – and We the People will respect that.

I promise.

 Angel:             Sons of the Beach

One of the things I enjoy most about moderating this political opinion forum is the opportunity to interact with smart, civic-minded people on topics that are important to the life of our community.

On Saturday morning I had the immense pleasure of standing tall with the grassroots activists of Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – as we peacefully protested the wholesale theft of our century-old heritage of beach driving behind the Hard Rock Hotel.

With Old Glory waving proudly on our beachhead, I thought to myself how typically, and unapologetically  American this gathering truly was.

It was invigorating – joining with patriotic citizens who are mad as hell and clearly aren’t going to take it anymore – and the experience left me with a lingering sense of community pride through participation in a cause of great consequence to the social and economic viability of our hometown.

And, we had some laughs along the way, enjoying the fun and relaxation that only a day at the beach with friends can bring.

According to our inspired president, Paul Zimmerman, additional SOB protests are planned behind the Hard Rock in weeks to come.  I encourage everyone who cares about our tradition of beach driving – and those amenities that make the Halifax area a unique tourist and entertainment destination – to join us in this worthwhile cause.

It is time the much-maligned taxpaying residents of Volusia County stand up to this aggressive attack on our right to beach access.  Let’s let our elected and appointed officials know we will not stand idle as they turn the strand into a cheap bartering chip for here-today-gone-tomorrow speculative developers.

Folks, this is important.

If you haven’t already, I encourage everyone to become a member of Sons of the Beach and join the fight today.

Simply log-on to www.sonsofthebeach.org and sign-up – it’s free – however, donations are welcome through the website, or at any of the frequent fundraisers held at fun local venues throughout the year.

Remember: Beach driving IS beach access – and its high time our elected representatives in DeLand know that there is some shit we won’t eat!

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

In my view, the County Attorney’s Office has become an exclusive law firm with one very finicky client and an unlimited supply of cash.

And trust me – the customer served isn’t you and me.

Regardless of the issue, when County Manager Jim Dinneen perceives a threat to the status quo – from an initiative to give citizens a vote on beach management issues – to a measure which would return constitutional sovereignty to our elected sheriff – he draws County Attorney Dan Eckert like a weapon.

If you don’t believe me – just ask the beleaguered residents of Daytona Beach Shores about what awaits anyone who dares raise their head and defy Mr. Dinneen’s omnipotent monarchy in DeLand.

Now, with the usual acquiescence of the Volusia County Council, “Cujo” Eckert and his team of rabid jackals have filed a lawsuit challenging a November ballot measure that would permit elected county officials – like the sheriff, property appraiser and clerk of the court – to serve as politically accountable constitutional officers, you know, like the people intended when they cast their vote.

Under Volusia County’s gilded home rule charter – these duly elected representatives are relegated to little more than department heads – because that’s how the “system” controls them – and if it costs you and I thousands of dollars to fight every infinitesimal aspect of this legislation – so be it.

Last week, Mr. Eckert told the County Council, “The question is, is it fairly presented to the voters?  I don’t think it is.  I think the rights of county voters are being affected without them being fairly informed.”

Bullshit.

Hey, Dan – is this anything like the time Volusia County unleashed the dogs of war to challenge the grassroots efforts of Let Volusia Vote – who, despite gathering the signatures required to lawfully place an amendment before voters that would empower citizens in matters of beach access – was met with a crushing lawsuit that you initiated to block the right of county voters to be heard?

Or, perhaps its similar to the time you spent untold thousands in taxpayer funds to contest the standing of Sons of the Beach as they worked to protect the rights of citizens and prevent further giveaways of our heritage of beach driving to speculative shitheels with a profit motive?

Remember?

Maybe it’s like when Sheriff Chitwood respectfully asked that the county attorney assigned to his agency be moved to new office space to increase efficiency and his request was denied out-of-hand?

Trust me – this lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with the rights of county voters and everything to do with protecting the existing miserable state of affairs – and preserving the enormous power currently wielded by Mr. Dinneen – from any outside threat.

In addition to this recent lawsuit – now county officials are telling flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories that any modification of our current charter will result in a $10-million cost to taxpayers.

My ass.    

We haven’t had so much as a superficial accounting as to how returning autonomy to Sheriff Mike Chitwood will cost us millions – but that’s their story, and By God, they’re sticking to it.

Since taking office, Sheriff Chitwood has spoken vehemently against the internal sluggishness and inherent dishonesty of an entrenched system that places too much control of essential government services in the hands of one ethically compromised little man – an appointed manager, completely immune from political accountability, and subject to even less oversight from those we elect to provide balance.

In fact, as recent events have shown, the tail has been wagging the dog in DeLand for so long, our elected representatives have forgotten that the manager serves at their pleasure – not the other way around.

Frankly, when Old Ed Kelley and his “colleagues” sat with a thumb wedged in their collective ass like slack-jawed milksops while Mr. Dinneen openly barked and snarled at Councilwoman Heather Post as she attempted to hold him accountable for the raging debacle at what’s left of our medical examiners office – perhaps the most embarrassing display of insubordination to oversight authority I’ve ever witnessed – I knew immediately who was running the show.

And more important, so did the County Council.

One simply does not strike the King and his Court without serious ramifications.

Never in the history of Volusia County government has an appointed official been permitted to lord this level of unchecked power over the elected body – and that’s a dangerous proposition, given the massive political influence exerted by a few uber-wealthy insiders who remain in total control of Mr. Dinneen – and what passes for governance.

It is also why Sheriff Chitwood deserves the sovereignty to perform his vital service to the citizens of Volusia County with complete independence from this bastardized oligarchy, an absolutely compromised system that places the “what’s in it for me” question over the needs of the people every time.

What have we learned from all this drama?:

Never have so many paid so dearly to protect one wee man with a raging Napoleon complex.

Quote of the Week:

“I don’t think what other counties necessarily do would be something that would set the tone for Volusia County to follow.  I don’t think the state should be handing out unfunded mandates and then expecting the counties to try to find a way to fund it, especially this late.”

–County Council Chairman and Brain-Addled Meatball Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia County an outlier by not splitting costs for school resource deputies,” June 11, 2018

The problem is, Ed Kelley doesn’t “think” at all.

He’s a rubber-stamp in a JC Penny sport coat.

Best practices in governance be damned.

Responsible cost-sharing?  Fuhgeddaboudit. . .

Tried and true solutions don’t “set the tone for Volusia County” – indeed, they never have – its why we find ourselves trapped in this festering outhouse of blight, dilapidation and ravenous spending.

In fact, the mere thought of developing an educated opinion – or a vision for taking us from where we are to where we need to be – is anathema to this greedy plunderbund that values lock-step conformity over ingenuity and free-thought – or, God forbid – the honest and open debate of public policy.

With the Volusia County School Board trying desperately to scratch together funding to adequately protect our children and grandchildren from the escalating threat of school violence – and comply with the requirements of state law – our doddering fool of a County Chair would rather make empty gestures to show his displeasure with unfunded mandates – rather than get down to the important business of securing our schools.

I find that repugnant – and indicative of the way serious issues are turned into political footballs by these spineless assholes.

In the interest of transparency, based upon my past training, experience and sense of duty, I have answered Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s call to service and have asked to be considered for the recently approved ‘School Guardian’ program, an initiative that will place armed protectors in elementary schools throughout Volusia County.

I have questions – everyone does – after all, this is like walking on mars, no one has ever done it before.

However, cooperative funding and responsible cost-sharing between Volusia County and the School Board is, in my view, just common sense.

Anyone want to bet a donut how long it would take J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini or any member of the France family to wheedle a paltry $2 million out of county coffers to offset overhead on a private project?

For once, do the job we hired you for, Mr. Kelley – with millions in reserve funds – you and those other dullards on the dais of power could easily find a way to fund this incredibly important public safety initiative for years and still be able to grease the palms of your campaign contributors.

My God.  Get your head out of your wrinkled ass – lives are in the balance.    

Mr. Kelley, I’ve learned not to depend on you for anything – but vulnerable children are – and the consequences of  grandstanding and inaction are far too great for your cheap brand of political gamesmanship right now.

And Another Thing!

I hope you will join with Sons of the Beach for a fundraiser this Sunday, June 17th, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, at Sunsetters Riverfront Bar & Grill, 115 Main Street, Daytona Beach!

In addition to fun raffles and live music, you can get all your SOB swag – t-shirts, signs, koozies and more – just in time for trips to the beach this summer!

The Sons of the Beach legal team will be on hand with up-dates on pending lawsuits designed to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable (what a novel idea?) and preserve our heritage of beach access for generations to come.

It’s a great afternoon – a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends and get involved in the life of your community.  I encourage every member of the Barker’s View tribe to join with fellow civic-minded friends and neighbors this Sunday!

You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading, y’all!

Have a great weekend!

On Volusia: You can run, but you can’t hide. . .

Before you read this, I need a favor.

Bop over to https://tinyurl.com/y7hup4gg and watch as the intrepid investigative reporter Mike Springer of WFTV’s Daytona Beach Bureau and his photojournalist work valiantly to corral our wily County Manager and seek answers to growing questions surrounding the cover-up of serious issues at Volusia’s District 7 Medical Examiners Office.

Wow.  Just, “Wow.”

The German’s have a word –  Fremdschämen – to describe vicarious embarrassment, that weird second-hand feeling you get when someone should feel a deep sense of shame, yet they seem completely unaware of just how humiliating their behavior truly is – so, you experience intense embarrassment for them.

They also have a term – Schadenfreude – which translates roughly to “the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others,” the cruel sense of pleasure, joy or self-satisfaction that comes from witnessing the failures or utter humiliation of others.

But what does one call the exhilaration of experiencing both Fremdschämen and Schadenfreude simultaneously?

May God help me, but the sight of Jim Dinneen – Volusia County’s omnipotent chief executive who currently commands over $300,000 annually in public salary and benefits – fleeing the working press like a boss rat leaving a burning garbage scow was priceless.

After I watched the clip about, oh, a thousand times, my mood changed – I went from peels of maniacal laughter to racking sobs.  I felt like one of those poor victims of that rare neurological disorder from the television commercial where symptoms alternate from uncontrollable laughter to an inappropriate crying jag.

When I finally gained my composure long enough to think critically about what I – and thousands of other Volusia County residents – had just witnessed in Mr. Springer’s outstanding reportage, I became angry; overcome by a crushing sense of disgust as I realized we have finally reached the nadir of this shitstorm that passes for governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

In this short clip, we see an all-powerful government executive who has arrogantly refused to answer a reporter’s legitimate questions regarding the myriad debacles, blunders and good Old Fashioned organizational mismanagement that has marked the waning days of the Dinneen administration, finally being brought to justice before the Court of Public Opinion at the monthly meeting of the haughty Knights of the Roundtable of Elected Officials meeting at Daytona “International” Airport yesterday.

Little Jimmy was trapped like a rabid rodent – scurrying about in perhaps the best chase scene captured on film since the French Connection – before squawking a warning, turning on his heel, and beating a cowardly escape by ducking into an “Authorized Personnel Only” area.

In my view, the best part of this tragicomedy was the slack jawed look on the faces of area mayors and city managers who stood, mortified, watching the uncomfortable scene unfold with their collective buttocks clenched so tight they later passed diamonds.

He ran like a scalded dog. . .

(Sorry, my transient pseudobulbar affect is acting up again – I can’t help myself – too damn funny. . .  Get a grip, Barker.)   

In reality, this vignette was an unfortunate reminder for the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County who have been robbed of the respect, trust and confidence they have the right to have in their government and the essential services it exists to provide.

For years, We the People, have been forced to stand by and watch as this rudderless ship of fools drifted ever closer to the rocks – all while the Dinneen administration and those spineless dullards we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power in DeLand – turned away from the real needs of their constituents and focused sole attention and public assets on the wants of uber-wealthy oligarchs who lurk in this shadow-world that churns our hard-earned tax dollars into private profits.

All while vital public services and county-owned facilities were allowed to rot from the inside out.

It has been a frustrating journey for anyone who cares about good governance and the best traditions of our representative democracy – and our foul path is littered with the good reputations of dedicated professionals like Dr. Sara Zydowicz, who cared enough to voice her very real concerns of budgetary neglect and substandard facilities to the Florida State Medical Examiner’s Commission – only to be publicly mauled by our complicit elected officials.

Given what we know now – supported by real physical evidence exposing Mr. Dinneen’s damnable lies and manipulation as uncovered by good people like Sheriff Chitwood, WFTV’s Mike Springer and others – there is simply no way our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his debased “colleagues” on the Volusia County Council can accept this stonewalling and craven self-protection by a highly compensated executive.

Now the onus is on them.

Willful blindness – the act of intentionally keeping oneself unaware of facts that would make them complicit in this continuing sham by those we elected to protect our interests – is no longer acceptable.

It never was.

Given this unbelievable snippet of film, which, unfortunately, is not the first time Mr. Dinneen has run like the lily-livered simp he is from the bright light of a news camera – is indicative of all that is wrong in county government – a dark place where honestly and transparency have been replaced by a siege mentality that values lock-step conformity over ingenuity and free-thought – and secretiveness over the open and honest debate of ideas in the public interest.

As the great Hunter S. Thompson said, In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

You can run, but you cannot hide, Mr. Dinneen.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is not legitimate.

This is not right.

This bears absolutely no resemblance to a government of the people, by the people and for the people.   

Clearly our elected officials either cannot – or will not – act in the public interest and terminate the reign of this tin-pot autocrat who has besmirched the reputation of our county and shit on the guiding ethics and principles of his profession all while dodging personal and professional accountability.

Now, it is time for outside intervention.

I join with Sheriff Mike Chitwood, District 1 candidate Jeff Brower and the growing chorus of other concerned citizens who are calling for outside intervention – an independent investigation of this repugnant sham that is ruining Volusia County.

I hope everyone this post reaches will do the same.

This cannot stand.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Crisis of Conscience

One of the great passions of my life is aviation.

While other kids were interested in baseball cards and comic book heroes – I grew up, looking up – scanning the skies for airplanes and dreaming of the thrill and freedom of flight.

I remember as a young boy, sitting at the dining room table in my parent’s home, with a cut-down broom for a control stick and an open Encyclopedia Britannica – reading about aerodynamics and chair flying to exotic places in my imaginary Grumman Albatross.

One of the first books I ever read was Wind, Sand and Stars by the incomparable “winged poet,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  It kindled in me a love of flight and the sense of adventure that only rising from the earth, defying gravity, and returning when and where you want can bring.

It is written that flying changes your vantage point, literally and metaphorically.  As Amelia Earhart said, “You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.”

It is also incredibly unforgiving of errors in judgement.

While training for my commercial pilot’s license, and later the certificated flight instructor rating, I learned many interesting things that have carried over into my personal life, like the process of analytical thinking – the discipline to use a systematic mental process to determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances.

It is what pilots call “aeronautical decision-making.”

While many systems exist, the one I learned in flight school is the DECIDE model – Detect, Estimate, Choose, Identify, Do and Evaluate.

Detection of a problem begins with recognizing that a change has occurred, first perceived by the senses – perhaps no more than a “feeling” that something isn’t right – then using experience, training, skill and insight to identify the nature and severity of the issue.

When a problem has been properly identified, the pilot must evaluate the need to react to it and determine what, if any, actions are required to resolve the situation in the time available – then assess the risks and choose the best course of action by identifying solutions that will lead to a successful outcome.

Then, do something – perform the most suitable action – and evaluate the decision to see if it was correct.

Sometimes the pilot has the time, altitude and airspeed to think analytically and work through a problem – and sometimes this decision-making process must come almost instinctively to affect a desirable outcome.

Proper decision-making is important because it defines our options for the next choice we make – good decisions give us greater options later, while bad choices limit alternatives – and, with practice, analytical thinking becomes second nature.

For months I have brooded about how Volusia County government arrived at this dismal place in our history – a time marked by a complete dearth of ethical leadership and fiscal stewardship by our elected and appointed officials.

We are trapped in a repugnant system that exists solely to transmit tax dollars to the private profit motives of uber-wealthy political insiders through a well-orchestrated scheme cloaked as “economic development incentives” – a shadowy process that serves only those who can “pay to play” in the form of hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local public offices.

Perhaps it’s my intellectual limitations – I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, really – but I’ll be damned if I can come up with a logical explanation for how this happens.

However, I’m pretty sure I have a handle on why it happens.

Almost daily, we open the newspaper and read yet another horrible story of mismanagement, negligence and ineptitude in county government that continues to baffle anyone who understands the relationship between responsibility and accountability – the onus that comes when one accepts huge sums of public funds in salary and benefits – and is given extraordinary latitude and power to manage the affairs of government in the public interest.

Look, I understand mistakes – the human factor.

I’ve made a million of them.

Given my experience, I also understand that most people can forgive honest errors – but what they will never excuse is an abject refusal to learn from mistakes.

This is different.

From the unfolding debacle at the medical examiner’s office, unchecked sexual harassment and hostile workplace issues in the Beach Safety Department, unaddressed growth management and infrastructure needs, to the expanding life-or-death crisis in our county’s emergency medical transport system – we see real problems that are invariably dismissed by our elected officials as the ravings of naysayers, misguided stoolpigeons or some mean-spirited social media critic with an axe to grind.

On Saturday, we saw the beginning of something I find chilling – and dangerous to the legitimacy and processes of our system of governance.

In an article entitled, “New ME eager to end ‘bad luck,’ The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s questioning of County Manager Jim Dinneen’s “shady” process for hiring Dr. Jon Thogmartin to serve as interim medical examiner after Dr. Sara Zydowicz blew the whistle on years of budgetary neglect, overcrowding and substandard facilities which compromised the integrity of this vital public service.

Just as they did for Dr. Z – now, it appears our ‘powers that be’ have set their sights on discrediting Sheriff Chitwood and marginalizing his efforts to shine a very bright light on the machinations on a county government run wild – a clearly concerted and truly disturbing effort to protect the one who facilitates access to the public spigot at all costs.

No one disputes the fact that Dr. Thogmartin is a highly qualified pathologist with a positive track record of correcting administrative and operational issues in offices statewide.

But neither can anyone dispute the fact that the manner in which Thogmartin was brought on-board as interim ME – immediately after his out-of-hand dismissal of the issues brought by Dr. Zydowicz and complete exoneration of Jim Dinneen – followed by his near instantaneous confirmation by the Volusia County Council without so much as a written contract in place – smells a lot like payback.

When Sheriff Chitwood publicly questioned the timing of Dr. Thogmartin’s hiring – and provided documentary evidence showing that it could not have happened in the manner Dinneen described to the county council – he was set upon by Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the Florida Medical Examiner’s Association, who called the Sheriff’s criticism “counter-productive.”

“Nobody is going to want to come to an office that is in constant turmoil, that has stakeholders throwing constant barbs on social media,” said Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the commission. “This is not part of what a search should be for a professional. We are not talking about a dog catcher; we are talking about a pathologist and there’s only about 400 in the country.”

 Look, I don’t care if pathologists are scarce as hen’s teeth – with $780,000 of the people’s money at stake – we have a right to expect a proper vetting, to include in-depth questioning by our elected representatives – before a rush to hire.

Call me apprehensive, but this isn’t the first time Jim Dinneen has created a pseudo-emergency to facilitate a very expensive solution. . .

 In his interminable defense of Mr. Dinneen, Dr. Nelson droned on, “There’s nothing nefarious here,” Nelson said. “He (Thogmartin) spent all day at the morgue, watched people conduct autopsies and was looking at policies at the morgue and procedures. On the way out of the door, he talks to the county manager and told him that this isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.”

All day?  Really?

If I understand this, Dr. Thogmartin was able to determine that Dr. Z’s allegations – and those of the National Association of Medical Examiner’s who yanked the office’s professional accreditation in 2015, issues which were confirmed in correspondence from former ME Dr. Marie Herrmann, or the horror story brought by the family of a dead child whose misidentified body lay in the morgue for days – are complete falsehoods; the maniacal ravings of an inexperienced chief in just one day? 

Then, in lock step support of the one common denominator in all of these debacles – our own Rip Van Winkle of local politics, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – sounding for all the world like he just awoke from another long nap – piled on Dr. Zydowicz, further ostracizing her concerns with the asinine remark, “A lot of this has been ginned up that I think is undeserved.”

But WHY? 

Why would a professional – a trained physician in perhaps the most in-demand segment of her field – jeopardize a hard-earned professional reputation and standing in the medical community by fabricating or “ginning up” serious allegations of administrative negligence and mismanagement at the morgue she was responsible for?

Why?

Why would Sheriff Chitwood – a politically accountable elected official and highly respected law enforcement professional with a pristine reputation – suddenly transform into the Boy Who Cried Wolf?  

Why?

And why would Dr. Stephen Nelson viciously turn on a colleague – then question the motives of Volusia County’s chief law enforcement officer as he openly calls bullshit on a clearly compromised process – one that reeks of remuneration for a favorable evaluation?

Even if that isn’t the case – one simply cannot dismiss the optics of it.

In my view, the craven method of self-preservation that Jim Dinneen and his cronies on the dais of power used to openly destroy the good reputation of Dr. Zydowicz is certainly more prohibitive to attracting quality candidates than a duly elected sheriff attempting to protect, serve and educate his long-suffering constituents.

After all, what professional in his or her right mind would take a job knowing that if they bring serious concerns regarding this essential medicolegal service to the attention of elected officials – or the state’s regulatory commission – they face the very real possibility of personal and professional destruction?

I’m asking.  Because none of this makes sense.

Given all that has occurred – and the stench of lies and corruption that continue to ooze out of the impenetrable information lock-down in DeLand – perhaps it is time for State Attorney R. J. Larizza to join Sheriff Chitwood’s call for an independent investigation of these serious and growing issues by an outside law enforcement authority.

Anyone with the ability to think critically can see that what we are witnessing is not normal.

It is not legitimate.

It bears no semblance to good governance.

It is wrong.

The time has come for someone – anyone – with a sworn responsibility to protect the public’s trust and interests to step up and put an end to this deepening crisis of leadership and conscience.

Remember when I said that good decision making gives us more and better options down the line?

I hope you will use that knowledge to our collective advantage in the voting booth this fall.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 7, 2018

Hi, kids!

Through the years I’ve had my share of life’s up’s-and-down’s, but I can honestly say, I’ve led a charmed life – so incredibly blessed.

I’ve always put a lot of stock in the immortal words of the great Key West legend, saloonkeeper, bootlegger, gunrunner and politician, Captain Tony Tarracino, who once remarked:

“All you need in this life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego, brains don’t mean a shit.”

 I’ll admit, Captain Tony’s advice can make for an expensive education – and a very interesting life – but on balance, I’ve found it’s true.

Ego I’ve got – brains, not so much.  I’m certainly not the smartest guy in the room.

Like a wise old boss of mine used to say when I was a rookie police officer, “Barker, you’re about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.” 

In my professional life, I epitomized the Dilbert Principle – the theory that organizations tend to systematically promote incompetent employees to management as a means of limiting the amount of damage they are capable of doing. . .

By some divine intervention, a few incredibly kind people took a chance on me at pivotal points along my path, and their friendship, faith and confidence has meant everything to me.

Count yourself among those who have had a very positive impact on my life.

When I first began this experiment in alternative opinion blogging, I was amazed when a couple-dozen people would actually take the time to seek out and read my disjointed take on the issues of the day.

Imagine how I felt earlier this week when Barker’s View closed the month of May with over 21,400 views!

Wow!  Thank you!

I’ve said this before – when I retired from law enforcement, I lost a sense of purpose and personal satisfaction that I thought would never come my way again.

My profession had become a bigger part of my identity than I cared to admit.

It made for some pretty dark times initially, but I’m not one to get trapped in the spiral of melancholia, so my silent mantra became, “Barker, Begin Again.”

The result of that reaffirming refrain was this cathartic exercise in voicing my goofy opinions of our political leadership and collective direction here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

These screeds are not right nor wrong – neither total fact or utter fiction – just one man’s not-so-humble opinion on the news and newsmakers of the day.  But they seem to resonate with an increasingly larger audience.

Please know that I am forever grateful to you – the loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe –  for taking time from your busy day to digest my take on the latest political intrigues in Volusia County and beyond.

I sincerely appreciate your support of alternative local points of view – and our right as interested citizens to speak out and seek the positive change we so richly deserve.

I am eternally grateful for your readership – and your kindness.

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

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

Asshole:          County of Volusia

NOTICE TO ALL VOLUSIA COUNTY EMPLOYEES AND CITIZENS:

Should you discover evidence of government malfeasance, ineptitude, corruption or mismanagement – word to the wise – keep your frigging mouth shut. 

Capiche? 

This is the very clear message sent to anyone with a working conscience this week by the not-so-subtle political protection racket operating under the guise of an elected body on the dais of power in DeLand.

After watching the County Council’s despicable maneuvering on Tuesday, we learned the chilling fate of whistleblowers and maverick elected officials who break ranks and seek to hold County Manager Jim Dinneen accountable for his continuing course of conduct at the helm of this foundering ship of fools.

Seriously – after watching what happened to Dr. Sara Zydowicz – the only appointed senior county administrator with the courage to point out glaring negligence and mismanagement in perhaps Volusia County’s most sensitive area of budgetary responsibility – why would anyone take the risk again? 

Her dark allegations include overcrowding, critical understaffing, a macabre suggestion that dead bodies be stored under cooling blankets and handled by county prisoners – along with a shocking backlog of some 200 autopsy reports, a substandard facility and a former Chief Medical Examiner who simply stopped testifying in court proceedings.

In fact, Dr. Z reported that conditions at the morgue had deteriorated to the point of being “potentially dangerous,” a fact she made clear to the state regulatory commission which oversees medical examiners when she said, “I don’t wish harm to my well-being.” 

The cost of attempting to shine a light on the inner workings of a county government run amok included withering, well-orchestrated attacks on her personal character – and the wholesale obliteration of her professional reputation – by the very elected and appointed officials she relied upon for budget and administrative support.

Tragically, Dr. Z’s concerns fell on deaf ears – both at the state ME commission and in the executive suites of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

But more ominously, when our ‘powers that be’ sensed a real exposure – they began circling the wagons and mounted a very effective counter-attack that painted Zydowicz as a reckless liar who made up wild allegations out of whole cloth.

In short, they vilified her.

And sent a clear message to anyone who dares question the machinations of a politically insulated administration – totally devoid of ethics, oversight or accountability – that exposing the system will result in your personal and professional destruction.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

The status quo WILL be protected – damn the cost.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask Dr. Z how it worked out for her.

As real pressure mounted, County Manager Jim Dinneen reached out to Dr. Jon Thogmartin – a noted forensic pathologist and contract medical examiner for hire of the “Have scalpel, Will travel” variety.

With an impressive curriculum vitae and a true gift for extemporaneous bullshit – Thogmartin deftly dismissed each of Dr. Z’s allegations based upon a single-day walk-through of the morgue and an even shorter written report of his “findings” issued six-days later.

However, as both Dinneen and Dr. Thogmartin pointed out – at least he did the evaluation for free.

(I don’t know about you, but whenever someone offers me a free lunch – I instinctively gird my loins for the inevitable. . .) 

In turn, at Mr. Dinneen’s request, Thogmartin appeared before the County Council Tuesday – and in a fast-talking monologue right out of the Quincy, M.E. episode, “The Case of the Mucked-Up Morgue” – our “independent” out-of-town expert systematically poo-pooed each of Dr. Z’s allegations as the ravings of an inexperienced newbie – and calmed the waters with anecdotes like, “You think this is fucked-up?  You should see what I found during my inspection of the Rue Morgue – now that was fucked-up!”   

Like any good government contractor, Dr. Thogmartin frightened everyone with a “all’s well for now – BUT – your ME’s office is going over the cliff come Friday…” scary storythen strategically launched into an incredibly well-rehearsed sales pitch for his apparently indispensable brand of proprietary autopsy protocols and super-human administrative skills.

In fact, he all but promised that not only could he right the ship, but he would restore professional accreditation – then time-travel the office back to those bucolic days of 1997 – before big pharma began killing more people on a daily basis than smallpox, and the workload wasn’t near what it is today.

Remarkable man.  Just ask him.

Even more remarkable was the fact that, after Thogmartin brushed off the issues at the morgue as little more than a minor inconvenience for a man of his superior skills – Jim Dinneen told the council that he offered the good Doctor a job as interim medical examiner.

That revelation didn’t sit well with most – it fact, it had the whiff of payback to it.

Still does.

Then on Tuesday, after Thogmartin finished his marketing spiel – his appointment was approved (with Councilwoman Heather Post opposing) before a contract had even been written(?)

(Our weaponized County Attorney, Dan Eckert, had something to say about this facet of the crisis – but he always hems-and-haws like a horse trying to recite the Lord’s Prayer – so, I’ll be dipped if I couldn’t interpret his point. . .)

Not unexpectedly, what passed for the council’s “questioning” of Dr. Thogmartin – dissolved into a carefully choreographed farce refereed by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – who repeatedly shouted, “Your out of order!” like some demented Justice of the Court of the Absurd in a powdered wig – rudely interrupting and shutting down Ms. Post anytime she got close to a complete material question.

All Old Ed wanted to do was “move forward” – and by that, I mean he wanted to get home to supper and a nap.  Literally.

I think District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post acquitted herself extremely well under very difficult circumstances.

Look, given her voting record – and my natural suspicion – I’m not ready to canonize Ms. Post as “The People’s Champion” just yet, but I’m warming up.

The fact is, she stood tall – and alone – on Tuesday.  I respect that.

Despite the odds, Ms. Post made a valiant effort to get to the bottom of this steaming quagmire and expose Jim Dinneen as the person solely responsible for this, and myriad other debacles, that have haunted county government like a golem.

Sadly, rather than let Ms. Post do the people’s business, Ed Kelley sat smugly in the catbird’s seat, angrily questioning her motivations, as our appointed County Manager insolently barked at her like a rabid chihuahua – crudely deflecting questions and angrily downgrading Post’s valid concerns.

His treatment of a sitting elected official was rude, disrespectful and wrong – and Mr. Dinneen knows it crossed a very clear line.  But he doesn’t care.

Unfortunately, despite her best efforts to keep focus on accountability, it was clear Ms. Post was no match for these low-class thugs with a pack mentality that recognizes no boundaries when it comes to keeping their choke-hold on power and the public purse strings.

I thought District 1 candidate Jeff Brower did his best to support Heather Post from the floor – but it’s hard to spar with folks who control the tilt of the ring – and Old Ed quickly painted Mr. Brower into a very narrow box, brusquely limiting his comments to one tiny sliver of a very complex issue.

However, Mr. Brower cleverly demonstrated how the average citizen is treated at the podium by our incredibly arrogant elected officials when they seek to address uncomfortable issues of public concern.

Most important, Mr. Brower made the bold call for an outside investigation of this debacle by the Florida Attorney Generals Office – a move quickly seconded by Sheriff Chitwood and many others.

In perhaps the most tragic moment of this sickening spectacle – an impassioned young lady, Tiffany King, approached the lectern and lambasted Mr. Dinneen and our hapless council members for their collective ignorance of a heart-wrenching misstep at the ME’s office that goes beyond the pale of decency.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt captured the moment well:

“When the remains of a 16-year-old girl were found in DeLand off Gasline Road in May, family members of Justis Garrett, who’d been missing for days, feared the worst. Her parents called the morgue and asked if the body was their daughter’s, said Tiffany King of Edgewater, a neighbor and close friend of the family.”

“They were relieved to be told the body wasn’t their daughter. A week later, however, they learned it was, in fact, Garrett.”

“Can you imagine going through that?” King told the council through tears. “This is a big deal. This is important. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.”

“Everybody behind the dais should be held accountable, she added.”

I know the recurring theme on Tuesday was that Mr. Dinneen was too stupid to oversee the medical examiner’s function – even if he wanted to – arguing that he doesn’t possess the medicolegal knowledge to keep watch, and maybe he doesn’t.  (Something tells me that’s what accreditation is for. . .) 

But you don’t have to be a forensic pathologist to understand that what happened to the Garrett family is unconscionable – or take definitive action to prevent it from ever happening again.

My God.

Under these horrific circumstances, how dare Ed Kelley and Jim Dinneen give us this cavalier, “show’s over, folks – nothing to see here – move along” bullshit in the face of this flagrant and disgusting example of the ineptitude so passionately and courageously exposed by Dr. Zydowicz.

It is beyond shameful.

At the end of the day, Ms. Post was simply outmaneuvered by an entrenched system intent on self-protection – but at least she tried, dammit – and that’s infinitely more than her craven “colleagues” did for us.

To her credit, Post made a yeoman’s effort to get at the truth and hold Mr. Dinneen accountable for allowing an essential service to wither on the budgetary vine, then spinelessly lie to his council and their constituents to avoid culpability.

And just like that, the medical examiner’s debacle died (pun intended).

Or did it?

Last evening, Sheriff Mike Chitwood made public on social media a copy of an internal email from Jim Dinneen to State Attorney R.J. Larizza dated May 25, 2018 at 12:24pm – announcing that Dr. Thogmartin would be serving as interim Medical Examiner until a process could be put in place to find a new chief.

Interestingly, that document directly contradicts Mr. Dinneen’s written and verbal statements to the Volusia County Council wherein he states, “After his positive review of our medical examiner’s facility, which he performed on Friday, May 25, 2018, I asked Dr. Thogmartin if he would consider assisting our county by temporarily acting as our interim medical examiner from June 8 to December 31, 2018.  He agreed to help out Volusia County as the Interim Medical Examiner and to manage the contract under his medical license for the contract doctors that would be utilized until we can hire new staff.”

Folks, unless the good Doctor completed his “positive review” of a very busy medical examiner’s facility by lunchtime on May 25th – Jim Dinneen lied to us – because Dr. Thogmartin’s written report is dated May 31, 2018.

If that’s not a ‘smoking gun’ I don’t know what is.

Clearly, Jim Dinneen has been caught in yet another bald-assed whopper.

The man is an unconscionable liar who has lost the moral authority to lead – and he clearly doesn’t have the guts or good sense to resign.

In my view, it is past time for our elected officials to jettison this lying sack of shit for the good of county government – and to preserve what little remains of the public trust and their own political reputations.

Disgusting.

In over 30-years of local government experience I have never witnessed this whale-turd level of no-class base cowardice and gross irresponsibility by an elected body.

That’s scary – and speaks to a level of institutionalized corruption and an organizational culture that permits the county’s chief executive to openly lie to us whenever it serves his timorous interests.

And no one who is paid to care seems to give a damn – in fact, they tacitly condone the practice through their strategic ignorance and acquiescence.

Gentle readers, I fear we are truly lost – and because I care more than I like to admit – it saddens me terribly.

Please remember this at the ballot box this November.  Please.

Angel:             City of Holly Hill

Kudos to Holly Hill’s Economic Development Coordinator Nick Conte on his recent big catch – Florida Health Care Plan’s “Pharmacy of Tomorrow” – which, after extensive renovation, will occupy the former SunTrust Bank building on Ridgewood Avenue!

One of the largest employers in Volusia County, Florida Health Care Plans – headquartered in Holly Hill for over two decades – plans a state-of-the-art pharmacy with expanded parking, advanced technology and other customer conveniences in the now vacant building the insurer recently purchased for $1.15 million.

The City of Holly Hill has the largest concentration of light industry in Volusia County, and – as the News-Journal’s Clayton Parks reported, “. . .is home to a number of thriving manufacturers, including Metra Electronics, Product Quest Manufacturing and arcade game maker Bob’s Space Racers.”

 Folks, “Manufacturing” = “Jobs” – and that forms the basis for a strong and vibrant community.

 I am incredibly proud of Nick – and all the elected and appointed officials in my beloved “City with a Heart” – who, despite the challenges, continue to transform this quaint riverside community in so many wonderful ways.

In my view, this represents the possibilities inherent in the many vacant buildings and properties that dot the Halifax area.

All it takes is vision and ingenuity – attributes that Mr. Conte clearly brings to his important role.

Asshole:          International Speedway Corporation

It seems ISC suffers from a split-personality disorder – a schizophrenic identity that greedily accepts massive amounts of public funds (read: Our Money) to mitigate overhead on “synergistic” projects like the One Daytona complex – even operates a quasi-governmental Community Development District to fund, maintain and operate public infrastructure at the shopping and entertainment multiplex – yet, they abhor the transparency that naturally comes with tax dollars.

I think they call that a corporate-created grey area. . .

They aren’t very forthcoming with attendance figures for their various racing and entertainment events either.

It’s no secret that NASCAR has seen dwindling attendance over the past few years – and by “dwindling” I mean some televised races appear to have so few fans in the stands I’m surprised they even bothered to check tickets.

Of course, no one governed by the France dynasty will release gate figures – or information on anything else – that would shine a light on the company’s finances, operation or future.

Apparently, it’s against “company policy” to share with your fans and investors in an open, fair and unguarded way – things that build confidence and a sense of ownership in the sport.  I mean, it’s not like ISC has many competitors in the very narrow marketplace of stockcar racing.

But what do I know?

I wasn’t surprised when the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported earlier this week that the speedway was refusing to release attendance figures for the big Memorial Day weekend Country 500 hoedown.

Although some in the local hospitality industry have criticized the festival for what they describe as a “weak line-up” – the fact is, the show included Dierks Bentley, Chris Stapleton, Billy Currington, Toby Keith and the popular duo Sugarland – not exactly lightweights in what passes for “country” music today.

Then, our tax-funded Masters of Wisdom at Volusia’s redundant tourism leadership circles cited the weather forecast – anything but publicly acknowledge the abject blight, dilapidation, omnipresent homeless, political stagnation and overwhelming sense of hopelessness that is crippling our beachside and seriously compromising “the brand.”

According to a report by the News-Journal’s Austin Fuller and Jim Abbott, “Spokesman Andrew Booth cited “company policy” in not releasing the attendance figures for the three-day festival in its third year. The first two years of the event, New Orleans-based Festival Productions, Inc. — producer of the event with concert industry giant AEG Live — had released attendance figures of 75,000 each year. Spokespeople for Festival Productions did not respond to News-Journal questions about attendance at this year’s event and instead forwarded them to Booth.”

“While estimates have been provided in the first two years, that was to give perspective to the scope and size of the event,” Booth wrote in an email.”

I can read between the lines – and so can you.

When government and corporations attempt to shield themselves in matters of great public interest, they simply prime the well of speculation, rumor and conjecture. After all, when a reporter asks the soft-soap question, “How many people showed up, Andrew?” – a reflexive “no comment” just seems weird.

Clearly, attendance figures at the Country 500 were down this year – so why not say so?

I’m no expert, but the music business is a hard dollar – and concert promotion is double-tough, with a big risk/reward trade off and incredibly tight margins.

Trust me – if a simple mathematical comparison shows a declining three-year trend – I’m afraid the handwriting is on the wall.

Unfortunately, I think we can all gather in the north parking lot of DIS next Memorial Day and wave a mournful goodbye to another promising annual festival come and gone.

I know, maybe the speedway can double-down on another transient Monster Truck event?

That seemed to work out well for them. . .

Angel:             Bethune-Cookman University Athletics

 From the Barker’s View sports desk – more good news for our own B-CU ‘Fighting Wildcats’ last week when they took two of the top four conference-wide honors at the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Spring Meeting!

Bethune-Cookman was honored with the prestigious Talmadge Layman Hill Men’s All-Sports Award for the third time in four years.

In addition, B-CU’s women’s sports teams were named runners-up for the Mary McLeod Bethune Women’s All-Sport’s Award.

In recognition of the university’s outstanding athletic programs, Conference Commissioner Dr. Dennis E. Thomas presented a check in the amount of $20,000 – along with his congratulations to B-CU interim President Hubert Grimes, and all administrators, coaches, student-athletes and support staff for their extraordinary commitment to excellence in college sports.

Congratulations to all Wildcats on this outstanding achievement!

Angel:             CANDO II

On Tuesday afternoon, those intrepid Ormond Beach grassroots activists of CANDO II held a peaceful protest of the City’s inexplicable support for the environmental atrocity at the site of the proposed WaWa convenience store on Granada Boulevard – and the continuing asinine wetland and zoning policies that encourage unchecked growth citywide.

Clearly, residents of Ormond Beach care deeply about their quality of life – and rather than acquiesce to the demands of developers who are blindly intent on ruining the character of one of the Halifax areas most unique communities – they are courageously standing up to an entrenched power structure that puts profits over common sense regulations.

As the late cultural anthropologist Margret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 Perhaps Deputy Mayor Troy Kent – who seems completely tone deaf when it comes to the needs and concerns of his constituents – should look out the window of his ivory tower at City Hall.

Those throngs of angry people you see waving signs in the street below are called “voters.”

Ignore them at your own political peril.

In my view, groups like CANDO II represent the very essence of community engagement – a real movement that will ultimately change the current tack (and composition) of the Ormond Beach City Commission – and take back this charming community from the hands of greed-crazed speculators intent on destroying our natural places and paving over those precious civic attributes that we hold dear.

Thank you, CANDO II – you are making a difference in the life and future of our beautiful city.

By your example, you restore our faith in the power of the people to effect positive and lasting change.

 Quote of the Week:

“County officials may think they doused a fire with Thogmartin’s report, but hiring him immediately afterward only poured gasoline on the flames of public opinion.  Ham-handed doesn’t begin to describe how sloppy and tone-deaf that move is.  At minimum, it undermines the validity of the report.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial, “Dig deeper on morgue,” Tuesday, June 5, 2018

According to the inviolate Volusia County Charter, the county manager “shall be responsible to the council for the proper administration of all affairs of the county.” 

In other words, Jim Dinneen works for – and at the pleasure of – our elected representatives on the dais of power in DeLand.

Not the other way around.

In past weeks, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County have been inundated with editorials and essays from a long-line of has-beens and political hacks extolling the virtues of home rule – marginalizing Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s revelations – and trying their best to convince us that our charter form of government “works.”

They’re right, it does – but not for us.

The fact is clear – this bastardized oligarchy bears no resemblance to a true council/manager form of government – and the tail has been wagging the dog so long our elected officials have all but abdicated their sworn responsibility to provide oversight and accountability as a counter balance the incredible power vested in this foul ball of a County Manager.

Instead, they put blinders on and perpetuate a morally corrupt system which exists to provide powerful political insiders unfettered access to public funds.  After all, going along with the ruse keeps the campaign contributions flowing.

For instance, on Tuesday, when asked to consider the politically sticky wicket of raising impact fees, these cowardly assholes once again chose to punt – trying desperately to buy time for their pitifully vulnerable “colleagues” currently standing for reelection.

First, the always arrogant Deb Denys suggested another do-nothing political insulation committee – populated with all the right last names – charged with developing “recommendations” to be shit-canned much like those of the much-ballyhooed Beachside Redevelopment Committee were when it’s purpose of putting time and distance between the News-Journal’s Tarnished Jewel series and the County Council was accomplished.

To her credit, Heather Post saw through this stall tactic and called bullshit, “I’m not real big on the committee idea.  When committees are created it sort of prolongs the process.  I think we might be able to make these decision with transparency to the public without appointing committees and lagging.”

Ultimately, our representatives agreed that you and I, the long-suffering taxpayers, should spend through the nose for yet another expensive “study” – conducted by yet another out-of-state consultant – who will light candles, perform a voodoo incantation, run the “numbers” through some magic formula, then produce a long-winded report telling our elected officials exactly what they want to hear.

The elected developer’s shills at all levels of government have factored in so many variables and assumptions in calculating impact fees that, quite literally, We, The People may end up owing Mori Hosseini money when it’s all said and done. . .

Remember just a few weeks ago when our addle-brained dipshit of a County Chair crowed in the newspaper that he “didn’t need no stinkin’ study” to tell him what to charge his cronies in the development community?

I wonder what changed? 

Either Old Ed finally admits the obvious nexus between the council’s do-nothing stance on impact fees and their embarrassing failure to launch on the half-cent sales tax initiative – or he has discovered how easy it is to avoid making a decision by kicking this rusty can even further down the road.

Fucking coward.

And Another Thing!

After several unavoidable delays – the much-anticipated Sons of the Beach protest of the theft of our century-old heritage of beach driving behind the Hard Luck Hotel is on!

I’m asking everyone who reads Barker’s View – whether you agree with my screeds or not – to please join me this Saturday, June 9th, on the semi-private strand between the poisoned poles behind the Hard Rock beginning at 9:00am.

SOB President Paul Zimmerman invites everyone who cares about beach access, and the amenities that make our area unique, to peaceably and respectfully assemble on the beach Saturday morning and let our county officials know how we feel about “their lawless disregard for our traditions and their own laws.”

So, slather on the sunscreen and get yo’ butt to the beach! 

It’ll be fun – besides, a little civil disobedience is good for the soul.

Please feel-free to bring homemade signs to express your First Amendment right to be heard!

As always, kids are welcome – after all, we’re fighting hard for their future right to beach access!

If I could ask a small favor – please share the date with friends, family and neighbors – and post on your social media page to ensure widest possible dissemination.

Thank you!

I look forward to seeing everyone this Saturday!

 

On Volusia: Ed Kelley Thinks You’re an Asshole – Redux

Yes, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, really is that thick.

Old Ed’s weak-minded attempt to defend Volusia County’s charter government in the Daytona Beach News-Journal quickly turned into a mean-spirited hatchet piece, further besmirching the character and professional reputations of former medical examiner Dr. Sara Zydowicz and Sheriff Mike Chitwood.

Rather than explain to his constituents the benefits of home rule, Mr. Kelley used his recent Community Voices column to further discredit two high profile critics of a system run wild – a bastardized oligarchy that consolidates enormous power in the hands of one little man with a raging Napoleonic complex and no apparent situational awareness of the operational and administrative issues that have plagued his reign for years.

In fact, the only section of Chairman Kelley’s nervous meltdown on Sunday’s editorial page even remotely linked to our charter form of government was his wobbly opening statement, “Yes, the current council/ manager form of government spelled out in our charter does work for all departments and residents/taxpayers of Volusia County.”

Now, you and I – the long-suffering “residents/taxpayers of Volusia County” – know that Ed’s unsupported gibberish is complete bullshit.

Why?

Because we live and scratch out a living here – and most of us have the cognitive ability to think critically – which places us head-and-shoulders above those lumbering dullards we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power in DeLand.

If Old Ed’s treatment taught us anything (it didn’t, but let’s pretend) it is that he’s a whole different guy under pressure – transmogrifying from the dotty grandfather into a vengeful loup-garou who goes for the jugular whenever he perceives any real threat to the status quo.

I already knew that – I’ve seen Ed in action before – but I’m glad his constituents are getting a front row seat to this latest no-holds-barred, wholesale destruction of his critics – and anyone else with the audacity to question the self-serving motivations of his handler, County Manager Jim Dinneen.

And if you think he gives any deference to a fellow council member – a colleague, duly elected by the citizens of Volusia County – think again.

Since taking office, Chairman Kelley has done everything in his power to keep District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post quiet and contained – lest she get “out of order” and expose the base ineptitude in county government that has hampered any substantive progress on the Fun Coast for a decade.

The cross-dais criticism has been unmerciful.

It’s like watching a group of gandy dancers driving a square spike into a round hole.

Any independent thought expressed by Ms. Post was immediately met with withering condemnation – and any attempt to question Mr. Dinneen brought blistering ridicule and counter-allegations of official impropriety in her fact-finding attempts.

I can only imagine how Ms. Post must have felt – because it was painful to watch.  In fact, the always arrogant Deb Denys did everything but throw her Jimmy Choo at her recoiling “colleague.”

It was like a weird Milgram Experiment on obedience to authority figures – only the electric shocks contained real voltage.

As a result, Ms. Post entered a self-imposed silence, refusing to take questions from reporters, preferring to communicate with her constituents from the relative safety of a canned social media page where she controlled both the content and the message.

Then, last week, it appears Ms. Post finally cast off the oppressive yoke, kicked free of the corral and broke ranks – refusing to conform to the unwritten rule of lock-step conformity that has paralyzed the council/manager process and allowed Jim Dinneen to physically control the elected body for years.

In a series of extraordinary Facebook vlogs, Ms. Post publicly discussed her outrage at the myriad management blunders that have come to light – everything from the debacle at the medical examiner’s office, to the complete lack of transparency in an information black market wholly controlled by the Dinneen administration, where knowledge of the important issues is doled out only to those who agree to play along.

She even did the unthinkable and formally apologized to those who have been victimized in Dinneen’s crude attempt to deflect accountability – and empathized with county employees who strive valiantly to provide essential services in an increasingly toxic environment of mismanagement and flagrant incompetence.

Frankly, I find Ms. Post’s newfound independence refreshing.  However, the acid test will be at tomorrow’s Volusia County Council meeting.

You can bet your bippy Old Ed’s fangs will come out as he does everything conceivable to silence critics, discredit detractors and maintain control of this building shitstorm.  It’ll be like watching some crazy yahoo trying to rope the wind – but, like the bully he is – Chairman Kelley will try his best to protect the system at all cost.

How Ms. Post stands up to that aggressive defense of an entrenched system that seemingly exists to funnel public funds to the private profit motives of uber-wealthy political insiders (a power structure that Old Ed would have us believe doesn’t exist?) will tell us all we need to know about her commitment to fundamental change and government accountability.

Any reasonable person can see that in recent days this comical farce has taken a darker, more ominous tone as the ugly truth comes to light.

For instance, Mr. Dinneen’s brutal assassination of Ms. Post’s personal character in the Daytona Beach News-Journal should result in widespread outrage, the unequivocal support of her fellow elected officials, and an ethics investigation by the Florida City and County Management Association.

For an appointed county manager to ambush an elected official in the newspaper by dredging up her 2010 dismissal from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – a personnel action Ms. Post successfully fought and received a $44,000 settlement – most likely violates a slew of human resource policies and the tenets of the International City/County Management Association’s code of professional ethics.

It crossed a very clear line – and Mr. Dinneen knows it.

In my experience, most smart politicians, especially those standing for reelection, know when its time to distance oneself from blatant liabilities – they step over the steaming piles of noxious dung, not in them.

But sometimes, despite their best instincts, ostensibly smart elected officials can’t help themselves – rather than avoid the shit – they lay down and wallow in it.

Apparently, everyone except our addle-brained County Chair understands that Jimmy Dinneen has become a very heavy millstone to wear during this election cycle.

Now is the time for our representatives to drop this farcical defense of the indefensible – and if Mr. Dinneen doesn’t have the common human decency to resign and end this interminable distraction from the important business of the day – they should jettison him as efficiently as possible.

Only then can they begin the difficult process of rebuilding the public’s trust in county government.

 

 

 

On Volusia: An Illusion of Truth

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

This quote is attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist and one of the most inherently evil men to have ever lived.  Unfortunately, this practice is still actively employed by politicians and “spin doctors” the world over.

It’s called the “illusory truth effect” – defined as our human tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure – regardless of how outlandish it may seem at first.

It doesn’t require a high degree of sophistication – just keep repeating an untruth until the line between fantasy and reality blur.  It’s accomplished with misdirection and diversion, selective facts, burying bad news and fostering an organizational culture where information is held close to the vest and doled out sparingly as a control mechanism.

The consolidation of power begins with information control.

Sound familiar?

To say that the wheels have come off the cart in Volusia County government is an understatement.

As the various layers of this rotten onion are peeled away, those of us who stand on the outside looking in – the long-suffering rubes who are expected to pay the bills and accept what we are told at face value – are beginning to see that things are not as neat and tidy in the Palace of Emperor Jim Dinneen as we have been led to believe.

In fact, it’s an abominable mess.

A festering quagmire of ineptitude and mismanagement that has reached epic proportions – and continues to threaten the delivery of essential government services, such as emergency medical transport, public asset protection, the medical examiners function, impact fees, infrastructure and growth management, to name but a few.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently published an informative article by the intrepid reporter Dustin Wyatt, “Volusia officials hope to turn the page,” which further exposed the siege mentality currently gripping the executive offices at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – the last bastion of a failed oligarchy trying desperately to control the illusion of truth as the shitstorm rages around them.

Last week, in a series of video presentations to her constituents, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post courageously spoke out on the issues of the day.

Admittedly, I’ve been hypercritical of Ms. Post – but I think she has finally realized that her silence and acquiescence has become an extreme detriment to the lives and livelihoods of her constituents.

At least I hope that’s her reasoning.

She still refuses to speak with local media outlets (something she might want to rethink) appearing instead as a weird disembodied talking head on a canned Facebook page.  That makes it difficult to ask questions and gain insight from our elected representative – but it’s a positive crack in the information void that defines county government.

The News-Journal described Ms. Post’s social media vlogs as calling out “Dineen’s “deplorable lack of transparency after she said she couldn’t get questions answered about the morgue’s operations when she showed up unannounced and without an appointment.  In a video posted Friday, she apologized to the county’s outgoing medical examiner, Sara Zydowicz, saying she’s “appalled, disgusted and outraged” that county leaders would “vilify” the doctor.”

Of course she showed up unannounced.  How else does one properly inspect an office which has lost total credibility and become the focus of intense public interest – make an appointment and ask Mr. Dinneen may I visit your morgue, pretty-please?

My ass.

In typical fashion, as soon as Councilwoman Post broke ranks – her insubordination to the unwritten rules of lock-step conformity resulted in a broadside from her “colleagues” on the dais of power – an attack led by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley.

“The county chair called Post’s videos unacceptable and accused her of getting too involved in day-to-day operations at the morgue, which council members aren’t supposed to do. “I think (the video) was very out of order,” Kelley said. “If you reach a point to where what you are doing is interfering with the operation of a county department, I think it’s dangerous.”

You know what’s out-of-order, Ed?  Your mushy cerebral cortex.

She’s not interfering with the operation of a county department, you bootlicking jackass – she’s exposing the maladministration and budgetary neglect of an essential public service that lost its professional accreditation in 2015 for many of the same reasons Dr. Z reported to state regulatory authorities!

Old Ed then went beyond the boundaries of human reason when – during his half-bright defense of charter government in Sunday’s News-Journal – he exposed himself as the second biggest lying sack of shit in the realm:

“In rereading the column by Sheriff Chitwood on May 20, I would like to know who are the select few deep pockets and government officials he refers to who control our county and who will stop at nothing to keep a grip on power. Who are the “powers that be”? Maybe he will tell us. In my 16-plus years of public service, with the city of Ormond Beach as a commissioner and mayor or as chair of the Volusia County Council, I have never been influenced by or asked to vote on a matter based upon a campaign contribution by anyone. This, too, I believe to be true for those I serve with on the council.”

My God.

This brain-addled dipshit would actually have you and I believe that J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini, Lesa France-Kennedy and other “Rich & Powerful” insiders have absolutely no political influence in Volusia County?

That they infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of hand-picked local candidates, yet expect nothing in return for their investment? 

Yes, they really think we’re that stupid.

For instance, earlier this week County Manager Jim Dinneen employed a disgusting tactic that has served him extremely well through the years when he hand-selected his own expert to conduct a walk-through of the morgue, talk to a few employees, then generate a short report confirming the opinions voiced by his chief defender, Ed Kelley, in the newspaper days earlier – a report he then used to besmirch the professional reputation of the only county department head other than Sheriff Chitwood with the guts to bring serious deficiencies to light and cast doubt on Mr. Dinneen’s management and oversight of critical services.

To further compromise the “independence” of this half-assed faux-audit, Mr. Dinneen makes an offer of employment to Dr. Jon Thogmartin – his cherry-picked assessor whose findings precisely matched the public narrative clumsily spun by Dinneen and Kelley to deflect accountability.

Unethical?

You bet your ass it is – and in my view, potentially criminal – given the fact that public funds are being lavishly expended in the most self-evident case of bureaucratic Cover Your Ass in the history of Volusia County government.

In his goofy condemnation of the social media firestorm resulting from these raging debacles, the Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry squawked from his high perch on the county council – “I wish people, before they got on social media or Facebook (to complain) would really investigate what is going on.”

Trust me, Freddie – the last thing you goons with a political title want is a legitimate investigation into “what’s going on.”

In my view, these cheap attempts to dodge responsibility and protect the status quo pale in comparison to perhaps the most egregious violation of the City and County Management Code of Ethics, and common human decency, on record when Jim Dinneen – our petty pipsqueak of an appointed county manager – cut deep into Councilwoman Post, resurrecting her controversial dismissal from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in 2010, following an internal affairs investigation that found she lied under oath.

Extraordinarily, Mr. Dinneen said to the News-Journal, “I think you all forget the circumstances of why she doesn’t work here anymore.”

What Dinneen failed to mention was that Ms. Post filed a wrongful termination lawsuit and received a $44,000 financial settlement from Volusia County.

Look, as a citizen and taxpayer, I have the right to criticize the acts and omissions of my elected officials – but as an appointed government executive and recipient of public funds, Mr. Dinneen does not.

According to our sacrosanct county charter – Dinneen works for Ms. Post, and six other duly elected officials who are politically accountable to their constituents every four years.

This clear violation of our council/manager form – and the professional ethics one expects of an appointed official who wields incredible power – simply cannot stand.  That level of political insulation, flagrant disregard for the checks-and-balances of power and lack of even basic accountability to higher authority is the foundation of a dictatorship, not a representative democracy.

Again, this cannot stand.

In my view, regardless of whether they agree with her or not – Ms. Post’s fellow elected officials have a moral duty to rally to her defense and immediately terminate Mr. Dinneen’s out-of-control destruction of the professional reputations of whistleblowers – and the gross character assassination of a sitting elected official.

It’s dangerous – and has no place in a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

If Ms. Post’s fellow elected officials fail to acknowledge and rectify this horrific abuse in the most expedient means possible, then nothing prevents him from doing the same damn thing to any one of them should they find cause to question his motives – or his seemingly omnipotent authority.