Angels & Assholes for April 16, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia Director of Public Protection Joe Pozzo

There was a time in the dark ages when cops and firefighters could settle their personal and professional differences like brothers and sisters without someone getting their feelings hurt and running home to momma.

In my department, the locker room was where we could argue amongst ourselves, resolve interpersonal issues, bemoan our domestic situation, tell jokes, congratulate our own performance, salve our wounds, and complain about the brass – discussions that were always peppered with the liberal use of expletives – safe in the knowledge that whatever was said, in anger or otherwise, was just between those involved. 

It was part of what forms the brotherhood and sisterhood of the emergency services – law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services – a bond forged between those who trust each other with their very lives – supporting each other physically and emotionally in often dangerous and difficult circumstances. 

Regardless of petty differences or internecine spats – when the radio call comes, or the tones drop, we become one team – dedicated to the simple concept of putting the lives of others above our own self-interests. 

In law enforcement, we could fight like cats and dogs, but we remained a family – and nobody else better get involved. . .    

Many old school firefighters I know tell similar stories of times gone by, before it was necessary to involve the command staff – or “human resources” – in sorting out interoffice quarrels or bruised feelings. 

Firefighters call it “The Brotherhood” – something that transcends gender, race, or religion – a title bestowed on those in the fire service who have earned their place and strive every day to live up to the high moral and ethical standards of their chosen profession.   

Unfortunately, resolving issues between colleagues and building trusting relationships – something that was once a strong bonding experience in public safety organizations – is no longer encouraged.

Now the very thought of settling a disagreement outside the narrow scope of a legally vetted personnel policy is a terminable offense – and the benefits of a bloody nose or venting pent-up frustrations between peers – has been replaced with “dispute resolution” protocols, or litigation that often results in the undoing of a career. 

This week, I was reminded of how far afield we have gone when I read a cryptic story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal describing a “verbal altercation” between Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin and Volusia County Director of Public Protection Joe Pozzo earlier this month.

Let me be clear, I know nothing about the particulars of the incident – but I do know that Chief Fustin, a career firefighter who retired after 33-years with the Springfield, Illinois Fire Department before coming to Port Orange in 2016, was placed on administrative leave and publicly relieved of command pending an internal investigation.

Late yesterday, Chief Fustin was summarily terminated for what was officially described as “inexcusable” behavior that did not comport with the city’s “core values.” 

Strong words for a non-physical confrontation. 

I also noticed that Director Pozzo was not. . .

It appears the City of Port Orange threw the book at Chief Fustin, and I mean the whole book – pages, binding, and hard cover – charging him with, “…behavior that may be in violation of City Policy or against one or more of the City’s core values: Commitment, Adaptability, Respect and  Ethics/Integrity.”

Damn.

I know from personal experience that Volusia County government can be extremely difficult to deal with and when someone representing a local municipality stands up for the interests of their community – that audacity in the face of an obstinate, outsized, and incredibly controlling county bureaucracy – can result in heated tempers. 

As it should. 

The News-Journal report remined me that Chief Fustin has been a vocal critic of Volusia County’s abysmal emergency medical transport service that was putting lives in danger – something that led to the City of Port Orange fielding its own ambulance – a move that openly irritated those haughty muckety-mucks in DeLand. 

Trust me.  It is not easy speaking truth to power. 

Once, during the latter part of my career, I was summoned to the City Manager’s office where I was told a very high-ranking Volusia County government official had lodged a complaint against me following a dispute over law enforcement funding priorities in the Community Redevelopment Area. 

My manager refused to identify the complainant by name (suffice it to say he is no longer in County government) – and the petty allegations were little more than a snooty powerplay – but hurtful, nonetheless.  

Admittedly, I was known for having sharp elbows when it came to protecting the interests of those I served, but there was no need to destroy my career over a policy disagreement.

It was the equivalent of a bully picking on the littlest guy in the political sandbox.  

Interestingly, the matter mysteriously went away when my wife filed a formal public records request seeking costs associated with the renovation of the executive suite at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – and a mysterious incident during which a former county manager’s publicly-owned vehicle was stolen from a boatyard with a set of privately-owned golf clubs inside. . .

I never forgot that – and I am not the only municipal employee that has felt the vengeful wrath of this horribly bloated county bureaucracy. 

Unfortunately, it appears Port Orange Interim City Manager Jamie Miller – who was elevated to the temporary top spot in January after serving as something called an “administrative services director” – saw fit to publicly humiliate her fire chief, drag him through the mud of a hush-hush investigation, then fire him over a “verbal altercation.”

Say what?

Something doesn’t sound right to me. 

At worst, if Fustin engaged in a heated public argument with Pozzo, he should have received a formal reprimand – a stern reminder that the Fire Chief should always maintain a professional bearing, blah, blah, blah. 

And, in my view, as a brother firefighter – Director Pozzo should have stepped in to support Chief Fustin – assuring everyone involved that it was a scrap between two guys from the old neighborhood – something that could be resolved between them. 

Now, it is too late for that. . .

In my view, this one bears watching – and if Ms. Miller overreacted – she should be shown the door. 

Welcome to the pleasures of command, Jamie. . . 

Considering there was more information on how to make a corned beef sandwich in this week’s News-Journal than why a prominent Port Orange city official was ultimately terminated, perhaps the Volusia County Council can set aside time during a future meeting to have a more public exploration of the verbal tiff which so grievously offended Director Pozzo’s delicate sensibilities – to the point it was necessary to destroy the career and reputation of a fellow 40-year veteran of the fire service.

Inquiring minds – and the taxpayers of Volusia County and Port Orange – want to know.

Angel              City of DeBary

In the early days of this electronic soapbox, I cut my editorial teeth on what became known as The Debacle in DeBary. 

Much to my surprise, this squalid tale of treachery, abject greed, and the base arrogance of misguided political power in a tiny town on the banks of the St. John’s River drove tens-of-thousands of readers to this site, and, for good or ill, Barker’s View quickly became part of the political discussion in Volusia County. 

In 2016, the City of DeBary devolved into a cautionary example of what can happen when a local government becomes hopelessly enmeshed in the murky motives of property developers and those who – for a healthy fee – navigate the fast and loose Turkish bazaar that passes for environmental permitting in the Sunshine State.

The city’s twisted scheme to develop 102-acres of environmentally sensitive land adjacent to the DeBary SunRail station was first exposed by the incredible investigative journalism of former Daytona Beach News-Journal environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver.

Her outstanding reportage peeled the onion on the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board and permitting process – to include the fact public officials transferred public funds to the then District Chairman – who happened to own an Orlando-based “environmental consultancy” – in exchange for his personal assistance in securing SJRWMD permissions for the transit-oriented development.

You read that right:  The Chairman of the SJRWMD Governing Board received money from public and private clients to lobby for their interests in front of the very state regulatory board he oversaw.

Mindboggling.    

Earlier this week, I read an informative piece by the News-Journal’s intrepid Wild West Volusia correspondent Katie Kustura, who reported that the City of DeBary is actively developing a plan to protect the threatened Gemini Spring complex from further nitrogen poisoning by replacing 2,000+ septic tanks and limiting turfgrass fertilizer in the vicinity of the springs.

According to the report, “The need to devise a plan is a result of the 2016 Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act in which the state Legislature identified 30 Outstanding Florida Springs, one of which is Gemini Springs. In Volusia County, Blue Spring and DeLeon Springs also received that designation.”

Not surprisingly, all three springs in Volusia County are considered threatened, suffering from the devastating effects of excessive nitrate pollution. Once a plan is in place, DeBary officials can begin working with county, state, and federal partners to identify potential funding sources to limit or eliminate the financial burden on area residents.

Unfortunately, DeBary’s City Manager, Carmen Rosamonda, struck a sour note during an interview with Kustura, when he moaned, “It’s another mandate and burden that’s put on local governments without any funding.”

Bullshit. 

Why is it that local governments always cry the poormouth blues and squall about “unfunded mandates” when asked to clean up an environmental catastrophe they helped create in their own backyard? 

In my view, many county and municipal governments in Florida continue to succumb to the lure of overdevelopment – the lie of “progress” – as the largesse of speculative developers fuel political campaigns at all levels and we willingly foul our own water supply with greed-crazed malignant sprawl. 

Add to that the sickening practice of transporting the overabundance of sewage sludge – politely called “biosolids” (the byproduct of the wastewater treatment process) out of southeast Florida and dumping it as fertilizer at the headwaters of the St. John’s River – and you get the idea that we are literally shitting in our own nest. 

With an estimated 1,000 new residents moving into the state every day, does anyone believe the volume of sewage – or the complex problem of what to do with it – is going away anytime soon?

I hate to be the voice of reason, but we have made quite a mess of things, and it is past time to reverse this grim trend.  

In my view, Mr. Rosamonda should consider it a privilege – and a sacred responsibility – to help restore Gemini Springs to good health by doing everything possible to eliminate sources of nitrogen and other pollutants – including a hard moratorium on the use of turfgrass fertilizer and chemical applications on ornamental grasses and plants within identified priority areas – and our friends in Tallahassee should work to strengthen the lackluster “regulations” that continue to fall short of restoring and protecting our sensitive springs and waterways. 

It’s a good start. . .

Angel               Volusia Forever/ECHO Alliance

Like many of you, last November I made my voice heard at the ballot box as Volusia County voters overwhelmingly voted to renew the Volusia ECHO and Forever programs, which use a portion of our property taxes to purchase conservation land and preserve our rapidly vanishing environmental, cultural, and historic places. 

For me, the selling point for both was the highly visible nature of the quality-of-life projects funded in our communities – and the renewed emphasis on the acquisition and safeguarding of environmentally sensitive lands surrounding our springs, lakes, rivers, and wetlands – a practice critical to protecting our future water supply. 

I also happen to agree with a position paper recently issued by the Volusia Forever/ECHO Alliance – the group which helped lead the 2020 grassroots effort to get both programs on the ballot – which contains commonsense recommendations based upon stakeholder consensus and polling information obtained from Volusia County voters. 

These recommendations include revising existing procedures to rank and review projects for funding based upon “objective standards of environmental values, management considerations, potential for partnership, and independent appraisals,” insulating the programs from political influence, and requiring that County Council members declare a conflict should they have a contractual or property interest in an application under review. 

Will good people disagree over funding priorities?  I hope so. 

In my view, when it comes to allocating our tax dollars for maximum value, the debate of competing ideas leading to hard-fought consensus always beats a rubber stamp based solely on who has more influence. 

To maintain the public trust, it is imperative that both oversight committees be allowed to operate independent of internal or external pressure – something that will require complete transparency, independent appraisers and audits, and the development of an open and honest review process that comports with both the letter and spirit of the ballot language. 

In recent weeks, area residents had an opportunity to make their voices heard on the ECHO program during multiple “listening sessions” held throughout Volusia County. 

Now, it is time for citizen input on Volusia Forever. 

These meetings present information on how ECHO/Forever benefit our quality of life and allow residents an opportunity to present their thoughts and suggestions – both in person and virtually – to advisory committee members and elected officials.  

The final Volusia ECHO listening session will be held:

Thursday, April 22, at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center, 123 W. Indiana Avenue, DeLand

Volusia Forever listening sessions include:

April 21: DeLand – Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center, 123 W. Indiana Avenue

April 28: New Smyrna Beach – Brannon Center, 105 S. Riverside Drive

May 5: Daytona Beach – Beach Safety Headquarters, 515 S. Atlantic Avenue

May 12: Ormond Beach – City Hall, 22 S. Beach Street

May 19: Deltona – Regional Library, 2150 Eustace Avenue

All sessions begin at 6:00pm.

Those wishing to participate virtually should go to www.volusia.org and see the individual advisory committees’ pages for more details. 

While you are at it, I hope you will consider an urgent request by Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower:

“The Volusia County Council votes April 20 to decide if we settle for a buffer or actually save the land and extend the Loop bicycle path to the west side of Old Dixie Highway.  You can help get this done by taking three actions.

1.  Help raise another $10,000 to buy the land. So far DREAM GREEN VOLUSIA has helped raise $20,000!

Every dollar donated demonstrates to the council how much you love this land. 

DONATE HERE www.DreamGreenVolusia.com and help us reach $30,000 by the 20th!

2. Go to www.volusia.org/government and email your County Council members to approve the unanimous recommendations of the Historical Preservation Board AND the ECHO boards to purchase this land.

3. Come to the County Council meeting April 20th to show your support for this purchase.  Our meeting will start with public comments at 9:30 AM. There will be another opportunity to speak up for land preservation after lunch.”

I hope you will. 

This one’s important – and Chairman Brower deserves our support as he fights hard to change the entrenched status quo. 

Quote of the Week

“On April 19, the Deltona City Commission will hear a request to rezone 110 acres of wooded property along Enterprise Osteen Road. Of the 110 acres, 55% is open water, wetlands, or within the 100-year flood plain. It abuts and shares a wetland system with the nearly 500-acre parcel known as the D Ranch Preserve, owned and placed into conservation in perpetuity by Conservation Florida. The property’s other borders are adjacent to 10-acre parcels and a 100-acre parcel all engaged in agricultural activities, a lake, and acreage-oriented residential lots. Conservation Florida has gone on record with the concern that development of the scope under consideration with this rezoning request will have a negative impact on the shared wetlands system and the plants and animals that it is their duty to protect as stewards of the preserve.”

–J. Scott Green, Osteen, as excerpted from his op/ed in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Deltona city leaders shouldn’t trample the beauty of a delicate country landscape,” Tuesday, April 13, 2021

And Another Thing!

Earlier this week, I published a piece venting my disappointment over a full-service restaurant now open for business in the new Brown & Brown headquarters building on Beach Street. 

Look, normally I could care less what King J. Hyatt Brown does with his growing empire – because there is little anyone can say or do that will impede his idea of progress in the Kingdom of Hyattona – but this was different. 

We were promised one thing – then handed something quite different. 

Everyone who is anyone in business and government in Volusia County sold the long-suffering taxpayers on the notion that the very presence of King Hyatt’s massive glass-and-steel office building would be the panacea that transforms the decades old blight and civic neglect that has turned our downtrodden downtown into a place best avoided. 

Then, we were asked to help. 

Just weeks after the carefully orchestrated announcement we would receive the headquarters, both the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia ponied up millions-of-dollars in infrastructure improvements, financial incentives, and property tax abatement – which, we were told, would assist Brown & Brown in obtaining even more tax credits from the State of Florida for the promised 600 “new high-paying jobs” the HQ would bring to Daytona Beach.

As the News-Journal reported at the time, these lucrative spiffs were championed by “some of the city’s heaviest hitters,” to include the formidable former Mayor Glenn Ritchey, past County Chair Frank Bruno, and representatives from Halifax Health, the Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cobb Cole, ad infinitum. . .

There was heady talk around town – exciting words like “rejuvenation,” “recovery,” and “revitalization” were bandied about – as our ‘powers that be’ assured us tax paying piss-ants that downtown restaurants, shops, and bars would be brimming with young free spending Brown & Brown executives – something that gave strapped area merchants reason to hang on by their splintered fingernails just a little while longer. . .

The idea of Brown & Brown opening a restaurant – complete with a 24-hour kiosk to ensure no one needs to leave the campus – struck me as counter to the promise of a bustling downtown experience, with storefronts filled with young, upwardly mobile executives enjoying a working lunch at the Dancing Avocado Kitchen or meeting with friends and colleagues over a pint at McK’s. 

After sucking millions of local dollars in “economic incentives” – with the promise of more state tax breaks to come – good, old fashioned corporate welfare that everyone agreed to ignore on the promise of prosperity – J. Hyatt brings in a French food service group who won’t even source its fish in Daytona Beach?

That didn’t sit right with me.

In response, Mike Panaggio – who has become the official apologist and social media flack for our ‘Rich & Powerful’ took exception to my jaded views – accusing me and other vocal critics of King Hyatt’s plan to rebuild downtown Daytona in his image of being “jealous” – and suggesting we should all get down on our hand and knees and kiss the hem of the King’s garment for his largesse in plopping this self-aggrandizing monument in our community. 

“As a shareholder of BNB I feel the HQ should have been in a more appropriate city like a Charlotte or Atlanta or even Dallas but Hyatt pushed for Daytona because he loves the city. He has led BNB to incredible levels during his tenure and NO I had no say in the Boards selection of Daytona. Do you honestly feel that the city would be better off without the investment and the new park gift. Also do you know the difference between the public company and Hyatt’s personal contributions? They are quite different since he in fact owns a minority share of BNB.”

Whatever.

As anyone watching knows, I made my living as a Holly Hill cop.  Do you think I am motivated by money – or jealous of yours?

Look, if Mr. Panaggio wants to kiss King Hyatt’s sizeable backside, so be it – the line is long and distinguished.

Just don’t demand I join in.

Perhaps it is time Mr. Panaggio understand that it is easy to confuse the size of someone’s wallet with their civic vision – something that always seems to benefit the latter – and anyone paying attention can see how the use of strategic blight and wholly controlled elected officials has left much of the community in ruins – as all the right last names continue to haul public funds out of downtown by the truck load in the form of tax subsidized parking garages and other private projects. 

Empty promises that continue to destroy what remains of our once bustling commercial area as our ‘powers that be’ push their twisted idea of “progress” – and use our money to accomplish it.

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

The Kingdom

Way back in the fall of 2017, insurance magnate and undisputed ‘King of the Realm,’ J. Hyatt Brown, gathered his loyal subjects before him at an “invitation only” event – where both the message and the audience were carefully controlled – and announced plans to construct his Grand Headquarters building on Beach Street – something that King Hyatt’s handmaidens in government and industry hailed as a panacea for Daytona Beach’s downtrodden downtown. 

The answer to our collective prayers and problems – a catalyst for transformative success.

There was gushing adulation from all the right last names as City Manager Jim Chisholm said, “It’s a game changer for the downtown area,” and Dr. Kent Sharples of that mysterious camera stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance swooned, “It’s the biggest and best thing that’s happened since General Electric (or sliced bread, for that matter) in terms of the number of jobs created, salary and impact on our community.”

Whoop!  Whoop!  Good times were here again, again!

In a September 2017 article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, King Hyatt assured us this magical makeover of our languishing downtown – an area that has suffered the indignity of civic neglect for decades – would, of course, require “government help” to accomplish:

“But bringing the project to fruition will require government help. The company is asking for financial incentives from the city, county and state. Company leaders have been talking to state officials for several months about corporate tax credits that could be given in exchange for creating an agreed upon number of jobs in a particular salary range.

No specific ask has been made yet to the city or Volusia County, but J. Hyatt Brown said he’s had a “very, very favorable response from the city and county.”

Very, very favorable, indeed. . . 

Just weeks later, both the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia ponied up millions-of-dollars in infrastructure improvements, financial incentives, and property tax abatement – which, we were told, would assist Brown & Brown in obtaining even more tax credits from the State of Florida for the promised 600 “new high-paying jobs” the HQ would bring to Daytona Beach. 

As the News-Journal reported at the time, these lucrative spiffs were championed by “some of the city’s heaviest hitters,” to include the formidable former Mayor Glenn Ritchey, past County Chair Frank Bruno, and representatives from Halifax Health, the Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cobb Cole, ad infinitum. . . 

I am just absolutely delighted,” said Mori Hosseini, chairman and CEO of ICI Homes.”

“John Albright, president and CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co., said the new headquarters would be “an important spark to the redevelopment of downtown.”

There was heady talk around town – exciting words like “rejuvenation,” “recovery,” and “revitalization” were bandied about – as our ‘powers that be’ assured us tax paying piss-ants that downtown restaurants, shops, and bars would be brimming with young free spending Brown & Brown executives – something that gave strapped area merchants reason to hang on by their splintered fingernails just a little while longer. . . 

To prepare for the second coming of the once vibrant Downtown Daytona, we acquiesced to a plan that gifted a riverfront park to J. Hyatt for his self-aggrandizing “esplanade” – if the citizens of Daytona Beach would agree to pay some $800,000 annually for upkeep – then, a bizarre plan was hatched to replace a perfectly serviceable streetscape.

The taxpayers of Daytona Beach were blindsided as their elected officials agreed to underwrite parking garages and apartment complexes – and historic churches were felled to make way for “progress” as defined by the Good Old Boys Investment Club at CTO Realty Growth (née) Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company. . .

We were assured these sacrifices were our contribution to the coming opulence and affluence envisioned by our exalted Monarchy – those uber-wealthy insiders who holds all the cards – the price of a golden ticket to board the Brown & Brown gravy train to prosperity.

The headquarters was billed as far more than just another glass-and-steel office building.

It was essentially a 10-story talisman, a sacred place with the supernatural power to transform a community that has wallowed in blight, mediocrity, and abandonment for so long it has lost its very identity – and ultimately surrendered to the sad notion that literally anything new held the promise of redemption – regardless of what it cost us. 

At the time, I dropped a turd in the proverbial punchbowl when I pondered aloud, “What if it’s just another insurance office?  You know, a dull place with bored cubical drones grabbing a bite at their desk – doing their eight then hitting the gate – driving home to some overpriced apartment off LPGA Boulevard?”

My concerns were summarily dismissed by those with a chip in the game as the ravings of a nay-saying asshole. . .

I don’t know about you, but my beat-up old heart dropped on Friday when I read a shocking piece on WNDB’s website headlined, “Creative Space Café” Brings Fresh, Locally Sourced Meals To New Brown & Brown HQ.”

In the informative article, we learned from News Daytona Beach’s Sean Mooney:

“The Sanctuary Café—operated by the France-based hospitality company, Sodexo—opened earlier this year in Brown & Brown’s newly opened Beach Street headquarters. The establishment offers guests a variety of meals and some familiar flavors, such as those offered from their own in-house Boar’s Head deli—which uses breads from local bakers.

For those with a craving for fish, the Sanctuary Café also offers a variety of fresh fish that’s sourced right here in Central Florida from Gary’s Seafood of Orlando. That fresh, never frozen fish is then used to create their signature poke bowls. And on Fridays, the fish is used for their Fresh Catch Friday action station where it’s cooked to order.

Patrons can also use the café’s 24-hour self-checkout kiosk to purchase Sodexo’s Simply To Go line of parfaits, sandwiches, salads, and snacks for after-operating hours purchases. Guests can also utilize Sodexo’s free app “Bite by Sodexo” to order ahead and pick up their order once they come in.”

According to the report, the Sanctuary Café will soon offer “fully prepared meals that people can bring home for dinner.”

In addition, the rumor mill is abuzz with gossip that once complete the new Brown Esplanade may host a national chain restaurant as well. . . 

Wait a damn minute. 

After sucking millions of local dollars in “economic incentives” – good, old fashioned corporate welfare that everyone agreed to ignore on the promise of prosperity – J. Hyatt brings in a French food service group who won’t even source its fish in Daytona Beach?

A full-service restaurant – complete with a 24-hour kiosk – which ensures employees never leave the campus? 

What about the jampacked local restaurants and shops? 

What about the bustling downtown experience?  Storefronts filled with young, upwardly mobile executives enjoying a working lunch at the Dancing Avocado Kitchen – or grabbing a slice at Zappi’s – then meeting with friends and colleagues over a pint at McK’s? 

What happened to the panacea project?  The “biggest and best game changer” our “heavy hitters” promised?

Welcome to the great bait-and-switch. 

Welcome to the Kingdom

______________________________________

This afternoon Barker’s View joins the public affairs forum GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.

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

Join us locally at 1380am “The CAT!” or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

Angels & Assholes for April 9, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice 

Sometimes I wonder if Pat Rice and I live in the same community?

The divergence of our viewpoints on the issues of the day could not be more contradictory – and his editorials and stewardship of our hometown newspaper seem increasingly tailored to bore his readership into a pap and fluff coma – rather than educate and inform.    

For instance, does anyone give two-shits about a “Naked Cowboy” bobblehead doll? 

Me neither.   

But despite our thirst for hard news on the myriad issues we face here on the Fun Coast, earlier this week, Mr. Rice chose to devote the bulk of the News-Journals frontpage (and damn near half of 2A) to shamelessly marketing the nodding likeness of a street busker who heaped vile abuse on a Daytona Beach police officer following a misdemeanor arrest during Bike Week. 

Whatever. 

As the regionalization (and “dumbing down”) of our hometown newspaper continues, what passes for “local journalism” is often a reworked press release from Palm Beach County fashioned into an outdated article that has gone completely stale by the time it reaches our driveway, or worse, a haughty lecture from the editorial board on the social issue du jour.   

It is not the depth of the newsroom – The Daytona Beach News-Journal is blessed with some of the best reporters, columnists, and investigative journalists in the business – but the constant experimentation and endless changeups as Gannett executives attempt to keep their product relevant demonstrates an annoying desperation that is turning many readers away. 

And some of Mr. Rice’s editorial positions simply defy logic. 

For instance, last Sunday, Mr. Rice took a weird stance on the innumerable – and almost fatal – leadership, financial, and administrative issues that continue to plague Bethune-Cookman University when he pooh-poohed the significant contributions of former president Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, all while heaping praise on the University’s perennially dysfunctional Board of Trustees.

Why?  Apparently, Dr. Chrite didn’t return Mr. Rice’s phone call. . .  

Instead, Chairman Belvin Perry, along with several members of B-CU’s board, gave Mr. Rice a three-hour audience – little more than an off-the-record ego massage that most journalists worth their salt would have recognized for what it was – a not for publication tête-à-tête that may have buoyed Mr. Rice’s self-image, but neutered any substantive inquiry, and left our newspaper’s chief editor with nothing to report beyond the impressive résumés of current board members.  

Well played, Chairman Perry.  Well played.

Clearly, Dr. Chrite’s abrupt departure for Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, arguably the most prestigious business school in the nation, was met by shock and disappointment as the reality of the situation stunned B-CU students and alumni. 

Last month, an informative piece by the Daytona Times quoted B-CU National Alumni President Johnny McCrae, Jr.:

“I do think the board ran him out.  I think the board is responsible for this.  There is a rift.  I have some issues with the role of the board which needs to be addressed.  Chrite’s leaving shows a lack of stability in the Board’s leadership.”

Did Mr. Rice bother to speak to those most affected by Dr. Chrite’s departure before advising “critics of B-CU’s board” to ignore their experiential instincts and support more of the same? 

In my view, the instability and upheaval at Bethune-Cookman University is real – and it is detrimental to the fragile viability of this important institution. 

The fact is, Bethune-Cookman University remains in a very precarious position – just months out of an imminent shroud crafted from greed and maladministration – something many in the administration worked hard to reverse.

The departure of a professional administrator of Dr. Chrite’s international acclaim, someone who righted a leaky ship in very turbulent waters – does nothing to instill confidence in potential donors, creditors, students, or staff – and all the puff pieces and soft-soap Mr. Rice can churn out is not going to change that.   

Only strong, committed, and ethical leadership can turn things around.   

Look, taking contrary opinions for the sake of being contrary is my gig.

Fair and balanced reporting on the important issues of the day and forming an editorial stance based upon the factual totality of the circumstances – rather than bruised egos – is the business of The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

At least it should be.  

Asshole           Volusia County Council

On April 29, National Football League franchises will gather in Cleveland to select newly eligible players for the 2021 NFL season.

My hope is that owners will consider members of the Volusia County Council as key prospects for kicker positions. 

Given their propensity for expertly punting important issues down the political playing field – in my view, these craven do-nothings are prime draft picks. . .

On Tuesday, many watched in slack-jawed amazement as Chairman Jeff Brower asked his “colleagues” to consider begging their woefully overworked and underpaid senior staff to pull together information regarding the possibility of selling naming rights and sponsorships for beach approaches as a potential revenue source.

Understand, Mr. Brower put no date certain on his innovative suggestion – which brings with it the possibility of reducing the burden on residents for beach management costs by an estimated $1 million – merely a request to get things moving in an exploratory fashion.   

Unfortunately, that was too much to ask of their exhausted senior staff – who are apparently physically and mentally drained from rearranging PowerPoint presentations and speaking in circles. . .

When Chairman Brower brought the item for discussion, he was immediately met with the foot-dragging excuses that typically result in good ideas and unconventional solutions being lost in the bureaucratic ether, only to return months/years later in a form or function that bears no resemblance to the original thought. 

Disappointingly, Councilman Ben Johnson said that, while he was not opposed to discussing the issue, he wanted it postponed until after the new budget takes effect – a delaying tactic that was quicky advanced by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who mewled about how overburdened everyone is, you know, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and all. . .

My ass.

In response, Councilwoman Heather Post asked the logical question, “We’ve been in COVID for well over a year now.  Who knows how long COVID is going to last, so does that mean that we don’t look at county government issues until that passes?”

In addition, Councilman Johnson noted that he is a fan of “user fees” – like the exorbitant $20 daily toll Volusia County residents currently pay for vehicular access to their public beach – except, in this case, Volusia County also dips into our general fund to supplement the grotesquely distended beach management budget – to the tune of some $9.6 million for the current fiscal year alone. 

In my view, I don’t think Volusia County residents should have to pay to use our beach.

But if so – then direct our wholly inept Coastal Division Czar Jessica Winterwerp to start cutting expenses and downsizing operations so John & Jane Q. Public are not taxed twice for a day at the beach. . . 

When Ms. Post moved to have staff compile information on naming rights at their leisure (God forbid there be any stress applied to our six-figure big shot bureaucrats) her motion was met with the eerie sound of chirping crickets, which resulted in Chairman Brower politely appealing to Mr. Johnson, asking if he would move to bring the issue back in the fall. 

Ultimately, the stonewalling Billie Wheeler floated a motion to bring back the idea sometime after October 1 – a move that had the desired effect of killing any further mention of something potentially beneficial to their constituents – a dilatory maneuver which, of course, received unanimous support. 

In the end, Councilman Lowrey took a cheap shot at Chairman Brower – chastising him for “pressuring” Mr. Johnson into making an alternative motion – then arrogantly demanding that Brower never do the same to him. 

Bullshit.

It is time Rev. Lowrey realizes that no one expects anything of substance from him anymore – and it is apparent that his passive hostility toward Chairman Brower is clearly choreographed for effect.   

Until the new Chair was elected – Councilman Lowrey suffered a debilitating form of political mutism that rendered him a wholly ineffectual non-entity on the council – and I hope his constituents recognize that his latest feigned parliamentary expertise is just another brazen attempt to publicly humiliate and marginalize Mr. Brower for having the boldness to challenge the status quo. 

Since taking office in January, Chairman Brower has championed the purchase and preservation of environmentally sensitive land along The Loop, Ormond Beach’s scenic byway, singlehandedly drug the languishing issue of short-term rentals to the forefront, spoke passionately on water quality and development issues, met with the owners of Hard Rock Daytona to discuss beach access issues – to include voicing his support for opening beach driving from the Boardwalk to East ISB – and advocated to increase the number of admission tickets which will allow family members to attend high school graduation ceremonies.  

Too much, too soon?  Maybe. 

But Chairman Brower’s enthusiasm and impressive work ethic is encouraging – a refreshing change to the slogging dysfunction and stagnation that have plagued this elective body for decades.    

My hope is that Volusia County voters will remember these craven obstructionists – obstinate timewasters who oppose or prolong any initiative that may bring positive change to an atrophied system where mediocrity thrives – and jettison these shameless shirkers in favor of true servant-leaders with a willingness to bring innovation and originality to the intractable issues we face.   

Angel               Deltona’s Brandy Lee White

“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

–Abraham Lincoln

I’m sure Brandy Lee White has heard Abe’s little ditty a few times this week.  

A few days ago it was reported that the strong-willed Deltona civic activist who has worked tirelessly to bring substantive change to the fumbling and bumbling method of governance in her community, filed a lawsuit following the crucible of fire she and her family were forced to endure in 2018.

In the highly publicized case, Ms. White was criminally accused by Deltona’s former City Manager Jane Shang and Finance Director Tracy Hooper of using her cellular phone to “surreptitiously” record a brief meeting with Hooper in a public area of City Hall.

According to Ms. White, the charge was filed to silence her constitutionally protected civic involvement – and she accuses the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office of being manipulated by Shang in her apparent pursuit of intimidating and retaliating against Ms. White. 

As a result, Ms. White experienced the horror of being wrongfully accused of a felony crime – a life-altering event – a traumatic psychological blow resulting from the stigma, shame, adverse personal and professional impacts, and a loss of standing in the community – not to mention the fear, frustration and disorientation that comes as the case slowly winds its way through the byzantine system.

Fortunately, our outstanding State Attorney R. J. Larizza – who is often required to call balls and strikes at the nexus of petty politics and criminal accusations – rightfully declined to prosecute Ms. White.

In my view, the pathetic ‘powers that be’ in the inner sanctum of Deltona City Hall did not like Ms. White – so they set about to destroy her – using the full might of the criminal justice system to silence her. 

If that doesn’t send a shiver up your spine, it should. . .    

And, inexplicably, Deltona’s elected officials refuse to take the matter to task and make things right.   

After several failed attempts to reach an amicable agreement with city officials to mitigate her harrowing experience and bring positive change to the way citizens are treated by their elected and appointed officials, this week, Ms. White filed a lawsuit “pro se” – meaning “on one’s own behalf” – without benefit of a lawyer.

The rambling suit names just about everyone who was anyone in Deltona City Hall in April 2018. 

There is an ancient adage that says, “He who goes to the law takes a wolf by the ears,” and, unfortunately, I fear when the City’s highly paid legal staff get Ms. White in a courtroom it will not be pretty as they further embarrass, humiliate, and consume her like a lamb in a lion cage.

Look, one should not attempt to remove their own diseased appendix for the same reason they should not represent themselves in a court of law.

Ms. White clearly has pluck. 

I wish her well. 

My sincere hope is that the City of Deltona will tell their incredibly expensive attorneys to retract their fangs and detach themselves from the public teat, stop victimizing a civically active resident, and reach a reasonable agreement with Brandy White – one that recognizes and compensates the permanent and irreversible harm she has endured – then develop strong protections so that no citizen who attempts to participate in their government is forced to endure such a vengeful and spiteful attack in the future.        

Quote of the Week

“If you could only address one issue during your first year as chair, which issue would it be?

The biggest issue that Volusia County faces now and certainly in the future is water quality and water quantity. The problem is when you just focus on that one thing, it encompasses so much more because of the way we develop. Every new home that is hooked up to water is reducing the amount of water and we really do have a problem that the aquifer is not keeping up now with the amount of water that we have.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, as quoted in an interview with the Ormond Beach Observer, “Q+A with Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower: beach driving, the Loop and water quality,” Thursday, April 1, 2021

And Another Thing!

In years past, if someone said to me, “Did you hear Holly Hill is hosting a prestigious International sports tournament this week?” I would have assumed they were the victim of a closed head injury and called an ambulance. . .

But “The City with a Heart” is doing just that!

This week, Pictona and the City of Holly Hill is proudly hosting The Humana-Island Doctors Bainbridge Cup, described as “pickleball’s foremost international event.” 

This year’s competition has drawn some 500 competitors, including 65 local entrants, and represents the first time the Bainbridge Cup tournament has been played in the United States.

This major event is sanctioned by the International Federation of Pickleball, who touts the $6 million Pictona complex “…as the finest pickleball facility in the world with 24 lighted courts, 8 covered courts, championship courts, a clubhouse and an onsite restaurant.”

In my view, Pictona is the most exciting addition to the Halifax area in decades. 

Kudos to everyone involved for bringing this high-status sporting event to Holly Hill!

The tournament, which is free and open to spectators practicing COVID-19 safety protocols, continues through Sunday with competitive play beginning at 8:00am each day.    

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

The Cult of Mediocrity

The old saying “If I knew then what I know now” speaks to the universal themes of wisdom and regret, perils and pitfalls, the consequences of our choices, hard lessons learned. 

It is an age-old lament that has been translated into every language in the world and muttered by all people of a certain age as both an affirmation of the benefits of hindsight and retrospection – and a warning to those behind them on the trail of life.    

The process of gaining knowledge through experiential learning is painful – and dreadfully expensive – and the often-embarrassing nature of learning from our mistakes keeps some from admitting their fallibility or changing course, because doing so would break with homogenized lockstep conformity, knowing the best way to camouflage oneself is to stick with the herd.

We see this a lot in local government – especially in the molasses-like quagmire that is Volusia County – where a firmly rooted status quo moves at a glacial pace and things of substance often wither and die of age and neglect. 

As District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post learned during her first term, “mavericks” – freethinkers who dare to consider solutions outside the aging box of conventionality – are not welcome in the inner sanctum at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

That is the domain of those who understand the benefit of getting along and going along.

A place where toeing the line buys politicians admittance to a very exclusive club – and wraps them in the welcoming blanket of political patronage provided by powerful insiders with the wherewithal to influence elections – and public policy.

For nearly four years, her long-suffering constituents watched as Ms. Post was beaten like a borrowed mule by her “colleagues” on the dais of power – openly maligned, marginalized, and discredited personally and professionally – as Volusia’s ‘Old Guard’ attempted to pound a square peg into the round hole of conformity. 

The melodramatic eyerolling and histrionics on display whenever Ms. Post would attempt to move an issue forward – or, God forbid, question a member of senior staff – was ugly and painful.

Perhaps more important, the open obstructionism and ostracism of Councilwoman Post by perennial elected officials – political retreads who had long overstayed their effectiveness – denied the residents of District 4 the equal and effective representation they voted for and deserve. 

This political shunning – the physical and emotional rejection of a duly elected member of the Volusia County Council as a means of modifying behavior, limiting influence, and forcing allegiance to the status quo – is now being wielded against Council Chair Jeff Brower. 

On Tuesday, Chairman Brower attempted to discuss an innovative idea to sell naming rights and sponsorships of beach approaches as an alternative revenue source – one that would reduce the burden of beach management on taxpayers – possibly leading to the elimination of onerous beach access tolls for Volusia County residents. 

Almost immediately, Mr. Brower’s request was met with the foot-dragging excuses that typically result in good ideas and unconventional solutions being lost in the bureaucratic ether, only to return months/years later in a form or function that bears no resemblance to the original thought. 

Disappointingly, Councilman Ben Johnson said that, while he was not opposed to discussing the issue, he wanted it postponed until after the new budget takes effect (why would anyone delay discussion of something that could have a positive impact on the budget?) – a delaying tactic that was quicky advanced by the stonewalling Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who mewled about how overworked senior staff is, you know, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and all (read: counting and stacking the $225+ million in federal CARES Act largesse).

And, once again, a good idea – one which held the potential of true and lasting benefit to the people of Volusia County – was kicked down the dusty political trail. . .

If you are interested, I discuss Tuesday’s public pillorying of Chairman Brower in tomorrow’s Angels & Assholes column (because, in my jaded opinion, this embarrassing episode surely represents the height of political assholery). 

On April 27, Chairman Brower will present the State of the County Address – billed as “…an annual opportunity for the County Council to celebrate partnerships, reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year and outline the County’s future goals” – which, in years past, has been little more than a toffee-nosed klatch of our civic and social elite.

My sincere hope is that – rather than regurgitate a laundry list of pseudo-accomplishments as claimed by those do-nothings at Team Volusia or the mysterious CEO Business Alliance – Mr. Brower will use this opportunity to shine a very bright light on the dysfunction, sloth-like foot dragging, and obstructionist mentality of the political in-crowd that has resulted in economic and civic stagnation. 

Now that Chairman Jeff Brower knows what many of his constituents have known for years, it is time this cult of mediocrity be publicly exposed for what it is. 

Free Money?

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council will reflexively pass the 56th extension of the State of Local Emergency related to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

And, if history repeats, it will accept another massive infusion of federal funds under the ever-expanding COVID-19 response and relief umbrella. . . 

The local emergency declaration was originally passed in March 2020 and gave extraordinary powers to County Manager George Recktenwald and then Chairman Ed Kelley to make unilateral decisions in the early days of the public health emergency. 

Let’s just say our tried-and-true emergency management protocols did not work as planned. 

In fact, the wheel came off the proverbial cart when some council members felt their contributions were being overshadowed – resulting in contradictory social media statements and stilted press conferences – punctuated by hysterical manifestos by a few elected officials demanding the immediate closure of all parks, beaches, recreation facilities – and urging “shutting down businesses completely for two-weeks. . .”

The fact is it would be unthinkable for a politician to let a good crisis go to waste without an opportunity to grandstand – an operational certainty during any emergency – which resulted in spit-spats and finger pointing as “colleagues” began calling each other out for failing to act with sufficient panic-stricken overreach.

Historians will write tomes about the abject buffoonery, one-upmanship, and political cowardice that marked the early days of the pandemic.

I lost interest in the State of Local Emergency about the 14th extension. 

How about you?  Was it the 5th or the 35th?

Regardless, the concept is now meaningless – nobody cares anymore – except those number crunchers in the bowels of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building who shovel the enormous influx of federal funds into the gaping maw of this outsized bureaucracy. 

Last year, the federal government allocated $96.5 million in CARES Act funds to Volusia County. 

Of that, some $21 million went to Daytona “International” Airport, while $15 million was doled out to the municipalities.  By December 2020, it was reported that “…$19 million has been spent on rental and mortgage assistance and about $1.6 million has been approved and will soon go out.”

In my view, things took a weird turn when Volusia County announced it would be spending CARES Act funds to renovate the former New Smyrna Beach Courthouse Annex – something described by Facilities Director Jim Corbett as the “fastest-moving project” he had ever seen. 

Oddly, the original cost of the contract mushroomed from $377,464 to a whopping $996,170 – with County Manager Recktenwald explaining that change orders are normally spread over the course of a job, but this time, the elected officials were getting them all at once.

Say what?

How can a contractor anticipate change orders before the first nail has been driven?    

When several sitting councilmembers questioned the massive price hike – they were mollycoddled into acquiescence with the bureaucratic lullaby, “unforeseen site conditions and upgrading the facility to current Florida building codes, yada, yada, yada. . .”

Why the rush? 

Because the use of federal CARES Act funds required that permits be in hand no later than the last day of 2020. 

Is it just me, or does anyone else think renovating a county-owned building using federal funds earmarked for a public health crisis is contrary to the programmatic goals of pathogen control and community economic recovery?

Trust me – the questions surrounding how the tsunami of federal relief dollars is being acquired and spent isn’t limited to county government. 

Last week, Mark Harper wrote an interesting piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled “Who got federal PPP loans? Were they needed?”

In an interesting quote from our High Panjandrum of Political Power, we got a brief glimpse into the mindset of some local companies in the early days of the crisis:

“Mori Hosseini, president of ICI Homes, acknowledged that home builders ended up doing well in Florida in 2020. But he said that trend wasn’t clear in the first months after the pandemic hit a little more than a year ago and business for everyone slowed for a time.

“The year ended up being pretty good, but we didn’t know (when the pandemic first hit),” Hosseini told The News-Journal on Friday. “Many, many companies immediately laid off people. We decided not to lay off anybody. The culture of our company, we didn’t let people go. So when the opportunity came (for PPP funds), we grabbed it.”

Hosseini also pointed out that his Daytona Beach-based company, which builds homes across Florida, pays millions of dollars in taxes every year.”

This phenomenon of “grabbing” federal funds before demonstrating a need is clearly not limited to the private sector. 

In the late 1990’s I saw local governments across the state of Florida engage in a kleptocratic feeding frenzy when the tobacco settlement showered millions of dollars on dubious youth smoking enforcement and prevention programs – funds that paid for totally unrelated public programs and projects, and supplemented overtime payments for police officers who drove around aimlessly trying to catch Little Johnny Jones puffing a Marlboro behind the corn crib. . .  

There is a unique dynamic that occurs whenever our government fills a trough with cash – then removes the normal checks and balances that deter waste, fraud, and abuse – almost a mob mentality where rules and mores no longer apply.   

Having studied crowd control theories during my professional life, I can tell you that in the early life cycle of a mob – the members lose their sense of individuality and humanity – and become susceptible to emotion, fearmongering, and suggestion as the “collective mind” takes over.

Do the same motivations and psychological drivers apply to government and industries who, by all indicators, not just survived the pandemic but thrived during the economic downturn?  

According to Mr. Harper’s informative report, “…some 343 building and construction firms in Volusia and Flagler counties received $23 million in PPP loans to help support just over 2,000 jobs.”

Yet, “…across Florida, building permits were up 30% in 2020 over the previous year,” and “…new home sales across Florida were up more than 20% over 2019. And 483 real-estate industry firms in Volusia and Flagler counties were recipients of PPP loans totaling about $15 million to support nearly 1,600 workers.”

Wow.

Nothing about this corporate gluttony made sense to me, then I read on a construction industry website an explanatory article on forgivable PPP “loans” that began, “It’s not as good a deal as free money, but it’s pretty close. . .”

Like I said, this week the Volusia County Council will do two things of substance – both of which will go virtually unnoticed by those who have become desensitized through repetition:

Our elected officials will vote to accept some $2,741,015 in grant funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act – specifically earmarked “…for costs related to operations, personnel, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, combating the spread of pathogens at the airport, and debt service payments,” essentially anything that can be remotely correlated to combating the spread of COVID-19 at Daytona “International” Airport.

Then, they will approve the 56th extension of the State of Local Emergency.

With millions of dollars in “free money” being lavished on local governments, many of which have seen little, if any, loss of revenue – and area businesses finding it impossible to hire employees now that individual “stimulus” checks, eviction prohibitions, and assistance programs are flowing freely – many are contemplating the long-term impacts this massive federal largesse will have on all levels of our economy.

If history repeats, I suspect the gorge-until-the-teat-goes-dry mindset will hold until the damage becomes too great to ignore.   

God help us.

Angels & Assholes for April 2, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

It will soon be time to start traveling again. Summer vacations and weekend getaways – things we could only dream about this time last year.

We all need some time away – a fresh perspective that comes from a change of scenery – a chance to see what other communities are doing to put their best face forward. 

Last week, my wife and I joined dear friends on a road trip to South Carolina’s enchanted Lowcountry – essentially the coastal and cultural region which encompasses the beautiful marshlands and sea islands – a place of moss draped live oaks, canopied byways, and the ever-present aroma of saltwater and pluff mud, all framed by brilliant azaleas and camellias ablaze with spring color. 

I have loved Charleston since I first laid eyes on her – the Holy City – with its charming colonial architecture, church steeples, picturesque alleyways, vibrant arts and entertainment, upscale shopping, and incredibly diverse culture, punctuated by a flourishing food scene that rivals New Orleans. 

Or Paris, for that matter.

From the beautiful antebellum mansions and old money opulence South of Broad, to its historic French Quarter and beautifully lush gardens, flickering gas lamps and carriage houses, the City of Charleston puts its rich history on full display – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all.

On a daytrip to the historic waterfront community of Georgetown, about an hour north of Charleston on Highway 17, we experienced a vibrant downtown, punctuated with eclectic shops and funky restaurants, which the Chamber of Commerce is proud to note are almost exclusively owned and operated by local residents. 

Following a tour of beautiful Pawley’s Island with its weathered ‘arrogantly shabby’ beachfront cottages and narrow treelined streets, on a whim, we turned north on the coast road for the short drive to the bustling tourist mecca of Myrtle Beach on The Grand Strand.

After stopping at The Bowery – a wooden beachfront honky-tonk best known for giving the supergroup “Alabama” their start – we sipped rum drinks on the boardwalk and watched the throngs of tourists, volleyball players, and beachgoers do their thing just off the traffic packed boulevard. 

I really enjoyed the feel of Myrtle Beach – lively, bustling, ‘touristy’ in an old-fashioned way, packed with a diverse group of families, bikers, and young people. 

Does it have issues similar to east Volusia?  Sure. 

But I found it an old school destination that never gave up its identity or inherent charm – a place that truly lives up to its marketing slogan: “Where happiness comes in waves.”

Upon returning to the Charleston area, we took the drive out to Folly Beach, southeast of the picturesque Ashley River, for an incredible oyster roast at Bowen’s Island – self-described as “…an aging pile of cinder blocks and boards held up by layers of graffiti” – a 70+ year old restaurant in name only that steams enormous clusters of fresh local oysters in a small inner-sanctum under the building – briny bivalves best washed down with copious amounts of ice-cold Hamm’s beer.

As one food writer so aptly put it, “Bowen’s Island isn’t a restaurant, it’s a state of mind. . .”

If you are looking for a spring getaway, consider taking the drive north to Charleston and immerse yourself in the extraordinary history and culture of one of the most unique cities in the world. 

You’ll be glad you did.

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

Asshole           Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry

Let this serve as a cautionary tale to any local business owner, resident, or investor who gets caught up in the momentary hype and attempts to provide substantive input on how to improve our blight-ridden beachside. . .

In my view, when it comes to tyrannical diktats and despotic decrees, few local “leaders” can match the consistent authoritarian overreach – or base stupidity – of Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry. 

If there is one thing a tin-pot tyrant like Mayor Henry knows it is how to get his name in the newspaper by taking wildly controversial positions – especially when those views prove detrimental, even fatal, to Daytona Beach businesses who are struggling mightily to emerge from the economic devastation left by the pandemic – an almost hour-to-hour fight to keep their doors open and support the families who rely on them.

Of course, Hizzoner always wraps himself, and his goofy dictates, in the thin cloak of “safety” – easy insulation for someone who has not missed a paycheck during this entire ordeal and knows that he won’t – so long as the spigot of public funds remains patent. 

During his closing remarks at a recent City Commission meeting, Mayor Henry figuratively lit his Calabash pipe, donned the deerstalker of an expert criminologist, and stunned many with his asinine pontification that the city’s extended 3:00am bar closing for permitted establishments should be rolled back to 2:00am as a means of curbing crime (?).

In an excellent heads-up by Eileen Zaffiro-Keen writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we read a cogent quote from Rick Kitt, a local entrepreneur who owns three establishments along the horribly neglected Seabreeze Boulevard:

“Anything that takes money out of people’s pockets is not a good idea,” said Kitt, who owns Daytona Tap Room, the Axe & Grog Pub, and Evolved Vegan Kitchen. “With COVID everyone’s struggling. Why put more people out of business? They’re supposed to support us.”

Why indeed? 

Last month, Seabreeze Boulevard business owners (no doubt regrettably) joined residents in a wide-ranging discussion of what could be done to improve the area. 

The meeting followed a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence when the new owners of the Plaza Resort joined Hotel/Motel Association president Bob Davis and Mayor Henry on a walking tour of the area – a stroll that left some local merchants claiming it was the first time they had ever laid eyes on the city’s Mayor. . .  

During the subsequent “brainstorming” session, numerous suggestions were floated – including establishing an arts district with murals and functional sculptures, placemaking signage designating Seabreeze an entertainment zone, increased security and trash pickup, beautifying facades to spruce up the area, even a shuttle service to improve transportation for residents and visitors. 

Apparently, one resident suggested closing the bars earlier so people can “feel safe” on Seabreeze Boulevard. . .

Guess what stuck with “Il Duce”?

Perhaps now local merchants and entrepreneurs will finally understand why it is best to keep Mayor Henry and his business crushing “economic development” types in City Hall at arm’s length.

Let this be a lesson.   

If history has proven anything, it is once Mayor Henry sets his sights on your business – bad things are going to happen – unless you are an uber-wealthy insider with the wherewithal to underwrite his political campaigns coupled with a willingness to ignore his ham-fisted fumbling on the dais of power – then, the world is your oyster. . .     

In Mayor Henry’s world, nothing can be given unless something of equal or greater value is taken away – a repressive give-and-take that instills fear and limits opposition. 

It is called control.

Still want to get involved?

I didn’t think so. . .

Don’t take my word for it, ask most Main Street area businesses how things have worked out for them under “Il Duce’s” regime – or speak with any potential investor who has jumped through the myriad hoops and hurdles that are forcing small business start-ups to neighboring communities – then ask yourself how much longer the voters of Daytona Beach will allow this tyrannical hack to drive our core tourist area into the toilet?

Angel               Daytona Beach City Manager Deric C. Feacher

Thanks for holding firm, Mr. Feacher! 

While other finalists for the Daytona Beach City Manager search turned-tail and ran for the hills when they got their first look at what passes for “governance” here – Deric Feacher ignored his physiological fight-or-flight response and stuck with us when others did not.

Thanks to his fearless tenacity (or lack of a pain avoidance instinct?) Mr. Feacher was appointed to the top post following a marathon meeting last weekend.

As I wrote earlier in the week, at the end of an awfully long day – which included an eleventh-hour attempt by Quanita “Call me Commissioner!” May to wipe the slate clean and start over again – a discombobulated round-robin discussion led by Mayor Derrick Henry resulted in the selection of Mr. Feacher, 44, who serves as the current manager of Haines City, a community of 26,000 near Winter Haven.

Commissioner May cast the lone vote against Mr. Feacher.  I assume because several civically engaged residents spoke in his favor. . .

Whatever.

Now, all that remains is for Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger and City Commissioner Aaron Delgado to negotiate an amicable contract with Feacher to be discussed and approved by the full commission in coming weeks.

Many in the community are worried that the Jagger/Delgado legal tag team will gift Mr. Feacher with an ironclad contract that will make it nearly impossible (if not prohibitively expensive) to unseat him should the need arise – but I know Mr. Delgado is a smart guy who will ensure things are fair and reasonable for all involved – including the long-suffering residents of Daytona Beach.   

This one’s important – because as the City of Daytona Beach goes – so goes the rest of the Halifax area, and given the harsh financial wallop of the pandemic, and the heavy yoke of the most anti-business local government in memory, we desperately need someone with an open-door and enthusiastic vision for our future.  

Look, I don’t know about you, but I am relieved this godawful selection process is behind us – and we all deserve a reason for optimism. 

I hope you will join me in welcoming Mr. Feacher back to our community (he is a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University) and let’s give this good man an honest chance to prove his worth, get a handle on the formidable challenges we face, and help build a bright future for the World’s Most Famous Beach!

Angel               Central Baptist Church & The Florida National Guard

A few weeks ago, a dear friend reached out and gave me a hot tip. 

Word was that Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach was hosting a COVID-19 vaccination site that weekend.

Miraculously, there were appointments available – and my age group had finally become eligible. 

So, without much hope of success, (after all, I’m a lapsed Episcopalian, not a Baptist, and certainly not a member of Central) I thought, it won’t hurt to call the church for details.   

Much to my surprise, the helpful lady who answered the phone immediately signed me up – and while she could not tell me what flavor of vaccine would be available on the day – she assured me that if I appeared at the appointed time, I would receive a jab. 

Considering the hell and high water I went through to get my 86-year-old mother the two Moderna inoculations at the Volusia County Fair Grounds – I was leery that any process involving the Florida Department of Health could possibly be this easy – or organized.   

A few days later, I received a confirmation call from the cheerful church lady and it looked like this thing was really going to happen! 

And it did. 

When I arrived at beautiful Central Baptist, I was promptly greeted by a uniformed member of the Florida National Guard who confirmed my name on the list and courteously invited me inside.  In the sanctuary I was met by an equally attentive healthcare worker who quickly checked my paperwork and escorted me to a room where the vaccine would be administered. 

I then learned that I would receive the coveted Johnson & Johnson one-and-done vaccine! 

While I waited a few minutes for a seat to open, I spoke with a National Guard staff sergeant who explained that the soldiers assisting were from support units based in Orlando and Tallahassee. 

The soldier explained that he was a vehicle operator by military occupation, but everyone involved seemed completely comfortable facilitating the logistics of moving people through what was a rapid and highly organized process. 

Once inside, a friendly nurse asked me a few questions before painlessly administering the shot and issuing my completed vaccination record.    

Fortunately, I experienced no side effects at all – beyond a slight soreness at the injection site which quickly went away – with none of the fever, fatigue, and general aches many have reported after receiving the various vaccines.

Per Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent order, Floridian’s 18-years of age and older will be eligible for the vaccine beginning Monday, April 5 – and I encourage everyone who wants one to take it.

It is an individual decision – what works best for you and your family – and I realize many have serious reservations about receiving the vaccine. 

All things considered, I feel most fortunate to have had the opportunity.  

Kudos to Central Baptist Church, and the remarkable soldiers of the Florida National Guard, for providing this potentially lifesaving service – thanks to all involved for a wonderful experience!

Quote of the Week

“Daytona’s appetite for out-of-control ravenous growth is going to be detrimental to all of Volusia County, particularly on the eastern side.”

–Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Avalon Park Daytona project gets Planning Board’s approval,” Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Look, I’m not a traffic engineer, but I have developed a foolproof method for gauging the level of congestion and gridlock on Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach by the number of times I am forced to roll down my window and scream – “Pull your head out of your ass, you dumb S.O.B!” – a well-intentioned public service that assists my fellow motorists in retaining situational awareness to ensure they move people and goods down the roadway safely. . . 

No need to thank me.  Just doing my part.   

Let’s call it Barker’s ‘PYHOOYAYDSOB Measure of Infrastructure Effectiveness.’ 

As the current mega-developments and tony “theme/lifestyle communities” west of I-95 reach buildout, I find the run between Nova Road west to Williamson Boulevard is consistently a four PYHOOYAYDSOB trip. 

And things just took a turn for the worse. . .

The Frankensteinian Avalon Park Daytona got a jump start last week when the Daytona Beach Planning Board approved a preliminary plat for the project’s first phase which will include some 1,609 residential units and 90,000 square feet of commercial property.

According to the Observer’s report, “. . .the commercial portion of the development in this first phase would front on Granada Boulevard.”

Of course, the City of Daytona Beach is absolutely giddy over the project, continuing their ‘damn the torpedoes – growth at all cost’ approach to urban planning with no concern for the detrimental impacts this malignant sprawl will have on neighboring communities, our fragile natural places, or our regions threatened aquifer.

With a glittery promise of adding “$2 billion in ad valorem values to Daytona Beach and Volusia County,” don’t expect any impediments to this latest concept of “progress” that will border an already overburdened State Road 40 and beyond.

Everyone gets over.  Everyone gets fat.  And no one who should seems to care.

Of course, to put a band aid on the gaping avulsion that the slash-and-burn land clearing will leave on the pine scrub and wildlife habitats, Avalon’s first phase includes “…six parks, two amenity centers and the preservation of wetlands at the southern portion of the project.”

My ass.

Building artificial greenspace and “amenity centers” is how pro-growth politicians and planning board puppets live with themselves after allowing some out-of-town developer with a profit motive to churn the land into a moonscape – essentially shitting in our own nest – all to make way for 10,000 more overpriced cracker boxes and the godawful commercial strip centers that sustain them.   

Welcome to the party, Mr. Mayor. . .

Better late than never.

And Another Thing!

Last week, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, began circulating a petition urging the Volusia County Council to return on-beach parking from International Speedway Boulevard north to the Boardwalk. 

Petitions are now available at the Oasis Tiki Bar, RST Computers, Crabby Joe’s, Main Street Station, The Guitar Attic, and both Salty Dog Surf Shops.  You can also download a copy at www.sonsofthebeach.org – or sign the petition online here: https://tinyurl.com/yazye4ec

I hope you will join me in supporting this important grassroots effort to restore beach access in the challenged Main Street corridor and return a sense of fun to our core tourist area!

In addition, I wholeheartedly support Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s bold new plan to exempt county residents from the exorbitant beach access fees that have all but priced a day at the beach out of reach for many Volusia County families. 

Mr. Brower believes that Volusia County taxpayers have already given their pound of flesh for the privilege of accessing their public beach – and they should not have to pay again to use it.

I agree.

According to Mr. Brower:

“First, if you want to discourage something you tax it. If you want to encourage an action you give tax relief. Tolls and driving restrictions have been killing our beachside since they were started. We were promised Miami Beach like results. It failed.

Most people who live here are glad we didn’t become Miami. But we have all suffered from the declining beachside these policies have laid at our feet. The results of these failed policies are a gateway to the World’s Most Famous Beach that is an embarrassment. Main Street and the Boardwalk died. A1A and Seabreeze Blvd. have declined and discussions are finally beginning to plan ways to rejuvenate it.

Removing the toll booths completely would make us a destination for visitors and locals once again. That means increased business for all. When you tax less, revenue increases. It’s a proven economic principle. And when you make folks welcome they come back and bring friends.”

If you live or do business in Volusia County, I encourage you to support Chairman Brower and his innovative plan to make our beaches more accessible for all residents.

That’s all for me.  Happy Easter, everyone!

Oracle or Empty Suit? Time will tell. . .

Is a self-help guru what the City of Daytona Beach needs right now?

The answer just may be yes.

You wouldn’t know it by reading our local newspaper – who has given more front page/above the fold space to a homeless knife sharpener and the inventor of a trash bag hook than the chief executive who will shape the future direction of our community for decades – but last weekend the Daytona Beach City Commission succumbed to what some, on the dais and off, felt was a horribly flawed selection process when they picked between two polar opposite personalities to select their new City Manager.

I watched part of it on DBTV. 

Let’s just say when a nice, civically engaged lady like Anne Ruby stands at the podium and frustratingly calls her elected officials ‘stumblebums’ – it wasn’t pretty. . .

After hiring a highly paid out-of-state headhunter to conduct a nationwide search for qualified candidates to replace the retiring Jim Chisholm – a process that garnered less applications than the Port Orange opening, or the recent search for a Police Chief in Eustis – several finalists mysteriously dropped out of the process altogether, ultimately leaving the City Commission with just two potential managers to select from.

At the end of a very long day – which included an eleventh-hour attempt by Quanita “Call me Commissioner!” May to wipe the slate clean and start over again – a discombobulated round-robin discussion led by Mayor Derrick Henry resulted in the selection of Deric Feacher, 44, the current manager of Haines City, a community of 28,000 near Winter Haven. 

Commissioner May cast the lone vote against Mr. Feacher. . . 

Now, all that remains is for Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger and City Commissioner Aaron Delgado to negotiate an amicable contract with Feacher to be discussed and approved by the full commission in coming weeks.

Don’t be surprised if Mr. Feacher’s employment agreement looks nothing like yours. 

Because of the highly contentious and politicized nature of the job, most city and county managers enjoy extraordinary protections – to include golden parachutes and other expensive perquisites, extras, and privileges – including a salary and benefits package that those in the private sector could not envision in their wildest wet dreams.

Is it worth it? 

We’ll see.    

According to a 2018 article in the Lakeland Ledger, his evaluation by the Haines City Commission – his first as City Manager in that community – said that Mr. Feacher “…finished with a composite 3.96 from the city commissioners. Feacher was scored from 1 to 5 on 10 different categories. Scoring a 1 was considered “unacceptable.” A 5 represented “outstanding.”

While serving as City Manager of Winter Haven, his performance was rated a 3.5 – before he was terminated on a 3-2 vote in 2016. . .

I’m not holding that against him – and neither should you – for city managers, that comes with the territory.

“Just less than exceptional” evaluations aside, it appears the City of Daytona Beach is getting quite a bundle in Deric Feacher:

A relatively experienced chief executive who doubles as a charming self-help guru – the total package, all wrapped up with a stylish bowtie!

Yep!

When not working his day job in Haines City, Deric C. Feacher, transforms into “The Messenger!” – a personal-growth expert and disciple of the controversial-but-charismatic John C. Maxwell (who can teach you how to become a coach, mentor, speaker, and influencer using the “Maxwell Method,” which leads to “certification” – allowing you to use books, videos, speaking scripts, guides, and presentations written and sold by, well, John C. Maxwell, as you help others become their “better selves” – for a fee, of course. . . ) 

According to his self-promoting “all-Deric-all-the-time” website, www.dericfeacher.com :

“Deric C. Feacher, “The Messenger,” is the transformational speaker you need! He works regularly with people who face almost insurmountable challenges, but after hearing him speak, realize they have the tools to reach their full potential and are just one small step from success!”

I have listened to a few of Mr. Feacher’s “Let’s Get Together” podcast episodes – inspirational snippets with titles such as, “Validation is not necessary,” and “Dream Chaser or Destiny Creator” – and I must admit – after a few installments, my self-loathing isn’t nearly so debilitating. . . 

Whatever.

Look, I realize that I am a curmudgeonly whiner who subscribes more to the P.T. Barnum “There’s a sucker born every minute” theorem than the overblown teachings of a self-help industry that has become a parody of itself (as any episode of Dr. Phil will prove) – but to each their own. 

The fact is, now more than ever, we need a self-confident “leadership expert” to help save us from ourselves – even if it comes in the form of a personable guy from out of town with a great smile and a briefcase. . . 

If they are honest with themselves, there are few who live or do business in the Halifax area who won’t admit that the “World’s Most Famous Beach” faces “insurmountable challenges” – or that most of the tools in our chest have been lost, stolen, or just allowed to rust away.

As a result, we desperately need a superhero to step out of a phone booth, assess our shortcomings with the benefit of x-ray vision, and rescue us from the resort town grifters, uber-wealthy insiders, and decades of monstrously self-serving politicians that have brought us to this civic, social, and economic nadir.   

Is “The Messenger!” the dynamic caped crusader we have all been so anxiously waiting for?

God, I hope so. . .

photo Credit: The Ledger

A Change is Coming

Who’s running this popsicle stand?

If you live in Volusia County chances are your little slice of paradise is administered by the council-manager form of government – a system in which the elected council or commission hires a professional manager who essentially serves as the chief executive officer – responsible for the day-to-day operations of all city or county departments and employees through a staff of experienced department heads. 

Depending upon who you talk to, there are myriad reasons why most communities that provide comprehensive public services have adopted this form of governance, but the bottom line is it takes the inefficiencies of petty politics out of the equation.

At least that’s the working theory. . .    

As I have said before, We, The People elect the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – like a corporate board of directors – who appoint a manager with ostensibly strong administrative and organizational skills to run the operations of the county or municipal government, enact the public policy decisions of the elected body, and provide information to assist the legislative function.

To that end, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government operations and services. 

For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments and services of the government and administrate all financial and budgetary processes.

It also means that no one elected official has more ‘power’ than any of the others – meaning the mayor or council chair are typically relegated to refereeing public meetings and acting in a ceremonial role, cutting ribbons at the grand opening of the latest Dollar Mart, or presenting a proclamation recognizing Mavis Bracegirdle as she turns “100-years young!” . . . 

The ‘system’ also insulates career civil servants, the professionals who provide essential governmental services to the community, from the often politically motivated meddling of elected officials.

Most managers do a fine job, serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

Others?  Not so much. . . 

The role requires a strategic mind – the ability to stay ahead of the game and just above the political fray – with the dexterity to communicate the important details of complex civic issues to the elected officials then guide them toward reasonable consensus. 

It can be tough to find the ‘right fit.’

In my experience, problems arise when communities mistake a good ‘project manager’ for someone with the comprehensive skills needed to oversee the multifaceted operations, administration, and budgeting of a county or municipality.  

Many candidates for city manager positions cut their teeth as department heads or senior administrators, responsible for one slice of a much larger pie, with expertise in public works or city planning, but without the broad range of experience operating what is a large and unwieldy piece of machinery while keeping 5 to 7 hyper-critical politicians happy.    

For instance, if asked to paint City Hall – the project manager could request proposals, administer the bid process, hire the contractor, select the grade and color of paint, set a budget for the project, supervise the minor details of the job, and see the work completed in a reasonable period within the financial parameters. 

Just don’t ask them to see that the building’s roof receives proper preventive maintenance, the lawn is mowed, and landscaping maintained, the parking lot is properly paved and striped according to regulations, the irrigation system remains operational, the air conditioning system is functional, the physical plant is safe and secure for public use, etc., etc. 

This inexperience and ineptitude often breeds inner turmoil as the manager begins blaming others for their own incompetence, a practice that always results in expensive turnover, the loss of institutional knowledge, low morale, and the confusion and second-guessing that come when the chief executive starts circling the wagons. . .  (For more details, see: City of Deltona)

There is an old joke that being a city manager is like riding a bike – except the bike is on fire.  You are on fire.  The fire is on fire.  Everything is on fire. . . 

Tough gig.  

Just over one year ago, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm began his long goodbye.

And I do mean long.

A process that should have taken a few months to get right drug on.  And on.  And on. 

A clumsy nationwide search by a highly paid out-of-state headhunter garnered a relatively few applicants (for a Florida resort town with the best weather in the nation and a reputation for lavishing its chief executive with an exorbitant salary and benefits package?) which everyone agreed failed to produce the depth of talent, civic vision, and professional experience everyone hoped for.

So, here we are. 

After winnowing the field to the final three using a tired, run-of-the-mill, wholly uninspired selection process, on Saturday, the Daytona Beach City Commission will hold one-on-one meetings with the candidates followed by a special City Commission meeting to discuss and select the top candidate.

If you live or do business in the City of Daytona Beach, you might want to be there for that. . .

This is without doubt the most important decision this iteration of the City Commission will make during their tenure – and Mr. Chisholm’s brogans will be big shoes to fill. 

In my view – like it or not – Jim Chisholm epitomized raw political power – it was always his show – and whoever was elected to office was just visiting. 

Whomever is ultimately selected to fill this important role will need superhuman skills to bring this fractured community together – to mend fences with marginalized citizens who have been effectively shutout of their government – rebuild the deteriorating core tourist area, curb beachside blight, reestablish trust and communications, get a grip on the malignant growth in the piney woods west of I-95, prepare for the exsanguination of our aquifer, establish priorities beyond funneling public funds to the wants and whims of influential insiders (who offer the attractive prospect of political insulation in exchange for loyalty), then have the courage to open the doors and windows at City Hall and let the disinfecting power of sunshine into that dank and cloistered environment so desperately in need of change.   

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

The Citizen Journalist

I am not a writer – and certainly not a “journalist.”

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

I regularly receive requests from loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe asking that I “investigate” a governmental excess or inefficiency – or “look into” some political intrigue or right a civic wrong that media outlets have turned up their noses at – and, on occasion, these requests pique my interest and I’ll make a call, do a public records request, or ask around to satisfy my own curiosity.

And sometimes those who contact me go away pissed because I do not share their moral outrage over an outsized water bill – or the fact their trash was not collected on time – or demand answers as to why Volusia County won’t maintain their driveway, etc., etc.

Sadly, regardless of the issue at hand, in nearly every case the person who calls me demands anonymity – a request I always honor – because they fear retribution from their own local government if it were known they were seeking answers, even to relatively benign questions. 

Most of the time I refer the concerned reader to their elected representative (a name they rarely know), a resource that had not crossed their minds, because so many politicians stop acknowledging the concerns of their constituents about 12-minutes after they win an election. . . 

Many times, those who reach out to me are just like-minded souls who want someone to listen to their concerns or kibbitz about the issues of the day.

I know how that feels – and nobody likes hearing the rumors and gossip more than I do. 

But the fact remains, I don’t ‘report the news’ in this space – I wouldn’t know how – yet I am all too quick to tell those who do how the job of covering the news should be accomplished (playing the hyper-critical know-it-all is kind of my schtick. . .)

I’m not saying that local media outlets aren’t their own worst enemies at times – because they are – but when I read a news story regarding community issues without official comment, or listen to a television reporter stand before the camera and say with a frustrated sigh, “..and (insert highly paid government officials name here) didn’t return phone calls on Monday or Tuesday seeking comment,” or “We don’t comment on litigation, personnel issues, anything of substance, etc., etc.” – normally followed by a canned written statement from something called a “Public Information Officer” – I get the feeling that true transparency and outreach in government is a thing of the past. 

And it becomes apparent that the chasm between our government bureaucracies and the working press has never been wider. 

When I was playing government – I worked for a small municipality that didn’t have a public information staff to spin a response to media requests.  As a result, I learned the importance of openness and honesty when providing a release, always done with daily personal contact with the reporter – making sure their needs were met and developing trust over time.  

As a result, I became friends with many long-time reporters – some of whom remain close to this day. 

While those personal and professional relationships did not insulate me from the occasional trip to the woodshed – they allowed me to push critical information to the public, explain situations without fear of having the information released prematurely, and involve the press as a trusted and valued member of the team during emergencies.

With that citizens got to know their public servants by name – and knew who to call when they needed help.

(Two-years after I retired, I was still receiving calls on my cell phone from former constituents who didn’t realize (or care) that I was no longer their police chief – they just wanted me to sort out a problem they were having. . .I miss that.)   

Perhaps that accessibility is why a hack like me gets so many requests from citizens searching desperately for help navigating the rat maze that passes for our ‘Halls of Power’ during their search for that illusive kernel of truth?

In the information vacuum that has been created by the increasingly insular nature of our elected and appointed officials, many taxpayers take to social media for answers – seeking validation of their suspicions – speculating on the who, what, why, when, and how of public policies and positions that effect our lives and livelihoods – effectively becoming ‘citizen journalists’ seeking clarity in the murky world of local politics and passing that knowledge on to their neighbors.

It also gets confusing when elected officials wade into the often-contentious waters of social media to argue with their frustrated constituents or harangue them for taking a position contrary to the carefully crafted official narrative, odd behavior from those holding positions of trust that breeds more questions and solidifies the notion that citizen input in the process is unwelcome and almost universally ignored by decisionmakers.

I’m not sure consolidating, hoarding, and controlling the release of information as a means of maintaining power and control over the governed is how things are supposed to work in a representative democracy. 

So, if you have questions about pressing civic issues – or just need help with a government service – I encourage you to reach out to your elected representative at the city or county level and share your concerns with them – and ask for their help.

Demand answers and make your needs and opinions known. 

Better yet, attend a public meeting and address your elected officials during what passes for public participation – it is every citizen’s right and civic responsibility to seek information and contribute to the greater discussion – even if those on the dais of power sit there staring into space like gargoyles – I guarantee others in the community who share your concerns will be grateful for your involvement.

Then, if you fail to get a prompt and respectful response from the official who was elected to represent your interests, you know who to cast your sacred vote for in the next election.   

That is where the ultimate power lies. 

Angels & Assholes for March 19, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Recently, News-Journal editor Pat Rice published a piece under the headline, “Honest, accurate local news matters,” announcing that certain content would now be available by subscription only and encouraging readers to purchase his product by touting the importance of “local journalism.”

“…such journalism is absolutely vital to the fabric of the communities that make up Volusia and Flagler counties. We have a First Amendment right to do our work, and we also feel a great responsibility to do it professionally.”

He’s right. 

In my view, Mr. Rice and his associates have an ethical responsibility to gather and present the news in a professional and objective way – ensuring that all sides of a story are told in a fair-minded way – rejecting the slant and sensationalism that has become the not-so-subtle marketing tool of “news” organizations everywhere.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal failed in that sacred obligation last week.

It seemed simple enough – the low-hanging fruit of the “bad cop” narrative – a guaranteed draw, especially when coupled with the arrest of a larger-than-life personality in the form of Robert “Naked Cowboy” Burck, a 50-year-old street performer most identified with New York’s Times Square who parades around in his skivvies, strumming a guitar, and taking selfies with tourists. 

According to reports, on the first Saturday of Bike Week 2021 – after being warned that accepting money from visitors near Main Street businesses violated specific provisions of a city ordinance which also prohibits panhandling – Burck apparently ignored fair notice and continued doing his thing. 

In a statement issued by Daytona Beach Chief of Police Jakari Young, we learned that officers were prepared to issue the Naked Cowboy a notice to appear in court – little more than a citation for the city ordinance violation – but while in custody, Mr. Burck began engaging a small crowd that gathered to watch, using extreme profanity, and chiding the arresting officer. 

Then, things turned ugly. . .   

At one point, Mr. Burck turned to the arresting officer and uttered a disgusting racial slur:

“Put your mask on.  You’re a Joe Biden fan, right?  You want higher gas prices and fucking (N-word epithet) running the country. . .”

Then, as the female officer moved Burck to the rear of a patrol car – his guitar was inadvertently broken – prompting him to hurl a revolting homophobic epithet to humiliate the officer, calling her a “Fucking dyke” – twice. 

The entire exchange was captured by the officer’s body worn camera – and when I watched the unedited full-length version released by the Daytona Beach Police Department – I was so taken aback I had to watch the shocking footage multiple times so I could confirm I heard what I thought I heard.

In my view, those hurtful words degraded the officer – and disparaged our entire community – and were the last thing I expected to hear from this iconic street performer.   

Yet, when I watched the News-Journal’s version of the video – the offensive parts had been masterfully edited out – leaving only those sections which supported the “cop screws up” storyline – totally ignoring the fact a famous performer came to our community and uttered the worst, most divisive racial epithet in the English language, in my view, using the provocative and hateful speech as a means of humiliating a local police officer. 

Ultimately, the city ordinance violation was dismissed by a judge, Mr. Burck paid a nominal fine to settle a misdemeanor charge, and adjudication was withheld. 

But not one word of his abhorrent verbal abuse of a local police officer appeared in the newspaper – and this week, when they had a chance to set the record straight – they laid up short.

From the onset, the News-Journal, and other national and international media outlets, covered this story with front page/above the fold prominence – including sympathetic interviews, lecturing editorials, one under the sensational banner, “Free the Naked Cowboy! Panhandling law doesn’t ban street performers,” publishing letters to the editor headlined, “Daytona Beach owes ‘Naked Cowboy’ an apology for arrest, and an explanation,” then heralding Burck’s triumphant return with “The Naked Cowboy rides again on Main Street after arrest at Daytona Beach’s Bike Week.”

What I found most reprehensible was an oh-so-morally-superior op/ed last Friday headed “Learning lessons from the Naked Cowboy” which said, in part:

“Mayor Derrick Henry, Police Chief Jakari Young: We suspect that you, like the rest of us, didn’t know about this until after the worst had happened. But you are the ones with the power to turn the story around. Burck told The News-Journal’s Jim Abbott he plans to return to Daytona Beach today, and all eyes will be on him when he does. Be ready with a plan to make things right. Ask Burck for forgiveness. Do the same for his wife, who had to watch her husband being manhandled and taken away, leaving her holding his broken guitar.

Make it clear that, as a city, this is not who we are.”

You read that right – the News-Journal’s editorial board demanded that two prominent African American civic leaders seek forgiveness from someone who spewed highly charged racial and homophobic slurs on a public street corner in their community? 

Are you serious?

Kudos to Mayor Henry and Chief Young for refusing to grovel and beg for absolution. 

That takes courage – especially after our hometown newspaper did little more than canonize Mr. Burck for over a week. 

Where is the moral outrage?

Where is the fervent cry for “social justice”?

I guess those haughty concepts are null-and-void when it is a police officer on the receiving end, eh?   

Fortunately, the same First Amendment that gives Mr. Burck the right to spew this inflammatory speech on a street corner in Daytona Beach is the same one that gives me the right to rebuke his comments – just as the venerated concept of journalistic integrity requires that Mr. Rice tell all sides of the story – even those facets that do not comport with the prevailing narrative that cops are the last socially acceptable punching bags. 

I love The Daytona Beach News-Journal – it is “my newspaper” – but I fear what it is becoming.

In my view, now that Mr. Burck has stated his regrets in the newspaper (and hired a Jacksonville lawyer to “come after” the City of Daytona Beach) The Daytona Beach News-Journal owes Chief Jakari Young, Mayor Derrick Henry, and the Daytona Beach Police Department an apology – a big one.

It is time that Pat Rice assure us all that, as our newspaper of record, this is not what “local journalism” has become.

Angel               Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite

So, long Dr. Chrite, we hardly knew ye. . . 

This week Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite abruptly announced he was resigning the presidency of Bethune-Cookman University after being selected to lead Bentley University in Massachusetts, one of the top business schools in the nation.   

According to reports, he did not notify the University’s Board of Trustees of his decision – but clearly Dr. Chrite is smart enough to get while the gettin’s good. . .   

To say his relatively brief tenure at Bethune-Cookman was difficult is an understatement, and in a February 2020 letter to alumni, Bethune Dr. Chrite did not pull punches.

“2020 will be a pivotal year in the history of B-CU,” President Chrite wrote. “It will be the year our beloved university prepared to close its doors, or it will be the year we turned a corner and began moving toward an exciting future.”

He was right.  Times were grim.    

At that anxious point, B-CU was in its second year of academic probation after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges demanded the elimination of an $8 million operating deficit and improvements to its horrendous system of governance.   

The loss of accreditation would have signaled the death knell for this challenged institution – one that has been financially gutted by mismanagement, a lack of oversight by self-serving trustees, and voracious greed.

Last fall, under Dr. Chrite’s outstanding leadership, Bethune-Cookman University announced it would maintain its all-important academic accreditation as the University was able to reduce expenditures, complete an extensive review of policies and protocols, overhaul its contractual obligations and transactional relationships, and get them working to B-CU’s advantage.

In addition, Dr. Chrite brought together experts in finance, accreditation, and academic governance, then increased private sector support to transform the University “…into a properly running institution of higher learning.”

Thanks to the almost universal confidence Dr. Chrite inspired, Volusia County’s own political powerhouse Mori Hossieni is believed to have lobbied hard behind the scenes to ensure B-CU received a much needed $17 million infusion from the Florida Legislature.

Now the shock and disappointment of Dr. Chrite’s decision is sweeping the community, and many are begging the obvious question – why?

Everyone except Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, that is. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by Pat Rice and Eileen Zaffiro-Kean on Wednesday, Mayor Henry said:

“Based on a lot of factors I knew he wouldn’t be there that long,” Henry said. “There are a lot of subterraneous issues at Bethune-Cookman that are complex, and the community is not aware of the rationale of some of the decisions he made at the university during his tenure.”

Oddly, Mayor Henry felt the need to kick Dr. Chrite on his way out the door, describing a non-existent “gulf” between the university and the community.

Say what?

Then, on Thursday, we learned in an informative article in the News-Journal:

“The mayor’s wife, Stephanie Henry, had been dean of education at B-CU when Chrite arrived. She was offered another position during a staff reorganization of the school but decided to leave the university.  She left on good terms,” the mayor said. “She left in great standing with him (Chrite).”

Sure.  Whatever you say, Mr. Mayor. . . 

I can only assume that the “subterraneous issues” Mayor Henry described included Dr. Chrite’s, honesty, transparency, truthfulness, a willingness to put the needs of the university above those of his cronies, and a highly developed fiduciary responsibility to something other than his own bank account.

It is called “professional integrity” – something that has been sorely lacking in the halls of power at Bethune-Cookman University – and Daytona Beach City Hall, for that matter. . .

Unfortunately, men and women of good character do not seem to last long in our local power structure – so, we say goodbye and best wishes to another lost visionary as he rides into the sunset. 

Kudos to Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite for his outstanding efforts to right the ship during turbulent times and under extremely difficult circumstances.  In my view, Dr. Chrite’s good work honored Dr. Bethune’s dream and saved this important institution from the brink of disaster.

Let’s hope the B-CU Board of Trustees will continue on the path Dr. Chrite so boldly blazed. 

Yeah, right. . .

Angel               Ormond Beach City Commission

No, I didn’t bump my head – but thanks for the concern. . .

Look, I rarely agree with anything those pro-development lackeys on the Ormond Beach City Commission do or say – but I must give credit where credit is due.

On Tuesday night the majority struck a small blow for the preservation of a sliver of this community’s last remaining greenspace. 

In a strange turn of events, Mayor Bill Partington joined City Commissioners Troy Kent and Susan Persis in voting against a proposed land use change that would have seen some 2.81 acres on West Granada Boulevard rezoned from “open space/conservation” to “medium density residential” – literally paving the way for more godawful townhouses on the already horribly congested thoroughfare. . .

According to a piece in the Ormond Beach Observer by Jarleene Almenas:

“City Commissioners Dwight Selby and Rob Littleton were the only ones to vote yes. Littleton said it was a “tough” decision, as the property was located in his zone. He said he supported the land use change, but would have been very strict once the development order came before the commission at a later date.”

My ass. 

During the meeting, Commissioner Persis had an incredibly cogent thought that is being lauded by many of her thankful constituents:

“I think it looks beautiful the way it is,” she said. “…I don’t know why people feel we have to build on every leftover greenspace that we have in Ormond Beach.” 

“I don’t see anything wrong with leaving something ‘Open Space/Conservation.’ We don’t have a whole lot of greenspace left in that area, and it’s just concerning to me why we would need to build something right there.”

Perhaps the fact that Ormond Beach residents are rising in unison, vehemently demanding that their elected officials take steps to preserve and protect environmentally sensitive lands along The Loop and beyond from further destruction and development, is beginning to sink in at City Hall.

I damn sure hope so. 

With the pending encroachment of the monstrous Avalon Park, and mounting pressure from unchecked development along the city’s southern border, it is refreshing to see one small patch of green will remain. 

For now, anyway. . .

Kudos to Mayor Partington, and Commissioners Kent and Persis for having the courage to do the right thing for your constituents and community.   

Quote of the Week

“I want to be clear that I believe the urgent issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination in our schools deserves a strong response based on policy, not just sentiment. I could not in good conscience support a resolution that relegated such an important issue to spring break when students would not be in school. The resolution dismissed the values of inclusion that it allegedly represented. We cannot keep passing toothless statements of support instead of tackling the very real problems our LGBTQ+ students are facing.”

–Volusia County School Board member Anita Burnette, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer Letters to the Editor, “Volusia County School Board’s Anita Burnette: says LGBTQ discrimination deserves ‘a strong response,” Friday, March 12, 2021

I am always skeptical of politicians who do one thing – then wait to see which way the political winds are blowing – before saying they would have done this or that IF only the measure had gone farther in resolving the issue, blah, blah, blah. . .   

I guess when a sitting School Board member wants to end LGBTQ+ discrimination in Volusia County Schools, she does it by refusing to second a resolution supporting “LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week”? 

Really?

It’s Politics 101: How to appear the hero without really committing yourself. 

Look, maybe Ms. Burnette is sincere. 

As a neophyte politician recently elected to the Volusia County School Board, perhaps the most grossly dysfunctional governing body in Volusia County, I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The fact is, this tempest in a teapot did not need to become such a disruptive dispute in the first place. 

In my view, it is a given that more should be done to protect the health, welfare, and education of student’s who identify as LGBTQ+ – but this should not become the flashpoint for more hysterical and divisive debate – asinine arguments fueled by the unrighteous indignation of a few pompous closed-minded fools – intramural feuds that always breed contempt, amplify differences, and pit student-against-student as they follow their parents’ lead.

Typically, that is when the quaint notion of an elected official ‘doing the right thing’ meets its fiery end on a pyre of empty, but highly emotional, demagoguery – and the cycle of stagnation repeats.   

What the hell – let’s see what Ms. Burnette is capable of, eh?

I don’t know about you, but I am willing to give Ms. Burnette a chance to prove herself – and demonstrate the deftness and political savvy to bring all sides of this difficult and divisive issue to the table and propose realistic public policies that ensure all Volusia County students have an educational environment free of bigotry, prejudice, bullying, and intolerance. 

Good luck, Ms. Burnette.  You’re gonna need it. . .

And Another Thing!

“Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – you’re about to behold a sight so strange, so horrifying, so utterly monstrous, that I urge you who are easily frightened or upset, who suffer from nervous disorders, weak hearts, or queasy stomachs, who experience nightmares, and any children under the age of 16, to forgo witnessing this exhibit of the greatest oddities and illusions in the history of local governance. . .”

Sometimes I think Volusia County would do well to hire an old-fashioned carnival barker to stand outside the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and warn us rubes of the frightening geek show that awaits us inside on those days our illustrious elected officials gather for their bimonthly production of the Théâtre de l’absurde.

This week was no exception.

Let’s face it, political cowardice, in all its ugly forms, has been a dominating factor in Volusia County governance for years – it is autochthonous to the “system.”

At best, this phenomenon is marked by a lack of backbone which prevents our elected officials from doing the right thing – for the right reasons – for fear of alienating their most vocal critics, or, god forbid, their political benefactors.

Everyone agrees that elected officials should have the discretion to change tack in response to an ever-evolving political environment – so long as they are open and honest about it.

This week, the Volusia County Council suddenly reversed course on its temporary ban on the processing of code enforcement actions involving short-term rentals – cravenly adopting the political doctrine of ‘who screams loudest’ – a policy guaranteed to create hell and havoc as elected officials flip-flop on contentious issues to appease their noisiest constituents.

Never works. . .

In my view, County Chair Jeff Brower is a good man who is trying desperately to do right by his campaign promises and deeply held convictions – something that frustrates the status quo – but he simply must learn how to read trends, anticipate the mini-moves of his “colleagues,” and get his head in the game. 

Quick. 

For instance, Mr. Brower’s open shilling for an internal job applicant from the dais almost guarantees that County Manager George Recktenwald will not hire that individual as he seeks to avoid the very real appearance of political influence (or worse) in the process.    

I realize developing that level of dexterity can be especially difficult in the shadowy milieu of Volusia politics – a three-dimensional chess game where the loyalties and motivations of those we have elected to set public policy morph from meeting-to-meeting depending upon who is pulling the rods and cables – creating an unstable atmosphere where nothing is as it seems and literally anything is possible.   

Rather than hold firm to a unanimous decision that suspended enforcement action for a few weeks while the state legislature wrangles with the thorny issue of short-term rentals – the majority blinked when faced with potential legal action from residents of Bethune Beach – and caved to Councilman Fred Lowrey’s strategic handwringing over the potential loss of the county’s grandfathered regulatory authority.

On a 4-3 vote – with Chairman Brower, Councilwoman Heather Post, and Councilman Danny Robins holding firm to the council’s previous call – the moratorium was lifted, leaving owners of short-term rentals subject to immediate enforcement action without prior notification.     

Now, those unfortunates who have rented their properties through April 30 (the end of the legislative session) are left holding the bag – subjecting them to angry renters whose vacation plans have been upended and the possibility of throwing current visitors out on the street, while exposing the property owner to potential legal action. 

I don’t care which side of this incredibly divisive issue you fall on – that hardly seems fair. 

Of course, the larger problem is an elected body that sends mixed signals – voting on, then extending, a controversial policy after receiving public input and with the best intentions for all concerned – then reversing course midstream in another off-the-agenda vote. 

It appeared botched and bungled as Billie Wheeler and Fred Lowrey worked to embarrass Mr. Brower – whose head swung back and forth like a drowning man searching desperately for a life ring. 

When setting ‘parameters’ for citizens wishing to serve on the council’s ad hoc short term rental advisory committee – something that, depending upon its makeup, has the potential to dissolve into a no-holds-barred Battle Royale for the ages – Councilwoman Wheeler attempted to limit appointments to electors living in the unincorporated area – openly shitting on residents who may live in a Volusia County municipality and own rental property in an unincorporated area such as Bethune Beach or Ormond-by-the-Sea.

You know, taxpaying property owners with an actual chip in the game?

Ultimately, Wheeler successfully got the issue kicked even further down the road by whining she didn’t have enough time to vet applications – convincing her colleagues to push the formation of their own advisory board until late April – proving once and for all that Ms. Wheeler’s Gumby-like spine makes her the most malleable, wishy-washy politician to ever bend with the prevailing winds.   

Fairness and equal representation be damned – when Billie Wheeler was told that she doesn’t like peer-to-peer rentals anymore – the fate of these poleaxed property owners was sealed. 

Whatever.

In my view, Councilman Danny Robins said it best when he asked the rhetorical question – “What kind of message are we sending to our visitors?  What kind of message are we sending to our property owners, our residents, our taxpayers?”

“Step right up, folks.  Look if you must at the greatest shit-show on earth. . .”

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

Barker’s View will be taking a short pause next week – Angels & Assholes will return for your listening and dancing pleasure on April 2! 

In the meantime, please feel free to revive old civic nightmares of who tried to save us – and who tried to screw us – in the BV archives!