On Volusia: A Warrior Leaves the Field

About the time I graduated from high school, Dan “Cujo” Eckert went to work as a staff attorney for Volusia County, then clawed his way to senior management and hung on by his fingernails.

For 41-years. . . 

During this week’s County Council meeting, in a clearly prearranged and highly orchestrated maneuver, Mr. Eckert announced his retirement as Volusia County Attorney.

While I admire Mr. Eckert’s decades long loyalty and dedication to the public service (and the public teat – impressive), like many long-term bureaucrats in county government and beyond, in my view, Dan Eckert became an acute symptom of a systemic sclerosis on the body politic – a malignancy that is consuming Volusia County government in vivo.

In my experience, no one enters the civil service with the idea their contributions will be solely focused on meeting the needs of the few at the expense of many – just as most government professionals don’t begin their career imbued with an innate sixth sense for anticipating and facilitating the wants and whims of their master’s oligarchical masters.

Yet, in Volusia County government, this malevolent culture which protects the status quo and demands fealty to a system that bears no resemblance to a representative democracy, has resulted in a complete lack of transparency and accountability – a self-perpetuating scheme which totally ignores public input in favor of backroom deals, political choreography and public policy by ambush.

Couple that with the dearth of leadership and parliamentary acumen repeatedly demonstrated by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who has made a mockery of the local legislative process – and continues to personify the adage that diapers and politicians should be changed regularly and for the same reason – and you begin to see the depth of the problem we face.

In my view, Mr. Eckert seemed to make his bones late in his career by building a cottage industry suing his own constituents whenever We, The People exhibited the temerity to seek substantive input into the pressing issues of our time – such as protecting our century old heritage of beach driving and access.

He fought, tooth-and-nail, and the ferocity of his litigation against resident’s and grassroots activists was legendary – always geared toward meeting the subliminal mandate of the uber-wealthy political contributors who seem to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides here in Volusia County – real puppet masters with the ability to sway legislation by their mere presence in the Council chamber.

Don’t get me started on Amendment 10 and the Volusia County Council’s use of Mr. Eckert’s mind and muscle to undermine the sacred will of the voters. . .

The viciousness and aggression with which he came after Volusia County residents in matters large and small is why I gave Mr. Eckert the moniker “Cujo” – because he fought with the tenacity of a mad dog whenever the true seat of power was challenged.

Then came the beginning of the end, when, like Kipling’s Tommy Adkins before him, politicians find it easy to sacrifice their warriors when they become a political embarrassment. . .

This summer, for reasons known only to him, Mr. Eckert became entangled in an ugly quagmire after providing the organizers of a nearly decade old racing heritage parade in Ponce Inlet a demonstrably erroneous legal opinion on the viability of next years event – then stood firmly by his weird recommendation, even after his judgement was challenged by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and Florida’s premiere beach driving advocacy Sons of the Beach, along with a sitting United States Congressman and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In fact, Mr. Eckert’s move to stop the parade was so unilateral – and so blatantly wrong – that it caused many to question his motivations and stirred rabid controversy among citizens and sitting politicians alike.

Inexplicably, Dan didn’t seem to care.

So, for what he must have thought was the best of reasons, on Tuesday, just before he was set to be verbally “evaluated” by the Volusia County Council, Dan announced (in what was supposed to be some hyper-dramatic reveal) that he would be retiring effective next month.

It took the form of a two-line resignation that said nothing.  Meant nothing.

In doing so, “Cujo” allowed freshman County Manager George Recktenwald to bask in the universal glory and accolades that showered him from the dais during what passed for a verbal review of his performance – safe in the knowledge that the “system” was intact – and his annual retirement income will far exceed the average income of most Volusia County residents. . .

Given Old Ed’s daft handling of the moment, it became clear to everyone – including The Daytona Beach News-Journal – that Mr. Eckert’s departure had been orchestrated well in advance.

It was typical.  And no one paying attention expected anything different.

Only the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys even attempted to feign surprise following the ham-handed announcement – then acted as if finding a replacement for their retiring advocatus diaboli would be tantamount to walking on the planet Mars. . .

To his credit, like all well-entrenched bureaucrats, Mr. Eckert instinctively knew which side his bread was buttered in any situation – and, when needed, he fought tenaciously to keep this dysfunctional and ineffective ship of fools afloat – even after the bilge rats took the helm.

I suspect under different leadership and different circumstances, Mr. Eckert could have served the people’s needs with great enthusiasm and professionalism at times when we needed his best.

But Dan’s motivations were not in our interest – he advocated for a petty, self-justifying and belligerent beast – and it showed.

In my view, at the end of the day, Dan Eckert completed his lycanthropic transformation into what, I’m sure, was everything he hated when he entered public service and the law – a good man, ultimately compromised by a culture that abhors transparency and accountability – while championing the continued paralytic dysfunction that has hampered any substantive progress on the serious issues we face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for December 6, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Daytona Beach Police Department

It’s been a tough few weeks for the City of Daytona Beach.

For all of us, really.

A spate of violent crime – including nine deaths – has radiated through the community and galvanized the Halifax area – teaching us all a brutal lesson of just how cheap life has become to the criminal element.

By the grace of God and their superior skill, on Monday, Daytona Beach police officers successfully defended themselves against an armed and dangerous suspect who had fatally wounded a neighbor before attempting to murder responding officers.

Some might say these incidents illustrate just how close the line between order and utter chaos truly is. . .

Young men argue, angry words turn to unspeakable violence. Scores are settled with heartbreaking permanence.  Debts are paid in blood.  Revenge becomes the operative ethic.  The cycle of drugs and despair turn to aggression and cruelty.  Lives – and the peace of a community – tragically destroyed.

Madness.

The truth is, these senseless crimes of violence are almost impossible to prevent.

Unlike property crimes, where removing either the desire, opportunity or ability to commit the act can markedly reduce the occurrence – these despicable acts of gun violence we’ve experienced speak to something infinitely more difficult to protect against.

Because this evil manifests in the human heart and soul.

Standing courageous and firm in the breach between the timeless forces of good and evil are the incredible men and women of the Daytona Beach Police Department.

These hard-charging public servants continue to put themselves in harm’s way – again and again – working diligently and heroically to keep the peace, protect the innocent and bring those responsible for these horrific acts to justice.

In my view, the leadership, officers and staff of the Daytona Beach Police Department have acted in the finest traditions of the police service to reduce tensions, ease our fears and protect the vulnerable.

It takes a special breed to work the streets during these difficult and dangerous times – and I sincerely appreciate the extraordinary service of these brave souls who respond to our desperate calls for help and work so diligently to serve the community.

Their valor brings us hope.

I am especially proud of the way Chief Craig Capri has responded to this unusual eruption of violence – providing reassurance and a calming presence to his worried constituents, becoming the face of the city’s active response, and demonstrating the guts and leadership we’ve come to expect from this consummate law enforcement professional.

On Tuesday, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Paula Reed organized a candlelight vigil to honor those killed in Midtown violence and foster unity among her grieving constituency.

Some 200 people attended the service at the Dickerson Center, including Chief Capri and Sheriff Michael Chitwood, who, in both word and deed, have demonstrated their unyielding support for justice – and the citizens of Daytona Beach.

In my view, events like this bring healing and understanding during troubled times, and I applaud Commissioner Reed’s concern, activism and leadership.

Angels indeed.

Sometimes it is during our darkest hours when our community shines brightest.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

 Weeks ago, Volusia County School Board Chairman Carl Persis made a personal commitment to me that he would consider hiring a competent and credentialed security professional to oversee the safety of children who attend district schools.

As of this writing, it is increasingly apparent that Chairman Persis is a damnable bullshit artist – a polished politician, schooled in the dark art of telling concerned constituents exactly what they want to hear. . .

Thanks for nothing, Carl.

Misleading a rube like me is one thing – but standing idle while our schools dissolve into a Guyanese penal colony (think Papillion, only more depraved) is morally reprehensible. . .

What has to happen before someone – anyone – in a position of responsibility gets off their ass and does something in this district? 

Last month, we learned through an investigative report in the West Volusia Beacon that, during a five-week period in October and early November, members of the DeLand Police Department responded to at least eight fights on the campus of DeLand Middle School – and arrested some 14 children, ages 11 to 14.

Yesterday, social media was ablaze as worried parents literally begged for information following reports of multiple brawls in the courtyard of Atlantic High School in Port Orange – a violent melee that took multiple law enforcement officers from three jurisdictions and the physical arrest of 12 students to suppress – including that of an adult who penetrated the thin slice of Swiss cheese that passes for campus security protocols armed with a pair of brass knuckles.

In my view, forcing terrified parents to send their vulnerable children into these deplorable and dangerous conditions is a travesty.

Monday, our new superintendent, Ronald “Scott” Fritz, signed for this godforsaken mess.

Welcome to Thunderdome, Scotty. . .

I understand that Dr. Fritz began his tenure this week by stroking stakeholders with frivolous questions such as, “What is your greatest concern with Volusia County Schools?” and “What should we stop doing because it’s not working?”

Does he take the paper? 

In my view, when the physical security of our children and teachers is in immediate jeopardy –  time is of the essence – and passing this off as “something going on in the community” won’t fly this time.

Hey, Doc – let’s agree that we can all sit cross-legged on the floor, sing Kumbaya, and mew over what our favorite color is when safety and sanity is restored, okay?

Look, I’m more than willing to give Dr. Fritz the benefit of the doubt – after all, he’s barely taken his seat, but quelling chaos and violent clashes in Volusia County schools should have been priority one – day one.

Perhaps Dr. Fritz should hit the ground running and start firing these incompetent posers that continue to masquerade as “security specialists” – callously accepting public funds for a role they are flagrantly unqualified for – then work to return a sense of order and decency to this post-apocalyptic cage match that passes for a public school system.

Because – for $205,000 a year – this violent and wholly dysfunctional quagmire is his personal and professional responsibility now. . .

In my view, the utter outrage expressed by many parents is more than justified.

It’s time for the Volusia County School Board to admit they are desperately incapable of restoring order, ensuring accountability or bringing a modicum of security to the learning environment – then they should do the honorable thing and resign, en masse, and allow their frightened constituents to elect strong, authoritative and responsive representation who will work in the best interests of our besieged children.

My God.  This cannot continue.

Our students, parents, teachers and staff deserve better.

Angel              Stephen Elliott, Warner Christian Academy 

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

–Author Unknown

A loyal Barker’s View reader and successful Warner Christian alumnus reports the untimely passing of the extraordinary educator, Stephen Elliott, who served WCA students for nearly 40-years.

According to Steve’s touching obituary, he estimated having taught over 4,000 students during his wonderful career – and remained a friend, mentor and confidant to many through the years.

In an era when the worth of teachers is quantified by the sterile statistics of standardized tests – clearly, Steve Elliott’s profound contributions to his profession, and our community, can be measured by the lives he touched in such a brilliantly positive way.

The calling to prepare young minds for a rich and fulfilling life is an infinitely important one, and true educators like Steve leave an indelible part of themselves with each pupil – each future leader.  In turn, their legacy of service to others endures.

Steve Elliott passed into the loving arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Tuesday.  He was 64 years old.

A memorial service celebrating Mr. Elliott’s life will be held at White Chapel Church of God, South Daytona, tomorrow morning at 11:00am.

Visitation will be prior to the memorial at 10:00am.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Warner Christian Academy, 1730 S. Ridgewood Avenue, South Daytona, Florida, earmarked for the “Steve Elliott Memorial” which will be used for the improvement of the school library.

Angel               County of Volusia Environmental Management Division    

Throughout December, Volusia County environmental specialists will lead a series of outdoor events which provide an opportunity for citizens to explore the unique ecosystems and natural places right in our own backyard.

These free Explore Volusia programs include insights into the unique biological processes of the Indian River Lagoon, an eco-buggy tour of Deep Creek Preserve, bicycle excursions, informative discussions of native flora and fauna, a look at land management practices and opportunities to paddle the backwaters of our sensitive local estuaries to observe birds and wildlife in their natural habitat.

These exciting explorations of our areas sensitive bio-systems is sponsored by Volusia County’s Environmental Management Division.

Kudos to Volusia County government for educating residents on the diverse ecology where we call home in such a fun and immersive way.

For dates, times and reservations, please call 386-736-5927.

Asshole           Team Volusia

Look, I get it.

I’m the antithesis of our always ebullient Chamber of Commerce types who continue to put a cheerful face on the struggling Halifax area – while seemingly ignoring the myriad problems that have an economic stranglehold on our core tourist area, the marked decrease in special event attendance, plummeting occupancy rates, blight and dilapidation, tone deaf politicians and an artificial economy based solely on the same five people passing the same nickel around.

No, I’m an insufferable critic – a nay-saying blowhard who points out the worst in everything.

However, my fervid hope remains that, with the right kind of ears, even those infernal optimists at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce might occasionally discern a kernel of truth in these crude rants. . .

I can assure you the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County are listening – intently – because the things we see with our own bloodshot eyes no longer comport with what we are being told by our ‘powers that be’ – and that is not helping our growing social stratification and festering “trust issues” one damn bit.

Case in point – the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce produces a glossy quarterly “business and professional” magazine known as Evolve, which features self-aggrandizing puff pieces on our local ‘movers and shakers,’ complete with flattering photographic spreads and high-priced advertisements featuring the smiling visages of everyone who is anyone on the Fun Coast.

Far be it from me to tell the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce how to spend their members money, but when I repeatedly see Team Volusia – our tax supported “public/private” economic development corporation, ostensibly funded to recruit new businesses from outside the area – emblazoned prominently on the front page of Evolve magazine, I get pissed off.

You should too.

You see, as a resident of Ormond Beach, I happen to be an “Executive Level Investor” in Team Volusia – which means my local government slips $25,000 in public funds to Team Volusia annually so the Team can do whatever it is they do.

Which generally involves jetting the group’s big shots to national and international destinations – like the Farnborough International Airshow (?) and symposiums in Tokyo – as they apparently bird dog more of those coveted warehouse jobs we’re so proud of. . .

My ass.

As an Executive Level Investor, I have purchased the right to know how public funds are being spent.

You have to.

Because in addition to our own in-house economic development practitioners who actually serve our individual communities – virtually every municipality in Volusia County also contributes to this redundant farce.

Why?

When I see our hard-earned tax dollars being wasted sponsoring some regional pap and fluff publication – little more than a slick ego massage for all the right last names (don’t take my word for it, read it yourself at https://tinyurl.com/rrmtchg ) – it makes me question how this misuse of our money will help recruit external enterprises to Volusia County?

How in the hell does purchasing expensive advertising in a local Chamber of Commerce rag further the goals of Team Volusia when absolutely no one outside greater Daytona Beach will see it?   

By the magazines own marketing materials, its distribution is almost exclusive to east Volusia (with 4% sent to Flagler County).

So, how will multiple full-page advertisements (complete with front page logo placement) in a hyper-local Chamber publication grab the attention of a site selector in Birmingham, New York, Fort Worth or Omaha?

How do the thousands of dollars in commingled public and private funds used to subsidize Evolve further the strategic goals of Team Volusia and encourage outside capital investment, when its readership is almost entirely comprised of Chamber members?

I’m asking.  Because smarter people than me are equally stumped.

When you consider that just weeks ago I angrily pointed out to the Regional Chamber that information provided them by Team Volusia listing our areas “largest employers” was demonstrably inaccurate – yet prominently listed in the Chamber’s 2019 members guide – one would have thought the Chamber’s leadership, as taxpayers, would have seen this as yet another potential embarrassment and questioned Team Volusia’s use of public funds to underwrite their magazine.

Not hardly.

Inexplicably, a check of Team Volusia’s own website finds the same erroneous 2017 employment statistics still conspicuously touted in the “Site Selection” section.  (It also still refuses to list tourism and hospitality as a “key industry.”  Whatever.)

It’s a small oversight, but infinitely disingenuous, considering new business recruitment is Team Volusia’s chartered purpose.

And it’s wrong.

In my view, perhaps it’s time we, the long-suffering taxpayers, evolve past this absurd money pit – and demand that our municipal governments stop underwriting this ridiculous waste of public funds.

Perhaps then we can relegate Team Volusia to the smoldering ash heap where do-nothing tax wasters go when the sham is ultimately exposed.

Angel               The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Recently, I’ve been hypercritical of some of the views expressed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board – especially when their opinions seem deliberately contrary to those of the average citizen in the Halifax area who feel marginalized and alienated by the very officials they elected to serve their interests.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the paper’s November editorial, “Too soon for sales tax redo.”

At a recent conclave of that shadow government known as the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a political insulation committee comprised of mayors and managers from area municipalities and a few high-level Volusia County officials – the specter of the once dead half-cent sales tax referendum was resurrected from its freshly tamped grave after being soundly defeated by voters just last spring.

In a cogent autopsy of the failed referendum, the News-Journal opined:

“What was lacking? The trust. Vocal opponents successfully tied the vote to dissatisfaction with elected officials — primarily the County Council, though half the money would have been spent on priorities generated by municipalities. There was a lot of anger over perceived giveaways to wealthy developers, and a persistent belief that the tax revenue would be spent on infrastructure improvements tied to recent and future growth, not existing needs.”

In my view, the “trust issue” that our elected and appointed representatives are trying so hard to minimize is exacerbated by their continued refusal to accept the will of the people whenever our sacred vote is contrary to the objectives of our ‘powers that be’ and their wealthy handlers and contractors who ultimately stand to benefit.

They say that extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions, and our areas preeminent political analyst, Big John – who served on the Volusia County Council for 12-years, back when something actually got accomplished – has a potential solution that is gaining steam.

Although the fine points are still being honed, Big John has proposed a citizen select committee comprised of residents who would oversee revenues, set funding priorities for both transportation infrastructure and water quality projects and provide a much-needed buffer between mercenary politicians and our hard-earned tax dollars.

In my view, that’s an uphill battle with a lot of moving parts, both legislative and procedural, and will require that sitting officials relinquish control of multi-million-dollar allocations to a politically unaccountable grassroots committee – something virtually unprecedented in government.

But it speaks to one man’s ardent fight for our collective right to self-determination and a return to a system that values public input and participation.

As I understand it, the key players have tentatively agreed to postpone their attempt to force this issue until the 2022 election.

However, the trust issue remains – and I don’t see much changing in two short years – except the continued explosive growth and resultant transportation and water quality needs that are reaching a crisis point.

As the News-Journal opined, “The need for more revenue for roads, water quality and other infrastructure is real. But the sales-tax proposal appears to be dead, at least for now. Dragging it back to life is likely to do more harm than good.”

This one bears watching.

Quote of the Week

“They have tried to move the evening activities (Bellair Plaza Cruise) to a center right across from the Speedway, but it is nowhere near the same as the traditional one at Bellair, we only went there one time, never again.

Also, at one time you could not find a hotel room to stay at on N. Atlantic, but this year almost every one of them had big red “VACANCY” signs flashing all week long. This has to be hurting the economy of Daytona Beach, and the hotel owners.

 Now, all we do is eat dinner and head back to our hotel to watch TV.  I think Daytona Beach officials shot themselves in the foot by making this terrible choice.”

–Don Hulgas, Ft. Myers, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Missing the fun from Turkey Rod Run,” Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mr. Hulgas is right.

I’m not a car guy, but since I was a little kid growing up here in God’s Country, my family and I always looked forward to the week of Thanksgiving when antique cars came to town for the famous Gaslight Parade and Car Show at the Birthplace of Speed.

For over 60-years, classic car enthusiasts have flocked to the Halifax area for one of the largest shows and swap meets in the world, with thousands of vintage cars and trucks on display for both show and sale.

For a destination that long-ago sold its soul to short-term/high gain special events – the Turkey Rod Run and its ancillary activities quickly became an important part of our local economy – especially for those in our beleaguered tourist and hospitality industry.

Like most successful events, the various automotive events tended to meld and evolve naturally over time.

Because the Gaslight Parade didn’t allow Hot Rods, in 1974, a father and son began the Turkey Rod Run at the old Howard Johnson hotel near Bellair Plaza.  As it grew, the show moved to nearby Seabreeze High School, ultimately relocating to Daytona International Airport, and now Daytona International Speedway.

Throughout the years, the one constant was the annual impromptu show and meeting of the minds in the parking lot of Bellair Plaza.

Unfortunately, beginning nearly a decade ago – the management of Bellair Plaza began forcing the car show out of the lot, threatening to tow displayed vehicles, then prohibiting portable toilets and generally making classic car owners feel they were no longer welcome at the unofficial epicenter of the annual event.

A 2011 News-Journal article explained that Publix was enforcing a covenant of their contract which prohibits car shows, something they feel impacts customer parking. Others claimed the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was commercial car carriers associated with the event that took multiple spaces in the lot.

Not all stores in the plaza balked, with many welcoming participants as an important draw to their businesses.

Regardless, last year officially marked the death of the Bellair Plaza Cruise. . .

The vintage car show has recently become a rather forced fixture at One Daytona (complete with its own contrived Facebook page and associated marketing) and many regulars are complaining the event just isn’t the same spontaneous get-together it used to be.

I spoke with some visitors from the Midwest this week – regulars at the Turkey Rod Run – who complained about the event’s move away from the beachside to almost exclusively a “speedway” event.

I got the feeling they won’t be back.

Perhaps this should be an early warning for our tourism maharishi’s and redundant “convention and visitor” gurus that the Daytona Beach Resort Area is slowly succumbing to years of neglect and a lack of comprehensive leadership – clueless stooges who can’t seem to cut a path forward, despite the fact our economic lives depend upon it.

Mr. Hulgas’ observations were spot-on.

The ever-present “vacancy” signs and lack of visitors is indicative of much larger civic and economic problems that reveal themselves in declining occupancy and room rates – market indicators that can no longer be brushed off by tax supported visitors bureaus – or attributed to foul weather or the whims of a growing list of air carriers that have deserted us.

In my view, it’s time for those who influence our elected officials to take direct action and save our languishing tourism industry before it’s too late.

We need a comprehensive strategy for the revitalization of our languishing beachside.  Now.

Otherwise, let’s just write it off altogether – and join the real money who continue to look for opportunities in the pine scrub west of I-95 in New Daytona. . .

And Another Thing!

Want to experience a true slice of Americana as we usher in the most wonderful time of the year?

Join with friends, family and neighbors for an evening of Christmas cheer at the Holly Hill Tree Lighting Ceremony on the front steps of historic City Hall beginning at 6:00pm tonight!

This annual community event heralds the start of the most joyous season in true small-town fashion.

Live entertainment includes performances by local school bands, dancers and carolers.

This year, Miss Florida USA 2019 Nicolette Jennings and Miss Florida Teen USA Katia Gerry will assist Mayor Chris Via with the much-anticipated countdown before illuminating the city’s festive Christmas Tree and spectacular lawn display.

I happen to have it on good authority that the Jolly Old Fat ManSanta Claus himself – will be making his 2019 Yuletide appearance during the festivities!

Then, on Saturday morning, children of all ages will enjoy the 60th Annual Holly Hill Christmas Parade as it rolls on the traditional Ridgewood Avenue route starting at 10:00am.

It’s a wonderful way to welcome the holiday season and support the City with a Heart! 

Hope to see you there!

 

 

On Volusia: A Time of Crisis

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

The Holiday’s can be like that.  But this was different.

In the past few days, three current and former law enforcement officers died by their own hand – and a Halifax Health security officer was the tragic victim of a murder/suicide.

One of the victims I knew personally.

In a mix of shock and anger, after contemplating the loss of these bright young people with so much life ahead of them, I recently posted a heartfelt request on social media asking that my active and retired law enforcement brothers and sisters reach out to me if they need help dealing with the demons that can inhabit our psyches after repeatedly being subjected to traumatic events.

I quickly realized, this epidemic isn’t limited to the emergency services.

For instance, it is estimated that 22 military veterans take their own lives each day in the United States – that’s one every 65-minutes.

In Volusia County, our suicide rate significantly outpaces the state average – and this grim statistic has held firm for a long time.

Last year alone, some 125 of our neighbors took their own lives.

Perhaps we should elevate the conversation on what is quickly becoming a public health crisis here on Florida’s Fun Coast and beyond?

I suspect if over one-hundred people died of spinal meningitis this year in Volusia County, the Centers for Disease Control would have a command post established.

Today, I want to address my beloved brothers and sisters in the emergency services.

Since I was a kid, cops have always been my heroes – they still are.

In my 31-years in law enforcement, I saw these extraordinary human beings do some truly heroic things.

Stuff that leaves a physical and emotional mark.

I also saw the devastating physical and emotional aftermath of suicide up close and personal – and while I always struggled to understand the why – the commonalities included addiction, mental illness and a lack of adequate services for both.

Not much has changed since I retired.

After years of ignoring the issue, a recent spate of officer-involved deaths nationwide prompted a study by the Police Executive Research Forum which listed police suicide as a national crisis and occupational hazard – with law enforcement officers at a 54% greater risk than the general public.

Look, I’m not a mental health expert – and I’m certainly no stronger than anyone else – but I know that permanent solutions to temporary problems are never the answer.

I also know that life is infinitely precious.  It’s why first responders go into harms way to protect it.

When cops need assistance dealing with a dangerous situation on the street – we know that a call for backup can give us the tactical advantage.

In my day, there was a discrete code that signaled that an officer was in trouble – and once it was broadcast over the radio – it brought immediate help from every officer within range, regardless of jurisdiction.

We know that calling for backup during an emergency is not a sign of weakness – rather, a strategic decision to increase safety and improve the odds of successfully resolving the issue – and the same should apply when the old memories of traumatic experiences come calling and the black dog starts growling. . .

In my view, the emergency services are making strides to break down the old barriers and stigma of asking for help, but, obviously, we’re not there yet.

Many agencies offer employee assistance programs that work with insurance carriers and service providers to meet the unique needs of first responders.  I happen to believe that some of the most effective prevention programs involve confidential peer support policies that provide a lifeline for members in crisis.

Regardless, it’s time we develop a comprehensive national strategy for effectively dealing with this growing crisis and assist first responders with healing, advocate for benefits for those suffering with PTSD, and acknowledge the service and sacrifice of these brave men and women in our community.

That includes our dispatchers and emergency communications professionals whose needs have been overlooked for far too long.

In my view, it’s also time that, as a family, we admit that we are all equally screwed up – nothing about this job is “normal” and on some days it can be a real bitch – situations that are difficult, if not impossible, to forget.

Add the cumulative effects of shift work, stress, trauma, the sights, sounds and smells, the aftermath of accidents, death notifications, the constant exposure to man’s inhumanity, public perceptions and a thousand other job-related risks and you realize that none of us get out completely unscathed.

As a result, we all carry the scars.

Since 2016, nearly 600 law enforcement officers have taken their lives in the US.

This has to stop.  Now.

If you need help – you damn well better reach out to me and let’s do whatever it takes to get over the hump.

Please know there are credible outside resources available that can help you work through a crisis – or provide treatment to help support your physical, mental and emotional health long-term.

At the end of the day – we’re all we have – so let’s take care of each other.  Dammit.

Let’s also consider the needs of family members and our neighbors, especially during the holidays.

I love first responders – you’re the only people I ever really related to – and I’m here for you.

Always.

 

Photo Credit: WFTV

Best of Barker’s View: If you build it, they can’t come. . .

Angels & Assholes will return next Friday!  Until then, here’s something to contemplate:

Three years ago, I published the following piece on the still festering issue of denying public transportation to Tomoka Town Center, Tanger Outlet and the western reaches of Boomtown Boulevard.  

And nothing of substance has changed. 

We’re still being held hostage – told that a simple reroute of an existing bus line will cost us “$871,510, including $483,435 for the purchase of a bus.”

I think its patently clear that some retail management types and certain public officials, who spent $4.5 million of our money to underwrite Tanger Outlet alone, would prefer that the great masses of unwashed undesirables – the poor, the disabled, the “wrong demographic” – not have access to the tony shopping complex, or, inexplicably, the jobs they sought to create with a liberal dose of our hard-earned tax dollars. 

So, let’s take a walk down memory lane and have a look at a Barker’s View post from November 2016. 

When you’re done – take a gander at the front page/above the fold piece in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Still no Votran to Tanger area,” and ask yourself, with former County Manager Jim Dinneen now retired and off to greener pastures, “What’s changed?”:

“No bus service planned for Tanger Outlets Mall”

Really?

This morning I read an informative piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal reporting on the County of Volusia’s shortsighted refusal to extend Votran bus service to the new Tanger Outlet Mall.

In essence – Volusia officials are money-grubbing again, and the abject arrogance expressed by the County’s top transportation official tells me County Manager Jim Dinneen is pulling the strings on this one.

Last year, the County Council voted to approve an agreement to contribute $2.25 million to the Tanger development – while Daytona Beach city commissioners approved the expenditure of an additional $2.25 million for roads, water and sewer pipes, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

The highly anticipated 39-acre, $100 million-dollar retail center is set to open later this week.

Now, county officials would have us believe that they failed to allocate funds for public transportation service to the outlet mall.

They can’t be that stupid.

Can they?

Like everything else in Volusia County, the devil is in the details.

After throwing a collective $4.5 million of our tax dollars into a private retail development we’re told that the critical element of public transportation won’t be available.

The reason?  No money.

According to Steve Sherrer, general manager of our county operated bus system, “There is currently no funding in Votran’s operating budget to support new service to the Tanger mall.”

In Volusia County’s typical over-the-top fashion –  Sherrer would have us believe that adding a short connection to an important economic driver like Tanger would cost between $300,000 to $400,000 a year – not counting the cost of vehicles.

Bullshit.

According to Google Maps, using the North Williamson Boulevard route from the nearest Votran stop on LPGA Boulevard, the distance is approximately one-half mile.  Too far for the elderly or disabled to walk – especially on a hot summer day – but a short five-minutes by bus.

In June of last year, Sherrer sent a letter to the City of Daytona Beach asking if they would be interested in funding bus service for Tanger Outlets and the nearby Trader Joe’s distribution center.

Seem weird?  You bet it is.

In turn, Assistant City Manager Betty Goodman responded, “It is surprising that Votran’s opinion is that expense for the new service would need to be borne by the city.  As I’m sure you are aware, we do not have any budget for Votran service routes.”

Surprising indeed.

According to Sherrer, “We certainly recognize that Tanger is going to be a legitimate trip generator, but if I don’t have any money in my budget (to add Votran service to the outlet mall) how am I supposed to provide it?” he asked. “I reached out to the city but I can’t twist their arm.”

When asked by the News-Journal whether Votran has sought funding assistance from the outlet mall itself, Sherrer said, “We have not heard from Tanger, but I haven’t picked up the phone (to speak with them).”

Of course not.

Why would the general manager of our public transportation system consider “picking up the phone” and communicating with the area’s most touted retail destination in years to discuss alternatives to a problem everyone saw coming over a year ago?

I suppose it comes from the same mindset that fails to budget – or at least plan for the system flexibility necessary to address a legitimate public need.

Let me get this right: We use millions in public funds to create ‘jobs’ – then fail to provide a means of access to workers who rely on public transportation – and the shoppers who will ultimately make or break our investment.

Tragic.

In most competently managed and accountable organizations – Mr. Sherrer would be called on the carpet and summarily fired for his incompetence, lack of strategic planning, piss-poor budgetary oversight, and the condescending tone of his public communications on a matter of community concern.

(In January 2018, Mr. Sherrer was “moved to a new role” with RATP Dev, the company Volusia County contracts with to manage our public transportation system.  In that role, Mr. Sherrer is, “providing oversight services to transit systems in the eastern United States, including Votran.”)

As I’ve previously said, once again a situation erupts that exposes the depth of dysfunction in County government and begs the obvious question: “When is it appropriate to hold public officials accountable”?

In the Dinneen administration the answer is never.

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to critical oversight. This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, omissions, expenditures, planning, and performance.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications – such as the management of our public transportation system.

Despite overwhelming evidence that Mr. Dinneen is incapable of holding his senior staff responsible for their continuing pattern of gross mismanagement – a serious problem that has been the hallmark of his tenure – rather than demand accountability, our elected officials continue to praise Dinneen’s performance, and reinforce his behavior.

Ridiculous.

You want to know what is truly the most serious issue Volusia County residents face?

It is the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement during Jim Dinneen’s administration – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious malfeasance to continue.

Now, as always, Volusia County is crying poor-mouth and threatening service cuts to taxpayers as a means of shirking yet another county responsibility.

Call it what it is – extortion.

You want transportation to the most heralded addition to the Halifax area’s retail scene in over 20-years?

Then pay us what we demand – or walk.

Disgusting.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Happy Thanksgiving!

To the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe:

I have always believed that there is room for an alternative point-of-view in Volusia County.  An opinion beyond the government soundbites and spin – a blog site that holds those in positions of high responsibility accountable.

Something that lets our ‘powers that be’ know the great unwashed masses are watching.

I believe we are making a difference.  All thanks to your loyal readership and activism.

Writing Barker’s View has been incredibly cathartic for me, and it continues to be a source of pride that has returned a sense of purpose and much-needed social interaction – while the process of contemplating issues and writing my thoughts continues to keep my mind limber.

I also sincerely appreciate the many wonderful relationships this blog has allowed me to cultivate in the community.  Barker’s View has supported my long-held belief that we all want to be listened to – and have our opinions considered and valued by those who establish public policy.

Thank you for listening to mine.

At the end of the day, I’m still just a guy in my boxer shorts banging out foul screeds when I feel citizens are being marginalized, abused or taken advantage of by their local government  – but your response to the message, acceptance of my delusions and incredible friendship have been a true blessing in my life.

The best part of this forum is hearing your feedback, discussing differing opinions and arguing the fine points, because, in my view, that drives a larger discussion of the myriad problems we face in our community.

Sometimes you agree with me – other times you vehemently disagree – but we can remain friends and perhaps gain a better perspective through the civil debate of ideas.

I can’t think of anything more purely American than that.

On this Thanksgiving 2019, please accept my sincere thanks and deep appreciation for your loyalty, friendship, and for taking time out of your busy day to read, think and form an opinion on the critical issues and newsmakers of the day.

It’s important.

May God bless each of you, your families, and our men and women in uniform at home and abroad – our military and first responders – who go into harm’s way to protect us everyday.

From the Barker Family to yours – Happy Thanksgiving!

Beyond Thunderdome. . .

When did recipients of public funds stop communicating with those who pay the bills? 

More important, when did We, The People begin tolerating it?

Recently, the wonderful community newspaper, The West Volusia Beacon, reported that during a five-week period in October and early November, members of the DeLand Police Department responded to at least eight fights – and arrested some 14 children, ages 11 to 14 – at DeLand Middle School.

During the same time frame, officers responded to the school 87 times for both routine issues and to investigate assaults, battery, fighting, suicide threats and to take children into protective custody under the Baker Act, which indicates they were a threat to themselves or others.

A deeper dive found that during the 2017-18 school year, nearly 30% of the student population of the school was given in-school or out-of-school suspensions, or placed in an alternative education program.

Did you hear anything about it? 

Neither did the parents of vulnerable DeLand Middle School students. . .

According to reports, when parents are notified of violence and disorder at the Thunderdome, it comes in the form of frantic calls from their kids, social media posts or a network of parents – not school administrators.

In fact, Amaria Dirch, the parent of a sixth grader, said it’s not uncommon to call the school, repeatedly, with no answer – or leave messages that are never returned.

“Instead of the school administration, Dirch said, she relies on her daughter, other parents, and social media to know when something has happened.  “It doesn’t seem like they care,” Dirch said. “If I didn’t show my face out there every other week, they would throw her to the wolves.”

Wow.

Perhaps most disturbing, the school’s administrators – including the new principal, John R. De Vito, refused to be interviewed by The Beacon.

“Likewise, the DeLand Police Department did not respond to The Beacon’s requests to interview the school resource officer assigned to DeLand Middle School or anyone else in the Police Department who could speak about the situation.”

Ultimately, The Beacon was shunted to the Volusia County School’s Community Information Office – that citadel of non-communication, evasion and obfuscation that protects senior administrators from outside oversight – who, in turn, also blew the newspaper off – refusing to allow a reporter to interview anyone in the publicly funded school system.

Eventually, a highly paid district mouthpiece issued a canned release which, per usual, said nothing – other than spewing some responsibility-dodging crap about “taking matters seriously. . .”

My ass.

Fortunately, our new Volusia County School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Fritz reached out to The Beacon and reassured a concerned community that he would look into the problems at DeLand Middle “fairly quickly” when he takes the helm on December 2.

“If the school is experiencing regular encounters, something is going on in the community. We can’t solve only at the school level, we have to reach out to the community,” Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz said.”

(Note to Dr. Fritz:  I think you will find this has little to do with the delightful community of DeLand – and everything to do with the abject mismanagement, legacy of incompetence and strategic neglect of essential district services you will inherit early next week. . .)

Look, I am personally grateful that Dr. Fritz took the time to speak with the working press – his worried constituency deserve to hear directly from those they have elected and appointed to represent their interests, especially in a crisis.

In my view, any “public servant” – especially those in a senior leadership role – who won’t openly communicate with the public they ostensibly serve are cowards who dishonor their sacred obligation of accessibility and transparency.

And that breeds frustration, animosity and distrust.

Sound familiar?

If you live in Volusia County, it should.

Here on Florida’s Fun Coast, our political leadership have adopted a “loose lips sink ships” policy which keeps the people’s business among the tightly circled wagons of insiders – and employs politically unaccountable government gatekeepers to ration information to the masses in a manner and form most advantageous to preserving the status quo.

In my view, this tight-lipped strategy is counter to the time-honored idea that “an informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment,” and a slap in the face to our cherished democratic principles.

I sincerely hope that Dr. Fritz uses this unfortunate early experience as an indicator of just how far the publicly funded system he will soon oversee has gotten from the core values and considerations that citizens should rightly expect from a massive authority they support with their hard-earned tax dollars.

 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 22, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           First Step Shelter Board

You’re not going to believe this – because I certainly don’t – but this week we learned that the long-awaited First Step Shelter will open its doors to homeless persons seeking assistance (and their law enforcement escorts) on December 16 – and welcome other unfortunates not in police custody, so long as they make an appointment in advance. . .

After years of fits and starts, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County are being told that, in less than a month, the languishing shelter will be staffed and operational – even though the facility has “. . .a few major tasks left uncompleted.”

According to a report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, those odds-and-ends include:

“There’s no hot water yet because a valve is needed for the propane gas that will heat water. There is no phone or Internet service yet because there’s no agreement with a provider. Washers and driers haven’t arrived yet.

All security equipment has yet to be installed, and contracts still need to be finalized with the two companies that will supply security employees and equipment such as cameras and high-tech door locks. A large portion of the bare concrete floor has to be ground down and covered with a stain, urethane and a new mat finish.

Outside, work has yet to start on building the fenced-in “safe zone” where homeless people can stay for part of a day when they’re accused of committing a minor crime and exercise their legal right to choose the spartan holding area over jail.”

Oh, and the parking lot is only half paved – you know, to save money and all.

I guess our partners at P$S Paving have given all they can. . .darn the luck, eh?

Other than that, folks, it’s all “rah-rah-sis-boom-bah!” out in the hinterlands on US-92.

Unfortunately, things remain clear as mud over here in the Real World.

Don’t take my word for it.

Even our new First Step Executive Director, Victoria Fahlberg, has been kept in the dark on when the controversial “safe zone” – perhaps the most important element of the entire operation – will ultimately be completed.

According to Director Fahlberg, she “heard” plans are being drawn up – but, “. . .that’s all I know for now.”

Even the contractor doesn’t know for sure if his company will be asked to construct the safe zone if/when plans for the spartan “safe zone” are complete.

But if/when it is finished, it appears only the security officer monitoring the area 24/7 will be provided shelter from the elements in the form of a “guard shack.”

We’re also unsure of the zone’s size, whether the floor will be a poured pad or bare dirt, how much the site will cost – or who will ultimately pay for it. . .

Weird.

I wouldn’t look for much more in the way of hard information in coming weeks.  Even our neutered “representatives” on the First Step Shelter Board continue to be openly ignored by the City of Daytona Beach.

That’s what happens when you sign a lease on a half-finished building which only provides a modicum of control over the operation and absolutely no authority over the still active construction. . .

On a positive note, the News-Journal also reported:

“When everything is in place and the Catholic Charities shelter staff that will operate it has been trained, clients will be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis, Fahlberg said. Those not brought in by law enforcement officers will need to make an appointment to be considered for a bed inside the shelter, she said.”

In my 31-years of dealing with the homeless population, one thing I came to respect is their painstaking attention to detail and Swiss watch punctuality when making appointments and keeping commitments. . .

But I continue to hope for the best.  Because hope is all we’ve got at this point.

Last weekend, my wife and I were driving home on a rather blustery Saturday night after enjoying dinner in downtown Daytona Beach.

As we stopped for a traffic light on Ridgewood Avenue, we saw two mounds of tattered blankets heaped in the filthy doorway of a long-shuttered business – then heard the croupy rattle of a tubercular cough emanating from under the makeshift shelters.

Unfortunately, neither of us were shocked by the scene.

God help us.

Like thousands of other Halifax area residents (and potential donors) over time, we’ve become numb to that all-to-familiar level of human suffering on our streets – and the foot-dragging and political gamesmanship that has denied this vulnerable population help for too damn long.

I just hope those two hopeless souls Patti and I encountered make their appointments – then begin the long, arduous march toward whatever assistance the First Step Shelter will ultimately provide before the cold, damp winds of winter begin to blow. . .

Angel              Coach Alvin Wyatt, Sr. & Coach Steve Ridder

From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

This was a banner week for Halifax area collegiate sports with two legendary coaches reaching milestones in their impressive careers.

Last week, it was announced that renowned Bethune-Cookman University Coach Alvin B. Wyatt, Sr. is one of five 2020 inductees into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame!

According to B-CU Athletics, the former Wildcat football All-American took over as head football coach in 1997, leading Bethune-Cookman to their first-ever Division I bowl game in 1998 when the Wildcat squad appeared in the Heritage Bowl.

“Wyatt is both the all-time winningest coach in Bethune-Cookman football history at 90-54 and in women’s basketball program with a career mark of 245-207 from 1978-96 that includes the 1984 MEAC Tournament championship with a 62-61 overtime win over South Carolina State and an 84-63 victory over Rust in the 1981 AIAW Regionals.”

Congratulations, Coach Wyatt, on this richly deserved recognition for your lifetime of dedicated service to B-CU Athletics and a grateful community.

Equally impressive is Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Basketball Coach Steve Ridder, who earned his 700th career win on the first night of the 2019 Daytona Mitsubishi/Kia Shootout beating Spring Hill College 109-76.

Eagle Basketball reports, “For Ridder, his 700 victories came in just 986 games over 31 seasons with Embry-Riddle. He is the 29th coach to get all 700 wins at one school and the 16th active coach in collegiate men’s basketball to reach the 700-win plateau.”

 Kudos to Coach Ridder and Coach Wyatt for their incredible contributions to area collegiate sports – and, by their shining example, for  positively influencing the personal, athletic and scholastic development of our leaders of tomorrow.

Well done, gentlemen.

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

It’s been clear for some time now, that – damn the torpedoes – the City of Daytona Beach will steam full speed ahead with their expanded “plan” to turn downtown Beach Street upside-down early next year.

Although the Daytona Beach City Commission did a good job feigning tacit interest in the concerns of frightened business owners and critics who believe that tearing up the current streetscape, only to replace it with another streetscape, will crush many small businesses – it has been clear for weeks that this was a fait accompli.

According to reports, the multi-million-dollar plan to reduce traffic lanes (?) and widen sidewalks will begin in February, with completion expected sometime in “early” 2021. . .

During Wednesday’s Daytona Beach City Commission meeting, the elected officials sat up straight and tall as His Royal Highness J. Hyatt Brown –  and Dr. Kent Sharples of that secret society at the CEO Business Alliance – did their Smithers and Mr. Burns act – sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the front row – which is the patented “Halifax area High Sign” that signals to their hired chattel on the dais of power how to vote.

The Academy Award for Best Dramatic Performance went to Mayor Derrick Henry for his eerily convincing recital that the commission asked City Manager Chisholm for a “plan” to assist and promote businesses during construction, “should we decide to move forward” – almost as if the result wasn’t a foregone conclusion. . .

In perhaps his best Ebenezer Scrooge impersonation to date – Mr. Brown sealed the deal when he admonished his assembled subjects that he “was going to have to reconsider some things in the $18 million rebirth of Riverfront Park” if the streetscape project doesn’t proceed.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Brown said he’s been looking at spending up to $775,000 for a state-of-the-art splash pad in the park. But research shows mothers won’t want to cross four lanes of traffic to get to a splash pad, he said.”

 “I don’t want to spend that amount of money if it’s two lanes,” said Brown, chairman of the board of insurance broker giant Brown & Brown.”

Wow.

His Majesty has no qualms taking a splash park away from the very children who are now saddled with the exorbitant bill for upkeep on his “Grand Esplanade” for the next 50-years if he doesn’t get his way on Beach Street.

You see, it doesn’t matter if the long-suffering villeins of Daytona Beach ponied up millions of dollars in tax abatements and infrastructure to underwrite Mr. Brown’s over-hyped insurance building on Beach Street, The Monarchy rules – and if you don’t bend over and submit to the King’s every fancy – “No splash park for you!”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way things are “accomplished” here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast. . .

Just one question:  How long are We, The People going to be held hostage by what Mr. Brown will and won’t do in Riverside Park if our elected officials don’t acquiesce to his every whim?

Angel              Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio

On Monday, Ponce Inlet Chief of Police Frank Fabrizio announced he will be stepping down next month, culminating some 37-years of committed public service – the last seven to the grateful citizens of the Town of Ponce Inlet.

I can attest to the fact that, even on a good day, a police chief’s job is a hard dollar – and those who do it well deserve our respect.  In my view, few have done better by their department and community during these challenging times than Frank Fabrizio.

I have steadily admired his handling of several high-profile incidents that rocked the quaint seaside town.  Perhaps most memorable was his unyielding support for residents who were outraged by the gruesome beating death of a Labrador puppy in 2017.

The tragic incident galvanized many – both in Ponce Inlet and around the globe – who banded together and fought hard to seek legislation that ultimately became known as “Ponce’s Law” – which will bring stiff penalties to those foul pieces of human excrement who would torture and kill defenseless animals.

The law, which went into effect on October 1, will permit judges to ban convicted abusers from owning a pet, place their names in a database of shame and increase the likelihood that these sadistic offenders will be sentenced to jail time for their horrific crimes.

In my view, his efforts to assist the passage of this important legislation speak to Chief Fabrizio’s character – and the depth of his personal concern for the community.

Chief Fabrizio also dealt with the internecine squabbles that befall all law enforcement agencies from time-to-time – to include the internal and external criticism that can make the job incredibly difficult – and extract an equally hard personal toll.

After a stellar career with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Fabrizio was appointed by Town Manager Jeaneen Witt in January 2012, following the death of my dear friend and close colleague, the incomparable, Chief Wayne Lurcock, who passed away unexpectedly the previous September.

As Chief Fabrizio departs, Ms. Witt has tapped veteran Lieutenant Mark Walker to lead the agency forward until a new chief is named.

In my view, having known and worked closely with Lt. Walker for over three-decades, you will not find a more dedicated or able public servant anywhere.

I’m proud to call Mark my friend.

Lt. Walker’s quick wit and incredible skill – both as a servant-leader and police administrator – are only eclipsed by those hard to define “people skills” that endear him to those he serves and the officers in his charge.

My sincere hope is the Ponce Inlet Town Council will consider appointing Mark Walker to the position, rather than engage in an expensive and unnecessary search.

Congratulations to Chief Fabrizio on your well-deserved retirement from a lifetime of exemplary public service – and thank you for a job well done, sir.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Another stage production of “Ed Kelley’s Cornpone Carnival” is in the books – and, as usual, our doddering fool of a County Chair didn’t disappoint. . .

If you’re not attending these obscene shit shows in person, I completely understand.

I don’t either.

After all, most people work during, well, business hours on Tuesdays and simply can’t be there (I think that’s the plan) – but that shouldn’t stop you from tuning in for the live feed online.

Best slapstick in town. . .

In this week’s episode, two concerned constituents who live in unincorporated Ormond-by-the-Sea attempted to address the still raw topic of septic-to-sewer conversion on the north peninsula.

Before the first citizen could formally address his elected representatives, Chairman Kelley –  clearly annoyed that he had to speak with a commoner – began abdicating any county responsibility for the utility issue with his patented histrionics and a disjointed lecture that had a chilling effect on both citizens, who took time out of their lives to appear before their haughty overlords in DeLand.

When the second resident took exception to being publicly scolded by the very elected body who ostensibly represents her interests – she logically asked Old Ed, if he doesn’t represent north peninsula residents, “Why are you here?”

Damn fine question.

Unfortunately, that legitimate query triggered Chairman Kelley, who initiated a shouting match with the residents after they left the podium in disgust.

The disturbing back-and-forth included Mr. Kelley’s always petty, not-so-veiled, swipes at Councilwoman Heather Post – and culminated with his unhinged raving from the dais, “I am not the bad guy!”

Wild.

In my view, it was one of Old Ed’s better Captain Queeg moments. . .

As the Theater of the Absurd continued (I don’t want to say “progressed,” it didn’t) – following a super-secret selection process known only to County Manager George Recktenwald – we witnessed the anointment of a Jonathan Edwards as our long-anticipated Internal Auditor.

During the discussion, unidentified “critics” were taken to task from the dais for even suggesting that Mr. Edward’s appointment was a slap-dash, thrown together decision – with Councilwoman Post alluding to the fact our elected officials apparently held surreptitious off-the-record interviews with Edward’s at some point in the recruitment “process.”

Were you invited to participate in Mr. Edward’s selection and vetting? 

Were you aware of other finalists, if any, that Mr. Edward’s may have competed against for the job?

Were you told what selection criteria was used – asked to provide interview questions – or advised of what qualifications and experience put Mr. Edward’s over the top?

Will Edward’s be permitted to make direct referrals to law enforcement on instances of fraud, misuse of public funds, theft, false representation, misappropriation of public resources, etc. – or will the county’s legal department and senior leadership make that decision?   

Are you aware of what he’s being paid, who he reports to, if his office will be internal or external, what administrative or investigative assistance is he being provided, or even what his responsibilities and scope of authority will be?

Me neither. . .

Look, all I know is that one month ago – on October 24, 2019, to be exact – The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported in an informative piece by Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Volusia still hasn’t hired internal auditor,” there was absolutely no mention of Edwards, or anyone else, being considered for this highly sensitive role.

Why is that? 

And how did we go from zero interest to making a job offer in fifteen working days?

I don’t know about you, but for a highly-touted position that was resurrected following the universal distrust of county government that saw the death of a very expensive sales tax initiative – and has destroyed the public’s trust – one would have thought the recruitment and selection process might have been slightly more transparent?

Even during the confirmation process at the public meeting – all we really learned about our new auditor is that he was a deputy finance officer in some suburb of Charleston, that, according to Ed Kelley’s razor-sharp insight, has some great bar-b-que and seafood restaurants. . .

No word on his success as a public finance watchdog.

Once again, what could have given constituents a feeling of buy-in and substantive participation was dashed by Volusia County’s cloistered, almost psychopathic, need for secrecy and backroom machinations.

Whatever.

Good luck, Mr. Edwards – whoever you are. . .

Quote of the Week

“Enjoy the wooded ride on Maytown Road with its beautiful plant life and possible wildlife sightings while you can.  For soon, thanks to the greed of investors/developers and attorneys, 30,000 or so houses will be built.  How many creatures will be displaced or eliminated?  How many plants will join the growing list of plant extinction?  Prepare for the demise of our aquifer, urban sprawl, and all its problems.  Video your ride so that your future kids can see how it used to be.”

–Sonny Ellison, Bethune Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Act now to save natural beauty,” Tuesday, November 19, 2019

We’re ruining it all for our children and grandchildren. . . 

Slowly but surely – thanks to voracious  greed – we watch in horror while land rapists and speculative developers continue the slash-and-burn wholesale destruction of our natural places to make room for more garish “lifestyle” communities and depressing, half-empty strip centers.

The astute writer featured in today’s quote is obviously referencing the long-anticipated environmental atrocity known as Farmton – which, beginning in 2026, will bring some 25,000 homes to the natural area between Osteen and Oak Hill – complete with a planned 4-million square feet of commercial space.

That represents a lot of new Walmart shoppers, folks.

I just hope they don’t drink water, drive cars or excrete waste like the rest of us. . .

Interestingly, on last Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps it’s time we collectively inform our tone-deaf ‘powers that be’ that average citizens no longer see our “place” in anything local government does.

Until We, The People use the electoral process to jettison these greedy whores and faux-environmentalists who masquerade as “public servants,” citizens will continue to stand helpless while even more sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted while the bulldozers roar over a moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

And Another Thing!

Guess what?

After marginalizing our opinions, suing their own citizens for having the temerity to petition their government for a say in the future of our beach, intentionally suppressing publicly funded studies urging significant increases in impact fees, obstructing public input, ostracizing whistle-blowers, ignoring concurrency regulations, approving massive sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line while completely disregarding transportation and infrastructure needs, then bowing to every whim of their uber-wealthy campaign donors – now, those same elected dullards in DeLand and beyond want to sit down and talk “issues” with you naysayers. . .

Bullshit.

I suppose when all else fails – and your complete lack of respect for those you represent has been repeatedly exposed – then it’s time to feign sincerity, fan the flames of pseudo-urgency and engage your disenfranchised constituents in some stilted tête-à-tête to make them believe now you care what they have to say. . .

How stupid do these pinheads think we are? 

Too little, too late.

Inexplicably, rather than address the very real “public trust” issue that doomed the half-cent sales tax referendum earlier this year, the exact same players – a weird amalgam of pompous profiteers and the lickspittle politicians who are indebted to them – are back for another bite at this moldering apple less than six-months after their money grubbing plan went down in flames.

On Monday, over a lunch you and I paid for, the Knights of the Roundtable – that shadow regime comprised of mayors, managers and parasitic hangers-on – met while you were at work to get their collective stories straight on perhaps the most pressing issue of our time:

How to fund improvements to our wholly ignored, now totally inadequate, transportation infrastructure and maintain water quality in the face of crushing over-development when no one trusts you anymore?

According to reports, the preliminary “plan” is to slap together another “committee” – this one  comprised of Dr. Kent Sharples, the doyen of the camera stellata at the CEO Business Alliance, and Jim Cameron of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce (?) – along with a smattering of elected officials who aren’t up for reelection next year. . .

Oh, I almost forgot, the klatch will also include a few token “naysayers” (the Roundtable’s insulting moniker, not mine) apparently selected from those who stood in opposition to the tax hike the first time around.

As the recognized Crown Prince of Volusia County Critics, the Nabob of Negativity, the Monarch of Misanthropes, the Sultan of Suspicion, the Potentate of Pessimists, the Maharishi of Malcontents, the (oh, sorry) – I wouldn’t add credibility to their damnable disinformation campaign by sitting on their faux-fence mending committee if they paid me.

Don’t worry, they won’t.  Something tells me the Knights of the Roundtable don’t want me anywhere near their committee. . .

In my view, this is the nadir of political chicanery – and speaks to the depths our compromised politicians will go to ignore and disrespect the Will of the People.

Because he’s a true gentleman, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte advised the tone-deaf group that branding a large and growing segment of their constituency as “naysayers” was inappropriate – but the damage was done.

Frankly, to watch the likes of the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys – backed by Dr. Kent Sharples and his Merry Band of Millionaires (who shouldn’t be within a hundred miles of a sales tax referendum) lecture us on how much we collectively stand to lose in the next “12 to 18 months” when Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon take their mythical high paying “aerospace jobs” elsewhere – is nauseating. . .

It’s also a gross insult to our intelligence.

If a sales tax increase were passed this afternoon, it would be 12 to 18 years before the level of transportation and utilities infrastructure meets current demand – and no one in their right mind, let alone sitting public officials – should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

As always, thank you for reading, and for furthering a larger conversation on the myriad issues we face.

You are making a difference.  Never forget that.

A&A will take a break next week as we join with family and friends to give thanks for the many wonderful blessings in our lives.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and a most Joyous Holiday Season!

 

 

 

 

What elephant?

In a famous scene from the Broadway play Billy Rose’s Jumbo, a police officer stops Jimmy Durante who is leading a live elephant and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?”

Durante’s reply, “What elephant?”

 I was reminded of that comedic exchange this week. . .

 Despite the consternation this blog site continues to bring to the Hallowed Halls of Power in DeLand and beyond, I remain a Quixotic rube lost in the wilderness – nothing more – a bombastic blowhard with internet access who pontificates on the issues of the day – and ponders on the perennial politicians, insiders and bureaucratic do-nothings that, in my view, are actively destroying our quality of life – clumsily plowing forward with no semblance of a comprehensive vision for our future other than an insatiable appetite for more tax dollars.

It’s why I’m easy to dismiss as a hypercritical lunatic.

But sometimes I stumble upon an uncomfortable reality it seems no one but me wants to talk about. . .

Between the weird political Couéism that continues to permeate most public meetings – the recurrent self-aggrandizing autosuggestion of “Day by day in every way we’re getting better and better” – I notice a sustained attack on those citizens who are critical of the political intrigues and missed opportunities to encourage public input in solving some of the most vexing civic, social and economic problems of our time.

Quite simply, no one who should will listen, and they haven’t for a long while now.

The ingrained trait of turning a deaf ear to our concerns is embodied in many elected officials who obsessively refuse to accept the public’s voice – the Will of the People – especially when it relates to questions that have already been put to a vote.

Earlier this week, the Knights of the Roundtable – a bizarre shadow régime comprised of mayors, managers, county officials and various parasitic hangers-on, led by the illustrious Illuminati at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – resurrected the specter of the half-cent sales tax initiative which was resoundingly rejected by the electorate just six-months ago.

From Amendment 10 to the sales tax debacle, when will they listen to the voice of the people?

It is an insult to our intelligence – and our revered democratic system – to continue repackaging this shameless money grab and putting back on the ballot until they get the answer they desire.

That’s not how this works.

Our ‘powers that be’ asked the question in the very expensive manner and format they were told would be most advantageous for the desired outcome – and we answered.

Loud and clear.       

What I never hear is a substantive discussion by our elected officials – particularly on the Volusia County Council – regarding the real reason this referendum ended in defeat:

The universal distrust of disenfranchised citizens – and our well-founded suspicion that this oligarchic sham that passes for governance here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast no longer represents our interests – or bears any resemblance to a representative democracy. 

In fact, at this weeks roundtable, the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys condescendingly dismissed the notion that the public’s trust played any role in the defeat of the sales tax – and joined CEO Business Alliance president Kent Sharples (whose involvement in debacles from the American Music Festival to the downfall of Bethune-Cookman University are legendary) in frightening us all with scary stories of losing out on pie-in-the-sky deals with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance if we don’t tax ourselves NOW.

“Saying the sales tax failed because of a lack of trust is not the answer, I’m sorry that answer is wrong from here on out,” Denys crowed.

“There’s too much at stake.”

How dare you.  I mean, what happened to the common human emotion of shame?

Sorry, Deb.  You’re not going to devalue our concerns and sidestep responsibility that easily.

Not this time.

Rather than confront the elephant in the room, our elected dullards stumble about in some stupor of conceit – unable to comprehend that We, The People would deny the very same elected and appointed numbskulls who got us into this damnable infrastructure quagmire in the first place even deeper access to our wallets.

That’s the uncomfortable truth no one in a position of official or unofficial power wants to address.

“What elephant?” indeed. . .    

In my view, no one who truly cares about the real needs and concerns of their long-suffering constituents should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

In my view, it’s time we begin that difficult discussion.

 

On Volusia: Ignoring the will of the people. Again. . .

Well, it would appear the Knights of the Roundtable – that goofy pseudo-government comprised of local mayors, managers, county officials and parasitic hangers-on – led by the secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – still can’t accept the Will of the People. . .

What gives?

Inexplicably, during Monday’s mid-day confab of our Templar’s of Taxation, the failed half-cent sales tax referendum was exhumed from it’s freshly tamped grave and laid upon the catafalque of public opinion, as our powerful political forces and farces attempted to reanimate its festering remains.

How utterly macabre?

Perhaps that’s why Volusia County failed to put the meeting’s agenda on their website in advance of the revelation?

Earlier this year, following an incredibly expensive “special election” – a weird mail-in ballot scheme which was ushered in on a full-frontal assault by our ‘powers that be’ and their friends at the CEO Alliance – We, The People overwhelmingly stood firm and screamed ‘Hell No’ to a pernicious plan which would have saddled every man, woman and child in Volusia County with a half-cent sales tax ostensibly for transportation and water-quality improvements.

By any analysis, the brutal death of this shameless money grab was due – almost exclusively – to the citizen’s utter disgust with the machinations of arrogant elected officials on the County Council and beyond – a sense of ostracism which has many feeling excluded and led to an almost universal distrust in local government.

What’s changed since the people spoke just six short months ago?

A moratorium on permitting and building massive “theme” and “lifestyle” communities on our sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitats? 

Strict enforcement of fertilizer ordinances, strengthening development regulations or a stop to septic systems on new construction near delicate estuaries? 

Have we stopped pumping partially treated effluent into the Halifax River? 

Increased public transportation options to the mega-shopping areas on LPGA Boulevard and beyond to decrease vehicular traffic on our already overburdened roadways?

Moved to reduce spending as a means of funding critical infrastructure repair or transportation improvements beyond taxing the eyeballs out of Volusia County residents?

Seen a more responsive, transparent and communicative city and county government? 

Discussed substantive changes to our perverse campaign finance system?

Commissioned an independent outside forensic audit of Volusia County government to alleviate taxpayer’s very real fear that we continue to hemorrhage money from orifices our elected and appointed officials don’t even know about?

Or – perhaps the worst example – following the least transparent selection process in governmental history, now County Manager George Recktenwald is set to announce he’s finally hiring the long-awaited “independent” Internal Auditor – one day after the sales tax initiative was resurrected?  Really?    

Bullshit.

Unbelievably, some of our elected officials now want a full one cent tax.

The fact is, absolutely nothing has fundamentally changed – except our property taxes were drastically increased on a swollen Volusia County budget now approaching $1 Billion – and some municipalities are mysteriously finding unencumbered funds immediately after significantly raising taxes. . .

Jesus.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

When will ‘No’ finally mean ‘No’?

These incompetent shitheels still think we are too stupid to understand that they desperately need the money for infrastructure improvements after painting themselves into a dark corner with over-development and a lack of appropriate impact fees or substantive growth management.

Trust me.  We get it.

However, as clearly stated in the failed first attempt, we simply will not piss good money after bad with the same craven assholes who got us into the mess in the first place. . .

That’s a recipe for disaster – and no one should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

Look, there is little doubt our elected and appointed officials will continue to punish us like recalcitrant children with exorbitant property taxes and fees – and allow even more malignant sprawl to pressure our infrastructure – until We, The People cry out for mercy.

Perhaps that was the dog-whistle our always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Deny’s sent to her “colleagues” on Monday when she screeched something about “tough decisions” and “political willpower”?

(As opposed to the abject political cowardice Deb exhibited when she haughtily demanded that each municipality prostrate themselves before the High Altar in DeLand and pledge support for the sales tax earlier this year?) 

Political willpower?  My ass. . .

Now, several dear friends of mine – intelligent, dedicated citizens whose opinions I trust – are of the opinion that a bottom-up approach – policed by an independent committee of responsible stakeholders who are not beholden to the special interests whose fingerprints were all over the original plan – can effectively carry a new referendum past wary voters then efficiently steward the millions in tax dollars resulting from their “new and improved” sales tax scheme.

I disagree.  Vehemently.

You see, I come from a place that says, ‘Leopards don’t change their spots,’ and our current crop of entrenched perennial politicians, who are demonstrably controlled by those uber-wealthy individuals and industries who stand to benefit most, have proven they will never change their character.

Stay tuned, kids.  It’s going to be a long, hot election season – and this shit show has legs.

 

 

 

 

Hello? Is anyone there?

If I didn’t know better, one might think I’m suffering from some weird persecutory delusion of late – an irrational fear that my progeny, this humble blog site, has become the object of collective hostility by our ‘movers & shakers’ – who seem increasingly worried by this lone voice in the wilderness.

On occasion, well-meaning members of the Halifax area Illuminati will sit me down and point out where I erred on one civic issue or another – or try and persuade me to change my opinion on some important project or asinine development that stands to benefit the few at the expense of many.

Sometimes these arguments are compelling – other times they speak to the mercenary needs of those who seek an advantage – and, over time, I’ve developed the unique ability to differentiate the two within nanoseconds. . .

I understand the motivation – and I do my level best to explain to members of this clique, ostensibly bright people who continue to mistake the size of someone’s bank account with their level of intelligence and civic vision – that Barker’s View is simply one man’s jaded opinion on the vexing issues of our time, and it’s popularity speaks to the growing number of citizens who no longer feel any connection to their local government.

It’s good to know that I am not alone in this dreaded feeling of alienation, marginalization and suppression of substantive public input – or my fervent desire to see a fundamental change in the manner and means by which uber-wealthy oligarchs and their hangers-on control their environment, and our lives and livelihoods, by purchasing political loyalty through our perverse campaign finance system.

This increasingly cloistered and enigmatic society of those who have influence, was evident in Sunday’s The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In a telling piece by reporter Jim Abbott, which explored the looming January deadline for the languishing “$192 million” beachfront condominium and convention center being developed by the Russian-owned Protogroup, a project which remains painfully ‘under construction’ near Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue in the heart of our core tourist area.

In fact, even casual watchers are stunned by the cadaverous appearance of the site – and many are concerned about the fate of the towers – and the $1.6 million in CRA funds the City of Daytona Beach is slated to release to Protogroup for a beach approach and utility work as outlined in a “loose” public/private “agreement.”

Unfortunately, Protogroup, and the City of Daytona Beach, have both become equally (and suspiciously) uncommunicative – leaving the rest of us to suffer in fear and speculation of what will become of our beachside if this key section of real estate is abandoned mid-construction.

In fact, according to reports, Protogroup hasn’t responded to requests from the News-Journal “for months,” and calls seeking comment from the construction contractor “weren’t returned.”

In my view, perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Daytona Beach officials – those elected to represent the interests of their constituents – are also actively avoiding mounting questions from the press on the fate of what is quickly morphing into a grotesque white elephant.

In a weird twist, Mr. Abbott reports that, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry as well as Commissioner Rob Gilliland.”

Then, a full week after emailed questions regarding the state of the towers were sent to Commissioner Quanita May (as she requested?), the News-Journal received a series of one-word non-answers apparently compiled by municipal mouthpiece, Shelley Szafraniec:

“Are you satisfied with the progress of the construction to this point? Yes.”

“Are you concerned about the project not making this deadline? No.”

Jesus.  How can a sitting public official be so patently out-of-touch – or unresponsive?

In my view, this clumsy dodge by the Daytona Beach City Commission is cowardly, and speaks to the isolation many residents rightly feel from elected officials with a sworn personal and fiduciary responsibility to those who pay the bills.

Interestingly, on Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps the answer is that average citizens no longer see their “place” in anything local government does.

Long-suffering constituents watch as their elected and appointed officials openly ignore the working press – communicating with us through spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear.

Citizens stand helpless while even more environmentally sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted and the bulldozers roar over a slash-and-burn moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

Residents watch in horror as those same compromised politicians pay mumbling lip service to things like resiliency, concurrency and sustainability – while hiding and suppressing publicly funded studies recommending higher impact fees for speculative real estate developers.

When outlets like this blog site – or courageous civic activists – speak out and demand answers, our ‘powers that be’ do their level best to marginalize our collective voice and persuade us their rotten “vision” is more important than our own, all while suppressing dissent and alternative opinion by extraordinary measures.

For instance, when we try and participate during county and municipal governmental meetings, citizens are regularly harangued by their mayor, or our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to remain courteous and professional when they prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and seek their benevolence.

At “public meetings,” politically accountable elected officials have purposely severed the television feed during the “public comment forum” – which has been relegated to the bitter end of the meeting and allows taxpayers just 2.5 minutes to address their exalted “representatives” – ensuring that their constituents concerns and criticisms are contained within the four walls of the chamber.

And they do so with the confidence that, come election time, they’ll simply outspend their challengers with money taken directly from the pockets of those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

All while reminding us Dalits how “responsive” they are to our needs. . .

Things have gotten so bad that, in Daytona Beach, intrepid activists are now demanding a municipal charter amendment to ensure that those who pay the bills are afforded at least 3-minutes to address civic issues and provide input at public meetings.

My God. 

Perhaps its time The Daytona Beach News-Journal stop asking muted citizens why they refuse to engage with their local governments – and start asking these arrogant “public servants” who are clearly no longer accountable to anyone other than their wealthy handlers – why they have effectively walled themselves off from their constituents and the media?

Just make sure you’re courteous and professional when you do it. . .