On Volusia: The Cycle Repeats

Any local government who needs a primer on how not to push a sales tax referendum need look no further than Volusia County, Florida.

Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. . .

Born in the greed-crazed minds of area corporate big wigs who developed a two-pronged attack on public coffers by financially supporting candidates for high office who, in turn, approved massive real estate development in the pine scrub west of Daytona Beach, all while keeping transportation infrastructure fees frozen in time – they created a perfect profit machine for the privileged few.

In doing so, they knowingly manufactured an infrastructure emergency when sprawl outpaced the capacity of existing roads, bridges, public utilities – and the ability of current residents to pay for improvements – then developed a plan that requires every man, woman and child in Volusia County to saddle themselves with a half-cent sales tax increase which will generate an estimated $42 million in annual revenue for the same politicians who have already proven they cannot manage public assets under their stewardship.

In classic Fun Coast form, our Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance recognized the limitations of our Brain Trust on the Volusia County Council and took on most of the heavy lifting themselves.

By using private funds to exempt most of their machinations from the purview of Florida’s public records laws – a sinister “public/private” confederation wholly designed to keep We, The People out of the loop – they met side-by-side with elected officials from the county and municipalities, providing advice and direction, then commissioned dubious “studies” wherein a sampling of a few hundred likely voters spoke for the other 538,292 of us.

Concurrent to the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the CEO Business Alliance – in perhaps the most dangerous internal scandal in recent memory – career civil servants in Volusia County government were caught red-handed intentionally suppressing a publicly-funded study from citizens and policymakers that clearly recommended immediate massive impact fee increases.

As a result, in 2018, the politically unaccountable fathers of this shameless money grab pulled it from the ballot in the eleventh-hour – strategically retiring from the battlefield until after sympathetic candidates could be returned to office by the usual method.

Trust me.  It’s been a continuing shit show of gaffs, howlers, missteps and mini-moves that has telegraphed the fact our “best and brightest” in government and industry can’t organize a one-car parade.

Scary stuff.

Now, just days after being called out in the newspaper for their lack of a prioritized schedule of identified projects for public review – our ‘powers that be’ have cobbled together another hodge-podge preliminary laundry list of road and utilities projects – a smorgasbord of transportation infrastructure needs that remains painfully short on specifics – such as, “Pave dirt roads at more than 80 sites through the county ($19 million),”  or “Widen sections of Williamson and LPGA boulevards”?

What in the hell does that mean?

Since many smaller municipalities – whose residents are being asked to pay the same sales tax increase as everyone else, but who will see just 2% of the revenue respectively – won’t have the same flow of money as Volusia County (who will receive nearly half of the windfall), when the list was ham-handedly released, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Old Ed Kelley, crowed that county government will partner with the municipalities to assist them with infrastructure repair and improvement.

Right. . .

Because if Volusia County is known for anything – it’s their impressive track record of “working” with the cities in the spirit of cooperation and collegiality. . .

My ass.

Interestingly, on the very same day Volusia County and it’s lock-step marionettes in the 16 municipalities rolled out their project list – which, interestingly, had been pared down from the shocking original estimate of $1.4 billion to the more palatable visual of $762 million – our friends over at the good old boys investment club at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company announced obscure plans to build two panacea projects designed to stimulate Daytona’s downtrodden downtown and blighted beachside.

Don’t get me wrong – we desperately need entrepreneurial investment in both locations – in fact, I am convinced it is the only thing that will have a substantive impact on the death spiral of economic stagnation, blight and dilapidation that threatens the continued viability of the Halifax area.

But this was something different.  Something slick, overly bold, floating in the ether – too far off for specifics.

It had the taint of a classic diversionary tactic about it – tall tales supported by shadowy renderings of high-rise buildings linked to mysterious code names like “Project Delta,” hyped for maximum effect, but (like the infrastructure project list) without any hard specifics.

“Conceptual plans.”

“Potential projects.”

“Can, and most likely, will change depending on many factors.”

“No guarantees either project will be built. . .”

It’s all too clean – too conveniently timed – with ample plausible deniability built in.

A classic Volusia County bait-and-switch in the making.

Then came the kick in the groin local taxpayers knew was coming:

Towards the end of Clayton Park’s article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal announcing Consolidated Tomoka’s red herring, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm was quoted, “Project Delta and the Main Street mixed-use project will require “a partnership” effort of the city, Volusia County and private-sector developers.”

“It only works if we’re all working together,” he told the chamber gathering.”

Wow.

Yep!

Even as our ‘powers that be’ are busy trying to sell us on all the reasons why we should tax our own eyeballs out – the pernicious cycle of taxing those who can least afford it then underwriting the private, for-profit projects of billionaires continues unabated.

My God.  Are you as tired of having your intelligence insulted by these dullards as I am?

Ladies and gentlemen – keep your eyes and ears open over the next few weeks.

If you listen carefully, you won’t need nay-saying assholes like me to explain all the reasons why we need to vote “No” on this shameless money grab of a half-cent sales tax –  and break the tax and spend cycle that maintains the patency of the public tit for all the right last names.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 15, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly

I can’t imagine a more difficult, or more important, role in any public protection organization charged with administering and securing a correctional facility than providing quality health care to inmates.

Imagine the immense responsibility of providing essential medical services to incarcerated persons – many with preexisting medical conditions, communicable diseases, addictions, infections, mental and physical infirmities – within the confines and security restrictions of a correctional facility.

But that is the moral imperative that jurisdictions accept when carrying out their societal and public safety mandate to incarcerate, rehabilitate and reintegrate convicted criminal offenders.

After all, when a citizen is legally deprived of their freedom and ability to access medical care, their health and safety become a public responsibility.

Because our tax dollars directly fund the operations of jails and prison facilities, We, The People have a right to expect that inmates will be treated firmly but fairly, and held in a safe and secure environment where their basic needs, and human rights, are respected and protected in the most effective and cost-efficient manner possible.

Last week, Anthony Fennick, a 23-year old inmate of the Flagler County Jail, died under shadowy circumstances from an apparent acute medical condition that many believe may have been the result of negligence on the part of contract medical services provided by Armor Correctional Health Services and county corrections staff.

To his credit, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, whose office has direct responsibility for the jail, responded to the tragedy immediately – contacting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to request an outside criminal investigation of the circumstances surrounding Fennick’s death to supplement his agency’s own internal review.

In my view, Sheriff Staly’s response was ahead of the curve, appropriate and transparent – totally consistent with how a strong, ethical law enforcement executive should react under these difficult circumstances.

So far, FDLE has refused to accept Sheriff Staly’s request, citing the fact that Mr. Fennick’s death occurred at the hospital and not while he was in custody at the Flagler County Jail.

Given that the precipitating events clearly occurred during his incarceration, I find that excuse disingenuous.

No agency has more experience working at the nexus of politics and the law than FDLE, and they have maintained a very high-level of professional integrity by sorting the wheat from the chaff and refusing cases which are clearly political issues requiring a political solution.

This is different.

With the public trust and a grieving family hanging in the balance – the untimely death of a young man remanded by the judicial system to the care, custody and control of Flagler County deserves hard answers.

Unfortunately, Armor Correctional Health Services is already circling the wagons – refusing to place those staff members who provided medical services to Mr. Fennick on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed (unless Flagler County agrees to pay them during the suspension) – then denying wrongdoing before the cause of death has even been established.

According to reports, Armor no longer provides contract services for Volusia County after four wrongful death suits were filed against the Miami-based company alleging medical neglect in that facility.

In my view, that’s a warning sign that deserves state scrutiny.

While I have no doubt that Sheriff Staly’s experienced investigators are capable of conducting a fair and impartial collection of the facts – findings that will ultimately be vetted by the Office of the State Attorney – it is in keeping with accepted best practice to have serious internal issues (especially an in-custody death) impartially and dispassionately investigated by an independent outside authority.

Given Sheriff Staly’s impressive record of complete transparency in the conduct and administration of his office – and his proven respect for the highest standards and traditions of law enforcement – I sincerely hope FDLE will rethink their difficult decision in this matter and provide the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office with the assistance they so desperately need in this highly sensitive – and incredibly tragic – circumstance.

This evening, Mr. Fennick’s family and friends will gather to memorialize his young life.

Let’s hope the truth doesn’t go to the grave with him.

Asshole           Ormond Beach City Commission

I’m not a “joiner.”  Never have been.

I live by certain rules, and one of those follows the old Groucho Marx adage, ‘I would never join a club that would have me as a member. . .’ 

But it appears at least one social/civic club in Ormond Beach is having a great influence on Mayor Bill Partington – and his long-suffering constituents.

Just when you thought these brazen opportunists couldn’t sink any lower, the power-crazed megalomania running amok on the Ormond Beach City Commission may have finally reached bedrock as officials kick off a shim-sham campaign to increase term lengths and stagger elections.

The reason?  “Stability.”

Bullshit.

According to Mayor Partington, his cronies over at the all-male fraternity known as the Ormond Beach Rotary Club, a traditional sausage fest that (mysteriously) rarely accepts new members and refuses to admit women, recently asked Hizzoner how they can best protect the status quo.

I’m sorry, I had a sudden pang of conscience – that’s a lie.

According to published reports, what they actually asked Mr. Partington is why the city risks losing all existing institutional knowledge if the council were to be kicked to the curb, en masse, during a future election.

Right.

Oddly, we’re told this faux crisis has brought us so dangerously close to the precipice of total chaos that residents of Ormond Beach are going to be asked to vote on this slickly packaged non-issue in a few short months. . .

To the complete astonishment of everyone paying attention (including, I’m sure, the puppeteers over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) – our elected chattel in Ormond Beach want to pin this turd to the recently called special election to decide, once and for all, the half-cent sales tax debacle – a mail-in ballot that will cost Volusia County taxpayers nearly a half-million dollars.

Trust me.  The last thing the smart boys over at The Alliance want is their handiwork sullied by five power-hungry stooges in Ormond Beach muddying the waters with a controversial term limit issue on the same ballot containing their hard-fought tax levy.

Let’s call this barefaced power grab what it is.

After fighting a pitched battle in perhaps the most contentious election cycle in memory –  meanspirited and wholly lopsided contests that exposed the depth of special interest control over the municipal government – now, these shameless quacks want to cement their grip on the reins of power and fortify their position with term extensions and staggered elections.

When you add the fact that Ormond Beach is one of just two municipalities that still refuse to require candidates to file qualifying and campaign finance reports electronically – requiring anyone interested in knowing which special interests are bankrolling a particular candidate to jump through hoops for this tell-tale public information – one comes to the inescapable conclusion incumbents and their handlers are working hard to stack the deck.

In my view, Mayor Partington’s explanation for this rushed ballot question is pure horseshit, and as a perennial politician, he should know better.

In many places, things happen in spite of the elected body, not because of them.

In others – like Ormond Beach – the civic process has become so compromised by outside influences (read: massive campaign contributions) that a large segment of the population no longer trusts local government to serve their interests.

Regardless, essential service delivery is provided by career civil servants under a strict system of command and control that is specifically insulated from petty political influence.  The role of our elected officials is to act as policymakers and set a strategic vision for the future, allocate public funds, legislate ordinances and stay the hell out of the way.

I’m almost certain the City of Ormond Beach Charter specifically prohibits elected officials from meddling in the operations of government at all – so where’s the grave threat to continuity should the citizens decide to return honor and sanity to the dais of power?

The fate of Ormond Beach doesn’t hinge on the “institutional knowledge” of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker on the City Commission – in fact, many argue that a periodic purge of entrenched politicians to make way for fresh eyes and ideas has the same beneficial effects as a good laxative.

Just vote no.  Twice.

Asshole           Knights of the Round Table

 Earlier this week, the political insulation committee formally known as the “Elected Officials Round Table” – a weird consortium of elected and appointed officials from Volusia County and the municipalities – met to get their stories together on how best to “re-educate” us bumpkins on the importance of increasing the sale tax to pay for their cowardly failure to raise transportation impact fees on their cronies and political benefactors in the real estate development community.

The problem is – this shameless cash grab has a lot of moving parts – and now they’ve painted themselves into a corner by setting a special election just three short months from now.

Tick-tock-tick-tock. . .

As time marches on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the “Knights of the Round Table” couldn’t organize a one-car parade – let alone put together a convincing argument why we should self-inflict a tax increase in one of the already highest taxed counties in the State of Florida.

By any measure, the requisite selling point for the tax hike begins and ends with a prioritized list of transportation and utilities improvement projects to be funded with the estimated $42 million in annual revenue that our elected officials are salivating over.

After all, people have a right to know how their money will be spent, don’t they?

Right. . .

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, he’s perfectly content to rely on a slap-dash compilation of projects that was hurriedly thrown together by the municipalities in the lead-up to last years failed attempt to ram this increase down our throats – a $1.4 billion hodge-podge of pseudo “priorities” that was long on shock value and short on specifics – intended to ensure our lock-step compliance with their greed-crazed plan before we are all drinking our own sewerage and watching our quality of life ebb away while trapped in gridlocked traffic somewhere on West Granada Boulevard. . .

My ass.

Look, I love South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall like a brother.

In fact, he is one of the most honorable men I know as evidenced by his lifetime of extraordinary public service.

We came up together in local law enforcement and I consider Mayor Hall one of my closest confidants and trusted friends – but we are going to have to agree to disagree on his recent characterization of this tax increase.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In pitching the sales tax, South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall noted that a half-cent increase is equal to paying an extra 25 cents on a $50 tab at Outback Steakhouse.”

 With some 17% of the county’s population living at or below the poverty line – and thousands more struggling mightily just to make ends meet in this artificial, service-based economy – most can’t afford a $50 steak – let alone an across-the-board sales tax increase on goods and services that most legitimate economists will tell you hurts those who can least afford it the most.

I’m sorry, Mayor Hall – but that addled dunce, Ed Kelley, and his goofy handlers are forcing good public servants like you, and others I respect, to put the cart before the horse and commit us to a referendum without so much as a project priority list or a citizen oversight committee identified.

In my view, given the long-term impact of this price increase on families and small businesses in our area – and the horrific transparency and trust issues that continue to afflict Volusia County government – that’s wrong.

Perhaps our ‘powers that be’ and those who stand to benefit most – the behind-the-scenes manipulators over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – should wait until the legally mandated audit of Volusia County’s financial practices is complete, and a comprehensive list of essential projects can be analyzed, agreed upon, and logically presented for public review.

Only then will We, The People have some reasonable idea of actual demand – and how our hard-earned money will ultimately be allocated – before foisting this money-grubbing scam on an already overtaxed constituency.

Quote of the Week

Don’t take my word for it, here’s what the experts are saying about Volusia County’s assbackwards strategy of setting a referendum for the proposed half-cent sales tax grab without a prioritized list of potential projects in place:

 “How is it we are still sitting here in February, and Daytona Beach (the county’s second-largest city) still doesn’t have a priority list?  Every day that passes they are losing the opportunity to influence the outcome of the vote.”

–Mike Scudiero, Ormond Beach political consultant, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia County, cities work to develop projects for sales tax pitch,” February 11, 2019

“They are burning time.  They’ve passed the resolution (to put it on the ballot), but they don’t say what they are going to spend the money on. This has to be very specific.  They have been talking about this for months. … They are not ready to go.”

 –Former Volusia County Councilwoman Pat Northey

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

And Another Thing!

Angel – In Memoriam

 Volusia County Republican Party Chairman Tony Ledbetter was a lot of things to a lot of people.

To many, he was a conservative firebrand – an expert strategist and bold patriot – whose intense love of country, extraordinary work ethic and strong leadership literally changed the political landscape of our region.

To others, he was an old school ward-heeler, a controversial provocateur and inflammatory rabble-rouser whose rhetoric was designed to stir the passions of the fringe – a dogmatist who would do anything – in bounds or out – to promote the party cause or win an election.

For instance, former Orange City Mayor and 2016 Volusia County Council candidate Tom Laputka was once quoted as saying, “Some people are born assholes.  There are others who try really hard to be one.  Ledbetter is both.”     

 Regular readers of these screeds know that I rarely agreed with Chairman Ledbetter’s brand of incendiary politics – and he made more than one appearance on the other side of this weekly opinion column for his no-holds-barred tactics in service to his beloved Republican Party.

A badge I’m certain he wore with unabashed pride. . .

I have always considered myself an independent thinker within the confines of my limited intellect.  As such, I abjure partisanship – convinced that neither of the two predominate political parties represent my best interests – as evidenced by the utter gridlock and bitter partisan rivalry that has paralyzed Washington.

In my view, both parties have morphed into little more than warring tribes of self-serving fringe players, whose blind anger and total self-absorption have left them oblivious to the fact that, at the end of the day, both serve the same uber-wealthy masters.

But there is no denying that Mr. Ledbetter was a force of nature – a true believer and a fierce warrior who fought tooth-and-nail to advance the policies of the ultra-conservative wing of his party – and ensure victory at all costs for Republican candidates and causes.

A committed patriot in the classic sense, Mr. Ledbetter dedicated himself in thought, word and deed to promoting the principles and values that he felt exemplified the promise of America and projected our inherent strength and stability to an increasingly hostile world.

I always admired that.

As a matter of personal policy, I tend to hold political zealots of all stripes at arm’s length – regardless of their persuasion – but I never questioned Mr. Ledbetter’s passion or willingness to stand tall in the furnace of modern political contests, courageously advocating for that which he thought right and important to protecting and defending our Constitutional government.

I recognize and revere the warrior spirit when I see it, and Tony Ledbetter was most assuredly a bombastic brawler with the heart of a lion.

With his indomitable will and strength of personality, he almost single-handedly changed the political allegiance in the region and helped make the Florida Republican Party a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.

Volusia Republican Communications Chair Vic Baker, said it best in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week,  “Tony Ledbetter was a fearless leader.  I will say this: There were people who disagreed with him. There were people who didn’t like him. But there were very few people who didn’t respect Tony.”

I agree with Mr. Baker.  I also happen to agree with Mr. Laputka – but that is the dichotomy of the modern political operative who must be many things to many factions in this winner take all environment.

No one advocated more fervently for the republican virtues he dedicated the bulk of his life to advancing – and his beloved party has lost a valiant and colorful soldier on the bloody battlefield that passes for modern politics in this distressing age.

Clearly, Tony Lebetter was sui generis.

Unfortunately, we will not see his kind on the local scene again.

Chairman Ledbetter reluctantly left the fray this week after a brief battle with cancer.  He was 71.

Barker’s View joins the many in our community, on both sides of the political spectrum, who mourn his passing.

As always, thank you for reading – and have a wonderful weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Defending the Indefensible

The American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in on the City of Daytona Beach’s efforts to rid our besieged intersections and public spaces of aggressive panhandling and return a sense of sanity to our community.

Once again, the organization sides with a proven social corrosive – as detrimental to the health and vitality of communities as any criminal enterprise – under the guise of defending the constitutional rights of the oppressed.

I don’t buy it.  And neither should you.

In Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column, “Crackdown is overly harsh and probably unconstitutional,” the ACLU’s George Griffin and Cary Ragsdale make the argument that panhandling represents constitutionally protected free speech – akin to Girl Scouts selling cookies in front of a grocery, or neighbors greeting each other on the street – and that those set upon by belligerent beggars also have the right to ignore the solicitation, say “No,” and simply walk away.

Anyone who has ever been verbally and physically accosted by a persistent, wildly intoxicated bindlestiff knows that simply walking away isn’t as easy as Griffin and Ragsdale suggest.

The civil libertarians also took an undeserved swipe at Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri, claiming that he is using the new trespass and panhandling prohibitions to “gleefully arrest and sweep human beings away as if he were cleaning out a rat infestation.”

 Bullshit.

Look, I respect the tenets of defending and preserving the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States – in fact, I took an oath to do just that when I enlisted in the military and later served over thirty-years in law enforcement.

Unfortunately, over the past 100 years, the ACLU has gone so far into the weeds on issues from the serious to the patently ridiculous that it has lost all credibility in the eyes of most Americans.

Anyone who lives or works in the Halifax area has seen the deleterious effect of hordes of tattered mendicants occupying every quadrant of every major intersection in Daytona Beach.

These weren’t starving indigent’s struggling for their very survival – to the contrary.

Most were ambulatory drunks holding hand-scrawled signs screaming, “Why lie, I need a beer!” making a mockery of those at the nadir of life who must beg to physically survive.

This period of our local history was different.  It was predatory, organized and insidious – their numbers growing weekly like a malignancy – which added to the sense of blight, dilapidation and hopelessness that pervades many areas of our community.

Using sympathy-inducing props, like wheelchairs and the ephemera of the poor, scores of these professional grifters set upon our community and fleeced those whose giving spirit and sensitivity to the human condition refused to let them pass another being ostensibly in need.

When offered work or a hand up, many of these career scroungers scoffed at the very idea of actually “earning” a wage – smug in the knowledge they will make more in a few hours of panhandling than the hapless sap offering them gainful employment would in a day of hard labor.

Contrary to what the ACLU would have us believe, in my view, Chief Capri showed remarkable compassion and restraint in the many months before the ordinances took effect.

In fact, he stood strong and followed the law, even as his department suffered the withering criticism of many residents and business owners who demanded a law enforcement resolution to one of the most perplexing problems of our time, even as stories emerged of intimidating tactics that were having a corrosive effect on distressed areas – such as downtown and the Boardwalk – where already struggling establishments can ill afford to have paying customers discouraged by bands of roving drunks.

Clearly, the Daytona Beach Police Department’s measured implementation of this wide-ranging legislation has been geared toward education and compliance – tempered with fairness, firmness and a respect for the rights of all citizens.

Our area stands at a crossroads – beset by myriad social, civic and economic issues that have resulted in years of stagnation and turned much of our core tourist areas into a wasteland.  In my view, which path we choose now will determine the long-term viability of our community’s hospitality-based economy – and shape our collective quality of life for years to come.

In many ways, it’s now – or never – and this predacious activity simply cannot be allowed to continue.

I join the thousands of Halifax area residents in applauding the visionary ordinance recently passed by the Daytona Beach City Commission which provides our law enforcement officers with the tools necessary to eliminate organized mendicancy and remove the criminal element who prey on the good will of area residents while draining precious resources from those who truly need our help.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

On Volusia: The Curse of Apathy

Earlier this week I wrote a piece about mega-developer Minto Communities pulling out of a $26.5 million deal to purchase an additional 1,614 acres from the good old boy’s investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company, effectively putting the kibosh on Phase II of Latitudes Margaritaville in an apparent knee jerk to impact fee increases designed to help our transportation infrastructure and public utilities keep up with the demands of unchecked growth.

An old friend of mine called to say he enjoyed the piece – and admired the fact that, even at my age, I never fell victim to the curse of apathy and indifference to our collective plight here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I appreciate the sentiment, but the truth is, not much excites me anymore.

After retiring from a life-long career in law enforcement, a dynamic and always interesting pursuit, I no longer experience the ‘adrenaline rush’ one gets from encountering dangerous situations – and I haven’t been to a good old-fashioned orgy since the late ‘80’s. . .

I tell everyone who will listen that retirement is great for about six-weeks.

After decelerating from a hundred-miles-an-hour with your hair on fire to zero – you spend a lot of time alone, and its easy to allow the “Groundhog Day” syndrome to take hold.

Perhaps it’s why we frequently read of retired public officials getting themselves in stupid predicaments – like the former Fire Chief recently accused of soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute.

Look, maybe the guy’s plan was to bang hookers in retirement, I don’t judge (I considered that strategy myself, but my wife told me I had to clean out the garage, finish the laundry and change the light bulbs in the kitchen first – then I got tired and took a nap instead. . .) but I think it’s more a side effect of the crippling boredom and monotonous days that come when we lose a sense of purpose in our lives.

Now, I putter.

I get up early, put the coffee on before Patti gets up and mosey around the house.

Most mornings I  “work” at my part-time hobby job, then fall asleep early with a good book on my chest.  Some evenings I gather with old friends at our local watering hole for whiskey and good conversation, discussing the issues of the day, listening to songs on the jukebox that haven’t been popular since the Nixon administration and sharing pictures of the grand kids.

Like Willie said, it ain’t no good life, but its my life. . .

Following my retirement – after three-decades of job-induced silence – I began to write down my jumbled thoughts and goofy opinions on the news and newsmakers of the day.

No longer gagged by the policies and professional considerations that help perpetuate a “wall of silence” that pervades all government edifices to one degree or another, I found a true catharsis in sharing a former insider’s view.

It was akin to breaking the magicians code – a cognoscenti’s guide to the inner-sanctum of local government – which I hoped would stimulate a wider discussion of the issues in a region that has, for years, been trapped in a cycle of apathy – wholly controlled by a few uber-wealthy oligarchs who manipulate our lives and livelihoods while deftly maintaining their place at the public trough.

Given the fact that there have now been over 282,000 views of this boutique opinion blog – Barker’s View has clearly found a niche with those seeking an alternative to the happy talk and pixie dust we’ve come to expect from our elected and appointed officials.

While I don’t find excitement in the daily adventures I once had – now, a seething rage burns inside me when I see good people – struggling families and our vulnerable elderly, small business owners and school children, working men and women stuck in dead-end service jobs supporting a dying tourist-based economy – trapped in a pernicious system they can neither understand nor escape .

Well-meaning “leaders” in the Chamber of Commerce set confuse western sprawl with progress – and pin our collective hope for a brighter future on a glass and steel insurance office or another “panacea” theme hotel – all while doing their level best to paint a pretty face on the fetid corpse of a once thriving beach community with perhaps the most recognizable brand name in the world.

The result is a grotesque façade that breeds a sense of confusion and suspicion that occurs when what we see doesn’t comport with what we are told.

I have never forgotten the fact that it is you – the loyal members of the Barker’s View tribe – who make this such a fulfilling endeavor – and I will be forever grateful that you indulge my weird views and debate the issues with such incredible passion, clarity and intelligence.

When you respond to these screeds on social media – or reach out to discuss items of mutual concern with friends and neighbors – you influence a larger dialog that is a healthy part of a vibrant community.

When you look at the Halifax area like a box of Tinker Toys, you see that all the pieces, connectors and parts necessary for success are here – a beautiful riverfront and world-class beach, a quaint downtown, a research university collocated with a tech business incubator and a thriving state college with active vocational programs, craft breweries and bistros, a small but growing arts community and a core cadre of very vocal, civically active citizens who are well-organized and intent on restoring community pride while protecting the natural amenities and traditions that make our area unique.

In addition, the incredible success of Wild West Volusia is self-evident – with the beautiful City of DeLand setting the gold standard for civic reinvention and revitalization.

Despite my often-grim predictions – we have a lot going for us.

Now, it’s time for our politicians and ‘powers that be’ to recognize our collective desire for a strategic vision that puts all these wonderful attributes together while respecting the needs, wants and dreams of their constituents – not just those of their political benefactors.

Stop the mini-moves, cronyism and abusive tax schemes and giveaways.

Restore trust in government, accept public input in public decisions, and let’s work collaboratively while there is still something worth worrying about.

Together, I believe we can defeat the malignancy of apathy and mediocrity that threatens the viability of our hometown, our public schools and our government institutions and allows those with a greed motive to run rampant over our economy, our environment – and in the halls of power throughout Volusia County.

Thank you for reading – and for being part of the solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 8, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              Michael Rodriguez and the Volunteers of Derbyshire Place

There truly are angels among us.

Good people who see a need, then set about finding innovative solutions in the fundamental cause of making the Halifax area, or just their own neighborhood, a better place.

Sometimes it starts with a simple act of kindness, maybe stopping to pick up a piece of litter – planting a tree in the knowledge you will never enjoy the shade of its leaves, but someone will – providing shelter and sustenance for those who can no longer care for themselves or helping a child find their way in this harsh and violent world.

An excellent example shines bright in Executive Director Michael Rodriquez and a small group of volunteers from Derbyshire Place – a community center and ministry of First United Methodist Church of Port Orange – who are working hard to establish a community vegetable garden in the struggling north end of Daytona Beach.

In an excellent article announcing the recent consecration and groundbreaking ceremony The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean wrote:

“Census tract information for the Derbyshire neighborhood shows the need for a community garden there. In 2016, the neighborhood showed a 12 percent unemployment rate and a median household income of $25,571. Only 11.5 percent of residents had a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education.

 Where there is poverty, there is often a food desert. In such areas, large chain grocery stores are seldom close by. Residents with little money and sometimes no vehicle have a tougher time getting to a store with a variety of healthy foods, and affording the more nutritious options.”

You won’t hear these startling facts at the next State of the County Address – but neighborhoods like this are more common than our powers that be like to admit.

In addition to providing area residents with a sustainable source of wholesome food, the garden will grow a variety of herbs which Derbyshire Place will sell to local chefs to help sustain the project – and surplus vegetables will be donated to free meal programs to help feed the homeless in our community.

Other hometown heroes, such as Jon Hall of New Smyrna Beach, who owns a construction site preparation firm, plans to pave the garden’s parking area while other local businesses and individuals are stepping forward to help give the initiative a financial jump-start.

I hope you will join me in supporting this innovative program that helps our less fortunate help themselves.  It’s community-based initiatives like this that help build strong neighborhoods which leads to the resurgence of community pride we so desperately need.

God’s work, indeed.

Angel              Jade Ryan

Those who know me best will tell you – at the stroke of 7:00pm weeknights – I’m incommunicado, baby.

Since before I can remember, I’ve been glued to “Jeopardy!”

Hell, I go all the way back to the days of NBC’s Art Fleming and Don Pardo – well before beloved host, Alex Trebek, took the reins of the current syndicated version in 1984.

It’s become a staple in my life – a mind-clearing transition between the crazy day that was and a quiet evening ahead – providing a unique sense of self-satisfaction that only a true trivia buff can appreciate.

Trust me.  A lot of things have to happen before I miss an episode. . .

Imagine my pride when earlier this week, the Halifax area’s own Jade Ryan – a graduate of Spruce Creek High School and daughter of Dan Ryan, a long-time member of the Barker’s View tribe and senior writer for Bethune-Cookman Athletics – appeared on the legendary television game show!

Look, one does not simply show up and appear on Jeopardy – there is a strenuous testing process only open specific times each year – which includes written tests, in-person auditions, mock games and interviews – ensuring that only the very best make the cut to compete on “America’s Favorite Quiz Show.” 

Interestingly, “Daytona Beach” was featured in a clue during Jade’s appearance!

Clearly, Miss Ryan – who is currently an English major at the University of Florida – is a super smart young lady with an incredibly bright future ahead, and we can all be proud of her for representing Central Florida in such a positive way on the national stage.

Congratulations on this wonderful accomplishment!

Angel              Mori & Forough Hosseini

When it comes to American success stories, they don’t get much better than the journey of Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini’s rise to power as one of the most influential people in the United States.

With a keen business sense and an overriding will to succeed, Mr. Hosseini emerged from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and became a true titan – taking his ICI Homes to the stratosphere of the real estate development industry as one of the most prolific residential and commercial builders in the region.

His ability to use the substantial means at his disposal – including his storied power of persuasion – to control our political environment here on Florida’s Fun Coast and beyond is legendary.

His wife, Mrs. Forough Hosseini, has distinguished herself as a true philanthropist and community benefactor who has held various leadership positions – to include service to the Daytona State College Board of Trustees – while almost single-handedly making the Hope Place shelter for homeless families and children a reality for the many who are desperately in need of a hand up.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Hosseini are making an active difference in lives of many area children through an incredibly generous $100,000 grant which provides after-school tutoring and transportation services to the struggling Champion Elementary School.

The funds are a gift of ICI Homes, administered through Mrs. Hosseini’s Halifax area charity, Food Brings Hope. 

Thanks to the Hosseini’s big-hearted endowment, teachers and staff at Champion Elementary are helping prepare at-risk students through a unique enrichment program that provides tutoring, a recess period and a meal three afternoons each week.

In my view, this substantial investment in the very future of our community speaks volumes about one family’s enduring legacy of civic service where it counts most.

While we may not always agree on the political issues of the day – Mr. & Mrs. Hosseini continue to give of their time, talent and resources to help change the very trajectory of the lives of those most deserving – our areas disadvantaged children who are now struggling, against all odds, to succeed.

I admire that.

Asshole           Volusia County Council  

Earlier this week, our elected officials on the dais of power in DeLand set in motion their greed-crazed rush toward saddling their constituents with a half-cent sales tax increase, allocating nearly a half-million of our hard-earned tax dollars to fund the requisite special election.

Clearly, Volusia County government, and the long-suffering municipalities, can taste blood in the water now – salivating at the thought of an estimated $40 million in loosely regulated annual revenue, which, according to the latest, can be used for anything from transportation infrastructure to water utilities and flood control (which, like every other tax grab ever perpetrated, leaves it wide open to wanton abuse. . .)

Those of us who follow these low-rent shenanigans have watched as that camarilla of political puppeteers over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance provided private funding for studies and public indoctrination programs – subsidizing efforts to prepare the battlefield in a manner totally exempt from any semblance of government in the sunshine – forever tainting the process in the eyes of many of us who see this sham for what it is. . .

In the week before the vote – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, shocked even his shameless “colleagues” on the dais when he inexplicably exhumed the rotting corpse of the impact fee debacle – which, for years, resulted in untold profits to greedy developers who provided massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates in exchange for the suppression of transportation infrastructure fees for nearly two-decades.

Like the venal tool he is, Old Ed did the bidding of his bosses and brought forward a brazen attempt by the real estate development lobby to avoid paying increased impact fees on building permits currently under review in a horribly timed ploy to squeeze even more profits out of this compromised system.

I can almost see the smart boys over at the CEO Alliance shaking their heads and whispering among themselves, “Jesus.  That brain-addled dipshit is going to screw around and torpedo our last chance to fleece these rubes!  Maybe Barker’s right about him. . .”

Frankly, I’m proud of Councilwoman Heather Post, who had the strength of character to boldly suggest wide-eyed politicians take a pause and consider alternative revenue sources, rather than charging hell-bent for leather to strap residents and visitors with a sales tax hike.

According to the excellent reporting of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt, “Post has consistently spoken against a special election, objecting to the $490,000 it will cost cities and the county to put that question before voters.”

“I do not feel like taxing citizens is the answer,” she said, especially with so much “urgency” to do it this year.”

Of course, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys took Ms. Post to the woodshed for even considering other options.

Then, in perhaps the most flagrant political insulation ploy in the history of local politics, Denys first mocked Ms. Post’s suggestions – then actually tried her level best to convince us that if the sales tax increase is successful – it will be our own damn fault:

“We have to do the right thing for our citizens. We are not saying, ‘Raise the sales tax.’ All we are asking is to let the citizens decide. I support it to the point that the citizens have the right to decide for themselves.”

And just like that, our ‘powers that be’ tipped their hand on how they plan to sell this wet turd to the masses:

You see, they are not saying ‘raise the sales tax’ – and they only support it to a point we have a choice – but, just in case, they are spending a half-million dollars in public funds to give us the opportunity to increase the sales tax on ourselves!

My God.  How stupid do these craven shysters think we are? 

For months, these giddy assholes and their mouthpiece, former South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough, have done little else but terrify us with flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories about what our roads, drinking water and quality of life will look like if we fail to tax our own eyeballs out. . .   

Now that this estimated $490,000 special election is set, gird your loins for the formal launch of this noxious “re-education” campaign – paid for by the millionaire insiders who stand to benefit from the green wave of cash and the lucrative government contracts and projects this tax increase represents – cleverly designed to anesthetize rational thought and make us believe that any tax increase will be self-inflicted.

Asshole           Halifax Area Hospitality Industry

Area occupancy rates down again in December? 

Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along. . .

“We usually don’t expect much from December,” said Evelyn Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research. “Daytona Beach is generally not a Christmas destination, aside from a couple of bumps at New Year’s. What we’re seeing is totally steady, with no red flags at all. Now, we’ll see what happens with the Rolex and the (Daytona) 500, and start tracking our major seasons. The buzz is so good about Daytona Beach from what we hear from the travel trade and consumers, so I remain very optimistic.”

–Evelyn Fine, president, Mid-Florida Marketing and Research

When it comes to repairing the horribly mangled brand that once was the World’s Most Famous Beach – I’ve learned it does no good to link flawed public policy and malignant blight to the slow death of our tourism industry here on the Fun Coast – because our lodging and hospitality maharishis simply pay someone to tell them what they want to hear.

It’s easier that way.

Besides, we’ve become a cautionary tale among legitimate destinations – and absent a couple of motorcycle rallies and a waning motorsports draw – no one expects much from us anyway. . .

Rather than react to declining occupancy and average daily room rates, which remain statistically stagnant year-over-year, or even acknowledge that the “panacea” projects our “Rich & Powerful” hot shots assured would lead us from this dark and moribund place if we just hand over more tax dollars and sacrifice our unique public amenities, were complete bullshit – we continue to wallow in the relative comfort of mediocrity.

According to a recent report, “In December, Volusia County’s 54 percent occupancy was lower than the statewide average of 68.1 percent, according to STR, a data and analytics specialist.  At the same time, Volusia’s $101.30 average daily rate was less than the statewide average of $152.82; and the county’s revenue per available room of $54.24 was less than the statewide average of $104.07.”

 I find that disturbing.

Perhaps we’ve simply given up and come to accept the current condition of our core tourist area for what it is?

Incoming Chairman of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, Randy Dye, owner of Daytona Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, recently said that his main goal for 2019 is building the organizations membership to “expand beyond” our tourist-based economy.

“We’re recreating Daytona as a destination for more things other than tourism. Thank goodness for tourism, but we’re enhancing it.”

How?

By placing our hopes on a publicly underwritten insurance building, permitting unchecked residential growth without the infrastructure to support it and stifling entrepreneurial investment? 

In my view, it doesn’t appear that anyone who should is doing anything to staunch the hemorrhage of visitors and the lifeblood they bring to this mortally wounded beach community.

Instead, we continue to cut our own throats, raising access fees – pricing a day at the beach out of the financial reach of many families who are unwilling to do the ‘dance of death’ across A-1-A with their beach gear and children in tow – and allow our elected and appointed dullards to maintain the status quo, stifle entrepreneurial investment with myriad regulations, permits and roadblocks – then turn their backs on the languishing beachside as our “Movers & Shakers” invest in “New Daytona” on Boom Town Boulevard off the LPGA corridor.

How can ostensibly smart people, whose very livelihoods depend on a brisk tourist trade, continue to stand idle while the fountainhead is poisoned by this utter lack of strategic vision, perennial blight, dilapidation and the petty turf wars and competing interests of wealthy insiders who refuse to compromise – or work cooperatively – even as the source slowly gives up the ghost?

Instead, industry “leaders” simply renew the contract with Evelyn Fine over at Mid-Florida Marketing & Research, decade-after-decade, so she can numb the pain like a Brompton Cocktail with feelgood descriptors like “the buzz is so good!” even as tourists figure out (usually upon crossing the East ISB gateway) that their precious leisure time and dollars are better spent anywhere but here.

Whatever.

Quote of the Week:

It “threw me for a loop, we (the county) don’t want to see good projects lost because of increasing costs.”

–Clay Ervin, Volusia County Growth and Resource Director, wringing his hands over the first increase to impact fees in nearly two-decades, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Critics challenge builders claims,” Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Last week, Minto Communities, the Canadian mega-developer who is actively throwing up thousands of cookie cutter homes directly on top of our aquifer recharge area west of LPGA Boulevard, announced they were backstroking on a promise to purchase additional acreage for the 3,000-unit Phase II of Jimmy Buffett’s replica beach community.

In the corporate equivalent of taking their football and going home – Minto honcho Bill Bullock exposed a disturbing level of avarice when he all but refused to pay the company’s fair share for  a solution for the infrastructure overload created, in large part, by Minto’s own handiwork.

It was shitty and small – and it looked exactly like what it is:

A massive corporation who partnered with a big time escapist entertainer (who has apparently become everything he hated) exploiting a cheap labor market (and the malleable ethics of our elected officials) then hauling massive profits out of the pine scrub – and out of the area – while expecting existing residents to underwrite the devastating impact to our roads, water supply, emergency services, healthcare, public utilities and, ultimately, our very quality of life.

But that abject gluttony wasn’t what threw Director Ervin for a loop – it was the fact he doesn’t want to lose “good projects” because We, The People had the temerity to ask our elected representatives to demand that their political benefactors finally pay their fair share for the damage they continue to cause to our very quality of life.

But that is the level of care and concern we’ve come to expect from entrenched bureaucrats in Volusia County government – who are infinitely more troubled by the legitimate costs paid by developers than meeting the needs of citizens who feel the impact of this malignant sprawl.

Apparently, “we (the county)” could give two-shits about shackling working families, retirees and the thousands surviving on fixed incomes in this artificial, service-based economy – wholly driven by the same five people passing the same nickel around – to make up the difference by increasing the sales tax on those who can least afford it.

Recently, a loyal reader shared with me the word “opprobrium” and challenged me to use it in a Barker’s View post.  The word means  public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious.”

I think the despicable behavior surrounding this barefaced money grab by our elected and appointed officials meets the textbook definition of the term. . .

And Another Thing!

The more I see of newly installed Volusia County Councilwoman Barb Girtman in action – the more I like her.

Last Tuesday, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ms. Girtman run mental laps around Old Ed Kelley (not that it’s a long circuit, but entertaining none the less) when she called for an independent, outside audit of county finances to put to rest lingering rumors of massive stores of idle cash that has been pigeonholed for pet projects – even as our representatives cry poor-mouth on transportation infrastructure and essential service delivery.

Given our dismal history, I find Ms. Girtman’s dedication to service in the public interest, ethical clarity and commitment to organizational transparency incredibly refreshing – and listening to her intelligently spar with Old Ed and his room temperature IQ is priceless.

For instance, when Mr. Ed the Talking Dunce fell back on his one tone-deaf , clearly memorized, trope that developers simply push the cost of impact fees off on homebuyers – Ms. Girtman astutely replied, “They (developers) choose to pass (the impact fees) on.” 

 It’s almost pitiful to watch Ed engage in a battle of wits. . .

Look, when it comes to Chairman Kelley’s mental acuity and grasp on the intricacies of the issues of the day, we can all agree, that carnival has closed, but – God help me – I take a perverse pleasure in watching this hapless political hack get his comeuppance by a freshman council member who clearly has the best interests of her constituents at heart.

That’s all for me – have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Stop. Look. Listen.

We’re being lied to.

I believe what we are experiencing today is a pernicious and well-organized disinformation campaign perpetrated by Volusia County government and certain corporations – complete with distortions, illusions and outright lies – designed to help force implementation of a proposed half-cent sales tax while providing the local real estate development industry yet another opportunity to avoid the recently imposed impact fee increase.

All the players are present.

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – a hubristic simp who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – has fought any substantive increase to transportation infrastructure impact fees (which help growth pay for itself in terms of keeping streets, roadways and utilities infrastructure on pace with the massive population increase that is the natural result of suburban sprawl) – which haven’t been increased in nearly two-decades.

Add to that the massive campaign contributions to hand-select County Council candidates – with $1 of every $5 in recorded contributions in the last election cycle originating from developers – and you see just how cozy (and incredibly lucrative) this age-old suppression of impact fees has been.

After their constituents made the logical connection between a push to lash every man, woman and child in Volusia County to a sales tax increase ostensibly for transportation infrastructure – while well-heeled developers continue to receive a pass on impact fees, a realization that threatened to derail the lucrative money grab – last November, our elected officials in DeLand cobbled together a phased plan to increase impact fees by 2020.

At that time, Old Ed began reciting a litany of ways in which this logical hike would hurt growth, “punish” low income families (but a sales tax increase won’t?) and damage the chance for uber-wealthy developers to put even more cash in their pockets.

Sir John Albright, CEO of the good old boy’s investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company – who has made millions of dollars selling off pine scrub to fuel the current building boom – telegraphed the coming drama last September when he said, “Such a drastic immediate increase may be problematic for developers as they are facing major cost pressures on materials and labor. Not the best time for this,” he said, adding that he’d prefer the council gradually increase rates over time. “I would recommend a staggered, consistent increase rather than a dramatic jump.”

Now, after pouring massive amounts of cash into the campaign coffers of currently sitting council members during the 2018 election – the building lobby, in concert with their paid puppets on the dais of power – are orchestrating an ugly bait-and-switch designed to create a loophole to the impact fee hike by allowing developers to pay early on building permits currently under review to avoid the legitimate fees being implemented next month.

To ram that point home, last week, Minto Communities – who is actively building Jimmy Buffett’s faux beach community directly on top of our aquifer recharge areas west of LPGA – announced they were pulling the plug on a 3,000 home Phase II – citing (virtually verbatim) the issues Old Ed Kelley teed up back in October 2018. . .

Boo-fucking-hoo. . .

In my view, it’s too clean, too well-organized not to have been choreographed in advanced – and anyone who consistently pays attention to the ham-handed machinations of Volusia County government, and the ‘Rich and Powerful’ oligarchs who pull the strings, know that none of this evolved by accident.

What you are witnessing is, as a smart friend of mine likes to say, “corruption in plain sight.”

It is the insidious result of a campaign finance system that allows an industry to infuse a disproportionate amount of funds into strategic local races with the sole expectation of receiving a return on that investment in a legal quid pro quo scheme that benefits developers and the donor-class over the needs of their long-suffering constituents every time.

I encourage everyone to witness this unfold at today’s Volusia County Council meeting.

It’s important to let them know we’re standing silently – watching.

Let’s see if those we have elected to represent our interests have the guts to resist the powerful influence of their political benefactors – or whether they complete the corrupt circuit that began when they accepted massive campaign funds from those who stand to benefit most from their official action.

Listen to the Volusia County Council meeting live beginning at 9:30am here:

http://www.volusia.org/government/county-council/county-council-meetings/live-audio.stml

Sorting the Quid from the Quo: Questioning the Ethics of Impact Fee Adjustments

As regular readers of these screeds know, I have an opinion about everything, from the nutty to the newsworthy, the routine to the ridiculous.

But when it comes to the machinations of this bastardized Oligarchy that passes for governance here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – the plotting, maneuvering and self-serving schemes of our elected officials and their uber-wealthy benefactors – it goes beyond a passing annoyance for me.

Why?

Because, like many of you, I have a tangible investment in the outcome – my hard-earned tax dollars – and a true interest in what the future will look like for my grandchildren.

In my view, the idea of bringing impact fees back before the Volusia County Council next week for the sole purpose of deciding whether the real estate development community should be afforded even more considerations – after being given the long-time luxury of having impact fees remain stagnant for nearly two-decades, while road construction costs increased some 74% over the same period – essentially refusing to pay their fair share of solutions to the very infrastructure burdens they created with greed-crazed sprawl.

Florida law requires that impact fees be based upon the most current and localized data available – but since when did Volusia County government give two-shits about the law – or basic fairness in the age-old conflict of interest between serving the best interests of their constituents and meeting the clear profit-motives of their political benefactors?

When you factor in the complete lack of strategic vision by our elected and appointed officials, you begin to get a clear picture of just how ham-handed and out-of-touch those dullards on the dais truly are (and have been):

During a building boom in the early 2000’s, our ‘powers that be’ borrowed some $65-million to underwrite road projects, such as improvements to Williamson and LPGA Boulevards – something they would later claim was necessary to lure warehouse jobs at Trader Joe’s Distribution Center, and see the publicly underwritten Tanger Outlet become a reality.

Without bothering to consider the proverbial ‘rainy day,’ these mental midgets believed they could pay the money back using the steady flow of impact fee revenues available at the time.

According to a February 2018 report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, in total, the county has spent an estimated $13.4 million of the $14.7 million received from impact fees since 2012 on debt service alone – leaving a paltry $1.2 million available for transportation infrastructure.

In addition, the 12 cents per gallon on gasoline consumers pay in Volusia County earmarked for road construction (which has brought in some $24.7 million in gas tax revenue since 2017) has, for a variety of reasons, remained painfully flat – even as county government allowed unchecked growth along the spine of east Volusia from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Now, the bond money is quickly running out – even as our transportation and utilities infrastructure needs soar.

This self-inflicted “emergency” now has come home to roost – leaving county and municipal officials salivating over the anticipated $40 million in annual revenue their ill-advised half-cent sales tax initiative would bring.

The problem is – after the “old” Volusia County Council (which looks a lot like the “new” Volusia County Council) voted last November to increase impact fees by 100% in some categories over a two-year period, with 75% of the increase beginning next month, and the remaining 25% in 2020, now the development community is asking for the unthinkable.

Following an election which saw $1 of every $5 in campaign funding originating from the real estate development community, the Volusia Building Industry Association, a local trade lobby “representing, promoting, and protecting the construction industry,” wants the County Council to change how it enacts impact fee increases – to allow developers to pay the fee on pending building permits before March and avoid the higher rates – a scheme that will allow developers to put even more money in their already groaning pocketbooks.

Naturally, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, accommodated the VBIA’s request like the sycophantic lickspittle he is – inexplicably agreeing to resurrect and rehash the impact fee matter at the very same meeting that the VCC is scheduled to appropriate nearly a half-million in public funds for a controversial special election on the sales tax increase.

After all, how does one say “no” to the very hand that feeds your political ambitions?

When this incredible turn-of-events broke last week, I had a conversation with a very smart former law enforcement colleague about the horrific optics of politicians – who just received a sizable portion of their individual campaign funds from the development community – opening up the impact fee debacle to provide even more incredibly lucrative concessions by creating a loophole to avoid full payment of the already approved increase.

We both agreed that, when taken in its disproportionate totality, this latest reveal comes dangerously close to how most citizens define quid pro quo corruption (this for that).

Clearly, individuals and corporations are permitted by law to make campaign contributions to candidates who have similar views to their own, or those who are sympathetic to a cause or industry in which they have a vested interest, as a means of ensuring favorable policy decisions – and the Supreme Court has refused to criminalize campaign contributions absent an explicit something-for-something arrangement – apparently making what we see happening all around us perfectly legal.

However, in my view, when the connection between massive campaign contributions, and the millions in return on that investment some political insiders realize in Volusia County – coupled with the disproportionality between specific industries (with 20% of campaign funds originating from developers) and the considerations, accommodations, millions in infrastructure support, tax abatement, fee suppression, etc. – the ethical line becomes too bright to ignore.

Look, I’m not an attorney – just a flummoxed bystander struck dumb by the crystal clear ethical, moral and good old-fashioned right vs. wrong questions posed by the coercive effect massive campaign contributions by wealthy insiders and the various corporations and LLC’s under their control, invariably have on the implementation of public policy – and the distribution of public funds.

I happen to believe that even a cursory quantitative analysis by any credible regulatory agency, or our state’s neutered ethics apparatus, would clearly demonstrate that these massive campaign contributions have an influential impact on the distribution of public funds to private interests.

It seems clear to me, anyway – and I believe a sizable portion of my neighbors feel the same way I do:  This stinks like a rotting mackerel by moonlight. 

My sincere hope is that our elected officials on the Volusia County Council will see that what they are being asked to do by the building/development industry and their stooge Ed Kelley – an official act to reverse a decision made by a previous council for the sole purpose of limiting its financial impact on the very developers who contributed so heavily to their various campaigns during the last election – is simply over-the-top and too blatant to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 1, 2019

Hi, kids!

Remember when you were a child and you played connect the dots?

A game where you drew a line between a sequenced number of spots, and when you were done, a clear picture emerged?

Bear with me. . .

When it comes to the machinations of Volusia County government truth is always stranger than fiction.

Just when we were coming to a begrudging acceptance that the shameless money grab of a half-cent sales tax was a foregone conclusion, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, stunning even his jaded co-conspirators on the dais of power in DeLand, when he unilaterally added an item to the Volusia County Council agenda (as demanded by the all-powerful real estate development lobby) seeking even more concessions on the implementation of a long overdue impact fee increase.

The Volusia Building Industry Association, a local trade lobby “representing, promoting, and protecting the construction industry,” wants the County Council to change how it enacts impact fee increases – which have not been raised in nearly two-decades – to allow developers to pay the fee early and avoid the higher rates the VCC approved last October.

My God.   

Did I mention the VBIA wants this matter resurrected and rehashed at the very same meeting in which our bought-and-paid-for elected officials will appropriate hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayer dollars to fund a controversial special election asking Volusia County residents to saddle themselves with a sales tax increase to bail out these very same local officials who refused to ask their political sugar daddies in the development community to pay for the massive infrastructure demands caused by their own greed-crazed sprawl?

As final proof that Old Ed Kelley has finally gone around the bend – or simply thrown off the traces of common human decency and now utters blatant falsehoods with wild abandon – he had the unmitigated balls to tell reporter Dustin Wyatt of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “If people see this as the ‘county caving to developers, that is not true,’ he said, adding that this request didn’t come from prominent homebuilders.”

Jesus.  How stupid does this addled asshole think we are?

A quick visit to the VBIA website found the smiling visage of our own High Panjandrum of Political Power, King Mori Hosseini – perhaps the most “prominent homebuilder” in the history of “prominent homebuilders” –  conspicuously displayed on the home page gallery.

Interestingly, I also discovered that the association’s Immediate Past Vice President is Mr. Chris Butera of SVN Alliance of Ormond Beach – a commercial real estate firm which, since November,  just happens to list former County Manager Jim Dinneen as an associate in the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation database.

When you connect the dots – the big picture that takes shape is increasingly disturbing to those of us paying attention. . .

This is why nothing (and I mean nothing) surprises me anymore about the backroom intrigue and murky maneuvering that invariably results in these baffling, tone-deaf responses from Old Ed.

If he had the mental capacity to understand the optics of this ham-handed attempt to meet every demand of his political benefactors in the building industry – who, according to reports, gave $1 of every $5 in recorded campaign contributions last year – I doubt he would ever show his balding pate in public again.

Now, in perhaps the most blatant “see what you’ve done” dramatic theater ever perpetrated on an overburdened citizenry, our “friends” at Minto Communities, who are actively churning our aquifer recharge area off LPGA into the faux beach community known as “Latitudes Margaritaville,” are crawfishing on a deal with the good old boys investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company to purchase an additional 1,614 acres for their Phase II expansion citing “Volusia County’s quadrupling of traffic mitigation fees and plans to raise impact fees; the city’s doubling of fees for utilities; and rising construction costs.”

Bullshit.

Then, in the most ludicrous and self-serving corporate communication ever issued by a real estate developer – Minto honcho Bill Bullock whined that his company is committed to “. . .providing affordable housing,” in a community where homes are selling like hotcakes for between $200,000 and $400,000 – with monthly HOA fees approaching $275.

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

This is what it looks like when cold hard cash cauterizes the human emotion of shame from the cortex of public officials – and drives real estate moguls, who long-ago sold their very souls for untold wealth in the pine scrub west of town – to abandon any sense of decency.

When is enough, enough?   

Hey, Bill – no one is buying your hyper-dramatic horseshit.

In fact, most of us who live here in the real world are breathing a sigh of relief that we won’t be subjected to 3,000 additional cookie cutter homes – and the thousands of new Walmart shoppers that represents on our streets and roadways – in the absence of the transportation and utilities infrastructure to support them.

Folks, when these dullards on the dais have the impudence to consider cutting real estate developers an even bigger break after they strategically shirked their responsibility for helping fund solutions to the very infrastructure and utility overload they created – it demonstrates just how detached they have become from reality – and how thoroughly compromised our system has become under this legal quid pro quo scheme that ensures massive campaign contributions receive a healthy return on investment every time.

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

Here’s a quick tip for determining the exact second a public official has stopped working in the best interests of his or her constituents:

When you hear a politician say, “. . .we actually have no (legal) obligation to give the public unlimited time to speak about whatever they want to speak about,” they have emerged from the campaign chrysalis and made the insidious transformation from public servant to arrogant elitist – the natural metamorphosis that occurs whenever an elected official loses the ability to balance power with humility.

Sometimes those we have elected to high office – with incredible influence over the lives and livelihoods of others – get confused.

They believe that the sycophants and bureaucrats who tell them what they want to hear, compliment their every hairbrained decision and laugh at their jokes, have all the right answers to the myriad problems we face – and the public, those they are sworn to serve – are little more than misinformation spreading naysayers with nothing of substance to add to the discussion.

Then, usually on the advice of a contract attorney (more interested in keeping his/her lucrative spot on the dais than saying “No”) the hubristic politician begins to explore quasi-legal means to suppress citizen input as they come to believe their opinion is infinitely more valuable than ours.

Several years ago, the British medical journal Brain published an article on the intersection of mental health and politics entitled “Hubris Syndrome: An Acquired Personality Disorder?” which proposed naming a psychiatric disorder for “leaders” who exhibit, “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.”

Interestingly, Tom Stafford, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield, recently wrote that research shows, “people with the highest belief superiority (“mine is the only correct view”) [showed] to have the largest gap between their perceived and actual knowledge – the belief superior consistently suffered from the illusion that they were better informed than they were.”

Sound familiar?

In my experience, the conversion is complete when the elected official begins seeking structural changes to the public meeting format, generally under the guise of giving constituents more opportunities to participate.

In reality, their meddling in the process erects even greater obstacles to the free and open exchange of information between public servants and the public they serve.

Recently, Volusia County School Board Chairman Carl Persis began pushing an agenda which will relegate public participation to a 15-minute window at the beginning of meetings – enough time for five of us who actually pay the bills to speak for three-minutes each – on items of importance that are not on the agenda.

Then, Chairman Persis acts like he’s doing us a favor by letting citizens speak on scheduled items – followed by another 15-minute public comment period on off-agenda concerns at the end of the meeting after everyone has gone home for the evening.

Apparently, Carl isn’t a fan of staff presentations either – asking that the only visible means by which board members, and the public, receive information be limited – while adding one-minute at the beginning of meetings to allow board members to “share something positive” about their district. . .

Enough of that ugliness and negativity about how our district is circling the bowl by all known metrics, or the fact we can’t attract and retain qualified teachers to fill an expanding number of vacancies that, depending upon who you talk to, ranges from 24 to 42 and beyond.

Enough of these information sharing time wasters.

Screw John Q. Public’s asinine concerns for their child’s primary education.

We only discuss Cotton Candy Clouds and Big Rock Candy Mountains in Carl’s world – and, by God, we do it quickly – because, apparently, Chairman Persis has somewhere more important to be. . .

In my view, given the myriad problems that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, perhaps its time our school board members come to the realization that they don’t have all the answers – and neither does Superintendent Russell and his goofy “Cabinet.”

During a crisis, I’ve found it beneficial to seek input from all stakeholders – to open lines of traditional and non-traditional communication, seek alternative opinions, get out and knock on doors, and put an emphasis on developing collaborative, broad-based solutions that simply cannot be arrived at in this vacuum of arrogance.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley

I wrote about this earlier in the week – but, given the incredibly divisive nature of the problem – sitting elected and appointed officials on the Volusia County Council ostracizing and marginalizing a “colleague” (and my district representative) simply for putting her sworn priorities on those who elected her and being an outspoken critic of the “system” – this really touched a nerve with me.

Last week, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post came forward with allegations that Volusia County has violated the terms of a 2010 settlement agreement that effectively ended her law enforcement career.

As I understand it, Ms. Post claims that the county failed to correct employment records regarding the character of her separation as they legally agreed to do – then made disparaging remarks about her service, mischaracterized her reason for leaving and eligibility for rehire.

The agreement was entered into following a tumultuous period during which Post claims her career was ruined “. . .for filing a harassment and discrimination complaint with the county” as well an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge after Volusia pursued two “ridiculous” internal investigations against her.”

In addition to a promise to emend her employment record, Ms. Post ultimately received $44,000 in compensation from Volusia County.

Since standing for election, Post has been brutally criticized, denied opportunities for outside service, blocked from leadership roles, vilified, rebuked and ridiculed simply for her courageous commitment to speak and act in the best interests of her constituents while eschewing the lockstep conformity that has paralyzed county government for decades.

When Councilwoman Post attempted to defend herself last week against the County’s concerted effort to besmirch her professional reputation and sully her work history, we learned what a mean-spirited wank our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, truly is.

In a letter to county officials, Post’s very capable attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, indicated that Volusia failed to live up to the terms of the separation agreement – I assume by failing to correct her employment records – coupled with the near-constant attack on Post’s character and service by senior administrators and elected officials.

According to Ms. Post, “If the County acts in such a manner ‘because they can get away with it’ and they will do this to one of seven highest government officials in the County, then how many other settlement agreements are they not abiding by and in fact blatantly disregarding?”

Specifically, Post and her attorney cited an insubordinate swipe by former County Manager Jim Dinneen who said (during an open public meeting), “I think you all forget her circumstances of why she does not work here anymore.”

But rather than fire him on the spot for his insolent outburst and total disregard of the standards of ethical conduct one expects of senior appointed officials – our elected officials simply rallied behind Dinneen – further shunning and isolating Ms. Post.

In response to the very valid concerns of Councilwoman Post and her attorney  – our County Chair issued the type of ridiculous response we’ve come to know and love:

According to the Ormond Beach Observer, “County Council Chair Ed Kelley attributed Post saying she’s “standing up for everyone that has no voice” as “total political rhetoric.” She’s setting the stage for her next run for office, he said.”

“Everyone has a voice,” Kelley said. “Anyone that is in a situation like this has a voice.”

My God.

Spoken like a petty tyrant who is totally oblivious to the fact that in this bastardized oligarchy – only those demonstrating lockstep loyalty to the “system” or the well-heeled insiders who pay-to-play – have a true voice.

Then, in his typically absurd word salad, Old Ed added:

“Kelley also said he was disappointed with Post calling herself “one of seven highest government officials in the County.” He said she is making herself out to be important.”

“I don’t consider what I am as important,” Kelley said. “I consider what I am is a public servant doing what I was elected to do, and not that it’s important.”

Say what?

No, really, what the hell is he trying to say?

If stewarding a $700+ million-dollar budget and setting public policy for a population of nearly 540,000 souls (many of whom are living at or below the poverty line) who depend upon our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County to set a strategic vision for our future isn’t “important” what is?

In my view, it is high time for this addled asshole to issue a simple apology (if he’s capable) to both Ms. Post and his flummoxed constituents – then resign to the ash heap of political history where these cartoon characters go when they have exposed the depth of their incompetence – and cruelty.

Angel:             Attorney Aaron Delgado

I’m a big fan of Daytona Beach City Commissioner and ace defense attorney Aaron Delgado.

Since he took office, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with him several times on issues of mutual concern – and he was kind enough to join me for a radio segment on GovStuff Live! with Big John last year.

Mr. Delgado doesn’t mind mixing it up and debating the issues with a drunken lummox like me – and I sincerely admire that.

Although we don’t agree on every topic, he is bright, visionary and clearly has the best interests of the Halifax area at heart.

Last Sunday, I enjoyed an interesting piece penned by Mr. Delgado in the Community Voices section of the News-Journal which educated all of us on the State of Florida’s continuing obstructionism in the implementation of medical marijuana regulations – and the weird “patchwork of local, state and federal laws that treat the same drug differently depending upon its vector.” 

Disturbingly, Mr. Delgado pointed out that custody of under 20 grams of marijuana in its unprocessed plant form is a misdemeanor crime – while possession of even one drop of the edibles, oils and extracts currently supplied by Florida dispensaries is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.

Wow.

Then, in perhaps the most draconian state-imposed impediment to alternative medical treatment ever devised, any citizen who pursues lawful marijuana treatment options forfeits his or her right to possess a firearm – or obtain a concealed weapons permit.

Essentially, if you suffer one of the incredibly debilitating illnesses which qualify for medical marijuana therapy – the patient is essentially stripped of their Second Amendment rights?

Apparently, that’s what our haughty state legislators think about the rights of their critically ill constituents who seek compassionate care under the terms of our state constitution as amended by over 70% of the electorate.

I served in law enforcement for over 31-years, which put Mr. Delgado and I on opposite sides of the courtroom – and the marijuana legalization argument – for years; however, I wholeheartedly agree with his apt and compassionate solution to our current quagmire:

“I think the voters made it clear that Florida is ready to permit people to use marijuana as an alternative to other treatments, including highly addictive narcotic pain medications. We need to consider decriminalizing marijuana and regulating its sale — becoming the first southern state to do so. At the very least, we need to have consistent and clear laws that leave no confusion in their wake and do not result in the situation where possessing a half-ounce of marijuana is a less serious criminal offense than having a THC-infused gummy bear, and where Floridians forfeit the right to own a firearm if they elect a certain medical treatment.”

Now that marijuana has been legalized in 10 states, decriminalized in others, and authorized for medical treatment in many more – perhaps it’s time state and federal lawmakers abandon the incredibly expensive and wholly ineffective “let’s do the same thing and expect a different result” strategy of criminalizing marijuana.

In my view – It’s time.

Quote of the Week:

“Attracting first-rate businesses requires access to a first-rate public educational system.  While this (Volusia County) may be an attractive place to retire it’s not an attractive place in which to grow up and work.

–Lee Dunkle, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “More Volusia school support needed,” January 29, 2019

And Another Thing!

Santa Claus.

The Easter Bunny.

The validity of “Travvy Awards.”

And the conservation and sustainability goals of the Arbor Day Foundation.

These are just a few of the things I once believed in that have proven themselves to be no more than quaint relics of innocent times gone by – now exposed as damnable lies.

Inexplicably, in January, the City of Ormond Beach was awarded the Tree City Growth Award by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Yes.  That City of Ormond Beach.

You remember, the one whose elected officials stood complicit with a speculative developer while 2,061 old growth trees – including specimen hardwoods and ancient oaks – were wantonly destroyed to make way for another convenience store?

The depth of this environmental massacre was willful, grossly excessive, and driven by an avarice many caring souls in our community still cannot come to terms with.

The wholesale ruin went on for acres on both sides of Tomoka Avenue, then south on Bennet Lane and across Granada Boulevard, with men in heavy equipment indiscriminately felling trees and churning this once pristine forest and wildlife habitat – which so appropriately buffered the heavily traveled thoroughfare from residential areas to the south – into an ugly black muck of twisted vegetation and splintered limbs.

This beautiful natural place, and the creatures that inhabited it, were sacrificed for something called Granada Pointe – a contrived commercial space which will ultimately house a WaWa, a chicken wing drive-thru and a third-tier grocery that remains nameless – least they be associated with the very public backlash that resulted in perhaps the most rancorous and divisive municipal election in our civic history.

Well meaning people tell me, “Mark, get over it.  What’s done is done and there is nothing you can do about it,”  and they’re right.

That very sense of hopelessness and helplessness is still very raw in a sizable segment of our community as well.

While I will never be able to repair the damage – what I will never do is sit idle while those in my sphere of influence are hoodwinked to believe that our elected officials in the City of Ormond Beach give two-shits about our environment, our quality of life, or protecting our wild places from the ravenous gluttony of cheap-jack assholes who buy-and-sell politicians cheaply – like diseased livestock – and have no qualms about destroying our environment in the name of “progress.” 

As E.E. Cummings said, “There is some shit I won’t eat” – and that includes watching pompous politicians make a mockery out of the Arbor Day Foundations coveted Tree City title.

Why?  Because it’s wrong.  That’s why.

Now that they’ve had their pictures taken with it, and wrung every ounce of political capital out of the misplaced designation, maybe our grossly hypocritical ‘powers that be’ will, in a pang of shame and conscience, do the honorable thing and send the award back – until such time as we are willing to earn the prize with a true commitment to sound suburban forest management – and a respect for our besieged environment.

Don’t hold your breath.

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

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: How long can we afford Ed Kelley?

I normally save ditties like this for Friday and a little compilation I like to call “Angels & Assholes” – but sometimes I just can’t wait. . .

Like many of you, I’ve been routinely gobsmacked by the buffoonery of our Volusia County Council – but I really hoped-against-hope that the “new” iteration seated last month would bring a modicum of stability and decency to the dais of power.

Yeah.  Right.

With time and experience, I have come to the unfortunate opinion that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, is suffering from some strange political delirium – a disorder that manifests as a rambling schizophasia of incoherent babbling on important issues – leaving his long-suffering constituents horribly confused as to his point and purpose.

During a recent Volusia County Council meeting, Old Ed suffered “one of his spells” when our elected officials were asked to approve a personal injury settlement with Michael Wade, who, in December 2015, was literally hit by a Votran bus, suffered apparent injuries requiring surgery, then filed suit against the county to recoup the $130,000 in medical bills he incurred.

In perhaps the first maneuver of its kind here on the Fun Coast (at least in my foggy memory) our weaponized County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert wielded an obscure law that allows a government body to countersue and collect reimbursement from plaintiffs who prevail in lawsuits that have previously been incarcerated in the jurisdiction.

Apparently, way back in 2012, Mr. Wade was held in the Volusia County Jail for 366 days following a marijuana conviction.

Look, I have no problem with the practice – so long as the law is employed in a uniform, timely and consistent way – and not used as a cudgel at the whim of the County Attorney – a concern shared by District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post.

According to Ms. Post, “If county legal is interested in filing claims for reimbursement against every inmate that’s released from incarceration then that’s wonderful, and I would absolutely be open to discussing that in a future council meeting.”

I agree.

What I found most shocking was the fact that, after The Daytona Beach News-Journal obtained a copy of the in-vehicle video footage which clearly shows Wade being struck by the bus, even though he had the right-of-way, Old Ed transformed from policymaker into a demented judge, jury and executioner – belittling Mr. Wade’s injuries and calling his claims “bogus.”

According to the News-Journal, Kelley yammered, “He’s perfectly OK,” upon viewing the video for the first time Friday. “I think the claim is bogus.”

“At some point, we are going to have (to) pay a quarter of a million dollars to defeat these” types of lawsuits, he said, wondering if this type of payout will have other consequences. “What’s going to stop more people from jumping in front of the bus?”

Jesus.  I didn’t realize that throwing oneself under a moving transit bus was epidemic?

(Although, if we continue down the same uneven economic path we’ve been on for a decade – I can see the practice catching on. . .)

Look, Despite Ed’s twisted logic, this wasn’t some ‘sue and settle’ sham – even Votran determined that the accident was preventable – and Councilwoman Deb Denys and freshman member Ben Johnson had the good sense to stay in their lane.

In my view, Old Ed’s bizarre outburst was more about countering the very real concerns expressed by Councilwoman Post (because that’s just what her “colleagues” do whenever she tries to make a valid point) and less to do with his faux concern over saving taxpayer dollars. . .

So, gird your loins fellow Volusians – if this doddering dipshit has his way, we’ll be throwing astronomical amounts of our hard-earned tax dollars at “Cujo” Eckert and his team of firebreathers to challenge personal injury lawsuits regardless of merit – even when the county is demonstrably negligent – rather than ethically negotiate settlements for a fraction of the cost to defend.

Why?  Because that’s how public policy is decided in this otherworldly environment where the County Chair no longer even pretends to recognize his fiduciary responsibility for the people’s assets.

But, in my view, it was his take on Councilwoman Heather Post’s recent attempt to defend herself against the Volusia County governments seemingly concerted effort to besmirch her professional reputation and sully her work history with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office that really shows what a meanspirited wank Ed truly is.

In a letter to county officials, Post’s attorney, Kelly Chanfrau, indicated that Volusia failed to live up to the terms of a separation agreement by not correcting employment records – coupled with a near-constant attack on Post by senior administrators and elected officials – who have treated her like a cheap piñata since she took office.

According to Ms. Post, “If the County acts in such a manner ‘because they can get away with it’ and they will do this to one of seven highest government officials in the County, then how many other settlement agreements are they not abiding by and in fact blatantly disregarding?”

Specifically, Post and her attorney cited an insubordinate swipe by former County Manager Jim Dinneen who said during an open public meeting, “I think you all forget her circumstances of why she does not work here anymore.”

But rather than fire him on the spot for his insolent outburst – our elected officials simply rallied behind Dinneen – further shunning and isolating Ms. Post.

In response to Councilwoman Post’s very valid concerns of systematic workplace retaliation – our County Chair issued the type of cogent and well-thought response we’ve come to know and love:

According to the Ormond Beach Observer, “County Council Chair Ed Kelley attributed Post saying she’s “standing up for everyone that has no voice” as “total political rhetoric.” She’s setting the stage for her next run for office, he said.”

“Everyone has a voice,” Kelley said. “Anyone that is in a situation like this has a voice.” 

(Yes, he Really said that. . .)

My God.  I guess the game isn’t so fun when the piñata hits back?

Then, in his typical nonsensical word salad, Old Ed added:

“Kelley also said he was disappointed with Post calling herself “one of seven highest government officials in the County.” He said she is making herself out to be important.”

“I don’t consider what I am as important,” Kelley said. “I consider what I am is a public servant doing what I was elected to do, and not that it’s important.”

Say what?

No, really, what the hell is he trying to say, eh?

If stewarding a &700+ million-dollar budget and setting public policy for a population of nearly 540,000 souls who depend upon our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County to set a strategic vision for our very future – and providing essential services we need to ensure civilization on this patch of overstuffed pine scrub – isn’t “important” what is?

In my view, it is high time for this addled asshole to issue a simple apology (if he’s capable) to both Ms. Post and his flummoxed constituents – then resign to the ash heap of political history where these cartoon characters go when they have exposed the depth of their incompetence – and cruelty.

 

On Volusia: “It’s a Major Award!”

Wow!  Who knew?

Less than one year ago, we were squabbling over the deplorable conditions at the still very much under construction Hard Rock Daytona – a “theme” hotel built upon the skeleton of the haunted Desert Inn, once known as the “Dirtiest Hotel in America” – a project that took a circuitous route to becoming a reality and ultimately cost the personal and professional reputations of several high profile elected and appointed officials in the eyes of their flummoxed constituents.

In 2015, the Volusia County Council dutifully did the bidding of their puppeteers and passed ordinances setting specific performance guarantees in exchange for granting the developer 410 linear feet of traffic-free beach behind the hotel.

Then, construction languished – at times it was like the project was being completed by two guys working weekends.

During a fateful County Council meeting in April 2017, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and former County Manager Jim Dinneen, confederated with developer Abbas Abdulhussein to bring an off-the-agenda ambush which ultimately changed the flag from a Westin luxury property to a Hard Rock International affiliation – along with a request for various concessions and time extensions.

We, The People watched in horror as those blowholes we elected to represent our collective interests immediately succumbed to excited incontinence – erupting in mock surprise and jubilation – hooting and jabbering their complete support for the developer’s every request without hearing the first shred of testimony, analyzing a statement of need or even receiving a basic explanation for the extension request.

Just like that, the fix was in.

As the date certain for the performance and completion standards set by ordinance grew near, concerned citizens began taking photographs depicting structural integrity concerns in a subterranean parking garage, ugly concrete spalling on the external seawall and the then clearly unfinished pool deck.

There were angry allegations and counter-allegations in the newspaper.

Area residents worked hard to convince ourselves that no corporation with standing in the hospitality industry would dare risk their hard-earned reputation by certifying an incomplete renovation as meeting the exacting standards of an International brand.

Yet, in February 2018, that’s exactly what Hard Rock International did.

Kind of.

Hard Rock corporate shrewdly issued a note to Little Jimmy Dinneen quibbling that the “luxury design” of the hotel – and “upon opening” the operation of the hotel “will” – meet brand standards and service requirements.

Based upon this “kinda/sorta” premature certification from Hard Rock International – Dinneen, by Royal decree, unilaterally decided it was enough to permanently remove our century old heritage of beach driving from the strand behind the hotel.

I won’t get into the slapstick comedy that resulted when county officials subsequently drove a phalanx of poisonous wooden poles into the sand in the pre-dawn darkness. . .

So, imagine our collective surprise earlier this week when The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that our very own Hard Rock Daytona was named Best Hotel in North America (sorry, I just shot coffee through my nose, here, let me clean that up) by a travel industry website called travelplus.com.

Yep!  Our very own Hard Rock is the 2019 Travvy Award Winner for Best Family Hotel/Resort in the United States and Canada!

The Ritz-Carlton New York?  No.

The Montage Beverly Hills?  No.

The Willard Washington, D.C.?  No.

The Rosewood Vancouver?  No.

The Gold Standard sits at 918 North Atlantic Avenue – just down the street from the moldering remains of the Americano Beach Resort (another world class venue by current standards) and a stones-throw from the enchanted, Disney-like atmosphere of the Daytona Beach Boardwalk, where vacationing children can meet and greet the whimsical characters who roam the area creating a magical memory for the whole family!

What’s a “Travvy Award” you ask?

Well, depending upon which industry expert the News-Journal spoke with, it’s either a “very prestigious award” or a “Huh?  Not familiar with it. . .” PR ploy.

According to Michael Terry, an associate instructor at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, “It’s not a big award right now, but they are working to make it that way.”

Whatever.

Given the wide disparity in expert opinions on Hard Rock’s “Major Award” – I conducted a cursory inquiry and found that, apparently, any eligible industry supplier may submit their name for consideration to the publisher – pay an “entry fee” – which “ensures that the entry will be considered for recognition” – then the “entrants” are voted on by participating travel agents through the Travelplus website.

And that, gentle readers, is how Hard Rock Daytona became the crème de la crème of family resort hotels in North America. . .

Yeah.  Wow.

Look, I don’t give a damn if corporations want to feather their own nest with dubious accolades – after all, shameless self-promotion is the way of the world in 2019, and any company worth its salt hires professional flacks to do just that.

God knows my own ego, hypocrisy and petty pretense knows no bounds. . .

But when many locals read The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s coverage of this prize – and the fawning horseshit of our local tourism “experts” who seized this sliver of good news with the tenacity of a drowning victim – it shocked our calloused sense of reality.

Earlier today, I took a drive down to the Hard Rock – parked in the county-owned public parking lot that taxpayers are now relegated to – and braved 30-mph winds and driving rain (never say I don’t marginally sacrifice my personal comfort to bring you what passes for my goofy opinion of the news and newsmakers on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast) to take some photographs of the very visible beachfront face of the premiere family resort in all of the United States and Canada.

After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words:

hard rock award 1

hard rock award 2

You be the judge.