Best of Barker’s View: Qui Bono? Redux

A version of this entitled “Qui Bono?” first appeared in Barker’s View in January 2016 when the effort to lash a half-cent sales tax to every man, woman and child in Volusia County was gaining traction.  

It was equally prescient in April 2017, when something called the Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials joined forces with the Star Chamber at the CEO Business Alliance to frighten us into passing the tax initiative – even as those compromised screw-job’s on the Volusia County Council repeatedly refused to increase impact fees on their sugar daddies in the real estate development community – – since 2003. . . 

Today, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a piece entitled “Volusia County sales tax talk returns.” 

This go-around features the same names – with South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough serving as the chief mouthpiece and Dr. Kent Sharples, president of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, as his slack-jawed, yammering sidekick.  

In an ever-changing world, the gross money-grubbing of Volusia County government is the one constant.  So, I ask you again, “Qui Bono?”

Here’s my take on it: 

Way back in January 2016, when Barker’s View was still struggling to find its voice – and a regular audience – I penned the following screed on Volusia County’s efforts to move the proposed “half-cent” sales tax for transportation infrastructure:

“The Volusia County Council’s inability to sell the half-cent sales tax initiative this summer is indicative of a larger problem. 

 In my view, our elected officials are missing the key element of any successful marketing strategy – or tax proposal:  Trust.

 Oblivious to the fact that they have lost basic credibility, County officials are once again staging their tired Kabuki – dramatically performed with equal parts apocalyptic prophecy, name calling, and threats against municipalities – all designed to wring additional dollars from a tax-weary constituency.

(Former) Councilman Doug Daniels surmises that the cities hesitation (to fund a citizen survey) was the result of a “failure to communicate.”  Mr. Daniels and his fellow council members should understand – we read you loud and clear – we simply don’t trust you anymore. 

Given the number of grassroots efforts seeking accountability, it is increasingly clear to everyone but County officials that they no longer have the consent of the governed.

I believe the seeds of this institutional distrust germinate in the County Manager’s office. 

In my view, Jim Dinneen’s mismanagement of this and other important public policy issues best exemplify all that’s wrong with county government.  Team Dinneen wants higher taxes because they need higher taxes – and spending cuts, the reduction of exorbitant executive salaries or curbing insider handouts are inconceivable.

A bureaucracy – especially one as bloated as this – requires tax dollars like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host. 

Its very life depends upon it.

Public confidence in County government has been slowly eroded by the steady flow of missteps, bullying and legislative slight-of-hand that invariably benefits a privileged few while laying the financial burden squarely on the back of Volusia County residents.

As a result, we no longer assume the county council’s decisions serve the common good.  Now, we instinctively ask ourselves the darker question, “Who benefits?”

Interesting how nothing really changes.

You may remember those heady days when the sales tax increase was all but put out of its misery – and everyone agreed that, given the state of the county’s relationship with the cities, and the increasing lack of public trust in the system – that selling this pig would be difficult, if not impossible.

You may also remember when the always diplomatic Councilwoman Deb Deny’s took a rolled-up newspaper and whacked municipal residents and elected officials across the nose while lecturing in her most condescending way, “I think the public will buy in once their elected leaders have a clear vision,” Denys said, something that’s been lacking in the past.

“There has been no clear vision.”

Deb Denys moralizing about vision?

That’s rich.

Regardless, in Volusia County, no tax increase is ever really dead – and now that the election cycle is over – it’s festering cadaver is crawling out of its sandy grave like Frankenstein’s monster on a stormy night.

In today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that county and municipal officials sat down and cobbled together a $1.5 billion (with a “B”) wish list of bridges, roads, sidewalks, trails, intersections, traffic lights, spans, etc., etc. that could benefit from our collective acquiescence to their demand that we give government seven cents of every dollar we spend.

Clearly, our municipal and county officials have come to the stark realization that – as citizens of the third highest taxed county in the State of Florida – there is no way in hell we will buy their scary stories and Armageddon scenarios.

We don’t have to – we’re living it.

With planned residential developments stretching from Brevard to Flagler – we understand that developers are intent on putting the cart before the infrastructure horse – and those who know better are letting them do it.

Hell, Jimmy Buffett’s “Shangri-La in the Swamp” west of I-95 could bring as many as 15,000+ new Walmart shoppers to our area alone.

That’s a lot of traffic, kids.

But we need assurances that the increase in tax revenues will be used in the public interest – and therein lies the rub.

Our elected officials will now use the same marketing strategy that won the School Board approval of its “half-cent” – an itemized list of specific projects – a public indoctrination program – and a citizen committee to ensure oversight and coordination.

Will it succeed?  Who knows.

The good citizens of Volusia County have seen first-hand the inability of our elected and appointed officials to live within their means.

They have witnessed the mismanagement, exorbitant executive salaries, raises and benefit packages, the “Taj Mahal” construction projects, the half-price sale of public lands to private interests, the dubious “economic incentives” and cash giveaways, and the council’s almost supernatural ability to fund every pet project, infrastructure improvement and private venture of the uber-wealthy political insiders.

For instance, we watched intently as the $15.8 million-dollar extension of South Williamson Boulevard was completed, specifically to accommodate the High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini’s, swansong – the Woodhaven development.

Weird how there is always money available to ensure the needs and wants of the “rich and powerful” (to use the News-Journal’s descriptor) are met, but that pothole on your street just gets bigger, eh?

In my view, that’s the problem.

When we reach the point where we demand ‘citizen oversight committees,’ and require that our elected officials demonstrate clearly defined ‘need vs. want’ lists of projects to keep them honest – can we truly say that we are better governed that the residents of Port-au-Prince?

Or any other Third World shithole?

These people should be ashamed of themselves.  But they’re not.

At the end of the day, I suspect that what passes for “local leadership” will get the tax increase they are so desperately begging for.

Anyone who drives in Volusia County understands the current and future needs we face, and we damn sure don’t need a $150,000 study to point it out (and I, for one, damn sure don’t need to hear that doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, crowing, ad nauseum, that “impact fees won’t cover our transportation infrastructure needs.”  Jesus.  We get it, Ed.)

In my view, the tragedy is that in 2017, we are still required to ask ourselves the dark question:  Qui bono?

Who stands to gain?

Who ultimately benefits from the estimated $42-million in annual revenue the sales tax is estimated to bring?

You?  Me?  P$S Paving?  ICI Homes?  ISC?

Who?  I’m asking.

Because we are forced to demand transparency – and clear accountability – from this pompous cabal of elected and appointed county officials before we throw good money after bad, knowing full well that in a few short years they will be crawling back with another dubious money grab.

Always demanding more, more, more.

Tragic indeed.

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Betrayal – Part Deux

By any metric, J. Hyatt Brown, the long-time Chairman of the billion-dollar insurance intermediary Brown & Brown, is a master of manipulating our system of governance to his personal advantage.

While I don’t know Mr. Brown personally, I know many people who do, and he is clearly a brilliant man, an expert tactician, with an aggressive business sense and no qualms about using his massive personal and professional assets to position his interests.

For instance, when J. Hyatt decided he wanted to build his corporate headquarters in Downtrodden Downtown Daytona, he carefully orchestrated an invitation only roll-out that had our “movers & shakers” eating out of his hand with tall tales of all the new Brown & Brown campus will do for us long-suffering denizens of the Halifax area.

In fact, at the time, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported, “The new Brown & Brown building, coupled with other new development being pursued for the riverfront, could catapult the heart of downtown into a new stratosphere.”

Wow.

Once he set the hook – Mr. Brown began reeling-in massive governmental incentives from his hired chattel on the Dais of Power – taking millions in infrastructure improvements and tax credits from both the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia.

In my view, it was the perfect example of our legally approved quid pro quo campaign finance system in action – where those with the financial wherewithal to influence elections later reap the benefits of “corporate welfare” and skewed public policies which place the whims of the few over the needs of the many.

Recently, we learned that all is not as it seems in J. Hyatt’s kingdom – with allegations of corporate intrigue and betrayal – resulting in massive lawsuits and other punitive measures designed to bring former-executives-turned-competitors to heel.

According to reports, in October, Brown & Brown filed suit against several former executives – including Charlie Lydecker, a former regional president who left the company in 2016, before forming Foundation Risk Partners – alleging a “betrayal of executive loyalty” and conspiracy to create a competing insurance company.

(You can read my goofy take on it here: https://tinyurl.com/ycn7k53l )

I recently introduced myself to Mr. Lydecker when I ran into him at a local craft brewery.  While we didn’t discuss the Brown & Brown case directly – I found him to be a true gentleman – incredibly bright, personally engaging and, as one would expect, very well-versed in local civic issues.

In the few minutes we spent together, I came away with the impression that Mr. Lydecker is committed to building a better community – as evidenced by his service on the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee – and participation in other civic improvement efforts.

Although I doubt we agree on the mechanics of how best to alter the ugly trajectory of the Halifax area – I find it refreshing that an established business leader like Charlie Lydecker is focused on improving our collective future – not just his company’s bottom line.

At the end of our conversation, I came away with a completely different impression of Mr. Lydecker than the Machiavellian image of him crafted in the Brown & Brown lawsuit.

Now, thanks to the excellent reporting of the News-Journal’s Clayton Park, we’re getting the other side of the story as Mr. Lydecker and others defend their honor and good name with counter-accusations against the industry behemoth.

According to the legal response to Mr. Brown’s allegations, this may well be a case of corporate nepotism – where blood ultimately proves thicker than talent, effort or loyalty.

Apparently, in 2009, J. Hyatt promoted his son, J. Powell, to succeed him as CEO, over “longtime Hyatt loyalist Jim Henderson (Brown & Brown’s then vice chairman) to whom Hyatt had promised the promotion,” according to the legal response.

This flew in the face of J. Hyatt’s long-time leadership strategy which structured the company as a “meritocracy” – where the cream rose to the top based upon hard-work, talent and ability – rather than an employee’s surname.

According to the News-Journal’s report:

“The sudden elevation of the younger Brown to chief executive “created a crisis of confidence in the current and future leadership of (Brown & Brown) that, in one fell swoop, shattered the trust of a workforce who was led to believe in the meritocracy Hyatt had preached,” according to the legal response.”

“Right there, for the (Brown & Brown) world to see, merit and loyalty were discarded for nepotism,” the legal response states.”

“The executive ranks of the company soon became the Brown family employment center, with Brown family children and relations being elevated to the highest positions in the company regardless of the merit,” the legal response adds.”

According to Foundation Risk Partner’s rebuttal, J. Powell Brown brought a “new indecisive and odd leadership style” resulting in “internal strife and doubt” in the company’s sizable workforce.  In addition, there are allegations of “awkward and disconcerting behavior” by J. Powell as the President and CEO, along with a “disingenuous explanation of his sudden and extended leave of absence in 2012” that ultimately resulted in some 52 senior leaders jumping ship.

Damn.

In addition, the court filing alleges that Brown & Brown manipulated commission revenue “to show that the retail division was more profitable than it actually was, to meet the expectation of (stock) analysts” – and when Mr. Lydecker objected to the practice – he was “asked to leave because of his questioning the ethics of Powell’s management.” 

Wow.

I don’t know who is right and who is wrong – that’s for a judge to ultimately decide – but what I do know is that this clash of the titans isn’t good for the Halifax area.

For good or for ill, companies like Brown & Brown – and the successful newcomer, Foundation Risk Partners – form a sizable portion of our economic bedrock here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

With hundreds of people currently employed by Brown & Brown – and the promises of more jobs to come – along with the anticipation of the new headquarters campus and a symbiotic riverside park complex – Brown & Brown’s local expansion in downtown is bringing hope to an area that deeply needs something to look forward to.

The health and vitality of the insurance industry needs new and innovative companies, like Foundation Risk Partners, with the ability to contend on a level playing field, free from threats and intimidation from its much larger competitor.

In my view, perhaps Brown & Brown should stop bludgeoning former executives who have the courage to go forth and create a better product, provide a higher quality of service and bring spirited competition to the ultimate “meritocracy” – the free and open marketplace.

That’s good for everyone – and for the Halifax area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Prepare for Disappointment

On Terman’s original Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, my “IQ” and cognitive function would be classified as “Dull Normal – Bordering on Feeble-Minded” – in other words, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But what I lack in smarts is compensated for with a highly-developed sense of right-and-wrong – an almost instinctual ability to discern those with a highly evolved sense of moral and ethical behaviors – such as honesty, fairness, respect, dignity and kindness – from those who compromise their personal and professional values for an unquenchable thirst for money and power.

I suspect you can too.

It’s part of why I find it so interesting to watch the machinations of government – where by popular vote we elect others to represent our collective interests, provide essential services and utilities, enact laws and ordinances, steward our hard-earned tax dollars and set a strategic vision for our future.

Invariably, with time, we see some weak-minded politicians become everything they hated when they stood for election – compromised by the trappings of high office or beholden to those who use massive campaign contributions to gain influence and control their personal and professional environment.

Once assuming power, these horribly broken politicians say one thing – then do something completely different – serving their new masters like lapdogs – acting contrary to our collective best interests and counter to what we thought were their core values and vision when we voted for them.

But in the council/manager form of governance – it is the city or county manager that sets the agenda and serves as the sole source of information on the important issues of the day – and that places him or her in the catbird seat.

I’ve previously described it like this:

In a Council/Manager form of government, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services.  For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments, agencies and services of the government and administrate all financial processes and budget recommendations.

We, The People, elect the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – similar to a corporate board of directors – who appoint a manager who they hope has the strong managerial and organizational skills to run the day-to-day operations of the government, make internal policy determinations, suggest budget allocations and provide information to serve the legislative function.

Most do a fine job – and some do an exceptional job – serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

The system also insulates career civil servants – the professionals who provide government services to the community – from the often politically motivated nature of elected officials who are normally prohibited by charter from directing or interfering with operations.

That’s important.

Why?  Just take a look at what’s happening in the City of Edgewater.  That’s why. . .

Perhaps the one aspect of the system that gives the manager ultimate power is the fact that he or she personally controls the flow of information to the members of the elected body.

That can be dangerous.

Florida’s open government laws specifically prohibit two or more elected officials from discussing matters coming before the collective body in private.  As a result, the only conduit they have to the “real story” – the nuts and bolts of the issues – is through individual meetings with the manager.

While elected officials do have some leeway to conduct independent fact-finding – some charters, and transparent managers, allow commissioners to speak with department heads – but most rely solely on what they are told by the manager.

As a result, many times the legislative process dissolves into little more than a rubber-stamp of the manager’s prerogative.

In our representative democracy, the only thing standing in the way of a government executive transmogrifying into a tyrannical despot is the elected body – politically accountable policymakers charged with the direct oversight of an extremely powerful individual.

It’s a tough gig – on both sides – and requires a balance of power that is influenced by many factors.

In Volusia County, perhaps the biggest factor is the enormous sums of cash which are infused into local political campaigns by those special interests seeking continued access to the public trough.

This morning, I read an interesting editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Openness key to manager search.”

Following the departure of former County Manager Jim Dinneen in June – and now that our “new” County Council has finally been seated – the time has come to select our next chief executive.

I happen to agree with the News-Journal’s opinion that the process should be open, transparent and include the suggestions of constituents – you and I – whose lives and livelihoods will be directly impacted by this person’s decisions.

Don’t hold your breath.

In keeping with government’s need for political insulation, Volusia County has employed the services of a headhunting firm, Georgia-based Slavin Management Consultants (the same group that brought us Little Jimmy in the first place. . .), to handle the logistics of selecting qualified available candidates based upon the leadership and administrative strengths (and salary and benefit package) established by our elected officials.

On the surface, it will appear to be a canned process that will bring in a few “managers in transition” (read: those that have been thrown out on their ass elsewhere) and others who are looking to move to a warmer climate.

There will be the obligatory public interviews, goofy “meet-n-greets,” and, ultimately, those dullards we have elected to represent our interests on the dais of power will select the final contenders and roll the dice.

At least that’s how it will appear to uninitiated.

But this is Volusia County – we pride ourselves on being the most dysfunctional political shit-show since those heady days of the Duvalier regime – so rest assured our “Rich & Powerful” overseers who manipulate the strings and wires of the political marionettes they have bought and paid for in this bastardized oligarchy will have something to say about who ultimately serves as our next county manager.

Trust me.  We can “hope” for public input in this important process all we want – but at the end of the day – the successful candidate will be the one who gets the nod of the Camera Stallata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance and the anointment of our High Panjandrums of Political Power in the real estate development, insurance and motorsports industries – not that absurd clown troupe on the dais of power in DeLand.

Period.

The good suggestions of the News-Journal – and us peons who are expected to pay the bills and keep our collective piehole shut, have already fallen on deaf ears – because We, The People, have become totally irrelevant in an environment where special interests influence our elections with unlimited campaign contributions to hand-select candidates.

After all, the chief executive stands at the nexus of public funds and private interests – and if the reign of Jim Dinneen proved anything – its that when influential insiders provide the manager with protection from any reasonable political accountability – their access to the public trough is assured.

Please don’t expect that to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 16, 2018

Hi, kids!

Welcome to the weekend!

I’m Barker – your hyper-opinionated scribe – bringing you my inane thoughts on the important issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

Regular readers of this weekly grab-bag of political bloviations know that what you see, is what you get.

I don’t sugarcoat it, folks.

There’s no hard-candy shell on my viewpoints – and they are best taken with a stiff cocktail – an open mind – and an evolved sense of humor.

In addition to this blog site – on the second Monday of each month, Barker’s View is proud to co-host GovStuff Live! with Big John – Central Florida’s premiere educational, informational and inspirational local forum broadcast daily from 4:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. on 1380 AM “The Cat.”

Those of you familiar with the program know that Big John provides a wealth of information – “Snippets” of news and information important to residents of the Halifax area – and his in-depth knowledge of the players – and behind-the-scenes machinations of government – provides his listeners with a great overview of the issues during the “fastest two-hours in radio.”

For as long as I can remember, every Friday afternoon, a smart friend and I gather for what we call “Beer and Big” – a listening party of sorts – where we take in GovStuff Live! over a few cold brews, contemplate the week that was and solve the problems of the world.

My role as Big’s once-a-month slack-jawed sidekick is to add an alternative opinion – and while we don’t always see eye-to-eye – those who listen tell me they enjoy hearing our distinctly different points of view and often irreverent take on current events that drives a larger discussion in the community.

But, not everyone agrees. . .

Earlier this week, the radio station received a terse note from a dissatisfied listener who commented, “Barker is a person who is totally opinionated. Too much for me. Please do not allow him to be on your show anymore.”

 Well, he’s nothing if not observant. . .

 Look, I get it.  But that’s kind of my schtick.   

These screeds aren’t for everyone – and sometimes they rub the right people the wrong way.

In today’s hyper-partisan, incredibly divisive environment, we are increasingly limited where and when we can voice differing opinions in a setting that values diversity of thought, considers innovative ideas and encourages the old-fashioned notion that we can still “agree to disagree.”

In my view, the thought of disallowing (or “dis-inviting” in the parlance of our times) those who have strong opinions that differ from ours is ignorance personified.

Why?

Because it stifles the free exchange of information and opinions – and perpetuates the “I’m always right, thus, you’re always wrong” mentality that has crushed the competition of ideas in this country.

Frankly, I wear these barbs from close-minded churls who seek to “ban” those whose views they disagree with from the public discourse (because it’s easier than actually forming and debating an original thought) like a badge of honor.

The feedback I receive from readers and listeners – even those who vehemently disagree with my positions – adds to my knowledge base and helps me learn more about what my friends and neighbors think is important to our future.

In fact, those who disagree with me and point out the folly of my thoughts on a given issue  through rational dialog, or even heated debate, are helping build a sense of community – whether they realize it or not.

When people who make their lives together in neighborhoods and communities – especially in the mosaic of unique cities in Volusia County – come together to engage in meaningful discussions and seek alternative solutions – we begin to build a shared vision for our future.

The beauty of talk radio – or political blog spots – is that when we disagree, or find something personally offensive in the content, we can simply turn them off with the click of a button.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to flip the switch on the myriad problems we face on this salty piece of land we call home – but that shouldn’t keep us from reaching for the stars.

I recently read an interesting piece by Tallahassee-based writer Rob Rushin discussing the concept of “tactical urbanism” – a concept that stresses low cost, temporary changes in the built environment to improve local neighborhoods and community gathering places.

Mr. Rushin cited the work of innovative town planners, like Dover, Khol & Partners, whose clients include some of my favorite places – like Charleston, Arlington, Virginia, Thomasville, Georgia, Winter Park and Port Royal, South Carolina.

In sum, my takeaway from this important study of grassroots efforts and neighborhood-based ideas for community improvement was summed up in the quote, “Get people talking to each other and things start to happen.”    

I encourage everyone to keep talking.  Keep arguing.  Keep lending your voice to help people understand and discover that there truly is a better way – we don’t have to settle for this strategic stagnation that benefits all the right last names while tens-of-thousands of Volusia County residents continue to live beneath the poverty line.

Accept the challenge and frustrations that come from being active and engaged citizens who are seeking permanent solutions in an inclusive environment that values everyone’s thoughts.

Remember that nothing in life worth having comes easy.

If you aren’t already involved, I encourage you to join a grassroots advocacy or community service organization in the coming new year.  It’s a great way to meet other civic-minded people – and there is a special satisfaction that comes from spending yourself in a cause greater than your own self-interests.

Work toward the lofty goal of “whole community” local decision-making and demand that your elected and appointed officials on the dais of power actually listen to your concerns – then hold them politically accountable for considering the needs, wants and dreams of all residents – not just those of the special interests who can afford to pay-to-play.

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

I haven’t always agreed with former Volusia County administrator Mary Anne Connors, but when she’s right, she’s right.

In my view, when it came down to it – after more than a decade of kicking the can down the road on impact fees – those cowardly shitheels on the Volusia County Council couldn’t muster the personal or political courage to stand with their long-suffering constituents when they voted to “phase in” an increase – the first since 2003 (?) – once again kowtowing to the greed of their uber-wealthy handlers in the real estate development industry.

In Volusia County, an elected official simply does not bite the hand that feeds him or her.

It’s a well-accepted fact that a key prerequisite to elective office here on the Fun Coast involves the time-honored ritual of kissing the sizeable backside of the High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini, president of ICI Homes – a prolific and highly-successful developer of massive “lifestyle” communities and incestuous commercial projects.

Look, most of these compromised rubes on the dais of power in DeLand don’t have much in the way of personal pride (or self-respect) to start with – so brown nosing our “Rich & Powerful” is simply the cost of cloaking themselves with the coveted public perception of power in this bastardized oligarchy.

This week, the Volusia County Council voted to increase impact fees on new development over a protracted two-year period – 75% of the consultant’s recommendations next year – with an additional 25% added in 2020.

When you add the requisite 90-days before implementation, you see that developers have more than enough time to ram, oh, thousands of new building permits through the system. . .

Interestingly, this extended arrangement wasn’t the recommendation of our highly paid consultant, or that of concerned residents who spoke out at time-buying “town hall” meetings and again during Tuesday’s Council meeting – and it wasn’t the recommendation of former Volusia County Deputy County Manager Mary Anne Conners – who said, “Anything less than full implementation of this study moves the (cost) burden (for road fixes) to someone else.”

 “It’s been 15 years, this is the time when government is supposed to do government business and catch up and fund the infrastructure needs of the community. This is time to catch up and correct where we need to be for the future.”

Damn straight.

At the end of the day, the prolonged plan adopted by our elected officials mirrored that of their political benefactors in the Volusia Building Association and those developer’s shills over at the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (really, that’s what they call it. . .).

In addition to her very cogent remarks on the urgency of increasing impact fees ahead of crippling traffic gridlock, increased service demands and the very real possibility we’ll all be drinking our own effluent in a few short years – Ms. Connors poked holes in our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, scary stories about pricing new homes out of the range of some buyers when she explained that if affordable housing is truly a Council concern – then real estate developers should pay the impact fees instead of lashing them to the backs of home buyers.

Don’t hold your breath. . .

Angel:             Teresa Rand, CEO Volusia-Flagler YMCA

I had the pleasure of working with Teresa Rand, the long-serving doyenne of the Volusia-Flagler YMCA, when she expertly assumed command of recreational programs for the City of Holly Hill.

Regardless of the challenge, I was always impressed by Ms. Rand’s infectious enthusiasm and ‘can-do’ spirit that permeates everything she does.

In addition to the beautiful Holly Hill gymnasium, the Volusia-Flagler YMCA has locations in DeLand, Deltona, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, Edgewater and Camp Winona in DeLeon Springs.

During her highly successful 28-year tenure, Ms. Rand served the needs of a diverse constituency – providing innovative fitness and recreation programs for all ages – often in the face of diminishing funding from United Way and other sources.

Regardless of the challenge, Teresa Rand never shied from a difficult task, and always found collaborative partnerships to continue much-needed services to challenged communities.

In addition to her service with the Volusia-Flagler YMCA, Ms. Rand is past president of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce, and was the 2016 recipient of the Marvin Samuel Memorial Leadership Award for exceptional community service.

In addition, in 2015, Teresa was named Most Influential Business Women in Volusia and Flagler by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

I understand that Ms. Rand is entering a new phase of her career as she launches Rand Consulting – bringing her three-decades of management and leadership experience to “helping anyone wanting to excel in their career or begin their own entrepreneurial journey.”

Here’s a hearty congratulations and a tip o’ the Barker’s View scally cap to Teresa Rand on her well-deserved retirement – and all best wishes for great success in future endeavors.

We’re glad you passed our way!

Asshole:          City of Edgewater

They say a little civic revolution from time-to-time is a good thing – it aerates the stuffy bureaucratic confines of City Hall, settles political grudges, deflates hubristic egos and helps level the playing field – but I doubt the good citizens of Edgewater consider this the best of times.

Like chain nuclear fission, when small-minded politicians let things get away from them in a pique of anger and arrogance – it’s difficult to stop the process before real damage is done – and it appears Edgewater is experiencing the full China Syndrome.

Trust me – I’m a veteran of small-town political wars – and as a career civil servant, it’s never fun.

Sometimes all you can do when the shit flies from on high is hunker down, do your job to the best of your ability and hope for better days.  But if you are a career public servant who has been playing politics and stirring the shit – shame on you – that’s not how the system works.

There will be better days, but it’s going to be ugly in the short-term – and when the cutting is done, alliances will be broken – and  not everyone who holds official and unofficial influence in the halls of power will still be standing.

One thing I know with the assurance of hard-earned experience is that – unless someone with the leadership skills to stop the madness steps in (and I mean fast) – this municipal meltdown has the potential to result in a civic catastrophe that will take years to correct.

Three weeks ago, City Manager Tracey Barlow was taken out in a cheap coup d’etat, painfully orchestrated by Commissioners Gary Conroy, Amy Vogt and Megan O’Keefe.

Was it necessary?

Or was it petty politics?

I don’t know enough about the internal strife at the City of Edgewater to make that call – but to say it was a bloodbath is an understatement.

Apparently, everyone in town (except Barlow) knew in advance it was going to happen – and when it did – the troika’s wet work on the dais set in motion a rapid chain-of-events that has seen the community passed over for a $300 million/500 job distribution center (yeah, right), a torch-lit march on City Hall by pitchfork wielding villagers, and now, the professional destruction of Public Safety Director Dave Arcieri.

All on the heels of a mayoral change.

Whew.  That’s quite a week. . .

To his enduring credit, former City Manager Barlow was able to get down and wallow in the mud hole with his publicly elected antagonist during his backhanded curtain call when he said:

“Get involved. Make a difference in your community. Edgewater’s too good to fail. I pray, and I pray that after tonight we can continue to heal as a community where there’s a lot of opportunities. I continue to pray that Gary can balance his medication, so he can be productive up there.”

Now, that’s a farewell I can get behind. . .

The good citizens of Edgewater deserve better from their elected and appointed officials.

Quote of the Week:

“After seeing beach driving data for the past year, Councilwoman Deb Denys said she’d be interested in charging out-of-town beach-goers (out-of-county only, she stressed) even more next year for daily passes.”

–Reporter Dustin Wyatt of The Daytona Beach News-Journal tweeting from the Volusia County Council chambers, November 13, 2018

And Another Thing!

Back this summer, just as the U.S. Senate race was heating up, I wrote about Floriduh’s weird “fox in the hen house” phenomena when Governor Slick Rick Scott reappointed Long John Miklos to yet another four-year term on the powerful St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.

This week Chairman for Life Miklos was re-elected by his peers to an unprecedented sixth term as board chairman.

In my view, it was one of the Sunshine State’s typical “WTF?” moments.

For years, Miklos has openly represented public and private clients of his Bio-Tech Consulting, an Orlando-based environmental consultancy, in wetland permitting cases which come before the very state regulatory agency he oversees.

For instance, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In one recent example, a client of Bio-Tech, GeoSam Capital, illegally cleared wetlands at its Coastal Woods development in New Smyrna Beach. In September, the developer agreed to pay the district a $75,000 penalty and restore wetlands on eight acres at its sight off State Road 44.”

 (You can read my take on that environmental atrocity here: https://tinyurl.com/yb8n7ap7 )

In fact, the perennial conflict of interest between Mr. Miklos’ advocacy for his paying clients – and his moral and ethical responsibilities to the citizens of Central Florida as board chairman – have been reported in dozens of newspaper stories after being initially exposed by the incomparable Dinah Voyles-Pulver while reporting on the now infamous Debacle in DeBary in The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In that case, Miklos was hired by a few greedheads that then inhabited DeBary City Hall to ramrod the acquisition of sensitive conservation land at Gemini Springs Annex for the development of a massive mixed-use development near the SunRail station.

The contract called for the citizens of DeBary to pay John Miklos $155 an hour for his personal attention to the matter.

That shitstorm resulted in an ill-fated ethics complaint against Miklos which initially concluded there was probable cause he violated state ethics laws; however, our neutered ethics apparatus – also appointees of Governor Scott and other state politicians – cleared Miklos of all charges by voting not to pursue the inquiry.

Thanks to Mr. Miklos’ incredibly influential appointment – coupled with his twisted situational ethics that apparently allow him to leverage his public position against his private profit motives – his business is booming.

And why wouldn’t it be?

There’s a Gold Rush in the pine scrub – and everyone in the real estate development industry is making hay while the sun shines.  After all, whitetail deer, gopher tortoises and black bears don’t buy houses – and they damn sure don’t make massive campaign contributions. . .

As that tormented pervert, the Marquis de Sade said, “In an age that is utterly corrupt, it is best to do as others do.”

According to the News-Journal, “District records show Miklos’ business boomed after he was appointed chairman of the water district in 2013. Although state laws allow district board members to have knowledge of the kinds of issues that come before the district, no other St. Johns board member has declared as many conflicts as Miklos. Several previous water district board members have raised concerns in the past that Miklos uses his position on the board to solicit business or has too much influence in permit decisions.”

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

In most places, promoting the interests of personal customers coming before the very same regulatory board that you chair would be considered a colossal conflict of interest – if not a criminal misuse of public office.

In most places, a person that engaged in that level of influence peddling would be slapped in irons and publicly humiliated for public corruption and high crimes against the environment.

But this is Florida – the rules truly are different here. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Time to make nice? I don’t think so. . .

We remain a nation divided.

Separated by ideology, race, sex, national origin, culture, socio-economic status, political party – you name it – even professional sports, once something we could all rally around with a sense of regional pride, has now dissolved into a place of bitter political divisiveness.

In Florida – which has always been considered the “drunk uncle” to the rest of the United States – we are still squabbling, filing law suits and recounting ballots more than a week after the general election.

We’re like some weird Banana Republic – an utter embarrassment to democracies everywhere – and we deserve the barbs and zingers thrown at us by political pundits and stand-up comedians.

The margins in key races – like who will serve as our next Governor or United States Senator, even Agriculture Secretary – are razor thin; now complicated by the typically Floridian response of multiple law suits and wild allegations of voter fraud. . .

Truly a house divided.

In Volusia County, things aren’t much better – in fact, we could be considered the poster children for political dysfunction – divided by a clear line demarcation between those who have, and those who don’t – victims of an artificial economy created by a select few political insiders who have stacked the deck and used massive campaign contributions to reduce regulatory and impact overhead – and ensure their permanent place at the public trough.

That’s why I laugh whenever I hear politicians – many of whom have done everything possible to alienate and marginalize large segments of their constituencies – now whining about “mending fences” and “stopping the negativity.”

Bullshit.

For instance, outgoing Volusia County School Board Member Melody Johnson used her final meeting to plead for civility and positivity.  “I asked (Superintendent Tom Russell) more than once how do you change perceptions?  Because perceptions are truth even if they’re not really true, we’ve got to stop fussing at every level.  Divisiveness will never bring VCS to greatness.”

Neither will the asinine policies and utter dysfunction that has plagued Superintendent Russell’s tenure – but that didn’t seem to bother Ms. Johnson in late October – when she joined the Troika of Ida Wright and Linda Cuthbert in a mean-spirited, cheap-jack move to defy the teacher’s union call for new leadership by extending Mr. Russell’s contract just ahead of the general election.

Fortunately, Volusia County voters sent Ms. Johnson to the ash heap of history where small-minded politicians who place their loyalty with an ingrained power structure – rather than working in the best interests of students, faculty, staff – and taxpayers – go following their bite at the apple.

Then, in Ormond Beach, where the sight of an environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard galvanized a large segment of residents who were horrified as slash and burn land clearing operations turned a very visible segment of our community’s greenspace into ugly black muck.

In February, Developer Paul Holub, Jr. eradicated some 2,061 trees – many of them century old hardwoods – and churned approximately 20-acres of natural buffer and wildlife habitat into a muddy gash, while area residents looked on as displaced wildlife attempted to flee the carnage.

Tragic.

What followed was a hard-fought campaign for the future of Ormond Beach – fought by uber-wealthy developers and those who make their living building and selling commercial real estate – and grassroots activists and environmentalists dedicated to smart growth initiatives.

In total, over a quarter-million dollars was spent on a local City Commission race.

Still think the stakes aren’t high?

Now, after incumbents returned to office on a green wave of cash provided by these special interests who feed themselves well transforming our natural places into obscene “theme” communities and half-empty strip centers – a large segment of the population is coming to the realization that their perceptions just became reality.

On election night, our tone-deaf incumbent Mayor and Commissioners posed for a picture on the dance floor of the Rockin’ Ranch – epitomizing the back slappin’ good ol’ boy network they represent – holding a filthy push broom to signify their unanimous “clean sweep.”

To add insult to injury, the most vocal of the bunch – City Commissioner Troy Kent – who long ago became the mouthpiece and chief apologist for speculative developers – was costumed, cap-a-pie, in a ten-gallon cowboy hat and boots – personifying the chummy Old South crony politics many of us have worked hard to escape.

Simultaneous to the Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch – those aligned with Mr. Kent and his buddies – placed an industrial highway sign on Granada Boulevard in the shadow of the moonscape that will become our new WaWa – blazing antagonistic one-liners (“THANKS ORMOND NO-CANDO”) and other juvenile slogans – as a direct thumb-in-the-eye to a very committed segment of their constituency who fought hard for what they thought was right for their quality of life.

Now – incredibly – Commissioner Kent was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal decrying how divisive the election was and vowing to start “mending fences” with his neighbors whose worst fears were realized in a photograph of four arrogant assholes –  and a cheap low-blow from a non-permitted electronic sign that shit on everything they stood for.

Mr. Kent has a strange way of knitting the torn fabric of his horribly torn community back together:  First engage in antagonistic gloating – then feign reconciliation?

My ass.

Now, we live in different times – and, unfortunately, we’ve gone too far down the road to turn back now.

Many have come to the realization that our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast is under siege by greed-heads and others who would see us drink our own sewerage and sit in gridlock traffic while they throw up even more cracker boxes in “lifestyle communities” while paying little, if anything, in the way of impact fees with absolutely no idea what “growth management” even means.

It’s the Wild West – a gold rush in the pine scrub – and now that all the right facilitators are in place – it won’t end until everyone who is anyone is fat and happy.

As for me and mine – I plan to stand firm in my conviction that clean water, greenspace, wildlife and natural places are more important to the lives of our children and grandchildren – than the overstuffed pocketbooks of uber-wealthy land speculators and the sutlers who make their living on the crumbs of what’s left in their wake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 9, 2018

Hi, kids!

There are three perplexities of life that I’ll never understand – women, long division and the reasoning of the Volusia County electorate.

Just when I think I’ve got any one of those enigmatic conundrums figured out – whammo – I realize just how galactically uniformed I truly am.

Such was the case on Tuesday evening as local election returns began to trickle in.

As usual, I spent a very anxious evening sitting in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, drinking heavily – ear to the radio – listening to Marc Bernier, Mike Scuidero and Pat Northey call the game.

The margins were, by and large, razor thin.

And, three days after the fact – in typical Florida fashion – we still don’t have a clear winner in key races, like the Governor’s office – or know with certainty who our new United States Senator may be. . .

Jesus – does this dysfunction ever end? 

Regular readers of this forum know that I consider myself something of a dilettante editorialist and political critic – which means I’m essentially a self-righteous blowhard who snipes at those actually in the arena from the sidelines.

Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it might seem. . .

In order to form critical opinions on the issues of the day, it’s important to stay abreast of current affairs (in other words, ‘I read the paper’), occasionally have a cold beer with a few of our ‘movers & shakers’ for an inside peek at what may be happening behind the bureaucratic curtain, and put myself into a coma of boredom skimming consultant reports and studies to get at that kernel of truth our powers-that-be might not want us to know.

But, no matter how hard I try, I cannot predict the outcome of local political races.

For instance, in the Volusia County Council races – “Sleepy” Pat Patterson might be out on his narcoleptic ass (pending a recount) – while the always arrogant District 3 Councilwoman Deb Denys was returned to office.  Handily.

Go figure.

It’s just one reason why Barker’s View stopped making political endorsements – not that most serious candidates for public office want to be associated with these screeds – but, more often than you might think, various candidates for high office  confidentially reach out for my support and advise.

It’s incredibly flattering to be asked.  Foolish and wrong-headed, but flattering. . .

I tell them, if you really want to get elected in Volusia County, you are far better served groveling at the expensively shod feet of billionaire insurance magnate J. Hyatt Brown – or kissing the sizeable backside of the All-Powerful High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini – than asking a shitheel like me to navigate your budding political career.

The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that candidates bankrolled by Hyatt, Mori and other “Rich & Powerful” Fun Coast insiders rise like fine cream – regardless of how impossibly compromised, incompetent or ethically challenged they may be – while truly good people, like Daytona Beach’s intrepid neighborhood activist, Amy Pyle, come up short despite their incredibly hard work and true commitment to improving their community.

Why is that?

Where is the inherent fairness in a system that allows oligarchs and the corporations and shell companies they control to funnel cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates and compromised incumbents – providing them the financial wherewithal to gain name recognition and regional exposure through incredibly expensive strategic advertising – while grassroots political newcomers (or those who refuse to toe the party line) invariably become also-rans?

I’m asking. . . because it has become incredibly frustrating to watch – and disheartening to those who have the courage to stand for elective office, face the fickle whims of an often-uninformed electorate, and put it all on the line for a chance to serve.

If you figure it out, let me know.

Regardless, here’s a hearty congratulations to those incumbents and newcomers who won on Tuesday – and my sincere appreciation to everyone who worked so hard, endured the slings-and-arrows of political rhetoric, walked hundreds of miles knocking on doors and spent their days and nights meeting with fellow citizens to explain their unique path forward.

It is those who actually participate – as candidates and voters – that make our democracy work.

Regardless of whether or not we agree on the issues – if you stood tall and said “send me” – I am incredibly thankful for your personal commitment to this important process – and for your willingness to serve a cause greater than your own self-interest.

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:             Our Local Journalism Community

Although I write about the news and newsmakers here on Florida’s Fun Coast, I’m certainly not a journalist.

Far from it.

I lack any of those important attributes that separate opinionated hacks like me from those who report on the issues of the day – things like professionalism, integrity, fairness, objectivity and the communication skills to explain complex issues to an often-skeptical and wholly uninformed public.

We have more than our share of self-inflicted problems in Volusia County – but one of our most cherished blessings is the quality of the hard-working reporters and editorialists in our local print and electronic media.

During a long career in public service, I had the pleasure of serving with some incredibly talented reporters, journalists and photojournalists – true professionals who have dedicated themselves to bringing the stories that affect our lives and livelihoods into our homes, and, in the process, enrich our lives and educate our opinions through their work.

When you stand around crime scenes together at three o’ clock in the morning, drinking coffee and swapping stories, you develop working relationships with reporters.

In time, a sense of trust develops that creates a professional bond which allows those who make the news to discuss intimate details “off the record” with those who report it – safe in the knowledge that the integrity of the issue won’t be compromised – while allowing the working press the background knowledge they need to flesh out the story.

In time, if you’re fortunate like I was, lifelong friendships develop.

Last weekend, ‘the best of the best’ in local media joined together in Mt. Dora for the 68th annual Florida Press Club banquet.  In total, The Daytona Beach News-Journal took home an incredible 25 awards for excellence in journalism – including the prestigious Lucy Morgan Award for In-depth Reporting.

News-Journal honorees include:

Suzanne Hirt, Seth Robbins, Tony Jarmusz, Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Dinah Voyles Pulver, Jim Abbott, Ken Willis,  Mark Lane, Chris Bridges, Lola Gomez, Jim Tiller, David Tucker, and Tony Holt.

Other local winners include the talented Dan Ryan – Historian and Senior Writer for Bethune-Cookman University Athletics – who received First Place in the Class C-D Sports Column section!

In addition to being one of the best collegiate sports writers in the business, Dan is a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe who frequently contributes content ideas for this segment.

I am forever grateful for his spot-on analysis, tough criticism, and, most of all, for his consistent and passionate advocacy for the Wildcat Nation.

I also want to recognize the exceptional work of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s very talented young reporter, Dustin Wyatt – who brings life to the important issues of the day in the difficult arena of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand – a tough beat where openness, cooperation and transparency is almost non-existent.

A place where, more often than not, what passes for a “press release” is trotted out by professional mouthpieces – and more than once a senior administrator has been filmed skedaddling away from the glare of a news camera like a diseased rat. . .

And kudos to gifted journalists like Katie Kustura and Patricio Balona – who cover Wild West Volusia for the News-Journal – working reporters who are actually down in the trenches where the news happens, covering accident and crime scenes, working the phones, tracking down stories in the Halls of Power and living rooms of victims and witnesses – to bring us the stories that touch our lives.

Here’s a tip o’ the Barker’s View scally cap to all the reporters and photojournalists whose work is so vitally important to our republic, and our society, as they report the news and hold the powerful accountable.

So, if you’re a working journalist who wasn’t duly honored by your peers in the Florida Press Club last week – give yourself a Barker’s View Gold Star!

Well deserved.

Asshole:          The Baffling Bullshit of “Project Palm”

 I wrote about this earlier in the week in a post entitled, “On Volusia: Keeping Secrets,” but it bears repeating:

Perhaps the most important contribution of this opinion blog in driving a larger discussion of the issues is my intimate familiarity with the inner-workings of municipal government.

I lived it my entire adult life.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not talking about the mechanics of essential service delivery, budgets, or the benefits and challenges of the Council/Manager form of government – I’m talking about the crap that binds up the wheels, gears and pinions from time-to-time – the internecine wars, the personal vendettas, the backbiting, the political machinations, the petty power grabs and how some unscrupulous managers and elected officials use information rationing, fear and internal intimidation to control the political and legislative processes in the often cloistered environment of a City Hall.

I lived through some truly strange times during my career – and I’ve come within a hair’s breadth of being sacrificed on the altar of small-town, and small-minded, politics.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when I read of the intrigues that lead to the ham-handed coup d’état in the City of Edgewater last week.

The unceremonious firing of City Manager Tracy Barlow had everything a good political thriller should have, a surprise attack at a seemingly innocuous public meeting – a bold move either orchestrated in advance or the result of mob mentality – the “blood in the water” syndrome that drives the sharks on the dais of power into a frenzy.

Before you know it – the voice of the people is silenced or ignored, angry motions are made, votes are taken, and the professional lifecycle of the City Manager comes full circle.

Then, like the song says, it’s all over but the crying.

Nothing left to do but write the massive severance check that normally stands as a deterrent to these knee-jerk reactions. . .

What followed was a hyper-dramatic threat by now lame duck Mayor Mike Ignasiak to step-down – claiming that he would refuse to serve even if the citizens of Edgewater return him to office during the general election.

Turns out Hizzoner didn’t need to worry about it.  The voters sent him packing on Tuesday. . .

What made the Edgewater bloodletting unique is that it exposed something truly disturbing – the all too frequent practice of a local government negotiating public/private partnerships in utter secrecy.

Using the cloak of “non-disclosure agreements” to thwart transparency, and the notion of “open government,” elected and appointed officials hammer out lucrative incentive packages to feather the nests of corporations who blow into town with the promise of “jobs” and leave with wheelbarrows full of tax abatements, infrastructure and financial subsidies.

Clearly, this spurious strategy is alive and well in the City of Edgewater.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Now, some leaders say the mystery project known only as “Project Palm” — which people close to the project say would be “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” to the local economy — seems to be in peril because of the recent upheaval at City Hall. Meanwhile, others say there is still hope for the deal that could bring more than 500 jobs to the city.”

From the little we can glean; the project involves a massive automated distribution center for an unnamed retailer which would be built on 300-acres owned by the Miami Corporation just west of Interstate 95 off State Road 442.

According to Ignasiak, following the council’s tumultuous meeting, he received a message from the Memphis-based site selection firm who has been helping the mysterious company evaluate the Edgewater location – and others – announcing that the deal was off and that the distribution center would be moving “outside of Gainesville.”

Oddly, when the News-Journal reached the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys for comment – she contradicted Mayor Ignasiak – claiming “we are still in play, the deal is still very much alive.” 

“We think this is just a political posturing thing by the site selector to get into a better position,” Denys said. “We don’t want to say it’s dead because it’s not.”

Whoever “We” is apparently includes our own Camera Stellata, known colloquially as the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, who is elbow deep in yet another burgeoning fiasco.

Speaking in the News-Journal, president of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples (who’s “leadership” has brought us the American Music Festival debacle and assisted in the unraveling of Bethune-Cookman University) told reporters Casmira Harrison and Clayton Park:

“Tracey Barlow was instrumental as a member of our collaborative team,” said Sharples, adding that the team includes the city, county, Team Volusia, CEO Business Alliance and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. “Taking him out of the equation on Friday didn’t help but Mayor Ignasiak (in a conference call on Saturday) agreed to stay the course. We were able to reassure the client (Project Palm) that the city would fulfill its obligations,” Sharples said.

And herein lies the problem – it seems everyone who is anyone in the Fun Coast Economic Development apparatus is “on the team” – except the long-suffering taxpayers of Edgewater and Volusia County?

Why is it that only those who stand to make a quick buck through the liberal application of public funds to underwrite a for-profit private project are privy to watching the sausage being made?

What about us?  The hapless rubes who pay the bills?

Well, we’re apparently prohibited from participating in the super-secret negotiations – or even being made aware of the existence of this surreptitious $300 million game changer until some small-town political shit show exposed it – under the guise of compromising some competitive advantage.

Bullshit.

Exactly what “obligations” are We, the People required to fulfill?

How will Volusia County ultimately sweeten the deal?

How many tax dollars is a warehouse job worth?

And who the hell is Kent Sharples to speak for the City of Edgewater? 

 Now, Denise Mott, vice president of the Tennessee-based site selection firm J. M. Mullis, Inc., is claiming that Councilwoman Denys’ comments to the News-Journal on the status of the deal were “completely false.”

According to Mott, Ms. Denys’ reckless yammering about things she knows nothing about “. . .caused our Firm to make the decision to remove any other potential sites in Volusia County which could have been considered for this project.”

(That’s why we can’t have nice things. . .)

Apparently, Deb was using the “Royal We” – the majestic plural – when she was spouting off in the newspaper about political posturing, because, come to find out, she didn’t have a damn thing to do with the direct negotiations of this deal at all – now modestly describing her role as more “behind the scenes.”

Right.

Which, given the way our Volusia County Council members are historically kept in the dark and fed on horseshit by senior administrators – Deb probably read about “Project Palm” in the newspaper just like the rest of us. . .

At the end of the day, Mike Mullis, president of the site selection firm, advised that it was Miami Corporations refusal to budge on the price that killed the deal – and assured us they were not posturing and maneuvering to leverage incentives.

(Sorry, I just shot coffee out of my nose. . .)

In my view, this is another prime example why local governments have no business insinuating themselves into the private marketplace – picking winners and losers and skewing the playing field by negotiating bullshit “job growing” subsidies and incentives behind the backs of their constituents in secretive bartering sessions – then writing checks that you and I will ultimately be forced to cash.

 Asshole:          Daytona Beach City Commission

 To his credit, when it came right down to it – Daytona Beach City Commissioner Rob “Gilligan” Gilliland had a crisis of conscience and did the right thing.

On Wednesday evening in a 6-1 vote, with Mr. Gilliland casting the lone “No,”  the Daytona Beach City Commission approved a contract with APM Construction Corporation of New Smyrna Beach to build the languishing First Step Shelter on public land west of I-95 for an estimated $4.3 million.

That’s obscene.

Three years ago when publicly funded solutions to the “homeless problem” were still being debated ad nauseum (back before the Volusia County Council simply threw $2.5 million of our money at the very complex issue and walked away, leaving Daytona Beach holding the bag) I made the prescient prediction that the long-suffering citizens of the Halifax area would get a homeless assistance center the exact minute our ‘movers & shakers’ decided who gets a slice of the pie.

Just as I foretold, a weird ‘cart before the horse’ strategy was set in motion which saw the site prep, foundation and footers being completed before a general contractor was even identified.

In turn, this debacle degenerated into a convoluted scheme that allows P&S Paving – a member in good standing of the camarilla of uber-wealthy insiders over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – to extract and sell lucrative fill dirt from the massive 626-acre site – essentially setting the market during perhaps the biggest development surge in Volusia County history.

What 20-acre lakes and fill dirt mining on public property have to do with getting the First Step shelter out of the ground is beyond me – but this confounding arrangement with P&S Paving stands to benefit the prolific government contractor to the tune of an estimated $14 million – over three-times the contracted construction costs for the completed facility. . .

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, citizen activist Anne Ruby all but begged commissioners to abandon the current plan in favor of a less expensive tensile fabric option, “We need a homeless shelter, but this escalating cost requires a review.” 

 I agree with Anne.

Unfortunately, the only ones that seem to matter – the Daytona Beach City Commission – have committed themselves (and our tax dollars) to the rigid view that we’re too far down the trail to turn around now.

According to Mayor Derrick Henry, “I don’t like the price, but we’ve already paid the price as a community,” Henry said. “I’m not prepared to take a road that takes us backwards.”

I have a hobby-job in the flight training industry where mitigating risk is all we do.

We teach fledgling pilots who get themselves into trouble by inadvertently flying into instrument conditions – where the risk of spatial disorientation is incredibly high – to recognize their predicament quickly and initiate a standard rate 180-degree turn, essentially go back the way they came, until they get themselves out of danger.

Because blundering further into the storm is guaranteed to have catastrophic results.

Sound familiar? 

Here endeth the lesson. . .

Quote of the Week:

“This is one of the most divisive races I have ever seen in Ormond Beach,” Kent said. “I look forward to mending fences and bringing our community back together.”

–Ormond Beach City Commissioner and Craven Developer’s Shill Troy Kent, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal following the Grand Slam by the Good ol’ Boy’s Club, “Ormond incumbents fend off growth critics,” Wednesday, November 7, 2018

In a very telling photograph – obviously taken at the victory soiree for the horribly compromised clique of unanimously re-elected incumbents on the Ormond Beach City Commission – Commissioner Troy Kent apparently started “mending fences” with his hopelessly divided community by posing with his back-slappin’ buddies on the dais of power in a goofy cowboy costume – complete with ten-gallon hat and boots – looking for all the world like some self-important “Boss Hogg” cartoon character – brandishing a filthy broom to signify their ‘clean sweep.’

Troy and the boys

 Yep.  Looked like a regular Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch. . .

In order to sooth the still raw emotions of many of his constituents who value quality of life over the wealth-building strategies of the privileged few, Mr. Kent’s supporters placed a massive electronic highway sign near the right-of-way on Granada Boulevard – near the scene of the environmental abattoir known as “Granada Pointe” – blazing away with a crude swipe at those dedicated civic activists known as Citizens and Neighbors Devoted to Ormond:

“THANKS ORMOND – NO CANDO”

So much for the old “magnanimous in victory, gracious in defeat” thing, eh?

Cando Sign.png

Great way to start the healing, Commissioner. . .

You know what I found interesting?

Following Tuesday’s election – just for grins – I contacted Ormond Beach City Clerk Lisa Dahme to ask for a copy of the permit for the massive digital sign that also flashed the names of Ormond’s anointed incumbent politicians for days before the election.

I mean, if you or I want to establish temporary advertising or political signage in Ormond Beach – we would expect to submit an application for review, pay the required fee, then receive a formal permit from the Chief Building Official before erecting a lighted industrial sign on the shoulder of a State Road.

That’s why I found Ms. Dhame’s concise response to my inquiry so odd:

“There are no records associated with this request. There was not a sign permit applied for or issued.”

 I guess the rules are different for ol’ Troy and the Boys, eh?

Now, before you wild-eyed members of the new “Ormond In-Crowd” get your ass on your shoulders and start screaming – “We didn’t need a permit, asshole!”

  1. Yes, you did.
  2. I don’t care.

At the end of the day, Ormond Beach residents got a good look at what passes for the democratic process in our beautiful community – and even if your particular candidate won the day – most will admit it wasn’t pretty.

Boss Hogg

I’m afraid the rancor and political acrimony from both camps has dramatically frayed the fabric of Ormond Beach – and the cost is still being tabulated.  In addition to seeing our once-respected elected officials sell their very souls to speculative developers and others who make their living churning greenspace into strip malls – we watched as the Ormond Beach Observer imploded in a foul gray fog of political favoritism after getting so deliriously involved with the re-election of incumbent candidates that the community broadsheet took on the appearance of a cheap political propaganda machine.

 

Now, the Observer’s publisher, John Walsh, stands before us like some half-repentant Jimmy Swaggart, begging forgiveness for his transgressions: “Allow me to be straight-forward and brutally honest: We did give the Ormond Proud PAC a discount on our full-page rate. That was wrong, and I take responsibility.”

Mr. Walsh is apologizing to anyone who will listen for the blatant political partisanship that relegated his paper to the driveway litter category – the birdcage liner of hometown news – after having lost the only thing that matters in his business:  Credibility.

In the aftermath of this shit show that pitted uber-wealthy insiders against their environmentally concerned neighbors – good people who simply want common sense growth management and a modicum of impartiality by those who are elected to represent our interests – we are left with the sobering realization that as much as we try and deny it – money and greed remain the controlling factors at City Hall – and the rest of us are a mere nuisance to their twisted idea of “progress.”

I hope it was worth it.

 

And Another Thing!

There is absolutely nothing more important to me than the safety and security of our precious children and grandchildren.

The tragic events in Tallahassee have turned a very bright light on the hiring practices of the Volusia County School District.

I have some experience with the Districts pre-employment process – because earlier this year I answered a call to service from Sheriff Michael Chitwood to stand as an armed “School Guardian” in the aftermath of the Parkland atrocity.

With over 31-years of law enforcement and military training, I felt my unique qualifications and skill set would be a perfect complement to the Guardian program – after all, the management of critical incidents and response to life-threatening emergencies is all I know.

Apparently, I didn’t cut the mustard. . .

For reasons known only to administrators, after a series of very active communications with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – when my application and qualifications were sent to the School District – I never received so much as a call back.

I was shocked and disappointed (although not surprised) that I wasn’t afforded so much as an interview.  After all, who wants a politically active blogger on the payroll?

I get it.  I don’t agree with it.  But I get it.

What I don’t understand is how Deltona coward, Scott Paul Beierle – the scumbag with an incredibly checkered past – who shot and killed two innocent people and wounded five others in a Tallahassee yoga studio last week, was hired as a full-time teacher at Hinson Middle School before being terminated less than three-weeks later.

Then, inexplicably, he was apparently re-hired and allowed to serve as a substitute in various elementary, middle and high school classrooms some 187 times before again being fired earlier this year after inappropriately touching a female student.

WTF?

But here’s where things really get disturbing:

According to a report by WFTV, “The year before going to the Volusia County School District, officials with Leon County Schools said Beierle was fired from his substitute teaching job in Leon County after looking at porn during class.”

Jesus.

Now, as Beierle rots in hell, School Board member Carl Persis and area media outlets are rightly asking the difficult question – Why wasn’t this information obtained and evaluated before Beierle was allowed unfettered access to vulnerable children in the ostensibly safe environment of the Volusia County School System?

The Channel 9 report claims, “The district says Beierle passed a federal and state criminal background check. Police reports show Beierle was arrested and charged with battery after allegedly groping women at least twice. The charges were later dropped, so there were no convictions to show up on the background checks.”

Perhaps most disturbing – had Volusia human resources and safety managers bothered to ask – they would have learned that when Beierle applied for a substitute teaching position in Leon County, employees reported that he was acting “extremely nervous, was rude, and had a scary and angry look on his face.”

In fact, they were so frightened of this creepy bastard that administrators locked the doors when he left and suggested that he not be hired after learning his on-line application password was “carnifex” – which translates to “executioner.”  Chilling.

The district hired him anyway.

As often happens after-the-fact, within hours of the tragic events in Tallahassee, details of Beierle’s fucked-up life began to emerge – including the fact he had been banned from the Florida State University campus and accused of “grabbing” women.

Clearly, had someone at Volusia County Schools put in the effort they might have learned these minor details about the applicant – like, as a substitute teacher, he likes to pass the time watching porn in the classroom – and sitting around with his hand down his pants – but that would require a genuine dedication to vetting those who have contact with children beyond a simple criminal history check.

Legitimate investigators call it GOYAKOD – “Get off your ass and knock on doors.”

In my view, the professional competency and hiring practices of Superintendent Tom Russell and his “Cabinet” need an immediate top-to-bottom review – including the purge of any senior administrator who failed to have the foresight and good judgement to recognize that this monster was unfit to be in the same room with our children and grandchildren.

To the extent humanly possible, when parents pack their children off to the care of Volusia County Schools, they should be able to do so with a modicum of confidence that administrators have acted in their best interest – rather than just going through the motions – and it is becoming increasingly obvious that they did not.

That’s unacceptable.

Guess what?

Thanks to a petty move by our current Volusia County School Board designed to stick a thumb in the eye of the teacher’s union – we’re stuck with Mr. Russell’s unique brand of “leadership” for another two-years. . .

That’s all for me – have a great weekend my friends. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Keeping Secrets

Perhaps the most important contribution of this opinion blog in driving a larger discussion of the issues is my intimate familiarity with the inner-workings of municipal government.

I lived it my entire adult life.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not talking about the mechanics of essential service delivery, budgets, or the benefits and challenges of the Council/Manager form of government – I’m talking about the crap that binds-up the wheels, gears and pinions from time-to-time – the internecine wars, the personal vendettas, the backbiting, the political machinations, the petty power grabs and how some unscrupulous managers and elected officials use information rationing, fear and internal intimidation to control the political and legislative processes in the often cloistered environment of a City Hall.

I lived through some truly strange times during my career – and I’ve come within a hair’s breadth of being sacrificed on the altar of small-town, and small-minded, politics.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when I read of the intrigues that lead to the ham-handed coup d’état in the City of Edgewater last week.

The unceremonious firing of City Manager Tracy Barlow had everything a good political thriller should have, a surprise attack at a seemingly innocuous public meeting – a bold move either orchestrated in advance or the result of a mob mentality – the “blood in the water” syndrome that drives the sharks on the dais of power into a frenzy.

Before you know it – the voice of the people is silenced or ignored, angry motions are made, votes are taken, and the professional life-cycle of the City Manager comes full circle.

Then, like the song says, it’s all over but the crying.

Nothing left to do but write the massive severance check that normally stands as a deterrent to these knee-jerk reactions. . .

What followed was a hyper-dramatic threat by Mayor Mike Ignasiak to step-down – claiming that he would refuse to serve even if the citizens of Edgewater return him to office during the general election – a clearly emotional response that he walked back at warp speed.

It was all pretty standard political posturing.

However, what made the Edgewater bloodletting unique is that it exposed something truly disturbing – the all too frequent practice of a local government negotiating public/private partnerships in utter secrecy.

Using the cloak of “non-disclosure agreements” to thwart transparency, and the quaint notion of “open government,” elected and appointed officials hammer out lucrative incentive packages to feather the nests of corporations who blow into town with the promise of “jobs” and leave with wheelbarrows full of tax abatements, infrastructure and financial subsidies.

Clearly, this spurious strategy is alive and well in the City of Edgewater.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Now, some leaders say the mystery project known only as “Project Palm” — which people close to the project say would be “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” to the local economy — seems to be in peril because of the recent upheaval at City Hall. Meanwhile, others say there is still hope for the deal that could bring more than 500 jobs to the city.”

From the little we can glean; the project involves a massive automated distribution center for an unnamed retailer which would be built on 300-acres owned by the Miami Corporation just west of Interstate 95 off State Road 442.

According to Mayor Ignasiak, following the council’s tumultuous meeting, he received a message from the Memphis-based site selection firm who has been helping the mysterious company evaluate the Edgewater location – and others – announcing that the deal was off and that the distribution center would be moving “outside of Gainesville.”

Oddly, when the News-Journal reached the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys for comment – she contradicted Mayor Ignasiak – claiming “we are still in play, the deal is still very much alive.” 

Apparently, Councilwoman Denys, who is currently in a political knife fight with challenger Michael Arminio for the District 3 seat representing Southeast Volusia – has also been muzzled by “privacy agreements” – but that didn’t stop her from blathering about this deteriorating situation:

“We think this is just a political posturing thing by the site selector to get into a better position,” Denys said. “We don’t want to say it’s dead because it’s not.”

Whoever “We” is apparently includes our own Camera Stellata, known colloquially as the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, who is elbow deep in yet another burgeoning fiasco.

Speaking in the News-Journal, president of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples (who’s “leadership” has brought us the American Music Festival debacle and assisted in the unraveling of Bethune-Cookman University) told reporters Casmira Harrison and Clayton Park:

“Tracey Barlow was instrumental as a member of our collaborative team,” said Sharples, adding that the team includes the city, county, Team Volusia, CEO Business Alliance and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. “Taking him out of the equation on Friday didn’t help but Mayor Ignasiak (in a conference call on Saturday) agreed to stay the course. We were able to reassure the client (Project Palm) that the city would fulfill its obligations,” Sharples said.

And herein lies the rub – it seems everyone who is anyone in the Fun Coast Economic Development apparatus is “on the team” – except the long-suffering taxpayers of Edgewater and Volusia County?

Why is it that only those who stand to make a quick buck through the liberal application of public funds to underwrite a for-profit private project are privy to watching the sausage being made?

What about us?  The hapless rubes who pay the bills?

Well, we’re apparently prohibited from participating in the super-secret negotiations – or even being made aware of the existence of this surreptitious $300 million game changer until some small-town political shit show exposed it – under the guise of compromising some competitive advantage.

Bullshit.

Exactly what “obligations” are We, the People required to fulfill?

How will Volusia County ultimately sweeten the deal?

How many tax dollars is a warehouse job worth?

And who the hell is Kent Sharples to speak for the City of Edgewater? 

Trust me – we will never know the answers to these questions until the “deal” appears as a foregone conclusion on the consent agenda of an Edgewater City Council meeting – followed by an off-the-agenda ambush by the Volusia County Council.

Something doesn’t smell right about this. . .

Why is Ms. Denys wasting time in sketchy negotiations with a private company while the citizens of District 3 are repeatedly treated like the red-headed stepchildren of Volusia County?

Her constituents have been repeatedly ignored while more-and-more essential government services are ripped away from them – from the New Smyrna Courthouse to much-needed drug treatment services – all while their inept representative, Councilwoman Denys, is busy championing the cause of her “Rich & Powerful” political benefactors in Daytona Beach.

Or helping to negotiate secret deals for Edgewater warehouse jobs. . .

Perhaps most disturbing, last week, President Trump signed a package of bills to help communities deal with the raging opioid epidemic which provides significant funding for improving access to addiction treatment programs and other community-based interventions.

Our former federal lobbyist, James Pericola, had been begging anyone in Volusia County government who would listen to get serious and participate in this important program for the past year.

Unfortunately, Councilwoman Denys joined with the super-majority of her “colleagues” in firing and marginalizing Mr. Pericola after he brought allegations of almost criminal neglect in Volusia County’s failure to secure federal funding and loan opportunities to help address serious social and environmental issues.

Then, on Friday, the chickens came home to roost when Stewart-Marchman announced that, due to state funding cuts, it would be forced to “consolidate” some Southeast Volusia services with its outpatient clinic in Daytona Beach.

This change forces some 400 of Denys’ suffering constituents to make their way to Daytona Beach or DeLand for treatment.

My God.

When is Councilwoman Denys going to explain why those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest failed to engage?

Why hasn’t anyone been held responsible for failing to secure our fair share of the $500 million just released by the federal government, particularly when places like Stewart-Marchman were being cut and our bloated bureaucracy in DeLand did absolutely nothing to help them?

I suppose the tragic issue of the ongoing civic abandonment of the good citizens of Southeast Volusia is up to them to decide at the polls tomorrow – but, eventually, Ms. Denys’ reign of incompetence must end.

Hey, Deb – trust me on this:  The mystery company our ‘movers & shakers’ are fawning over will eventually build their distribution center exactly where they believe it will best serve their order-fulfillment needs in the most economically efficient manner possible – and they don’t need your goofy input – or our dollars – to do it.

In my view, local governments have no business insinuating themselves into the private marketplace – picking winners and losers and skewing the playing field by negotiating bullshit “job growing” subsidies and incentives  behind the backs of their constituents in secretive bartering sessions – then writing checks that you and I will ultimately be forced to cash.

It’s also time that political hacks like Dr. Kent Sharples and Councilwoman Deb Denys were put out to pasture.

I’m not sure how much more of their unique brand of “leadership” we can stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 2, 2018

Hi, kids!

I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

For good or for ill, ghosts and goblins don’t scare me – I was a Holly Hill cop for over 30-years, and have been a life-long resident of Volusia County – so I’m comfortable with the macabre.  Suffice it to say, it takes more than a haunted house to raise the hair on the back of my neck.

Anyone who has witnessed the wild machinations of a Volusia County election season knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, this year’s carnival of the absurd in no different – with the exception that it appears area residents are beginning to pay attention – and are increasingly screaming for justice when they see what Daytona Beach civic activist Ken Strickland accurately refers to as “corruption in plain sight.”

As a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe, I naturally assume you are a ‘high-information’ voter – regardless of your political persuasion.

Well, this is where the rubber meets the road.

I don’t care if you’re a tree-hugging dirt worshiper, a flaming liberal or a meat-eating, knuckle-dragging uber-conservative – in this space we can all agree to disagree and remain supportive friends and neighbors.

The only thing I ask to secure your membership in this special salon of alternative opinion is this: VOTE.

I’m not going to tell you who or what to vote for or against – regular readers of this forum know my thoughts – all I am going to ask is that you take the time to participate in the most meaningful part of this process – do your ‘civic duty,’ as they say – and VOTE!

Please.

Take advantage of early voting while it lasts – or stand proud on election day and vote like your quality of life depends upon it.  Because it does.

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

I recently jotted down my thoughts on the importance of creating a sense of ownership and buy-in to building strong communities.

My naive thought was that, following the upcoming election, our politicians – new and old – could work toward a goal of “whole community” decision-making and develop a process that engages the needs, wants and dreams of all stakeholders – not just those of our “Rich & Powerful.”

My head must be getting soft.

I forgot.

In Volusia County, elections are little more than annoying formalities – a legally mandated hurdle that our oligarchical ‘movers & shakers’ see as a hindrance – knowing well that the political process is nothing the right application of large sums of money can’t fix.

You and I – the voting public – are merely something to be manipulated with glossy mailers, ads and fancy signage, most of it paid for by special interests who lavish their hand-select candidates with massive campaign contributions in a perfectly legal quid pro quo scheme that results in a lucrative return on investment for those who can pay to play.

In the extremely rare event that a true outsider is elected to the Volusia County Council, our ‘powers that be’ have a patented process in place that molds newly elected and appointed “leaders” into lock-step marionettes – pounding square pegs into the round hole of legislative and administrative conformity to ensure the survival of the “system” at all costs.

It seems most of our dull-witted politicians, who are selected for high office by the Donor Class due to their malleability – the plasticity of their loyalties, ethics and moral justification when acting contrary to the needs of their constituents – understand up-front where their loyalties lay when they accept tens-of-thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from influential individuals and corporations under their control.

They don’t have to be told.

Most recipients of enormous campaign contributions instinctively understand that the financial advantage granted by their political benefactors comes with certain strings and expectations attached.

Fortunately, a precious few try and live up to the letter and spirit of their oath of office.

A prime example of just how ugly things can get when the super-majority of our wholly compromised Volusia County Council encounters a “colleague” who won’t join them at the hip in service to uber-wealthy insiders and ingrained bureaucrats who use our elected officials like dull farm implements is the case of District Four Councilwoman Heather Post.

Since taking office last January, Post has been beaten like a borrowed mule by her fellow council members; repeatedly marginalized, laughed at, maligned and discredited – and now denied a senior leadership role in a statewide organization.

Why?

Because she had the temerity to buck an entrenched power structure that provides political insulation and protection to those who get along and go along in favor of serving her constituents with a refreshing sense of independence rarely seen in DeLand – that’s why.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, earlier this month when the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys made the announcement that she would be serving as chairwoman of the Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization, the result was a foregone conclusion.

Deb Denys didn’t ask – she announced.

It wasn’t a request – it was Deb’s right as a member of the club in good standing.

Conversely, when Ms. Post sought a letter of support for an appointment to the Florida Association of Counties executive board, her “colleagues” first voted to spend $62,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars to “stay engaged” with the association – then, flat-out denied Post’s respectful request to assume a leadership role with the same organization.

It seems our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “doesn’t trust” Ms. Post and – even though she was duly elected by the people to represent their interests – would never support her for a statewide role representing Volusia County citizens because she all too often eschews groupthink in favor of standing for the best interests of her constituents.

Did anyone expect anything different? 

History tells us that independent thought and working to expose institutionalized ineptitude are cardinal sins at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – punishable by personal and professional destruction.

Look, I’m the first to admit – I haven’t always been kind to Ms. Post on the pages of this blog site.

In my view, it took her a long time to find her own voice – and some of Ms. Post’s early stumbles and foibles were truly cringe-worthy.

But, in time, Councilwoman Post rose to her calling and demonstrated true statesmanship during several controversial issues that most of her “colleagues” would have preferred to sweep under the political rug.

Specifically, her courageous challenge to former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s farcical reign was truly impressive – and she valiantly championed the citizens right to know – exposing serious issues with essential county services and facilities.

In my view, she demonstrated the ability to give as good as she got – and had the fortitude and perseverance to keep up the pressure in the face of withering apathy in a room full of insouciant assholes who just knew their well-protected facilitator had nothing to worry about – until he did.

And it ultimately cost Ms. Post the ability to serve her constituents on a larger stage, all because a demonstrably mendacious churl like Old Ed Kelley doesn’t “trust” her.

How unfortunate.

How typical. . .

Angel:             State Attorney R. J. Larizza

 Kudos to State Attorney R. J. Larizza and his incredibly talented staff for having the wisdom to see Deltona City Manager Jane Shang’s misuse of law enforcement for what it was – a mean-spirited, spurious and clearly retaliatory attack designed to suppress lawful citizen dissent.

Earlier this year, Shang ordered the city’s finance director, Tracy Hooper, to sign a formal affidavit charging Brandy White, a concerned citizen and civic activist who has worked tirelessly to expose the abject dysfunction and ineptitude of the Shang administration, with a serious felony crime.

According to reports, in April, Ms. White went to City Hall to obtain the results of a public records request regarding the city’s controversial civic center.  To document the encounter with public officials, White used her cellular phone to record her interaction with Hooper in a public area of the building.

In turn, Shang – apparently with the full knowledge and acquiescence of Deltona’s horribly broken City Commission – directed Hooper to provide a sworn complaint to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office alleging intentional interception of oral communications.

When this serious charge had the desired effect of silencing Ms. White – in May, Shang used the same appalling tactic against another critic – Patricia Gibson – when she rightfully pointed out state licensing issues with a caterer hired by the City of Deltona.

According to the intrepid Katie Kustura, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In a memo issued late last week, Assistant State Attorney Christopher Indelicato wrote that the state wouldn’t be able to prove even a “prima facie” case against Brandy White on a charge of intentional interception of oral communication.”

 In typical fashion, the City of Deltona failed to respond to Reporter Kustura’s request for comment earlier this week.

Of course, they didn’t.  Responding to the questions of the working press would show a modicum of respect for the normal checks and balances of civic accountability by people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest.

In Deltona, the Shang administration does what it wants – when it wants – and if that takes the form of a bull in a china shop – using the full might of government to suppress citizen dissent – then so be it.

As I have previously written on this disgusting matter, if you’re not moved to seething rage – perhaps you need to rethink what’s at stake here.

I write this blog to bring attention to shit like this – a wholly dysfunctional and completely compromised pseudo-government run amok – public officials (in the loosest sense of the term) who set upon outspoken critics like a pack of rabid wolves and crush opposition under the iron boot of an incestuous system intent on preserving the status quo regardless of who or what they have to destroy in the process.

Screw that.

Now that Ms. White has been spared the personal terror and life altering mutilation of her character and good name that the threat of a felony charge brings, it’s time for Governor Rick Scott, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney to turn their focus to the likes of Jane Shang and those elected officials who have repeatedly abused their constituents, flagrantly violated both the letter and spirit of our sacred open records law and blatantly misused the omnipotent power of the law to secure an advantage over the citizens they ostensibly exist to serve.

If he hasn’t already done so, I hope Sheriff Mike Chitwood will clearly explain to Jane Shang that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office isn’t her personal Tonton Macoute.

It’s wrong, dammit – and this gross intimidation cannot stand.

Angel:             Robert Baumer, Ormond Beach

Several weeks ago, while doing the monthly Barker’s View appearance on the GovStuff Live radio forum with Big John, the host and I were lamenting the fact that the weekly driveway litter known as the Ormond Beach Observer has become an organ of incumbent City Commission candidates and the darling of the big money developers who are underwriting them.

Our prescient discussion was validated this week with an excellent piece by T. S. Jarmusz, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, who exposed the intricacies of a complaint recently filed with the Florida Elections Commission by Ormond Beach resident Robert Baumer.

According to reports, Mr. Baumer alleges that Ormond Proud, a political action committee apparently formed to support incumbent candidates, violated state spending laws.

The situation doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the political bent and business practices of the Ormond Beach Observer. . .

Earlier this year, a grassroots advocacy known as Citizens and Neighbors Dedicated to Ormond II, sprung from the environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard where some 2,061 trees, including old-growth hardwoods, were churned into an ugly black muck to make way for what we would later learn was a WaWa convenience store and a third-tier discount grocery.

The sight of wildlife fleeing the scene of this ecological insult shocked our collective conscience – and set in motion a larger discussion about how much our quality of life is worth – compared to the profit potential of wealthy developers who are intent on building something, anything, on every square inch of natural space.

It became a Tale of Two Cities – a population divided by the simple belief that planned, sustainable growth that respects the quality of life for all residents is preferable to slash and burn land clearing operations and suburban sprawl.

In time, CANDO II came to the realization that the only way to truly protect the rights and vision of citizens was to become actively involved in the city’s political process – which has become so stagnant that a few incumbent politicians have held office for years – and they formed a PAC to support smart growth alternative candidates.

Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the entrenched power structure of speculative developers and the hangers-on who get rich transforming greenspace into half-empty strip centers.

The battle lines were drawn.

In my view, the Ormond Beach Observer became little more than the propaganda arm of the Ormond Proud camp – printing a series of full-page advertisements touting incumbent commissioners, and new comer Susan Persis, a Big Money shill – and running a slew of lop-sided editorials virtually deifying Granada Pointe developer Paul Holub.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few counter-arguments on the Op/Ed page, but it became readily apparent, even to a dunce like me, which side of the political fence the Observer fell on.

As I understand it, the problem came when Ormond Proud – the PAC who ostensibly took out those massive advertisements – failed to report the cost associated with Observer ads until mid-October when reports show a $5,000 expenditure on October 11 for “September 2018 ads.”

The expenditure entry came after The News-Journal began questioning five Ormond Proud ads published in September.

Current state election laws require that candidates book expenditures for political advertisements before they run – and strictly prohibits a newspaper or media outlet from charging one candidate more for ads than they do another.

According to the News-Journal, “Ormond Proud Treasurer Sheriff Guindi (a commercial and residential real estate agent) said he didn’t pay for the ads until then because the Observer had not yet invoiced the PAC for them and that he had to call the paper to request an invoice.”

 “Guindi said Ormond Proud had the funds by the time they were billed to pay for the Observer ads, but “I just don’t know how you pay a bill before you receive it.”

I don’t know either – but I do know the treasurer of a political action committee should have a working understanding of the already lax rules and regulations governing campaign finance reporting – especially in an environment where literally anything goes.

“Apparently, the $5,000 the Observer charged Ormond Proud for the PAC’s five September ads differs from the advertising rates the Observer quoted CANDO2 organizers.”

However, Ormond Beach Observer Publisher John Walsh flatly denied that Ormond Proud was given any special consideration.

Mr. Walsh’s assurances aside – CANDO II organizer Julie Sipes said her PAC was quoted substantially higher rates for ads they ran – costs which would run some $775.00 more than that paid by Ormond Proud, with an additional 20% for a back-page spread.

Sipes also said CANDO II paid for advertising in advance – which is common practice with The Daytona Beach News-Journal and other reputable media organizations.

Interestingly, the prices quoted by CANDO II matched those received by a News-Journal staffer who contacted the Observer to obtain weekly fees for political ads.

“In either case, at that rate the Ormond Proud ads would have cost $9,230.”

To make matters worse, in recent correspondence, Ormond Proud Chairman Scott Edwards claimed that Volusia County Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis “cleared” Ormond Proud of the allegations.

That’s weird? 

Because Ms. Lewis, speaking in the News-Journal, “. . .said that while she didn’t discuss laws or statutes, she couldn’t fathom how Edwards could’ve left the call thinking what he was doing was OK.”

In my view, this is a perfect example of how low one is forced to stoop in order to hold office in Ormond Beach.  It’s dirty tricks – and when the unscrupulous practices of a widely distributed community newspaper benefit one political candidate or issue over another it skews the playing field and bleeds hard-won donations.

That’s wrong.

Now, the Florida Elections Commission will sort the wheat from the chaff in this case – but I want to send a tip ‘o the Barker’s View scally cap to Robert Baumer for standing firm to the principles of fair play and exposing this potential violation to the proper authorities.

It’s heartening to know that concerned citizens are engaging in the process and holding political action committees, candidates and their financial supporters accountable for the false manipulation of the political process – a scourge that has plagued Volusia County for decades.

 Quote of the Week:

“We the elected council represent you and your will,” Kelley said. “We’re the ones that determine where your money is spent.”

–Volusia County Council Chair and Poster Boy for Convenient Memory Disorder Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Amendment 10: Sheriff in favor, Volusia County Council Chair says vote no.”

Wow.  Anyone else with two-synapses still firing shocked by that statement?

Just me?

Okay.  How about Old Ed’s even more disturbing comment marginalizing Councilwoman Heather Post’s concerns in the News-Journal this week when he gushed, “Six of us are not going to make a decision that is detrimental to the people. Everything we have done is in the best interest of the public.”?

 (Sorry.  I just upchucked in my mouth a little. . .)

 My God. 

When I first read these whoppers, I paused (quite literally stunned), “He can’t possibly be serious?”

Then, I read it again – thinking it was one of those weird Zen koans – some paradoxical riddle, an enigmatic and seemingly unsolvable word puzzle that is so abstract – so inherently opposite to our known base of knowledge and grasp on reality that it challenges our inner-most rational mind and causes us to push past ordinary logic into the realm of the metaphysical.

Then I thought, “Is Chairman Kelley really that delusional?” 

Look, like all of us, I’m getting older – and I find myself falling victim to the many mental frailties of age – including the curse (and blessing) of a convenient memory.  That means I pay intense attention to the hedonistic pleasures of the semi-retired life  – while completely ignoring the list of boring housekeeping chores and errands orchestrated by my long-suffering wife.

But I never intentionally deceive myself into thinking that I am incapable of making poor choices – the evidence suggests I’ve been doing that quite successfully for the past 58-years.  In fact, in the unlikely event someone erects a monument to my life and times, the simple phrase “Whiskey and Bad Decisions” will be indelibly engraved upon it. . .

As an observer of Volusia County politics, I am consistently amazed by the stratospheric level of hubris – the unmitigated arrogance – that pervades the halls of power in DeLand – never better exemplified than by Chairman Kelley’s fallacious belief in his own infallibility.

In my view, this unique ability of our elected officials to create a false reality in their own cloudy minds is most glaring in nonsensical statements like Mr. Kelley’s “will of the people” gibberish (which I have no doubt was completely heartfelt and uttered with that slack-jawed, slightly vacant visage Mr. Kelley is widely known for.)

Over time, we’ve simply come to expect that politicians will blatantly lie to us when it serves their purpose.

But I’ve always felt it dangerous when powerful public officials engage in the self-indulgent pursuit of lying to themselves.

That’s a slippery slope.

And Another Thing!

In Volusia County, residents know that no bad idea ever really goes away.

In fact, the timing of plans for spending huge sums of money to replace existing county facilities that have been allowed to strategically rot due to a lack of care and maintenance are so consistent you can set your watch by them.

In March 2016, I was asked to write a piece for the News-Journal’s Community Voices column detailing the efforts of former County Manager Jim Dinneen to frighten taxpayers into footing the bill on a Taj Mahal-like $19 million consolidated public works facility near Samsula.

Given the public outcry over this flawed plan to merge and centralize essential services in a county the size of Rhode Island – even our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council had the good sense to call bullshit.

Then, in December 2017, Dinneen’s ham-handed attempt to repackage the purchase of 132 acres off State Road 44 – for more than twice its appraised value – somehow got put on the Council’s agenda “by accident.”

Yeah, right. . .

Now, just like clockwork, the idea has been resurrected by county road and bridge director Judy Grim, who’s telling anyone who’ll listen scary stories about flooding and other issues at the county’s Holly Hill facility – which has been serving the needs of area residents in one form or another for over 30-years.

In the latest iteration of the Grand Plan, Grim wants to build a brand-new facility on Indian Lake Road, so, naturally, this week the Council was asked to approve a $285,000 land purchase to make way for a structure with an estimated cost of $9 million.

Anyone familiar with the Holly Hill Road & Bridge facility knows that, for years, the compound was allowed to rot under Mr. Dinneen’s practice of “strategic neglect” – where county-owned buildings and facilities were allowed to become blighted, overgrown shitholes so he could later claim a pseudo-emergency and demonstrate the need for yet another luxury facility.

For most of my adult life I worked for a small municipal government in Volusia County.  Our core services were housed in a City Hall that is now some 75-years old and going strong.

How, you may ask, could a government building possibly remain serviceable for three-quarters of a century?  It’s called ‘preventive maintenance’ – much like your own home may require – and when spread over time is an economical way of ensuring public assets remain efficient and effective.

It’s also called taking pride in public service.

This was a bad idea in 2016 – and, even though its been pared down a bit, it’s still a bad idea today.

Perhaps entrenched senior bureaucrats like Judy Grim should spend more time focused on providing quality services to residents in the most effective and efficient means possible with the plentiful resources available – rather than constantly wringing their hands and lamenting all the things they don’t have (like a luxurious new $9 million facility on even more acreage that’s now off the tax rolls).

In my view, it’s the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement in Volusia County government – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials – that allows this atrocious cycle to continue.

Our elected officials never seem to understand that the money these facilities are purchased with represent the very real sacrifices of their constituents – young families, business owners, elderly residents living on fixed incomes – and I couldn’t care less if County bureaucrats are inconvenienced by being asked to make do with the ample facilities and resources already allocated.

That’s all for me, folks!

Have a great fall weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Return to DeBary

“An old woman was walking down the road when she saw a gang of thugs beating a poisonous snake.  She rescued the snake and carried it back to her home, where she nursed it back to health.  They became friends and lived together for many months.  One day they were going into town, and the old woman picked him up and the snake bit her.  Repeatedly.  “O God,” she screamed, “I am dying!  Why?  I was your friend.  I saved your life!  I trusted you!  Why did you bite me?”

“The snake looked up at her and said, “Lady, you knew I was a snake when you first picked me up.”

(Excerpt from Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie (Gonzo Papers vol. 4) by Hunter S. Thompson.)

Wow.  The more things change, the more they stay the same. . .

My old friends at the City of DeBary are back in the news again – and they rarely disappoint when it comes to good, old-fashioned small-town political intrigue.

This time City Councilwoman Erika Benfield has come forward with credible allegations that City Manager Ron McLemore (the disgraced former Daytona Beach deputy city manager who fled a sexual harassment allegation to the shit-show that is DeBary politics) has been working for a political action committee known as Living Waters, to urge residents of the small west Volusia community to support a bond issue to subsidize a $12.5 million civic center.

The problem?

He was apparently being paid by the citizens of DeBary when he did it. . .

According to one of my favorite community-based newspapers, The West Volusia Beacon, Ms. Benfield alleges that McLemore and other city staff helped design a trifold mailer and postcards which were sent to some 3,700 DeBary voters urging a “yes” vote on the bond referendum.

She believes city employees provided the PAC the voter list as well. . .

Of course, McLemore – being the stand-up guy that he is – denied Councilwoman Benfield’s allegations, crowing “This city has not spent one penny on that PAC.” 

 Not to be dissuaded by Mr. McLemore s semantics, Ms. Benfield countered, “It (the mailer) was reviewed and critiqued by staff on city time. City time is city funds. They’re not volunteering their own time.”

Amen, sister.

For the record, Florida law prohibits local governments and state agencies from active involvement for or against candidates or causes.

According to the Beacon, Benfield also voiced concern “about the cost of the proposed community center. While the bond issue is $12.5 million, the total cost — including interest — will amount to almost $24 million, spread over the 30-year debt period.”

Jesus.

I may be a mathematical illiterate – but that’s damn near double the original construction cost, isn’t it?

To their credit, Councilwoman Benfield’s colleagues agreed to an investigation (conducted by yet another “independent counsel” hired by the city attorney. . .)  which will review the “concerns and allegations” and present their findings at a special meeting on November 14th – well after the matter has been decided at the polls.

I have a special place in my heart for the long-suffering residents of DeBary.

In many ways, Barker’s View cut its teeth on what I dubbed “The Debacle in DeBary” during the ugly quagmire of corruption, environment exploitation and political deceit that was the fallout from the city’s failed Gemini Springs Annex transportation-oriented development scheme.

That horrific civic tragedy galvanized in my mind the fact that if you care about good governance in your own hometown, then you should care about good governance everywhere.

At that time, I came to believe that DeBary was best described as 20,000 people who deserved better.

They still do. . .

On Volusia: What do you think?

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

–Dr. Seuss

Regardless of how busy you are – how full and interesting life may be – if you are not reading for pleasure, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re reading this, chances are you understand the importance of researching and analyzing differing points of view on the local political spectrum before coming down on a particular side of an issue.

I do the same thing – weighing the information provided by powerful politicians or appointees against my base of knowledge on the issues – then consider all sides of the argument before forming an opinion.

That involves reading everything I can, including reams of boring agendas and meeting minutes, consultant reports, budgets and newspaper articles, to gain better insight into a particular public policy or political decision.

I’m talking about the importance of reading for the shear fun of it – to, as someone recently put it, “expand the horizons of your mind.”

In case broadening your cultural perspective isn’t enough, researchers have found that reading for both leisure and understanding has substantial neurological benefits as well.

My nightstand is virtually groaning with books.

Everything from Mary Welsh Hemingway’s fascinating story of her life with Ernest, to John H. Cunningham’s light “Buck Reilly” adventures (Buck want’s only three things in life: A plane to fly, a treasure to find, and a beautiful woman to rescue.  My kind of guy. . .)

I tend to slip into and out of various reads – an interesting combination of fiction, non-fiction and historical biographies – which usually means I have two or three books in rotation at any given time.

In addition, I have a core group of old friends I keep on my Kindle – an Amazon-based E-reader that stores hundreds of books, yet saves each one at the exact place I left off.

This device holds most everything Dr. Hunter S. Thompson ever published (at least everything that is currently available in electronic format), works that I re-read constantly as a source of writing inspiration and a completely different perspective on national politics – one man’s opinion on the issues of his day that are as prescient today as they were when the great man wrote them.

Dr. Thompson’s writing isn’t for everyone.  Like many of my own screeds, you are often forced down a wild and circuitous path before getting to the kernel – but, in my view, we often learn more from the journey than the destination. . .

I have just started two wonderful books, both by local authors, on two very different subjects.

Paradise Interrupted by Tom Levine, described by the Orlando Sentinel as a “cross between a stand-up comic and a political gadfly,” is a colorful novel right up my alley.

 “Disney World arrives and the transformation of Central Florida begins.  Twenty years later note everybody appreciates the new look.  Developers continue to salivate, locals cringe out of habit, rabbits try to adapt; and then someone draws a line in the sand.”  

The other, a work by Palm Coast writer C. K. McKenna, entitled Poppa: A fictional Biography of Joseph of Nazareth” was a loan from a dear friend. 

“Rather than have his pregnant fiancée stoned to death, a devout tekton marries her, and becomes “Poppa” to a son with a mysterious mission. Remaining true to the gospel narrative, this account shows us what scripture omits. McKenna offers a glimpse of Joseph and Mary’s relationship; what Joseph does to deal with her pregnancy and the extreme measures he takes to preserve the son for his divine mission.”

On the non-fiction side, I recently finished a great read by former CIA officer T. J. Waters, “Class 11: My Story Inside the CIA’s First Post-9-11 Spy Class,” an important look at the motivations and training of the largest class in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service.

For me, perhaps the most important aspect of reading is that I learn something new every time I open a book – be it for the first time, or the hundredth time – invariably I expand my vocabulary, open my mind, and oftentimes discover how people in other parts of the country are using innovative ideas to build stronger communities.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to return to the wonderful City of Thomasville – an historic community of approximately 20,000 in southwest Georgia – that, in my view, serves as the finest example of how whole community decision-making allows good ideas to rise and form the foundation for something better – and has resulted in the economic and cultural resurgence of the town.

During a previous visit, I became captivated by an incredibly unique biannual publication of the Thomasville Center for the Arts, “Thom” – in my view, the best community-based magazine anywhere.  (You can find it at www.thomasvillearts.org – Creative Economy drop-down.)

In the most recent edition – the 10th volume published – I read an interesting piece on the community-wide belief that “any town’s strong future largely depends upon its thinkers, innovators, explorers and artists,” which resulted in the magazine reaching out to ten local trailblazers in a project they dubbed, “Project X: The Power of 10.”

The editorial staff imagined that if they could “get into the minds of 10 local leaders, we might stumble on a common thought that, if harnessed and developed, could be the start of something big.”

In turn, they selected an eclectic group of local visionaries – not just the thoughts and opinions of the “Rich & Powerful” –  and asked that they take photographs of things that represented their concerns and ideas for the future of the community.

The magazine received over forty compelling images, along with the heartfelt thoughts and suggestions of those who captured them.

What resulted was an almost universal desire to create a bright future for the children of Thomasville.

Most important, Project X began a larger discussion in the community by challenging residents (“the collective power of our community”) to think about what they could do, individually and collectively, to move the project forward and see their creative suggestions become a reality.

With election day quickly approaching, we have an opportunity for new beginnings.

I challenge our ‘movers & shakers’ – our policymakers and politicians, newcomers and incumbents alike, to consider tapping the creativity of residents of Volusia County in the decision-making process.

Encourage all constituents – from young people just starting out, entrepreneurs beginning enterprises, the arts community, established small business owners, retired persons and those who are engaged in our areas various grassroots advocacies – to express their thoughts and opinions on how we move forward to create a more vibrant, inclusive and stronger community – then factor those suggestions into public policy.

Something beyond a “Town Hall” meeting where pseudo-experts and government wonks talk at us – I’m suggesting a real effort to encourage creativity, innovation and involvement by all stakeholders by asking the question, “What do you think?”

When people feel that their opinions matter, you would be amazed at the contributions they can make to organizations, governments and their own neighborhood.

It’s called creating buy-in and ownership – something desperately lacking on Florida’s Fun Coast – and sometimes it’s as simple as asking those most affected about their needs, wants and dreams for the future.