On Volusia: A Balancing Act

Eastern philosophy teaches that all things in nature seek harmony – the Yin and Yang – a theory that is at once elemental, yet extremely complex, and encompasses everything in the universe.

Essentially, this concept of duality suggests that all things are interdependent, and even forces that are totally different and seemingly opposite can be complementary in the natural world – light/dark, fire/water, good/evil – progress/stagnation.

Even at the molecular level, life seeks equilibrium.

An atom – the fundamental building block of all matter – seeks the powerful balance of positive and negative charges – and anyone who has kept an aquarium knows the delicate, symbiotic relationships at play where one organisms poison becomes another’s sustenance.

This sense of stability is vitally necessary in politics as well.

In fact, very bad things happen when one faction becomes so powerful that it dominates all others.

For instance, consider how the scales would tip if a small group of extremely wealthy individuals chain-ganged political contributions to hand-select candidates for public office – infusing unnatural sums of money into local elections to provide an extreme, almost insurmountable advantage to a specific candidate.

Imagine the undue – even subliminal – level of influence that would give the Donor Class?

Or the destabilizing effect on citizens who see and experience one thing – yet are led to believe something totally opposite to their physical perceptions – and the havoc that would ensue if unchecked growth were permitted without first considering strategic infrastructure needs and service impacts of tens of thousands of new residents.

I was recently taken to task by a well-meaning friend who is worried that the opinions expressed in Barker’s View may have a detrimental impact on attracting the ‘best-of-the-best’ in our nascent search for a new county manager.

The thought being that any candidate who searches for “Volusia County” on the web will invariably be drawn to one or more of my outrageous ramblings on what condition our condition is in here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

I get it.

However, in my view, it is essential to have an alternative view to this lopsided, Pollyannaish smokescreen by those who seek to remain in power – a weird Fantasyland resplendent with cotton candy clouds and Big Rock Candy Mountains – and front page, above the fold headlines like, “New for Beachside: Optimism” give a disturbingly wrong impression to anyone who skims our newspaper of record.

As a realist, I believe the long-suffering denizens of Volusia County need to have the fictional party line buffered by the unvarnished truth – the good and bad, the positives and negatives – fact-based information and opinion to counter the ‘feel-good’ yarns that sugarcoat the obvious in a thin crust of false sanguinity.

Last week our ‘movers and shakers’ got together (once again) to stroke each other’s sizable egos and reaffirm to one another that things couldn’t possibly be as bad as they seem.

At a meeting organized by the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, the same tired people hashed over the same tired problems – you know, the perennial issues they have been painfully incapable of solving for decades – while they desperately attempt to convince us we should give them one more chance to try.

My ass.

A recent analysis by the News-Journal found that our horribly compromised beachside has lost $677 million in assessed value since 2008 – with scores of vacant and dilapidated properties growing like malignant tumors along the spine of A-1-A as it winds it way through our core tourist district.

So, rather than take definitive action to solve the problems that have hampered entrepreneurial investment, like-types continue to gather in elegant rooms and crow about what a great opportunity exists in an area that’s been left for dead by the smart money moving west – while the always giddy County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler gushes with enthusiasm about the non-starters proposed in the watered-down eyewash that was the Beachside Redevelopment Committee’s recommendations.

It’s mindboggling that they think we’re that dumb.

But they do.

Gentle readers, that sound you hear over the roar of the surf is the death rattle of a once vibrant tourist destination that has been allowed to wither on the vine – and now the “brand” that was once the World’s Most Famous Beach is being irreparably damaged.

With over $100-million in beachside CRA funds over the transom – it was good while it lasted for a few well-heeled insiders – but smart money follows the crowd – and it is clear that our ‘powers-that-be’ have turned their collective attention to the west.

But just maybe things aren’t as good as they seem out on Boomtown Boulevard either?

Now, we are “just being told” that our city, county and state officials don’t have a clue how to fix a patently obvious two-lane traffic bottleneck on LPGA Boulevard that (we are being led to believe) caught our elected officials and growth management “experts” by surprise – and more disturbing – that there is no money available to correct the problem, even if they wanted to.

My God.  This simply cannot be true, can it?

In a recent exposé in the News-Journal regarding the effect of exponential growth west of I-95 – and the almost criminal lack of infrastructure planning during the permitting process – our “leadership” claims they only recently realized the residents of thousands of new homes currently under construction on LPGA Boulevard will be caught in a pinch-point at the wholly inadequate Tomoka River bridge.

As Prince John Albright – CEO of the good old boy investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company, who sold the hundreds of acres of sensitive pine scrub that is now being churned into “theme” communities – recently said (straight-faced) at a public forum on growth:

“It’s crazy.  It caught everyone flat-footed.” 

Bullshit.

Folks, that’s the tip of the iceberg.

It is physically impossible to think that our government and private sector leaders could be that manifestly stupid – that greed-crazed – that they would press forward with these massive development plans knowing well it would gridlock everything from Ormond Beach to New Smyrna – then come back and tout their “strong, steady, experienced leadership” horseshit as they grovel for one more bite at this rotten apple.

Yet, that is what’s happening.

And they will use the western sprawl as an example of what they have ‘accomplished.’

As the election cycle heats up, we’re about to be inundated with fantastic fairy tales of how good we have it under our current crop of incumbents – many of whom are personally and demonstrably responsible for this civic death spiral we find ourselves in.

We will hear the likes of “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – a perpetual retread who has become so ineffectual that watching him spin his tired old wheels on important issues like SunRail and impact fees has become something of a pitiful pastime here in Volusia County.

Yet, he will audaciously tell us bald-faced lies about his “strong, steady leadership” and that “Experience = Results.”

Or the spurious yowling of County Council incumbent Deb Denys – whose campaign slogan, “An experienced leader who puts you first” is so patently wrong – so grossly mendacious – that  it supernaturally suspends reality.

Trust me.  Ms. Denys hasn’t “put you first” since she accepted her first campaign contribution.

The fact is, the likes of “Sleepy” Pat, the always arrogant Deb Denys and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Old Ed Kelley, have done more to ensure that the wants of the wealthy special interests are met – while completely ignoring the current and future needs of their constituents – that it will take decades to recover from this horrific reign of incompetence.

So, the next time you hear one of these giddy assholes spouting off about how great we all have it here – how bright our future is thanks to their ‘visionary leadership and experience’ – even as you drive by one hocked-out shithole of blight and dilapidation after another – when you are told how wonderful it will be to consume our own sewerage passed off as potable water – or you are forced to sit hopelessly stranded in stand-still traffic – consider who benefits most when the harmonic balance of truth and lies is repeatedly disturbed.

Consider what happens when we put our faith and trust in a system that has become so disconnected from our collective needs that it seemingly exists to perpetuate the status quo – and purposely mistakes mediocrity for “success” – so long as the right last names get an adequate return on investment.

If you are as shocked by these recurring revelations of base ineptitude and lack of strategic vision as I am, then please let your voice be heard – loud and clear – at the ballot box.

I fear it is our last, best hope for change.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 20, 2018

Hi, Kids!

Earlier this week I posted a little ditty about my horribly failed attempt to seek employment as a “School Guardian” – a state mandated security program which will place armed civilians in elementary schools throughout the Volusia County School District.

Well, as the Dude said, “New shit has come to light, man.”

Don’t ask me how, but at the end of the day, I just knew it was going to be my fault.

I just didn’t know how it was going to be my fault.

After being among the first to submit a resume to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in May – I received two very informative telephone calls confirming my qualifications for the Guardian position – and was directed to complete the School District’s on-line application.

I then received a personal email from Sheriff Mike Chitwood which confirmed, “I will forward (the resume) to the School Board” – and I proceeded to complete the on-line application.   

On June 16th I received electronic confirmation that my application had been received by the District.

Now, I’m told my name never appeared on “the list.”

According to a district official, “The notice you received was that the application was complete as you submitted it and modified it on June 19th.  I do not know why your name was not on the list except that you didn’t click the button to apply for positions.”

 Welcome to the Twilight Zone. . .   

I’m going to accept this bureaucratic loop-talk for what it is and chalk-up the whole weird experience as “my fault” – because I’m absolutely certain that no publicly-funded government entity would stoop to denying our precious children, teachers and staff the benefit of four decades of advanced training and hard-earned experience out of some malicious attempt to retaliate against my frequent biting criticism of the machinations of Volusia County government.

Or because “the button” wasn’t clicked.

Because that would be morally and ethically wrong – if not demonstrably negligent, right?

Right.

But I still want answers.  The stakes are too high.

This vitally important program is the underfunded brainchild of our state legislature – who, while facing withering pressure in the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, opted for a mandate that hires, trains and deploys a hybrid of armed civilians and sworn law enforcement officers to every school in the State of Florida.

Among the myriad issues hamstringing this imperative is the fact our School Board can’t seem to figure out how to adequately fund the program – leaving them groveling to Volusia County – and now the municipalities – for spare change like those ubiquitous wandering mendicants at any major intersection in the Halifax area.

mandate mendicant

Despite massive reserve funds, the Volusia County Council paid tacit lip service and threw a paltry $500K at the problem – and Deltona, which hosts some nine school campuses, isn’t chipping in a dime.

(Why is it that all the right last names can automatically demand any amount of tax dollars they need to underwrite a private project with a profit motive – yet, when it comes to protecting that which we hold most dear – our elected officials cry poor-mouth?) 

Oh, well – that’s another question, for another day. . .

As I continue to wait for the results of my third public records request for the job description, posting and qualifications of our new, statutorily mandated, School Security Specialist – a vitally essential position that will oversee the training, inspection and supervision of those brave souls who answered the call to protect our schools – more questions arise about the administration of the program – and the selection process used by district officials to staff this important role.

For instance, I continue to receive weird anecdotal information that the gentleman recently appointed by the School Board (without any external solicitation or competitive process) with direct responsibility for the Guardian program is a former Assistant Principal who lacks even the basic qualifications or certifications to serve as a Guardian – which requires military or law enforcement experience – let alone lead this incredibly sensitive security program.

Apparently, he did have one very special qualification – he’s married to the School District’s Senior Personnel Director. . .

You read that right.

In my view, it’s nepotistic bullshit like that could seriously damage the credibility of this crucial security program in the minds of those who are being asked to fund it through this bizarre double taxation scheme that taps municipal governments for cash.

More questions. . .

And why has it now taken 18-days to fulfill my relatively simple public records request – when others received similar information with a single phone call?

Look, I realize this is sour grapes on my part – I got passed over for reasons that remain murky – no big deal.  But the more I dig into the machinations of our elected members of the School Board and those who work for them – the more I get the feeling I didn’t want to serve under those people anyway.

For instance, I recently became aware that 54% of new teachers hired failed to return to the classroom in the 2017-18 school year – and that 59% of our schools are rated C or D, including 72% of our elementary schools.   

Damn.

Folks, we’ve got bigger issues than my brittle feelings at risk here – this is our children’s education we’re talking about – and accepting mediocrity is now a disease infecting every facet of county government.

You can bet your bippy I’ll have much more on these disturbing issues and more at Volusia County Schools in coming weeks.

Stay tuned.

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 see who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

 Angel:             Judge Belle B. Schumann

 If you are searching for a shining example of a true servant-leader – someone who rolls up their sleeves and goes to work every day with a burning desire to improve the lives of their neighbors and make our systems of justice and governance serve everyone equally – then look no further than Volusia County Judge Belle Schumann.

Last week, Judge Schumann’s extraordinary efforts were recognized with the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence. 

This prestigious honor is presented annually to one county judge and one circuit judge in the state who have proven themselves “an innovative leader on the bench and in the administration of justice.”

Judge Schumann is most decidedly an inventive and visionary leader.

Since being appointed to the bench in 2005, she founded the Volusia County DUI court and the SAVE docket, a pioneering initiative which provides alternative sentencing for homeless and indigent defendants – moving these cases away from the revolving door of incarceration in favor of the effective application of community service and treatment.

In addition, Judge Schumann chaired the Seventh Judicial Circuit’s Professionalism Committee and established a seminar for professionalism for area lawyers and doctors – and she has been a major force behind the establishment of a new homeless shelter in Daytona Beach.

She’s a damn fine judge as well – serving the citizens of Volusia County from the bench with fairness, firmness and compassion.

In my view, Judge Schumann exemplifies the strength of character, visionary leadership and dedication to fundamentally improving our community that one expects of a jurist committed to service in the public interest.

Congratulations, Judge Schumann!

We’re glad you passed our way.

 Asshole:          Deltona City Manager Jane Shang

In late 2016, the utter dysfunction that is the City of Deltona popped up on the Barker’s View radar – let’s face it, it was pretty hard to ignore – and things have only gotten worse.

In a post entitled, “Deltona: Welcome to 1984,” I described a grim situation wherein then Commissioner Brian Soukup made the unfortunate mistake of publicly questioning the motivations of City Manager Jane Shang – in my view, a flaky foul ball who seems to draw sustenance from drama and chaos – when she approved a highly unusual mid-service payout of some $93,000 in unused leave as part of a firefighter’s internal promotion.

To his credit, Commissioner Soukup took issue with the questionable expenditure and publicly stated he believed Shang lied to him by omission when he made inquiry into the highly unusual and incredibly expensive benefit on behalf of his skeptical constituents.

Mr. Soukup’s remarks were met with suspiciously sharp rebukes from Mayor John Masiarczyk and Commissioner Chris Nabicht (a former Deltona deputy fire chief who was forced to retire after a departmental “reorganization” in the wake of sexual harassment complaints – and allegations he would stop by a female subordinate’s office to “pass gas” – which Nabicht denied) both of whom thought Soukup’s comments somehow insulted the delicate sensibilities of the Deltona fire union.

During the ensuing brouhaha, Nabicht barked, “You’re out of line, Soukup.”

Oddly enough, two-years on, Nabicht is still defending the always controversial Shang and the frightful shitstorm that seems to follow her like a dark thundercloud of discord and confusion.

Ultimately, Commissioner Soukup did the only thing an honest public servant can and resigned his elected post:

“I can no longer be part of an elected body that, in principal and in practice, continues to create and operate in a culture of injustice and unethical and possibly illegal practices. It is a culture that absolutely refuses to respect, to include and to serve in the best interest of its residents. And worse, it is a culture that willingly condones and covers up unethical practices. It is clear that Deltona is being run by special interests and highly paid consultants, concerned only with lining their own pockets. I won’t be complicit in that!”

 That should have been a warning to the Deltona City Commission – but it wasn’t.

Now, things in Volusia County’s largest municipality have gone from bad to worse.

In May, the intrepid Deltona activist Patricia Gibson went to Deltona’s new conference facility, “The Center,” and paid to attend a Mother’s Day brunch.  During her visit, Ms. Gibson had reason to question whether the catering company hired with public funds to serve food at the event was in possession of the proper state licensing.

Despite the presence of high-ranking city officials, Ms. Gibson was apparently the only one present who seemed to care about the licensing issue – and she documented her interaction with city officials and employees with her cellphone video camera.

On May 18th, a state inspection resulted in four violations which have since been corrected.

For her trouble in looking out for the health and safety of Deltona residents, on May 24th a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy arrived at Gibson’s home and formally trespassed her from The Center, a public amenity paid for with tax dollars.

Why?

Because Deltona’s ‘powers that be’ don’t like Ms. Gibson very much.

You see, she frequently calls bullshit on a system that has operated more like an extortion racket than a municipal government – denying citizens and elected officials access to information, imposing onerous fees, using the code enforcement process like a cudgel, block voting on important issues, marginalizing those who are critical of the majority and repeatedly demonstrating open hostility toward constituents who speak critically of Deltona government – and it’s wholly dysfunctional water utility.

Now, it appears Ms. Shang has stooped to a new low – using the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office as her private Tonton Macoute to silence her most ardent critic.

After Ms. Gibson left the venue, Shang reported to the responding sheriff’s deputy that  Gibson was, “actually going up to people at their tables and putting her camera in their face while they were eating and asking them questions about The Center.”

I find that misuse of governmental power disturbing, and you should too.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, six city officials, employees and volunteers associated with the brunch wrote statements asserting that customers complained about Gibson filming them at the event.

“Deltona Commissioner Chris Nabicht wrote on May 21 he had asked Shang at the brunch to contact law enforcement and that he had heard other patrons complaining about Gibson and saying they didn’t want to be captured on video. 

“I requested that she have a deputy respond as I felt that Ms. Gibson was creating a disturbance and an uninviting atmosphere, by videoing staff and patrons in an unofficial capacity,” he wrote. “Her behavior was ruining my dining experience that myself and my friends and family had paid for.”

(Really?  Because it was the thought of Commissioner Nabicht crudely farting in a public office space that ‘ruined my dining experience’ this morning. . .)

Interestingly, “City officials say they don’t have any statements from customers regarding the presence of Gibson, who also paid to attend the brunch.”

Wow.

The brewing problem for Shang and Nabicht is – when the News-Journal reviewed Gibson’s raw footage, there was absolutely no evidence that she disturbed anyone other than already perturbed city officials – which materially corroborates Gibson’s assertion that she didn’t harass anyone.

Ultimately, the trespass warning issued by the City of Deltona against Ms. Gibson was rescinded.

It should never have been issued in the first place.

And this isn’t the first time Shang and Company have used this despicable tactic.

Earlier this year, Deltona citizen advocate Brandy White was charged with a felony ostensibly for recording a city employee in a public area of City Hall after being denied a public records request.

That charge is under review by prosecutors.

Perhaps most frightening, after Monday’s meeting adjourned, Commissioner Anita Bradford took the opportunity to personally apologize to Ms. Gibson – then admitted she didn’t speak up for a constituent who was wrongfully accused of a crime and sent through the ringer by the full might of government “because of my own fear of retaliation.”

Given the circumstances, that’s a legitimate fear.

Commissioner Bradford followed up with, “The right thing to do would’ve been to ask the governor to do an investigation.”

It’s still the right thing to do.

It’s also time Sheriff Mike Chitwood stop taking Ms. Shang’s phone calls, because this crank is about to get herself – and the community she micromanages with an iron hand – in very big trouble.

To his continuing personal and professional shame, “Nabicht said he thinks Shang is doing a good job for the city,” and “sometimes folks are going to be unhappy about things.”

You’re out of line, Commissioner – the time to make nice-nice has come and gone – and even a casual observer can see how Shang operates.

As I’ve said before,  concerned taxpayers have an obligation to question the motivations of an elected body – and an out-of-control city administration – that would stifle the free and open discussion of civic issues, engage in the misrepresentation, manipulation and controlled distribution of critical information, and demonstrate such a complete disregard for citizen concerns and input.

In my view, this gross misapplication of law enforcement deserves to be fully investigated.

Frankly, this is the behavior of a barbarous dictatorship – not a representative democracy – and it should have the full and undivided attention of any agency charged with enforcing public ethics and upholding the citizens trust in our system of justice.

In my view, Chris Nabicht – and any other city official who participated or stood idle while this gross injustice was perpetrated by City Manager Shang – should do the honorable thing and publicly admit that they bore false witness against a vocal community activist, then maliciously turned the law into a dull weapon to pound Ms. Gibson into submission, simply because they are tired of her criticism.

Then they should have the common human decency to resign and take Jane Shang with them.

It is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately terminate Shang’s reign of intimidation and order an independent investigation into the improprieties and unethical practices detailed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting – and the experience of private citizens who have felt the wrath personally.

Anyone who cares about good governance in their own hometown should care about good governance everywhere, and this necrotic situation in the City of Deltona – a wholly dysfunctional and terribly expensive Carnival of the Absurd that has destroyed the public’s faith in their government – simply cannot continue.

Angel:             Hyatt and CiCi Brown

Look, no one has been more openly critical of J. Hyatt Brown’s manipulation of Volusia County government through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local offices as a means of ensuring his personal and professional interests.

But it is equally important to give credit when credit is due.

It was recently announced that Mr. and Mrs. Brown have pledged some $15 million of their own money to return Riverfront Park in Downtrodden Downtown Daytona to its former glory.

That’s a good thing.

Anyone who grew up in the Halifax area has fond memories of shopping downtown during it’s heyday – when a just reward for good behavior was a trip to Dunn Brothers toy department – and the park was a beautiful place to run and play, before whatever happened, happened.

While it remains hard for me to overlook the $15.5 million public investment in the private headquarters of J. Hyatt’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary, Brown & Brown – if in fact the Brown’s are personally investing in the rebirth of this important and highly visible amenity – then I support their efforts wholeheartedly.

Look, I realize that all the same last names will be involved in the private “foundation” that will ultimately govern and oversee perpetual maintenance of the public space – this is still Daytona Beach – and that level of ‘old money’ control comes with the territory.

Because of that, I think it is important that we, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, take a healthy ‘wait-and-see’ approach to promises made (after all, our “trust issues” are hard-earned); however, in my view, this is the kind of civically healthy partnership and entrepreneurial investment that can ultimately turn the tide of blight and dilapidation that has brought many areas of our once beautiful community to its knees – and continues to threaten our quality of life and future economic viability.

Because it damn sure isn’t going to get fixed otherwise. . .

Maybe it’s just my suspicious nature, but somehow, I know this is going to come back and bite me in the ass.

In my broken heart I know there is some underlying self-serving component to this unusual philanthropy that I’m too stupid to figure out just yet – because there are too many of the usual suspects in the mix, from Consolidated Tomoka to sitting City Commissioners, for my comfort.

But sometimes, when your back is against the wall, hope is all you’ve got – and on its face, this sounds like a big step forward for an area that’s been hanging on by its fingernails.

Hearty kudos to J. Hyatt and CiCi Brown for seeing a real need in their own backyard and opening their substantial pocketbook to restore this tarnished gem as a centerpiece for the renaissance of our downtown.

Asshole:         City of Daytona Beach Shores  

 What is it with local government these days?

Some small town elected officials increasingly favor the idea that if the majority disagrees with the thoughts and opinions of an individual member – they simply cobble together a Kangaroo Kourt, take a vote, and overturn the will of the electorate.

When these cheap coup d’états become the norm, why have popular elections in the first place?

I mean, why not just get a few ‘Rich & Powerful’ people together in the same room and let them decide who will represent us on the dais of power?

Oh, Wait. . . I forgotSorry.

Look, I’ve repeatedly sided with the beachside hamlet of Daytona Beach Shores in their ongoing David and Goliath struggle with Volusia County over that bureaucratic behemoth’s clandestine purchase of prime oceanfront property shackled to dubious plans to turn some of the most valuable real estate in Florida into an ugly off-beach parking lot.

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

I have also been hypercritical of Shores Commissioner Richard Bryan’s near constant attempts at mollycoddling and appeasement.

Last year, I wrote that Volusia County has developed a frightening reputation as the biggest bully in the sandbox – pushing the cities around, arbitrarily removing or reducing services (remember your neighborhood library?), forcing its will on residents of incorporated areas and actively suing its own constituents (with their own money) to effectively remove the public’s standing and input in beach driving and access issues.

When the Shores decided it was going to boldly fight this boorish aggression, the lone dissenting voice was Commissioner Bryan – who, inexplicably, still believed his community could “work something out” with their belligerent antagonist and find a “win-win.”

I happen to disagree – and so did Mr. Bryan’s colleagues on the Shores City Commission.

Then, last month Commissioner Bryan attended a Volusia County Council meeting and opted to rise and express his personal opinion regarding the on-going governmental pushing-and-shoving – essentially moralizing that, “In my opinion, the County Council has shown good faith in trying to get this resolved without wasting much more time and taxpayer money, and I hope that we are reasonably close to a final written agreement.” 

Don’t take my word for it – read the transcript.  Mr. Bryan repeatedly prefaced his mealy-mouthed statements with, “In my opinion.” 

In response, City Attorney Lonnie Groot whipped the rest of the elected body into a froth when he wrote a provocative letter “expressing concern that Bryan’s comments, which came without approval from the rest of the City Council, created the impression he was speaking on behalf of the city.

Bullshit.

Then, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The City Council voted 4-1 this week to have a judge determine if Bryan crossed a line with either his appearance at the county meeting or the email. The inquiry will cost taxpayers $165 an hour.

Really?

In my view, this thuggish move to punish a sitting elected official and ensure lockstep conformity is eerily similar to the Debacle in Debary, where four thin-skinned and mean-spirited elected schoolyard bullies – in perhaps the most blatant act of political vengeance ever perpetrated in the history of local governance – spit in the face of 240-years of democratic principles and overturned the vote of the electorate in a cheapjack move to silence their duly elected, and most vocal critic, Mayor Clint Johnson.

They were embarrassed.  They didn’t like him.  So, they took the people’s choice out with extreme prejudice.

Sound familiar?

Look, like me, the Daytona Beach Shores City Commission doesn’t have to agree with Mr. Bryan’s goofy personal opinion – and his namby-pamby Neville Chamberlain act may well be counterproductive and wrong – but they have a duty and responsibility to defend his God-given right to express his views – to openly, vigorously and confidently exercise his First Amendment right to speak out and be heard on important matters of civic concern.

If Mr. Bryan wants to be a spineless asshole in the face of a Battle Royale with Volusia County – that’s between him and his constituents at election time.

From Volusia County to Debary and Deltona – now Daytona Beach Shores – the growing practice of using the full might of government – and the public treasury – to silence criticism, crush dissent and suppress the open debate of ideas under the iron boot of threats and intimidation is patently wrong.

When did it become acceptable to sacrifice our long-held democratic principles on the altar of political groupthink and conformism?

What are we becoming? 

Quote of the Week:

“The perception of our city is that our leaders hide in the shade, despise the sun and overall have a low respect for the citizens, the very people that they swore to represent.  The funny thing about perception is that it becomes reality.”

 –Deltona resident Jennifer Chasteen, The Daytona Beach News-Journal “Some seek Deltona manager’s ouster,” July 18, 2018.

Amen.

And Another Thing!

 Here’s a note from the Sons of the Beach website (www.sonsofthebeach.org) on tomorrow’s Second Protest of the Theft of Our Beach behind the Hard Rock Hotel from 9:00am to 3:00pm.

If you missed the last one – now’s your opportunity to join some great, civically active friends and neighbors in a cause important to the life of our community:

“A call to arms of all SOBs and for all those folks that missed the first one here is your chance to SUPPORT BEACH DRIVING. Bring your Pop-ups, grills, umbrellas, chairs, coolers, frisbees, homemade signs, surfboards, kites, and costumes.  Let’s have some more fun and show the Hard Rock and the County Council that this beach belongs to the people and is not a private beach for the larcenous Hard Rock Hotel.  The last one was a gas… Jim Dinneen is gone but forces of evil who are trying to steal our beach and continue their failed ideas across our county remain… Let’s show them that the practice of Volusia County Council representing developers over the resident’s needs to come to an end, NOW!

Hope to see you there!

Also, this evening those intrepid souls of the grassroots citizen action coalition, Deltona Strong, will host a very important forum with State Representative David Santiago regarding the myriad issues surrounding Deltona’s water utility.

This fact-filled event will be held at The Center from 6:00pm to 8:00pm this evening.

If you live in Deltona – or feel strongly about good governance everywhere – I encourage you to attend.  For more information, please visit www.deltonastrong.org !

Have a great summer weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Sour Grapes.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

–Saint Bernard of Clairvaux c. 1150

I’m the first to admit – I have my limitations.

For instance, I have absolutely no mechanical skill, and am forever at the mercy of tradesmen –  guys with trucks and toolbelts and the manual dexterity to build things, do plumbing repairs, patch a leaky roof and change lightbulbs.

They name the price – I pay it.  What the hell else am I going to do?    

Like my father before me, I don’t know which end of a hammer you blow in.

Suffice it to say, the Barker genome lacks the “handy” chromosome – and I come from a long lineage of men who never owned a power tool beyond a cocktail blender – and wouldn’t know what to do with one if we did.

While looking for a screwdriver to tighten that thing in the back of the toilet that makes the water sputter and spurt all night (you know that thing?)  I recently discovered a small red toolbox in my garage.  It contained a Tupperware lid and a set of ice tongs – so I used a dull corkscrew I had on hand to adjust the screw.

I have always admired friends who possess the ability to troubleshoot engine problems, do a “brake job” or adjust the spark plugs in their car.

While I have a passing idea of how to change a tire, the last time I tried, I discovered that a spare tire was an option I didn’t opt for when I bought the car.  Regardless, I couldn’t have figured out how to put the jack together if I had one (have you seen one lately?  It’s like a three-dimensional folding jigsaw puzzle. . .)

So, I called the dealership and they quickly came to my rescue.

Sports?  Forget about it.

Oh, I tried out, but simply never had the strength and coordination required to play organized athletics – where the outcome of the game always hinged on the weakest link – which was usually me. . .

In her infinite kindness, my mom would invariably offer reassurance when I couldn’t hit a baseball very far, “You’re good at other things.”

She was right.

I have two highly developed skill sets – honed by decades of advanced training, practical experience and hard lessons learned – and one is the ability to protect and serve others as a law enforcement professional.

The other is a preternatural ability to smell political bullshit like a bloodhound with sonar.

Following the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, politicians at all levels of government came under incredible pressure to do something – anything – to secure our schools and protect the precious lives of children, teachers and staff who, for reasons known only to madmen, have increasingly become the targets of psychopathic misfits bent on the destruction of all we hold dear.

In turn, with little thought and absolutely no idea how to pay for it, our state legislators did what they do best – they had a kneejerk reaction to a serious problem, handed down yet another unfunded mandate to local government, then went home.

In this case, our lawmakers ordered financially strapped local school districts to hire, train and place a sworn law enforcement officer or armed civilian “School Guardian” in every school in the state – and they must do it by the start of the 2018-19 school year which begins next month.

On May 18th, Sheriff Mike Chitwood sent a “call to service” to recently retired law enforcement officers seeking volunteers for the guardian program – or to serve as sworn School Resource Deputies.

“Many of you have committed a lifetime of service to your community.  We realize asking you to return to public service now may not be what you had in mind when you retired.  But we also believe there are those of you who will feel drawn to answer the call.”

That afternoon, I was among the very first to submit my resume for consideration.

I would have thought less of myself if I had not stood up and said, “send me.”

Here’s why:

I had the opportunity to develop a unique set of skills during 31-years in the police service – skills that were paid for by the gracious community I served.

Rather than let that training go to waste, I have maintained active law enforcement certification through the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission – and have successfully completed in-service training and regular firearms qualifications since my retirement in 2014.

I may not know how to hammer a nail – but I have qualified at the expert level with small arms since my earliest days in U.S. Army basic training – and later while developing CQB skills during Military Police School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama – and at nearly 58 years old, I shoot in the top percentile of my agency.

I can still field strip and reassemble an M16A2 rifle and Remington 870.  Blindfolded.

In 1996, I was invited to attend the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia, where I graduated alongside the top one-half of one-percent of law enforcement professionals in the world.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I received advanced training and was cleared to receive sensitive criminal intelligence and threat assessments – information that I used to conduct vulnerability studies and make physical security recommendations for critical public infrastructure.

I have authored accredited policies for high liability issues, such as use of force, defensive tactics and active shooter response – then enforced those policies in practice – and I chaired the Volusia/Flagler Police Chief’s Associations Standardized Emergency Management Protocol Committee for multi-jurisdictional incident command.

I have responded to every Florida Disaster to impact east Central Florida since 1983 – and was selected to lead a team of law enforcement officers to Dade County in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, where I helped supervised nighttime law enforcement operations in the challenged Liberty City area of northwest Miami.

In addition, I was cross designated a United States Customs Officer with the Blue Lightning Strike Force – and have personally conducted or commanded hundreds of covert narcotics and vice suppression operations.

I was a member of the State Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit under State Attorney Steven Alexander, and assigned to John Tanner’s Homicide Investigations Unit – and I am a graduate of the FEMA National Emergency Management Training Center’s professional development series – and later certified as a Professional Emergency Manager by the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association.

As Chief of Police, I developed my agency’s highly successful Honor Code, Pride in Public Service and Operation Lifeline programs focusing on values-oriented public service.

I have also received advanced training from former U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman – perhaps the foremost authority on the psychology and tactics of active shooter response in the world.

Most important to the matter at hand – I can tell you what it feels like to be shot at – what it smells and sounds like when someone fires a weapon and tries to kill you and others – and I can describe in detail what it takes to keep your composure when literally everyone around you is losing their mind.

Suffice it to say – I’m a lot of things, and I’m not a lot of things – but I’ve been around the block.

I thought – naively perhaps – that my hard-earned credentials and experience would be a good addition to the credibility of the Guardian program.

After two very pleasant telephone calls with a representative from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to confirm my qualifications, I was directed to complete an on-line application with the Volusia County School District, and, in early June, I received electronic confirmation that my application for the School Guardian Program had been accepted.

Then, I set about shining my shoes, getting a haircut and collecting my best suit from the dry cleaner as I anxiously awaited an interview that never materialized.

Days turned into weeks.

I followed reports in The Daytona Beach News-Journal which said nearly 200 people had applied for the program – and that those being considered were actively being vetted through a rigorous background process to determine suitability prior to beginning a 132-hour training program.

It slowly became apparent that I didn’t make the cut.

I didn’t measure up.

At least I hope I didn’t.

Because I would hate to think I was passed over for a job where my qualifications could help protect precious children because someone doesn’t like the fact I exercise my First Amendment right to criticize and question the machinations of my government. . .

Now, my other unique talent has kicked in – the one that allows me to sniff out the foul stench of political bullshit from a mile away – and ask the difficult questions bureaucrats would rather not answer, you know, like the petty asshole I am.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I didn’t know in my heart-of-hearts that Barker’s View – perhaps the most caustically accurate chronicle of the base ineptitude and abject corruption in Volusia County government to ever hit the web – was not going to be a consideration.

You see, most government entities support the First Amendment – right up until the very moment you exercise it.

Then, apparently, you become unemployable.

If nothing else, they missed a bold opportunity to silence their most vociferous critic.

I intimated to trusted friends that if hired by Volusia County, I was fully prepared to shut down this opinion blog as it would not be ethical to accept public funds to perform a job in the public interest – then openly criticize the government that employed me.

I’m old-fashioned that way.

Now – I’ve got all day to dig for the truth. . .

In my view, the one thing the “School Guardian” program desperately requires for success is the public’s trust – and both internal and external buy-in from those it exists to serve.

In short – it needs that credibility I mentioned.

Putting armed civilians in elementary schools is like walking on the planet Mars – it’s never been done before – and repeatedly hearing senior county officials say, “It’ll do until something better comes along” is, in my view, self-defeating and infinitely disparaging to those brave souls who answered the call.

The public’s faith and trust in the program will begin and end with it’s leadership and supervision.

To that end, on July 2nd I made a formal public records request asking for the job description and posting for the important role of School Security Specialist – a position each district is required by statute to designate.

I also asked for this individual’s resume listing his/her qualifications for this vitally important role.

After all, given the nature of the work, the morale and respect of the brave men and women who serve as guardians will depend to a great extent upon their personal confidence in those who have been appointed to lead them into harms way.

Oh, and I have asked for the salary range – you know, a cursory accounting of what you and I are paying for this “school security expert” who will ultimately be charged with the gravely important task of physically protecting our children and teachers.

As of today, I’m on my third public records request – and while I have become something of a weird Pen Pal with the school district’s Chief Operating Officer, Greg Akin – I still don’t have a clue about the qualifications and experience of those tasked with leading, supervising, inspecting and directing our School Guardians – and something tells me the district doesn’t either. . .

I’ve been told the reason for the delay is everything from the Forth of July Holiday – to multiple vacations by staff members – but in truth, I’m beginning to feel, well, put off. . .

From secret deals with Florida Hospital to controversial school mergers and non-productive negotiations with the teacher’s union and the lack of solid information on proposed school half-days, what is it with any arm of Volusia County government and transparency?

It’s like an information black hole in DeLand – but why?

Like an old friend of mine said when he heard I was passed over for a Guardian position, “I hope it’s due to incompetence and not malice.”

Me too.

Interestingly, the job posting for the School Guardian Program was re-opened by Volusia County Schools at 3:00pm yesterday. . .

Stay tuned, kids.  When I find out – you’ll find out.

To be continued. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary McNally, Requiescat in Pace

Angel:             Mary Caroline (Bulman) McNally  October 21, 1935 – June 29, 2018

My hope is that loyal readers will forgive me for this diversion from the local political front, but my heart is occupied elsewhere today.

As you read this, Patti and I are traveling to Washington, D.C. where we will gather with dear friends to celebrate the life and legacy of Mary Caroline McNally.

By any metric, Mary lived a full and incredibly interesting life – definitely not your average octogenarian.

Mary was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the seaside town of Margate, New Jersey, where she graduated magna cum laude from Holy Spirit High School in 1953.

She was one of the first recruits in the Central Intelligence Agency’s early efforts to broaden their talent base outside the Ivy League realm – and early in her career was assigned overseas to Frankfort, Germany, where she met and married a career Army officer – Brigadier General Uri S. French, in 1959.

Their marriage produced three of the most beautiful, loving and accomplished people I know – incredible individuals and the living legacies of this extraordinary woman –  Michael, Mary Catherine and Carlie.

With three precocious children in tow – this military family moved over twenty times in 20-years throughout the United States and Germany – as Mary continued her service to our great nation – all while perfecting her role as an Army officer’s wife.

As anyone who knew Mary can attest, she was at her best supporting, entertaining and guiding military spouses, organizing charitable events or hosting mid-morning coffees and elegant dinner parties – always with grace, style and poise.

After Mary and General French parted, in 1981, Mary met and fell in love with her devoted husband, Thomas McNally – and thus began an incredible 36-year love story.

Shortly after Mary and Tom were married, they moved to Bangkok, Thailand in what would be her final assignment at CIA.  She enjoyed her work immensely – and loved the shopping, cultures and culinary delights of Thailand – a place she often referred to as her “Happy Place.”

In 1990, after 30 years with the Agency, Mary retired with Tom to Daytona Beach Shores, Florida.

Here, they were blessed by the local presence of Mary’s sister, Patsy Cavanaugh, and brother John Bulman (both of whom I count among the finest human beings I have ever known) along with their large and loving families.

Mary and Tom enjoyed traveling to many continents, including multiple around-the-world cruises, and trips to visit children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, as well as extended family and friends across the globe.

She loved Broadway shows and musicals, fine dining and dancing at the Halifax River Yacht Club.

In quieter moments, it was the panoramic view of the Intercoastal and Atlantic Ocean from her beachfront home that brought Mary the most peace.

Her angelic voice, infectious smile and cackling laugh will be deeply missed.

Of all the wonderful talents bestowed upon the Bulman family – genetically passed through the generations undiluted – is the gift of friendship.  My wife and I have been blessed to count this wonderful tribe among our dearest friends for many, many years.

With her passing, I am sharply reminded that, as beautiful souls like Mary McNally pass from this world to the everlasting life their strong faith assured, they can never be replaced in the orbit of our lives.

I once read that what readies us for our own mortality is our steady exposure to loss as one ages.

First comes the passing of elders: grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles; and later the loss of contemporaries, friends, classmates, spouses – even our enemies and antagonists begin to leave us – always reminding us that death is an inevitable part of life.

But so long as happy memories remain – family gatherings, parties, quiet conversations, advise received, gifts bestowed and received, graduations and milestones, the birth of children, the funerals and mourning, good times and bad – I will always be reminded of my good fortune to have very special people in my life.

Following Mary’s passing, I was contemplating the depth and breadth of a life so well lived, and was reminded of a short poem by the author Linda Ellis entitled, “The Dash”:

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning – to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars – the house – the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more – and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile – remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

Beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, CIA officer, world traveler, adventurer – friend.

Quite a dash indeed.

Requiescat in pace.

May God bless and keep Mary McNally – and all of you.

 

 

On Volusia: The Demonization of Mike Chitwood

“I hold it to a sign of great prudence in men to refrain alike from threats and from the use of insulting language, for neither of these things deprives the enemy of his power, but the first puts him more on his guard, while the other intensifies his hatred of you and makes him more industrious in devising means to harm you.”

— Niccolo Machiavelli

In the game of Chess, the “Fool’s Mate” is a rarely accomplished move which allows Black to achieve checkmate in the fewest number of moves possible.

The maneuver can only be pulled off if White commits an extraordinary mistake.

Not unlike the modern blood sport of politics, Chess is a game of strategy and tactics – a contest that requires the mental agility to play both sides of the board simultaneously, while maintaining the dexterity and sense of timing to take advantage of the errors of your opponent.

Often the difference between success and failure is whether or not a politician has the situational awareness and innate ability to select their platform and political battles carefully – to instinctively know which issues to associate oneself with and which conflicts would be better fought by a surrogate, etc.

Especially when locked in a pitched battle with an incredibly popular foe.

In modern politics, it seems candidates instinctively employ the oldest technique in the world early and often in their campaign – the demonization of the enemy – a tactic with the dual effect of focusing supporters against their opposition by painting them as the personification of all that’s wrong – while portraying the candidate as a savior fighting against something mean and evil.

However, the tactic can backlash quicker than a cheap fishing reel – and result in serious consequences – as it immediately limits options and, depending upon the proportionality, can have the opposite effect by making the candidate appear petty, unfair and vindictive.

Personification and demonization works best when you can associate malevolence with one person, idea or even object (consider the gun control “debate”) then dehumanizing that person or “thing” and painting them as the embodiment of all your campaign stands against.

Last week, during a radio interview with WNDB’s Marc Bernier, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood covered a lot of ground – from his thoughts on ‘pay to play’ politics and the debilitating impact of wealthy political insiders to his clearly deteriorating relationship with former sheriff and current at-large candidate, Ben Johnson.

But it was Sheriff Chitwood’s weird retort to a backhanded slight by the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys that has led to this tempest in a teapot – with Ms. Denys supporters actively demonizing him as a foul-mouthed misogynist and charter member of the “He-Man Women Haters Club.”

During an earlier appearance with Mr. Bernier, Councilwoman Denys opined that the reason the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is having difficulty attracting quality candidates for sworn positions is because no one wants to work for Sheriff Chitwood.

Not one to absorb political slights – Sheriff Chitwood responded with a very cogent assessment of the industry-wide issue of law enforcement hiring – then went all Rick James “Super Freak” on us with the goofy observation, “All Deb Denys knows about law enforcement is the fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard.”  

 Inappropriate?  Yes.

Salacious and provocative?  Certainly.

A savage barbarism against women everywhere?  Hardly.

Yet, almost immediately, Ms. Denys’ political proxies deftly initiated the “Fool’s Mate” maneuver – complete with the shock, awe and moral outrage one normally reserves for actual atrocities – you know, like public corruption, abdication of sworn responsibilities to the people who elected you, a turncoat voting record and the wholesale giveaway of our hard-earned tax dollars and public amenities to engrained political insiders. . .

(I mean, why didn’t anyone call Governor Rick Scott and demand action when County Chair Ed Kelley, Sleepy Pat Patterson – and Deb Denys – were actively destroying the personal and professional reputations of Councilwoman Heather Post and Dr. Sara Zydowizc; two brave ladies with the courage and sense of duty to protect their constituents from years of neglect and bureaucratic ineptitude in a critical government function?)

Look, it’s not my place to defend Mike Chitwood – he’s a big boy with an enormous following of supporters who find his no-hold-barred assessment of the dismal state of county government to be refreshingly free of the political correctness and the nonsensical spin that has camouflaged some grave internal wrenches in the machinery of government for a long, long time.

Like any controversial figure, he also has his fair share of vehement detractors and critics.

But at the same time, I see a clear protectionist strategy at play in this latest contrived brouhaha, and given the high-stakes endgame this election represents – coupled with Sheriff Chitwood’s call for a federal investigation – I think it is important to examine the motivations of those who have the most to lose.

Love him or hate him, Sheriff Chitwood has become the outspoken voice of an increasingly disenfranchised majority as he works to expose the rank corruption and mismanagement in DeLand – a weird “system” fostered by an information black-market, facilitated by a former county manager with enormous, almost godlike power, and fiercely protected by an unwritten process that grants reciprocal political favors and access to those who can pay to play.

For the past decade – if not longer – Volusia County government has slowly transmogrified into an elite oligarchy – where an incredibly wealthy and well-organized donor class gorges greedily at the public tit in the form of “economic incentives,” tax abatement, infrastructure, cash giveaways, the half-price sale of public assets to private interests, ridiculously low impact fees and the manipulative control of public policy simply by their physical appearance in council chambers.

This camarilla of insiders – who I euphemistically refer to as our High Panjandrums of Political Power – represent the Old Guard, an entrenched power structure populated by influential  millionaires – even billionaires – in the insurance, real estate development and motorsports industries – who long ago learned that politics is the art of controlling your environment – and the means to that end is infusing massive amounts of money into the campaign accounts of hand-select candidates.

While completely legal under our antiquated campaign finance rules, the undeniable result is a weird form of quid pro quo corruption – the Latin phrase for “something for something” – a favor or advantage granted in return for something of value – that has changed the course of our collective history here on the Fun Coast.

I’m not going to subject you to the laundry list of giveaways, incentives and corporate welfare projects that have used our hard-earned tax dollars to mitigate private risk for all the right last names for years – you’ve heard it all before.

But suffice it to say that We, The People have stood slack-jawed while the Volusia County Council have confederated with other local officials to transfer tens-of-millions in public funds to these select private interests.

Tens-of-millions.

At the same time, we have watched as large areas of the Halifax area have been allowed to decompose – subjected to unchecked blight, dilapidation and a growing sense of hopelessness that has left many of us who pay attention with the unmistakable impression that no one in the Halls of Power cares enough to intervene – because, at its core, that’s not the purpose of the ‘system’ they exist to serve.

Even a casual observer can see the direct lineage of campaign contributions and incentives – and the incredible influence of a few well-connected insiders have on public policy.  Now, Sheriff Chitwood is actively calling for a federal investigation of insider politics in Volusia County.

When you connect the donor with the politician and the incentives granted – you see a direct correlation to those who are currently working overtime to demonize Sheriff Chitwood and marginalize anyone else who threatens the status quo.

Ask yourself the darker question – who benefits with Sheriff Chitwood marginalized, brought to heel or out of the way?

Who is best served when the watchdog is politically neutered?

The stakes are high – and many have a lot to lose once the dominoes begin to fall.

In my view, we are witnessing the first salvos in a battle that will ultimately decide the fate of Volusia County.

We have at hand the very real ability to wrest free from the death grip of corruption and cronyism that threatens more of the same – or we can accept the status quo and continue our slow spiral into mediocrity and stagnation.

Ultimately, it depends upon our collective ability to ignore this self-serving faux-outrage and strategic demonization – the result of a ridiculous imbroglio between a member of the entrenched power elite and a foul-mouthed whistleblower with a mandate for change – and focus our attention on making the right decisions at the ballot box this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 6, 2018

Hi, Kids!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Independence Day!

We sure did.

Nothing brings me more joy than the sight of my sweet grand baby splashing around in her kiddie pool on a fun summer afternoon.  After 57 trips around the sun, I’ve finally figured out that’s what its all about.

Well, it’s time once again to end our busy week with a recap of the good, the bad and the ugly that impacted all of us – the long-suffering denizens of Florida’s Fabled Fun Coast!

From the increasingly suspicious antics of those street beggars over at the Volusia County School Board, to Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s over-the-top revelation that the only thing County Councilwoman Deb Deny’s knows about law enforcement is the “fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard” – it’s been a fairly interesting week that was.

Just for giggles, I thought we would kick things off with another round of our favorite pastime here at Barker’s View HQ – a little game I like to call, “What the Hell?”

I cordially invite our friends at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the St. Miklos Water Management District to play along!

Come on – it’ll be Wide. Open. Fun!

The rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is:

Mosaiac Flooding

A. A camera-ready ad for ICI Homes’ new marketing slogan – “Your trip to the lake just got shorter!”?

B. Daytona’s innovative new subdivision “Tsunami Surge” – a swamp-life themed housing complex that gives new meaning to the term “immersive lifestyle”?

C. What happens when you build a sprawling “full life” community on what was once our aquifer recharge area – a place where wetlands, pine scrub and sandy uplands formed a special habitat for wildlife and allowed groundwater to refresh our fragile source of drinking water, as God intended.

If you picked C – give yourself a Gold Star!

Last week, a loyal reader and smart observer of the serious issues we face in this era of cancerous growth sent me some shocking photographs of the Mosaic community – a 1,200+ unit monstrosity currently being built by Mori Hossieni – our High Panjandrum of Political Power and King of the Donor Class – on a large tract off LPGA Boulevard near Jimmy Buffett’s own environmental atrocity at Latitudes Daytona – that utopian Parrothead Paradise – a faux-beach community under construction virtually on top of our potable water wells.

What you see depicted in the photograph is the result of a recent summer rain shower – a typical afternoon thunderstorm –  that brought street flooding and areas of standing water pushing into yards and driveways – turning residential streets into virtual “No Wake Zones” in the middle of Mori’s “close-knit lifestyle community for the young and young at heart.”

My ass.

Look, I’m not an environmental engineer, but I spend a lot of time outdoors, and my observations find that rainwater will do its level best to find the lowest point in the topography where it will collect and stand while it slowly percolates through the sandy loam to ultimately replenish the overstressed Floridan aquifer – our sole source of drinking water and the only thing that makes this salty piece of land we call home habitable.

This is what happens when we literally ‘pave paradise and put up a parking lot’ – the unintended consequences of clear-cutting, leveling and filling wetlands, pine scrub and recharge areas in favor of 1,200 cookie cutters in the middle of another contrived “lifestyle” community.

This problem isn’t unique to Mosaic.

It is the expected result of our weird system of quid pro quo corruption that allows uber-wealthy developers to hire the chairman of the very regulatory agency that “manages” our most precious natural resource to ramrod their interests through the environmental permitting process.

You know, the same developers that have been paying ridiculously discounted impact fees – development costs meant to support infrastructure improvements that haven’t seen an increase in 15-years – while they earn credits for proportional share agreements in today’s dollars – then quash publicly-funded reports that would have exposed this scam for the open thievery it is?

To add insult to injury, when the always exuberant business reporter, Clayton Park, of the Daytona Beach News-Journal served up the ultimate softball and asked Mori why he chose to invest here – his saccharine response had me hugging the porcelain throne:

“One of the major deciding factors for us to make investments in our community,” Hosseini said, “is the progressive county and city elected and professional leaders who are proactive by keeping taxes down, actively creating jobs, and creating a better life for our citizens by protecting the environment.”    

(Dammit – I just shot a steaming mouthful of Chock-full-o’-Nuts out of my nose. . .gets me every time.) 

If anyone – and I mean anyone – can point their finger at one frigging thing that our elected officials in Volusia County have done that could be remotely considered “progressive,” a single instance where these dullards have “kept taxes down” or actively “created jobs” – please let me know.

Fact is, us long-suffering rubes learned a long time ago that there is very little – if anything – we can do to stave off unchecked development and curb the western sprawl that passes for “progress” and is actively destroying our quality of life while turning the Halifax area into a traffic-clogged hellhole of overburdened streets, overbuilt greenspace and overstressed essential services.

A place where our beachside has clearly been abandoned by the smart money for better opportunities in the pine scrub off LPGA Boulevard – and we have come to accept it, because – under the current circumstances – what the hell else are we going to do?

Just please don’t tell us any of this is the result of visionary leadership.

That’s an insult to our collective intelligence that many find hard to swallow.

If those the News-Journal describes as our “Rich & Powerful” want to openly gloat that these ugly  affronts to our natural places are the direct result of the gutting of our environmental impact regulations by their elected shills as a return on a substantial investment in the political campaigns of sitting politicians who serve their greedy masters like dull tools – then I, for one, can begrudgingly accept that.

Because it’s the truth.

But I find it iniquitous for anyone – even His Royal Highness Mori Hosseini – to use the terms “progressive” and “Volusia County” in the same sentence.

That just pisses people off.

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

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

Asshole:          County of Volusia

Can we stop this wacky charade?

I mean, am I the only one who was hoping against hope that this shifty slight-of-hand and strategic ignorance would stop once you-know-who fled the building with a sack full of cash?

Right.

For years, the Volusia County Council – by divine edict of their uber-wealthy political benefactors – have been trying desperately to rob residents of our century old heritage of beach driving.

Now, it appears our elected officials, and that band of inept mandarins that push their warped policies at Volusia County Beach Management, have found the one tried and true method that works first time, every time – they simply priced a day at the beach out of the financial reach of many struggling families in Volusia County.

Yet, we are still debating why there has been a drop in Volusia’s daily beach pass sales? 

With a day at the beach currently priced at $20.00, or $25.00 for an annual resident pass, in a county with a per capita income of $24,844 and an inordinate number of families living below the poverty level – where $20.00 can mean the difference between feeding their children, filling a prescription or keeping the lights on – the options get really limited, really quick.

Struggling families can either stay home – or attempt to find “off-beach” parking.

Why is it that whenever the choice is presented, our elected officials on the Volusia County Council always opt for the route that will most adversely effect those who can least afford it – like doubling access fees to our most important natural amenity?

Let’s face it, Volusia County’s beach management plan has taken on the appearance of a Turkish Bazaar – where everyone who is anyone seem to make money anytime the strand is gated off or turned into a private amenity.

Only We, The People are consistently shortchanged.

From spending public funds to sue their own constituents and prevent them from having a vote on beach access issues, to pissing away our long-held tradition of beach driving as an “inducement” for tacky theme hotels, arbitrarily closing beach ramps, spending millions of our tax dollars on “off-beach” lots yet never opening them, granting lucrative toll collection contracts to an out-of-state company, suggesting parking meters be installed in parking spaces paid for with public funds and generally dragging their feet on the repair and replacement of storm damaged walkovers – the Volusia County Council’s track record on beach access is abysmal – and getting worse.

In fact, many long-time residents I speak with claim that the worst decision ever made was removing control of our beaches from the municipalities in favor of a “unified policy” under county control.

I agree.

To add insult, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, who has openly opposed beach driving for years under the guise he supports “beach access” – which means he’s cool with the idea of you schlepping your children, chairs, umbrellas and coolers across four-lanes of heavy traffic from an off-beach parking area, said of the county’s “plan,” which opened a few ramps that were inexplicably closed in exchange for a 100% increase in tolls, “This makes sense.  It’s working, it’s giving people easier access when the beach is accessible.”

That’s what I love most about Chairman Kelley – he never met a tax or fee hike he didn’t like – unless, of course, that fee would adversely impact the bottom line of his cronies in the real estate development community. . .

There has been a move in Volusia County – and other local governments – that despite our incredibly high tax rate – public funded amenities, such as parks, picnic areas and our beach – should be cash generators with exorbitant access tolls, rental fees and other ancillary costs.

The result is roped-off gazebos, locked gates, inhospitable playgrounds and a beach that looks like an ugly forest of poisoned poles and rampant sign pollution with no visual appeal and a horribly uninviting feel.

Folks, we didn’t inflict this wound on ourselves – those we elected to represent our interests did – and the visitors we spend to attract are beginning to notice.

Make no mistake, the reason sales of beach passes are down more than 50% over the same period last year is a direct result of Volusia County’s cruel plan to eliminate beach driving – or price it out of the reach of many – because that is what they were directed to do by their political benefactors.

Angel:             Sheriff Michael Chitwood & WNDB’s Marc Bernier

Look, not everyone is going to agree with me on this one – and that’s okay – but if you haven’t listened to Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s explosive interview with Marc Bernier on WNDB last Tuesday – you’re missing something special – and incredibly insightful.

Rarely do We, The People have the unique opportunity to hear the unvarnished truth from a sitting elected official – the chief law enforcement officer of our county – totally devoid of the stench of political correctness and refreshingly free of the canned soundbites and sideways jabbering that make many political interviews long on fluff and short on substance by design.

Say what you will about Sheriff Chitwood – I admit he can be polarizing – but I suspect we will never see him scurrying away from the glare of a news camera like a greasy sewer-roach in some slimy attempt to dodge a reporter’s hard questions on the issues of the day.

To the contrary.

Our Sheriff calls it like he sees it – and obviously doesn’t give a damn what those dullards on the dais of power in DeLand – or anyone else, for that matter – think about it.

I respect that.

In Mr. Bernier’s very cogent and wide-ranging examination of the important issues – from Volusia County’s current “cesspool” of pay-to-play politics to former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s surprise appearance as a finalist for the job in Pinellas County – Sheriff Chitwood didn’t disappoint with his bold, no-holds-barred assessment of the current dismal state of affairs in DeLand and beyond.

Some of it was shocking – especially in his description of a little-known facet of how certain power players maintain a death-grip on the political throat of certain local elected officials – and explained his inside take on the ‘pay to play’ scheme that has allowed certain uber-wealthy insiders to control public policy, enrich themselves while avoiding paying their fair share for growth and retain direct access to the public teat.

Now, Sheriff Chitwood is calling for a federal investigation.

Regular readers of this forum know that for over two-years now I have railed against the seedy manipulation of our elected officials by a handful of incredibly wealthy individuals in the insurance, real estate development and motorsports industries through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local offices as a means of controlling their personal and professional environment.

All perfectly legal under our antiquated campaign finance laws which permits individuals and corporate entities under their control – or shadow companies and LLC’s with bizarre names totally unrelated to the person or industry making the contribution – linked only by a common address.

In turn, even casual observers of Volusia’s body politic have stood dumbstruck by the blatancy of the deception as these same individuals are repeatedly granted tens-of-millions in infrastructure, tax abatement and other dubious economic development “incentives” that look for all the world like corporate cronyism and the use of public funds to hedge private risk.

According to Sheriff Chitwood, an individual in the construction trades reported to him that a building contractor working for mega-developer Mori Hosseini’s ICI Homes was allegedly told which political candidates he and his subcontractors should support if he wished to retain the contract.

In fact, Sheriff Chitwood said he offered to personally drive the contractor to the FBI field office in Daytona Beach – but was told the victim was terrified of losing his business and livelihood by coming forward.

That’s scary stuff.

In my view, if true, that represents base thuggery – the gross use of extortive threats and lucrative contracts to force the political support of subordinate private entities in order to maintain physical control of elective bodies and further the personal interests of political insiders with a profit motive.

 What part of that sounds like a healthy representative democracy to you? 

In my view, if this problem is as pervasive as many smart people think it is – consider for a moment the wide shadow cast by the umbrella of certain local entities who employ hundreds of workers, contractors and sub-contractors – and donate heavily to local political campaigns?

Then there was Sheriff Chitwood’s retort to a backhanded slight attributed to the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys, who said the reason Chitwood cannot attract candidates to fill sworn vacancies in his agency is because good people “don’t want to work for him.”

The Sheriff responded with sound facts regarding the industry-wide problem of attracting quality applicants to law enforcement throughout the state – then took a hard left to the dark side when he averred the only thing Deb Denys knows about policing is the “fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard.”

Look, I’ve used some frosty zingers on occasion to vent my frustrations on the machinations of a county government run amok – but perhaps Sheriff Chitwood could have found a better analogy.

I’m certainly no fan of Deb Denys – but the Sheriff’s corellation was, well, a little weird. . .

Now, we can all stand-by for the fusillade from our haughty elected officials and senior management in the Halls of Power in DeLand as they broadside Sheriff Chitwood for his quip.

Since when did people lose their political sense of humor?  Especially during an election year?

It always amazes me that well-meaning people will attack like a rabid dingo when some elected official utters a spicy phrase they find offensive – yet they have no problem at all with the daily moral ambiguity, routine ethical compromises and good old-fashioned base corruption that has all but crippled substantive progress in Volusia County for years.

Mark my word – there will be the usual sad-eyed head-shaking and audible sighs from our elected officials in DeLand – exasperated lectures from the dais about ‘civility’ and ‘professionalism,’ and the angry condemnation and faux-tears from Old Ed Kelley, who keeps telling us through his sobs that he doesn’t need this shit – not after his ‘Bro Country’ music star son offered to buy him a beach house in the panhandle and deliver him from this fetid shithole he helped create.

 (What an elitist asshole.  I mean, really – invoking the goofy celebrity status of your son as a means of telling us piss-ants you’re doing us a favor being here?  My God. . .)

The odd thing is – I don’t remember the same sense of outrage by those who are making hay over Sheriff Chitwood’s salacious attempt at humor – painting him as a charter member of the “He-Man Woman Haters Club” – and starting a mini-movement to pillory him – whenever Old Ed, Sleepy Pat Patterson – and Deb Denys – were personally destroying Councilwoman Heather Post and Dr. Sara Zydowicz, in the news media and from the dais, when these brave ladies exposed mismanagement and neglect in a critical county service, then asked the tough questions during the final days of the Dinneen regime.

I mean, where was the righteous indignation when Dr. Z put her career on the line and courageously laid bare the travesty at our medical examiner’s office – and was promptly labeled a liar and openly accused of “ginning up” allegations in a well-orchestrated barrage designed to protect Jim Dinneen?

Where was the hue and cry when Mr. Dinneen angrily reminded everyone that Ms. Post was terminated from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – squawking on the front page of the newspaper,  “I think you all forget her circumstances of why she doesn’t work here anymore” – yet failed to mention that Post filed a wrongful termination suit and received a $44,000 settlement from the county?

Where is the fury and seething rage?

 I mean, powerful people tried to openly ruin these women simply for trying to protect the public and expose wrongdoing?

Look, I get it – but this tempest in a teapot smells a whole lot like election year dramatics to me.

Trust me when I say – Deb Denys is more than capable of handling herself in a political knife fight – she has the toughness to give as good as she gets – and the political savvy to fake a foul quicker than a Hungarian soccer player taking a dive.

Now, King Hossieni’s sister – Maryam Ghyabi – is piling on, using social media to ask if Sheriff Chitwood can be “forgiven” for his transgression against Councilwoman Denys?

Please.

In my view, our ‘powers that be’ are beginning to learn that the game is not so fun when the piñata hits back – and if anyone thinks Sheriff Chitwood, a tough cop with the hard bark necessary to absorb cheap political attacks and punch back – is going to stand around and be verbally abused by the likes of this current crop of compromised chattel they better damn well think again.

Something tells me Mike isn’t going to stand by for this silly auto de fé by political confederate’s intent of vilifying one of the most popular sitting sheriffs in the state.

We live in an age where the word “civility” is used by sitting politicians as a cudgel to beat the daylights out of anyone who rises in opposition to their chicanery, all while ensuring lockstep fealty to an oligarchical system which seemingly exists to meet the profit motives of the well-connected few.

Could the Sheriff choose his words more carefully from time-to-time?  Sure.  We all could.

But Sheriff Chitwood is clearly his own man – the refreshing, independent voice that we desperately need in this foul time and place in our history – and a politician who understands that he is ultimately accountable to the voters for his strengths and weaknesses.

The fact is, it’s high-time the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County had a champion in a position of power in DeLand – someone willing to stand up for us and expose the abject corruption, gross mismanagement, wheeler-dealer backroom shenanigans and blatant cronyism that has drug us all to this grim nadir – and I believe we have found that in a flamboyant cop from Philadelphia with a foul mouth and clean conscience.

Quote of the Week:

“I am disappointed and dismayed by the recent secret negotiations that led to a contract with Florida Hospital that may or may not be in the best interests of the children attending our public schools. I question the superintendent’s motive, and why our board members didn’t table the issue until more discussion could be held.”

–Mary G. Bennett, Daytona Beach, a retired 40-year classroom veteran of Volusia County Schools, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, Wednesday, July 3, 2018

There is growing concern that the same lack of transparency and candor that has destroyed the public’s trust in County government may now be infecting the Volusia County School Board.

Last week, we learned that after some 15-months of clandestine negotiations – district bureaucrats struck a lopsided deal which makes Florida Hospital the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels.”

For a relatively paltry sum of $200K a year. . . 

In fact, this cheap marketing scheme was brought before the School Board during a “special” meeting which left at least two members – Carl Persis and Ida Wright – questioning the need for the cloak-and-dagger secrecy that gave our elected representatives just days to study the costs and benefits of this uber-weird partnership before a vote was called.

Yet, in the end, the vote was unanimous. . .

Then, School Board attorney Ted Doran attempted to dismiss our concerns by explaining that private negotiations are common in the “corporate world.”

My ass.

This “deal” smells like a rotten mackerel by moonlight.

Long-time civic activist Gwen Azama-Edwards recently wrote, Without open dialogue, and receiving only $200,000 every year from Florida Hospital, our public schools have been put at a disadvantage. Now, the right to understand and utilize all of the health care resources in the community has been shortchanged and influenced by money.” 

I agree with you, Gwen – and I have serious concerns about the direction of our schools – and the ultimate fate of our school tax dollars.

Clearly, many of you do as well.

For instance, what’s up with this creepy double-taxation scheme that has the district assuming the role of a tramp mendicant – panhandling from area municipalities to pay for the incredibly important “School Guardian” program – a rushed, state mandated security measure which will place armed civilians in elementary schools?

Or why our teachers are being denied a living wage by a district that continues to fund Taj Mahal facilities and lucrative compensation and benefits packages for those with Platinum VIP status in the “Superintendent’s Cabinet”?

Or why – in an election year – our school board representatives finally regained control of their cognitive functions and decided (on a 3-2 vote) against bonding $150 million at a cost of $50 million (something they wouldn’t have batted an eye at a year ago) in favor of a pay-as-you-go stratagem to fund facility renovation and replacement costs?

Questions, questions – always with the questions, Barker. . .

And Another Thing!

Here’s some wonderful news from the Sons of the Beach website:

“The Sons of the Beach’ Board of Directors has voted to establish a Political Action Committee to expand the SOBs ability to participate in the political process.  Currently the SOBs are a Non-Profit Corporation, as such,  the SOBs have been limited to the extent in which they can engage directly in the political process.

With the establishment of the Sons of the Beach and Friends, as a 501 C4 corporation,  the SOBs and Friends will be able to contribute financially and to endorse candidates.  The establishment of the Sons of the Beach and Friends requires careful separation of certain aspects of the relationship between the two corporations.  One of those aspects is the delineation of finances for each corporation. 

The Sons of the Beach and Friends banking structure is in the process of being established.  Soon you will be able to contribute to the SOBs and Friends. 

Your contributions will help gain independence from those special interests who for the last thirty years have enacted their failed ideas.  Those ideas have stripped a community of its freedoms and traditions all for their own selfish benefit.”

I’ve said it before – in matters of public policy there is strength in numbers.

And, with enough like-minded people investing in the future of Volusia County, We, The People can also play the campaign finance game.

I hope you will join other loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe on Saturday, July 21st for the Second Sons of the Beach protest of the theft of our beach behind the Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach.

SOB’s will join with friends and supporters on the Hard Rock’s semi-private beach between 9:00am and 3:00pm for a peaceful sit-in as we soak up some rays while letting those marionettes on the County Council know that there is some shit we won’t eat!

If you are not a member of Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy, please go to www.sonsofthebeach.org and join us today.  It’s free – and best of all – you’ll be helping a cause of vital importance to our quality of life in the Halifax area.

I can guarantee you a fun day with smart, civically engaged neighbors who are dedicated to securing beach access for future generations.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Barker’s View: The Curse of Chief Tomokie

Happy Monday, Y’all!

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently asked local historians to solve the 150 year old mystery of where the name “Volusia” originated.

As part of their “Curious Coast” series, this morning the newspaper ran some suggestions on how we came by our unique moniker.

Last spring, I speculated on the origin of our name – and explained my goofy thoughts on the Volusia County charter debate – which appears to be as topical today as it was then – especially as we begin the process of selecting a new County Manager.

Enjoy!

Let’s be honest.  We’re a hot mess here on the Fun Coast.

We came to be way back in December 1854, when the state legislature split Orange County, leaving 600 unfortunate souls languishing on a plot of pine scrub about the size of Rhode Island, nestled between the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean.

They named us after our largest city at the time, Volusia.

Orange County went on to Disney World, theme parks and metropolitan prosperity.

They even got a Trader Joe’s.  Two of ’em.

Volusia?  Not so much.

We never quite got it together.

Hell, even the origin of our name has been in dispute since we were founded.

Some claim “Volusia” comes from an old Euchee Indian word, while others believe we were named after a British fellow, Voluz, who owned a plantation on the banks of the St. Johns.

Still others say the modern Volusia is an anglicized derivative of Veluche – the Belgian owner of a cheap roadside trading post.

Then there’s the theory that the Spanish dubbed us Volusio, after the famed Roman jurist who tutored Marcus Aurelius – or an early B-list magician – archaeologists are just not sure.

Yep.  A lot of history here on the Fun Coast.  Good and bad.

Interestingly, today marks the 60th Anniversary of the dedication of the Chief Tomokie statute in Tomoka State Park.

When I was a little kid, a big day for us was loading up in the car and having a picnic under the big oak trees surrounding the Tomokie statute.

I remember gazing up at the anatomically correct naked Indians shooting arrows at the Chief – as he stood proud, bravely pouring water on his attackers from his golden cup with spear raised high.

He was one cool dude.

Now, he looks like a broken mess – his fist raised in defiant resistance.

I think maybe the Chief took the ass at us after we ran his people off the land – then allowed his monument to fall victim to vandalism and utter disrepair.

That’s why we can’t have nice things.

Personally, I think our name derives from some ancient Timucuan curse ol’ Tomokie laid down which doomed us all to wretchedly poor county governance, spotty municipal service delivery, and a dearth of upscale grocery stores for the next thousand years.

Let’s face it, through the years people have tried just about everything to make a living here – sugar, cattle, indigo, moonshine, shipwreck salvage, rum running, speculative property development – you name it.

The dark and spooky ruins of these failed enterprises can be found everywhere you look.

If you talk to old timers, they tell stories of political graft and corruption in the “bad old days” that will curl your hair.

Seems like we have always had a weird vibe here in Volusia County.

I was recently waxing nostalgic over a 1989 article by Bo Poertner in the Orlando Sentinel under the headline, “Volusia Awash in Crime, Corruption, Power Politics – Tax Turmoil Mark Decade.”

 The lede drew me in:

“Wander for a few minutes through the 1980’s in Volusia County.”

“Slosh through the quagmire of violent crime and political corruption.  Elbow your way through power politics – upheavals over taxes, beach tolls, control of the beaches, growth management and environmental protection, protests over pornography, and demonstrations against street drugs.”

Sound familiar?

As I’ve said before – in Volusia County, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve lived here a long time – over 50-years now – and it bothers me when well-meaning folks try to re-write history as a salve for our modern problems.

Look, I have a lot of respect for Dr. Bud Fleuchaus.

He’s been pulling teeth in these parts for years – he yanked a few of mine – and he’s a nice guy, too.

Back in the day, he was a highly-respected elected official and political insider who helped draft the original charter – a document some claim brought law and order to the wild and woolly Turkish Bazar that was Volusia County government.

Last Sunday, he wrote a very cogent point-counterpoint editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal where he took Sheriff Mike Chitwood to task for his push to return constitutional sovereignty to the office.

In my view, Dr. Fleuchaus gilded the lily a bit with tales of how our time-tested charter has withstood “five Charter Review Commissions with few functional changes.”

That’s a debate for another day.

He also claimed that the great Chitwood/Dinneen blood feud, “…undermines the dignity of the Volusia County government which for 46 years has been a leader in progressive management and quality service delivery.”

 Doc, you have my unending respect – but let’s not go crazy here.

To describe what we’ve seen in Deland over the past decade as “progressive management” and “quality service delivery” is a stretch.

According to Dr. Fleuchaus, “The framers of Volusia’s charter envisioned a government that would be managed by a professional, experienced administrator under the direction of a seven-member elected council establishing all its policies.”

 That’s an admirable goal.

But what happens when the system goes haywire?

I don’t think the drafters of our charter got together in a dark room and said, “Let’s see how we can consolidate power in the hands of one person, you know, to make it easier for big money political insiders to co-opt our elected officials, manipulate county government, and control access to the public trough for a select few while alienating the will and input of the people.”

At least I hope they didn’t.

But that’s what happened over time.

I have no doubt Dr. Fleuchaus, and the other framers of our charter, could not have envision a day when uber-wealthy power brokers would infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into county council elections, create an artificial economy by providing tax-funded incentives to businesses and entities favored by the donor class, or a time when our elected officials would circle the wagons around a demonstrably flawed and unscrupulous county manager who controls their political fate through a flawed insider campaign finance scheme.

I agree with Sheriff Chitwood’s incredibly strong statement in his response, “Simply put, the county’s charter puts way too much power and influence in the hands of one person and his deep-pocketed supporters.”

 He’s right.

 As our newly elected Sheriff also pointed out – it’s not the sheriff’s charter, and it’s not the county manager’s charter – it is the people’s charter.

In my view, it is time our elected officials realize this and return power where it rightfully belongs – with the citizens of Volusia County – and give us the opportunity to be heard on this important and terribly divisive issue.

On Volusia: Hungry, Hungry Hippos

I’ve never been on Safari, but I’ve seen nature documentaries showing the destructive potential of the Hippopotamus – a brute which can reach 10,000 pounds.

While these giant herbivores appear to be awkward and hulking, in truth, they can run up to 14 miles per hour on land, or conceal themselves underwater and lope along the bottom of rivers and lakes with incredible grace and speed.

The hippo also ranks among the most dangerous animals in the world, responsible for more than 3,000 deaths each year.

Jesus.  Imagine a five-ton behemoth barreling down on your ass, tusks flashing, tearing up the tundra on the Tanzanian veld, attempting to crush, drown then swallow you whole?

Terrifying.

There is no reasoning with a Hippopotamus, and they are described by scientists as “notoriously unpredictable.”

They are programmed to eat and make little hippos – and woe be to anyone or anything that attempts to interrupt that process.  Once a big bull sets those broad-set eyes on something he perceives as a threat, well, it’s probably too late, and few survive the encounter.

I was reminded of the similarities between these great beasts and certain real estate developers who are quickly exploiting our current “make hay while the sun shines” growth management plan – a slash and burn strategy to clear-cut and pave over as much greenspace, in the shortest amount of time possible.

I recently read an interesting article posted by a former colleague, now in the private sector, discussing a recent survey that found community growth is the Number One issue that keeps local government officials awake at night.

Not managing growth – but expanding, becoming larger.

Ranking above strategic planning, increased community engagement or even the budget, how to enlarge their communities and increase growth opportunities is what consumes many public officials today.

The ‘Bigger is always Better’ syndrome.

Sound familiar?

Historically, one of the problems Floridian’s face is that real estate developers have a much better lobby than We, The People.

They also have a clear strategic focus that ensures maximum profitability on every acre or parcel within their control – even if it means skirting the letter and spirit of environmental regulations – or turning elected representatives into aggressive shills through our spongy campaign finance laws to ensure their projects come to fruition.

That’s a very effective strategy – up until the moment long-suffering residents become wise to the ‘pay to play’ scheme and organize to toss the bums out and replace them with responsive representatives who see ‘growth management’ as something other than turning every available square foot of nature into another half-vacant strip center in the name of “progress.”

In matters of influencing public policy – there is strength in numbers.

At a recent “smart growth” forum hosted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, an estimated 200 of our friends and neighbors turned out to have their questions answered.

In New Smyrna Beach, citizens are starting to look like Frankensteinian villagers as they demand their voices be heard on the issue of unchecked growth, which is quickly ruining the character of this quaint beach community.

In Ormond Beach, those intrepid souls of CANDO II – real grassroots activists who are beginning to impact the politics of growth and development – as they work to preserve their quality of life and the ‘small town’ atmosphere that other cities are spending to re-create.

Unfortunately, there is also a weird school of thought among our ‘Rich & Powerful’ when it comes to managing growth – and their voice is a lot louder than yours and mine.

For instance, consider the interesting “conservation” mindset of Prince John Albright, CEO of Consolidated Tomoka, a Daytona Beach-based company whose land sales in recent years included sites of some of the major projects that are poised to bring thousands of new homes as well as dozens of stores, restaurants and other businesses to the area, including the new Latitude Margaritaville 55-and-older and all-ages Mosaic “full life” communities going up off of LPGA Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95.”

After sitting as a resident “expert” on growth at the News-Journal’s community forum, Prince John followed up with some data points that perhaps get overlooked or even not realized when talking about ‘smart growth’ and as some of it pertains to CTO (Consolidated-Tomoka).”

He went on to explain that the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated-Tomoka has put over half their land holdings into conservation in the past 20-years – with some 13,000 acres sold to the state for Tiger Bay Wildlife Management Area – which “puts a cap on residential growth potential.”

Really?

Prince John would also have us believe, “Daytona Beach’s current residential building permits are WELL BELOW its 30-year average thus one may ask, what growth?’ I think the recent growth concerns have come about because there hasn’t been ANY growth for a very long time.”

Did he just say, “What growth?”

My God. . .

Here are some interesting “data points” Mr. Albright conveniently forgot to mention when discussing just what prompted Consolidated-Tomoka to suddenly get all warm-and-fuzzy over mitigating the environmental impacts of recent westward sprawl:

In June 2016, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection issued a consent order requiring Consolidated-Tomoka – without admitting wrongdoing – to restore 107.9 acres of wetlands, create another 41.26 acres of wetlands, and pay a fine in the amount of $187,500, after allegations the company illegally dredged and filled some 163 acres of wetlands on 3,500 acres it owns west of I-95 and north of LPGA Boulevard.

You might recognize that area as on or near the current site of that “Parrothead Paradise” – Jimmy Buffett’s own Latitudes Daytona – a 6,900+ residential and commercial monstrosity by Canadian mega-developer Minto Communities.

Did I mention that the “environmental consultant” hired by Consolidated-Tomoka to ramrod the permits for the Margaritaville project just happened to be Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. – whose president just happens to be Long John Miklos – who just happens to be the sitting five-term chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District?

Because they did.

This typically Florida-style farce has become a running gag – mega-developers hiring Mr. Miklos to lobby for their interests before the very regulatory agency he oversees – while our neutered ethics apparatus stands back and tacitly encourages the practice.

How fun.  How uniquely Floridian.

Then, in December 2017, Consolidated-Tomoka added insult to injury by starting work on the EPA ordered wetlands restoration project without first obtaining the necessary state permits.

But wait, there’s more. . .

According to a December Daytona Beach News-Journal article entitled, well, “Wetlands restoration work begins without required permit,” the intrepid environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver let us know:

When Consolidated-Tomoka agreed to the EPA’s settlement, the federal agency also stated the company couldn’t get mitigation credit for restoring and creating the wetlands. However, the application to the water management district from Consolidated-Tomoka and Bio-Tech asks the district for state mitigation credit for the work. The application seeks 46.72 credits for the work, which Consolidated-Tomoka could use in exchange for wetland impacts to other properties.”

For the record, mitigation credits are part of Florida’s goofy “hurt here, help there” system of allowing developers to purchase credits from a permitted wetland bank in exchange for harmful impacts to wetlands in “nearby” locations.

Mitigation credits in our region currently bring between $50,000 and $165,000 each.

On June 8, 2018, the St. John’s River Water Management District approved 355 wetland mitigation credits for a 2,500-acre parcel owned by Consolidated-Tomoka near the Tiger Bay WMA.

On June 11, 2018 – Consolidated-Tomoka sold a 70% stake in the parcel to a New York investment group for $15.3 million.

According to reports, Consolidated-Tomoka retains a 30% stake and management rights on the property which will now become a wetlands mitigation bank worth between $18 million and $59 million.

Wow.

“One of the consulting firms that assisted Tiger Bay Mitigation LLC in obtaining permit approval from the water management district was Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., whose president is John Miklos, who is also serving a fifth term as chairman of the water management district.”

Hungry, Hungry Hippos, indeed. . .

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 29, 2018

Hi, kids!

Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!

The great author and chronicler of all things Florida, Carl Hiaasen, once said, “The Sunshine State is a paradise of scandals teeming with drifters, deadbeats and misfits drawn here by some dark primordial calling like demented trout.  And you’d be surprised how many of them decide to run for public office.”

 Damn, if he doesn’t hit the nail on the head, eh?

Last week marked the end of qualifying and the beginning of the 2018 election season, a time when political hopefuls – entrenched insider incumbents, well-meaning populists and wide-eyed naïfs, newbies and their political benefactors and strategists – will work hard to gain our trust – and our vote – in races and referendums of vital importance to our future here on the beleaguered Fun Coast and beyond.

For years, well-meaning people have attempted to politely persuade me to throw my hat in the ring and stand for various elective offices.  While I sincerely appreciate their confidence, I simply don’t have the stomach for it.

As I like to say, I’m a complainer – not a ‘doer.’

A cowardly critic – a chronic bitcher with a blog – a keyboard warrior – an inane muckraker with an axe to grind – and I have no desire for political power beyond expressing my opinions on the issues of the day, and, as Conrad said, “. . .using the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel – before all, to make you see – and, perhaps, provide that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

That, and nothing more.

In my experience, serious candidates for public office invariably have one thing in common – they share a real ‘fire in the belly,’ an overwhelming drive to compete in what has become a brutal blood sport and win at all costs.

That requires a level of personal commitment, grit and an old-fashioned work ethic that I simply don’t possess.

While there is plenty of time between now and the primary – or the general election in November – to get their message across, there is simply no time to waste – and that requires starting well before dawn and working feverishly until after dark, talking issues, pressing-the-flesh and getting their smiling visage in front of as many potential voters as possible.

Look, I don’t know much, but if you are running for public office this time around and your campaign isn’t issue-centric – you’re doing it wrong.

In the past, John Q. Public could give a damn about the challenges we face (that’s a big reason we’re in the shape we’re in) and oftentimes a smile and a shoeshine could win the day – but this year is different, I think.

While it’s still the ‘candidate’ they’re voting for – I believe it will be less about how the person chooses to present him or herself, and more about clearly defining unique solutions to the age-old problems we face here on the Fun Coast that will win votes this time around.

The folks I talk to are genuinely concerned about the direction our local governments are heading – specifically when it comes to unchecked development, a lack of effective revitalization efforts and the pox of insider influence – something many see shaping everything from our desperate transportation infrastructure needs to massive corporate giveaways and the growing lack of transparency in what should be the people’s business.

In short, anyone in the arena should be prepared with new, innovative answers with a strong focus on problem-solving initiatives – and a plan to pay for them – because it’s going to take both to get voters attention this fall.

Tired defenders of the status quo – or those who were given a chance to serve and squandered it – will be identified as the boat anchors they are.

The majority of candidates won’t receive the anointment and financial support of our High Panjandrum’s of Political Power – so the only option they have left is the grueling process of door-to-door, grassroots campaigning – house-to-house fighting to win over their neighbors and spread the good word of change.

That’s a damn difficult proposition – but it works.

In fact, absent a groaning war chest full of political I.O.U’s, it’s the only thing that can.

Candidates with tens-of-thousands of dollars funneled from the usual suspects – our uber-wealthy donor class and their various corporations, political action committees and shadowy entities – have the wherewithal to cover ground quickly through mass media campaigns – and the only antidote to that is shoe leather and perseverance.

That’s also a difficult proposition in the heat and humidity of a Florida summer.

But when the ‘nut-cutting’ hour comes this August, we’ll see who outworked who – and then our collective decisions will become infinitely more focused.

Until then, get used to receiving the glossy mailouts showing the various candidates sitting comfortably barefoot on the beach, surrounded by his/her family, all uniformly clad cap-à-pie in starched white shirts and comfortable jeans, with a rented Labrador or precocious grandchild carefully staged center frame.

After all, pictures make politics – and with enough money – even a dimwitted incumbent can carefully craft an image that will make the uniformed voter suspend reality and forget the candidates abysmal voting record, alienation, lies and manipulation for the past four years.

Fortunately, we are living in the age of ‘high-information’ voters – people who care enough about the important issues to seek out fresh perspectives and alternative opinions to support what they take in with their own eyes and ears.

Clearly, I’m not a political scientist by any means – but I receive calls from various political candidates this time of the year, soliciting my goofy opinions on the issues of the day as they work to cobble together a platform, and I’m happy to help when I can.

But if you want someone to fawn, flatter, pat you on the backside and massage your developing political ego – probably better to rub elbows with the Halifax Power Set – because I’m the last guy you want to reach out to.  Trust me.

Look, my take on the news of the day is no more insightful or prescient that anyone else’s (and that includes our uber-wealthy ‘power brokers’) but I’ve been around too long to be fooled by cheap trickery and imaging – and I refuse to be blinded by the sweet serenade of someone who’s in it for the wrong reasons – most of whom will quickly transform into everything they hated once elected to high office, just like the shitheads who came before.

But if you’re in the race of your life to try and make a real difference in the life of our community – to help restore confidence in our system of governance, ensure a level playing field and enhance social, educational, service and civic opportunities for every citizen – then you have my full support.

The positive takeaway is we have some impressive candidates in the mix this season – remarkable people from all walks of life on both sides of the County with a true vision for change.

We’ve got some of Carl’s misfits, too.

We’ll talk more about all of them in weeks to come.

In the meantime, I’ll be here – watching, waiting, and calling bullshit on any political candidate or two-bit operative who tries to pull the wool over our collective eyes and distract us from the grave issues that effect our lives and livelihoods with cheap political assholery.

This election is far too important for that.

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

Admittedly, I’m one to carry a grudge – I admit it.

One of my innumerable character flaws, I guess.

I’ve really tried to get past this – but it still bothers me – and this bears repeating:

Now that our preening elected representatives in DeLand have purged their spleen in a fit of political pique and exposed their vile hatred for anyone who challenges the status quo of an entrenched power structure – a political protection racket that showers select candidates with hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions in exchange for four-years of lockstep conformity and complete fealty to the Donor Class – they are pointing the finger of blame at their long-suffering constituents.

Did anyone expect anything different?

Despite the weak-minded denials of our doddering fool of a County Chairman, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – it is clear to anyone paying attention that the majority of Volusia County Council members have developed a virulent case of psychological projection, a political defense mechanism that allows them to abdicate responsibility and attribute all the problems in their sole span of control to the “malarkey” of naysaying constituents.

It appears – with the exception of current political punching bag, Heather Post – council members have convinced themselves that the dismal political climate we find ourselves in is the result of angry social media posts and attempts by Sheriff Mike Chitwood to expose the broken and corrupt nature of this horrible system he inherited following the last election.

Look, you can’t have it both ways.

Our elected officials need to understand that you can completely ignore the needs, wants and concerns of your constituents, shut them out of the process, ignore their input and surprise them with off-the-agenda stunts designed to ramrod sketchy public policies and conceal murky intentions, then funnel millions in public funds to the private profit motives of a few powerful political insiders – but when the light of day finally exposes the machinations of this oligarchical system – you cannot simply blame the victim.

Our elected representatives on the dais of power would have us believe that if we continue to speak out and call attention to this farcical system we have suffered under – a bastardized process that has thwarted any substantive progress in Volusia County for years – then the continued exercise of our First Amendment rights will chase away any “good” county manager candidates, leaving us to select from the “Barney Fifes” of the current executive class.

I’ll take an honest Barney Fife over a shifty shitheel with a pedigree any day of the week.

No, despite what they would have us believe – this one is on them – not us.

For months, We, The People have been forced to stand by and witness this ugly exclusionary process play out – a constituency left totally voiceless, stymied by an internally controlled information black market – repeatedly and openly lied to, then told we were too stupid to appreciate the issues facing us in a weird form of political gaslighting.

In fact, if you look at the classic techniques used by tormentors to psychologically abuse and control their victims you might find some eerie similarities to our current situation:

It’s textbook.  And it’s wrong.

Fortunately, smart people with the insider knowledge and understanding of the how, what, when and why the wheel came off our collective cart at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center are beginning to echo the concerns of Sheriff Chitwood, Councilwoman Post and others with the guts to defend us from this abusive relationship that has ruined the public’s trust in their government.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, former County Councilman Doug Daniels both confirmed our worst fears – and provided a cogent way forward as we collectively struggle to right the ship in the aftermath of one of the most disastrous periods in our history.

“Will Dinneen’s departure usher in an era of good government?  No.”

“The county’s power structure and its poorly drafted, antiquated charter will remain. When there are only a handful of big-money donors funding political campaigns, miracles will be in short supply, particularly now that the rich have come to display their power not by building public monuments, but by raiding taxpayer funds. We cannot change that, but we can change the charter to provide for an open, transparent government. We can watch them do it.”

Mr. Daniels rightly suggests that Volusia’s sacrosanct charter should be changed to ensure accountability, transparency and fiscal integrity through an independent internal auditor reporting directly to the council – and the people.

He also suggested that we replace this hodgepodge system of management by crisis with a 20-year strategic vision for Volusia County.

I couldn’t agree more.

He further suggests reorganizing the charter to provide a strong elected chairman, with a salary similar to circuit court judges – someone with the “real power” to effectively represent the interests of Volusia County in regional issues, like SunRail.

“With such reforms, you still might not like what the county government does, but at least you would know what it is doing. With an elected chairman, we would have someone who could represent us here and on a bigger stage, and someone we could hold accountable.”

In my view, change is on the breeze.

With a good crop of outstanding new candidates for public office working hard to gain our trust – and our vote – hope springs anew this election cycle.

Clearly, the big money candidates are getting nervous, and they should be.

The political pendulum is beginning its slow arc, hopefully returning power where it rightfully belongs – to We, The People, from which all political legitimacy originates.

So, let our ‘powers that be’ know exactly how you feel.

Let them know that we will not be told to shut up and sit-down by the likes of Old Ed Kelley, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson or any other self-serving politician who has clearly lost the moral authority to lead.

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board  

With Volusia County residents still reeling from wild revelations of gross mismanagement, open deception by senior officials, neglect of essential services and the stench of corruption that continues to slowly waft from the fetid swamp of county government – one would think that other taxing authorities and public entities would put greater emphasis on communication, ethical clarity and transparency.

Yeah, right.

In yet another startling disclosure out of DeLand, it seems the Volusia County Council wasn’t the only elective body claiming to have been treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed bullshit – by senior staff on important matters of great public concern.

Last week, the Volusia County School Board – meeting in “special” session – approved a $2 million-dollar, five-year contract with Florida Hospital naming the healthcare provider the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels.”

The agreement ends some 15-months of shadowy, back-alley negotiations by district officials that resulted in an 18-page agreement that gives Florida Hospital all the marketing exposure they could have dreamed for – including naming rights, sponsorship options, districtwide distribution of branded material, and graduate recruitment options, among other benefits.

In exchange, Florida Hospital will provide students a biannual speaker series, internships and a walk-thru of their facilities. . .

Wow.

In keeping with this new era of government secrecy, school officials apparently failed to even consider a competitive process by including Halifax Health – the district’s other long-time partner – who has provided essential counseling and therapeutic services to thousands of families through Halifax Behavioral Services, volunteer opportunities for students in health-related career academies, and, as the Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported, “a long list of other benefits” for many years.

Why?  Because Halifax Health – a publicly funded hospital – didn’t approach the school district with the sponsorship idea first.

Say what?

That smells a lot like the typical chickenshit Volusia County Two-Step – a shifty means to avoid accountability once the light of day shines on their latest scheme.

Perhaps most disturbing – but not unexpected – is that we are being led to believe these secret negotiations with a single provider were withheld from our elected representatives on the Volusia County School Board until just days before they were asked to vote on the issue.

I find that frightening – and you should too.

In my view, it is high time our elected officials – regardless of their post – start investigating, identifying and terminating any senior administrator or staff member who knowingly and intentionally withholds material information from policymakers and the public.

Why, because it’s against the fucking law, that’s why.

When public funds are expended ostensibly in the public interest – we have a statutorial right to know how our money is being spent – or what we are giving away to our latest corporate “partner.”

Despite the incredibly weak excuse by School Board Attorney Ted Doran that private negotiations are common practice in the “corporate world” – Doran apparently fails to realize that he represents our School Board, not IBM – a responsibility that requires open, transparent and morally sound practices to maintain the public trust.

And don’t give me this self-congratulatory bullshit that the board’s “special” meeting was meant to be a “celebration of a historic accomplishment.”

My ass.

Nobody cured cancer here – you entered into a clever publicity agreement with a hospital system – nothing more.

The Volusia County school district needs to understand that they have a growing credibility problem with their core stakeholders – students, parents, teachers and those of us who pay the freight.

There is mounting suspicion that government secrecy smells a whole lot like corruption and mismanagement – and given what we have just experienced – our distrust and apprehension is well-founded.

Let’s put the blame squarely where it rightfully rests – with those who stood before us and promised to serve with our best interests at heart – our elected School Board officials who took an oath – and assured us they would work hard to develop open, honest and transparent policies and programs that improve educational opportunities for our children and compensate our teachers with a competitive salary and benefits package equal to their dedicated contribution to the future of our society.

Instead, we get more of the same – weird uncertainties born of a mysterious process that leaves us asking, “why?” – and the darker question, “Qui bono?”

Perhaps most disturbing, according to a recent News-Journal editorial, “The vote was unanimous, though two board members – Carl Persis and Ida Wright – questioned the need for secrecy,”  then ignored their best instincts and voted with the rest of these elitist assholes who clearly believe our right-to-know doesn’t matter as much as inking a lopsided deal.

Say what?

So, Persis and Wright knew what they were doing was wrong – and they did it anyway!

(The others did too, they were just smart enough not to admit it. . .)

Just once I would like to see an elected official stand-up for the interests of their constituents – act boldly in the spirit of our commitment to “Government in the Sunshine” and throw the brake when they suspect their colleagues are being prodded down the wrong path by an unaccountable staff.

Instead, we get more of this “tail wagging the dog” brand of public administration from Volusia County “leaders” – little more than backroom collusions followed by public policy by ambush at “special” meetings – a foul process that sours us on even positive outcomes by tainting the process.

Gentle readers, from stalled negotiations with the teacher’s union, to begging money from the cities in some weird double-taxation scheme to pay for a hastily thrown together “Guardian” program that will ask brave men and women to go in harms way to protect our children with programmatic funding still in doubt – to the heartbreak of consistently under-performing schools and nonsensical administrative policies – it is high time we take a closer look at the machinations of the Volusia County School Board, and the Secret Squirrels on its staff that sold us out and alienated a long-time partner, this election cycle.

If history repeats – and it always does – we may find way more than we bargained for when the truth finally comes to light.

With hundreds-of-millions of our tax dollars budgeted annually, Volusia County government entities desperately need an independent oversight authority and a strong fiscal responsibility ordinance that stops these pernicious “deals” that are quickly eroding our trust and depriving us of quality services and opportunities.

Now, there’s a Tallahassee mandate we could all rally behind.

Angel:             Bellaire Community Group

Those intrepid souls at the grassroots advocacy Bellaire Community Group recently completed a citizen satisfaction survey which produced some incredibly interesting results regarding how citizens perceive their government.

This is something our incumbent politicians and ‘powers that be’ should print, frame and refer to whenever they question why they lost the election this fall:

Do you think the Daytona Beach Government is interested in what residents have to say?

Yes                   19%

No                    65%

No Idea           16%

Do you think Volusia County Government is interested in what residents want?

Yes                   21%

No                    67%

No Idea           12%

Do you trust your City’s Government?

Yes                   15%

No                    66%

No Idea           19%

Do you trust your County’s Government?

Yes                   5%

No                    78%

No Idea           17%

What grade would you give City Manager Jim Chisholm?     C-

What grade would you give County Manager Jim Dineen?   D-

How effective is Daytona Beach’s Code Enforcement? Please indicate with a number from 1 to 10.  (Very Effective 1 – Not Effective at all 10):               7

Do you support beach driving?

Yes                   98%

No                    2%

Level of Transparency (1 Very transparent – 10 Not transparent at all):

Daytona Beach            7

County of Volusia        8

The term of office for Daytona Beach Commissioners is 4 years. Should this be changed to 2 years?

Yes                   64%

No                    36%

Will you recommend The Hard Rock to friends and family that will be coming to Daytona Beach?

Yes                   34%

No                    66%

Should County Manager Jim Dineen be fired?

Yes                   94%

No                    6%

Do you like living in Daytona Beach?

Yes                   95%

No                    5%

Do you support our County’s plan to raise taxes above rollback for the next 3-years so they can pay off the debt they incurred?

Yes                   10%

No                    90%

Do you vote?

Yes                   91%

No                    4%

Sometimes      5%

Have you ever had to call police or 911 because you were a victim of a crime or a witness to a crime?

Yes                   56%

No                    44%

Do you think the city has planned growth well enough to ensure that residents who live here now will continue to enjoy the quality of life?

Yes                   20%

No                    80%

Are you satisfied that the city is adequately improving infrastructure in our neighborhoods – roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, etc.

Yes                   28%

No                    72%

Do you think attending neighborhood and other resident meetings is a good way to stay informed and participate in the local government process?

Yes                   100%

No

(For more information, please go to www.bellairecommunitygroup.com – or better yet, attend one of their meetings sometime soon.  You’ll be glad you did.)

Asshole:          “Smart Growth” Advocates

Sorry, folks – I’m not buying it.

And neither should you.

Earlier this week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal presented what should have been a thought-provoking community townhall which posed the difficult question, “What does smart growth look like?”

The forum sounded compelling – so I tuned-in on social media and settled back to listen to the pros and cons of perhaps the most difficult problem to face Volusia County since quid pro quo corruption came into vogue.

Then, I saw that the board was bookended by Maryam Ghyabi – a transportation consultant and sister of the King of the Donor Class, mega-developer Mori Hossieni, and Prince John Albright – CEO of Consolidated Tomoka Land Company.

The only member of the panel with the people’s interest at heart was former Volusia County Council member and area environmentalist Pat Northey.

It looked like one of those “What doesn’t belong” games – where your choices are a Timber rattlesnake, a King cobra, and a potted plant.   

The fact is, Ms. Ghyabi, Prince John and their associates have accumulated massive fortunes – directly and indirectly – from the local real estate development game, where ‘growth management’ is defined as physically cramming as much density into a given parcel as possible – and damn the consequences to our natural resources, infrastructure or quality of life.

Look, when talk turns to drinking our own sewerage, there is no more “smart growth.”

At that point, any further stress on our aquifer becomes a very expensive exercise in shitting in our own nest – literally.

Besides, what the hell is there to talk about?

And who would listen if we did?

The Volusia County Council and other local governments have already approved massive residential and commercial development from Farmton to the Flagler County line – including the appropriation of some $15.8 million in public funds to extend Williamson Boulevard – the infamous “road to nowhere” – for the sole purpose of facilitating Mr. Hossieni’s 1,700 unit atrocity known as Woodhaven.

And the challenges faced by New Smyrna Beach – where residents have all but taken up pitchforks and flaming torches to get the attention of those they elected to represent their interests – are quickly ruining one of Florida’s last original beach communities.

Add to that the death of wetlands and recharge areas at Mosaic, Latitudes – and Geosam Capital’s brutal rape of the land west of New Smyrna – an outrage marked by forest fires and a dust bowl that rivals 1934 Oklahoma – and you get the idea that developers aren’t really interested in the environmental protestations of us long-suffering locals.

After all – like gopher tortoises, we’re little more than collateral damage – and they paid damn good money for the lockstep loyalty of sitting politicians with no qualms about permitting them to re-purpose every available acre of greenspace into zero-lot-line slices of the American Dream.

What are we going to do, complain?

Look, I may be a pessimistic asshole – but I’m suspicious whenever these shameless shills on the dais of power allow their political benefactors to slash, burn and clear-cut the land – churning old growth forests and wildlife habitats into environmental abattoirs right in front of our eyes to make way for ugly cracker box houses at a rate of one per month – then lean back at “listening sessions,” massage their chin contemplatively, and act like they’re interested in what those of us who have to sit in traffic, drink our own piss and deal with the fallout think about it.

For instance, after Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach was turned into a moonscape to accommodate a WaWa and another tacky chicken wing drive-thru – now our incumbent city commissioners are falling all over themselves to hear the opinions of their constituents.

My ass.

Taking a page from New Smyrna Beach’s Coastal Community Resiliency initiative,  Ormond Beach city officials are banking on their oh-so cutely labeled “OB Life” series – designed to restore public trust in an intentionally broken system that whittled away at zoning and environmental regulations –  now that the horse is well out of the barn.

Bullshit.

It remains inconceivable to me that ostensibly bright public officials believe that We, The People cannot distinguish between substantive public input and a cheapjack political smokescreen designed to divert our attention while the bulldozers roar.

I don’t believe it because it’s not true – these whores know precisely what they’re doing.

I sincerely hope you recognize it too.

If you really believe that the City of Ormond Beach – or the County of Volusia – gives a flaming shit what you think – it’s time to think again.    

In my view, an immediate moratorium on new development and unchecked sprawl until the very real issues of transportation, infrastructure, impact fees, water and continuing environmental insults are resolved is the only “smart” answer to the very real predicament we face.

Frankly, its now or never.

It’s time we stop this asinine “make hay while the sun shines” development strategy that is ruining our quality of life while enriching the privileged few.

Don’t hold your breath.

The status quo is lucrative for all the right last names – and that, my friends, is all that matters in our local Halls of Power.

Angel:             MEAC Woman of the Year – Lyndsey Edwards

Earlier this month, Bethune-Cookman’s own Lyndsey Edwards was named the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Woman of the Year!

What an incredible personal honor – and a true source of pride for the City of Daytona Beach.

This prestigious award is presented annually by the MEAC Senior Woman Administrators to “celebrate the achievements of senior female student-athletes who have excelled in academics, athletics, service and leadership.”

 According to B-CU Head Coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis, “She is a young woman of high intellect and strong moral character.  We are blessed to have her in our program these past four years.  She not only impacted our program, but she poured herself into this university, as well as being a servant leader.  Her legacy will live on here, and we hope that other students will model her qualities.”

Congratulations, Ms. Edwards!  You’ve made us very proud!

 Quote of the Week:

“Our County Council members should be embarrassed by their performance.  They were surprised by the state’s requirements over the half-cent road tax. Surprised over the morgue issue. Surprised over the impact fee tax study. There needs to be an independent external audit to find out what other surprises are out there.”

–Pat and Chuck Gleichmann, Ormond-by-the-Sea, Letters to the Editor, “Drain the Volusia County Swamp,” June 26, 2018

The chorus for outside intervention is growing – but will anyone listen?

And Another Thing!

Am I the only one who saw this coming?

Remember way back in December when DeLand City Commissioner, Jeff Hunter, claimed the on-again-off-again boyfriend of a former “girlfriend” extorted some $20,000 from him?

It was clearly trouble on the half-shell – a political cautionary tale in the making.

Typically, whenever a guy my age shows up with a 24-year old sport model on his arm – something is, how shall I say this. . .“Awry.”

As the Robinson’s family robot was fond of saying – “That shit just doesn’t compute.”

According to reports, Commissioner Hunter is accused of serious drug-related felony crimes after allegedly providing prescription opioids to his unrequited love interest – some seven times.

He’s also accused by the court of public opinion of allowing the little head to think for the big head. . .

Apparently, Mr. Hunter wasn’t the brightest drug dealer ever minted as evidence developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement suggests he left voicemails on his former girlfriend’s (and potential co-defendant in his extortion plot) cellphone discussing how many pills he had available.

That’s right.  Voicemail.

Did I mention Hunter met his “girlfriend” while she was doing the wax-on/wax-off thing at a DeLand area car wash?

I mean, this has all the elements of a good Jim Croce tune – or a bad Investigation Discovery special, right?

I don’t make this shit up folks, really.

Of course, Hunter’s attorney, Jason Harr, is vehemently denying any wrongdoing – claiming that the Commissioner, and his impressive 1970’s porn star horseshoe ‘Stache – are merely victims of a weird revenge scheme hatched by his former girlfriend following the arrest of her  boyfriend/suspected baby-daddy.

(Whew!  This is like one of those hyper-dramatic Spanish telenovelas – I need a program to keep up with the players. . .)

According to news reports, Hunter’s mouthpiece said the Commish went to police after he was scammed out of thousands of dollars by the conniving couple, adding, “He doesn’t want to be a victim. He wants to be an example,” Harr said. “He believes as a rising star in local politics, that he should be an example.”

Damn, I like that.  Lawyer Harr earned his keep on that soundbite alone.

Well done, sir.

Look, between us, Hunter may have fancied himself a “rising star” in local politics – but the truth is – a 40-watt bulb outshines most politicians in Volusia County.  Still it’s a damnable shame to see a promising career – and the good name of America’s Best Downtown – sacrificed on the altar of middle-age delusion.

As of this writing, Mr. Hunter is refusing to do the right thing and step down to protect his community and constituents from further embarrassment.

Now, we will see if Governor Rick Scott steps up and removes Commissioner Hunter from office until this love triangle, turned extortion plot, turned narcotics arrest can be sorted out by the courts.

Guess Carl Hiaasen knew what he was talking about. . .

Have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: We’re with Stupid

They just don’t get it.

With the abrupt departure of beleaguered former County Manager Jim Dinneen, the same challenges remain – but with fresh opportunities for changing the culture and focus of Volusia County government.

Unfortunately, seizing breaks and developing a strategic vision isn’t the Volusia County Council’s forte.

Now that our preening elected representatives in DeLand have purged their spleen in a fit of political pique and exposed their vile hatred for anyone who challenges the status quo of an entrenched power structure – a political protection racket that showers select candidates with hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions in exchange for four-years of lockstep conformity and complete fealty to the Donor Class – they are pointing the finger of blame at their long-suffering constituents.

Did anyone expect anything different?

Despite the weak-minded denials of our doddering fool of a County Chairman, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – it is clear to anyone paying attention that the majority of Volusia County Council members have developed a virulent case of psychological projection, a political defense mechanism that allows them to abdicate responsibility and attribute all the problems in their sole span of control to the “malarkey” of naysaying constituents.

It appears – with the exception of current political punching bag, Heather Post – council members have convinced themselves that the dismal political climate we find ourselves in is the result of angry social media posts and attempts by Sheriff Mike Chitwood to expose the broken and corrupt nature of this horrible system he inherited following the last election.

Look, you can’t have it both ways.

Our elected officials need to understand that you can completely ignore the needs, wants and concerns of your constituents, shut them out of the process, ignore their input and surprise them with off-the-agenda stunts designed to ramrod sketchy public policies and conceal murky intentions, then funnel millions in public funds to the private profit motives of a few powerful political insiders – but when the light of day finally exposes the machinations of this oligarchical system – you cannot simply blame the victim.

Those dullards we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power would have us believe that if we continue to speak out and call attention to this farcical system we have suffered under – a bastardized process that has thwarted any substantive progress in Volusia County for years – then the continued exercise of our First Amendment rights will chase away any “good” county manager candidates, leaving us to select from the “Barney Fifes” of the current executive class.

Bullshit.

No, despite what they would have us believe – this one is on them – not us.

For months, We, The People have been forced to stand by and witness this ugly exclusionary process play out – a constituency left totally voiceless, stymied by an internally controlled information black market – repeatedly and openly lied to, then told we were too stupid to appreciate the issues facing us in a weird form of political gaslighting.

In fact, if you look at the classic techniques used by tormentors to psychologically abuse and control their victims you might find some eerie similarities to our current situation:

Withholding:  Pretending not to understand or refusing to listen, “I don’t want to hear this again,” or “Your trying to confuse me.”

Countering:  Changing the subject or questioning the victim’s thoughts and opinions, “Is that another one of your crazy ideas?”  or “You’re imagining things.”

Trivializing:  Making the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant.  “You’re going to get angry over a little thing like that?”  or “You’re too sensitive.”

Forgetting/Denial:  Pretending to have forgotten the facts of what actually happened or denying promises made.  “I never said that!”  or “It’s all in your head.  You’re just ginning up stuff.” 

 It’s textbook.  And it’s wrong.

Fortunately, smart people with the insider knowledge and understanding of the how, what, when and why the wheel came off our collective cart at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center are beginning to echo the concerns of Sheriff Chitwood, Councilwoman Post and others with the guts to defend us from this abusive relationship that has ruined the public’s trust in their government.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, former County Councilman Doug Daniels both confirmed our worst fears – and provided a cogent way forward as we collectively struggle to right the ship in the aftermath of one of the most disastrous periods in our history.

“Will Dinneen’s departure usher in an era of good government?  No.”

“The county’s power structure and its poorly drafted, antiquated charter will remain. When there are only a handful of big-money donors funding political campaigns, miracles will be in short supply, particularly now that the rich have come to display their power not by building public monuments, but by raiding taxpayer funds. We cannot change that, but we can change the charter to provide for an open, transparent government. We can watch them do it.”

 Mr. Daniels rightly suggests that Volusia’s sacrosanct charter should be changed to ensure accountability, transparency and fiscal integrity through an independent internal auditor reporting directly to the council – and the people.

He also suggested that we replace this hodgepodge system of management by crisis with a 20-year strategic vision for Volusia County.

I couldn’t agree more.

He further suggests reorganizing the charter to provide a strong elected chairman, with a salary similar to circuit court judges – someone with the “real power” to effectively represent the interests of Volusia County in regional issues, like SunRail.

“With such reforms, you still might not like what the county government does, but at least you would know what it is doing. With an elected chairman, we would have someone who could represent us here and on a bigger stage, and someone we could hold accountable.”

 In my view, change is on the breeze.

With a good crop of outstanding new candidates for public office working hard to gain our trust – and our vote – hope springs anew this election cycle.

Clearly, the big money candidates are getting nervous, and they should be.

The political pendulum is beginning its slow arc, hopefully returning power where it rightfully belongs – to We, The People, from which all political legitimacy originates.

So be loud.

Be proud.

And let our ‘powers that be’ know exactly how you feel at the ballot box.

We will not be told to shut up and sit-down by the likes of Old Ed Kelley, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson or any other self-serving politician who has clearly lost the moral authority to lead.