On Volusia: The Time Has Come – Jim Dinneen Must Go

It’s rare that I put out two blog posts on the same day – but I’m mad as hell – and you should be too.

Now, the evidence in undeniable.

For months, I’ve railed about the ugly fact that County Manager Jim Dinneen has utterly failed in his duty to maintain public assets, ensure essential services and provide sound and ethical stewardship of our hard-earned tax dollars.

The anecdotal and physical evidence of my claims are too long to mention – but if you need a quick reminder, I encourage you to take a drive by the dilapidated county-owned shopping center at Cardinal Avenue and A-1-A in the heart of Ormond Beach’s tourist district.

It’s a godforsaken heap – an off-the-tax-roll blight incubator – sitting smack-dab at the nexus of a residential neighborhood and a once scenic roadway traveled by thousands of visitors – who we spent handsomely to attract to our area.

The deplorable condition of public buildings and assets that have been allowed to become mold food on Dinneen’s watch are legendary – just ask anyone who owns adjacent property (or the City of DeLand, who put up with that noxious dump known as the “Old Jail” for years until they were able to find a workable solution to demolish it and make way for actual progress in the best downtown in America.)

Ignoring preventive maintenance and allowing brick-and-mortar buildings to decline and melt into irreparable condition so he can ask for money to build a Taj Mahal replacement facility has been Mr. Dinneen’s modus operandi for over a decade.

In my view, a crumbling abandoned jail – or an overgrown dumping ground for beach signage –  is one thing, but when one of the most highly compensated county executives in the state knowingly permits a sensitive and essential public service like the Medical Examiner’s Office to wither on the budgetary vine – ignoring requested improvements, crucial equipment and staffing requests to the point the office loses its professional accreditation – and ultimately deteriorates to the point county employees are at physical risk – borders on official misconduct.

In my view, if that’s not criminal malfeasance – it damned well should be.

In a recent article by the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Medical Examiner: Volusia facility ‘potentially dangerous’” we learned the true reason why Dr. Sara Zydowicz fled Volusia County like a scalded dog after just one-month on the job:

She could no longer jeopardize her professional reputation – or physical safety – working in a critically understaffed and substandard shithole that no longer serves the needs of the citizens of Volusia County. 

 Rather than sweep this fetid mess under the rug, to her credit, Dr. Z had the personal fortitude and professional ethics to report these deplorable conditions to the state regulatory commission that oversees medical examiners and their critical work in service to the citizens of Florida.

According to the News-Journal, “Since Volusia County is one of only a few charter counties in the state — the rest have medical examiners that are appointed by the governor, not hired by a county manager — the county has to formally request aid from the state to right the ship.”

Now do you understand why our duly elected Sheriff Mike Chitwood wants out from under the charter-imposed yoke of this incompetent little shitbird?

Inexplicably, Mr. Dinneen didn’t bother to solicit input from Sheriff Chitwood, the chief law enforcement officer in Volusia County – or the State Attorney’s Office – when he hired Dr. Z, something the chairman of the medical examiners commission described as “unheard of.”

Sadly, Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald was forced to become the unfortunate face this latest/greatest debacle – valiantly attempting to lean into the building shitstorm and take it square on the chin for his cowardly boss, who to this writing refused to even return a News-Journal reporters telephone call.

Frankly, George Recktenwald should be given a medal – then he should be fired for not having the guts to stand up, speak truth to power, and publicly expose this craven little bastard for the incompetent hack he truly is.

During his tenure, Jim Dinneen has facilitated the wholesale giveaway of tens-of-millions of dollars in public funds couched as “economic development incentives,” orchestrated the discounted sale of public land to private interests, pissed away our heritage of beach access to appease the overweening greed of speculative developers, concocted patent falsehoods about the pressing need for new, astronomically priced courthouses, public works facilities and other county buildings – even as those he is currently responsible for maintaining literally rot into the ground.

If this staggering bureaucratic ineptitude and gross mismanagement doesn’t send a chill up your spine, let me tell you something that will:

When made aware of this incredibly serious situation by the News-Journal, at least one of our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council – who all are now personally and politically responsible for what happens next – had the temerity to question why Dr. Zydowicz went outside county government to report this emergency to the proper state regulatory agency.

You read that right.

According to the News-Journal, when questioned about this startling revelation, County Councilwoman Deb Denys said, “Everyone is aware of the situation, including Dr. Z. What’s most surprising is that she circumvented the county and went directly to the state. We never heard complaints for (sic) her before this.”

Deb Denys is a damnable liar.

Hell, anyone who pays even marginal attention has heard the horror stories for years – that’s why the ‘powers that be’ have been promising a new “$13-million” replacement facility for years.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why Deb Denys has absolutely no business serving as an elective official on the Dais of Power in DeLand – and showcases that the complete abdication of any reasonable accountability has become an institutionalized protocol in the executive suites of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.

To prove my long-held belief that our doddering fool of a County Chairman, Ed Kelley, only understands what Mr. Dinneen feeds to him with a rubber spoon, Old Ed responded to the news like the perennially uninformed dunce he is, “It was explained to me that (the office) wasn’t that bad.”

Who explained it to you, Ed?  And why did you ask the question in the first place?

And how in all that’s holy would a dipshit like you know what constitutes “that bad” in a forensic science environment?

Trust me – Ed Kelley can’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel – let alone determine the competency and protocols required of a very active medical examiners office.

That tells me something must have piqued Old Ed’s blunted interest – caused him to ask Little Jimmy, “So, how’s everything over at the morgue?” – I mean, that’s not exactly a question that forms out of light chit-chat over a taxpayer-funded lunch at the Roundtable of Elected Officials meeting, right?

Was it the fact that over 200 autopsy reports are sitting incomplete because of inadequate staffing?

Or the gruesome scene of dead bodies – you know, the loved ones of Volusia County residents – stacking up like cord-wood or languishing in hospitals due to lack of available space?

Perhaps it had something to do with Mr. Dinneen’s administration utterly refusing to provide the medical examiner with requested budget information, respond to funding requests or so much as hire temporary employees during an all-out crisis – like someone to answer the fucking phone?

 My God!  What in the hell is going on over there?

 This is, quite simply, over-the-top – even by Volusia County government standards.

Now, our elected officials on the Volusia County Council are left in the untenable position of actually having to hold Mr. Dinneen personally accountable for his acts and omissions – his abject failure of leadership – and his pathological inability to accept responsibility for anything, all while pocketing hundreds of thousands in salary and benefits.

The political ramifications are clear – the time has come, Mr. Dinneen must go.

Now.

If our elected representatives don’t take swift and decisive action to protect their constituents from this base ineptitude and restore honor and competency to the county managers office – I can assure you the voters will demonstrate to incumbent county council members the concept of political accountability come November.

 

 

 

On Volusia: Where Good Ideas go to Die

There is plenty of skepticism to go around these days when talk turns to “progress” in Volusia County.

After all, doubt and uncertainty are the natural precipitate of lies.

When those people and institutions we trust tell us things that are counter to what we actually experience – suspicion results.

Then cynicism takes hold.

In a duplicitous attempt to deflect attention from the very real problems we face here on Florida’s Fun Coast, many of those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests – and more specifically, those officials and organizations with a parasitic reliance on public funds – soft-soap us with misleading, often grandiose tales of “game changing” projects – always painting a rosy picture with dubious statistics and studies which bear no resemblance to ambient conditions.

They craft a narrative to fit the “Big Idea du jour” – regardless of how nonsensical that stratagem may seem to those of us dependent upon Volusia’s struggling artificial economy for our livelihoods.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal – which perilously walks a frayed tightrope across the deep divide between feel-good corporate marketing pap and our ghastly reality – recently presented the enigmatic conundrum, “Tourism Tax Mystery.”

The piece, written by the talented Jim Abbott, asked the simple question, “If Bike Week roared, why were bed taxes down in March?”

By all accounts, Bike Week 2018 drew hundreds of thousands to Volusia County – the best turnout in years by some estimates – yet, the Halifax Area Advertising Authority reported that bed tax collections in Daytona Beach were down some 3.4 percent in March, compared to the same period one year ago.

Interestingly, the report confirmed “…that decline was in sharp contrast to collections that jumped 14 percent for the same period in West Volusia County, and 10 percent in Southeast Volusia, an area that includes New Smyrna Beach.”

The local drop was also counter to regional collections which were up a whopping 9 to 18 percent.

What passes for our “tourism leaders” – folks who are totally dependent upon bed taxes for their very existence – naturally fawn optimistically, claiming that while “average daily rates” were down, occupancy was up by 6 percent in March.

That means motels dropped their prices in an attempt to put heads in beds.

They also rely on some weird voodoo ritual to estimate annual visitor counts – a ‘methodology’ used since the 1970’s (?) that takes actual occupancy data and survey results, then doubles the actual figures to account for “overnight visitors who might be staying with relatives, in privately owned condos or homes or other accommodations.”

Say what?

Whatever.

Most smart business people, in other words, anyone operating an enterprise in the “real world” – understand that, over time, markets change.  And they use hard numbers and trustworthy statistical information to their advantage when anticipating future trends.

Clearly, in east Volusia and beyond, the growing popularity of short-term rentals and other “nontraditional” accommodations offered by “peer-to-peer” sharing sites, such as Airbnb, have reduced bed tax collections.

In fact, officials report that revenues received from these nontraditional sources made up approximately 20 percent of the county’s total collections.

According to resident mystic Evelyn Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research – who has been telling county tourism officials what they want to hear for years – short-term rentals often charge lower rates than traditional hotels, which naturally results in less tourism taxes.

Look, I’m no expert, but the market patterns reported by the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and legitimate tourism analysts tells me that visitors to Daytona Beach aren’t interested in luxuriant “Five Star” resort accommodations at $300+ per night.

I mean, you don’t have to have an advanced degree from the Mori Hosseini School of Hospitality Management to cypher that one, right?

So, what do our economic development guru’s and elected officials in Volusia County do?

They aggressively court and “incentivize” speculative developers intent on building extravagant theme hotels and multi-story luxury condominiums ranging to more than $1.4 million (in a market where the median sales price of a condo was around $207,000 last month).

They seem intent on flooding the beachside with upscale accommodations in a market that has proven it can’t support a Bojangles Chicken n’ Biscuits – even if it is counter to every prediction of the hospitality and tourism industry.

How these speculative developers spend their investor’s money is no real concern of mine – but when our local governments buy in to risky countertrends – I take notice.

Especially in a place where good ideas go to die.

Everyone understands the economic consequences when supply exceeds demand.

If the Great Recession taught us anything, it is that when a dominant segment of the economy – like real estate or tourism – crashes and burns, it can have devastating implications for dependent industries as well.

Unfortunately, our ‘powers that be’ never learn from the mistakes of the past.

That’s a perilous combination.

Consider the lukewarm recommendations of the much-heralded Beachside Redevelopment Committee – a last ditch effort which gathered our best and brightest minds, met monthly for over a year, frittered over the causative effects of blight, carefully tiptoed around the political minefield of beach access and management issues, listened intently as economic development blowhards fogged the room with their noxious fumes, took public comment and then carefully considered options.

For a while, this remarkable group seemed like they were getting to the core of the problem(s) – our newspaper of record stimulated public awareness by publishing a grim inventory of abandoned and delipidated properties on A-1-A – and many long-suffering residents pinned our last/best hope on the BRC’s good work to rescue us from this tailspin.

Then, inexplicably, just as they reached the finish line, the committee allowed a mid-level county bureaucrat to cobble together a halfhearted report under their impressive names which said, well, nothing.

Essentially, the committee concluded that the City of Daytona Beach needs to get its act together and enforce its codes and ordinances.

Of course, the final list of “recommendations” had a lot more “governmentese,” sugary fluff to fill the voids and deflect any real accountability – little more than hot air, really.

When our cowardly elected officials on the Volusia County Council (you know, the ones who commissioned this think tank in the first place?) received the committee’s final report, they shuffled their feet nervously and essentially agreed to “support” the City of Daytona Beach – whenever it gets around to cleaning up its own steaming stoolstack. . .

So much for that whole “collective vision thing,” huh?   

At the end of the day, we need to face the fact that government isn’t going to redevelop our beleaguered beachside.

That’s not the role of public agencies – or public funds.

But neither is hamstringing private revitalization efforts with a ‘make-work’ labyrinth of codes, rules and boards – roadblocks that can add months and thousands of dollars to a new business start or property renovation.

Rather than setting a unified vision and establishing a streamlined redevelopment process which strips onerous regulations and cuts red tape – then create a one-stop shop to assist entrepreneurs and developers in taking beachside projects and small business proposals from the planning stage through ribbon-cutting with the least number of bureaucratic barriers – our entrenched power structure ignores the obvious.

My fervent hope was that the redevelopment committee would recommend a multi-disciplinary Office of Beachside Redevelopment (for lack of a more creative title) which would construct a clearly delineated path to success for beachside improvements by creating an efficient, rationalized and simplified process that levels the playing field for everyone – not just the privileged few – and emphasizes the importance of entrepreneurial investment.

A process that doesn’t include the wholesale government giveaway of those public amenities and traditions that make the Daytona Beach Resort Area different from every other coastal destination in Florida.

Despite what we are being told, the revival of core areas of the beachside – and the planned overhaul of the East ISB gateway (which currently looks more like the gates of hell than the entrance to a vacation destination) is still many months, if not years, away as the inflexible administrative and funding process grinds slowly on.

While patience and preparation may be virtues – bureaucratic paralysis and overreach are not.

In my view, government can best spur beachside revitalization by simply creating a clean, safe and inviting environment – setting an aerodynamic approval process – then getting the hell out of the way and let the free market work as intended.

 

 

 

On Volusia: Sheriff Chitwood is Right

Love him or hate him, Sheriff Mike Chitwood tells it like he sees it.

For the first time in decades, the citizens of Volusia County have a fresh set of eyes inside the tattered carnival tent that passes for governance here on Florida’s beleaguered Fun Coast – and Sheriff Chitwood’s frequent reports of his observations of the dark side do not paint a pretty picture of this dictatorial oligarchy that continues to hamper substantive progress and ensure that the Donor Class has unfettered access to the public teat.

Frankly, Sheriff Chitwood’s column in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “County Manager has too much power, too little accountability” reads more like a Barker’s View Angels & Assholes rant than a community voices piece – but, damn if he didn’t get the point across.

The Sheriff’s incredibly insightful article began with perhaps the most chilling revelation I’ve ever heard from a sitting elected official.

According to Sheriff Chitwood, One of the first greetings I got when I was elected as your sheriff was a warning from our County Manager Jim Dinneen. The message was play nice or my time as sheriff would be brief.”

In most places, the shocking nature of that frightening disclosure by the county’s chief law enforcement executive would go through the organization – and the community – like an ice water enema.

But not here.

In Volusia County, we have come to accept this level of gross institutional corruption as ‘business as usual’ – a system where the County Manager, with the political insulation afforded by a few uber-wealthy campaign contributors, feels comfortable threatening the tenure and independence of an elected official, and subverting the will of the electorate, should the Sheriff fail to acquiesce and play nice in the Kingdom of Jim Dinneen.

Scary stuff.   

The News-Journal recently reported that the county’s medical examiner, Dr. Sara Zydowicz, resigned her position after just one month.

Although Sheriff Chitwood stopped short of discussing the ME’s reasoning for fleeing Volusia County government, he clearly felt compelled to expose the fact that the medical examiner’s office – a service of vital importance to our criminal justice system and community – has been subject to “years of neglect by our county manager.”

Sound familiar?

For months I’ve been harping on Mr. Dinneen’s complete lack of public asset management – allowing county buildings to strategically rot into the ground as a means of demonstrating the need for a Taj Mahal replacement facility – all while contributing to blight and dilapidation in the very neighborhoods and commercial areas many governments and entrepreneurs are working hard to escape.

When our elected Sheriff makes the bold public statement, Those in power will do anything to maintain their stranglehold” perhaps it’s time we listen?

Clearly, Sheriff Chitwood’s statement is bolstered by the undeniable fact that a few local political insiders are willing to inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into county council races – then reap a return on that investment in the form of massive economic development incentives, tax abatement, infrastructure enhancements and other direct paybacks which use public funds to increase private profits.

The evidence that our system of county governance has been hijacked is not just compelling, it has become our collective reality.

This bastardized system that consolidates power in the hands of a demonstrably unscrupulous individual with malleable ethics and a preternatural ability to dodge accountability has replaced any semblance of a representative democracy where our elected and appointed officials are responsible to their constituency.

In my view, Sheriff Chitwood’s op/ed deserves our undivided attention.

As I have written before, Mr. Dinneen is perfectly willing to lie like a cheap rug whenever a blatant falsehood serves his purpose or those of his political handlers.  In fact, I believe – as Sheriff Chitwood has previously said – that Mr. Dinneen is a pathological liar with a compulsion to fabricate situational responses on the fly – a strategy that has ultimately cost county government the trust of the people it exists to serve.

In most successful public and private organizations, positions of high responsibility have a corresponding level of accountability that balances power with oversight.

The very concept requires that people in positions of high power be ultimately held answerable for their actions in the conduct of their individual or collective responsibilities.

In our democratic system of governance, the will of the people is the basis of all government authority.  When public officials and institutions lose the trust and consent of the people, we have a right and responsibility through the electoral process to replace elected officials who enact policies counter to the interests of their constituents with servant-leaders who will restore honor and basic fairness to the process.

That includes our current crop of cowardly politicians on the dais of power in DeLand who continue to turn a deaf ear each time Sheriff Chitwood sounds the klaxon – exposing the level of Mr. Dinneen’s abject incompetence that has brought us to this dangerously low period in Volusia County’s history.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

Angels & Assholes for May 18, 2018

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel:             Brownie the Town Dog & The City of Daytona Beach

During a period of my career on ‘The Hill,’ we had a community mascot of sorts – his name was “Sludge” – a medium-sized black dog of undetermined breed or origin – who lived his life quite comfortably inside the Public Works compound on Alta Drive.

He had run of the place.

City employees would take up a collection for food and veterinary care, give Sludge a scratch behind the ear from time-to-time, and everyone generally looked out for his happiness and welfare.

Sludge lived to a ripe old age and is buried near the Water Treatment plant.

But a municipal canine companion even more famous than Sludge was “Brownie the Town Dog of Daytona Beach” – who is described as “Florida’s most historic – and beloved – dog.”

Brownie

According to local legend, Brownie was a stray who called downtown Beach Street home until his death in 1954.

He lived in a custom dog house, dined on steak and ice cream – and even had his own account at Florida Bank & Trust.

Although he had no owner, Brownie was loved by the entire community.

According to his obituary in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Brownie was an estimated 20 years old when he peacefully “died in his sleep at Dr. Benjamin Rawls animal hospital.”

According to the newspaper, the owner of a local package store looked after Brownie during World War II – and drivers from Daytona Cab Company took care of him in his later years – building his dog house, and, when the time came, his custom casket.

Believe it or not, Brownie’s grave – which is located in downtown Daytona’s Riverfront Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Beach Street – is listed as one of the most visited dog memorials in the world.

On Wednesday, May 30th at 6:00pm, the City of Daytona Beach will hold a ceremony to formally dedicate the beautiful new statuary and memorial plaza at Brownie’s gravesite.  Refreshments will be served and souvenir bottled water (featuring a picture of the Brownie statue) will be available.

Best of all – dogs are welcome to attend.  In fact, there will be a doggie parade from the site to nearby Jackie Robinson Ballpark led by McGruff the Crime Dog!

I must admit – I love quirky stuff like this.  It builds a sense of community and brings us together as neighbors as we remember and celebrate times-gone-by.

I encourage everyone to come out for this wonderful event.

Please find more information at www.browniethetowndog.org

Asshole:          Volusia County Government

As a Barker’s View reader, I naturally assume you are what political scientists call a “high-information” voter – an individual who takes the time to examine alternative opinions, analyze all available information, then form your own independent views on the issues of the day.

Trust me when I say, it is increasingly difficult to stay well-informed in the “low transparency” environment of Volusia County government.

In a recent piece by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that our ‘powers that be’ failed to consider a very expensive unintended consequence of their hasty decision:

“The last-minute decision to delay putting a sales tax increase on the ballot this year could cost Volusia County voters as much as $1 million.”

Then, just days later, election officials walked back the “one-million” number and we were told the proposed special election will “only” cost us $791,297 – or $550,000 for a mail-out ballot option.

Why in hell are we discussing a special election before the core issues that brought us to this point have even been discussed – let alone settled?    

The unfortunate face of this debacle, South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough, is quoted as saying, “The plan is to put this back on the ballot next year.  Nobody wants to (lose) the money, but I think the importance of the issue justifies the cost.”

What plan?  There’s a plan? 

Where are these “plans” being discussed – and who’s making the decisions for the rest of us?

I’m asking.

Because insinuating that a plan exists would tend to indicate a “collective vision” – and let’s just say, Volusia County isn’t exactly known for the whole “vision thing. . .”

Rather than consider options, attempt to rebuild trust and confidence or communicate with those of us who will ultimately foot the bill, our elected officials on the Dais of Power in Deland march boldly forward like the Frankensteinian lummoxes they are – stuck on stupid – publicly discussing bringing the sales tax initiative before voters next year before addressing impact fees or taking the first step to ensure mega-developers pay their fair share.

What gives?

If Old Ed and the Funky Bunch think we’re going to accept a superficial increase in impact fees glossed over with some cheap sleight-of-hand by real estate developers – they need to think again.

Hell, they need to think period.

They just don’t get it.

People are pissed – they are beyond tired of being lied to and having their hard-earned tax dollars frittered away by craven politicians bent on protecting the bottom line of their benefactors in the real estate development community.

Long-time Daytona Beach resident and community activist, Linda Smiley, spoke truth to power when she told the haughty Roundtable of Elected Officials, “To hear you want to spend extra money to have a special election really sticks in the craw with residents.”

You bet it does, Linda.  Like a bone in the throat.

In addition, astute Port Orange resident Michael Arminio – who serves as a member of that community’s Planning Board – said in the News-Journal, “Asking us to pay for a special election is not only fiscally irresponsible, but a slap in the face.”

I would add that watching the abject incompetence of highly paid public officials as they screw the pooch and repeatedly bungle one of the most important public policy decisions of our time feels less like a slap to the face and more like a left hook to the noggin.  It’s painful.

Everyone knows the pitfalls of making decisions in a vacuum – forming conclusions or making judgement calls with little outside information, or worse, in the isolation of a system convinced of its own infallibility – yet it happens with astonishing frequency in county government.

The fact is, Volusia County Council meetings have dissolved into little more than staged theater – a weird Kabuki scripted well in advance by our scheming county manager – with each elected and appointed official playing his or her role to the letter, never wavering from the well-orchestrated libretto.

In my view, this is a manifestation of a government that considers citizen input and oversight anathema to the closet manipulation of public policy to benefit a special interest while avoiding public outcry and controversy.

In short – and in truth – our elected officials simply do not have the balls to ask their mega-campaign donors to pay their fair share for unchecked growth.

Yet, they have no problem asking every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to pay through the nose in increased sales tax?

If that sounds like a double-standard – one for the “Rich & Powerful” and one for us slugs who pay the bills – that’s because it is.

Needless to say, this base political cowardice leaves little room for independent thought – or, God forbid – honesty, clarity and openness from our elected officials.

So, the cycle continues to perpetuate itself – using public funds to ensure massive private profits, providing political insulation for inside facilitators, ensuring that campaign contributors have unfettered access to the public tit and discouraging citizen engagement in their government.

Frankly, this never-ending shitstorm of political foul-ups is getting old, and terribly expensive – and our elected officials seem completely incapable of explaining why they allow it to happen.

With so many pressing matters threatening our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast – crumbling infrastructure, blight, dilapidation, homelessness, hopelessness, low wages, underpaid and underappreciated teachers, school security costs, a dwindling water supply, unchecked western sprawl, etcetera, etcetera – pissing away $800,000 on a special election is a damnable waste of already scarce assets.

Frankly, it’s an abomination.

In my view, even mentioning the topic of a special election before addressing the central issues of impact fees and public trust in government is another colossal gaffe – a complete lack of message management and strategic focus by out-of-touch county officials ambling around in a toxic environment that continues to plague progress and has (fortunately) doomed this shameless money grab once and for all.

They have no one to blame but themselves.

Angel:             Candidate Peggy Belflower, NSB Zone 1

I want to thank Peggy Belflower, candidate for the New Smyrna Beach Zone 1 City Commission seat, for linking Barker’s View on her campaign website.

Belflower (2)

Clearly, the lady has good taste.

Now, I don’t know Ms. Belflower personally, but it is apparent she has the best interests of the citizens of New Smyrna Beach at heart when it comes to the rampant development and westward sprawl that is threatening the character and quality of life for residents of one of Florida’s last beach communities.

So, she found the courage to stand for high office and challenge the status quo.

Her platform is simple:

“…As a private citizen, I also have a deep understanding of government through decades of activism, serving on governmental agencies and working with citizens, environmental groups and business.  I stay actively engaged with the City Commission and City Government and I, like many in NSB, do not personally feel represented by the majority that dominate the City Commission.  Truly, “enough is enough” with politics as usual and the good old boy system it represents.  We can do better.”

I like that.

Anyone who can say they have an “understanding of government” stands head-and-shoulders above the current crop of politicians – who clearly don’t have a flippin’ clue what governance of the people, by the people and for the people even looks like.

Please see more of what Ms. Belflower has to say at www.peggybelflower.com

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

Way back in January 2017, Barker’s View formally welcomed the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores to the not-so-exclusive club of municipalities who have had their lunch money stolen by our elected and appointed representatives in Volusia County government.

Since 2013, county officials have spent a whopping $12.1 million of our money on seven beachside properties ostensibly for “off-beach” parking – the precursor to the complete removal of our century-old heritage of beach driving.

During this wild spending spree, County Manager Jim Dinneen slithered into Daytona Beach Shores, and without so much as a phone call to city officials, purchased two premier oceanfront lots for $2.95 million and $1.4 million respectively.

As one would expect, officials in the Shores were banking on using their limited supply of beachfront property for additional vertical growth to support the communities tax base – in fact, that strategy was memorialized in their comprehensive plan.

The forced removal of this valuable land from the tax rolls will ultimately cost citizens in the landlocked community some $200,000 in annual revenue.

As I’ve said, the quaint notion of municipalities controlling their own destiny through self-determination and local governance might work elsewhere, but not in Volusia County.

Don’t like it?  Tough shit.

When Daytona Beach Shores balked at this aggressive form of buggery, Mr. Dinneen unleashed his weaponized county attorney’s office like a rabid Doberman – with orders to do whatever it takes to exert Volusia County’s omnipotence – and crush the small municipality’s will by exsanguinating them with legal bills until they scream, “No Mas!” 

If you haven’t noticed, this intimidating strategy of putting County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert’s iron boot on the throat of anyone, including grassroots citizen advocates, who dare question the supremacy of the Monarchy – then suing citizens collective eyeballs out with their own money – is Jim Dinneen’s modus operandi when it comes to settling “disputes” with recalcitrant municipalities.

After months of back-and-forth, Shores officials sat down with Volusia County during a court ordered confab in March and hammered out a reluctant deal that would allow Volusia County to build a parking lot east of A-1-A.

Or so they thought.

Inexplicably, during the May 1 Volusia County Council meeting, our elected officials voted 6-1 – with former Shores commissioner and current County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler dissenting – to bring in an outside mediator to referee the apparently still simmering dispute.

Say what?

In typical fashion – just like when the property was surreptitiously acquired in the first place – no one in Volusia County government bothered to notify the City of Daytona Beach Shores of its intentions before the vote, something Eckert termed “an oversight on his part.”

My ass.

The very incisive Shores City Manager, Michael Booker, explained to his City Commission, “This is a powerplay by the county against the city that has nothing to do with these two properties.  It’s about (the county) doing what they want to do come hell or high water against every city in Volusia County.”

Spot on, sir.

And that, gentle readers, is the most perceptive summation of Volusia County government’s dysfunctional relationship with the mosaic of municipalities ever uttered.

Following the county’s arbitration vote, Shores Attorney Lonnie Groot exclaimed, “This is the first time I’ve (heard) this and I’m astounded.  It’s almost like they are looking for a fight instead of getting together and resolving this.”

That’s because when it comes to Volusia County asserting its sense of absolute dominance over duly incorporated municipalities, its belligerence knows no bounds.

While the Shores is clearly concerned about spending scarce tax dollars to defend its interests against the leviathan – the Dinneen administration is not incumbered by that same sense of ethical and fiscal responsibility.

Frankly, Little Jimmy and those dupes on the county council don’t give two-shits what these hostile lawsuits ultimately cost you and me – so long as the Devine Right of the Realm – which is apparently subject to no earthly authority beyond the whims of a few uber-wealthy campaign contributors – reigns supreme in the Kingdom of Volusia County.

Asshole:          Volusia County Beach Safety Department

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported on the growing concerns of the Volusia Waterman’s Association – a union representing Volusia County Beach Safety Officers – regarding why the county has apparently failed to address credible claims that a current officer sent “sexually explicit photographs” of himself to a female coworker – then made crude comments about the LBGTQ community which also resulted in official complaints to county administrators.

According to a press release issued by the union on May 8th, in August 2015, a female beach safety specialist reported to her supervisor that a male employee sent “unsolicited photographs of his genitals” to her cell phone.

Apparently, these allegations were sent up the chain of command nearly three years ago.

The News-Journal reports that, more recently, there have been additional complaints about the same employee’s conduct – including a formal claim to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he has made homophobic comments in the workplace.

Reports indicate that when the employee discovered that a fellow officer was displaying a “gay pride” flag outside his home – he made disparaging remarks about that person’s sexual orientation to other officers and coworkers.

Worse, the victim reports he was told by his tormentor if he complained to anyone about the ugly slurs, he wouldn’t back him up on calls.

That’s dangerous – and possibly criminal.

Chilling.

Based on the fact that an EEOC complaint has been filed – and recent media coverage – obviously county administrators are all well aware of these allegations.

So, what is county leadership doing to investigate these serious accusations of gross misconduct, or protect their subordinates – and our tax dollars – from further exposure and harassment?

Apparently not much.

Given the fact Volusia County government has failed to respond to lawful public records requests by the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Volusia Waterman’s Association – it looks like the county’s tried and true “duck and cover” strategy of avoiding outside oversight and public scrutiny has been fully activated.

To say that the Volusia County Beach Safety Department has had its share of sexually-charged scandals is an understatement – for a while, the place looked like Caligula’s lair – culminating in the arrest and conviction of Robert “Beautiful Bobby” Tameris on charges he had sex with two 16-year old girls – along with rampant allegations of similar despicable conduct by other employees.

At the time, a federal lawsuit was filed against Volusia County for condoning a culture of sexual abuse and depravity;” however, the suit was ultimately dismissed in the county’s favor.

Now, the union contends that “…due to the sensitive nature of sexual harassment complaints, and due to the Beach Safety division’s touted “new image” as an agency transformed since the Robert Tameris scandal, with new leadership, a new name, new uniforms, and new vehicles, that the county wished to avoid making this incident a matter of public record.  Thus, the incident was apparently never investigated by Internal Affairs.” 

Look, I’ve reviewed a few of the documents related to this matter, and in my opinion, this has all the earmarks of a serious problem for county administrators.

It also serves to confirm the suspicions of many who believe Volusia County’s lack of candor and transparency has become institutionalized, an ingrained policy of deception to limit public awareness of serious internal problems, dodge responsibility and protect unsound methods.

Fortunately, that pattern is not universal to all Volusia County agencies – especially those under the command of elected department heads.

For instance, the News-Journal reported this week on the results of an internal investigation conducted by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office which sustained a pattern of gross sexual harassment and hostile workplace allegations brought by female employees against a former supervisor in the agency’s evidence section.

Perhaps that level of operational and administrative candidness is a result of Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s effective efforts to publicly expose County Manager Jim Dinneen as a ‘lying sack of shit’ and extricate himself – and his department – from Mr. Dinneen’s pathological political manipulation and micromanagement.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that any smart leader in the public or private sector should embrace the tried and true maxim:

The cover-up is always worse than the crime. 

The ash heap of history is littered with ostensibly intelligent people who turned manageable problems into outrageous scandals in a terribly misguided attempt to save face or protect themselves and their organization from public embarrassment.

Look, I’m an incendiary and highly emotional asshole, I recognize that – but in this case, I’m going to do something I almost never do and reserve judgement until all the facts are known.

Why?

Because the gravity of this situation and its potential fallout will have long-term career ramifications for any sitting county administrator who failed to act in the best interests of their department, and their constituents, up to and including the one with ultimate responsibility – County Manager Jim Dinneen.

To coin a line from Hill Street Blues, perhaps the greatest, most accurate police procedural ever filmed:

If the union’s suspicions are remotely true, senior administrators in every county department who failed to take swift action to protect their employees from this repulsive behavior should look at their watches – because it’s not everyone who knows the exact second their career ended.

Quote of the Week:

“Poor fiscal management was the reason one elected and one former elected county official told me off record last week, it is time for the Manager to go. “The level of incompetence has become stratospheric.”

–Marc Bernier, host of The Marc Bernier Show on WNDB, in a May 13th Twitter post regarding apparent chinks in County Manager Jim Dinneen’s seemingly impenetrable political armor.

Stratospheric.  Good word.

Could it be that Little Jimmy is finally losing his vice-like grip on Volusia County government?

In my experience, you don’t screw-up a potential $45-million annual revenue source in the form of a local option sales tax initiative without career ramifications – and if Mr. Dinneen thinks those elected dolts on the dais of power are going to fade the political heat alone – well, he’s sadly mistaken.

The Volusia County Council doesn’t control much – but they have absolute power over the fate of the County Manager.  Perhaps a few of our elected officials are getting tired of being publicly humiliated by this overcompensated foul ball?

As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

 Perhaps Mr. Dinneen should print this quote and tape it to his rear-view mirror.

And Another Thing!

 Sons of the Beach president Paul Zimmerman has announced that a rain date has been established for the peaceful protest of the theft of beach driving behind the Hard Rock Hotel set for this Sunday, May 20th, from 9am to 4pm.

According to Paul, the protest will be held this Sunday, weather permitting – but if it is raining, please plan to come next Saturday instead.

Also, tomorrow the Daytona Beach Police Department will host the Second Annual Fishing Derby for youth 16 years of age and under.

The tournament will be held from 10am to 1pm on the bank of beautiful Lake Valor at the Daytona Beach Police Department, 129 Valor Boulevard.

Please bring your own pole and tackle – bait and refreshments will be provided.

For more information and to RSVP, please call 386-671-5102.

What a fun community event bringing cops and kids together!

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Barker’s View – Volusia Politics: So, it’s our fault?

This angry screed was first published in August 2016.  

Back when I was still full of hope and optimism. . .

Imagine my chagrin when I opened the Daytona Beach News-Journal and found that our old friend Henry Wolfond, CEO of Bayshore Capital, Inc. has returned to our sandy shores with dollars signs once again dancing in his head.  

Call me a ‘once bitten, twice shy’ kind of guy.  

We’ve heard Mr. Wolfond’s pie-in-the-sky bullshit before – and suffered his tongue-lashing when his big plans hit the skids and sent him scurrying back to Canada.

In my jaded view, this alternative opinion to the fawning of our sycophantic ‘powers that be’ is just as relevant today as it was in 2016.  Enjoy.

_______________________

My God.

If I receive another arrogant lecture from a speculative developer scolding me and my neighbors because they can’t build an overpriced high-rise theme hotel, and carry our money out of town in trucks, I’m going to vomit.

The coverage by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and other local media outlets, of the shamefaced Henry Wolfond, CEO of Bayshore Capital, Inc., and his failure to sprout the phantom “Hard Rock” hotel/condo/cafe from the sand dunes – a project that Wolfond promised was going to be the magic panacea to protect us hapless rubes from ourselves and cure every ill facing Daytona Beach from economic blight to head lice – has consumed more newsprint than the Hindenburg disaster.

Three months ago I wrote:

“Just last year our friends at Toronto-based Bayshore Capital, Inc. promised that if we just gave up our heritage of beach driving, in turn we would receive 375,000 square feet of tempered steel and sex appeal; a sweet, sweet release from all our burdens in the form of a monolithic miracle of jobs, oiled-up pretty people in private cabanas, and luxury condos for the rest of us.

 Bayshore’s hired mouthpiece, Glen Storch, warned us (Like Oliver Douglas preaching to the residents of Hooterville) that if we balked at giving the Hard Rock what amounts to a private beach then our cure-all would be snatched away and we would be left to rot like poisoned rats in this hellish cesspool of economic affliction and violent street crime we pathetically call “The World’s Most Famous Beach.”

 Our benevolent dictators – the uber-rich puppet masters who actually run what passes for “government” in Volusia County – immediately directed their hired hands on the County Council to give Bayshore what they wanted.”

 And they damn sure did.

Gave them everything they wanted and more.   

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of these people – these speculative greedheads – preaching to us about how badly we fucked-up – openly whining about how our “obstructionism” cost us the opportunity to have nice things.

Everyone who is anyone got into the act.

According to the News-Journal, “…former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey was at the front of the line to buy a condo. Ritchey, president and CEO of one of the nation’s most successful automobile sales operations, has become a friend of Wolfond since the Hard Rock land was purchased five years ago, and he also became passionate about seeing it come to life.”

Really?

Note to Mr. Ritchey:  Henry Wolfond is not your friend.  He was currying favor for his project– you know it, and we know it.

The fact that he contributed heavily to the monument to your own self-importance that was erected at the Bandshell – and in doing so got the Bayshore brand on the brass bootlicker plaque – does not make him your friend.

It makes him a common whore.

Look, Glenn, we’re not buying a cheap used car here.  You don’t have to put the ether to us.

The citizens of Volusia County are big boys and girls who have been screwed so many times by real estate developers, carpet-bagging thieves and outright pirates that we walk with a collective limp.

We get it.

So just stop.

And the fact that J. Hyatt Brown gave Wolfond $5,000 as a show “deposit” on a luxury condominium that he knew was never coming out of the ground is just laughable.

Hyatt Brown spent more than that on his last city commissioner – so don’t think for a minute we bought into this bullshit simply because Mr. Brown – or one of his cronies – threw a little money around.  We’ve come to expect it.

As usual, now the power brokers and the failed developer du jour stand together and point their fucking fingers in our face like a demented Ebeneezer Scrooge and blame We, The People for shitting on yet another cure-all.

They stand as one and arrogantly lecture us on how our temerity in questioning the developer’s right to a private beach in return for 60 parking spaces and a weak promise ruined everything.

I’m sick of it.

Trust me.  If Wolfond – or any other developer in the free world – thought that they could make a buck off this place they would do it in a heartbeat.  The fact is, Bayshore was commanding Palm Beach prices in a place that can’t even support a decent chain restaurant.

I mean, does anyone do their homework anymore?

You don’t need a market study to understand the citizens of Volusia County are so beat down and deprived that a new Wa-Wa makes us feel all haughty and up-scale.

If we had the money back that we’ve given to International Speedway Corporation, Consolidated Tomoka, the “E-Zone” mess, and the countless speculative developers and “friends of friends” that have come down the sandy pike, we could revitalize the entire “Fun Coast” overnight.

These hypocritical shitheels refuse to admit that it is their fault.  Not ours.

The fact that smart people don’t want to invest money in a place that has been falling apart right before our eyes for the past 20-years has nothing to do with beach driving or high-rise hotels.

The reason no one wants to throw good money after bad down this festering cesspool is that they have watched the skimming by special interests and influential insiders, and the abject corruption inherent to the process that has made Volusia County look like a fucking Banana Republic.

These big dollar financiers that kept Wolfond and his dubious project at arms-length know they have a better chance of squeezing out a profit in downtown Port Au Prince than on Atlantic Avenue.

Don’t preach to me about “uncertainty and delay” over beach driving lawsuits.

Our elected officials – and their wealthy puppeteers – have created an environment that is so unstable and flagrantly criminal that no one north of Bunnell or south of Mims wants anything to do with us.

We’ve become the wet turd in Central Florida’s front yard that nobody wants to step in.

Like working in a sewer, eventually you just become immune to the stench and waste floating all around you; and locals have been duped so many times we have just become accepting of it.

We really don’t know any other way.

As an example, rather than realize that he is a huge part of the problem and benevolently resign his post – County Manager Jim Dinneen appears in the newspaper coverage yapping in the background about a mysterious Boardwalk expansion like the whippy little shit he is.

Focus, Jim.  We’re not talking Ferris wheels and Tilt-a-Carts here.  Big boy time, Mr. County Manager.

Unbelievable.

At the end of the day, the proposed Hard Rock project accomplished what it was designed to do.

It closed yet another approach and set the stage for the removal of even more beach driving space.  The ordinances that were passed on the back of this project – and the “Westin” (which it appears is being renovated by two guys on the weekends) – was the goal of our benevolent dictators from the beginning.

And at the end of the day, they got what they wanted.

Screw this ridiculous smokescreen.

We saw this coming all along, and the takeaway has nothing to do with high-rise condo’s or even beach driving.

We have confirmed the valuable lesson that the very institutions we once trusted – the people we elect and appoint to represent our interests – have been corrupted and co-opted by greedy bastards who have no qualm about using public resources, tax dollars and the judicial system as weapons against their own constituents to line their pockets and those of their “friends.”

And when they fail.  It’s our fault.

Please remember that at the polls.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Reflections on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2018

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.  This national day of remembrance pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.   

Law enforcement nationwide is well worthy of our admiration and unending respect as they go in harms way to protect your family and mine.

In 2017, 135 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States.

This year, 53 have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Below is a reprint of a Barker’s View post that appeared on Law Enforcement Memorial Day 2016.

To all those serving or who have served – thank you for holding the line.

We stand alone, together.

_______________________________

From my earliest memories, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

May 15th marks Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day 2018.

A time for reflection on the incredible contributions of the men and women who so courageously serve and protect us all – and an opportunity to honor those brave souls who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In what is proving to be a particularly deadly period of in our history for line of duty deaths, it is important that we remember those officers who, as Lincoln said, gave “The last full measure of devotion.”  

It is also fitting that we take this opportunity to consider the greater question of the role of the police in a free and open society – and the importance of citizen support for their indispensable work in preserving our way of life in America.

The great privilege of my life was the opportunity to serve in law enforcement with some of the most dedicated and talented public servants I have ever known.

For thirty-one years I had the distinct honor of standing with strong men and women who hold a thin blue line between order and chaos, between good and evil, between you and I and the predatory criminals who prey on that which we love most.

In my long career, I learned something about law enforcement officers and what these extraordinary people are made of.  I’ve always thought that any contribution I made was just a function of the job at hand, but I am extremely proud just to have been associated with people I consider true American heroes.

Brevard County Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was one of them.

Bob 1
Dep. Bob Nicol, Jr.

In early 1986, I was a young officer with the Holly Hill Police Department assigned to the Uniformed Patrol Division.

At that time, I had been on the job for about three years (in other words, I had just learned how to write a traffic ticket the same way twice) and I was working the “Midnight shift” – 11:00pm to 7:00am – answering calls for service from an old Dodge Aspen patrol car with a single blue light on the roof, and a Motorola “Mocom” radio, equipped with a green light to let you know it was on and a red light to let you know it was transmitting when you keyed the microphone.

Certainly a quaint antique by today’s standards.

Today, a patrol vehicle’s interior looks more like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle, with mobile data units, Lojack trackers, tag readers, electronic citation systems, digital video cameras and multi-channel 800MHz radios.

It is amazing how advances in technology transformed policing during my career.

One night I arrived at the police department for briefing, got a cup of coffee from Dispatch, and took my seat at the long wooden table where officers gathered before and after each tour to pass-on important and not-so-important information, listen to the sergeant give duty assignments, gossip, tell wholly inappropriate jokes, and bitch and moan about, well, everything.

(One of the first things you learn as a police chief is that cops complain – that’s how they “deal” with the horrific and unnatural things the job brings them in contact with.  It’s when they stop complaining that you have a problem on your hands.) 

That night my sergeant introduced me to the “FNG,” a “f—g new guy,” sitting by himself at the end of the desk.

He was a short, stocky blond with big 80’s-style aviator glasses who thrust out his hand and eagerly introduced himself with a big grin and a heavy Western New York accent, “Howyadoin’, I’m Bob!”

At the time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs of today, and most in-service training was conducted by senior officers teaching their juniors the ropes through experiential learning and anecdotal information.

That night I was assigned to show our newest officer the city limits and get him familiar with the streets, point out the hot spots, and generally indoctrinate him in how to survive the physical and political hazards of small town Florida.

If you’ve ever shared the confines of a police patrol unit for hours-on-end with another officer then you know how fast, and how strong, a bond develops between partners in a business where you put your life in another person’s hands and promise to do the same for them.

Robert Nicol, Jr. was born in Coatbridge, Scotland, in 1948.

He was a former deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office in Canadaigua, New York, a small community in the Finger Lakes region.

Escaping the aftermath of a messy divorce, Bob fled New York as a newly minted single-father with three young children – two boys and a girl – and his mom in tow.

Settling in Holly Hill, Bob soon applied to the police department and was hired almost immediately by Chief Pat Finn, who was highly impressed by Bob’s military background and his previous law enforcement experience.

During four-years in the U.S. Army, Bob served proudly in some of the fiercest fighting in Vietnam and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat.  He was also awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal for his extraordinary service to our nation.

Bob Nicol was an American hero before he ever pinned on a badge.

Although twelve-years my senior, he had an energetic personality, contagious laugh and a great sense of humor that impressed me right away.  We quickly became friends, and since Bob didn’t know many people here, he and I spent a lot of time together talking, drinking, and inhabiting the bars and nightclubs of Daytona Beach.

When we weren’t working, you could find us perched at Club Mocambo, the Beachcomber, Silver Bucket or any of a dozen other illustrious local night spots, cutting quite a dash in our leather Member’s Only jackets.

Unlike me, Bob was an affable, good-looking guy who always had a way with the ladies – and I benefited more times than I care to admit just from my association with him.

The stories and escapades are legendary, but perhaps better left for a different forum. . .

I learned a lot from Bob – personally and professionally.

He was a great father to his two young sons and beautiful daughter – and he doted on his mother, a brash Scot who spoke with a thick brogue and frequently made Shortbread cookies that I still miss to this day.

Most of all, Bob was a damn good cop – smart, dedicated and tenacious.

It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself in the local law enforcement community and, in May 1987, he was offered a sworn position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

It was a great professional development opportunity, and the job offered more money to support his children.

We discussed the pro’s and con’s, and late one night Bob and I met door-to-door in our patrol cars in some parking lot near Ridgewood Avenue.  He told me he was going to take the job.  I congratulated him, we shook hands, then immediately began making plans to facilitate his move to Port St. John.

Bob and I remained great friends, even though our schedules and the hour-drive between us put a dent in our night-life.

Probably for the best.

It wasn’t long before Bob proved himself a true asset to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.  He was respected and very well-liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a cops-cop, and the epitome of who you wanted stepping out of a police car in a dark alley when you really need help.

At approximately 4am on Saturday, September 19, 1987, Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. was on patrol on U.S. 1, just south of State Road 405, when he made a “routine” (if there is such a thing) traffic stop.

During the encounter, Bob arrested the driver, Scott Roberts, 21, on traffic-related charges.

Further investigation found that one of the five passengers in the vehicle, later identified as Jeffrey Mason, a 24-year old landscaper living in Orlando, was in possession of less than 20-grams of marijuana.

Bob arrested him on the misdemeanor charge.

While Bob was securing Roberts in his patrol car and attempting to control the four others still inside the vehicle, Jeffrey Mason broke free and attempted to escape custody – running across the divided highway with Deputy Nicol in close foot pursuit.

As they ran into the roadway, a vehicle traveling north swerved to avoid Mason and inadvertently struck Bob at high speed.

The force of the impact sent his body crashing into the windshield, catapulted him over the top of the moving car before throwing him to the pavement, witnesses said.

His neck was broken and the base of his skull was crushed.

Bob was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he remained in Intensive Care with severe traumatic brain damage.

After a manhunt involving some thirty law enforcement officers, Jeffrey Mason was found cowering in a wooded area near S.R. 405 and taken into custody without incident.

It was later determined that he was on probation in the State of Ohio for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 1983 traffic crash which killed the passenger in his car.

On Wednesday, September 30, 1987, my friend Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. lost his courageous battle and died from injuries sustained in the line of duty twelve days earlier.

He left behind his mother, Pat Skindzier, and three children, ages 15, 8, and 5.

Brevard County Sheriff Jake Miller posthumously awarded Deputy Nicol the Medal of Valor for his actions that fateful morning – the highest honor bestowed on a law enforcement officer.

I will never forget the enormous number of law enforcement officers – all of us shining and resplendent in our Class A dress uniforms – who gathered for his funeral with full honors at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Titusville.

I openly wept for the first time in my young career over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen brother and friend.

Later, Nicol Park on US-1 in Port St. John was named in Bob’s honor.

A fitting tribute to a hero – but a tragic waste of an incredible soul.

It is a tradition in law enforcement and the military for brothers and sisters in arms to join in remembrance of our fallen comrades on days such as this to honor their service, sacrifice and friendship.

The name of Deputy Robert Nicol, Jr. is inscribed on memorial panel 35-E: 8 at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

in valor“Remember! All who have served alongside them; we who have donned the same proud uniform, being sworn to the same faith and allegiance — We will never forget their sacrifice. Remember!” 

On this Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, I remember my friend Bob – and his great devotion and sacrifice –  along with all the men and women of law enforcement who have laid down their lives so that we may live in peace.

I hope you will too.

 

The Volusia/Flagler Police Chiefs Association will host the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service on Friday, May 18th beginning at 8:30am, at Volusia Memorial Park on Bellevue Avenue in Daytona Beach. 

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Failure to Communicate

One of my favorite movies is the cinema classic, Cool Hand Luke.

In an iconic scene, after shackling Luke the road captain says to the gathered inmates, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Wow.  Does that ring true for the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County, or what?

I naturally assume Barker’s View readers are what political scientists call “high-information” voters – individuals who take the time to read alternative opinions, analyze all available information then form your own independent views on the issues of the day.

Trust me when I say, it is getting increasingly difficult to stay well-informed in the “low transparency” environment of Volusia County government.

In a Sunday piece by Dustin Wyatt writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that our ‘powers that be’ failed to consider a very expensive unintended consequence of their recent hasty decision:

“The last-minute decision to delay putting a sales tax increase on the ballot this year could cost Volusia County voters as much as $1 million.”

 Let that soak in a minute.

With so many pressing matters threatening our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast – crumbling infrastructure, blight, dilapidation, homelessness, hopelessness, low wages, underpaid and underappreciated teachers, unchecked growth, etcetera, etcetera – one might think that pissing away $1 million dollars on a special election is a damnable waste of already scarce assets.

Because it is.

Rather than consider options, attempt to rebuild trust and confidence then honestly communicate with those of us who will ultimately foot the bill, our elected officials on the Dais of Power in Deland march boldly forward like a herd of turtles – stuck on stupid – publicly discussing bringing the sale tax initiative before voters next year before they have had the first discussion of impact fees – or taken step one to ensure mega-developers (read: campaign contributors) pay their fair share.

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “If we have to wait until 2020, I think we will get further behind the eight-ball” on infrastructure needs.”

I swear – we’re so lucky to have his vision and insight at the helm. . .

Look, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but if Old Ed and the Funky Bunch think we’re going to accept a superficial increase in impact fees glossed over with some cheap sleight-of-hand by real estate developers – they need to think again.  Hell, they need to think period.

My God.  They just don’t get it.

Trust me – with $45 million in annual revenue at stake, we’re having a special election next year whether we want one or not.

Why is it so hard for our elected and appointed officials to understand – We, The People want a meaningful dialog with our government on these extremely important – and expensive – issues?

Everyone knows the pitfalls of making decisions in a vacuum – forming conclusions or making judgement calls with little outside information, or worse, in the isolation of a system convinced of its own infallibility – yet it happens with startling frequency in county government.

In my view, communication between elected officials and their constituents is the single most important role those who hold high elective office play in our system of governance.  They serve as a liaison of sorts, our advocate, an intermediary between a cloistered, seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy and the citizens it ostensibly exists to serve.

At least they should.

In this technologically advanced age, what passes for “government communication” is increasingly a one-way monologue – not a dialog.

Every politician from the President of the United States to the Mayor of Lick Skillet, Arkansas bangs out “Tweets,” “Snaps” and other electronic snippets like ‘tweens on a social media binge as they attempt to address the issues of the day in 140 characters or less.

But when it comes to local government transparency, truth in spending, or the development of public policies that affect our lives and livelihoods and how those priorities were arrived at, we want to hear those explanations right from the horse’s mouth, preferably in an open forum that allows us to question assertions and address the issues in an open discussion.

The fact is, Volusia County Council meetings have dissolved into little more than staged theater – a weird Kabuki scripted well in advance by our scheming County Manager – with each elected and appointed official playing his or her role to the letter, never wavering from the well-orchestrated libretto.

Sometimes this takes the form of claiming that anyone without a political honorific is simply too stupid to grasp the intricacies of a given issue – never more apparent than during what passed for the council’s “discussion” of impact fees in Volusia County.

The reasons for this lack of candor are relatively easy to discern.

Sitting politicians never want to be embarrassed by hacks like me; opinionated assholes who lay in wait for the slightest miscue, then bash them over their collective head with it – but in Volusia County it is a manifestation of a government that considers citizen input and oversight anathema to the closet manipulation of public policy to benefit a special interest while avoiding public outcry and controversy.

Needless to say, this leaves little room for independent thought – or, God forbid – honesty, clarity and openness from county officials.

Take the curious case of the uber-weird first-year District 4 County Council member Heather Post.

From the minute Ms. Post took her seat, any attempt to exhibit independence, or speak objectively on behalf of her constituency, was met with a thundering rebuke from veteran “colleagues” who publicly beat her like a borrowed mule – ultimately forcing Post into the lock-step conformity required in this bastardized oligarchy that passes for governance in Volusia County.

As a result, Councilwoman Post no longer speaks to local media outlets – communicating almost exclusively through a canned Facebook page where she can control all aspects of her message without challenge.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how any of this is supposed to work.

So, the cycle continues to perpetuate itself – destroying innovation, marginalizing independent thought and discouraging citizen engagement at all levels of government.

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece regarding the clear attempt by some local governments to stymie constituent participation by inexplicably moving public comment to a predetermined time either before the meeting starts, or after the people’s business has been concluded, then placing subjective limitations on what residents can or cannot discuss during their 2.5 to 3.0 minutes of constitutionally guaranteed participation in their government.

As a result, most citizens I have spoken with feel that their elected representatives no longer care what they have to say.

They’re right.

Clearly, our elected and appointed officials could give two-shits what we have to say.

Yet, our haughty Roundtable of Elected Officials still don’t understand why their constituents don’t trust them – especially when it comes to increasing the sales tax for every man, woman, child and visitor.

With the 2018 election cycle beginning to heat up, the long-suffering sheeple of Volusia County will begin hearing – ad nauseum – all the wonderful things those standing for high office will do for us in exchange for our sacred vote.

That’s why it is so vitally important for voters to watch the differences between what incumbent politicians say during their campaign – and what they do once in office.

For instance, if a politician tells you they support beach driving and crow that they would never vote to remove cars from the beach – then they vote to remove cars from the beach – well, you can brand that person a damnable liar and learn a valuable lesson.

It’s the easiest way I know to become a “High Information” voter.

In my view, until we change the composition and mindset of the Volusia County Council – nothing, and I mean nothing – is going to change.

It can’t.

The underlying system that controls our current crop of elected officials, deflects accountability, cloaks the backroom machinations and churns public funds into private profits for all the right last names remains firmly entrenched in the form of our enormously overpaid County Manager Jim Dinneen.

That simply must change.

Frankly, this never-ending shit-train of political missteps, mistakes, and bloopers is getting old, and terribly expensive for those of us who pay the bills – and our elected officials seem completely incapable of communicating why they continue to allow it to happen with honesty, clarity and candor.

I hope you remember this at the polls.  I know I will.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 11, 2018

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole:          NASCAR

When Reuters reported earlier this week on an unfortunate leak from investment bank Goldman Sachs that the France family is exploring the sale of NASCAR, it sent shockwaves through the industry – and the company’s headquarters on ISB.

But it didn’t amount to a fart in a whirlwind here at Barker’s View HQ.

I just don’t care.

NASCAR lost me a few years ago – just like it lost thousands of other fans and lucrative sponsors – thanks to continuing mismanagement, a string of weird rule changes like “stage racing” or the goofy “playoff” format and cartoon-like television color commentators who make the “sport” unwatchable.

Add to that the loss of any driver with a real personality and, frankly, its become boring.

A monotonous drone – punctuated with the occasional staged fistfight between 20-something no-names in a feeble attempt to link today’s showbiz dreck with yesterday’s bare-knuckle motor sport.

Hell, a few weeks ago at Bristol the drama centered on some kid who inadvertently locked himself in the bathroom of his luxury motor home (?).  Rather than focus on the technical aspects of the sport during a lengthy rain delay, the telecast dissolved into a bad sitcom skit.

Boogity, boogity, boogity. . .

What I do care about are those who work for NASCAR and its various subsidiaries here in Daytona Beach, friends and neighbors who rely on both the France family’s stewardship – and the viability of the sport – for their livelihood.

In my view, the company’s response to the Goldman Sachs premature revelation was a ham-handed mess.

What should have been a seamless, focused and personal internal communication presented by Lesa France Kennedy to salve the concerns of employees, sponsors, contractors and teams – a unified message explaining the family’s intentions – dissolved into nervous speculation, both in the racing world and the halls of the International Motorsports Center.

A recent memorandum to employees from NASCAR President Brent Dewar obtained by the Associated Press said little more than the France family, “…remains dedicated to the long-term growth of our sport.”

Say what?  I like ice cream too, but what about the hundreds of local jobs if the place sells?

In turn, the front page of Wednesday’s News-Journal announced, “NASCAR speculation rampant.”

Not good.  Trust me.

Conjecture, instability and gossip is never positive for an organization – especially businesses as dependent on the whims of one quirky family as NASCAR and ISC are.

Let’s face facts – like most family-businesses – stock car racing was never the same after the first and second generations passed.

The wheel came off the cart, so to speak, and now once solid sponsorship’s and loyal fans are fleeing like rats leaving a burning ship.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the France family was, “. . .being criticized by drivers and team owners, who fear the Frances are incapable of reversing the fade in fan interest and retreat by sponsors.” 

This is coming from inside the tent, folks.

While siblings Brian and Lesa France Kennedy won’t disclose ownership details, sources told the WSJ that NASCAR chair and CEO Brian France “sold his entire stake in the company more than a decade ago.”

However, France claimed he “still holds equity in the family-owned company.”

Perhaps that’s part of the problem?

This murky power division – and even weirder behavior by Brian France (to include his bizarre performance at last years NASCAR Champions Banquet when he handed a box containing the 2017 Cup Series ring to Martin Truex, Jr. – then turned and walked away, without a handshake or even eye contact with the champion) garnered wild disapproval from both inside and outside the sport.

Fans and industry media referred to Mr. France’s conduct as “classless, awkward and rude.”

Much like his management of the sport.

I happen to agree with a recent editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – which has been a long-time, staunch supporter of the France Dynasty – entitled “Winds of change at NASCAR,” which opined that “NASCAR is going to have to change, regardless of who owns it.”

Spot on.

This rumored sale may well be the end of an era – but it could also mark the renaissance of a rejuvenated international sports and entertainment business – real energy that returns asses to seats, sponsors to teams, and stability to Halifax area families who rely on a vibrant and successful brand.

Asshole:          Summit Hospitality Group & Volusia County Politicos

I wrote about this last week, but it bears repeating.

Last Tuesday, we – the little people – stood at the gilded barrier like grubby Dickensian urchins, looking on as our political elite rubbed elbows, enjoyed cocktails, slapped backs and were lavishly entertained by a private firework spectacular and staged concert (on the first evening of sea turtle nesting season) at an “invitation only” VIP soiree as Summit Hospitality celebrated the grand opening of its Hard Rock Daytona with the politicians who made it happen.

Screw you sea turtles and nesting shorebirds.  It’s not all about you.

When are those selfish little bastards going to understand – this is no longer a wildlife habitat – it’s a marketing tool?

On the very day our elected officials fumbled their highly touted half-cent sales tax increase – a day which even casual observers marked as a low point in Volusia County government ineptitude – these dirty jokes that pass themselves off as “county leaders” boogied down with their campaign donors, political benefactors and very important handlers.

The tacky theme hotel was born of a murky financial sleight-of-hand between Volusia County government and Summit, which ultimately resulted in a three-card-monte public parking arrangement and the cheap giveaway of 410’ of beach driving and convenient access for residents and visitors.

There was a weird “smashing of the guitars” ceremony to christen the new franchise, and a daylong party with what passes for “dignitaries” seeing and being seen – festooned with goofy “VIP laminates” just like real rock stars.

(Apparently there weren’t any “real rock stars” in attendance at the celebration – I guess they all had to wash their hair – but a former waitress from Hard Rock London was flown in to give our wide-eyed political panjandrums a celebrity to swoon over. . .)

On Friday, our reptilian Governor Rick Scott showed up on the red carpet to cut the grand ribbon, press the flesh and no doubt hustle up some campaign support for his senate run this fall.

During his remarks before an array of tourism industry “leaders,” slack jawed politicians and executives from Daytona International Speedway (another recipient of millions in public funds), Slick Rick took the time to congratulate Summit Hospitality – I assume for all the “high-paying jobs” the hotel created – by praising scullery workers for “making the place look spotless (?)”

Once again, our starry eyed ‘movers and shakers’ dissolved into a mutual admiration society – polishing Abbas’s apple, and heaping glowing tributes on one another like the self-absorbed shitheels they are – openly worshiping the latest “developer du jour” for bringing us rubes what everyone who is anyone is convinced will be a panacea for decades of squalor and economic hopelessness.

We even got another fawning puff piece from the News-Journal’s Clayton Park (his umpteenth Hard Rock tribute for the week) with the usual quotes from tourism mavens and other community big shots – all of whom apparently fail to see the pitfalls of building multiple “four star” resorts that will stand as islands in a shitty cesspool of blight – with their only draw an increasingly walled-off beach.

You know, that whole cart before the horse thing?

Marketing a place with no attractions beyond a down-at-the-heels boardwalk – a grubby ghetto of trash-strewn lots, rusting midway rides, omnipresent homeless – and a haunting physical appearance so depressing most people go out of their way to avoid it.

No tourism infrastructure, quality restaurants or upscale shopping on the beachside.

No collective vision or local “identity.”

No civic pride – and no money to buy any with.

Look, I’m no expert – but I’ve lived in the Halifax area for over a half century – so, suffice it to say – I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go.  However, I don’t think anyone has ever seen this level of base arrogance (or ignorance) by our elected officials in failing to recognize the sacrifice of their constituents.

Not one of them said ‘Thank You’ to us.

You know, the strapped taxpayers of Volusia County – thousands of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to feed their families on service industry wages far below the poverty line – who were stripped of our century-old heritage of beach driving to “incentivize” the Hard Luck Hotel and create a semi-private beach for Hard Rock guests while inconveniencing, well, every one of us who pays the bills in the form of exorbitant taxes.

No extravagant “invitation only” parties.

No fireworks.

No over-the-top, guitar smashing tributes to the public’s sacrifice to ensure their success.

Nothing.

Well, for what it’s worth – I, your cantankerous scribe, would like to send out a great big “Thank You!” to all my fellow residents for your incredible contribution to yet another private project that we all just know will be the cure-all for the utter economic stagnation that has plagued the Halifax area like a golem.

Thank you, my friends and neighbors, for giving up the convenience of beach driving and ready access to our most precious natural amenity so Abbas Abdulhussein – Volusia’s newest mega-campaign donor – can host a semi-private beach for the pretty people.

Thank you, my fellow denizens of Volusia County, for not rioting as our power brokers ensured every whim of the developer during the years this project languished – even when it meant thumbing their nose at both the letter and spirit of county ordinances designed to ensure performance and provide oversight.

Thank you for taking it in stride when County Manager Jim Dinneen – who commands over $300,000 annually in public funds and benefits – failed in his modest task to ensure that the ugly, arsenic-laced wooden poles that were driven into the sand as a horrific barricade to beach driving behind the hotel were the proper distance apart.

I sincerely applaud each of you for our collective sacrifice in service to corporate greed – and for giving up so much, for the benefit of so few.

Angel:             Bethune-Cookman University

 To say that B-CU needs some good news is an understatement.

However, the resiliency and determination of Bethune-Cookman students to succeed despite obstacles simply cannot be overstated.

Last week, the university announced that the student-run label, HBCU Records, is releasing B-CU’s first album in more than 20-years.

“Hold Fast to Dreams” features Bethune-Cookman’s incomparable Concert Chorale.

The recording was produced in cooperation with the university’s Mike Curb Music Business, Entertainment & Sports Institute, pairing students with gifted music industry professionals in all aspects of the recording, mastering and promotion of the album.

Proceeds will go to help cover travel expenses for the Concert Chorale.

The album featuring eleven songs can be downloaded for $15.00 at iTunes or Spotify.

In addition, Bethune-Cookman is hosting this years MEAC baseball and softball tournaments.

In an incredible turn of events, Mrs. Clara Graham, widow of B-CU alum and former Negro League player Doc Graham, who played with baseball great Jackie Robinson, will present each player in both tournaments with a copy of Robinson’s biography.

The softball tournament runs through tomorrow at the Ormond Beach Sports Complex, with baseball starting Wednesday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Sliwa Stadium.

Good news indeed.

Asshole:          New Smyrna Beach City Commission

The iconic Sunshine State columnist Carl Hiaasen said on the topic of out-of-control growth, “Construction for the sake of construction.  That’s basically the same mechanism as a cancer cell. . .”

Never truer than during this abominable growth spurt that is threatening our very way of life in Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line.  But when is enough, enough?

When will We, The People finally have a voice in our collective destiny?

In my experience, there comes a time in everyone’s life when they must decide what is worth defending.  When it becomes necessary to take a firm stand – sometimes on principle alone – to stop an injustice or protect our freedoms and those things we hold dear?

Earlier this week, the New Smyrna Beach City Commission once again ignored the serious concerns of their constituents and approved yet another round of massive development west of Interstate 95.

The 4-1 vote gave the go-ahead for an additional 475 residential lots and retail space to be built on 543 acres – the “cramming 10-pounds of manure into a 5-pound sack” urban planning strategy that Mayor Jim Hathaway describes as “smart growth.”

To add insult, the Commission also approved a 253 unit apartment complex near SR-44 on a 3-2 vote.

WTF?

It’s like they’re working from the book, “Murdering the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg: How to kill a quaint beach community in three easy steps.”

During the meeting, the only voice for the people was Commissioner Jason McGuirk, who wisely recommended a four-month moratorium on growth and development near State Road 44.

His suggestion fell on deaf ears. . .

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mayor Hathaway explained that – while he supports “slowing growth long-term” (he has a funny way of showing it) – “But those (developments) that are already in the pipeline, those that are already approved.  Those that have already gone through every site review, planning board, recommendation to come to the City Commission, now at the 11th hour, we say, ‘Let’s pull the plug on this project?’

That’s exactly what you say, Mr. Mayor.

Better in the 11th hour than never – after all, massive growth is like toothpaste, you can’t put it back in the tube.

Rather than showing solidarity with his constituents, Hizzoner stooped to spinning scary yarns –raising the specter of lawsuits and higher taxes – sounding exactly like developer’s advocate attorney Glenn Storch.

Instead of listening to the input of outraged residents who are trying their best to say, ‘enough is enough’ – voicing their growing fears of flooding, wetlands encroachment, school capacity, gridlock, infrastructure inadequacies, etc. –  cowardly New Smyrna officials refuse to stand in solidarity with their constituents and announce with a strong voice:

“Our quality of life is worth defending.  What makes us unique is worth defending.  The will of our citizens and taxpayers is worth defending.”  

No.  They acquiesce.

They give in.

They flippantly disregard the recommendations of their own advisory boards.

In an August 2016 blog entitled “You’re a victim, get used to it” – one of the most important and widely read pieces in the history of Barker’s View  – I wrote, “Maybe when this entire godforsaken state becomes an uninhabitable shithole – completely devoid of potable water, greenspace or wildlife; when all the natural resources are exploited, hauled off and sold, and every last dime has been looted – someone will wake up.”

Sound familiar, New Smyrna?

It should – because it is quickly becoming your reality.

Angel:             City of Holly Hill & Second Harvest Food Bank

Look, I realize that this is the second week in a row I’ve acknowledged my favorite place in the whole world with Angel status – but, once again, it’s well-deserved.

Last week, community volunteers distributed some 31,000 pounds of food to 248 less fortunate families at Holly Hill School.

248 families.

Volunteers from the Holly Hill Police Department and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – working shoulder-to-shoulder with various faith-based organizations, schools and businesses – helped direct traffic, organize “Provision Packs” and load them into recipient’s cars.

During my long career at the City of Holly Hill, one of the things I took the most pride in was how our close-knit community came together in times of need – it was an ‘all for one, one for all’ feeling that, without fail, supported those in crisis, fed the hungry and ensured everyone’s collective well-being.

For instance, the self-described “Redneck Chainsaw Crew” – a group of long-time local tradesmen who go out into neighborhoods following hurricanes to assist fellow residents with heavy debris clean-up, clearing trees and doing the heavy lifting to support anyone who needs an extra hand.

Now, I can almost guarantee you none of these angels with dirty hands will ever win the Herbert M. Davidson Award for Outstanding Community Service – but they damn well should.

I count these beautiful souls among my personal heroes.

When our code enforcement officers discover homes occupied by the elderly or infirm in disrepair, police officers – to include Chief Stephen Aldrich – bring their mowers in and cut grass, repair trim and provide a much-needed coat of paint on their own time to bring the property into compliance.

They aren’t ordered to do it – it’s certainly not in their “job description” – they simply see a need and step up to help.

Tell me another city that does that with regularity?

I hope others do – but I see that commitment to service above self in action on The Hill.

In addition, for many years City of Holly Hill employees were recognized for collecting the most food for Second Harvest Food Bank of any governmental entity in Volusia County.

I’ve seen police officers, firefighters, mechanics, city yards workers, clerks, administrators, planers and other dedicated civil servants give till it hurt – and then some – to nourish our community.

God Bless Second Harvest Food Bank – and all the volunteers who gathered together to help those in real need.

Your efforts epitomize the very spirit of the “City with a Heart.”

Angel:             Chief Stephan Dembinsky

Hearty congratulations to Chief Stephan Dembinsky for providing outstanding leadership to the City of Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety – and the greater law enforcement community – for the past twenty-years!

A wonderful milestone in a career full of high achievement!

Serving in a role so vitally important to the safety and welfare of a community for two-decades is no small feat – and Chief Dembinsky has proven his commitment, diplomacy and dedication to the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores in exemplary fashion.

In addition to his service to the community – “Ski” as he is affectionately known to his friends and colleagues – has done remarkable work in the larger arena of the Volusia/Flagler Police Chief’s Association and the Florida Police Chief’s Association – promoting values-based policing and fostering professionalism in all he does.

Thank you for the outstanding leadership you have shown these many years – and for the personal help, good advice and unwavering support you extended during my career.

We’re glad you passed our way.

Here’s to many more years serving, protecting and ensuring the welfare of Daytona Beach Shores and beyond!

Quote of the Week:

 “I did listen to what the people were saying.  I went out there and did some investigation and I don’t see the concerns that they were having.”

–New Smyrna City Commissioner and amateur Paranormal Sleuth Charles “Randy” Hartman, attempting to salve resident’s fears of increased traffic, crime, storm water retention and other adverse impacts from the recently approved Beacon Luxury Apartment complex with his clairvoyant power to see into the future.

You want to hear something else Commissioner Hartman told his constituents during the last election cycle?

“I will do everything I can as a city commissioner to support, encourage and sustain the charm and beauty of New Smyrna Beach.”

I didn’t make that shit up – it’s still on Mr. Hartman’s website.

 Now, I’m just spit-balling here, Commish – but I think what the citizens of your fair city are concerned about is the impact of traffic, crime and flooding on their quality of life after the 253 unit complex has been built and occupied.

While I, and everyone concerned about unchecked development in Volusia County, appreciate the fact that Detective Hartman donned his deerstalker, lit the calabash pipe, and took a drive down 44 with Scooby in the Mystery Machine to investigate his citizen’s concerns – the point he apparently missed is that his constituents want to preserve the “charm and beauty” of New Smyrna Beach now – not learn to live with the godforsaken mess after-the-fact.

You see, despite what that soothsaying development attorney tells you – it is impossible to foresee the impact a specific development will have on the surrounding area (and the greater community) until it is built and occupied – then, its too late.

You can guess, but I assure you neither Inv. Hartman – nor Glenn Storch – have a crystal ball.

Planners can use complicated density formulas to determine a development’s intensity and influence on the surrounding area, zoning attorney’s can use fancy-footwork and an engaging smile to convince you of all the benefits of a given project and traffic engineers can factor volume counts and analyze historical data to form a recommendation – but until the land is leveled, concrete and steel erected and area residents come nose-to-nose with over 500 new Walmart shoppers and their vehicles on already clogged area roadways – no one knows for sure.

When you consider the cumulative impact of the massive residential and commercial projects currently under construction – We, The People are concerned that our quality of life countywide is being destroyed to satiate the abject greed of speculative developers and a few real estate interests.

Why is it so difficult for our elected officials to understand that we want this Wild West atmosphere of unbridled growth and sprawl brought under control?

Here’s something you should investigate, Mr. Hartman:  The re-election prospects for mealy-mouth politicians who tell their constituents one thing during the campaign – then vote differently once they assume office.

And Another Thing!

When I count the many blessings in my life, the one constant “Angel” above all the rest remains my long-suffering wife, Patti.

This week I want to end on a personal note by wishing her a most Happy Birthday – and sincerely thanking her for the many ways she enhances my life every day.

I am a terribly flawed human being – but she is not.

She cares when I don’t.

She provides the center of stability for our family.

And – by her example – she inspires me to try my best to be a better man today than I was yesterday.

There is a line from a long-forgotten poem that says:

“She stands always at my side,

No matter what comes our way.

She comforts me with steadfast love

Each and every day.”

Happy Birthday, honey.  I love you.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there – both human and fur baby!  Enjoy your special day!

 

 

 

On Volusia: An Issue of Trust

The results of a recent nationwide study found that more than half of all American’s no longer trust their government.

Interestingly, this widespread suspicion that those we elect to high office no longer have our best interests at heart spans all political ideologies and demographics.

If you live anywhere near Volusia County, I realize this doesn’t come as a surprise – after all, our confidence in governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast has scored just south of whale turds on the “faith and hope” scale for over a decade.

As government at all levels does everything in its considerable power to disenfranchise citizens – from discouraging public participation to the very real perception that special interests and campaign contributors receive the full attention of our elected officials while ignoring the needs of constituents – the more those of us who pay the bills simply disengage from the process.

Recently, the City of Daytona Beach changed its format for hearing public comment – limiting citizen participation to a half-hour period after the city commission meeting.  Following a short break at the close of business, residents are given just 2.5 minutes to speak on “any topic of concern,” so long as those remarks don’t include “personal attacks” on the “City Commission, City Staff or members of the public.”

The Volusia County Council “welcomes” public input thirty-minutes before their meeting even starts – and maybe our elected officials are present – or maybe they aren’t.

As a result, most citizens I’ve spoken to feel that their elected representatives no longer care what they have to say.

They’re right.

These overly formal processes that stifle open communication and make it increasingly difficult to present our grievances to those in a position of power further alienate us from our representatives – slowly eroding the public’s fragile trust.

In turn, we stand by and watch while our local ‘Rich & Powerful’ influence public policy simply by their mere presence in council chambers and it becomes crystal clear where We, The People stand in the political pecking order.

Somewhere along the way, our local political system in Volusia County has changed from a government of the people, by the people and for the people to a bastardized oligarchy – a shadowy means to an end wherein a few wealthy political insiders are given near carte blanche access to our elected and appointed officials who have become totally beholden to every whim of their campaign sugar daddies.

Unfortunately, as the election season begins to simmer, this greasy process of “pay to play” is ramping up with all the right last names pouring thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of their hand-select candidates.

In a recent article by Mark Harper, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Place Your Bets – Donations give insights into Volusia/Flagler campaigns,” we learned that former Sheriff Ben Johnson has amassed a war chest totaling over $171,700 (through March 1st).

 “Johnson, elected to four consecutive terms as sheriff before retiring after 2016, has a list of more than 400 donors, with 83 percent of his donations from Volusia. Insurance magnates Hyatt Brown, Powell Brown, their wives and nine Brown & Brown Insurance Co. affiliates each contributed the max $1,000, for a total of $13,000 to Johnson’s campaign. Developer Mori Hosseini has also gone in big supporting Johnson, using 16 of his ICI Homes’ subsidiaries to make $8,000 worth of contributions.”

By contrast, Johnson’s opponent – Rev. L. Ron Durham – has garnered just $14K over the same period.

 Look, I happen to like Ben Johnson.

We were colleagues for many years, and I always found him to be extremely generous with his time and agency assets, tirelessly supporting the municipalities and working hard to serve the needs of his constituents with an easy-going, very personable and approachable style.

Incumbent District 1 Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, has collected some $29,440 – more than double his nearest competitor.  According to the report, “$5,000 of that came from Mori Hosseini affiliates,” with another $2,500 from entities associated with Daytona business owner Theresa Doan.

Interestingly, only about one-quarter of Sleepy Pat’s contributions originated in West Volusia – his area of representation.

Even more disturbing is the curious campaign of The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowery – West Volusia’s District 5 incumbent – who reports just 9% of his $20,700 in campaign contributions coming from his district.

According to the News-Journal, “By contrast, Daytona Beach-based Brown & Brown Insurance and related entities gave him $7,000 and Hosseini’s companies donated $5,500 to the Enterprise pastor.”

Look, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that the Big Money Machine is kicking on all cylinders early in this election season.

But is that necessarily a good thing for those benefiting from our High Panjandrums of Political Power?

In my view, how Ben Johnson and the others rationalize the obvious to concerned voters is going to be a very difficult task this fall.

I have a suspicion that the worm is beginning to turn.

Smart people are beginning to question how much longer a system that seemingly exists to turn public funds into private profits is sustainable.

Most recently, even those who stood to benefit the most came to the sobering realization that Jane and John Q. Public are concerned about the basic fairness of asking every man, woman, child and visitor to pay for unchecked growth while prolific campaign donors in the real estate development community continue to cash checks.

And the questions don’t stop there.

I’ve said it before – what we are seeing is the time-honored principle of Return on Investment at work.

Let’s face facts:  The local donor class make massive campaign contributions with the full knowledge that their personal, civic and professional interests will outweigh those of the “Average Joe” every time.

In the end, that is what they consider an appropriate return on their investment – and given the astronomical “economic incentives” that our elected officials have showered on this exclusive group in recent years – I would say they have done extremely well on the risk/reward scale.

Is what we experience in Volusia County a form of quid pro quo corruption – campaign dollars for political favors?

I don’t know.  But it has a whiff of the shit about it.

What I do know is that this open financial manipulation of the system – which scares off some candidates altogether and ensures that a select few have the wherewithal to get elected and defend the status quo – is destroying the public’s trust in their government.

In my view, we are beginning to see the very real manifestations of this genuine lack of confidence in things like the recent sales tax referendum debacle, and the growing gulf between those who pay the bills – and those who reap the benefits of our hard-earned tax dollars.

Stay tuned.

I think this is going to be a very interesting part of the political equation come this fall.

On Volusia: Hey Hard Rock, You’re Welcome. . .

We have a weird tradition here in the Halifax area.

Whenever a speculative developer completes a project which invariably involves some government handout, such as a massive influx of tax dollars in the form of “economic incentives” or “public/private partnerships” –  schemes which use public funds to increase private profits – our elected and appointed officials piss all over themselves in a fit of excited incontinence, our newspaper of record fawns to the point of nausea for days on end, and the rest of us – the long-suffering taxpayers who either footed the bill or gave up a public amenity – are left feeling like chopped liver.

Happens every time the latest “game changer” comes to town.

Remember when J. Hyatt and company took millions of dollars in public incentives for the new Brown & Brown HQ – then thanked every sitting politician in the region while ignoring you and me – the ones who actually footed the bill?

I do.  I’m petty like that.

This week, we – the little people – stood at the gilded barrier like grubby Dickensian urchins, looking on as our political elite rubbed elbows, enjoyed cocktails, slapped backs and were lavishly entertained by a private firework spectacular and staged concert (on the first evening of sea turtle nesting season) at an “invitation only” VIP soiree as Summit Hospitality celebrated the grand opening of its Hard Rock Daytona with the politicians who made it happen.

Screw the sea turtles and nesting shorebirds.  It’s not all about them.

It’s time to celebrate Abbas’ accomplishment – and, goddammit, the ‘Rich & Powerful’ are going to party!

On the very day our elected officials were caught with their pants around their ankles on their doomed half-cent sales tax increase – a debacle which even casual observers marked as a low point in Volusia County government ineptitude – rather than hide their heads in shame, these dirty jokes that pass themselves off as “county leaders” boogied down with their campaign donors and political benefactors.

The tacky theme hotel was born of a murky financial sleight-of-hand between Volusia County government and Summit, which ultimately resulted in a three-card-monte public parking arrangement and the cheap giveaway of 410’ of beach driving and convenient access for residents and visitors.

There was a “smashing of the guitars” to christen the new franchise, and a daylong party with what passes for “dignitaries” seeing and being seen – festooned with goofy “VIP laminates” just like real rock stars.

(Apparently there weren’t any “real rock stars” in attendance at the celebration – I guess they all had to wash their hair – but a former waitress from Hard Rock London was flown in to give our wide-eyed political panjandrums a celebrity to swoon over. . .)

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, went all gaga, crowing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I’m excited personally, and as a resident of Volusia County, that they (Hard Rock) are here,” Kelley said. “They will be part of the catalyst for what’s going to make a difference in the Daytona Beach area.”

Heck yeah!  Excited!  Catalyst!  Difference!

Whoop-Whoop!

On Friday, our illustrious Governor Rick Scott showed up on the red carpet to cut the grand ribbon, press the flesh and no doubt hustle up some campaign support for his senate run this fall.

During his remarks before an array of tourism industry “leaders,” slack jawed politicians and executives from Daytona International Speedway (another recipient of millions in public funds), Slick Rick took the time to congratulate Summit Hospitality and praise hotel scullery workers for “making the place look spotless (?)”

In turn, Efrain Silva, vice president of Summit Hospitality, brown-nosed the assembled politicos, recognized the chamber of commerce set for their support and reminded everyone what a “great day” it is in Daytona Beach.

Yep.  Our ‘movers and shakers’ dissolved into a mutual admiration society – heaping glowing tributes on one another like the self-absorbed shitheels they are – and openly worshiping the latest “developer du jour” for bringing us rubes what everyone who is anyone is convinced will be a panacea for decades of squalor, dilapidation and economic hopelessness.

You know what our elected and appointed officials – or their new “business partners” at Summit Hospitality – failed to do?

Not one of them said ‘Thank You’ to us.

You know, the strapped taxpayers of Volusia County – thousands of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to feed their families on service industry wages far below the poverty line – who were stripped of our century-old heritage of beach driving to “incentivize” the Hard Luck Hotel and create a semi-private beach for hotel guests while inconveniencing, well, every one of us who pays the bills in the form of exorbitant taxes.

No extravagant “invitation only” parties.

No fireworks.

No over-the-top, guitar smashing tributes to the public’s sacrifice to ensure their success.

Nothing.

Well, for what it’s worth – I, your cantankerous scribe, would like to send out a great big “Thank You!” to all my fellow residents for your incredible contribution to yet another private project that we all just know will be the cure-all for the utter economic stagnation that has plagued the Halifax area like a golem.

The project, built on the skeleton of the Desert Inn, America’s dirtiest hotel, will either be a huge success, or – if history repeats – the place will close, change hands or drop the “luxury franchise” brand in about two-years.  (Anyone remember Bray & Gillespie and other speculative pirates that blew through town over the years?  I do.)

Thank you, my friends and neighbors, for giving up the convenience of beach driving and ready access to our most precious natural amenity so Abbas Abdulhussein – Volusia’s newest mega-campaign donor – can use our beach as a marketing tool.

Thank you, my fellow denizens of Volusia County, for not collectively vomiting during any of the myriad examples of how our power brokers ensured every whim of the developer during the years this project languished – even when it meant ignoring both the letter and spirit of county ordinances designed to ensure performance and provide oversight.

Thank you for taking it in stride when County Manager Jim Dinneen – who commands over $300,000 annually in public funds and benefits – failed in his modest task to ensure that the ugly, arsenic-laced wooden poles that were driven into the sand as a horrific barricade to beach driving behind the hotel were the proper distance apart.

Thank you for tolerating the abject dysfunction and ineptitude that has seized what passes for county government like some hellish Vampire Squid – squeezing the life out of our sense of place and civic pride – while enriching a few uber-wealthy political insiders who believe a “Four Star” luxury resort in a Hooterville market is the answer to our problems.

I sincerely applaud each of you for our collective sacrifice in service to corporate greed – and for giving up so much, for the benefit of so few.

Your welcome, Hard Rock.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal