Here it comes again. . .

Don’t look now – but here it comes again. . . 

And by “it” I mean the macabre spectacle of Volusia’s half-cent sales tax money grab slowly clawing its way out of the mass grave of bad ideas after voters drove a stake through its greedy heart in 2019. 

Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to those cynical observers of Volusia County politics who understand that no tax increase is ever dead – just lying in wait for its next rehashed opportunity to suck more blood out of this exsanguinated turnip.

In May 2019, following a protracted and incredibly expensive public/private marketing effort that culminated in a strange $490,000 special mail-in ballot scheme designed to give the proposed half-cent sales tax money grab its best chance of passage – Volusia County voters roundly rejected this strong push by a cabal of uber-wealthy opportunists and their hired chattel on the Volusia County Council and municipal elective bodies across the breadth of the Fun Coast.

That bungled initiative was spearheaded by the mysterious camera stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance – an elite galère of billionaires who seem to think they know what is best for us rabble outside their gilded tower of power – wealthy insiders who plotted the worst possible strategy for selling a sales tax increase to an already overburdened constituency.

It was an embarrassing abomination from the outset.    

There were weird “studies” paid for with private funds – a glib shill in former South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough (who now manages King of Kings Hyatt Brown’s Esplanade?) – a dubious pie-in-the-sky list of pressing transportation infrastructure projects that would benefit from the then estimated $42 million annual windfall to local governments – an expensive special election – and near-constant scary stories about the coming gridlock and snarl that awaits area residents, even as our elected dullards continue to approve land use amendments and “Planned Unit Developments” across the spine of Volusia County – shoving even more shit into the already bursting bag – with no relief in sight.  

In my view, when this tax grab went down in flames, it was a resounding indictment of those craven politicians and institutions who ignored their best instincts and succumbed to the slimy motivations of a few well-heeled insiders with a profit motive – who sold out their constituents for the promise of a few crumbs of a much larger pie – and destroyed the public’s trust in the process.

Unfortunately, our ‘powers that be’ never learn from previous mistakes – they just repackage them with a bigger bow. . .

In an excellent article this week by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean reporting in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned:

“…at least a few local leaders are interested in resurrecting the 2019 push to raise Volusia County’s sales tax an extra half-cent — or maybe even a full penny — for a decade or two. The idea would be to use the tens of millions of dollars that would be raised each year for road repairs and construction, and possibly to improve sidewalks, bridges, water quality, storm water systems and flood control.

“We don’t have any other way to keep up with roads,” said Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry. “These needs have not gone away.”

For the record, Mr. Mayor, the willy-nilly approval of more, more, more development throughout Daytona Beach and beyond hasn’t gone away either. . .

As in the past, this latest money grab is being billed as a way for local governments to pay for a weird retroactive transportation infrastructure ruse – where developers have been allowed to build thousands of new homes, apartments, and commercial centers – then worry about how we pay for the streets, roadways and utilities infrastructure required to support tens-of-thousands of new residents after-the-fact.

Bullshit. 

According to the News-Journal’s report, “Henry and other Volusia County leaders who are thinking about again pursuing a temporary sales tax for infrastructure believe 2024 would probably be the right year to put the tax proposal on the ballot.

That would give the effort three years to work through the process of lobbying the Volusia County Council to put the measure on the ballot, and persuading voters that the tax is needed.”

For this latest bite at the apple, supporters of the tax grab are going to change tack and develop an artificially contrived “grassroots” effort – complete with something called a “citizens education committee” (sounds eerily like a page out of a Khmer Rouge manifesto) – then “…a permanent citizens’ board (to) oversee expenditures of the levy.”

(Hide and watch: The “committee” will be comprised of the crème de la crème of our social and civic elite; very familiar last names who will naturally concoct some chilling doomsday scenarios for the politicos who appointed them – then shamelessly recommend a one-cent sales tax increase just about the time Avalon Park Daytona breaks ground. . .)

My God.  How stupid do they think we are? 

According to Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, “Let the people determine it.”

We have.  Resoundingly.  With more than 55% of Volusia County voters saying, “Hell No!” just three-years ago.   

What part of that don’t they understand?

Recently, my friend Big John – a long-time civic activist, former multi-term member of the Volusia County Council, and current host of the Halifax area’s premiere public affairs forum GovStuff Live! – has been prodding area politicians and bureaucrats to consider resurrecting the sales tax.

He has been joined in the effort by the incredibly smart Maryam Ghyabi-White, CEO and President of Ghyabi Consulting and Management, a traffic engineering firm based in Ormond Beach, who is clearly thinking outside Volusia’s tax-and-spend paradigm when suggesting “…she would want the conversation to include impact fees and the idea of suspending Volusia County’s five cent gas tax if the temporary sales tax is adopted.”

Why are these dedicated community icons so passionate about a sales tax increase?   

Because they truly fear that out-of-control development has outpaced our transportation infrastructure and the outlook is grim – and they’re right

My fear is doing the same thing over-and-over again – pissing away good money after bad – and expecting a different result.

Like many of you, I am not ready to hand more of my hard-earned money over to the same shitheels who got us into this fetid mess in the first place – only to be force fed more of the same, i.e., increased development, corporate welfare for well-heeled insiders, cozy public/private partnerships that always use public funds to underwrite the private profit motives of a few, Volusia County’s bloated $1.1 Billion budget and supporting property tax increase, no identifiable transportation infrastructure program, sweetheart deals for roads-to-nowhere to support future development, increased fees, etc., etc., etc.    

Trust me.  It is one of the few issues that Big and I vehemently disagree on.

This time, proponents of the tax increase are using syrupy terms like “temporary” and “citizen-led” to grease our gullet before they shove the tax increase down the collective throat of every man, woman, and child in Volusia County.

Inconceivably, the Knights of the Roundtable – a silly pseudo-government comprised of local mayors, managers, county officials, and parasitic hangers-on – in reality, a do-nothing groupthink consortium which provides political insulation to Volusia County’s elected and appointed officials – have agreed to discuss this newest iteration of the sales tax grab at their January meeting. 

And the only thing We, The Little People who pay the bills and suffer in silence can do is gird our loins for more of the same. . .   

Once again, what we are witnessing is the antithesis of leadership, strategic vision, and participatory democracy – a further erosion of the people’s trust – a shim-sham scam pulled each time our ‘powers that be’ don’t get the answer they want at the ballot box – so, they simply bring it back, ad nauseam, until they do. 

My ass.

In my view, our elected officials should make growth attempt to pay for itself as out-of-town speculative developers continue to haul cash out of the pine scrub with their “theme communities” that have paved over what once constituted our aquifer recharge areas, sensitive wetlands, greenspace, and wildlife habitat. 

When will these greed-crazed bastards we have elected understand that continuing to increase taxes and fees on a population trapped in a service-based artificial economy of their making is morally, ethically, and economically wrong?   

No Vacancy

When a hotel reaches maximum occupancy, management hangs a “No Vacancy” sign to alert potential lodgers that the property has no available space. 

Because the alternative – packing guests like cordwood in every nook and cranny, placing cots in hallways and ballrooms, overburdening recreational amenities, gridlocked parking lots, and overcrowding limited facilities – is unsafe and unsanitary.

Letting potential customers know there is no room at the inn is a temporary measure that protects the property from the ravages of excess and overuse, frees staff to meet current needs, ensures existing guests have a quality experience, and allows management time to plan – and improve infrastructure to accommodate more customers within set parameters – so that expansion does not infringe on neighbors, current residents, or detract from the unique character of the hotel that attracted visitors to begin with. 

Unfortunately, our ‘powers that be’ in local governments here on Florida’s Fun Coast have failed to grasp (or manage) the myriad issues that occur when one attempts to shove ten pounds of shit into a five pound sack – a crude metaphor for the malignant growth that is rapidly metastasizing along the spine of Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line – sprawl that is now threatening quaint communities like DeLand and rural West Volusia with high-density development and its detrimental impacts to our environment, infrastructure, and quality of life. 

With evidence mounting that unchecked growth is the principal concern of residents across Volusia County, why do those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests continue to ignore the fears of their constituents? 

I have a theory. . .    

When you consider that $1 of every $5 in recorded campaign contributions in recent Volusia County elections originated from developers and the building industry – you begin to understand just how cozy (and incredibly lucrative) the relationship has become – resulting in the approval of every want and whim of speculative developers, to include granting nonsensical land use amendments, our hurt here/help there strategy of environmental mitigation, the erosion of water quality regulations, squandering limited transportation infrastructure funds for “roads to nowhere” to support future development,  and the suppression of impact fees.

Earlier this month, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower hosted a town hall meeting in DeLand where the bulk of the participant led discussion focused on the devastating impacts of the out-of-control growth that is threatening our water quality, destroying our natural places, taxing essential services, and placing increased pressure on our inadequate transportation and utilities infrastructure.

Some in attendance told horror stories of the direct impact of rapid growth on their quality of life while calling for a moratorium on development – including requiring low-impact strategies to help stem flooding, conserve community resources, and protect our limited water supply.

Real estate developers crow that building control measures should not take the place of land use and planning studies to determine a proper balance between growth and its negative impact on existing residents – claiming that moratoriums send the wrong message, curb “economic development” opportunities, and restrict inventory, which increases the price of residential and commercial space as demand continues to grow.     

Bullshit. 

What passes for “planning” is almost non-existent – and regulations that protect the quality and quantity of our water, natural places, and wildlife habitat have been gutted – sacrificed on the altar of greed – while Florida lawmakers continue to limit external state-level reviews of proposed projects while restricting the ability of local and county governments to raise impact fees to help growth pay for itself.   

The deck is stacked – and not in our favor.

In my view, the problem with that wink, wink/nudge, nudge time-buying strategy is that while compromised politicians and government officials throw even more of our hard-earned tax dollars at political insulation analysis and slow-walk land use and impact fee studies – the bulldozers continue to roar – churning our sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitat into a moonscape of black muck, all while the insatiable greed of speculative developers drives them to make hay while the sun shines – as they throw more financial support to candidates who are sympathetic to these slash-and-burn tactics.    

And the cycle repeats. 

Residents in Ormond Beach have serious concerns about the looming specter of Avalon Park Daytona – a massive development poised to put thousands of homes and commercial space south of Route 40 – while those in West Volusia are considering the long-term consequences of planned development at the Southridge Golf Course (the site of a former dump), hundreds of apartments being proposed near downtown, a 600-home subdivision threatening Lake Winnemissett, and a 648 unit ‘transit oriented development’ near the proposed SunRail station on 123 acres along Grand Avenue between State Road 44 and Old New York Avenue.

To name a few. . .

Add to that the churn of colossal developments already approved or underway in the pine scrub west of I-95 in Daytona Beach and you get the idea that – in the not too distant future – the limiting factor won’t have anything to do with neutered planning and zoning regulations and everything to do with our rapidly diminishing water supply – a violation of natural population limiters that has some politicians considering a “toilet to tap” scheme that will have us drinking our own recycled sewage.

As Chairman Brower recently said in a cogent social media post on the subject:

“These developments in DeLand, Avalon, Mosaic, Farmton, Latitudes, your town, they can all be beautiful developments but where is the water coming from? It is not endless. The water cycle has always had the same amount. But in any localized area, when withdraws outpace deposits, you go bankrupt. It seems few in government want to look at that ledger sheet. 

Growth at all costs is not making us richer. It is reducing our quality of life and requiring tax increases. In fact, “smart” growth is outpacing our ability to sustain healthy life. That is the 1000-pound elephant in the room all the developers, lawyers, and home builders with their pictures of beautiful neighborhoods don’t talk about.

Every land has its carrying capacity. Ours is clean water.”

And what about the dearth of “affordable housing” for the thousands of Volusia County residents that are considered asset limited/income restrained – many living at or below the poverty level with only scut work or warehouse jobs to bank their hopes on – families who are quickly being forced out of the housing market where the median listing price is now $320,000?

Rather than place reasonable restrictions on this cancerous sprawl of zero-lot-line wood frame cracker boxes and half-empty strip centers – politicians at all levels of government continue to turn a blind eye – even as our waterways suffer a painful death from development-related pollutants and runoff, our fish and wildlife vanish in a deadly guacamole of algal blooms, and our already overstretched infrastructure groans to a gridlocked halt.

I often say that people can forgive what they see themselves doing.   

If you were responsible for planning the future of Volusia County – to ensure that everyone has adequate roads, natural resources, utilities, amenities, and essential services – is this how you would go about it? 

I didn’t think so. 

Now is the time to let your voice be heard. 

Next year, thanks to redistricting, apart from Chairman Brower (a staunch advocate for low-impact growth and our sensitive environment), Volusia County voters have an opportunity to select new representatives in every district – with various seats up for grabs in many municipal elections on both sides of the rapidly diminishing Palmetto Curtain.   

In my view, we shouldn’t put the same foxes in charge of the hen house and expect a different result.  

I hope you will take this unique opportunity to identify candidates who share your values and concerns, demand answers to the tough questions regarding their stance on the way we plan, regulate, and execute future development, find where their true loyalties are centered by monitoring which industries and interests finance their campaigns – then hold their feet to the fire politically – demanding accountability and responsiveness on growth issues. 

It is time to let our elected officials know there is some shit we won’t eat.

Let’s take a bold stand to protect our unique quality of life while there is still something worth worrying about.

______________________________________  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many of you, I will be taking a few days off to enjoy time with family and dear friends this week, reflecting and giving thanks for the many blessings we have been gifted in this beautiful place we call home. 

Angels & Assholes will return for your listening and dancing pleasure next week. 

From my family to yours, here’s wishing a very Happy Thanksgiving to all loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe, the tens-of-thousands who read these often-irreverent screeds – regardless of whether we agree or disagree on the political issues of the day – who add so much to the ongoing discussion of our life and times here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast

A special thanks to our law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS first responders, medical professionals, and dedicated government officials and public servants who put it all on the line and give so much of themselves to protect and enhance our lives every day. 

May God bless each of you with joy, peace, and happiness. 

A Reason for Hope

Since The Daytona Beach News-Journal chose to (once again) ignore local political happenings – instead devoting a full-page of what passed for the Sunday Local section to a rehashed 1994 Palm Beach Post article telling us more than we ever wanted to know about a defunct South Florida tourist attraction – I thought I would talk about something more germane to our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

In a recent Angels & Assholes column – my weekly acerbic take on the ‘winners and losers’ from the week that was – I had the pleasure of crowing about the candidacy of the intrepid Paul Zimmerman for the Volusia County Council Zone 2 seat now occupied by that stodgy member of the obstinate Gang of Four, Volusia’s Old Guard lockstep majority of stagnant obstructionists, lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler. 

In my view, Paul’s entry into this important race changes everything – and gives us all a reason for hope going into the 2022 election cycle, a time when every seat except for County Chair Jeff Brower will be up for grabs after redistricting. 

In my experience, like Jeff Brower, Paul is an ‘everyman’ with a proven track record of fighting for the rights of residents who have become an afterthought in a political arena that looks more like a Turkish bazar than a democratic contest.   

As many already know, Paul is a true hometown guy whose family roots in Daytona Beach go back to the early 1900’s.  A graduate of Florida State University, Paul has spent his long professional career serving the needs of at-risk students in Volusia County Schools, while working tirelessly to improve our quality of life as the founder of the Bellaire Community Group.

He has been an avid surfer and beach lover for over 50-years. 

In addition, Paul was instrumental in Chairman Brower’s decisive win over an entrenched insider in last year’s Volusia County Council election – and assisted Daytona Beach City Commissioner Ken Strickland in his recent victory over his well-connected (and well-funded) opponent.    

Recently, Paul worked diligently behind the scenes to build a diverse consortium of groups and environmental activists pushing for an experimental trial of an innovative technology known as Biorock to help save and restore the endangered Mosquito Lagoon.    

Although heavily involved in beach and environmental issues, Paul is far from a one issue candidate – or a flash-in-the-pan partisan fanatic.  

For those who follow the ebb and flow of local politics, Paul is best known for his extensive civic activism as the long-time president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – along with his efforts to protect our environment from overdevelopment – and leading the fight to save our unique lifestyle from the constant threat of government overreach, such as the insidious ‘privatization by proxy’ of our beach as craven politicians seek to give away our tradition of beach driving and public access as a cheap spiff for developers with a profit motive. 

In fact, in recent years, Paul has been the beachside’s de facto representative – doing what Councilwoman Wheeler should have done – with service on the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, and leading a very public effort to hold developers of the Hard Rock Daytona (who were gifted 410’ linear feet of traffic-free beach) and Protogroup, who is responsible for the controversial and still unfinished twin-span condominium/hotel complex at Oakridge Boulevard and A-1-A – accountable for performance, appearance, beach access, and building safety standards. 

While Ms. Wheeler mewled and cooed from her perch on the dais of power – Paul was down in the trenches – taking documentary photographs, speaking to reporters, contributing to public affairs forums, lobbying policymakers, updating civic organizations, holding bureaucrats responsible, and fighting for transparency and accountability.

But Paul isn’t running against Councilwoman Wheeler.

In my view, his campaign is against everything she represents – the lockstep conformity, stagnation, and slavish loyalty to the tired status quo – that unspoken, but painfully obvious, deference that allows well-heeled insiders with the wherewithal to underwrite hand-select candidates undue access and influence in a lopsided system that has permitted all the right last names to gorge at the public trough, reaping “economic development” incentives, tax breaks, cash infusions, deals on public property, infrastructure improvements for private projects, and the privilege of having their every want and whim assured by their mere presence in the Gilded Chamber

Publicly funded inducements that you and I – and our small businesses which struggle on an uneven playing field – could never dream of. 

In my view, it is time we return that same reverence to the civic, social, and economic needs of We, The Little People. . . 

Look, Paul is far from perfect – which of us are? 

(Hell, I’ve been married three times, suffer a well-earned reputation as a carouser, and have more skeletons in my closet than a haunted house – but polling shows most people instinctively hate my face, which is the real reason I won’t be running for any public office. . .)

If Volusia County politics holds true to form (which it will), expect to see Paul’s detractors trashing his character in some skeevy eleventh-hour “glossy mailer” – probably paid for by an equally repulsive Political Action Committee.

Clearly, Paul faces a formidable challenge in his already announced opponents, which currently include Port Orange City Councilman Chase Tramont – and the former co-chair of Daytona’s Midtown Redevelopment Board, Danny Fuqua – who gave Wheeler a run for her $82,000 war chest in 2020, losing by less than seven hundred votes.

And therein lies Barker’s Barometer – the one undeniable record that tells me where true loyalties lie in the fetid slit-trench of Volusia County politics – the cumulative list of massive campaign contributions from those insiders and industries seeking to control their environment or a lucrative return on investment.

As I have said previously, don’t expect to see Paul named in ebullient endorsements from The Daytona Beach News-Journal (he announced Wednesday evening and not a peep in the paper?) – or fêted by those uber-wealthy oligarchs who bankroll the perennial campaigns of their malleable sock puppets – because you won’t find Paul kissing the sizeable backsides of our social and economic elite, bestowing and receiving dubious “awards” and spewing platitudes at stilted galas (while Rome burns), or rubbing elbows at those partisan fishing camps that have reduced us to the mediocrity of groupthink gridlock.

Look, Paul Zimmerman didn’t ask me to write this – that’s not my style – and I tend to keep most politicians at arm’s length once they declare an intent to run.  In fact, previous candidates for various elective offices can report my hotheaded recalcitrance whenever I’m solicited for a canned endorsement. 

Besides, most people could care less what I think – nor should they.  Just one man’s opinions on the issues of the day which come from the heart – not someone’s pocketbook.   

This is something we should all feel strongly about.    

We, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, who have been repeatedly strong-armed by petty players and politicians who present themselves as fiscal conservatives at election time, then invariably raise our taxes and fees to support a swollen budget now topping $1.1 Billion annually – have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to regain control of this bloated and dysfunctional county government and change our dismal fate.

I can think of no one better prepared to represent the interests of all Volusia County residents than my friend Paul Zimmerman.  

Angels & Assholes for November 19, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               VCC Zone 2 Candidate Paul Zimmerman

During the Bellaire Community Group’s monthly meeting last evening – a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting and preserving our unique quality of life in the Halifax area – the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, long-time president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – announced his candidacy for the Volusia County Council Zone 2 seat in 2022!

Running for elective office is not something to be taken lightly – especially in the meatgrinder of local politics – an endeavor that has become more of a blood sport than an honest path to public service – and Paul has committed to running on a straightforward platform of preserving our unique lifestyle, improving government services, and protecting our sensitive environment from the ravages of unchecked growth and the accompanying environmental atrocities that have become commonplace in an era where the abject greed of speculative developers eclipses our quality of life. 

It is now undeniable that there is a groundswell of civic activism sweeping Volusia County marked by a fervent desire for substantive change as evidenced by Chairman Jeff Brower’s decisive win over an entrenched insider in last year’s election – and civic activist Ken Strickland’s recent victory over the “establishments” well-financed candidate in the Daytona Beach City Commission race – this building wave is evident everywhere you look.

From the protection of threatened land along the Ormond Beach Scenic Loop to Chairman Brower’s recent town hall meeting, where residents raged against the unbridled sprawl that is destroying all we hold dear, to the nearly 300 Indigo Lakes residents who joined on Tuesday night to present a united front against a Chinese-Canadian developer’s plan to shoehorn hundreds of single-family homes, townhouses, commercial, and office space into their community on the site of a former golf course – there is an awakening taking place.       

Don’t expect Paul to receive support and ebullient endorsements from our local newspaper – or the massive financial backing of those uber-wealthy insiders who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – because independent thinkers who remain true to their moral compass and committed to the promises made to their neighbors, are anathema to Volusia County’s stodgy Old Guard whose sole focus lies in protecting the status quo. 

It was fitting that Paul announced his candidacy at a community meeting, because you will never find him anywhere near those political fishing camps that have reduced many of our elected officials and cardboard candidates to sycophantic bootlickers – rubbing shoulders with our economic and social elite – or those brownnosed political hacks who are wholly-owned by the craven few with the financial wherewithal to pay-to-play. 

Trust me.  Paul’s announcement is swirling through our elected elite – and those who hold the paper on their political souls – like an ice water enema.

That’s a good thing.

In my view, Paul Zimmerman has proven his worth through personal dedication to worthwhile causes greater than his own self-interests – always willing to fight the good fight to protect and preserve the civic amenities and natural attributes that make Volusia County great – never accepting the mediocrity, tax-and-spend excess, and bureaucratic stagnation that has reduced Volusia County to a cautionary tale.    

I hope you will join me in supporting Paul Zimmerman as he launches this important campaign to return our government to the people – as we change the dismal tide that seems intent on sacrificing our unique lifestyle on the altar of greed.   

The 2022 Volusia County Council elections present a once-in-a-decade opportunity for We, The Little People to regain control of a dysfunctional county government run amok – and I can think of no one better suited to represent the interests of all Volusia County residents than my friend Paul Zimmerman. 

I hope you will share this good news with everyone you know!

Angel               Former News-Journal Opinion Editor Krys Fluker

On Monday morning I poured a steaming cup of Café Bustelo fortified with two-fingers of Tennessee Hills Pecan Pie whiskey, opened my daily e-edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, and turned to the Opinion page. 

I found it depressingly silent. . .   

Like many of you, I was pleased by the recent announcement that the incomparable Krys Fluker has been named Opinion Editor of the venerable Orlando Sentinel – the last real print media outlet in the region – but it saddens me to watch the continued degradation (and ultimate demise) of my hometown newspaper as another extraordinary talent flees the crumbling ruins for greener pastures.

Over the years, before I was branded a poisonous “blogger/troll” by Krys’ former boss – the increasingly confrontational News-Journal Editor Pat Rice – I had the pleasure of periodically corresponding with her on a few Community Voices columns usually addressing some topical law enforcement issue, always suggesting a “go with what you know” approach, rather than one of my long-winded jeremiads on local politics. 

Masterfully, Krys was able to take these rambling screeds and polish them into something lucid – and that, gentle readers, takes a true editorial gift.

Through the years, many News-Journal readers enjoyed Krys’ unique take on the news and newsmakers of the day – she has an inimitable style that deserves a larger audience – and I know her contributions will enhance the Orlando Sentinel’s already deep bench of wonderful editorial writers and reporters.    

I cannot wait to activate my new subscription! 

While I rarely agree with the News-Journal’s editorial board – on anything – Krys always crafted the argument in a way that examined the human component – how the issue affected us – a perspective I found most enlightening. 

Unfortunately, Ms. Fluker’s transition has left a vacuum in our community – with Editor Rice now further confining the already limited discussion to just Wednesdays and Sundays.

In announcing Krys’ escape from the sinking SS News-Journal in his standing Sunday op/ed, Mr. Rice explained his hairbrained plan of limiting the opinion page for the “…next few weeks”:

“Instead of opinion pages on the other days, we plan to devote that space to giving readers more news stories about the nation and world — something readers also want.”

Say what?

“Hey, Pat, we want more rehashed, three-day-old national and world news, thinly shrouded in Gannett’s progressive whole cloth – or maybe some more goofy dispatches from the frontlines of the ‘culture wars’ – where the “social engineer-turned-journalist” is the only one offended by the obscure non-issue being set up for ‘cancellation’ in our ‘local’ newspaper!” 

Said no reader of The Daytona Beach News-Journal.  Ever. 

Look, provoking a larger discussion on the important issues that impact our collective lives and livelihoods is, in my cockeyed view, what opinion writing is all about. 

We need more deliberative space in our community media – a no-holds-barred debate of all sides of the myriad issues – a trusted public forum beyond the Wild West atmosphere of social media where we can listen, consider, learn, and gain perspective.   

Look, Mr. Rice is right.  I’m not a journalist – just a blowhard “blogger/troll” – but the undeniable popularity of Barker’s View has taught me the importance of providing that desperately needed alternative opinion in a place where dissent is often crushed under the weight of a few well-heeled, and incredibly influential, powerbrokers and the malleable politicians they control like sock puppets. 

The fact is an echo chamber of immoderate voices like mine might be an effective way of venting steam – but it does nothing to foster a healthy democracy, offer solutions, or craft an inclusive vision for Volusia County’s future.

For that we need a reasonable, regular, and ongoing dialog on the issues that shape our community – including robust disagreement – in a space where the debate of opinions can help sort fact from fiction, challenge those in positions of power, and improve our civic, social, and economic understanding in a time when government is anything but transparent.

One would think the editor of our hometown newspaper would understand the importance of that. . .   

The excellent work of Krys Fluker gave us that crucial “marketplace of ideas” here on Florida’s uncultured Fun Coast – and her thought-provoking page will be sorely missed by those who value exceptional writing and the healthy competition of ideas.

With luck, Ms. Fluker will help push the Orlando Sentinel’s focus a little further east and help fill the unfortunate void left in her wake. 

Congratulations, Krys!  And best of luck on this exciting new chapter. 

Asshole           Palm Coast City Council

“Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations”

For decades, this mantra has been used by spies, “communications directors,” and public relations hacks who find themselves in a sticky situation – now increasingly adopted by politicians who, often due to their own abhorrent behavior, are forced to defend the indefensible. 

Is it effective?  You be the judge.

I like to say that if you care about good governance in your own hometown, you should care about good government everywhere – and the sprawling City of Palm Coast is the second largest city in the Deltona-Daytona-Ormond Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area and a major influence on the civic and economic future of our region. 

It is also a political shit-show of epic proportions – like a bad movie that most citizens would get up and walk out on – but they are trapped in a theater of the absurd. . .

Earlier this week, following an investigation by an Orlando-based law firm, we learned that embattled Palm Coast City Councilman Ed Danko (in my view, an angry little man who seems perpetually at odds with damn near everyone) was demonstrably “rude” to city employees – findings that stopped just short of determining that Danko created a hostile work environment or engaged in other legally prohibited conduct which may have been actionable by employees. 

Weird how that always happens, right?

According to reports, Danko, who was elected a year ago, faced allegations that he “bullied and harassed” several city employees and “inappropriately attempted to influence staff’s administrative duties,” actions which, if proven true, could constitute violations of the city’s charter. 

From the outset, a defiant Danko vehemently denied the charges, calling them a “political hit job” launched by former Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton – who was no stranger to internal conflict and controversy.     

This week, a report by the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez explained:

“Several employees said they believed Danko treated female workers more harshly than males and used a “sharper” tone with women, the report stated.

But the report also found that it did not appear that Danko was targeting certain groups.

“It did not appear that Danko targeted employees due to any legally protected status, such as gender or race,” according to the report.”

Interesting. . .

Ultimately, the toothless investigative report suggests that Danko sit for “employee rights training,” and warned that the citizens of Palm Coast may well be liable for future acts by elected officials – citing that the city is “now on notice in regards to Danko.”

Unfortunately, Danko remains obstinate – outright refusing to attend the recommended training and suggesting the investigation was not worth the $12,347.50 it cost (he’s probably right about that). 

Councilman Danko continued to maintain he beat the rap in the News-Journal article, sounding eerily like an Edward G. Robinson monologue:  

“People can draw their own conclusions as to whether somebody is rude or not,” Danko said. “People are rude every day. The point is they had nothing to hold against me. None of these charges stuck. If you’re rude to someone, is that a crime?”

Danko also said that if he had treated females more harshly, he would have been targeting that class.

“I don’t know how you can have it both ways,” said Danko.”

Whatever.

In other News of the Weird from our neighbor to the north, on Wednesday, the outstanding online media outlet FlaglerLive.com announced that in a “stunner” on Tuesday night, former Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre made the “short list” of applicants for the vacant Palm Coast City Manager position after council members Victor Barbosa, Ed Danko and Nick Klufas included Manfre on their lists.

You read that right. 

According to FlaglerLive:

“A stunner, because in previous attempts at the city manager’s jobs, both in Palm Coast and Flagler Beach, Manfre had not been so much as short-listed, let alone interviewed. He also applied to be an appointed county judge in Flagler in 2019. He was interviewed, but not short-listed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Andrea Totten.”

Again – I find that interesting. . .

Why?

Because in 2016 then Florida Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order publicly reprimanding Sheriff Manfre after the Florida Commission on Ethics found that he violated ethics laws and ordered him to pay a $6,200 fine.

According to a 2016 report by Jonathan Simmons writing in the Palm Coast Observer:

“The executive order states that Manfre “is hereby publicly censured and reprimanded” for using an agency credit card for personal use and for failing to report a gift in excess of $100. The gift in Manfre’s case was a five-night stay in then-undersheriff Rick Staly’s cabin in Tennessee. (Manfre did ultimately report the cabin stay after realizing after an ethics seminar that it was required, but the Ethics Commission stated that he had not done so properly.) The executive order gives Manfre 30 days to pay the fine.

“In an emailed statement concerning the executive order, Manfre wrote he that he had not violated agency policy or state law.”

The Commission also found probable cause that Manfre misused a publicly owned vehicle for his personal use – including out-of-state travel – but that charge was later dropped citing a lack of “corrupt intent.” 

In his response to the citizens who trusted him, then Sheriff Manfre wrote, in part:

“The administrative law judge (ALJ) has rendered her opinion in the 3 allegations filed against me. From the very beginning, I’ve stood firm in my position that I never intentionally violated Florida law, agency policy or used any public money for personal gain. The ALJ’s decision clearly shows that I never used corrupt intent in any decisions that I made or actions that I took. I sincerely apologize to the citizens of Flagler County and to the men and women of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for making poor decisions as it relates to these incidents in my first few months in office and ask for your forgiveness.”

Now, he’s asking for another bite at the apple?  

Wow.   

With deference to the immortal Humphry Bogart, knowing what we do about the turmoil that already exists at Palm Coast City Hall, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. . .”

They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and this emerging Palm Coast saga bears watching. 

Angel               Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower

“Town Hall”

A way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents either to hear from them on topics of interest or to discuss specific upcoming legislation or regulation. During periods of active political debate, town halls can be a locus for protest and more active debate.  A means for elected officials to connect with their constituents with origins going back to America’s earliest days.

One of the most acute symptoms of the abject dysfunction that permeates many local governments is the pomposity of power – the self-deification of/by the ruling class – and the resulting sense of overconfident infallibility that has built an impenetrable wall separating We, The Little People from those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests. 

I believe this haughty arrogance of ignorance is rooted in the fact government officials have lost the capacity to listen to the concerns of anyone other than their uber-wealthy political benefactors – leading to a sense of alienation as frustrated taxpayers no longer care to tread where they are clearly not wanted. 

When we enter the halls of power in that Citadel of Self-importance at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Complex – everyone understands the rules – and they are inviolate.

Unless, of course, our compromised elected elite want to indulge their frequent practice of “Public Policy by Ambush” – voting on critical issues after strategically leaving details off the printed agenda to prevent even the possibility of contention or public input.

Then its no harm, no foul.

So don’t even think about questioning it – or the underlying motivations.     

In my view, the rulebook reads different depending upon which side of the dais you are sitting on (or the size of your campaign contribution) – and that basic inequity breeds distrust. 

This aversion to citizen participation in our government is evidenced by the extraordinary lengths elected bodies will now go to limit our involvement in the process. 

From putting restrictions on public input, enacting “civility and decorum” ordinances that regulate emotional reactions to the often irrational diktats that effect our lives and livelihoods, prohibit signs or video presentations, limit a citizens ability to address their representatives for redress of grievances, hamstring dissent on the dais, and set tightly defined parameters for public participation – three-minutes only – without any expectation of an answer, or even a grunt of begrudging acknowledgement from The Monarchy, other than the stone-faced stare of the exalted anointed ones perched high above.

Don’t take my word for it.  

Check out the recent machinations of those dullards on the Volusia County School Board who are making it abundantly clear that they no longer want to be subjected to heated questions from the parents of their victims or district employees – including “loud abusive comments” or the caustic criticism that naturally accompanies the deliberation of important public policy – especially when those edicts shape the education of our children.

That’s why it was refreshing to see Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower host a Town Hall meeting at DeLand City Hall last week – with Mr. Brower paying for the rental of the meeting space out of his own pocket – and members of his family coordinating logistics for the event.

According to reports, the bulk of the participant led discussion focused on the devastating impacts of the out-of-control growth that is metastasizing like a malignant chancre along the spine of Volusia County – sprawl that is threatening our water quality, destroying our natural places, taxing essential services, and placing increased pressure on our inadequate transportation and utilities infrastructure.

Some residents told horror stories of the direct impact of unchecked growth on their quality of life while calling for a moratorium on development – including requiring low-impact strategies to help stem flooding, conserve community resources, and protect our limited water supply.

Good luck with that. . .

The meeting also touched on the thorny issue of Chairman Brower’s inability to break out of the cage stubbornly imposed by Volusia’s Old Guard – his “colleagues” on the dais of power – an entrenched voting bloc which ensures the status quo.

Chairman Brower also used the forum to express his now educated understanding of the innerworkings of Volusia County government, which has left Brower questioning if County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and County Attorney Michael Dyer truly answer to the council. 

An article written by the News-Journal’s Mary Helen Moore reported:

“Brower said he doesn’t trust the political system he has become a part of and claimed that the county manager and county attorney don’t “truly answer to the Volusia County Council.” He encouraged those present not to lose hope, however.”

“Everybody’s up for re-election,” he told the audience.”

In my view, Chairman Brower’s community outreach and willingness to listen to street level concerns sets a high bar for Volusia County Council members – those we have elected to represent our interests – and a quantum leap from the lockstep conformity and official “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” insulation tactics that protect a cloistered bureaucracy from any outside oversight or criticism.

At this week’s council meeting, at-large member Ben Johnson got it on record that he “highly disagreed” with Chairman Brower’s concerns regarding Recktenwald and Dyer – lecturing that the County Manager and County Attorney work for the “majority” (Read: the Gang of Four who insulate themselves with groupthink and viciously oppose everything Chairman Brower says or does) – a point quickly seconded by our self-anointed eminence grise, The Very Reverend and Completely Loony “Dr.” Fred Lowry.

In my view, Mr. Recktenwald senses that he has nothing to fear from Chairman Brower, so long as the Old Guard majority remains intact – a risky strategy that has been the professional demise of more than one County Manager when the tide inevitably changes. . . 

The pushback was expected.

This is the first time (in a long time) that a sitting County Chair has spoken from the heart – peeled back the political patina to reveal their inner-most fears about the health of our “system” – then took the time to consider the same concerns of those who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence. 

Unfortunately, neither Johnson nor Lowry said one word about the intrinsic benefits of engaging with the community outside the stilted environment of the Gilded Chamber. . .     

Whatever. 

In my view, the impact of Chairman Brower’s willingness to connect with constituents in an honest, open, and inclusive way – something obviously lost on the lockstep majority – was exemplified in a recent social media post from a thoughtful town hall attendee:

“Attended the meeting last night. Quite informative and it was refreshing to have a public official (Jeff Brower) actually listening to his constituents. Listening to my fellow citizens, it became obvious how important this next election is and the necessity to vet these candidates. All of the present county board representatives except the chair are up for re-election. This is the time for change. We only had two representatives vote against tax increase; Jeff Brower and Heather Post. Time for Volusia County to join the rest of the people who are finally speaking up and saying no more to the establishment, We The People have been shut out too long.”

I hope you will remember that wisdom at the ballot box next year: 

This is the time for change. . .”

Quote of the Week

“Mayor Partington and Commissioner Selby continue to blame “poor decisions” by “past commissions” for the Avalon Park mega-development on the city’s western doorstep.

Facts: The Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company leveraged one city against the other in 2003 and Daytona Beach broke a long agreement with Ormond Beach in annexing 3,000 acres west of our city. Consolidated-Tomoka demanded we weaken our wetland rules to bring them in.

Facts: “Past commissions” were elected by constituents who wanted to keep our wetland rules and who knew growth does not pay for itself. Bill Partington was part of the 2009 commission that abolished our wetland rules.

Mayor Partington says “past commissions” failed to “negotiate and reach a reasonable deal.”

Facts: Consolidated-Tomoka turned down a good faith offer to amend our density rules, allowing the same number of units condensed on higher ground while preserving low-ground wetlands, shortening the city’s lines of infrastructure. Three members of the 2002 City Commission appeared at a Daytona Beach commission meeting to ask them to honor the existing annexation agreements between our two cities.

Questions:  Why has the Ormond Beach commission agreed to provide water and sewer services to Avalon Park in Daytona Beach? Why did we annex Plantation Oaks, roughly 1,500 manufactured homes that will receive our water, sewer, police, and fire services with no city control over the development and little revenue in return? Lastly, given the commission’s track record, it is doubtful they would’ve held the developer to a higher standard.

Instead of finger-pointing at past commission decisions, the current city commission should re-examine its own decisions that will accelerate and enable the massive Avalon Park and Plantation Oaks over-developments west and north of our city.”

–Stacy Day, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “Avalon Park,” Monday, November 15, 2021

Well said, Ms. Day.

And Another Thing!

Depending upon who you talk to around town, last week’s multiday music fest “Welcome to Rockville” was either a Godsend or a demonic curse – and I suspect both sides of the argument have validity. 

While I was away enjoying the bucolic mountains and fiery fall foliage of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, I had a few phone calls from irate BV readers asking who in the hell (or government) they could contact to lodge complaints about the excessive noise emanating from the venue at Daytona International Speedway – including one from a friend who lives off Airport Road in north Ormond Beach – who reported that the walls of her home were juddering with every bass note.

I tried to explain that these things have a finite lifespan, and when the show closed on Sunday, peace and tranquility would return to River City.    

Then came the “Golden Shower” heard (literally) around the world when Sophia Urista, the vocalist for a previously unheard-of band (to me anyway) known as Brass Against, dropped trou and gushingly, effusively, volubly, urinated on a willing fan’s face as he sprawled on the stage.

I know. 

Hate to see it.  Just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, right?  (Okay, I’ll stop. . .)   

Apparently after screaming into the microphone, “I’ma piss in this motherf****er’s mouth!” – Urista did just that – to the delight/disgust of thousands of cheering metalheads (of all ages?) in a revolting, if well-timed, publicity stunt that catapulted the once unknown group – and the Daytona Beach Resort Area – into the headlines of newspapers across the breadth of the known universe. 

Admittedly, it was an attention-getter. 

(Hell, I haven’t seen a stream like that since my prostate reached the size and consistency of a honey baked ham. . .)

Wide.  Open.  Fun.  Indeed.      

Conversely, I saw several social media posts from area merchants reporting a strong increase in sales and full hotels – with many visitors in town for the concert asking locals for suggestions on area restaurants and shopping – a true synergistic effect that small business owners who eke out a living in east Volusia’s artificial economy rarely see during events like Truckmageddon or (enter obnoxious “invasion event” here).   

In fact, on Friday, James Sass, the civically astute owner of the wonderfully eclectic downtown shop Abraxas Books wrote on social media:

“SLAMMED today by people in town for the Rockville music festival at the racetrack. Lots of foot traffic on Beach Street. If people are fanning out in town as much as they are onto Beach Street this event is very good for the whole city. This is something that should have been doing all along for the last 40 years. People driving around in circles has a much narrower appeal. This is good stuff.”

He’s right. 

As for the resulting “image issue” so many are wringing their hands over – let’s face it, the Daytona Beach Resort Area’s “brand” could not get much worse.

Perhaps it is time we embrace the fact we have a darker side – a skewed self-image complicated by our age-old identity crisis – best evidenced in a recent article by the News-Journal’s Jim Abbott, wherein an Orlando bar owner was quoted making the unfortunate, but accurate, statement:

“Somebody got their face peed on in Daytona.  I don’t even know how this is news from Daytona.”

Let’s face it – the Fun Coast is a shit-magnet. 

A strange portal to an unknown dimension where the bizarre always becomes reality – a sandy realm where the good, the bad, and the weird coexist, and if something prurient or off-base can occur, it will.

And maybe that’s okay – perhaps we can play this creepy hand we were dealt, accept the occasional Naked Cowboy or incontinent rock star, and succeed despite our penchant for weirdness? 

At least someone in a position to effect change is finally acknowledging where we are as a community – and where we need to be.      

As regular readers of these rants know, I am not someone who uses hope as a strategy – but when you don’t have much else going for you – optimism can help foster a sense of what is possible, make space for ideas, and illuminate a pathway toward revitalization and prosperity. 

This week, Daytona’s impressive new City Manager Deric Feacher got his senior staff off their ass and on their feet when he led a series of walking tours of historically challenged areas around Daytona Beach.

Good stuff.

If you are a senior bureaucrat ensconced at City Hall and your new boss is traipsing around the remnants of your civic handwork – you are going to want to get some dust on the Florsheim Imperials and at least try to explain yourself, right?

The stroll gave area stakeholders an up-close and personal look at the blight, dilapidation, and personal struggles of area residents – our core tourist area and beyond laid bare – warts and all – but a tour tempered with encouraging talk of Daytona’s long-neglected potential – and the real possibility of rebirth and revitalization.     

Perhaps these walks will provide an opportunity for our ‘powers that be’ to listen to business owners like Mr. Sass, other committed entrepreneurs, civic activists, and area residents – those intrepid souls who are personally invested in areas like Downtown, Main Street, Seabreeze Boulevard, Midtown – and use their experience as a barometer when determining which “special events” add value and which do not – as we struggle to decide what we want this wonderful, but infinitely quirky, place to become.    

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

Between a rock and a hard place

On Monday, that political insulation consortium comprised of our “best and brightest” gathered at the slightly misleading Daytona Beach “International” Airport, as the exalted Volusia Round Table of Elected Officials assembled to solve the most pressing issues of our time.

“The group is composed of one elected official from each of Volusia’s cities, county government and school system. It meets every other month to discuss countywide issues and concerns. The Volusia County Council hosts the meetings.”   

Never heard of it? 

That’s okay.  Not much gets accomplished (as evidenced by our dismal civic, economic, and political condition).

The group’s seminal moment came several years ago when they were openly led around like a dazed bull with a ring its nose by that mysterious camera stellata over at the CEO Business Alliance, who tried desperately to use their hired hands to levy a half-cent sales tax on Volusia County residents ostensibly to fund transportation infrastructure projects, even as the bulldozers roared on more “theme” communities in a disastrous “putting the cart before the horse” growth strategy. 

Fortunately, Volusia County taxpayers overwhelmingly voted down the money grab – refusing to give even more of our hard-earned money to the same dullards who got us into this gridlocked mess in the first place – after we witnessed them lavish funds on the whims of their political benefactors, like the infamous “road to nowhere,” where $15.8 million was squandered extending South Williamson Boulevard to accommodate Florida’s King of Kings our own High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini, and his Woodhaven development.

This month, our brain trust at Hooterville’s own Bilderberg Group assumed an exhausting agenda which included staying awake through a boilerplate Coronavirus update, a minutes long affordable housing update (what “affordable housing”?), and a riveting briefing on the foremost existential threat to our quality of life that is universal pet licensing. . .

You read that right. . .

Yep.  Heady stuff.  

According to our distinguished political watchdog, Big John – host of the daily political affairs radio forum GovStuff Live! – who took one for the team and valiantly sat through the confab so we didn’t have to – he waited patiently for someone, anyone, to address the fact Volusia County has no discernable transportation infrastructure plan in its $1.1 billion budget. 

When it was clear the meeting would adjourn without any substantive progress on the most critical issue facing Volusia County residents – Big John disbelievingly asked why the powerful group of preeminent politicos were not addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Roads? 

No doubt begrudgingly, the esteemed group agreed to take up the issue at its January 2021 meeting. . .

My ass.

With unchecked growth continuing along the spine of Volusia County – including the malignant sprawl west of I-95, where the pinch point at the antiquated two-lane Tomoka River bridge tells us all we need to know about the level of strategic planning that went into preparing for these massive subdivisions and those yet to come – it is shockingly clear that our elected and appointed officials are now caught between a rock and a hard place with no identifiable plan.

Unfortunately, I’m not seeing much hope on our political horizon.

Are you?

For instance, this week, former Daytona Beach City Commission Zone 2 candidate Larry McDermott, who lost to Commissioner-elect Ken Strickland in a special election earlier this month, wrote a confusing Letter to the Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal asking (I assume seriously?) the question, “Where the floods go.”

“During my campaign for the Daytona Beach City Commission Zone 2 seat, one of the planks in my platform was the efficiency (or lack thereof) in our community’s stormwater drainage system. The various canals and stormwater management lakes in our community cannot hold the water produced by a storm of the type that we had this weekend.

Previously, our whole premise was to move the water east into the Halifax River. But as this storm and previous storms have shown us, this does not work if the tide is high and the wind is blowing from the east. I am not an engineer, but my engineering advisors strongly believe that Daytona Beach (and its surrounding communities) should move the water west toward the recharge area.

Perhaps some of the COVID funds that the city has received could be spent to relieve our area from this nemesis. This could also have the added benefit of putting the water in the recharge area where it will filter back to our aquifer and provide much needed drinking water to our area.”

Hey, Lar – guess what? 

That aquifer recharge area where you want to pump the abundant stormwater that is inundating homes, businesses, and roadways in Old Daytona and beyond is now called New Daytona – the faux-beach community of Latitudes Margaritaville, Mori Hossieni’s Mosaic, and the looming monstrosity that will be Avalon Park.   

That’s why we’re soon to be drinking our own recycled sewage. Get it?

So please spare us that maudlin bullshit about what your “engineering advisors” believe – because here in the real world all that matters is what our incredibly influential and extremely wealthy insiders think. 

(Check your campaign contributor list for a few of their names. . .)

My God.  If you are going to be a political player – get your head in the game, Mr. McDermott.    

Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that some very important people in our community believe the continued erosion of our land development codes, rolling over for speculative developers, and paving over our natural places to make way for more cookie cutter, zero-lot-line, cracker boxes that allow out-of-state developers to haul even more money out of the pine scrub constitutes the “highest and best use” for the thousands of sensitive acres that once comprised the source of our drinking water.  

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is time We, The Little People on Florida’s Fun Coast get comfortable with the fact we are hapless victims of a power dynamic that is defined by abject greed – and the strategic stupidity of those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests who populate do-nothing timewasters like the Volusia Round Table of Elected Officials – wholly compromised phonies who continue to fiddle while what’s left of paradise falls to slash-and-burn land clearing to make way for the next ‘game changer.’

Good luck. We’re going to need it.

See you next week, kids. 

Thanks for reading – and furthering the discussion of the important issues we face.

The Echo Chamber

After three-decades in local government, when asked, the most relevant experience I pass along to newly elected or appointed officials is that all people really want is to be heard

To know that someone in a position to something is listening to their concerns. 

A sense that their role in our democratic system is not merely to pay the bills and suffer in silence. 

For a brief period in my career, I was tapped to serve as interim City Manager – keeping a hand on the tiller until a permanent replacement could be found – and beginning the extensive process of cleaning up the mess left by the previous executive.

I hated every minute of it. . .

For me, the best part of the job came each morning when I welcomed citizens into the office and listened to their concerns over coffee. 

Most days began speaking with residents, learning about their lives, discussing concerns, sorting out utility bills, explaining public policy and ordinances, and running down answers to questions about service delivery issues.   

On occasion I was forced to don my asbestos boxer shorts and fade the withering criticism offered by angry constituents.  It is during those difficult interactions when you grow some hard bark – learn to admit mistakes – and use even unwarranted critiques as an opportunity for individual and organizational growth.

Because the other option is to erect a firewall and begin ostracizing the very people the government exists to serve.      

This personal interaction with citizens provided a fascinating window into how those we served perceived the issues and our response – how deeply the decisions of local policymakers affect the lives and livelihoods of a diverse constituency – and how quickly a bureaucracy can dissolve into a circle-the-wagons mindset when it feels threatened. 

I never forgot that.      

Despite what some in local government have come to believe, I don’t write these blogposts to make six-figure senior bureaucrat’s cry.  In fact, from personal experience, I understand better than most the extreme internal and external pressures that come with public service and the divisive “Us vs. Them” mentality that can result.    

Last week, during the regular Volusia County Council meeting, a long-time senior executive retired with glowing accolades from council members and administrators who acknowledged his service and contributions. 

During comments, Councilman Ben Johnson – who has spent most of his life in public service – decried the “unwarranted, unnecessary, out-of-line criticism,” that government officials are often (rightly or wrongly) subjected to.

Frankly, my heart sank. 

In my view, our democratic processes work best when vigorous political discussion produces a variety of views and opinions – which is why the United States Constitution places such emphasis on protecting our inalienable right to free speech – allowing the competition of ideas to elevate the best solutions, resulting in informed and inclusive public policy.  

For far too long Volusia County taxpayers have been told by their elected representatives that their thoughts on the issues are wrong – or that we lack the capacity to understand the intricacies of things like impact fees, government spending, and the inevitability of tax increases.    

Over time, the gilded Tower of Power in DeLand has become an echo chamber – an impervious dome where no one dares question the status quo or break from the lockstep conformity that ensures the “go-along/get-along” homogeneity that crushes independent thought, innovation, and ingenuity.   

Any seasoned bureaucrat will tell you that is safety in groupthink – the avoidance of individual responsibility – even when the resultant stagnation dissolves into the utter dysfunction and internecine conflict that continues to hamstring substantive progress. 

As Teddy Roosevelt reminded us, it is not the critic who counts – those who, “…point out how the strongman stumbled, or the doer of deeds could have done them better…” (although I take a perverse pleasure in doing just that) – but smart elected and appointed officials understand that harsh criticism can be an effective barometer of how their constituency views current politics and policies.

Unfortunately, silence can reinforce that sense of bureaucratic invincibility that pervades the halls of power. . .    

The goal of my disjointed screeds is to stimulate a larger discussion of the issues by voicing an independent (if contrarian) view – and exposing the absurdity of policymakers and senior executives who succumb to that overweening sense of infallibility – the aloof arrogance of power that builds an impenetrable barrier between them and those they were elected or appointed to serve.

The fact is, we live in a time when elected officials sit stone-faced on their gilded perch – gazing down on their subjects, placing stringent limitations on the public’s right to participate in their government – hiding behind “civility and decorum ordinances” while obstinately refusing to communicate, answer questions, explain decisions, or listen to the fervent pleas of those they serve.    

Then, whenever a frustrated constituent reaches out to their elected representative to seek answers or assistance – they are often met with a terse response that their concerns will be “forwarded to staff” – who invariably follow-up with a canned reply explaining how (enter service delivery issue here) is the taxpayer’s own damn fault for seeking fiscal responsibility and spending cuts during the budget cycle.   

Bullshit.  

It seems the only time these monotonous marionettes break character is when they are groveling for our vote (or a campaign contribution) during the election cycle – or whenever one of their uber-wealthy political benefactors enter the chamber – their mere presence signaling the outcome as their obsequious hirelings preen and posture to the delight of their well-heeled masters.

This outsized influence has been an entrenched part of Volusia County politics for decades, and I am always amused by the faux shock and pearl-clutching that ensues whenever ‘big money interests’ are exposed seeking a political return on their sizeable investment. 

As a result, John & Jane Q. Public no longer seem willing to take time off from work and attend daytime Volusia County Council meetings, voice their opinions, or participate in their government – especially in an atmosphere where those stodgy members of the Old Guard have made it clear that even constructive criticism is unwarranted, unnecessary, and out-of-line.

Please consider the issue of accessibility and transparency in government during next year’s election cycle.

In my view, it is time for a culture change at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – and We, The Little People, deserve a voice. 

__________________________________

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

We’ll be taking your calls and discussing the issues of the day on the “fastest two-hours in radio!”

Tune-in locally at 1380am “The Cat” or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

Thanks for furthering the discussion!

Angels & Assholes for November 5, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Volusia County Council & School Board

I recently had a barstool conversation with a slightly-sloshed local sage who speculated whether it is time to cleave Volusia County into two parts – use the traditional “Palmetto Curtain” as a line of demarcation – bisecting into two autonomous counties in some weird parasitic amoebozoan mitosis.   

As ridiculous as that sounds, the differences between the two sides of the same geopolitical region could not be more glaring. 

I often wonder if our neighbors in West Volusia – quiet places like DeLand, with its award-winning downtown, university vibe, and hometown charm or quaint communities like Pierson and Lake Helen – feel hamstrung being lashed to the stagnation and strategic blight that blankets the core tourist area of Daytona Beach, the boom/bust cycle of invasive eastside “special events,” and the crowded “theme” communities and bumper-to-bumper gridlock along Boomtown Boulevard.  

It seems all we have in common are the same influential “big money” campaign donors – uber-wealthy insiders who control their environment with massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates with the malleability to represent their interests, allocate corporate welfare, or rubberstamp “public/private partnerships” that always use public funds to underwrite the private, for-profit, motives of the connected few.

Whatever. 

Until Wild West Volusia decides to secede from its rowdy neighbor to the east, the two sides will remain incestuous cousins, struggling under the thumb of that dysfunctional behemoth that is the ever-expanding Volusia County government. 

Welcome to the Fun Coast, y’all. 

Last week, the Volusia County Council and School Board met in the last of two joint sessions to discuss the contentious subject of redistricting – the charter mandated requirement to redraw district boundaries in the second year following each decennial census. 

Redistricting adjusts the boundaries of Volusia’s five political subdivisions to account for uneven growth rates, dividing the county into areas of contiguous territory “as nearly equal” in population as possible, taking care not to dilute minority populations or manipulate electoral borders to give undue advantage to one political party or group. 

You know, the concept of basic fairness in the political process?  (Sorry, I just shot a mouthful of Woodford Reserve through my nose. . .I hate it when that happens.)

Although there are rules and percentage guidelines to assist the process, as experts who advise cities, counties, and school boards on redistricting are fond of recommending – elected officials should “use common sense” when forming new districts. 

I know.  I know.

That’s when I knew Volusia County was in trouble. . .

Last week, after the second timewaster between the two elected bodies – despite emotional entreaties from Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis who explained that adopting a combined map would save money and reduce voter confusion – the Volusia County Council and School Board refused to put their individual ultimatums aside and select a common map. 

During the initial meeting on October 18, Ms. Lewis – whose passion and diplomacy proved the depth of her commitment to the process and personal dedication to serving her constituents – asked those dullards on the dais to put politics and individual wants aside and compromise in the interest of Volusia County citizens:

“There is one thing, you will not make everybody happy. As you well know in any decision that you make when you vote on anything before you, not everybody is happy. This is not me, it is not I, this is us and we, as a group of people. As these two collective boards, it is not about one person, it is about all of us as a whole. As I mentioned, you will not make everybody happy, but I only ask you again to think about the voters and the people of this great county that we live in.”

They couldn’t do it. 

In explaining his arrogant obstinance, our self-anointed eminence grise, The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry who claims to represent Volusia County District 5 tut-tutted:

“Lake Helen and DeLand don’t want to be split up.  I completely understand that. I’ve gotten all kinds of emails today from Enterprise and Osteen and they don’t want to be split up and they don’t want to be with the East side. You’ve got Orange City that doesn’t want to be split up and you’ve got DeBary that’s tired of being split up. There’s no map that satisfies all four of those criteria, so I don’t know. To me, we’re just going to have to bite the bullet.”

Which is complete horseshit. 

Because 8 out of 10 people in the State of Florida (probably less in Volusia County) have no idea what redistricting is – let alone that the process is underway – nor do they care

Most are too busy eking out a living and raising their families to become mired in the minutia and political posturing of these self-serving half-wits.     

Taxpayers have a right to expect that those they elect to represent their interests will work collaboratively and think strategically – holding firm to their fiduciary responsibility to protect public funds from waste and inefficiency – and live up to the ethical principles expected of public servants while working selflessly to find common ground.

Yeah, right. . .

In an excellent article in the West Volusia Beacon, these farcical joint proceedings were described as:

“After almost three hours of debate, motions, amendments to motions, counter-motions and parliamentary confusion, the two bodies politely walked away, burdened by their failure to reach agreement on reapportionment.”

Which is almost accurate.

In my view, “burdened by their failure” assumes the capacity for cognitive shock – the common human emotion of shame – a sense of the ‘greater good’ with the self-awareness to reflect on the consequences of their actions – and a sincere desire to seek honest compromise even when the security of one’s political fiefdom is at risk. 

Because that is what true servant-leaders do.     

As Supervisor Lewis so eloquently said through tears of frustration during her final futile plea for concession and agreement:

“We can’t look at ‘now’ and it can’t be territorial, that this is ‘mine,’ this is ‘me,’ its for the county as a whole.  So, I, just hope that whatever transpires you do it from your heart, and you do what you think is the best thing for the people of this great county – because it is a great county.”

Folks, that is what real leadership looks like. . .   

In my view, when you get down to brass tacks – Volusia County needs more policymakers like Lisa Lewis – and a hell of a lot less like the Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry. . . 

Angel               Vienna Capital

I hope Los Angeles-based Vienna Capital’s Chairman Xiangjun Li, and his business partner, the always impeccably dressed CEO Jonathan Abraham Eid, will not be too disappointed with us nervous nellies here on the Fun Coast. 

It’s just that we’ve heard it all before. 

Normally, when someone announces plans to invest $45 million in the renovation of the Grande Dame of Daytona Beach hotels – a complete “makeover” that will see the addition of upscale restaurants, a poolside “beach day club” (one accessible to us lower caste local Dalits), food, beverage, and live music venues with “garden-style” seating – completely transforming the tired old gal into a tony “luxury resort entertainment complex with a hotel in it,” the long-suffering residents of a down-at-the-heels tourist destination are swooning in the streets. 

Not here.

As grizzled veterans of the “game changer” generation – through the decades we have been deceived, deluded, chided, derided, duped, bamboozled, mystified, stunned, flummoxed, hornswoggled, fooled, flimflammed, screwed, blued, and proverbially tattooed – by the best in the business – professional resort-town grifters of every stripe who rolled through the Halifax area with big plans and grandiose ideas – only to pack up the tent and abandon us rubes like a receding midnight tide when the money ran out. . .

And it always runs out.

So, pardon our anxiety.  We’re a little skittish around ‘big-time’ out-of-town investors, that’s all. 

Nothing personal.

I’m sure everything will be just fine this time around, right? 

Regardless, Vienna Capital can rest assured no one in city or county government will be the least bit concerned with pesky questions like, “Where is the money coming from?” or “What happens if things go sideways while the ‘Pardon our Progress’ signs are still up?” or “What if Hooterville can’t support another ostentatious high-end resort hotel on the strand?”

Hey, do what cha’ wanna. 

No one (who should) cares here in the Land of Wide. Open. Fun.  Our local governments are always willing to help clean up the mess by reallocating spiffs, making sure even incomplete projects come in under the wire, and overlooking trivial things like performance guarantees or, God forbid, sanctions and accountability.         

Besides, as our now uncommunicative friend Alexey Lysich, formerly of St. Petersburg, Russia, now the Palm Coast-based owner of Protogroup, which – after nearly a decade – recently opened the doors on one tower of the promised twin-tower hotel/condominium project at A-1-A and Oakridge Boulevard, once said:

“Money is money.”

With apologies to Keats, “That’s all ye know on the Fun Coast, and all ye need to know. . .”

Now, we learn that Protogroup is precariously close to bankruptcy – unless, of course, the City of Daytona Beach agreed to several amendments to their agreement – including “diverting” $283,829 in utility impact fee credits for Protogroup’s installation of underground water and sewer lines on Oakridge Boulevard, funds that will assist FDOT with the reconstruction of the nightmare intersection at A-1-A – and issuing a permanent certificate of occupancy for the South Tower when that work is complete. 

On Wednesday evening, the Daytona Beach City Commission did just that – because what else are they going to do?   

Sound familiar?  It should.

But enough of that past ‘unpleasantness’ – what about our new friends from California?

According to an excellent article by News-Journal business editor Clayton Park:

“Eid and his partner hope to begin construction to create the spaces for the planned new restaurants in early 2022 with a target date of opening the first of the eateries as well as the beach day club in early 2023.

Susan Cerbone, a spokeswoman for the city of Daytona Beach, on Thursday said the Plaza Resort had not yet submitted plans for adding the new restaurants.

“We’re currently working on our plans for the restaurants,” said Eid. “We prefer to lock in our restaurant tenants before finalizing our design plans.”

Eid said the makeover of the Plaza Resort is being conducted in phases that will allow the hotel to continue operating without interruption.”

To assuage our hyper-irrational fears, Uncle Bob Davis, “…CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, said he believes Eid and Li will deliver on their promises.

“I think they’re going to make a big difference for our area,” said Davis, a 55-year veteran of the Daytona Beach area hospitality industry. 

“It’s wonderful to have a bright young man on the horizon who sees the value of Daytona Beach and Volusia County,” said Davis. “He wants everyone, including the other hotels in our area, to do well because then he’ll do well. I love what I’m seeing. I believe an explosion of good things is about to happen.”

No offense, Bob – but like Jim Croce said, “we’ve got all the geniuses we can use” around here.   

In my view, it would be a refreshing change to have someone who says what they mean and means what they say – who keeps promises and completes permitted projects within set standards and a reasonable timeline. 

Let’s hope Vienna Capital is everything Uncle Bob says they are, and more. 

Just don’t be offended if long-suffering residents of the Halifax area remain skeptical until the investment is made – and the project completed to the standards of quality promised.    

Screw it.  Just shut up and get on the bandwagon, Barker. . .   

Whoop!  Whoop! 

Good times are here, again

Again. . . 

Angel               Paul Zimmerman & Sons of the Beach

Volusia County is blessed with people who care.

Those who see what could be – and ask why not?

Not naysaying bellyachers like me – but those grassroots activists whose good work transcends “special interests” and self-serving political factions with ulterior motives – involved citizens who give generously of their time and talents, wanting nothing more than to improve our collective quality of life, save our environment, and seek local governance of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

Paul Zimmerman and his fellow concerned citizens of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy Sons of the Beach continue their valiant efforts to preserve our unique lifestyle and protect our most important natural asset and economic driver by asking the tough questions. 

Below is an open letter to our ‘powers that be’ in Volusia County government – in my view, important questions that deserve a wider audience – and hard answers:

County Council and Staff,

For the last 35+ years Volusia County has been using the protection of nesting sea turtles as the primary reason for restricting and regulating beach driving, here it is once again in non-turtle season and in defiance of all logic Volusia County has closed beach approaches to beach driving during non-turtle nesting season. I have lived a long time but sometimes the illogical actions of government can still stun me. The closure of the Williams and Hartford approaches in Daytona Beach (and I’m sure others in the county) is prime example of why people have little faith or trust in government. Such illogical actions force us to question the ability of our government to make decisions that represent the interests of the citizens and businesses who elect them and/or pay their salaries.

These closures result in the asking of many questions that begin with why.

Why does the county close the beaches when there are no turtles?  Why aren’t all the approaches opened NOT CLOSED during non-turtle nesting season? Why during the time of the low tourist season would the county further restrict access to the primary reason visitors come here? Why do we need a separate police force to patrol the beach when access to the beach is severely restricted for 1/2 the year? Why does there seem to be no concern on how the closures affect the residents who live here and pay taxes to use the beach year around?

Now I have heard that a reason for the closures is because the toll collecting vendor can’t make money during the winter season. Is it the responsibility of the county, and by extension the tax paying citizens, to assure a vendor makes a profit?  If concerns of whether collecting tolls pays for itself perhaps that could lead to a logical solution to remove the tolls and open all the approaches. 

In the real world when an action has an adverse affect on profitability one stops that action. But in the world of government there is always tax dollars to mitigate bad decisions. Why is it that instead of taking into consideration the public’s right to access the county concerns itself with the bottom line of a vendor? Just who does the county represent?

Hartford and Williams Avenue approaches serve a highly populated residential area where many of the residents are daily beach users. The residents of the area are now forced to use either University or Cardinal approaches, one is over 2 miles south, and the other over one mile north.  Closing both of these approaches leaves almost 4 miles of beach where there is no driving access. 

Why do we need a separate police force again?

In a world where government function as it should i.e., a body that represents the citizens that elects them and pays their salaries, most of these why questions would never be asked. We believe that during non-turtle season all beach approaches should be open not closed. Why aren’t they?  Would you please answer my “why” questions and help educate us on how the actions of the county make sense in representing the interests of its residents and businesses?

Hear, hear!

Quote of the Week

“Volusia County initially projected a combined revenue loss of $80 million for the four fiscal years between 2019-2020 and 2022-2023, but because of the update in calculations, revenue loss for calendar-year 2020 is now estimated at $12 million, with no revenue loss projected for the next three calendar years.

“If you look at just $80 million versus the $12 million, it seems like a big number,” County Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski said. “But we’re talking about four entire years of an organization that has $620 million in our calculation as far as what our base revenue is.”

–Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia County to hold off on using ARPA dollars, waiting on regulatory and legislative changes,” Tuesday, November 2, 2020

Smoke and mirrors.

Or, as Volusia County CFO Ryan Ossowski likes to say, “Projecting revenue loss is an art and a science.”

My ass.

Remember during the legerdemain that was the “budget process” this fall when we were told flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories by our elected representatives about the Armageddon-like consequences of failing to raise taxes in support of a monstrous $1.1 Billon budget?

I do.

How about the absurd Kabuki theater that produced a laundry list of big ticket nice-to-have items like $1,000 bonuses for all county employees, and repairs to the rickety Ocean Center pay parking lot (which never seems to stand on its own two feet) – all of which was to be paid for with the Manna from Heaven that our grandchildren will still be paying for in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act – a/k/a federal Coronavirus relief dollars? 

Well, now it seems CFO Ossowski and his bean counters in DeLand miscalculated revenue loss attributed to COVID-19 – revising the shortfall significantly downward from the projected $77 million

The net-net of the “update in calculations” means the $107 million received under the ARPA plan may now need to be reallocated for the purposes originally intended by the federal government. 

What do you call it when the fox outfoxes himself?

Look, you and I both know that most local government entities did not miss a paycheck during the pandemic – and by their own admission, much of Volusia County’s projected losses were conjured up by what the News-Journal described in July as “…a little creative accounting” – a wink-wink/nudge-nudge means of maneuvering ARPA funds around those annoying programmatic restrictions.   

I guess they were too “creative” for their own good, eh? 

So, its back to the old drawing board in January – another “bite at the apple” as Chairman Jeff Brower said.

Now that the Christmas in July spending mentality has been reined in – perhaps our elected officials can find more legitimate uses for this windfall – such as the not-so-sexy must-haves, like improvements to our horribly neglected and increasingly inadequate water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure?

Time will tell.  

This time around let us hope those dullards on the dais of power put a stop to the “creative accounting” they used to worm their way past federal restrictions and use ARPA funds as they were intended.   

And Another Thing!

Congratulations to Zone 2 Daytona Beach City Commissioner-elect Ken Strickland on his victory in Tuesday’s municipal election! 

Ken was magnanimous following his well-deserved win:

“I would like to express my deep appreciation for all the hard work of my campaign supporters, but especially to the voters of Daytona Beach Zone 2. You all proved once again that VOTES BEAT MONEY!!!”

It was a hard-fought campaign which played out in true Fun Coast fashion – complete with a massive campaign war chest stuffed with cash in support of the “establishments” hand-select candidate, which paid for the requisite skeevy “glossy mailer” that made an eleventh-hour appearance from Ken’s opponent in a predictable attempt to besmirch Mr. Strickland’s character – an ugly, but often effective, strategy that raises it head each time members of Volusia’s donor class get nervous.

Trust me.  Some very important people are getting edgy. . . 

With the election of another grassroots candidate coming on the heels of Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s decisive win over an entrenched member of the Old Guard last year – you can bet those stalwarts of the status quo are getting increasingly worried going into the 2022 election cycle. 

They should be. 

In my view, Ken’s victory proves that We, The Little People, have had our fill of the stagnant business as usual bullshit that has made Volusia County a cautionary tale and the laughingstock of our successful neighbors along the prosperous I-4 corridor and beyond.

Look, it is easy to get caught up in the loopy giddiness, excitement, and post-election euphoria – and I must remind myself that when it comes to politicians never put all your eggs in one basket – or expect too much, too soon. 

Because like Jeff Brower, Ken cannot do it alone. 

However, in my view, there is reason for hope as the City of Daytona Beach stands at an important crossroads – with its energetic new City Manager Deric Feacher getting up to speed – and a committed group of citizens, staff, and grassroots activists’ intent on improving opportunities for all residents of the Halifax area.

That progress was most evident during Wednesday evening’s City Commission meeting when Mayor Derrick Henry’s Beachside Action Committee presented an impressive list of cleanup efforts and aesthetic improvements – removing graffiti, fixing broken sidewalks, replacing dilapidated fixtures, eliminating eyesores, pressure washing the Seabreeze Bridge – and other visible quality of life measures. 

Outstanding! 

Aw, shucks – there I go again. . . Sounding more like Uncle Bob Davis every day.

Look for wonderful things on the horizon for the World’s Most Famous Beach! 

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

I will be on the road next week and Angels & Assholes will return November 19th – in the meantime please enjoy some of the hundreds of blogs opining on our interesting life and times here on Florida’s Fun Coast in the chronological archives below.

Please join Barker’s View on Monday afternoon as we make our monthly visit to GovStuff Live! with Big John, Volusia County’s premiere public affairs forum, beginning at 4:00pm.

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

Tune in locally on WELE-AM “The Cat” at 1380am – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button). 

Thank you for joining the discussion!

A Question of Trust

This week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal broke the disturbing story of Colton Phillips – the son of Tim Phillips, owner of P&S Paving, described by the News-Journal as “one of the most successful businesses in Daytona Beach,” and a member of the incredibly powerful CEO Business Alliance – a young man who just three years ago “…faced up to 15 years in prison for his role in what investigators called the “The Colton Phillips Drug Trafficking Organization…”

This is no reflection on the Phillips family.  Kids will embarrass you.  That’s what they do. 

Some grow out of it.  Others, not so much.

But this goes beyond youthful indiscretion. . .

In 2018, investigators from the East Volusia Narcotics Task Force found Colton Phillips and his co-conspirators in possession of some 2.8 pounds of cocaine, 4.25 pounds of methamphetamine, vials of testosterone, marijuana, “a large amount of cash,” computers, and drug paraphernalia at his Daytona Beach home. 

According to the report, the organization was suspected of importing one kilogram of cocaine into Volusia County from California each month.  In turn, Phillips sold the illicit drugs to his roommate – identified as Arad Radfar – who then trafficked the substance on something called the “dark web.” 

From what I gather, this wasn’t the most sophisticated bunch of dopers in that shadowy world – something akin to a spoiled Little Lord Fauntleroy meets Miami Vice story – openly communicating their nefarious activities via text message, shipping cocaine through the mail, and employing some drug-addled kid as a runner.

Regardless, the cost in lives destroyed and the corrosive impact of illicit drugs on our community is incalculable.    

According to the outstanding reportage of the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez, in 2019, all public records related to the Phillips case were mysteriously sealed and “vanished from public view” for more than a year. 

In October 2020, an attorney for Gannett, the parent company of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, was successful in having the documents unsealed and open for public view later that year.

According to reports, in November 2018, State Attorney R. J. Larizza’s office “…filed nine charges against Phillips. They included three first-degree felonies including trafficking in cocaine more than 400 grams and trafficking in methamphetamine, as well as multiple third-degree felony and misdemeanor drug charges.

Phillips entered a plea of no contest to all nine counts in his plea agreement. Based on sentencing guidelines filed in the case, he scored a lowest permissible prison sentence of 179.40 months, which works out to 14.95 years in state prison.”

Officials say that following his arrest, Colton Phillips provided substantial assistance in ancillary investigations – cooperation which earned him an unheard-of plea deal of 15-years’ probation, forfeiture of two vehicles, $19,020 in cash, and reimbursement for costs associated with the investigation – while his co-conspirator, Radfar, was deported to Iran on an immigration violation where he was most likely welcomed home a national hero for helping weaken the fabric of our society. . .

In addition, Phillips was specifically prohibited by the terms of his probation from consuming alcohol – and reports indicate he spent a stint in a residential rehabilitation facility. 

“The plea deal waived a fine of $262,000” and prosecutors put aside minimum mandatory sentences paving the way for the extended probation. 

Plea agreements are nothing new – they happen every day and are an important part of our criminal justice system – especially for first time offenders like Phillips – and I believe the State Attorney’s spokesman who said, “All actions taken by every agency involved in this case were appropriate efforts to achieve the investigatory goals of utilizing the “dark web” to seize illegal drugs and disrupt their distribution networks locally and nationally.”

He also had a damn fine criminal defense attorney in Aaron Delgado.

But given the serious nature of the charges – Colton’s “deal” left many questioning whether his family’s prominence and powerful political connections had more to do with the extraordinary leniency he received than any information he provided. 

Because that is the sorry state of the public’s trust in once unquestioned institutions here on the Fun Coast – a place where political influence is seemingly traded like a commodity through a skewed campaign finance process, and people frequently confuse the size of someone’s bank account with their civic vision, confusing selfishness with altruism, something that has cost local government the confidence of its constituents – and resulted in every policy or legislative action subject to the question, ‘Who benefits?’      

Is that accurate?  I hope not.

But from hard-earned experience I know perception is reality in matters of official fairness – and our criminal justice system stands or falls on the trust and respect of those it exists to serve.  That is why those who serve within it have such a high duty to defend the integrity of the process.    

Inconceivably, after being given what Circuit Judge Dennis Craig described as “The deal of the century” – supervised probation which specifically prohibits Phillips from visiting bars or consuming alcohol – in late August, Colton Phillips was found in a blatant state of intoxication – I’m talkin’ shitfaced – clearly in actual physical control of his running pick-up truck in a parking lane at Biggins Gentlemen’s Club in Daytona Beach Shores. 

Yeah.  You read that right.

An employee of the establishment confirmed that Phillips drank a beer (before being cut off due to his state of intoxication) inside the bar. 

Let’s just say things went downhill from there. . .

I spent my entire adult life in law enforcement, coming up through the ranks, working in every operational and administrative post in my agency – including extensive experience in narcotics investigations – and I know better than most the physical and political pitfalls inherent to serving and protecting from the impossible damned if you do, damned if you don’t position behind a badge.

That is why I rarely second-guess the on-scene decisions of working police officers – but what happened during this encounter is undeniably confusing – and concerning.   

For reasons that remain murky, rather than arrest Phillips for the obvious DUI – the officers also opted to release Colton on his own recognizance for the glaring probation violation – then an on-duty Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety officer gave him a “courtesy ride” home. 

In explaining her call to another officer, as seen on a body-worn camera video, the officer is overheard saying, “This is not a traditional way we handle things.  But it’s making the best of what could be a messy situation.”

Non-traditional?

Messy?

Yeah.  I know. . .

Fortunately, the officer clearly made the decision to release Phillips before he pulled the old “Do you know who I am?” jive – directing an investigating officer to, “Look up who my dad is” – then slurring his way through a blathering explanation of the area roads his father’s company has paved.

When the investigating officer asked Colton who is father was, he dropped “Tim Phillips” like he was laying down a Royal Flush. . .   

After that, things got, well, weird.

As the field interview continued, one young officer gushed about how “my chick” was at the Phillips’ “place” (a Flagler County ranch owned by Tim Phillips) in Bunnell the day before – mentioning other prominent names who were apparently also in attendance – before reminding Colton of the obvious:

“Your dad is a very wealthy man.”

Yeah.  Ugh

Then, after officers assumed the extraordinary liability of directing an employee of Biggins to park Colton’s truck (?) – because he was too “twisted” to drive it – Phillips was given a “courtesy ride” home. . .

Jesus.

As a crusty retired police supervisor said to me after watching the disturbing video, “I thought we stopped giving drunks a ride home twenty-years ago? – then proceeded to recite a litany of good officers and former law enforcement executives who had their careers ruined over the mere appearance of favoritism in criminal cases.     

There is a kernel of wisdom in that for the young officers depicted in this video.    

To their credit, the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety charged Phillips for the probation violation, and he will appear before Judge Craig to answer for his actions in November.

Trust me.  Many will be watching to see if Colton’s string of extraordinary luck continues – or if he gets a wake-up call – a dose of reality beyond the six-month curfew suggested by the Office of Community Corrections. 

It is important, because Mr. Phillips’ unusual good fortune now has many questioning the basic fairness and impartiality of our justice system.

That is unacceptable. 

Look, I am familiar with many of the public officials and prosecutors involved in the News-Journal article – all dedicated professionals, including DBSPS Director Stephan Dembinsky, who is one of the finest law enforcement executives I know – and I consider them honorable people who perform a difficult and dangerous job protecting our community and seeking justice with great skill. 

They do not need a washed-up has-been like me to lecture them from the comfort of a Barcalounger regarding the perception of preferential treatment for some entitled poor little rich kid with a silver spoon – who, by all appearances, could give two-shits about the provisions of his generous probation.    

As the News-Journal’s article rightly pointed out, “While the decision not to take Phillips to jail or charge him with DUI may have been questionable, it did not appear to have anything to do with the prominence of his father, Tim Phillips, owner of P&S Paving and a member of the CEO Business Alliance.”

But there is no denying that the suggestion of privilege and undue advantage is what made this story newsworthy in the first place – and why I felt compelled to write about it’s corrosive effect on the public trust.  

The fact is, even the insinuation of favoritism and cronyism undermines the foundational underpinnings of our system – the assurance of basic fairness and impartiality – where no one is above, or beneath, the law.

Unfortunately, many in the community who have reached out to me since this sordid story broke feel very differently about the appearance of things. . . 

That loss of confidence in our system of justice disturbs me more than watching the life of a clearly troubled young man unravel like a cheap spool of rotten yarn in full view of the community he continues to thumb his nose at.

Like many of you, I sincerely hope Colton Phillips gets the help he needs – and our community receives the protection from this irresponsible behavior we deserve.    

Angels & Assholes for October 29, 2021

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Daytona Beach City Commission

Last week, the Daytona Beach City Commission held a workshop to discuss exciting changes to the northern end of Beach Street and east Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard – including a potential roundabout and flood mitigation projects at the intersection of Fairview Avenue.

According to reports, the $8 million Beach Street Streetscape Phase II will include new lighting, improved parking to accommodate events at the Esplanade, wider sidewalks, and the potential for decorative medians and other enhancements to improve the dog-tired area from Bay Street to Fairview Avenue and MMB Boulevard from Ridgewood Avenue to Beach Street. 

I was pleasantly surprised that Mayor Derrick Henry called for additional meetings to allow for public input before the tough decisions are made – a process that has not always been as transparent or inclusive when considering high-profile public projects.

In fact, it seemed that previous Beach Street streetscape projects were ramrodded through without any concern for the needs or wants of downtown merchants. 

Add to that the economic stress caused by the interminable Veterans Memorial Bridge construction, speculation about what, if any, direct impact the Brown & Brown headquarters would have on area businesses, and a previously uncommunicative administration – and one can better understand the gaping divide between City Hall and some who make their living downtown.     

Now, there is a ray of hope. 

In my view, there are some innovative ideas on the table – and making the connection between Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and downtown represents a leap forward for the historically neglected Mid-Down business district – and a more comprehensive approach to the community’s placemaking efforts. 

Like many of you, Downtown Daytona was a big part of my life growing up – and it remains critical to the success of the mosaic of unique communities that comprise the Halifax area.   

It is where we shopped as a family on Saturdays, went to the movies, and enjoyed every kid’s favorite – the magical toy department at Dunn Brothers.  Unfortunately, we all watched the slow death of this once bustling area when the Volusia Mall came to town and the focus turned west. 

Sound familiar?   

After several fits-and-starts – with the $25 million renovation of the Brown Esplanade slogging toward completion, and rumors of a potential 250-unit apartment complex on a long-vacant site north of International Speedway Boulevard – it appears things are really starting to happen downtown. 

Kudos to Mayor Henry, City Manager Deric Feacher, and the Daytona Beach City Commission for tapping the brakes on this important project to allow time for citizen input – creating an avenue for community involvement in civic planning – personal contributions that allow residents to have real‘skin in the game,’ something that has been sorely missing from the visioning process.

Now it is important for citizens, property owners, established businesses, and entrepreneurs to get involved.    

In addition, the Florida Department of Transportation is hosting a public charrette on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, at the Ocean Center, 101 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm.

The community planning session will allow residents input on proposed transportation solutions for segments of Atlantic Avenue, the horror show that is East International Speedway Boulevard, Main Street, Seabreeze Boulevard, and the Nightmare on Oakridge Boulevard.

If you care about the future of our core tourist area – this one’s important.   

Look, my suggestions for the future of downtown are no better, or worse, than yours. 

But when the best concepts of both are identified and discussed – the debate of competing ideas can help produce something transformative – a shared vision that is no longer “mine” or “yours,” but “ours.” 

Angel               The Root Family

Many thanks to the Halifax area’s first family of compassionate philanthropy for their recent gift of $500,000 to cover administrative costs of the United Way of Volusia and Flagler Counties. 

This generous donation will help offset operational expenses allowing every dollar received from charitable giving to support partner agencies.    

With little recognition, The Root Family Foundation has been a long-time philanthropic supporter of worthy local causes, to include investments in education, the arts, and innovative health initiatives in Volusia County.

The Halifax area is blessed with a precious few families and foundations committed to improving our quality of life and helping those less fortunate through their substantial giving to service and charitable organizations. 

The Root family continues to express its care and generosity in meaningful ways, and this substantial gift will help the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties fund twenty-two programs at 17 local nonprofits focusing on Education, Financial Stability, and Health.

Angel               Herbert M. Davidson Award Recipients

This evening, the Halifax area’s civic, social, political, and economic elite will join at the Hard Rock Daytona for an elegant soiree celebrating the outstanding community service of Mr. Joe Petrock and the incomparable Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.     

The Herbert M. Davidson Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service is named in honor of the former longtime publisher of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, whose generosity and vision helped promote the arts and fostered social, civic, and economic improvement in Volusia County.

The honor is presented annually to those individuals who have demonstrated exceptional service to our community.   

According to a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “This year, because the awards were not given in 2020, two people will receive the award.”

“One is Joe Petrock, executive director of the Halifax Health Foundation. According to the Community Foundation, Petrock has been “a business and community leader for decades.” He has raised millions of dollars in donations for the Halifax Health Hospital and various charities.”

The other continues to serve as an internationally recognized symbol of hope and an inspiration for the ages. 

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune – a champion of education and civil rights – who founded Bethune-Cookman University and is considered the Matriarch of Daytona Beach, will also receive the award in memory of her generational contributions to the betterment of humankind.

Fittingly, the impressive Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via will receive the Community Foundation of Volusia & Flagler Counties’ Young Leader Award for his extraordinary service and leadership! 

Mayor Via has served as a member of the Holly Hill City Commission since 2016 and was elected to his first term as mayor two-years later at just 28 years old. He was elected to a second term in 2020.

During his tenure, Mayor Via has boldly led an exciting renaissance in “The City with a Heart” – to include the development and expansion of the incredibly successful Pictona at Holly Hill – a true community sports and fitness destination that has brought international recognition to Volusia County.   

Well deserved, Mayor Via!

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

In a recent Letter to the Editor of the Ormond Beach Observer, resident Lori Bennett made a cogent point about the Ormond Beach City Commission:

“Citizen requests are routinely denied and ignored. We need a lifesaving emergency room center for the beachside to replace the razed hospital, more beach parking to supplement the Andy Romano Park — which we had to vote to tax ourselves millions to get — preservation of historic buildings, conservation of what’s left of the Loop, and restoration of Ormond development rules that once protected trees, wetlands, and green space.

The current City Commission continues to spend millions of dollars on projects we don’t want while refusing to consider items we do want. In Ormond Beach, it appears the public agenda has been replaced by a private, special interest agenda.”

Unlike our elected officials, Ms. Bennett clearly has her finger on what is important to Ormond Beach residents – and what is not. 

Recently, I wrote a screed on the issue of Ormond Beach donating $20,000 in public funds to help fund a $52,000 plinth to support a privately commissioned bronze statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, which will stand in the Brown Esplanade in Daytona Beach.

The charitable gift to a non-profit committee came just weeks after city officials raised taxes and increased the budget at a time when municipal coffers are overflowing with reserve funds and federal pandemic relief money.

I was recently reminded by an astute BV reader of the famous soldier, politician, and frontiersman Davy Crockett’s thoughts on the use of public funds for private charity during discussion of the congressional appropriation of federal funds to support the widow of a distinguished United States naval officer.  

When Congressman Crockett took the floor, he said:

“We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”

After Col. Crockett offered to donate one-week of his personal salary to the cause – and invited his colleagues to do likewise – well, naturally, the bill died a quick death. . .

It is called pompous politicians putting their own money where their mouth is.  Not mine.

In my view, these limitations on the use of our hard-earned tax dollars are as prudent today as they were then – especially true when members of the Ormond Beach Police Department were in attendance – desperately attempting to educate the City Commission on the fact their pay and benefits remain far behind many department’s in the region – at a time when the recruitment and retention of professional law enforcement officers is increasingly difficult.

With the specter of the colossal Avalon Park looming on the community’s southern border and talk of bringing a new 143-lot subdivision to the already congested area of North Tymber Creek Road and Airport Road – developments that will place increasing pressure on our police department, utilities, roads, and essential public services – perhaps it is time our elected officials start looking after those who risk their lives to serve and protect our community before writing checks for “nice to have” items which should rightfully be funded with private donations, like a statuary base that will stand in a neighboring city.     

To his credit, in casting the lone dissenting vote opposing the use of public funds for the private work, Commissioner Troy Kent rightly explained, “It’s not me writing a check for $20,000,” Kent said. “It’s easy to do that, I think, when it’s not coming out of my personal account.”

As I have said, Mr. Kent and I rarely agree – on anything.

But his assessment of this glaring misuse of tax dollars is spot-on.

In my view, it is high time for Mayor Bill Partington and the rest of the City Commission to get their head in the game and look for more appropriate funding sources – you know, like they flippantly directed when grassroots activists from Dream Green Volusia begged for help in preserving a threatened section of the Ormond Scenic Loop – an environmental treasure that is actually located within the city limits. 

Look, residents of Florida’s Fun Coast are a generous sort – especially when it comes to preserving our unique cultural and environmental assets – and we have consistently proven our willingness to set something aside for that express purpose. 

Last year, I joined 72% of Volusia County voters in supporting the continuation of the Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO programs – the latter committed to providing, “…grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational purposes.”

Two key aspects of the Volusia ECHO program are:

“Foster public memory and community identity by promoting and providing access to destinations and experiences associated with past events, peoples, and places within the County of Volusia.”

And “Improve the quality of life for Volusia’s citizens by providing access to the cultural arts, increase cultural based tourism, and encourage redevelopment and revitalization of downtown and urban areas through the provision of cultural arts facilities.”

In my view, Volusia ECHO represents the perfect funding source for this incredibly important statue – one which will be enjoyed by generations to come – in a place of reflection and contemplation of the extraordinary contributions of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to Daytona Beach and beyond. 

Quote of the Week

“I love the Northern mockingbirds and I enjoy hearing them sing, during the day or all night. Why does it matter if other states have the same state bird? … Our pristine natural habitat is being destroyed; I rarely see or hear the mockingbirds anymore! Let the Northern mockingbird remain our official state bird and try to protect their environment — along with many other species that call Florida their home!”

–Patricia Page, Ponce Inlet, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, USA Today Florida Network, “Don’t kill the mockingbird,” Saturday, October 23, 2021

Florida residents are up in arms – and they should be.

But not for the reasons you might think.   

Inexplicably, the hottest topic ahead of the 2022 legislative session isn’t the pandemic, the growing labor shortage that is crippling many small businesses, Florida’s horribly broken unemployment system, preventing another deadly condominium collapse, malignant overdevelopment, our threatened water supply, or stopping the environmental destruction that has resulted in the death of scores of manatees, shorebirds, fish, and mollusks in the Indian River Lagoon. 

Instead, all eyes are fixed on an absurd bill filed by Tampa State Senator Jeff Brandes “rescinding the designation of the mockingbird as the state bird” – a measure that represents either the worst joke in the history of state politics, or the greatest strategic distraction ever perpetrated on a disinterested constituency. 

In turn, lawmakers have filed two additional bills – supported by at least one grassroots petition – to strip the Northern Mockingbird of its title as Florida’s State Bird – a designation it has held since 1927.

Why?

Because Brandes thinks it would be a “fun thing to debate.”

What a crock of shit. . .

At a time when our state and nation are facing serious internal and external threats – during one of the most divisive periods in history, where families and neighbors are irretrievably split along political and ideological lines – and once trusted news sources and institutions have turned their focus to fighting the inane culture wars and fanning the flames of partisan discord – these giddy elected dipshits want to waste precious time arguing inconsequential nonsense?

My God.

Even The Daytona Beach News-Journal got into the act – multiple times – with cute op/eds legitimizing this idiocy, including suggesting the equivalent of handing out participation trophies to all birds in the state:

“At the same time, however, we don’t think Florida should have to settle for the mockingbird. We’re Florida. We need something big, noisy, bright, and unique to us.

So how about this. Florida’s new state bird is: Bird.”

My ass.

The piece then launched into some drivel about protecting “…the shorelines, the marshes, the rivers that contribute so much to this state’s quality of life,” even as the editorial board wallowed in environmental politics just weeks before, cutting Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower off at the knees, and arrogantly pooh-poohing a recent push for a small pilot project to evaluate an innovative technology that may help with efforts to restore the threatened Indian River Lagoon. . .

Since we’re all weighing in, I think the official avian representative of the Sunshine State should be the Dodo Bird – an extinct flightless bird which once inhabited the island of Mauritius, which, like most of our elected officials – has absolutely nothing in common with the citizens of the State of Florida – a pathetic order driven to extinction by wholesale slaughter, greed, and invasive species – all while its habitat was destroyed by human intervention.   

A bird considered to be dull-witted, too trusting, and easily duped – now, like Florida Man, an internationally recognized symbol of stupidity.

Sound familiar? 

Interestingly, Sen. Brandes is flogging support for his asinine resolution online with the hashtag “#Wecandobetter”. 

Ain’t that the damn truth? 

Perhaps Florida lawmakers should consider making that the official state slogan. . .

And Another Thing!

There is a reason many good people will not stand for elective office.

Would you willingly walk into a meatgrinder?    

I know many civic-minded individuals with the acumen, depth of experience, and commonsense to take Volusia County, and its unique municipalities, out of the doldrums and replace the stagnant status quo with inspirational and inclusive leadership.

Unfortunately, many quality candidates for office are turned away by the disgusting nature of modern political contests – the “win at all cost” strategy of mutual assured destruction – where exaggerations, mischaracterizations, and outright lies are weaponized then mass distributed to ensure the spoils go to the contestant who can stoop the lowest, hit the hardest, and operate most comfortably in this blood-soaked shit-trench where nothing is considered immoral, unethical, or unfair.  

Last Saturday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal featured the differences between Daytona Beach City Commission candidates Ken Strickland and Larry McDermott, who are vying for the Zone 2 seat vacated by Aaron Delgado following his move to Ormond Beach over the summer.

It was a story as old as Daytona Beach – where our economy is essentially based on the same five people passing the same nickel around – and as topical as the modern political strategy of those same people using massive campaign contributions to control their environment.

A calculated return on investment – all perfectly permissible under current campaign finance rules – and one that ensures lockstep conformity prevails over innovation or independent thought.    

“Grassroots” vs. “Establishment” – the stark contrast between the voiceless ‘little guy,’ families and small businesses scraping by in this artificial economy, eking out a living amongst the strategic blight, dilapidation, and challenged neighborhoods, struggling to maintain what remains of our quality of life while ‘all the right last names’ – those influential few with a real chip in the game – receive everything they ask for from their malleable elected handmaidens and more.

In her informative article, News-Journal reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean pointed out the true difference between the two candidates:  

Money and powerful“connections.”  

“McDermott is more of the establishment candidate, and he has many more financial contributions from powerful locals who have helped him amass $29,490 in his campaign coffers. Strickland trails far behind with $9,100 in contributions.

But despite fewer connections and campaign dollars, Strickland is the one who collected the most votes in the Sept. 21 special primary election, albeit narrowly.”

That’s true. 

The primary was a tight race with just a handful of votes separating Strickland and McDermott – and I knew it would not be long before the knives came out. . .

Earlier this week, the McDermott campaign cut into his opponent with the ubiquitous ‘glossy mailer’ – which asked Zone 2 voters, “Which one would you hire?” – with contrived comparative resumes listing Ken Strickland’s only accomplishment as having once operated a gentleman’s club in Daytona Beach while touting his own volunteer work on various area boards and committees.   

Ken has made no secret of the fact he owned the Paradise Club in Daytona Beach – which was open for over a decade – that tells me the obviously successful business was perfectly legal and operated within city codes.

To his credit, not once during this campaign has Mr. Strickland attacked his opponent on any level, always keeping laser focus on the issues – conducting himself, and his campaign, with honor and respect.   

I don’t know Larry McDermott – but now I know what he represents. 

I first met Ken during our mutual work on beach driving and access issues – just part of his tireless activism with Sons of the Beach, First Step Shelter, Beachside Neighborhood Watch, and other community-oriented groups – and we have shared a radio microphone discussing the issues of the day on Big John’s public affairs forum GovStuff Live!

Few people have Ken’s depth of civic knowledge, a deep understanding of what is important to residents – true situational awareness gained through dedicated attendance at public meetings – and a civic view shaped by listening to the concerns of his neighbors, not well-heeled insiders.   

By any metric, Ken Strickland has proven himself a vigorous advocate for the citizens of Daytona Beach and a champion for our unique lifestyle in the Halifax area. 

In my view, Ken’s inclusive solutions to the long-term issues we face speak to a different way of thinking – a new way forward.

The choice for Zone 2 voters comes down to a change of tack or more of the same.

As Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower’s overwhelming victory against an entrenched insider proved – We, The Little People have grown to detest the politics of personal destruction – skeevy insinuations and destructive hit pieces by those who are embedded (or indebted?) with the tired stalwarts of the status quo who have overseen the civic deterioration of the Halifax area for far too long.   

In my view, Ken Strickland is a dedicated community servant who represents the best choice for collaboratively addressing the myriad civic, social, environmental, and economic issues during this pivotal time in the city’s history. 

I encourage all Zone 2 voters to get out and vote on Tuesday.

As Ken said, “Votes beat money.” 

He’s right.  Now is the time to do your part and participate in our most sacred civic duty – because, as we have seen time-and-again, political apathy has long-term consequences.    

That’s all for me.  Have a Happy Halloween, y’all!

Soiling our neighbor’s nest

“It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.”

–Medieval Proverb

But what do we call a dyspeptic avian that also shits in its neighbors nest?

Unfortunately, that’s a question we need to ask ourselves. . .

Way back in the spring of 1987, the tugboat Break of Dawn, towing a garbage scow hauling 3,186 pounds of refuse, sailed from New York harbor moving south along the east coast to a port in North Carolina where plans called for its cargo to be dumped and turned into methane gas by a private contractor. 

When the barge and its crew were refused entry at Morehead City, the vessel became a putrid pariah – an odoriferous international symbol of the byproduct of malignant overdevelopment and the growing problem of what to do with it – bobbing around the Atlantic and Caribbean like a fetid Flying Dutchman, turned away from ports in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas.

Ultimately, the ill-fated vessel returned to New York where its cargo was burned; however, the resulting publicity began discussions that led to residential recycling programs nationwide. 

Then, in a 2013 scandal, the South Carolina Ethics Commission discovered that several state senators were accepting large campaign contributions from waste management firms in the Northeast.  In turn, garbage from New York and New Jersey – including suspected human waste – was being dumped in the Palmetto State, a lucrative arrangement in which the New York Department of Sanitation paid out-of-state landfills some $112 per ton in 2012 dollars.   

That added up to millions-of-dollars annually.    

Remember a few years back when what became known as the “poop train” hauling New York City sewage sludge became stranded in the small hamlet of Parrish, Alabama? 

A 2018 Associated Press article aptly described the smelly mess:

“In Parrish, Alabama, population 982, the sludge-hauling train cars have sat idle near the little league ball fields for more than two months, Mayor Heather Hall said. The smell is unbearable, especially around dusk after the atmosphere has become heated, she said.  “Oh my goodness, it’s just a nightmare here,” she said. “It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.”

Due to the astronomical amount of hazardous waste being dumped there, a former Alabama attorney general once described the state as “America’s pay toilet.”

If you think the Sunshine State – or Volusia County – is immune to these problems.  Think again.   

According to a state permitting application, Volusia-based American Bioclean, Inc. is currently seeking permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to allow processed human waste – known by the more marketable moniker “Biosolids” in the “residual management” industry – to be hauled from Volusia County and dumped on sensitive land located less than two-miles from Crescent Lake and Silver Lake in South Putnam County.

According to www.nohumansewage.com :

“Class B Biosolids sewage/sludge may contain dangerous heavy metals, carcinogens, radioactive waste, neurotoxins, disease causing bacteria and antibiotic resistant pathogens. It is basically made up of any waste that gets poured down your drain and septic, which can include medical waste, industrial waste and more. This is a highly controversial issue that has landed itself in our backyards. Townships all over the country are desperately trying to stop the spread of this hazardous, concentrated human waste.”

The proposed dump site for Volusia’s bacteria-laden sludge is located near Crescent City in south Putnam County, off Old Highway 17 – property which, according to the Environmental Coalition of Putnam County, contains a “…stream that drains from Silver Lake and runs straight to Crescent Lake at a place called Hurricane Point.”

Ultimately, Crescent Lake – which is on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired waterways – feeds into the St. Johns River.

According to www.dontpooponputnam.org :

“Allowing biosolids to be applied in such close proximity to the lake and watershed, which is already impaired, would be detrimental to the ecosystem, and not honor the TMDL that was put in place to protect it.

If we want to protect the natural resources that make this area the gem that it is, there need to be better protections to safeguard them. No one will want to come to this area or be on the water when algal blooms cause massive fish and bird kills due to elevated phosphorus levels from runoff from Class B Biosolids/Sewage Sludge dumping.”

Sound familiar? 

It should.

In 2018, a massive toxic algal bloom at Blue Cypress Lake in Indian River County – at the headwaters of the threatened St. Johns River – was attributed to runoff from agriculturally applied South Florida Class B biosolids. 

That is the same blue-green algae that is believed responsible for the ulcerated lesions recently found on fish in Lake George and various West Volusia springs along the St. Johns. . .

In my view, the residents of Putnam County are right to oppose the outside dumping of our human waste on their environmentally sensitive land – and many have signed a petition asking local and state officials to prohibit the practice – a move supported by a recent resolution by the City of Crescent City requesting that the Florida Department of Environmental Protect and Putnam County reject the permit request. 

It is high time that elected and appointed officials throughout Volusia County get serious about the deleterious effects of nutrient pollution on the Indian River Lagoon, St. Johns River, and beyond – doing something beyond donning their LL Bean waders for a convenient photo-op – and aggressively employ the legislative process to limit septic leaching and stop the use of sewage sludge near threatened wetlands and estuaries – here and elsewhere.

In my view, that begins with considering reasonable limits on the malignant overdevelopment that has permitted hundreds of cracker box houses in zero-lot-line “theme” communities to be built on top of our aquifer recharge areas and sensitive wetlands – and influencing our state and federal legislative delegation to push for stronger biosolid management regulations. 

Look, I rarely agree with News-Journal editor Pat Rice – about anything – but his Sunday indulgence naming “growth and development” as the greatest driver of local news is completely accurate.

“While many people like what Margaritaville and the growing west side are bringing to Daytona Beach, just as many people don’t like the rapid growth, They question whether it’s really adding value to the area. And yes, the developers building all those new home and stores on Daytona Beach’s west side are prominent.

Growth and development will continue to drive the news in Volusia and Flagler counties, and it will continue to create equal parts happiness (people like new places to eat and shop, and businesses like new customers) and conflict (people are genuinely worried that the area’s growth is negatively impacting them).”  

Equal parts? Really?

Because I rarely speak with anyone who says, “Wow, it was great sitting through three cycles of those traffic lights on LPGA today!”

In the view of many, Volusia County is reaching critical mass – and the negative impact of overdevelopment is being felt everywhere you look – including the near gridlocked traffic on area thoroughfares, increasing demands on essential government services (like our struggling emergency medial system), and the continuing destruction of our remaining greenspace and wildlife habitats.

As the bulldozers continue to roar. . . 

Now, as this disturbing story out of Putnam County points out – we can no longer cram ten-pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag – and it is clear that those who make their living dealing in our waste are having a tough time finding room for more.