On Volusia: Fire Jim Dinneen? It’s a good start

The ability to agreeably disagree, to engage in the peaceful competition of ideas, and passionately debate the issues of the day in a thoughtful way are the hallmarks of our freedom of speech and self-expression – those inalienable rights that so many have fought and died to protect.

I write an opinion blog – one that is often hyper-critical of those who are elected and appointed to wield the massive powers of government in the public interest.  I consider this forum part of the checks-and-balances that protect our democratic values and processes, although the reality is I am merely an ant fighting an elephant – and while the battle may be fun to watch – I realize that I am no match for the powers that be.

And I never forget that my point of view is but one facet of any issue.

For instance, in his recent editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, my friend Greg Gimbert wrote, It’s all over social media: Fire Jim Dinneen. People have been copying and sharing it.  But that isn’t how local government is supposed to work.”

 I agree with him on one point:  Nothing about our system of governance in Volusia County is the way local government is “supposed to work.”

In my view, he’s wrong about the rest.

According to Mr. Gimbert, the only metric which determines whether Volusia’s county manager position is operating as intended is the alignment of council member votes and their apparent agreement on every issue coming before them.

“There is consensus on every issue; thus, the county manager is doing a good job in the eyes of his employers, our County Council.”

His argument holds that those who are actively calling for the termination of County Manager Jim Dinneen are acting out of frustration – blaming the tool instead of the hands on it – and that the true problem facing Volusia County residents are the “policy-makers” – our elected officials who ostensibly give an obedient county manager his marching orders.

The argument proposed by Mr. Gimbert assumes two very important points – the first accepts that we are living in a representative democracy, the second presupposes a council/manager form of government in Volusia County.

It also presumes that Mr. Dinneen gives a Tinker’s damn about the “policies” and directives of our horribly neutered and wholly out-of-touch elected officials.

Even a casual observer of local politics quickly understands that we are living in a bastardized oligarchy – a system controlled by a few outside influence brokers, distinguished by wealth – who insinuate large sums of cash (personally and through various business entities they control) into local political campaigns while insulating Mr. Dinneen from the normal oversight and control of the elected body.

As I’ve said before, the infusion of Big Money into individual local races by a few exclusive insiders who have proven time-and-time again that their motivations are purely self-serving, doesn’t make Volusia County unique – but it certainly establishes the political pecking order and directs the ebb and flow of public resources.

It also tips the balance in favor of a select few individuals and corporate interests in an environment where the average per capita income is approximately $24,000.

The net-net of these large investments to artificially control the outcome of local races is the very foundation of this oligarchical system we’ve come to collectively accept.

Smart people like J. Hyatt Brown, Lesa France-Kennedy, and Mori Hosseini are highly successful for one reason only – they don’t spend a dollar without knowing exactly what the return on that investment will be.

You don’t last long in business throwing good money after bad.

I don’t know about you, but when I spend money, I expect something in return.  In this case, the local ruling class – those few the Daytona Beach News-Journal has dubbed our Rich & Powerful – make these strategic campaign contributions with the understanding that their personal, civic and professional interests will outweigh those of the average citizen every time.

You want to see consensus?  Hide and watch the next time Mr. Brown, Mr. Hossieni or Ms. France-Kennedy enter the council chambers to support an issue.

The fact is, the policy-makers change – but the policy never does – and it never will, until the outsized influence of a few uber-wealthy power brokers is removed from the equation.

Otherwise, the result will always be a co-opted system which serves its masters on-demand, invariable directs public funds to private interests and protects the key facilitator from internal and external political threats.

When you add to that Mr. Dinneen’s patented “public policy by ambush” strategy – where controversial issues are sprung on “surprised” members of the county council and their long-suffering constituents – totally off the advertised public agenda – and one cannot help but come to the realization that our elected officials are mere handmaidens to their outside handlers who don’t extend them so much as the courtesy of a briefing.

All they know, or need to know, is how to vote.

The fact is, our elected officials in DeLand haven’t had an original thought in years.

Innovation and inventiveness was tactically removed from the system in favor of a “go along and get along” process that rewards homogenized conformity and punishes creativity.

The myriad problems, missteps, open mismanagement and gross ineptitude repeatedly exhibited by Mr. Dinneen and his senior staff – political and operational pratfalls that have left our elected officials looking like out-of-touch hayseeds with a cognitive disorder – with no accountability, confirms the idea that this “system” of ours bears no resemblance to quality governance.

I agree with Mr. Gimbert’s assertion that the solution to the problem is upstream of Jim Dinneen – but the headwaters of the problem remain outside what passes for democratic governance in Volusia County.

Make no mistake, We, The People, are right to call for Jim Dinneen’s termination – and to vote for candidates who understand the importance of political independence and value citizen input in the process.

We have a responsibility to restore civic accountability and ultimately change the nature and focus of a system that continues to benefit an influential few while ignoring the needs and unique heritage of Volusia County residents.


Photo Credit:  Daytona Beach News-Journal

Angels & Assholes for August 11, 2017

Hi, Kids!

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

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

Angel:             City of Flagler Beach

Last week I took Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom to the woodshed for his near-constant job hunt that, in my jaded view, sent the wrong message to the city council, his worried employees and an increasingly confused public.

Mr. Newsom needs access to the Florida Retirement System to make improvements to a pension plan he entered during his service in Escambia County.  Flagler Beach does not currently participate in the state system.

In lieu of Newsom leaving simply for pension enhancements, I suggested that the City of Flagler Beach consider joining FRS – or paying Mr. Newsom what he’s worth.  I realize some of you will disagree, but I happen to believe City Manager Newsom is deserving of a regionally competitive wage.

In my view, he has done outstanding work stewarding the quaint beachside community through some rocky financial times – and his efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew are admirable.

Besides, under Mr. Newsom’s leadership the community has kept that Old Florida feel that simply cannot be artificially recreated.

Once lost, it’s gone – and the well-planned Latitudes at Margaritaville won’t come close.

During a budget workshop earlier this week, Flagler Beach city commissioners agreed to offer Mr. Newsom a 30% pay increase – appropriate for a proven hand with the institutional knowledge and vision required for success in a small town – and more in line with his peers.

Like the proven leader that he is, Mr. Newsom’s first concern was for his staff, noting that his team deserved a raise as well.  I admire that.

Look, I don’t presume to believe that anything I wrote in this forum made a difference with Flagler Beach decision-makers – but I hope it helped bring awareness.  Ultimately, the city’s tax rate will determine the extent of Mr. Newsom’s pay and benefit increases, but suffice it to say, things are trending in the right direction.

Now, let’s hope Mr. Newsom will give up on his almost compulsive pursuit of outside job offers.  Setting other communities up, just so he can turn them down – while causing instability in Flagler Beach – seems like a big waste of time.

Asshole:          Jack Aberman & GEA Seaside Investments, Inc.

Here we go again.  Same old shit again.

Earlier this week, slum lord Jack Aberman was given extra time by the City of Daytona Beach to correct the myriad problems and negligence that have fingered him as a key vector for the abject blight and dilapidation on the beachside and beyond.

On Tuesday, Special Magistrate David Vukelja heard testimony from city officials that confirmed Aberman is actively working toward compliance.  In turn, Mr. Vukelja demonstrated the patience of Job and extended the deadline for the institution of $1,000 per day fines by one month.

That ruling didn’t sit well with some residents, who have lived with Mr. Aberman’s stall tactics and continuing exploitation for years.

According to Iris Oswald, another unfortunate victim of Aberman’s GEA Seaside Investments, she has been living in virtual squalor at 311 North Hollywood Avenue – along with termites, faulty wiring, no hot water – and no air conditioning.

Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Nothing’s been done,” Oswald told Vukelja. “I don’t know what’s so special about this man. I don’t know why he’s allowed to do this for years.”

 I don’t either, Iris – and that is the question that continues to haunt beachside residents, even as the same redevelopment officials occupy the same city offices – accepting public funds for what should be service in the public interest.

I happen to know that Mr. Vukelja is a man of his word – and he is serious about the revitalization of our long-suffering beachside.  But he cannot do it alone.

The fact is, he can only adjudicate that which is legally brought before him.

Developing viable cases is the job of code enforcement officials and the city attorney.

Look for Mr. Vukelja to take definitive action to expedite compliance on cases pending before him to bring relief to Mr. Aberman’s victims – and restore hope in the good citizens who have suffered the continuing consequences of this company’s strategic neglect.

Angel:             City of Palm Coast

 In keeping with the wishes of 71% of Florida’s electorate – the City of Palm Coast is actively moving to welcome medicinal marijuana dispensaries to their community.

Recently, city leaders extended a short moratorium on the shops to give planners more time to construct and approve new zoning regulations to govern the facilities.

I find that refreshing, especially considering efforts by the City of Daytona Beach, and other struggling municipalities, that have taken the short-sighted view that banning dispensaries – and rejecting the tax dollars, jobs, and convenience for citizens suffering debilitating illnesses – is somehow appropriate and in keeping with the needs of their constituents.

Like it or not, medicinal marijuana is in our future – and I suspect that will be followed by recreational use in the next decade.

In my view, Palm Coast’s acceptance of dispensaries represents a common-sense approach to meeting the needs of people with diseases like ALS, cancer, Parkinson’s, PTSD, seizure disorders and chronic debilitating pain – and acknowledges the changing views of voters, taxpayers and patients.

I urge all law enforcement administrators and city officials in Volusia County to rethink their staunch opposition to what is rapidly becoming reality.

After 31-years in law enforcement, serving on the losing end of the ‘drug war,’ I can tell you from experience that doing the same thing over-and-over again, while expecting a different result, truly is the textbook definition of insanity – and government waste.

Let’s face it – focusing on interdiction and supply reduction continues to be an abysmal, and expensive, failure.

It’s not legalization of pot – it’s common human compassion.

Why not accept the will of the voters – develop reasonable taxation to cover regulatory efforts – and permit those with critical illnesses to benefit from the therapeutic effects of cannabis?

In the City of Daytona Beach, 76% to 90% of voters overwhelmingly support medical marijuana, yet most of their elected officials still arrogantly believe they know better.

(Note to Mayor Henry and the Daytona Beach City Commission:  On issues large and small, simply look to Commissioner Aaron Delgado and follow his lead – he consistently gets it right.)   

It is anticipated that medicinal marijuana will be a billion-dollar industry in Florida by 2020.  Why some cities – especially those facing the corrosive effects of economic stagnation – continue to openly reject the opportunity these shops represent is beyond my comprehension.

In short, stop raising taxes while rejecting viable commercial enterprises that at least 7 out of every 10 residents have unequivocally stated they want.

Asshole:          Flagler County Mosquito Control District

When the executive leadership of a government entity makes a colossal blunder – invariably the purge begins at the low end of the totem pole.

Entry-level employees, some part-time, who can least afford it are summarily chopped from the books, laid off and forced to suffer a crushing family financial disaster – while those who are wholly responsible for the five-alarm fuck-up remain firmly in control – and on the public payroll.

If you haven’t heard, the Flagler County Mosquito Control District recently built a brand new $2.1 million state-of-the-art facility.  The ribbon-cutting ceremony was in all the papers.

Unfortunately, Rachel Knapp – the district’s chief financial officer – seems to have forgotten a slight tidbit of information when preparing last year’s budget:

She failed to add construction costs for the building.


A flagrant, calamitous accounting flub which was either ignored or missed by the executive director – and the board of commissioners.

Fortunately, it didn’t get past the district’s outside auditor.

This ruinous “critical budget oversight” resulted in a massive deficit due to the new facility’s construction costs and “overspending in almost all line items.”

According to Joseph Cash, the district’s executive director, “The fund balance was incorrectly stated and by the time the error was discovered the budget was overspent by $1.1-million.”

The “error” wasn’t discovered until July.


With $1.1-million over the transom. . .

Now, Cash states he is implementing Draconian measures to regain control of the agency’s fiscal death spiral.

These include terminating six part-time employees and two full-time employees, limiting employee pay increases to a 3% cost of living raise while increasing employee contributions for health insurance by $250 per month, eliminating Mr. Cash’s health insurance coverage and limiting Ms. Knapp’s coverage to dependents only, along with other severe spending cuts and liquidation of public property.

Most disturbing, Mr. Cash suggests eliminating training for the helicopter pilot who flies spraying missions over both rural areas and suburban population centers. That represents a safety concern for all Flagler County residents.

In the aftermath, Cash sent emails to District Commissioners and, in his panic, apparently made a ham-handed attempt to call an emergency meeting which had all the suspicious earmarks of a violation of Florida’s Sunshine law.

That meeting has now been postponed until proper notification requirements can be met.

This catastrophic ineptitude is far more than a simple “oversight.”

In my view, it represents a Titanic failure at multiple levels of the organization, and cannot help but have a detrimental impact on service delivery – something Flagler County residents pay for and expect.

In my view, the district commissioners – you know, the people’s representatives – should act immediately to restore public confidence in this important operation by formally escorting Cash and Knapp out the brand-new front door – then begin planning for their own exit.

Time to clean house.

Angel:             Daytona Beach City Commission

I have a tattoo.

In 1979, during U.S. Army Basic Training at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, my best friend and I sat down in the dirty kitchen of an old biker dude early one Sunday morning and got “inked.”  It’s a neat beach-scene on our right bicep that reminded us of home.

Memorably, one lens of our “artists” eyeglasses was shattered – and his personal hygiene, and the sterility of his antiquated equipment, were equally questionable.

Fortunately, we didn’t get Hep C as well. . .

I’ve been kicking around the idea of getting another one, a police-related “half sleeve” to commemorate my career and honor those I served with.  We’ll see.

Times have changed in the last 38-years, and public acceptance of what is now called “body art” has evolved dramatically.  In fact, it’s hard to find a “millennial,” urban “hipster,” or even a soccer mom that doesn’t sport a tattoo or two.

And there is no doubt that many “tattoo parlors” – once the dens of drunken sailors and outlaw bikers – have evolved into upscale studios with antiseptic practices and gifted practitioners who take great pride in the quality of their artistry.

As a champion of self-expression – I admire a professionally done tattoo.

Hey, do what ‘cha wanna, right?

I was glad to see that the City of Daytona Beach recently allowed tattoo establishments in all five community redevelopment areas.  Now, a long-time artist is planning to open a shop on Beach Street in Downtown Daytona.

Slowly but surely, the Daytona Beach City Commission is awaking to the fact that business as usual only results in more of the same – and there is precious little time to waste in turning this “Ship of the Damned” around before the entire Halifax area hits the rocks.

I’m not saying tattoo parlors are the final answer – but the flexibility and foresight exhibited by Daytona Beach’s elected officials is a good sign.

Quote of the Week:

 “I am appalled that our Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen makes more than the vice president of the United States, and each Volusia County Council member makes more than $42,000, yet they are offering a “take it or leave it” 3 percent raise for our already underpaid deputies.”

James Martin, Ormond Beach, Letter to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, August 8, 2017

Think about it.

And have a great weekend, friends!



On Daytona Beach: Do you know who I am?

Sometimes I wonder why otherwise bright, extremely well-educated, and politically influential people find it necessary to act-out in ways they must know will bring discredit to themselves, their family, their employer and their community.

People expect boorish behavior from uneducated louts like me – not highly esteemed university professors – or the First Lady of Daytona Beach.

I recently read a disturbing social media post regarding Dr. Stephanie Henry – the Acting Dean of Bethune-Cookman University’s College of Education and wife of Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry.

The post contained a copy of an official complaint affidavit completed by the Daytona Beach Police Department which detailed a June 2017 confrontation between Dr. Henry and the owner of the Beauty Bazaar, a small shop on North Nova Road.

Apparently, Dr. Henry entered the store, took some items off the shelf, then attempted to return an open and partially used beauty product.  The return was refused by the owner – who directed Henry to the store’s posted policy.

During the ensuing argument, the report states that Dr. Henry repeatedly mentioned that she was “the mayor’s wife” – and then became threatening: “I’m the mayor’s wife.  I’ll get you.”


Especially considering she is, in fact, Mayor Henry’s spouse.

According to the report, Dr. Henry made things worse when she walked out of the store with about $4.75 worth of merchandise that she failed to pay for.  The ugly spat continued into the public parking lot.

Ultimately, Dr. Henry came back to the store, returned the items, and offered to pay for them.

Too late.  The store owner wasn’t hearing it.

I guess open political threats tend to have that effect on people.

In turn, a sworn statement was obtained from witnesses, and a complaint affidavit charging Dr. Henry with one count of misdemeanor Petit Theft was, I assume, sent to the State Attorney’s Office for review.

That’s generally how these things go – and perhaps the criminal charges have already been dismissed – I don’t really know.

What bothers me – and I’m sure many of you – is the “Don’t you know who I am?” arrogance that Dr. Henry’s statements conjure in the minds of her husband’s constituents.

Apparently, Dr. Henry believes that her husband’s political status can solve problems – and her cringeworthy announcement clearly indicates that she believes her status is more important than ours.

Perhaps it is, but given the rumor and intrigue surrounding Mayor Henry’s assumed return to Volusia County School’s following since-dropped felony charges alleging voter fraud – and his subsequent fall from grace at Mainland High School – one would think everyone involved would be on their best behavior.

Guess not.

So, Dr. Henry takes the prize this week.

In my view, threats and intimidation of small business owners is just bad optics – especially for the wife of a high-profile politician with a history many are trying very hard to get beyond.

People can forgive what they see themselves doing – and this behavior is, well, over-the-top – even for an uneducated lout like me.

Word to the wise:  Dr. Henry, you are in fact the Mayor’s wife – and an incredibly talented educator with a very bright future – everyone knows that.  I’m just not sure your husband’s lofty position needs repeating for leverage during petty arguments with Daytona Beach shopkeepers.

(UPDATE:  I have learned from a senior member of the judiciary that the misdemeanor charges against Dr. Henry were dismissed on June 23, 2017.)


On Volusia: You’ll always be King Rat to me

This weekend, like many of you, I read Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s piece in My Coast magazine entitled, “These 30 people make it happen.” 

Of course, it was one of those inane “most influential” lists, primarily consisting of what the News-Journal has dubbed our Rich & Powerful, with a few politicians and chamber of commerce-types mixed in for good will and ego massage.

Those of us still tethered to reality here on the Fun Coast know that our area’s true “movers and shakers” consist of five people who pass the same nickel around and effectively control what passes for our artificial local economy.

It appears Pat simply threw in twenty-five also-rans to avoid exposing the obvious.

My immediate thought was, “Make what happen?”

Followed immediately by, “Why in the hell would anyone want their good name associated with the convoluted shit-storm that is Volusia County? 

It’s like being named Boss Clown of the Theater of the Absurd.

Was Mr. Rice attempting to publicly shame those privileged few who have had repeated opportunities (and countless trips to the public trough) to make fundamental change to the blight, dilapidation, abject squalor, poverty, crime and economic suppression that permeates wide swaths of Volusia County like a suppurating ulcer?

No, Pat is far too nice for that.

I’ll let those who were named decide who is the meat and who is filler.

Far be it from me to winnow down this exalted list of local luminaries to those few High Panjandrums who truly impact our lives and livelihoods.

Look, don’t get me wrong, some of those listed deserve special recognition – people like Pat Northey and Gale Lemerand – who have worked extremely hard behind-the-scenes, and given generously of their time and personal resources to improve our lives, preserve our environment, and ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected.

Why these good folks were mixed in with some others who don’t is beyond me.

This year, John Albright, President and CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, was named the most influential person in all Volusia County.

In my view, Mr. Albright’s most important achievement this year was slipping the corporate noose and keeping his job after the company’s largest investor sought to “maximize shareholder value” by selling the company, or liquidating its assets, which would have effectively shut down the traditional good-old-boy investor club that owns some 8,100 prime acres of undeveloped real estate – much of it near the ever-popular LPGA/I-95 corridor.

For instance, it has been reported that J. Hyatt Brown and his wife, Cici – both of whom were prominent on the “30-most influential” list – own some 10,000 shares of Consolidated-Tomoka stock.  And I’ll just bet they’re not the only ones on Mr. Rice’s roll with high stakes in Mr. Albright’s continued viability – so long as he remembers which side his bread is buttered on.

Of course, County Manager Jim Dinneen was listed among this year’s Camarilla of VIP’s – right next to his handlers – for his continued deft manipulation of the all-important nexus of public funds and private interests.

That position truly is influential.

I suppose what sent me fleeing to the restroom with cramping peristalses was Mr. Dinneen’s “Advise to others” message – which amounted to an over-the-top, subliminal mirror image of reality:

“Exercise honesty and integrity in your interactions with others.  If you are honest and have integrity, you are influencing others.”    

 (Excuse me for a moment.  I’ll be right back…)

There now.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have serious concerns about the direction of Volusia County government and the outsized influence of certain power brokers who use our bastardized campaign finance system to hand-select, and ultimately control, what passes for our elected representatives.

Recent events – such as Mr. Dinneen’s surprise announcement that he was purchasing a parking lot in the City of Daytona Beach for above its appraised value (totally unbeknownst to City Manager Jim Chisholm) – to his surprise announcement regarding the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock beach driving debacle (totally unbeknownst to citizens) – to his surprise announcement that he has personally decided to lash some $200,000,000 in debt to Volusia taxpayers, our children, and grandchildren over the next 30 to 40 years (totally unbeknownst to our elected officials) – tend to indicate that our council members are mere pawns in a shadow government that is wholly controlled by Mr. Dinneen and his wealthy handlers.

As I’ve said before, when you consider the complete mismanagement, mistakes, gaffes, howlers, fuck-ups and good old-fashioned open manipulation of information and misinformation under Mr. Dinneen’s administration – blunders that would have resulted in his immediate termination from any company controlled or managed by anyone on Mr. Rice’s list – it becomes immediately clear that he is politically protected by those who benefit from his direct control of the public tit – the endless supply of tax dollars that invariable flow into private projects and bolster our non-natural economy.

Is there another reasonable explanation?

In the continuing fall-out over Mr. Dinneen’s “grand reveal” of his five-story courthouse mega-facility in downtown Daytona, Vice Chair Deb Denys recently announced on the front page of the newspaper that she is uncomfortable with a process that resulted in just 38-minutes of discussion by decision-makers on the most expensive project in the history of Volusia County.

Now, I don’t believe for a nanosecond that Deb is really concerned – but she’s standing for reelection next year and optics are important right now.  Especially given the fact that people are beginning to question the astronomical cost and rapidity with which this dubious project is being shoved down our collective throat.

Then, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, exposed himself in a late-night social media post which left little doubt that he was completely out-of-the-loop on Little Jimmy’s plans – and effectively numb to the concerns and questions of his long-suffering constituents.

This institutional indifference to Mr. Dinneen’s behind-the-scenes machinations represents an almost strategic ignorance by those who are sworn to represent our best interests.

Trust me.  I hold firm to the belief that this lack of even superficial knowledge of key events simply must be a well-orchestrated ruse.  Because – if our elected officials truly are that out-of-touch – the future for everyone other than those well-connected few is grim.

Perhaps Mr. Rice and his excellent investigative journalists at the News-Journal should go back and examine their “30-most” list – connect the dots, follow the money – and begin the important process of developing an accurate picture of the oligarchical system that has hampered legitimate economic development efforts for decades.

Regardless, I hope Jim Dinneen doesn’t take his loss to Mr. Albright too hard.  There’s always next year, eh?

Besides, you’ll always be King Rat to me.


On Volusia: Has Chairman Ed Kelley lost his marbles?

Regular readers of this forum know that I frequently use over-the-top descriptors and goofy analogies to embroider the issue or characters that I’m opining about.

I think it’s funny – but the reality is it exposes the limitations of my writing skills and intellect.

For instance, I have a growing suspicion that our elected officials on the Volusia County Council are little more than pawns – hapless dupes – who serve as visible figureheads in a bastardized system that is wholly controlled by uber-wealthy power brokers who finance political campaigns through personal and corporate contributions in exchange for free rein access and influence.

I call this group – loosely consisting of J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hossieni and Lesa France-Kennedy – the “High Panjandrums of Political Power.” 

In turn, the county’s true civic and political agenda is set, in toto, by these politically connected ‘investors,’ and their embedded business associates, through our hopelessly co-opted County Manager, Jim Dinneen.

I call this ‘complete bullshit’ – and counter to the democratic principles our nation was founded upon.

Increasingly, evidence suggests that our elected officials have become so detached from the actual process of our oligarchical system of governance – so marginalized and out-of-touch with the machinations of the county manager and his handlers – that they simply wander about like children lost in the woods.

They give great weight and import to issues like seabirds shitting on a private veranda – or the number of chicken coops permitted on residential lots, and make critical decisions regarding which way the door on beachfront Port-o-lets will face – you know, issues they truly have control over.

In the meantime, Mr. Dinneen ramrods the true agenda through his patented use of “public policy by ambush” tactics – a strategy that involves setting the stage well in advance of a “Grand Reveal” – a left-field sneak attack where he orchestrates the announcement of important issues without prior public notice and completely off the advertised meeting agenda.

You may remember the recent surprise announcement regarding the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock change where Mr. Dinneen was caught on an open microphone giving our doddering fool of a Council Chairman, Ed Kelley, strict orders regarding how, when and where the great off-the-agenda revelation would occur during an open public meeting?

I do.

Then, just two-weeks ago, Mr. Dinneen threw yet another secret surprise party when he abruptly announced his “lofty vision” of putting a five-story courthouse and four-story county office complex near the S. James Foxman Justice Center in downtown Daytona.

Without prior notice – or even a placeholder spot on the Council’s public agenda – we learned that the massive public development, situated in the very heart of Daytona Beach, would consolidate operations of the current City Island Annex, the New Smyrna Beach courthouse and the county administration center.

In his typical style, Mr. Dinneen enlisted the assistance of several circuit court judges and court administrators to lend credibility – then pulled out snippets of a $248,000, yet-to-be-released, needs study by a Deland-based consultant – and alternated flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories with “game changer” and “icing on the cake” speculative economic development statements.

Oh, did I forget that he also explained that this done-deal project would cost Volusia County taxpayers, their children and grandchildren an estimated $195,000,000 to $260,000,00 over the next 30 to 40 years?

Because he did.

In the end, our elected officials were left swooning over Dinneen’s Taj Mahal courthouse – the most expensive project ever undertaken in Volusia County, Florida.

In fact, Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson all but soiled himself on the dais – gushing over the economic impact a courthouse complex will have on the quaint shops and mixed-use vision in Downtown Daytona.

He even had the balls to credit the “new” Deland courthouse as the catalyst for all good things in that community – virtually ignoring the hard work of citizens, entrepreneurs and city officials that recently earned national recognition as the best Main Street in America.

In turn, Mr. Dinneen and Chairman Kelley sat down with the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board to flesh out the details of Little Jimmy’s “Grand Plan.”

Really, their picture was in the paper doing it.

According to the News-Journal’s article, “New courthouse, other plans, could transform downtown Daytona Beach,” the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean wrote:

“Despite a hefty price tag expected to top out at $195 million-$260 million, so far the project has received widespread support from County Council members, court system officials, law enforcement employees and Daytona Beach city government leaders.”

 Yep.  Everyone who is anyone was giddy.

Then, We, the People, started asking difficult questions – like how is it our elected officials spent three public meetings discussing suburban chicken coops, and just 38-minutes explaining away a $200+ million-dollar expenditure? – and the “widespread support” started to dry up faster than seagull shit on a hot pool deck.

Earlier this week, Dustin Wyatt, wrote an excellent piece in the News-Journal, focusing on citizens’ concerns about the consolidation of court services, lack of substantive public input – or even the courtesy of a heads-up – in the lead-up to Little Jimmy’s announcement.

Things that rubbed the always cantankerous (and up for re-election) Vice Chair Deb Denys the wrong way:

While it’s not yet final, it would be the most expensive county project ever, and Vice Chair Deb Denys thinks it’s problematic how quickly the idea traveled from the hands of a third-party architect to a full-fledged plan for the future, without ever hearing from taxpayers.”

“I’m really struggling with some of the process here, and I can’t justify it,” she said Thursday. “We’ve had more discussions on backyard chickens than we have a $200 million courthouse,” which she expects will be even more expensive by the time it breaks ground.”

“It all moved so fast that some residents feel kept in the dark and are questioning the value of public input.”


In turn, I took the County Council to task for looking like a passel of out-of-touch dementia victims who were apparently caught as flatfooted by Dinneen’s announcement as the rest of us were.

If so, that’s some scary stuff.

Well, my worst fears were confirmed by a late-evening social media post by Chairman Ed Kelley in response to a very smart, and very civically engaged, citizen’s critique of the uber-weird lead-up:

“No public debate, no notice on the agenda, yet a 200-million-dollar plan was approved to move forward on a new courthouse facility in Daytona. Sketch”

Well, Ed Kelley came unhinged – I mean batshit, multi-exclamation point, furious – over the nerve and temerity of a taxpayer who actually questioned the machinations of his government.

Inexplicably, Chairman Kelley responded:

“Public hearings before any approved plans!!!!!  This has been discussed for almost a decade!!!! Not sure who keeps making up a $200,000,000 number!!!!”

Look, I don’t make this shit up.  Mr. Kelley really is that addle-brained.

Folks, that was the actual, verbatim response from your County Council Chair to a citizen’s criticism.

For the record, Chairman Kelley, the matter has not been discussed for “over a decade” – the only “discussion” I recall was a circa 2016 PowerPoint presentation of 10-year Capital-Improvement projects suggesting $1-million be set aside for “City Island Courthouse Improvements” – which included safety/security issues, acoustical and configuration of courtrooms, ADA accessibly issues and emergency backup power.


Remember that?

I do.

And everyone agrees we need a new courthouse.

What I don’t remember is the decades-long discussions of the urgent need for a $260+ million dollar consolidated mega-facility.

As far as who suggested the $200,000,000-dollar figure you screamed about – it was your County Manager – Little Jimmy Dinneen.

In fact, it was emblazoned on the front page of the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“The changes are expected to be financed with a $120 million bond issue, costing the county $6.5 million annually on debt service that’s anticipated to take 30 to 40 years to pay off. In all, taxpayers are expected to be on the hook for between $195 million and $260 million, officials said.”

So, Mr. Kelley, before you go off like a deranged banshee on thoughtful citizens who are trying to get their heads around the most expensive project in the history of Volusia County – one that garnered exactly 38-minutes of open discussion – you might try reading the newspaper.

Look, I know you can read, Ed – I’ve seen your lips moving.

In my view, the exalted Chairman of the Volusia County Council might consider educating himself on the important issues of the day before spouting-off like a clueless asshole on social media.

It’s unbecoming – and undermines the people’s confidence.





Angels & Assholes for August 4, 2017

Hi, Kids!

Tomorrow afternoon I will join with a few close friends in the watering holes of New Smyrna Beach as we hoist a few adult beverages, rage against the dying of the light, and toast my 57th trip around the sun.

My God.  Where does the time go? 

The older I get the less range of extreme emotions I feel – intense anger, happiness, etc.  Researchers have found that the ability of “older adults” to give up on goals that are no longer attainable can help them avoid symptoms of depression over time.

Trust me.  No one embraces diminishing personal expectations like I do.

I dunno – I just don’t get overly excited or deeply depressed anymore – not much “moves” me the way it once did when I was a passionate young man, full of piss and vinegar.  With age comes acceptance, and ultimately a change in perspective, I suppose – besides, my beat-up old heart doesn’t like surprises anymore.

But I must tell you, friends – this week was different.

Sometime in the past few days, the “total views” meter – a kind of statistical odometer which digitally records the number of times good folks like you access and read Barker’s View blogposts – rolled past 100,000 views!

You guys have made this opinionated old drunkard very happy – and I’ve spent much of the last week telling anyone who will listen about this important milestone.

As of this moment, deep thinkers like you – folks who truly care about the issues facing our community and beyond – have viewed Barker’s View posts 101,640 times since this little social experiment in alternative opinion blogging began 20-months ago.

In turn, readership has expanded to some 88 countries around the globe!

With so much going on in the world, why people in Guyana, Senegal, Bahrain or Bangladesh care a whit about my goofy thoughts on the political machinations of Little Jimmy Dinneen, or the in’s-n-out’s of the war on beach driving in Volusia County, is beyond me – but we welcome them to the party with open arms!

Wow.  That’s humbling – and incredibly satisfying.

I also want to thank our local oracle of all-things government – Big John – for allowing me two-hours of valuable radio airtime the second Monday of each month on his popular show, GovStuff Live!, to pontificate on civic matters big and small.

So today, and every day, it is my honor to grant ‘Angel Status’ on each of you – the loyal and fearless readers of Barker’s View.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read and ponder my weird thoughts on the news and newsmakers of the day here on the Fun Coast – and for supporting our inalienable right of free speech and critical self-expression.

Whenever I get the opportunity to meet Barker’s View readers and discuss important issues, you have been incredibly warm, bright and accepting (if not critical of the colorful language) and the feedback and creative suggestions you bring help make this space something unique – a forum for furthering the debate of entrenched civic and social issues facing our community.

Thank you for your kindness – and your continued support.

It means more to me than you know.

To those very important, rich & powerful people that I routinely take to the woodshed, thank you for accepting the often-withering critique with a thoughtful spirit and good humor.

We may not always agree, but I sincerely appreciate the occasional “off the record” discussions with certain critical decision-makers and “big shots” – conversations that always enlighten my sometimes-rigid point of view.  You know who you are.

And, to those arrogant few elected and appointed officials (and the power brokers who control them) who look at public service as a personal enrichment scheme, and, worse yet, refuse to accept constructive criticism from their constituents – tough shit.  My readers and I aren’t going anywhere.

Read, learn, grow.

Thanks again, y’all.

Now, 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 have a peak at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          County Manager Jim Dinneen & Volusia County Council

 Wow.  Our elected officials in DeLand are a little slow on the uptake.

Guess they should have listened when Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Jim Dinneen is a “lying sack of shit.”

Now, they have only themselves to blame.

Once again, Vice Chairman Deb Denys, and those other visibly addled dupes who sit at the dais with her, are giving their best faux-astonishment performance over Jim Dinneen’s recent bombshell that he and his friends have decided we’re getting a $200+ million-dollar courthouse and county office building in Downtown Daytona.

They can’t be that dumb, right?

Yep.  Last fall, an innocuous item labeled “judiciary space analysis” appeared on the consent agenda and was approved without question.

Now, without any public notice – or even buried placement on the County Council’s agenda – last week Little Jimmy pulled his best “surprise reveal” since we collectively received the dry suppository that was the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock news when he announced he was (apparently single-handedly) undertaking the most expensive project in the history of Volusia County on the strength of a DeLand-based consultant’s report.

You and me?  Well, we’re just supposed to accept Dinneen’s “explanations” – pay the bills – and keep our traps shut.  (Not that we were provided an opportunity to provide input on the issue anyway.  That would have spoiled Little Jimmy’s surprise.)

Then, doing his patented Edger Bergen impression, our doddering fool of a Council Chairman, Ed Kelley – who told us all that he would no longer accept ambush-style, off-the-agenda shenanigans by fellow officials and staff – now says, from the other side of his mouth, “I don’t have a problem with this one.”

Why the hell not? 

Because it didn’t require a vote.


Hey, Ed – just for the record – most presentations and other items that don’t require formal action by the council routinely appear on the agenda – and you damn well know it.

The fact is, given the gravity of this news – the public should have received notice.

Look, it’s one thing for you to serve as an active apologist for Dinneen’s “policy by ambush” style as he continues to work with his handlers behind the council’s back – and you can keep kissing the collective ass of the High Panjandrums of Political Power until the cows come home, for all I care.

But if you want to stop looking like a lame passel of out-of-touch dementia victims every time Jimmy and his buddies have a big announcement to spring on your unsuspecting constituents – then you’ll get a handle on the problem and mount an effort to fire Jim Dinneen now.

Regardless, stop lying to us in the morning paper.  It’s unbecoming – and old.

And stop making asinine excuses – the tail continues to wag the dog – and everyone but our elected officials seem to recognize it.

Angel:             Ormond Beach City Manager Joyce Shanahan

I have been a resident of Ormond Beach since 1963.  My family settled in one of the first houses built on North Halifax Drive when the road was little more than a fire trail, and our backyard was essentially an expanse of sea oat covered dunes all the way to A-1-A.

Although I was born in East Tennessee, Ormond Beach is home and always will be.

In my view, City Manager Joyce Shanahan is one of the unsung heroes of the Halifax area.

Eschewing the braggadocio of many public managers, Shanahan works diligently and quietly to retain and enhance the best of our community while keeping ever increasing costs in check.

Perhaps most important, the few times I’ve called Ms. Shanahan for help, she was accessible, professional and simply took care of the problem.  As far as I’m concerned, that responsiveness is what separates good managers from the rest.

On Saturday, Ms. Shanahan will once again make herself available to residents when she hosts “Walking with the Manager” – a two-mile stroll through various areas of our beautiful community that provides citizens an opportunity to share comments and suggestions.

This week, the walk begins at 8:00am, starting and ending at Fire Station 91, 364 South Atlantic Avenue, and will include Ormond Beach Fire Chief Bob Mandarino.

Call 386-676-3315 for more details.

Also, if you are a resident of Ormond Beach and aren’t receiving Ms. Shanahan’s weekly review and staff report – you’re doing it wrong.  This highly informative newsletter comes out each Friday and is chockfull of information important to the life and health of our community.

It’s called transparency and open government in action – and it’s incredibly refreshing.

In short, Ms. Shanahan sets an excellent example of solid, community-based management – and her hard work is paying dividends for citizens of one of the most livable cities in Volusia County.

Asshole:          Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom

Look, I don’t think Mr. Newsom is an asshole – hell, I don’t even know the man – and Golden Lion in Flagler Beach is one of my favorite places in the whole world.  But, in this column, it’s one or the other.

In my view, he has done wonderful work building an effective and efficient team – while preserving that true Old Florida feel that other communities are spending to recreate –  despite some weird small-town politics.

But enough with the perennial job hunt, Larry.

In-or-out, dude.

It seems that every time a city or county manager gig opens in the State of Florida, Larry Newsom is first in que – teeth polished and shoes shined – to submit his impressive resumé.

Jackson County.

Port St. Lucie.

Bunnell.  (Hey, the rumors swirled.)

Florida Transportation Secretary.

Putnam County.

What gives? 

Then, when he becomes a contender and his name is made public, Newsome is left looking at his shoes while explaining to the city’s confused elected officials (and his worried employees) that he’s just “testing his continued marketability.”

 Say what? 

 The Daytona Beach News-Journal now has a standing headline: “Newsome Not Leaving!”

It’s no secret that Mr. Newsom wants access to the Florida Retirement System so he can make changes to a pension plan he joined while serving in Escambia County – something he could easily accomplish with even a short stint with a government entity who participates in FRS.

I get that – it’s important to his family’s financial future.

But one would think there would be a way for Mr. Newsome to maximize his FRS benefits – or salary package – without threatening to jump ship every 15-minutes.

At least one Flagler Beach resident has suggested the city explore the possibility of entering the Florida Retirement System, something that would prove beneficial to Mr. Newsome and other municipal employees in the long-term.

I agree.

Either join FRS or pay the man what he’s worth.  Mr. Newsome is a proven hand that makes substantially less than some other municipal managers in the regional market.

The problem is – who wants to invest in a guy who’s checking his “marketability” all the time?

In my view, it’s a shame that City Manager Newsome’s good work in responsibly and creatively stewarding one of Florida’s premiere beach communities is overshadowed by the constant job search that keeps residents, employees and city officials guessing.

Asshole:          Daytona’s “Sugardaddy” – Richard Basaraba

Kudos to the Volusia County Beach Safety officers who identified and issued a trespass warning to Richard “Sugardaddy” Basaraba, 73, effectively keeping him away from our beaches for the next six-months after his disturbing encounter with a teenage girl.

Apparently, Basaraba was ambling along the shoreline wearing an uber-creepy “Sugardaddy seeking his Sugarbaby” t-shirt and aggressively passing-out similarly embossed brochures to female beach-goers – all while holding up a “bra pad” (I don’t even know what that is), ogling their breasts for size, and making super-weird comments.

Yeah.  That’s what I thought, too.

Last weekend, Basaraba approached a 16-year old Oviedo girl and her two 18-year old friends, then handed them a card containing the picture of some old perv with a young girl sitting on his lap, along with the line, “Ask me about your monthly allowance.”

According to an interview with the creep in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Basaraba said, “I engaged (the younger girl) before I knew she was 16 because of her bust size. I did make the mistake of saying, ‘You’re the cutest one here. Call me when you’re 18.”

Yeah.  That’s what I thought, too.

Before some irate father could rip Mr. Basaraba’s nuts off and turn his teeth into so many Chicklets – the 16-year old’s mother quickly reported the highly suspicious encounter to a Beach Safety officer.

Fortunately, they took care of the rest without incident.

Now, Basaraba contends it was all one big misunderstanding.  I guess a bright red t-shirt and professionally produced pamphlets can mislead the casual observer as to your actual intent. . .

Regardless of Sugardaddy’s true goal – shit like this we don’t need.

In my view, it harkens back to a time when the former Desert Inn was the epicenter of child sexual abuse – a house of horrors where the lives of so many were tragically destroyed – and Daytona Beach became known as the place you don’t let your kids go to the Boardwalk alone.

With Sheriff Chitwood and other area law enforcement agencies working hard to purge our public parks of serial masturbators and open sex offenders – my hat’s off to the Volusia County Beach Safety Department for getting this turd off our beach.

Keep up the good work – and be vigilant – there are plenty more “Sugardaddies” out there who don’t advertise their true objectives so obviously.

 Angel:             Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri

 The societal lot of a police officer has often been described as, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” 

But sometimes, law enforcement officers go out of their way to just look bad – I know, I’ve made my share of mistakes, and suffered the embarrassment and consequences.

A more accurate truism holds that if one officer acts like an asshole – it tarnishes the reputation and standing of the rest – so the chief of police does his or her level best to set and enforce proper standards of professional conduct – and disciplines those who fail to live up to the high ethical and moral benchmarks society expects.

Trust me.  It’s a full-time job.

Back in June, body-worn camera footage of a verbal confrontation between two uniformed officers – one of whom had been stopped for speeding in her personal vehicle on the way to work by the other – was released to the media, and the usual shit-storm of public outrage and demands for personal destruction ensued.

The offending officer’s arrogance and stupidity in leaving the scene before being released by the investigating officer was just that – stupid and rude – yet some called for “picketing” the Daytona Beach Police Department, demanding that the officer be summarily terminated, prosecuted or worse.

Recently, a long-time local defense attorney opined in the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the officer’s conduct rose to the level of fleeing and eluding – a felony crime – “which routinely gets prosecuted and jail time.

It fell to Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri to sort the wheat from the chaff and issue appropriate and constructive discipline.

Earlier this week, he rightly handed down a disciplinary suspension – representing the effective loss of hundreds of dollars in pay and benefits – and leaving a dark blemish on the officer’s record and future opportunities.

I support Chief Capri’s assessment, and his decision to render corrective action designed to change behavior – rather than destroy a young life and career – for a momentary lapse in good judgment, courtesy and professional bearing on a deserted side street at 5 o’clock in the morning.

The fact is, this was not a case of fleeing and eluding – the offending officer stopped, was properly identified by her co-worker, made a shitty remark – then abruptly left the scene, punctuating her “screw you” attitude with a hubristic chirp of the tires.

In turn, the officer who initiated the stop appropriately reported the offending officers abysmal conduct to his sergeant – who took the matter up the chain-of-command for investigation and resolution.

At the end of the day, Chief Capri properly identified what was stupid, disrespectful and over-the-top behavior by a uniformed officer during an exchange between co-workers – one of whom was actively investigating a traffic violation.

The job of a police chief is a difficult one, and tough disciplinary issues often come down to the gray area of what is necessary, and what is possible.

In my view, Chief Capri acted in the best interests of the community and the agency in properly applying appropriate sanctions to ensure this never happens again.

Rather than go down the rabbit hole of attempting to appease the visceral reaction a snippet of video invariably has on criminal defense attorneys and diehard critics of law enforcement – Chief Capri sent an effective message to his subordinates – and the citizens he serves – that this type of arrogance and disrespect will not be tolerated in his command.

Good job, Chief.

Quote of the Week:

“I’m really struggling with some of the process here, and I can’t justify it.  We’ve had more discussions on backyard chickens than we have a $200 million courthouse.” 

Vice Chair Deb Denys, quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, preaching to the choir about how County Manager Jim Dinneen continues to press the true, behind-the-scenes, agenda – while pandering to the massive egos and gross stupidity of our feckless elected officials.

Thanks for nothing, Deb!

That’s it for me!

Have a great weekend!

On Florida: “A gosh lot of money?” Goshdamn right it is. . .

What do citizens of DeBary and every other Florida taxpayer have in common?

We’re all being deftly screwed by “outside attorneys” and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

A recent audit by the Associated Press found that between 2011 and 2017, the State of Florida spent more than $237 million of our precious tax dollars on private lawyers to defend the Scott administrations agenda.

That doesn’t include the nearly $16 million the state has been ordered to reimburse opposing attorney fees – bringing the total amount of public funds paid to private law firms to some $253 million in just six-years.

According to Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, “A quarter of a billion dollars is a gosh lot of money.”

Goshdamn right it is.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that much of the money used to pay outside legal fees goes unaccounted for in the normal budget process – and no one in state government is closely monitoring billable hours or scrutinizing the massive invoices for services rendered.

You read that right – no one in state government keeps track of overall spending for outside legal services.

Governor Scott – a reptilian attorney by training who made a billion-gagillion-fafillion-shabadabalo-shabadamillion-shabaling-shabalomillion dollars overseeing the largest Medicare fraud in United States history – sees absolutely no problem using our money to pay select private law firms to defend losing policy and political battles – to include the convoluted and mega-expensive water-rights war with the State of Georgia.

That decades-old dispute is being litigated by our advocates at Latham & Watkins at a cost of $825.00 per hour for its best and brightest.  In total, Florida has paid more than $41 million in the past 18-months for that case alone.

You do believe they are looking out for us, right?

$41 million. 

Unfortunately, many of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s corps of over 450 lawyers currently on the state payroll are busy with the important work of defending Scott’s cockamamie policies and litigating the constitutionality of the often asinine laws and regulations passed by our illustrious state lawmakers – like the coming legal fight over the legislature’s ham-handed botch of the medicinal marijuana roll out.


I agree with House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s assessment – “We’re getting gouged.”

If that’s what they call public sodomy in Tallahassee these days.

Then, yeah, we’re getting “gouged” alright.



Volusia Schools: Where’s Superman when you need him. . .

The award winning 2010 documentary “Waiting for “Superman” examined growing issues in American public education, following the lives of five students and the trials and tribulations of their efforts to be accepted into a charter school.

Along the way, the film exposed the increasing bureaucratic and professional insulation that makes it difficult to hold teachers and administrators accountable for poor performance, conflicting expectations at the local, state and federal levels, funding disparities, the positive and negative effects of teacher’s unions and other intractable issues facing the system.

Naturally, comparisons were made – and some academics challenged the accuracy of the producer’s findings – claiming the documentary was no more than a “marketing piece” designed to break unions and privatize education.

The film also reminded us that “education statistics” have names.

Several weeks ago, I took the Volusia County School District to the woodshed for their continuing – and in my view, counterproductive – practice of playing hopscotch with school principals.

For reasons known only to district administrators, principals are routinely moved from one school to another, resulting in instability, and leaving students and teachers with no sense of continuity, and the communities which host the schools with no one to partner with – or hold accountable – long-term.

For years, the cities have sat quietly while the Volusia County School Board – elected officials with the ethical and fiduciary responsibility to set effective and efficient educational policies for the district – have functionally ignored festering issues in challenged schools.

According to an excellent piece by Erica Breunlin in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, at least two communities in east Volusia are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Recently, Holly Hill Mayor John Penny asked City Manager Joe Forte to read a scathing letter during an open meeting of the School Board, demanding better for his long-suffering constituents.

South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall – an outstanding career public servant who recently retired as that city’s chief of police – also raised difficult questions when South Daytona Elementary (the second largest in Volusia County) received a “D” grade from the state in June.

In my view, standing idle while students in poorly performing schools circle the bowl – literally through no fault of their own – is morally reprehensible, and counter to the economic and social health of the communities involved.

Unfortunately, things appear to be getting worse throughout the Sunshine State.

During the last legislative session, Governor Rick Scott and our elected lawmakers telegraphed their true commitment to public education when they passed a budget which drastically reduced per-student funding.

The net-net is that Volusia County will receive millions of dollars less from the State of Florida – money which historically supplements district funds raised primarily through our property taxes.

Add to that a weird, grossly inequitable, state funding formula which punishes already strapped Volusia taxpayers – coupled with the almost pathological inability of our School Board to live within their means – and you get the feeling our children are doomed to be victims of a horribly failed system.

In addition, late last week we learned that several important volunteer-based literacy programs won’t be returning to Volusia County schools this year.

Citing a “lack of resources,”  Junior Achievement and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (both based in Orlando) announced that they will be pulling their programs which served a collective 6,500 local students in some 360 classrooms countywide.

That hurts.

But what I find most disturbing is the continuing mismanagement of assets and personnel – things district administrators still have direct control over – and the seeming lack of strategic planning that is quickly creating a financial quagmire while reducing service delivery.

For instance, in Holly Hill, five principals and nine assistant principals have passed through what Mayor Penny aptly describes as a “revolving door.”

There can be no doubt that this near-constant administrative swirl has resulted in a sense of flux and uncertainty in a school comprised almost exclusively (94%) of economically disadvantaged children – a student population which is expected to surge to over 1,000 this school year.

According to the News-Journal, the district has selected former Pathways Elementary principal Jason Watson to head the challenged Holly Hill School when classes begin next month.

This gives reason for hope – and Mr. Watson is certainly saying all the right things.

It’s a tall order, but I hope he truly is the caped superhero that can come to the rescue of this beautiful, but challenged, community when they need it most.

One question the News-Journal’s report didn’t answer is the rapidly spreading rumor that Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry is being considered for Holly Hill’s assistant principal slot.

I find that interesting.

In 2010, then City Commissioner Henry – while serving as assistant principal of Mainland High School – was charged with nine felony counts of voter fraud, including two counts of absentee ballots and voting violations and one count of conspiracy to commit the same.

The State Attorney’s Office dropped all criminal charges against Mayor Henry during the summer of 2011 – and he ultimately left Volusia County Schools – taking an administrative position with the Putnam County School District.

At the time, the terms of his departure were sketchy – with reports claiming he voluntarily resigned his position with Volusia County when it was announced he would not be returning to Mainland where he had served for 18-years.

Now, unconfirmed reports have Mayor Henry high in the running for the assistant principal slot at Holly Hill – although his name has yet to be officially placed on the School Board’s agenda.

Superman?  Hardly.

But at this point, I’ll just bet the city is willing to give a second chance if it means returning stability and performance-based accountability to a school in desperate need of both.

Unfortunately, these persistent rumors – which I have been told were propagated by certain sitting School Board members – only adds to the confusion surrounding the future of Holly Hill School.

Clearly, city officials, families of students and the beleaguered teaching staff have every right to question the districts motives – and secrecy.


Photo Credit:  WFTV


Who will stand for them?

The following was excerpted verbatim from the job description for a law enforcement officer in a community in Volusia County:

“While performing the duties of this job, the employee frequently works outside in inclement and/or rapidly changing weather conditions, including extreme heat, extreme cold, direct sunlight, high humidity, heavy rain and strong winds. The employee occasionally works near moving mechanical parts; in high, precarious places; and with explosives, and is occasionally exposed to fumes, foul odors or airborne particles; toxic or caustic chemicals; vibration; in dark and confined spaces; and in the presence of wild and/or dangerous animals. The employee will occasionally be exposed to the presence of blood-borne pathogens, bodily fluids, and work in close physical proximity to sick, injured, and deceased persons. The noise level in the work environment is usually moderate; however, depending upon conditions, the employee may be subjected to loud, sustained or modulating noise levels, including but not limited to emergency vehicle sirens, gunfire, shouting, alarms and environmental sounds.”

There’s more.

Add to that the fact “the employee” will be required to work all hours of the day and night – on weekends and holidays – during their children’s birthday parties and piano recitals, on Christmas morning, New Year’s eve, wedding anniversaries, family outings and special dinners.

The conditions of their employment demand that “the employee” respond on a moment’s notice from a family campout, Cub Scout meeting, movie theater or restaurant – leaving their children and significant other behind – to investigate a grisly homicide scene, manage a traffic fatality, negotiate with a mad man, make dynamic entry into a building containing an armed and barricaded suspect, interview a battered child, comfort a rape victim, notify a family that their loved one has died, locate an Alzheimer’s victim or work “mandatory” overtime.

“The employee” will be required to operate sophisticated equipment and write detailed technical reports from memory – complete extensive forms, checklists, affidavits, citations and documentary narratives – account for property and items of physical evidence, search dangerous prisoners amid the ever-present threat of hypodermic needles, razor blades, knives, firearms and improvised weapons.

Make a mistake or overlook something and “the employee” and others will die.

Every move “the employee” makes – each verbal or bodily sound he or she utters – will be digitally recorded and stored for later in-depth analysis and withering criticism by the media, internal affairs investigators, attorneys, judges, juries and the public.

In some cases, the gruesome details of “the employee’s” untimely death or murder – their last pitiful cries for help or horrified spontaneous utterances – will be recorded in high definition and displayed on the internet for general entertainment – or the tense and desperate nanoseconds of decision-making leading to their use of deadly force will be captured, assessed frame-by-agonizing-frame, and widely critiqued by “experts” and others who were comfortably asleep in their warm beds when the dangerous armed encounter occurred.

“The employee” will regularly grapple and fight with intoxicated, drugged, physically powerful or mentally deranged criminal suspects – being punched, kicked, bitten, choked, pummeled, spit upon and have their genitals crushed and eyes gouged – all while desperately struggling to protect a powerful firearm, electronic control device, collapsible baton, folding knife and pepper spray canister from being ripped from their belt and used against themselves or innocent bystanders.

You know, the “innocent bystanders” who quickly devolve into a group of hostile agitators shouting slurs and incendiary taunts while live-streaming every moment of the frantic struggle with a cellular phone and refusing to assist?

“The employee” will be required to spend 12 to 14 hours at a time in the confines of a patrol vehicle that stinks of feces, urine, coagulated blood and vomit that he or she hasn’t had time to personally clean out from the last prisoner they transported – you know, the guy who spent the entire ride spitting flem and snot through the partition while describing all the things he will do to “the employee” when the handcuffs come off.

Cuts, scrapes, bruises, broken fingers, chipped teeth, bad knees and recurring mental pictures of traumatic events are things “the employee” will be expected to accept and “deal with” – least they be mocked and ridiculed for a lack of physical or mental toughness.

“The employee” will be routinely required to absorb personal, racial and sexual slurs, epithets, physical threats and gross verbal denigration by criminals, “social activists,” unruly mobs, and members of the public – intense provocations that would see “the employee” terminated, demonized and prosecuted if he or she should psychologically break and respond in kind.

During times of extreme weather emergencies, “the employee” will kiss their family goodbye and wish their neighbors well as they evacuate to safety – knowing well that they will work in soaking rains, flooded roads and deadly winds with little food or rest in soggy boots – then, in the aftermath, they will perform technical rescues, assess and mitigate damage, and secure other people’s homes and property while ignoring their own.

For their willingness to serve – every time “the employee” puts on the uniform bearing the name of the political jurisdiction they protect – there is an elevated chance they will be required to trade their life for the safety and security of those they are sworn to serve.

I’ve written on this important subject before.

I lived it for over three-decades.

On Thursday, the Volusia Deputies Association will sit down at the bargaining table with officials from County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration to negotiate a regionally competitive pay and benefits package for those brave men and women who put their very lives on the line to protect and serve all of us.

Given the near-constant waste, money shuffles and utter mismanagement that has been the hallmark of Mr. Dinneen’s tenure – the lies, dodges and blunders that are routinely accepted or ignored by our elected officials – perhaps it’s time for those of us who sleep comfortably under the blanket of protection provided by law enforcement to stand in defense and support of the VCDA’s noble efforts to obtain a wage equivalent to that of their brothers and sisters in other area agencies?

In my experience, it is not surprising that Mr. Dinneen is preparing to sink every taxpaying citizen of Volusia County into massive debt – an estimated $260-million+ over 30-years – to build the brick-and-mortar physical plant for a sprawling courthouse and county office complex in Daytona Beach – all while fighting a competitive compensation package for those brave souls who will actually put themselves in harm’s way to provide the complex physical security and logistics for these important public facilities.

Last week, an esteemed group of judges, politicians and government officials met with the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board to explain the need for a new criminal justice facility to replace the aging courthouse annex.

They spoke passionately about the ever-present dangers and security concerns.

In response, everyone who is anyone in Volusia County almost immediately agreed that we need to accept Mr. Dinneen’s seemingly over-the-top request – without question or concern – and quietly acquiesce to the most expensive project ever undertaken in our county’s history.


Done deal.

Now, will those same respected judges and revered public officials support the efforts of the Volusia Deputies Association and demonstrate the personal and professional courage to back the men and women who stand the line in their courtrooms and secure the thresholds of their offices by demanding that Mr. Dinneen provide our deputies fair and equitable compensation?

Time will tell.

I, for one, will remember who stood in support of these brave men and women – and who did not – during my next trip to the ballot box.

I hope you will too.


Contract negotiations will be held on Thursday, August 3, 2017, at Volusia County Agriculture, 3100 East New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida.  The public is encouraged to attend.



Angels & Assholes for July 28, 2017

Hey, kids!

Barker’s View has been on the road again this week!

This time, travels took us to the interesting and completely unique master-planned community known as “The Villages.” 

Located in Sumpter County, just outside of Leesburg, The Villages comprise a sprawling, all-inclusive retirement development that gave me a vatic glimpse at what “Latitudes Margaritaville” will ultimately mean for east Volusia County.

With zero-lot-line homes at various price points anchored by kind-a-cool theme shopping areas, each hosting unique restaurants, retail, professional offices and entertainment venues – all of which surround over 630 holes of golf – it became apparent to me that the nearly 160,000 residents need never leave the grounds to enjoy a full and happy life.

The one amenity that stands out to even a casual observer is the compulsive focus on the grounds and landscaping.  The pristine common areas and prominent greenspaces are manicured around-the-clock by an army of groundskeepers which give the entire community an almost Disneyesque feel.

Look, it’s not my cup of tea, but I can tell you that there are significant civic lessons to be learned from that cloistered environment – such as the importance of attention to detail, sense of community, pride in appearance, and the role of planning, infrastructure and maintenance to quality of life.

If you’ve never been to The Villages, I encourage you to take the drive.

Last week, I (once again) succeeded in pissing off some Very Important People in the Halifax area.

Only this time, some folks on both sides of the “beach issue” joined hands and collectively kicked me in the keister for my open skepticism of the “do-good” potential of the much-ballyhooed Volusia County “Beachside Redevelopment Task Force.”

Even the Daytona Beach News-Journal took time to reassure everyone that the same “rich and powerful” – many of whom have physically controlled the economy and direction of our community for the past 30-years – have now somehow abandoned their failed strategy of supporting a grand “panacea project” in favor of identifying and funneling government grant money to an even wider selection of speculative developers – or earth-moving innovations like “pedestrian safety” or improving communications between the cities. . .


I have a lot of respect for the incredibly good work of my friend, Paul Zimmerman, and others on the committee who have been on the cutting edge of beach advocacy for many years.

I just wonder if they have hitched their wagon to the right team?

Despite the many empty assurances that this committee is the catalyst for all good things, I’ll be damned if any long-term resident of the Halifax area should get their hopes up over the dubious promises of yet another Blue-Ribbon committee populated by the same political appointees representing the same entities with a profit motive.

People who make their living doing business with government.

Real estate brokers.

Insurance executives.

Family and friends of the uber-wealthy power brokers that call the shots in Volusia County politics – interconnected factions that have a proven interest in removing our heritage of beach driving in favor of even more speculative development.

I know, I know – it’s not about beach access and management.

Clearly, those important aspects of our lives have already been decided by those who truly matter in the oligarchy that is Volusia County government.

Interestingly, members of the redevelopment committee have complained that residents haven’t turned out, en masse, to sit in the bleachers, eat popcorn, and watch them tut-tut over questionable studies and listen to the likes of Daytona Beach Redevelopment Director Reed Berger.

(Hey, you want a recommendation?  How about suggesting that Reed Berger – and any other “economic development” type who accepted public funds, then stood around with their thumb in their ass while the place deteriorated into a festering hole, be immediately terminated, pilloried on the front steps of City Hall, then put on a Greyhound bus?)   

Let’s be honest, in the aftermath of the public embarrassment that was the News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series – an exposé which exposed the abject blight, greed, dilapidation and complete ineptitude of area redevelopment officials – citizens came out to voice their decades of pent-up frustration and demand substantive change to the rotten status quo.

Anyone remember the News-Journal’s “Beachside Town Hall”?

I do.

Instead of hearing the shared exasperation of residents, demanding accountability, and forcing current assets to do their damn jobs – our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County handed us a political insulation committee comprised of all the right last names.

Trust me.  The long-suffering taxpayers of Daytona’s beachside and elsewhere realize exactly what this group represents – and their silence is deafening.

In my view, given the recurring lessons of history, we have a right – and an obligation – to be skeptical of this process.

Well-meaning or not, the harsh condemnation of wary residents (by people who identify themselves as “community advocates”) on social media is unwarranted.

Say what you want about me – I could give a shit.  But don’t denigrate the very real concerns of long-suffering beachside residents.

That’s divisive – and wrong.

Look, we’ve seen this all before – and if you think it’s somehow helpful to marginalize the motives and concerns of taxpayers because they don’t attend bullshit meetings – or simply lay back and trust some of the very people who have tried to openly screw them in the past – you should consider the source of our growing cynicism.

Screw it.  I’m wrong – you’re right.

Let’s all give peace a chance.

But a year from now – when the VIP recommendations of Mr. Grippa’s committee have been put on the dusty shelf next to the master plans, economic development studies, and the myriad other “feel good” political insulation measures sitting on Jim Dinneen’s bookshelf – proposals that have been ignored time-after-time-after-time – please don’t come back and ask for the confidence of those of us who held the line against more smoke, mirrors and eyewash.

Those who seek to lead on important civic matters would do well to realize that the public’s trust is fragile – and all concerns should be held valid until proven otherwise.

Again, I hope I’m wrong.

Now, 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 have a look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel:             Chief Craig Capri and the Daytona Beach Police Department

Nothing – and I mean nothing – contributes to the degradation of the soul of a community like the illicit drug trade.

In addition to the human toll, the cycle of addiction and supply is a natural crime generator, spawning theft, prostitution, exploitation and the neighborhood curse of nuisance offenses which slowly destroy our quality of life.

This morning residents awoke to the news that the Daytona Beach Police Department – with the assistance of local and federal law enforcement agencies – took 53 active drug dealers off our streets in a sweeping operation known as “Kickoff Return 2017.”

The City of Daytona Beach has many challenges – but our community also has a lot of positive assets working hard to solve entrenched problems and turn the tide.

In my view, through his decisive leadership Chief Craig Capri is proving his mettle – and his unwavering commitment to the highest ideals of community-oriented policing.

My heartfelt congratulations and sincere thanks to Chief Capri and the hardworking officers and agents for the difficult and dangerous work which resulted in this substantial success.

Angel:             Mr. Arthur Ray Brinson

I admire a man who seeks the truth and fights honorably in the cause of protecting those things our society holds dear – truth, honestly, transparency – and strives to preserve our collective trust in those who are elected and appointed to high positions of oversight and responsibility.

The interesting case of former Bethune-Cookman University Trustee Arthur Brinson has all the dramatic intrigue of a good whistle-blower novel, and his struggle has exposed the tragic dysfunction that results when power corrupts absolutely.

Earlier this week, we learned that Circuit Judge Christopher France will allow Mr. Brinson’s legal action – a lawsuit alleging that BC-U wrongfully terminated his service on the Board of Trustees – to move through the courts.

You see, Mr. Brinson, the former president of Bethune-Cookman’s National Alumni Association, had the personal courage to live up to his ethical and fiduciary responsibilities as a trustee and question the weird financial machinations that left the school with an $18-million operating loss, a declining endowment, and horribly mired in a dormitory financing scheme that may ultimately cost some $300-million over time.

Things are about to get interesting, now that Mr. Brinson’s attorney can depose all the right people.

In my view, the time has come for Interim President Hubert Grimes to throw open the shades and welcome the disinfecting qualities of sunlight and fresh air into Bethune-Cookman.

An important first step is jettisoning Chairman Joe Petrock – and inviting a top-to-bottom audit of the university’s management, administrative and financial practices – to include an investigation of the acts and omissions of those who are charged with overseeing those processes.

Asshole:          County Manager Jim Dinneen and the Volusia County Council

You don’t need a Cassadaga crystal ball to foretell future big money projects in Volusia County – just follow the expensive breadcrumbs left by the consultant reports, expert opinions and political insulation “studies” that our elected and appointed officials frequently commission while we’re focused on other things – like residential chicken coops, beach traffic cones and derelict parking lots.

For instance, last fall the County Council spent $248,000 of our money for an outside study of Volusia County court facilities.  Last week, the real reason for this expensive confirmation of things we already knew became crystal clear.

In my experience, no less than a dozen current employees of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office have the education and practical expertise to conduct an in-depth survey of courthouse security processes and produce actionable recommendations.

These security issues have been well-known to court administrators for decades.

In addition, I’m relatively certain that prisoner transport and court security protocols are regularly reviewed as part of VCSO’s incredibly expensive state and national law enforcement accreditation process.

But when County Manager Jim Dinneen is preparing to roll-out a monstrous, five-story, $260-million, “best-of-the-best” courthouse and county office facility in “Downtown Daytona,” he knows the importance of elaborate stage dressing and expensive lighting effects to enhancing the melodrama.

And that includes the implied credibility of a pricy “expert” opinion.

With a quarter-million-dollar outside needs assessment in his pocket – and the pre-arranged acquiescence, or active support, of his handlers – last week Dinneen strategically overshadowed our looming property tax increase with the bombshell that he plans to put us, our children, and our grandchildren in massive debt for the next 30-years.

For a really nice courthouse.

In typical form, rather than let the judges and courthouse administrators concerns speak for themselves, Little Jimmy still finds it necessary to conjure his best flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories, “You have people who are suicidal, homicidal coming through these doors!” – then touts the project as the best “economic development” scheme in the history of east Volusia County.

“This will have more of an impact on Beach Street than anything else we can do from an economic development standpoint,” Dinneen said. “This is the icing on the cake.”

Wow!  Another ‘game changer’?  Icing on the cake?

What a congenital bullshitter.

With Dinneen’s personal assurance that this Taj Mahal courthouse strategy is the only way to go – everyone got into the collective swoon that occurs whenever the government money tit is exposed for the coming binge.

Hell, our local “visionaries” are already salivating over the many ways they can exploit City Island.

So, get ready to say goodbye to “The Jack” and “The Library” – because I can assure you those long-term public amenities don’t “fit” with a brand-new multi-tower condominium project.

Oddly, Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson even took the weird tack of ignoring the hard work and perseverance of residents, entrepreneurs and city officials in the revitalization of Woodland Boulevard by alluding that the “new” Deland courthouse was the panacea that made everything gel.

 “DeLand is the envy of a lot of cities because of what it (the courthouse) spawned. I think it will be fantastic, and I’m really glad that we are moving in this direction and I’m glad to be part of it.”


What I find interesting is that without the first public hearing – you know, an opportunity for those who pay the bills to have a voice in the most expensive undertaking in our history – or even a second professional opinion – Volusia County officials, through their Deland-based consultants, have already determined how many parking spaces will be necessary, commissioned conceptual drawings and determined 20-year staff projections.

Done deal.

Just shut up and pay the bills, John Q.

Still think our elected officials on the Volusia County Council give two-shits what you think?

As usual, We, The People, are just along for the very expensive ride.

In a way, you’ve got to hand it to Little Jimmy – nothing takes the sting and political criticism out of a proposed tax increase quite like the specter of $260-million+ in public debt.

Angel:             Daytona Tortuga’s Baseball – Marketing Department

Despite their dismal season on the field, the Daytona Tortuga’s front office still knows how to generate interest in community baseball.

From the recent Bob Ross bobblehead promotion – complete with painting instructors in theme-wigs, t-shirts, DVD’s and a look-a-like contest – to on-going promotions like Thirsty Thursdays and fireworks extravaganzas – the Tortuga’s are putting the fun back in baseball.

Clearly, the Tortuga’s management and marketing professionals are putting careful thought into the team’s unique promotions – innovative events that continue to draw fans to our beautiful and historic ballpark.

My hat’s off to everyone in the Daytona Tortugas organization that works hard to keep the tradition of minor league baseball one of the most enjoyable family pastimes in Volusia County.

Angel:             Volusia First Step Shelter Benefactors

I recently took NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation, and Daytona International Speedway to task for giving a collective $15,000 – $5-grand apiece, complete with a check presentation ceremony – to support operations of the proposed First Step homeless shelter.

After all, it’s one thing to donate money to a good cause – it’s quite another to get your name in the newspaper doing it.


My rudeness prompted some to question why I would poo-poo a sizeable corporate donation when the shelter project is staring down a $200,000 annual operating shortfall?

I dunno.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have a fundamental problem with the fact these same billion-dollar, Forbes listed, family-controlled enterprises recently asked for (and received) some $40-million in public funds (read: our money) for a private project specifically designed to further their business interests.

Call me an asshole, but I just thought a little ‘give-back’ might be in order.

I’m petty that way.

(Hey, Tanger?  Got any spare change, mister?  I seem to recall we helped you out during your time of need as well. . .) 

 Ah, thank God for those ‘anonymous’ donors, huh?

Gets us all off the hook, right?

Besides, I believe charity begins at home – which is why the $65.00 in disposable income I have left at the end of the month goes for a fresh handle of Tito’s and a carton of Marlboros. . .

Regardless, it is important to recognize the increasing number of area business leaders and concerned residents who are opening their hearts and pocketbooks to solving perhaps the most vexing local problem of our time.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, my fans at the CEO Business Alliance recently donated $30,000 – which was benevolently matched by Wholesale Lighting’s Rose Ann Tornatore and friends – along with a much-needed $18,340 from the FAITH organization.

In turn, the City of Ormond Beach is considering the extent of their contribution and other public and private entities are stepping up to fill the void.

In my view, that’s admirable – and demonstrates the generosity of a community that has sought a compassionate solution to homelessness in the face of political roadblocks and posturing for far too long.

Word to the wise – I wouldn’t rest until the job is completed.

In Volusia County, even “done deals” have a way of unraveling – and the First Step Shelter is far too important to the life and health of our community to see that happen.

Stay vigilant.

Quote of the Week:

 “No matter how good its ideas, though, there’s no point in finding solutions to improving an underperforming area if the powers that be aren’t interested in what their appointees come up with. That is expressed not with “thank yous” and pats on the head when the committee is dissolved, but with follow through — a commitment to act on the proposals.”

Daytona Beach Editorial, “Beachside panel has potential,” touting the painfully obvious to long-suffering beachside residents – or those who have been living on the dark side of the moon since 1983.

Please don’t forget that Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach advocacy organization – is having a fundraiser on Sunday afternoon at Sunsetters, 115 Main Street, Daytona Beach, from 12:00p to 3:00p.

Donate to the cause, pick-up some cool SOB swag, and enjoy a really good time with a great group of people who are fighting hard to preserve our heritage of beach driving.

Hope to see you there!

Have a great weekend, friends!