On Volusia: Go West, Pilgrims!

“All Hail the King!”

Anyone else enjoy reading about the continuing coronation of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company’s John Albright in Sunday’s paper?

It’s nice to see another local “High Panjandrum” of political power finally receive his crown.

After deftly surviving the corporate wars – and his heroic efforts to keep the “good old boy’s investment club” intact – Mr. Albright certainly deserves it.

The ascension of John Albright as our “newest and bestest” Redeemer – the latest anointed oracle – our own Brahan Seer – who will lead us all out of this fetid wasteland and deliver us from squalor by parting with some 2,500 corporately held acres for a Buffett-themed development, a mega-gas station – and a grocery warehouse for an upscale chain that believes Daytona Beach has the right demographic to sort and deliver their merchandise – but lacks the cachet for an actual store.

Happy Days are here again!  Again. . .

The undeveloped piney woods along LPGA Boulevard – much of it owned by Consolidated-Tomoka (and nearly all of it tax protected under agriculture exemptions?) – have become the epicenter of the Halifax area’s westward migration – a struggling renaissance based on the strategy of geographically moving as far away from that stinking pile of blight and dilapidation on the beachside as possible.

It’s why I feel awkwardly sorry for those well-meaning people who are so incredibly focused on “what to do” about the myriad problems we face on the beachside – the ugly gateways, fiscally and visibly depressed neighborhoods, entrenched homeless, blighted commercial corridors, overgrown lots, decrepit rental properties, vacant store fronts and cheap motels, etc., etc.

The “Big Money” – controlled exclusively by a few wealthy political insiders and corporate interests – have turned their collective attention to the west.  They know our core tourist areas have been “played out” – like a once thriving gold mine that is now so much worthless residue.

With over $100-million in beachside CRA funds over the transom – it was good while it lasted – but smart money follows the crowd.

With an 8,000 to 10,000 unit “lifestyle destination” known as “Latitudes at Margaritaville” actively being built on top of our water recharge area west of I-95 – and additional large-scale projects planned and permitted along the I-95 corridor from Brevard to Flagler – the focus (and opportunity) has shifted.

In a May 2017 Barker’s View piece entitled, “Daytona Beach: A tale of two cities,” I wrote:

“To our ‘economic development’ types, the festering carcass of the beachside represents an old, ugly and intractable problem, an embarrassing shrine to human greed and government ineptitude – a turnip squeezed dry – a grotesque thing no longer worth the effort and expense of saving.

Conversely, Latitudes Margaritaville represents Progress.  Fun.  Opportunity.  Money. 

Two sides of the same coin – abject blight and dilapidation contrasting with the excitement and promise of what will be.

The baggage of the past vs. the potential of future progress.”

It’s unfortunate.  But true.

Another thing I found ill-timed was County Manager Jim Dinneen’s efforts to drop a turd in the News-Journal’s celebratory punch bowl and turn Mr. Albright’s front page investiture into an advertisement for even higher local taxes.

“Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen said he welcomes the growth taking place along LPGA Boulevard, “as long as it is correctly designed and isn’t a burden on people.”

 Bullshit.

In my view, Little Jimmy wants to put the burden directly on every man, woman and child in Volusia County through a one-cent sales tax increase ostensibly earmarked for transportation infrastructure.

You see, our local fuel tax has been maxed-out – and our property taxes are among the highest in the state of Florida – so increasing the sales tax is among the few revenue options remaining.

Now, Mr. Dinneen is beginning the long and disturbing process of softening us up with his patented hand-wringing and scary stories that embroider the obvious.

I think most sentient beings understand that injecting thousands of relocated Parrotheads on east Volusia surface roads is going to result in a nasty traffic quagmire – not to mention the increased pressure on existing utilities, resources and services.

So, why aren’t developers – you know, those who stand to profit – required to help mitigate this looming economic and infrastructure burden?

A smart friend recently calculated the estimated impact fees generated by new home starts in Latitudes Margaritaville at more than $52-million dollars.

You see, there was a time when local governments required that new growth paid its own way.  Impact fees were designed to cover the cost of improving infrastructure, building schools and increasing transportation and utilities to meet rapidly increasing needs.

That’s a foreign concept here on the Fun Coast.

Here, We, The People, provide the developer du jour with anything and everything they need to reduce overhead costs and maximize corporate profits.  In Volusia County, we cave to the wants of speculative developers and home builders – then force things like sales tax hikes on those who can least afford it.

It’s what they call ‘economic development.”

Don’t like it?  Tough.

History tells us that our elected marionettes in Deland, and the politically motivated hacks who control the nexus of public funds and private interests, will support anything presented as “progress” – so long as the right last names are involved – regardless of how disconnected from the core issues it may be, or how it ultimately affects the lives and livelihoods of their long-suffering constituents.

Trust me.  “Progress” is coming to “Boom Town Boulevard” and points west – even if it gridlocks every street and roadway in East Volusia County.

As our powers-that-be blindly put the cart before the horse – and the News-Journal continues to wallow in the self-congratulatory bullshit espoused by the profiteers – remember, you and I will ultimately pay dearly to solve the problem.

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: To those much is given – much is expected

Now that our elected officials have ponied up an estimated $15-million-dollars in tax abatements and other “economic incentives” for construction of the much-ballyhooed Brown & Brown headquarters on Beach Street, what comes next?

The campaign finance cycle has come full-circle, and billionaire insurance executive J. Hyatt Brown will receive a healthy return on his investment in local political races.  In Florida, this “pay to play” scheme is perfectly legal and permissible by contemporary election regulations and modern standards of business ethics.

Literally, everybody’s doing it – and I can’t name a large, successful corporate entity in the region that hasn’t benefited from “economic development” handouts, infrastructure improvements and other publicly funded incentives.

Apparently, it’s not quid pro quo corruption at all.  It is the open and honest purchase of political influence at all levels of government.

In Volusia County, political candidates are trafficked like sheep at a Turkish Bazaar, bought and branded by a few uber-wealthy insiders seeking a personal and professional advantage – all perfectly legal – so who am I to complain?

Apparently, it’s how the game is played.

It is now the norm – and government assistance is routinely factored as an expected part of any private development or expansion.  Always with the promise of “high paying jobs,” you know, for “our kids.” 

When it happens, I take perverse pleasure in watching our elected marionettes shift uncomfortably in their wingback chairs as they crow, ad nauseum, about all the wonderful things that are coming for their weary constituents, once we grease the wheels of the “next big thing” proposed by their rich benefactors with millions of our hard-earned tax dollars.

“It’s a game changer on steroids!” 

 “We see tremendous opportunity!” 

It’s almost like they are trying to convince themselves its right – even as they face the dark, Faustian realization that their sacred vote has been bought and paid for in advance.

If you’re an elected official, it helps “seal the deal” if you have a fancy “study” in your pocket showing all the intrinsic benefits to your constituents – those hapless dupes who will help pay for the elegant brick and glass edifice – even if they will never be invited to set one toe inside.

At the urging of a smart friend, I read the “economic and fiscal impact study” – contracted and paid for by Brown & Brown – and conducted by the venerated economists Fishkind and Associates.

I admit it – I’m too dumb to understand much of it – and I suspect few of our elected officials on the Dais of Power (who took the time to read it) understood it either.

Unless you know the subtle nuances of “Social Accounting Matrices,” or “base-case projections” and mathematically derived “Multiplier Models” – then we’ll just have to put a serious look on our face, shake our heads approvingly, and take Fishkind’s word for it that (according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal) “our” new building will generate some $237-million in annual economic impact here on the Fun Coast. 

I hope they’re right.

We all do.

But, you know me, I’m always suspicious of convoluted private “studies” and “reports” that serve as political insulation.

Sorry.  I can’t help it.

I’m a skeptical asshole.

Look, I’m no fiscal impact expert, but this project can’t help but bring good things for Downtown Daytona.

To my weak mind, it’s a beautiful 10-story insurance office that is being constructed on the ruins of two defunct automobile dealerships – vacant lots that have sat like monuments to our areas “redevelopment” ineptitude for decades – so, it can’t help but have a positive impact on the local economy.

Even if it doesn’t, it will damn sure look better than what’s there now.

I’m just not sure with $15-million spent that my day-to-day life (or yours) will change one iota.

But that’s okay.  It’s not about us.

The only thing I ask in exchange for my pro rata share of the public handout is that Brown & Brown executives climb in the corporate limo, mix a cocktail, and take a chauffeured drive through the neighborhoods of any community in Volusia County.

I want them to see – first hand – the malignant blight and neglect that is slowly spreading throughout the Halifax area – neighborhoods that were once middle-class bastions, now pockmarked with abandoned houses, weeded lots and a palpable lack of hope – and the growing number of vacant strip centers and dilapidated commercial corridors.

I want them to know that I’m not just some angry, reactionary asshole spouting venomous “us vs. them” rhetoric.

I want them to know that to those much is given – much is expected.

Dammit.

In Volusia County, some 16% of the population live in poverty.

That’s not just a statistic, it represents flesh and blood – thousands of men, women and children caught in an economic Catch 22 of seasonal low-wage jobs that fuel an artificial economy, the “affordable housing” trap and crushing economic and social depression.

Our median household income trails both state and national averages, which means the “typical job” in the Halifax area pays less than almost anywhere in the nation.

It is why our non-profit service providers, food pantries, and government assistance programs are overburdened – and it is why people raise an eyebrow when the seventh largest insurance intermediary in the world – a company that reported revenues of some $1.76 billion dollars last year – asks the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County for incentives totaling nearly half the estimated construction cost for their new corporate headquarters.

So, now that the die is cast and we are all “partners” with Brown & Brown, I hope that the promises made are honored.

It’s important.

Our area urgently needs high-paying jobs that naturally stimulate a year-round economy – and perhaps this is the project that will ultimately bring stability and stop the horrific cycle of blight.

Given our level of investment, let’s collectively demand that any corporate entity who drinks greedily at the public trough be held accountable for producing the stratospheric economic and fiscal impact that their “experts” assured us would come.

If We, The People, are truly partners – then we deserve honesty and accountability from those who stand to profit from our hard-earned funds.

We need your wisdom and leadership, Mr. Brown.

We are counting on you to make good on your promises.

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 13, 2017

Hey, kids!

I have led a charmed life.

There is very little I would change.

After all, not many are given the opportunity to pursue the career of their dreams and spend three-decades working with wonderfully dedicated people who were like brothers and sisters in a place that sincerely appreciated our efforts.  I never want to forget it.

I have a great family as well.

Anyone who knows this crazy, mixed-up bunch will tell you we’re a little flakey – but no one has more fun than us, regardless of the circumstances.

But have you ever asked yourself the question – “If I could have been anything else in life, what would it be?”

In other words, if you had not been called to your current profession – or were given the chance to work in your “dream job,” what would you choose?

For me, there are three things I’ve always wanted to “be.”

(Don’t laugh.  These are my dreams, not yours. . .)

It may sound strange, but I have always wanted to sell furniture.

Don’t ask me why, but it is a pursuit that has always intrigued me.  It is a comfortable, quiet environment with overstuffed ottomans and burnished wood tables all pleasingly staged, where the salesperson stands on a soft-toned area rug and explains the qualities of a beautiful piece before fading into the background to allow their customer to contemplate the purchase.

My working life was often loud, even violent and chaotic at times – always dynamic, with hours of boredom punctuated by moments of pure adrenaline.  I must have subliminally found the tranquility of a fine home furnishings store, a place where folks smile at each other and speak in almost hushed tones, to be the exact opposite.

Also, I have always wanted to be a “shine boy” – you know, one of those well-dressed, glib guys who staff a shoeshine stand in an airport or department store?  There is something about the art and showmanship of using various pastes, balms and creams to expertly polish leather shoes that I find most relaxing and incredibly satisfying.

(Don’t believe me?  Look up Jason Dornstar – the Best Shine in Denver – on YouTube.  His videos are more calming than transcendental meditation. . .)

My father taught me how to shine my shoes when I was a young boy – and one of my most prized possessions is my dad’s horsehair shoe brush stamped “USMC” on the well-worn wooden handle.

As a law enforcement officer, I was required to keep my footwear well-maintained, so I shined my boots and shoes every day for over 30-years.  It never got old, and gave me a quiet time to relax and reflect – and the immediate gratification of a job well done.

The other thing I have always wanted to be is a Grandfather – one as wonderful as mine were.

Nothing can replace the unconditional love and support that good grandparents bring to a child’s life. My grandparents brought a whole different level of wisdom, kindness and nonjudgmental love – and, at 57-years old, I still cherish their memory and good lessons.

I miss them terribly.

As I grew older, I wanted the opportunity to be that special person for someone else.

So, Patti and I waited patiently for that moment we would make the breathtaking transition from chrysalis to butterfly – from Mom and Dad, to Grandma and Papa. 

At 10:33pm last Thursday, life as we knew it was forever transformed in a most beautiful way when our daughter and son-in-law welcomed our first granddaughter – Savannah Sophia –  into this big old goofy world at Halifax Hospital Medical Center and we are consumed with total joy!

Our dream came true as a God-given 7-pound 3-ounce treasure.

Someone long-forgotten once said that there’s really nothing quite so sweet as tiny little baby feet.  How true is that?

Her Papa is over-the-moon.  (Can you tell?)

I haven’t cried in earnest in over 25-years, but I must admit – I wept tears of pure, unadulterated happiness – and I haven’t stopped smiling since.

The birth of a child is the living embodiment of hope, optimism and expectation – and it remains life’s greatest miracle.  I don’t know about you, but in my view, those are important things – powerful qualities this beaten and battered world needs more of.

Wow.  What a beautiful sight to behold.

The very meaning of life, all bundled up in a soft pink blanket, sleeping peacefully – and my near-constant prayers thanking God for what he has given us are consumed with the wish that this precious child know only a long and happy lifetime of pure love.

Our family is incredibly blessed – and even if I never spend a day on an Ethan Allen sales floor –my life is perfect.

Well, 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:          County Manager Jim Dinneen & The County of Volusia

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.

After spending some $1.3 million to remediate flood damage at the City Island Library and the nearby County Administration facility – the Volusia County Council will now be asked to decide the grim future of the multi-purpose administration building at 250 North Beach Street – the “Old Sear’s Building” as us long-time locals call it.

Pay to remediate water and mold damage – then, tear it down.

How typical.

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, said, “Maybe they should consider not opening and just demolish it.” 

After all, it’s not about public convenience – it’s about not inconveniencing county bureaucrats.

Hell, they were whining the blues in the newspaper because someone had to share an office.

Excuse me?

Then, Council Vice-Chair Deb Denys pointed out the excruciatingly obvious, “There are a lot of crucial services there and we have to give the citizens the ability to access those services.”

Really?

Now there’s a fresh take on the situation, Deb. . .

Is it possible that our county government failed to have a continuity of operations plan in place to ensure essential services in the aftermath of a catastrophic event?

Is it possible that County Manager Jim Dinneen and his administration failed to identify alternate facilities in east Volusia that would ensure public accessibility to core governmental services?

(Now, there’s a classic “whodunit” our own elected Nancy Drew – Councilwoman Heather Post – might want to investigate.  Because you can damn sure bet the Dinneen apologists on the dais of power won’t.)

According to George Baker, our hapless “Director of Facilities” – you know, the guy charged with overseeing the strategic rot and deterioration of publicly owned buildings throughout Volusia County – offices once conveniently located at Daytona’s administrative facility have been moved to “every nook and cranny” of county buildings in New Smyrna Beach, Deland and Orange City.

I called it the “English Muffin” approach to disaster recovery – but, sadly, it’s governance by crisis.

In any private business, this level of base ineptitude – this colossal blunder – this painful lack of strategic foresight would result in the immediate termination of every senior manager responsible.

It is a gross administrative oversight, and it is unacceptable.

But not in Volusia County.

The rules are different here – and there is no accountability – at least so long as the right people keep getting what they want.

As the very bright Amy Pyle (a candidate for the Daytona Beach City Commission) pointed out on social media – in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Beach Street merchants worked and sacrificed to get cleaned-up, dried out and back in business – because they had to.

When your life and livelihood is based upon actually providing quality goods and services to the public – and competing in a fair and equitable way in the marketplace – business owners in Downtown Daytona don’t have the luxury of not reopening, or simply demolishing their location and starting over with someone else paying for it.

It’s no secret that County Manager Jim Dinneen, our County Council, and Court administrators really want a new $260 million-dollar courthouse/county office facility.

This Taj Mahal is set to be built, in part, on land currently occupied by the now shuttered Administrative Building.

The secretive way this weird mega-courthouse plan was hatched – and the dubious funding scheme that will place every man, woman and child in Volusia County in debt for years to come – hasn’t been well-received by the public.

You know, those of us who are expected to pay the bills.

So, in my view, Mr. Dinneen and his facilities managers have stooped to exploiting temporary storm damage to inconvenience us into submission.

If you withhold essential services and force taxpayers to drive from Ormond Beach to Orange City every time they need to renew their tags, invariably the masses will come around to your way of thinking.

I hope our powers-that-be realize that the political gamble is – just sometimes – the people have their fill of it, and demand substantive change in their government’s administration and processes.

Angel:             Dr. Pam Carbiener

Last year, 158 precious babies were born addicted to opioids in Volusia County.

158.

Thanks to the heroic personal and professional efforts of long-time Volusia County obstetrician Dr. Pam Carbiener, that awful statistic is about to change for the better.

Thanks to Dr. Carbiener’s tireless work to provide prenatal detoxification and rehabilitation for mothers suffering the devastating effects of opioid addiction during pregnancy, these families can have hope that their babies will grow up to be healthy, happy and productive members of our community.

For her incredible efforts, Dr. Carbiener was recently named the Citizens for Ormond Beach’s “2017 Citizen of the Year.”  

Well deserved.

We owe a collective debt of gratitude to Dr. Carbiener and others who are working hard to stem the tide of opioid abuse and addiction – especially among expectant mothers.  I find it incredibly appropriate and heartening that her compassionate service to those who need it most is being recognized in this meaningful way.

In my view, Dr. Carbiener personifies the best traditions of the medical service – and gives all of us hope for a brighter tomorrow.

We’re lucky to have her in Volusia County.

Asshole:          Chairman Ed Kelley & The Volusia County Council (Redux)

Word to the wise:  Don’t inconvenience Ed Kelley.

It’ll cost you.

During the Easter holiday weekend, our dotty County Chairman was required to wait in traffic a few minutes at a beach access kiosk.  There were four cars ahead of him – and he claimed it took 22-minutes to get onto the sand.

I think this was an affront to a petty politician’s outsized ego, and Ed began thinking about ways in which “we” can limit “his” wait time.

Chairman Kelley came up with what he thought were “Tomorrowland” suggestions, like electronic toll scanners and automated kiosks (you know, like every Turnpike in the nation has had for, I dunno, 30-years? Real Buck Rogers shit, right?) – and, of course, increasing fees – charging $10 for out-of-town visitors (tourists, I think they’re called) to park in county-owned lots.

“We’re paying a lot of money for these parks, and we’re letting people park for free,” Mr. Kelley told the Ormond Beach Observer way back in May.

Yep.  Eddie, and our other elected marionettes, are determined to make the beach experience more efficient – if not incredibly expensive – even if it straps every beach-going family in Central Florida, ultimately making it so financially onerous for out-of-town visitors that they simply quit coming to Volusia County beaches.

So, our Beach “staff” – you know, those highly compensated administrators who can’t make an independent decision on which way the door on a Port-o-Let should face – were asked to come up with options to “generate funds to improve the beach-driving experience.”

The “most popular option” being considered calls for a 100% increase in daily beach passes for out-of-town visitors, doubling the fee from $10 to $20 PER DAY.

That represents the second massive increase in just two-years.

Chairman Kelley actually believes that asking tourists to pay more so the rest of us can enjoy amenities – like opening a few beach approaches that have been allowed to fall into utter dilapidation – is a fair deal?

The fact is, we’re not getting anything we didn’t already have.

Dinneen and company long ago arbitrarily closed certain beach ramps using dubious excuses – now, they’re doing us a favor?  

Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mr. Kelley said, “I think using the beach for driving or parking is an undervalued asset.”

I guess that’s another way of saying he wants to price cars off the beach.

Because he does.    

When is enough, enough? 

 Angel:             Mr. Scott Groth & Duvall Homes

It is my pleasure to extend Angel status – and a big Barker’s View ‘thank you’ – to another hometown hero, Mr. Scott Groth, a recently retired restaurateur who saw a need and did his best to help.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, residents of Duvall Homes – a landmark residential facility serving and empowering those with developmental disabilities in West Volusia – were left without electricity for more than a week.

Mr. Groth’s son, Jon Glenn Groth, is a resident of Duvall Homes.

To ensure that clients aren’t forced to relocate to unfamiliar surroundings in the event of a future event – Mr. Groth has donated $5,000 from his son’s foundation to assist with the purchase of diesel powered whole-house generators.

The Jon Glenn Foundation was created by Mr. Groth and his late wife to assist families in providing lifetime financial security for disabled children.  The foundation – a recognized 501 (c) (3) charitable organization – welcomes donations.

If you would like to help, please contact Mr. Scott Groth at jonglennfoundation@cfl.rr.com

Direct charitable assistance to Duvall Homes can be arranged at www.duvallhomes.org (Donate button).

Asshole:          The Volusia County School Board

Can you guys get your shit together?

I mean, just come up with a rational, fair and equitable way that senior administrators can be objectively evaluated – then get on with it.

People are counting on you – and these ham-handed missteps and administrative bloopers playing out in the newspaper do not inspire confidence – especially when you’re at the helm of an $843-million-dollar public budget.

Please?

Quote of the Week:

“Even as our city and county trudge toward a solution, it is up to our community to get out of our depression and attend events, eat, drink and be merry. Let’s demand more from ourselves by organizing our ideas. It’s time we start trusting ourselves and believing in what we can accomplish if we work together to take back our city.”

Phaedra Lee, managing partner and events planner at Main Street Station, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column.

I like Phaedra Lee.

She’s committed to being part of the solution – and has demonstrated the leadership and enthusiasm to truly “make things happen.”  Ms. Lee is young, energetic and has her heart in the right place.

Trust me.  She represents everything we need more of here on the Fun Coast.

While I agree with much of what Ms. Lee so passionately proposed – like anyone with the actual condition can attest – “getting out” of our civic depression over the myriad issues facing Main Street is going to take more than packing up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.

We can’t “eat, drink and be merry” our way out of this mess.    

Ms. Lee’s establishment aside, the Main Street commercial corridor needs help – desperately – and asking the newspaper and others to stop the “negativity” in exposing decades of neglect and corruption is, in my view, ultimately counterproductive.

I would also suggest that it is time we collectively demand more from our elected and appointed officials.  Allowing the same hands at City Hall to manage new redevelopment strategies and funding sources is foolish – and doomed to failure.

Exposés like the News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series – and, those of us with the best interests of the Halifax area at heart, who continue to call attention to the issues and try hard to keep the problems front and center – help retain public focus and foment creative solutions in a challenged area with incredible potential.

One thing we can all agree upon – nothing happens in a vacuum – and it’s important that everyone get out and patronize local small businesses, especially on Main Street and Downtown Daytona.

They need our help, now more than ever.

That’s all for me!  Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Worst of the Worst

I’m always surprised by the depth to which County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration will stoop to ensure that the incredibly expensive follies he personally facilitates come to fruition.

Mr. Dinneen always gets what he (or the politically influential) wants – and damn whoever suffers in the process.

I am also dumbstruck by the complete incompetence displayed by a senior public administrator commanding over $300,000 annually.

This week – after spending some $1.3 million to remediate flood damage at the City Island Library and the nearby County Administration facility – the Volusia County Council will now decide the dim future of the administration building – an important facility that holds everything from the tag office, to building permits, to veteran’s affairs, to traffic court.

You read that right – Remediate the damage.  Then, tear it down.

Typical.

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, said in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Maybe they should consider not opening and just demolish it.” 

In other words, screw you – the public can drive to New Smyrna or Deland if those hapless dupes need to do business with Volusia County government.  After all, it’s not about public convenience – it’s about not inconveniencing county bureaucrats.

Speaking as the voice of reason, Council Vice-Chair Deb Denys pointed out the painfully obvious, “There are a lot of crucial services there and we have to give the citizens the ability to access those services.”

No shit.

Only in Volusia County would that statement need to be voiced by a public official.

Is it possible that our county government failed to have a continuity of operations plan in place to ensure essential services in the aftermath of a catastrophic event?

Is it possible that County Manager Jim Dinneen and his administration failed in their basic duty to ensure governmental facilities in core population centers – like, I dunno, Daytona Beach – have alternate local sites identified in advance?

According to George Baker, our clearly challenged “Director of Facilities” – the vital services once provided at 250 North Beach Street have been moved to “every nook and cranny” of county buildings in New Smyrna Beach, Deland and Orange City.

Great plan, George. . .

Let’s call it the “English Muffin” approach to emergency response and recovery.

In any private business, this level of base ineptitude – this colossal blunder – and painful lack of strategic foresight would result in the immediate termination of every senior manager responsible for this gross oversight.

But not in Volusia County.

How long do you think these bumbling incomps would last at a “meritocracy” like Brown & Brown?

Hell, how long would they last in any responsible organization?

I’ll just bet in the backrooms of power, J. Hyatt and the boys laugh and tell Little Jimmy that he should count his lucky stars he found a niche in government – because he wouldn’t last a minute in the Real World.

This is proof the Dinneen administration could screw up a wet dream. . .

And no one cares.

Anyone want to bet that both Jim and George receive hefty pay raises before the year is out?

Anyone?

Hide and watch.

In Volusia County, our elected and appointed officials capitalize on disaster damage to strategically close a key service center and ensure that the proposed $260 million-dollar Taj Mahal courthouse/county office complex is brought to fruition.

They will inconvenience us into submission.

See, if you withhold essential services and force taxpayers to drive from Ormond Beach to Orange City every time they need to renew their tags, invariably the masses will come around to your way of thinking and beg for an enormously expensive facility.

Also, when developers begin swarming City Island like a pack of sharks, let’s see what ultimately becomes of our flood-damaged library.

Care to take a guess?

 

 

 

On Volusia: Harry Jennings was right. . .

Believe it or not, I hate coming off like a Jerk.

Regular readers of this forum know that I enjoy taking snarky jabs at our “Rich & Powerful,” the stuffed-shirt political insiders and their sycophantic toadies who know whats best for the rest of us here on Florida’s “Fun Coast.”

But let’s face it, “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so,” is just, well, meanspirited.

Only a dyed-in-the-wool asshole would say something like that.

Right?

On Saturday, I read a well-written piece by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Volusia amps up dispute with city” – documenting another sad chapter in the unfolding David & Goliath saga that pits the small beachside community of Daytona Beach Shores with the hulking County of Volusia.

To make a very long story short, several years ago County Manager Jim Dinneen went on a spending spree – buying up a mosaic of very expensive beach front lots from Ormond Beach to New Smyrna Beach – ostensibly to be used as “off beach parking.”

Two of those properties were located smackdab in the Shores – east of State Road A-1-A – on some prime real estate that city leaders had hoped would be vertically developed and become part of the communities geographically limited tax base.

Our elected and appointed officials on the Volusia County Council said, “Screw that – we do what we want – and we want a friggin’ parking lot to facilitate the ultimate removal of cars from our beach.  So you pipsqueaks in Tiny Town can bugger-off.” 

As I understand it, in response the Daytona Beach Shores City Commission recently passed an ordinance which, in effect, strengthened the city’s comprehensive plan and specifically prohibited parking lots on beachfront lands, allowing only development that would generate taxable revenue.

You know, that whole right of people to self-determination, local governance and the ability to delegate municipal resources to meet local needs, thing?

Well, that quaint notion might work elsewhere, but not in Volusia County.

As is their way, the Volusia County Council – at the urgent direction of the bullying tag-team of County Manager Jim Dinneen and County Attorney Dan Eckert – dramatically overreacted and filed no less than three law suits against the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores.

(Knowing full-well they were legally required to engage in public mediation and negotiation with the municipality.)

Last week, our elected officials in Deland sat in open session, flexed their muscles, and – in an interesting 4-3 vote – issued one of those “Be It Ordained” Royal edicts clarifying that all land between the beach and the “easternmost north-south roadway is included in the charter preemption of municipal regulation.”

In the lead-up to this incredibly expensive and time-consuming legal battle – completely funded by you and me – there were calls by some in Shores City Hall to compromise with their aggressor.

There was even a prematurely leaked “Joint Planning Agreement” which would, among other things, have removed beach driving in Daytona Beach Shores.

At the time, Jim Dinneen blamed an underling (as he is wont to do), then he claimed a technological glitch was responsible for the disclosure.  Shores Mayor Harry Jennings was, as usual, tight-lipped – refusing to explain the agreement to reporters, or anyone else for that matter.

I even took members of the Daytona Beach Shores commission to the woodshed for engaging in the politics of appeasement; hoping against hope that they could somehow mollify Volusia County and prevent the inevitable.

Now, it appears Mayor Jennings has finally seen the light.

“They’re dictators,” Jennings told the News-Journal.

“They feel the county trumps state law, and I disagree.”

I told you so, Harry.  There, I said it.

Our elected and appointed officials in Deland have once again exposed themselves for the bullying ogres they are.

Despite the politically strategic mewing and whimpering of our doddering County Chair, Ed Kelley, the uber-weird Heather Post and Councilwoman Billie Wheeler (who represents the interests of the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores) that the county’s ordinance was an “unnecessary jab against a city they’ve already sued” – the majority voted to drop the shit-hammer.

The Volusia County Council – through their highly-paid manager and attorney – have consistently forced their will on the long-suffering municipalities.  From the arbitrary closure of community libraries, to the arbitrary closure of large sections of our beach to driving, the gross intimidation tactics continue unabated.

Look, don’t take my word for it.

Last year, County Attorney Dan Eckert – at the direction of our elected representatives – used our own money to file a lawsuit against us – the citizens of Volusia County – challenging our standing in a grassroots effort to permit residents a say in beach access issues.

In fact, the County’s incredibly expensive and overreaching legal maneuvering is still winding its way through the courts.

At the end of the day – who benefits?

When is enough-enough?

When will the good citizens of Volusia County come to the sobering realization that the bloated bureaucratic apparatus in Deland – a monocracy commanding $800+ million of our tax dollars annually, wholly controlled by one little man and his behind-the-scenes handlers – has become too unmanageable – too self-serving?

The wholesale giveaway of millions in public funds to assist Brown & Brown – the seventh largest insurance intermediary in the world, with revenues of nearly $2-billion dollars last year – is a prime example of how our bastardized systems works.

The oligarchs who control our elected and appointed officials take what they want – when they want it – and tough shit if you don’t like it.

You have no standing.  Just ask Dan Eckert.

We, The People have ceased to matter here on the Fun Coast – we were outbid – long-ago written out of the equation by the wealthy framers of our County Charter, a document that the ruling class wield like a club when it suits their personal and professional needs.

It’s why we live among the ruins of a once thriving tourist destination – the World’s Most Famous Beach – with an artificial economy, selfishly created and deftly manipulated by greedheads with ready access to the public trough and a total disregard for anything that doesn’t enhance and improve their own self-interests.

Harry Jennings is right.  They are dictators.

Our role is to shut up and pay the bills.  They know what’s best for us.

In my view, the late author Robert Heinlein said it best, “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.” 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for October 6, 2017

Hey, kids!

Earlier this week I wrote a ditty about Brown & Brown – a self-described “Meritocracy” and one of the most influential and profitable leaders in the insurance industry – and their plans to build a $25-million dollar, 10-story office building on the ruins of two former automobile dealerships in Downtown Daytona.

Oh, and they promised to create hundreds of jobs, paying – on average – about $41 grand a year.

In exchange, the Brown’s have asked their neighbors – all of us – to pony up a combined $15.5 million of our hard-earned tax dollars to cover their infrastructure and construction overhead while abating certain taxes and qualifying them for even more in state economic incentive money.

It was hailed by anyone who is anyone in the Halifax area as another panacea – “a game-changer on steroids” as our doddering fool of a County Chairman Ed Kelley clumsily put it.

“We believe this is a partnership. We believe it’s a great long-term impact to our community,” Powell Brown, president and CEO of Brown & Brown Inc., recently said.

I get it – and I’m not knocking an American success story.

J. Hyatt Brown is an insurance man – a numbers guy – he knows the bottom line, and how to gain the financial advantage, and his company has been highly successful for over 80-years.  Most of all, he knows how to work and polish our bastardized system of local government like a fine chamois cloth.

Then, to ensure his interests, he trades in political candidates like a commodities broker.

In short, it’s why Mr. Brown has a gazillion-dollar art collection and I’m late on my car payment.

But we’ve all seen this story before.

In Volusia County, whenever the uber-wealthy come calling at the public trough, the carrot is always the promise of “jobs” – and the opportunity to “partner” with one of three stratospherically successful local company’s – or a speculative developer of dubious origin and resources.

Then, once our elected marionettes make good on their obligation to feather the nest of their campaign benefactors – our “partnership” seems to dissolve into thin air, and nothing – and I mean nothing – changes.

It’s back to the same-old/same-old – blighted neighborhoods, dilapidated commercial areas, atrocious gateways, exorbitant taxes, poverty-level wages, etc., etc.

Our partners are better than whole – and We, The People, are left holding the bag.

Am I cynical?  You bet your ass I am.

Prove me wrong.

Look, this project may be the best thing to happen on the Fun Coast in decades – and smart friends who are “in the know” have assured me it will be.

I sincerely hope they’re right.

But, in my jaded view, the optics of a publicly traded company – the seventh largest insurance intermediary in the world, with a reported income of some $1.76 BILLION DOLLARS last year – putting the arm on already strapped local taxpayers – many of whom are living week-to-week –  and asking that they invest even more public funds in another private project – is going to take some time to absorb.

If politics is the art of controlling your environment – then J. Hyatt Brown is about to paint his masterpiece.

Just my two-cents. . .

Well, 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:             Glenn & Connie Ritchey

You know, we have many difficult issues facing us here in the Halifax area – but one thing we are blessed with is a few highly successful and very smart people who give generously from the heart to see that the needs of our most vulnerable are met.

Among those are great citizens like Glenn & Connie Ritchey.

Recently, the former Daytona Beach mayor and his wife announced that they would personally match donations to the Council on Aging up to $100,000 during the month of October to ensure that important services to our seniors continue uninterrupted in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

I have seen firsthand the good work of the Council on Aging – Volusia County’s only provider of in-home services – through their Neighborhood Dining Site in Holly Hill.

In addition, the COA provides our elderly population with personal care, light housekeeping, handyman services and a respite program designed to give caregivers for early dementia patients an all-important break.

From dances, to book clubs and other opportunities to combat loneliness and isolation – the COA coordinates important community services that also protect our seniors from neglect, abuse and exploitation.

God’s work.

When those who can reach out and give generously of their time, talent and resources to help those who truly need it – that investment pays dividends for all of us – and strengthens the very fabric of our community.

Here’s a huge thank you to Glenn & Connie Ritchey for your leadership and generosity in assisting the Council on Aging when they need it most.

Donations can be made online at www.coavolusia.org  or by check made payable to Council on Aging, or by phone at 386-253-4700, ext. 215.

Checks should be mailed to COA at Post Office Box 671, Daytona Beach, Florida 32115.

Asshole:          AshBritt Environmental

In my view, any shameless opportunist who takes personal or professional advantage of calamitous situations are among the lowest forms of life.

The storm-tossed residents of Volusia County recently learned that our debris removal contractor – AshBritt Environmental – is actively reneging on their obligations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, claiming it’s sub-contractors were stretched thin by back-to-back incidents in Florida and Texas.

Last week, Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald let the Volusia County Council in on the rest of the story:

Rather than make efforts to do right by their customers, bring in haulers from other states, and subcontract with local companies to meet demand, AshBritt has chosen to engage in open extortion and gross price gouging – offering to move communities that are willing to pay more than the contracted amount up on the priority list.

I find it interesting that while both Slick Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have “condemned the practice” – neither has moved a finger to indict AshBritt executives for conduct that is more akin to a Sopranos episode than a disaster assistance service.

It’s time to stop this usurious and abusive practice.  Now.

The multimillionaire owner of AshBritt Environmental, Randal Perkins, is no stranger to controversy.

According to the Treasure Coast News and other media outlets, Perkins has been the focus of accusations that AshBritt has overcharged the federal government, “stiffed a consultant and subcontractors,” made false statements against competitors to gain advantage and used personal and corporate campaign donations to influence politicians to give him no-bid government contracts.

Sound familiar?

Reports indicate that Perkins, AshBritt Environmental and his employees have contributed at least $2-million to political candidates since 2001.

During Mr. Perkins’ 2016 Congressional campaign for the Palm Beach District 18 seat – a race he lost to Republican Brian Mast – the National Republican Congressional Committee ran a prescient television spot that said, “Randy Perkins doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as he gets paid.”   

Interesting.

Now, it’s time for local governments to stand together and demand that state and federal authorities hold AshBritt – and any other scumbag who advantageously abandons their responsibilities and withholds services to squeeze additional dollars out of already strapped jurisdictions – legally accountable for their scam.

Angel:             Tom Petty

As the actor/director Cameron Crowe so eloquently said earlier this week:

“No words.  Just thanks.”

Asshole:          Gov. Rick Scott & Attorney General Pam Bondi

After years of open collusion and wink-wink-nudge-nudge strategic ignorance of Florida’s contribution to the devastating nationwide problem of opioid addiction, now Governor Slick Rick Scott, Attorney General Barbie and those dullards we elected to the state legislature are engaging in the worst form of political posturing – posing as advocates for solutions to problems they helped create.

In 2010, just before his million-dollar inaugural gala, Governor-elect Scott moved quickly to shutdown Florida’s Office of Drug Control – a four-person effort that, among other things, secured early grant funding and donations to assist the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program – a database which later proved to be a highly-effective tool in the state’s fight against opioid diversion and abuse.

Claiming his closure of the office was in keeping with a campaign promise to cut “government waste” – Scott’s ill-fated move saved taxpayers a paltry $500K – or a fraction of what he would piss away in “economic incentives” to friends and campaign contributors.

Then, after taking office, Scott still fought hard against the drug monitoring program, calling it an “invasion of privacy,” even as our state was literally awash in the scourge of pill mills – making the Sunshine State “Ground Zero” for what would become a deadly national problem.

The fact is, Governor Scott has been heavily invested in various aspects of Florida’s highly lucrative “pain management” industry and big pharma for years, representing a clear conflict of interest that anywhere else would have resulted in serious ethics sanctions.

Now, almost 20-years after the horse left the barn, Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi – arguably the most ineffective tool ever foisted upon the citizens of this state (she lost all credibility with me after the summary political execution of former FDLE director Gerald Bailey) – are taking political credit for spooling-up efforts to combat an epidemic that has taken or destroyed the lives of countless Floridians.

The Governor’s plan includes provisions that permit goofy politicians to “play doctor” and set arbitrary time limits on how legitimate doctors prescribe opioid pain medications.

Injecting “feel good/look what we did” politics at the practitioner level always works out well, right?

Look, don’t take my word for it – research the history of Scott’s involvement with Solantic and beyond.  You might be surprised what you find.

Here’s a good primer on the subject: www.thefix.com/content/what-it-florida’s-governor-rick-scott

As Dirk Hanson and Walter Armstrong wrote in their fascinating 2011 exposé in The Fix, “Perhaps Governor Rick Scott is nothing more than a “cartoon villain fraudster,” as the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins suggests.  Maybe he’s a libertarian zealot, who has allowed his puritan ideology to trump the grim realities that are helping to destroy his home state.  Regardless of his motives, he seems unlikely to be stopped by anything short of prosecution—or the next election.”

 We all know how that worked out, eh?

Now, Mr. Scott wants to go to Washington. . .

Angel:             Ben Johnson

 Last week, I used a portion of this space to tout the fact that the intrepid Amy Pyle has announced her candidacy for the Daytona Beach District 3 seat – that’s good news.

On Thursday, former Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson officially tossed his hat in the ring for the County Council at-large seat being vacated by the term limited Joyce Cusack.

I had the opportunity to work with Sheriff Johnson for many years, and I was always taken by his complete willingness to help the municipalities with all resources necessary – without question.

I suspect Ben will carry that same sense of cooperation and collegiality to the dais of power.

He is also one of the most ethical and honest people I know, and his record as a dedicated public servant speaks for itself.

In addition, Ben Johnson brings decades of experience working in the mysterious system created by our County Charter, and he has a proven reputation for diplomacy and working effectively with all county departments and personnel.

Although Ben and I may disagree on the merits of County Manager Jim Dinneen – I happen to think Sheriff Johnson will bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and good, old-fashion common sense back to an elected body in desperate need of those qualities.

Again, it’s refreshing to see good, qualified people of proven character who have the best interests of their constituents at heart standing for high office – and Ben Johnson certainly fits that bill.

Quote of the Week:

 “I am thrilled; this is a huge deal for us, I like being a teammate with Brown & Brown.”

Volusia County Councilmember Billie Wheeler, speaking in support of the county council’s decision to hand J. Hyatt Brown $5.4 million in public funds.

Ms. Wheeler is on the “team” alright.

Now, you and I are too.

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

 

On Volusia: Givers and Takers

The famous entertainer Danny Thomas was fond of saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world: Givers and takers.  The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.” 

I agree.

But I’m not sure anyone is finding sleep easy to come by these days.

Last month, before an invitation-only crowd of Halifax area “movers & shakers,” J. Hyatt Brown announced that his mega-insurance company, Brown & Brown – a Daytona Beach institution for over 80-years – would build a massive, 10-story headquarters complex in Downtown Daytona.

According to Mr. Brown, the plan includes the creation of 600 new jobs.

The over-enthusiastic applause and forced laughter of J. Hyatt’s boot-licking sycophants had barely quieted before the project was hailed as yet another “game changer” by senior Daytona Beach officials – another panacea solution just dripping with possibility – and the habitual promise that a mere brick and mortar edifice can cure years of blight, neglect, abject corruption and dilapidation citywide.

At the time of the announcement, Dr. Kent Sharples – a second-chance toady with a dubious professional history and the financial management skills of a broke-back snake, who serves as president of the CEO Business Alliance, a local star chamber of the “rich & powerful” (which includes J. Hyatt Brown) – said in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “It’s the biggest and best thing that’s happened since General Electric in terms of the number of jobs created, salary and impact on our community.”

Shameless assholes.

As evidence of how civically bankrupt the Halifax area has become, everyone who is anyone was absolutely giddy over the prospect of a new office building – openly soiling themselves over more pie-in-the-sky promises from another local billionaire who has made a cottage industry out of reducing our local political campaigns to a cheap livestock auction – while carrying massive government insurance premiums out of Deland in wheelbarrows.

The announcement, and subsequent media coverage, was a virtual orgy of positivity.

In typical fashion, our local “leadership” once again wallowed in all their onanistic, self-congratulatory glory – while the rest of us (those who ultimately pay the bills) immediately recognized that J. Hyatt would soon be seeking a return on his political investments.

At the time, like some demented Swami, I presciently explained to anyone who would listen:

“. . .whenever the right last names propose a local project – be it an Embry-Riddle money grab with the promise of “high paying” research and development jobs – or the promise of part-time retail work at a cheap outlet mall on the frontage road – We, The People, will invariably be asked to pay for critical infrastructure, provide tax abatements, cash handouts and other “economic incentives” to see the private development to fruition.”

“And the return on our collective investment is always touted as the ambiguous – and never adequately verified – promise of “jobs.”  You know, “. . .for our kids.”

Damn if I wasn’t right.

This morning, the hapless taxpayers in the City of Daytona Beach, Volusia County and the State of Florida awoke to the frontpage news that in exchange for “600 jobs” and a new building on Beach Street – we will be on the hook for some $15.5 million dollars – representing over half of the estimated construction and overhead costs for the proposed Brown & Brown headquarters.

Tonight, Daytona Beach city commissioners will put serious looks on their faces and pretend to have thoughtful discussions about whether their constituents should provide a company – which reported $1.76 billion in revenues last year – with nearly $6-million in tax abatement incentives and infrastructure improvements.

Then, on Thursday, our elected marionettes on the Volusia County Council will, once again, insult our collective intelligence and convincingly act as though their decision isn’t a foregone conclusion – as they yammer about whether they will provide their campaign benefactor and political overseer with an obscene $4.5-million for infrastructure – and $900,000 to ensure that the company qualifies for state tax credits worth another $4.5 million.

What do you think our elected representatives will do?

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, that doddering fool – the clueless asshole with the ethical instincts of a tree-stump that we call a County Chairman, Ed Kelley – clearly telegraphed, “I can’t think of a better use for economic development funds at this point.  At first blush, I’d say I’ll be very supportive of it.  It couldn’t have hit at a better time since it will also help the beachside (?)” 

Really?

With every man, woman and child in the Halifax area attending standing room only town hall meetings, speaking out at committee meetings, and talking neighbor-to-neighbor over the back fence about how in the hell we are ever going to turn the tide of blight and neglect that has strangled huge swaths of our beachside – and left our core tourist areas looking like a Third World shit-hole – our County Chairman can’t think of a better use of millions in public economic development funds than handing them to a local billionaire for an office complex?

Add to that County Manager Jim Dinneen’s frothing bullshit that somehow Brown & Brown would uproot eight decades of continuous operations in Daytona Beach and move to Atlanta if we refuse this gross corporate welfare grab, and you get the idea that the deal is sealed.

Screw public input.

Screw our true economic and redevelopment needs.

Screw an open and honest discussion of the wholesale giveaway of public funds to an uber-wealthy private interest.

Mr. Brown has come a-callin’ – and he wants a return on his investment.  All $15.5-million of it.  Now.

And his ethically challenged chattel sitting smugly on the dais of power know exactly what they must do.

Like I previously said, given the shameful fact that our elected and appointed officials piss our money away on billionaire bailouts and corporate welfare while Volusia County perennially falls below the state average in virtually every substantive category – wages, household income, poverty, schools, infrastructure, etc. – add to that the fact that we are among the highest taxed counties in the State of Florida – coupled with the deplorable conditions of many residential and commercial areas that serve as festering crime and blight incubators – and I seriously wonder how these assholes sleep at night.

The fix is in.  And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Givers and takers, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Mushroom Effect – Kept in the Dark, Fed on Manure. . .

Call it a gift or call it a curse, but my one “Superpower” is the ability to smell political bullshit from a mile away.

And, boy howdy, did I ever get a whiff of the “Deland Doodychute” this week.

It’s like a weird, highly developed sixth sense that allows me to read a news article, or listen to the prattle of a pompous politician or conniving appointed official – analyze a quote or the turn of a phrase – and know immediately when we’re being lied to.

I’m like one of those precognitive Cassadega soothsayers when it comes to visioning the machinations of self-serving assholes who manipulate our system of governance for personal or professional gain.

Earlier this week, Dustin Wyatt penned an excellent piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal which cast a brief light on the shadowy backroom maneuvers surrounding a mysterious plan concocted by County Manager Jim Dinneen to expand the Boardwalk nearly a mile north.

Ultimately, the Boardwalk extension would push what currently passes as our down-at-the-heels “entertainment area” all the way to University Boulevard – which conveniently makes it another publicly funded amenity for the languishing Desert Inn/Weston/Hard Rock project that you and I have already invested so heavily in.

What I find interesting is that no one – including the County Council – has heard peep about the project in over a year.

At least that’s what we’re being told.

Last October, our outgoing council approved the expenditure of $94,506 of our hard-earned tax dollars for a “feasibility study” – essentially a very expensive custom-tailored political insulation report that will justify what comes next – and help limber up the estimated $12 to $23-million dollars required to build the extension.

According to Little Jimmy, the first phase of the study will be presented to those animated marionettes we elected to public office, “soon.”   That means not one damn minute before Mr. Dinneen is good and ready.

Trust me.  You can double those figures and still won’t come close to what this project will ultimately cost us.

Even though Volusia County is quietly socking away millions of our dollars – to include earmarking an estimated $14-million in ECHO funds (you know, those “grant funds” we approved for environmental restoration and outdoor recreation projects?) – to pay for Mr. Dinneen’s folly, something he claims to have envisioned during a “lightbulb moment that opened up the window of opportunity.”

Bullshit.

Unfortunately for us, that “lightbulb” was so dim it didn’t begin to cast light on this sketchy deal – and that’s the way our powers-that-be like it.

In my view, Jim Dinneen hasn’t had an original thought in a decade – he does what he is told to do, when he is told to do it – and our elected officials simply follow his lead.  That’s the way our “system” works, and you can bet the uber-wealthy insiders and string pullers who control this bastardized oligarchy already have our money divvied and spent.

Why am I convinced this Boardwalk expansion will be a reality?

Because all the right people are saying it won’t happen.

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

According to Donna de Peyster, Volusia’s chief financial officer, “We haven’t even birthed the baby yet.”

Our doddering fool of a Council Chair Ed Kelley poo-pooed the whole idea as just too darn hard, (I think?) “Personally, I think it could be a great addition, but I feel there are probably too many moving parts to become a reality.  My time will be dedicated to accomplishing what is already in the works.”

 And Vice Chair Deb Denys is openly admitting she’s completely clueless, “Genuinely, no one is talking about it.  Whatever is happening, if it’s happening, is not being communicated.”

Clearly, Ms. Denys multi-use non-statement could be superimposed on just about any plan or project undertaken by Volusia County government in recent memory – from the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock debacle, to the $200+ million-dollar courthouse proposal – no one “communicates” anything.

No one talks, explains or debates.

There is no open competition of ideas – no public input or honest discussion of alternatives.

Our policymaker’s requests for information are ignored or significantly delayed, journalists are routed by a platoon of quibbling “spokespersons,” and the County Manager’s Office continues to operate like some civic “Skunk Works” where public policy is crafted and implemented in utter secrecy.

We learn of important projects – horribly expensive, over-the-top expenditures or plans to pile on crippling debt – and plots to whittle away our heritage of beach driving as an “economic incentive” for speculative developers – during over-scripted, off the agenda surprise announcements deftly delivered by Jim Dinneen.

Apparently, our elected officials were unaware that when they recently approved a combined $854,360,692 budget – some $2,386,111 of our hard-earned tax dollars were earmarked for something labeled, “Boardwalk Development.”

Either that, or they are just openly lying to us – which isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

In my view, that capital projects line item simply must be a set-aside for the proposed extension – because I can assure you, there hasn’t been any substantive improvement, “development” or investment in the Daytona Beach Boardwalk in decades.

Don’t take my word for it.  Go down there and take a walk around.

Regardless, Mr. Dinneen will tell you – and our elected officials – what he wants you to know, when he wants you to know it.  Perhaps the “Grand Reveal” will be strategically timed to coincide with the findings of the “Beachside Redevelopment Committee” in January?

Perhaps it won’t.

Until then, get comfortable with the darkness – and a steady diet of bullshit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for September 29, 2017

Hi, mature adults and fellow political malcontents of advanced age!

Last week, an apparent first-time Barker’s View reader took serious offense on social media with the fact I commonly use the phrase “Hi, Kids!” as a facetious salutation when opening Angels & Assholes each week.

The gentleman took issue with the fact I placed the word “kids” near the descriptor “asshole” – which he felt would be offensive to young and impressionable children who, when they aren’t playing with Lego blocks, search out and analyze obscure political opinion blogs to pass the time between naps.

Look, I would never subject a child to profane language – and I just naturally assumed that no one under the age of 40 actually reads these weird screeds.

Perhaps the individual was more upset by something I wrote about a prominent politician than the A&A lead-in and decided to throw a jab at me?

It’s happened before.

Earlier this week, I heard from several folks that a local elected official was extremely unhappy with an opinion I recently expressed on this forum.

I’d be lying if I told you I don’t take sinister pleasure in offending the delicate sensibilities of stuffed-shirt blowhards, the “Rich & Powerful,” and any other self-important pompous ass who can’t read an alternative opinion blog without tongue planted firmly in cheek.

So, if you’re a “mover-and-shaker” who finds themselves mentioned in Barker’s View – take it for what it is – one little man’s goofy opinion.

Enjoy the fact you’re still relevant to local current events – then, have a laugh and consider the source.

So, let this serve as some strange parental warning.

If you are an elected or appointed member of the Volusia County “Ruling Class” – or are easily offended by the occasional adult phrase – better stick to the mainstream, cookie-cutter pablum produced by our politically correct and socially acceptable “news and opinion” outlets.

Or, join us here each week and prepare to be butt-hurt.

Praemonitus, praemunitus, right?

Well, 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

When I was a young cop, I worked with an officer who was constantly crying the blues over his personal finances – or lack thereof.

He would hover over me as I ate lunch from a brown paper bag, lamenting how nice it must be to have a sandwich – so, I would inevitably split mine with him.  Even then, he would act like I was J. L. Gotrocks because I commanded the incredible wealth and privilege to bring a bologna sandwich and pudding cup.

It wasn’t long before I was packing his lunch as well.

It was like working with the gloomy, anhedonic stuffed donkey Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

Yet, he always had a new car, nice things and took his family on vacations – something that was well out of my meager budget at the time.

The Volusia County School Board reminds me a lot of that guy.

On Tuesday, the district approved an $847-million operating budget – yet the mood in Deland is downright funereal.

Even with that astronomical spending plan, the district still plans to take some $1.6-million from savings to make ends meet.

This is due, in part, to our state’s goofy funding formula that is unfairly based upon a “district cost differential” – a cost-of-living adjustment for each county – and partly because our elected and appointed officials can’t seem to live within their means, regardless of how much hard cash we hand them.

In the next few years, is it really going to take a billion-dollars to run a county school district?

With a declining enrollment and an out-of-control spending problem, it’s high time the Volusia County School Board comes to terms with the fact that residents are strapped with across-the-board tax increases.

As a result, we have no tolerance for waste – like the construction of Taj Mahal facilities and more perks for overpaid administrators.

During austere times, district officials should focus their limited dollars where they are needed most – in the classroom.  Let’s ensure that our teachers are adequately equipped and compensated, and that existing schools and infrastructure are well maintained.

In my view, it’s time Volusia County voters begin to take a close look at the stagnation and lack of strategic vision in Deland.

Our current School Board has all the enthusiasm of wallpaper paste.

It’s time to stop whining and begin the difficult process of adapting to the new reality of creativity, frugality and fiscal responsibility.

You know what I always say – “If you can’t do it for $800-million, you can’t do it.”

 Angel:             Daytona Beach News-Journal

 Last Sunday, News-Journal Editor Pat Rice asked the simple, but seemingly impossible question:

What to do about Main Street? 

If you ask local “economic development” types, the future of Main Street is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.  Coming up with an answer to the myriad issues plaguing Daytona’s beleaguered beachside is like being asked to solve some projective algebraic conjecture or cipher a Millennium Prize Problem in your head.

Or is it?

In April, the newspaper ran an extraordinary five-part series researched and penned by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean.  The “Tarnished Jewel” series examined how – despite the expenditure of more than $100-million in public funds over the past thirty-years – the Main Street redevelopment area remains a fetid shithole with little hope for positive change.

Perhaps the News-Journal has already exposed the nut of the problem.

The six sides to this hellish hexagon – crime, homelessness, dilapidation, corruption, ineptitude and the horrible cycle of blight – have conspired to crushed any spark of revitalization for decades.

Also, most smart people recognize that appearance counts, and by any metric, large swaths of the beachside have fallen into abject squalor.

In my view, those who have staked their homestead on the beachside should be the focus.

Why not incentivize the reclamation of blighted residential properties and down-at-the-heels rentals – you know, the same way here today, gone tomorrow commercial interests have received public redevelopment assistance for years?

And I’m not talking about some goofy façade grant to polish a turd – I’m talking about real inducements for folks willing to live beachside and build a sense of community.

Let’s direct our limited “redevelopment funds” on, well, redevelopment – supporting the contributions of those who make a substantial investment in the revitalization of challenged neighborhoods.

We can start with a liberal application of some good old-fashioned elbow grease on Main Street.

The cost of a pressure washer, some attractive streetscaping/resurfacing and a municipal requirement that owners of vacant store fronts put some effort into uniformly staging their property in a more attractive fashion, just might stimulate a feeling that “something is happening here.”

Despite government’s insistence, not every workable solution has to be stratospherically expensive.

Unfortunately, none of this is possible with the same old-same old at City Hall.

It’s time to put the current “economic development” dullards – those who pursue the same tired and ineffectual “strategies” – over-and-over again, while expecting a different result – out to pasture and replace them with enthusiastic new blood and new ideas for the future.

I’ll just bet you have some good ideas, too.

On Tuesday, October 3, the Daytona Beach News-Journal will host a town hall meeting at the Ocean Center, 101 North Atlantic Avenue, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

According to the newspaper, citizens attending will be encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas with members of the Volusia County Beachside Redevelopment Committee.

Go give them a piece of your mind.  Can’t hurt, right?

Asshole:          Governor Rick Scott

Earlier this week, Slick Rick Scott announced the abrupt exodus of Bryan Koon, the head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.  I found it interesting that Koon would depart in the middle of our state’s recovery from the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma for “an opportunity in the private sector.”

Let’s face it, Mr. Koon’s term was not without controversy – and the fact the DEM failed to file FEMA appeals on behalf of beleaguered local governments going back to Hurricane Hermine (and beyond) is difficult to digest.

When you add to that the series of challenges that remain unaddressed from Hurricane Matthew – not to mention the still lingering effects of Irma – and you get the idea that there are serious problems at DEM.

It’s going to take some strong leadership to turn that ship around.

That’s why I found it downright disturbing that Scott is replacing Koon with Mr. Wes Maul, a 29-year-old former University of Florida law student and gubernatorial campaign aide with less than one year’s experience in emergency management.

In fact, prior to joining Scott’s office, Maul’s most significant private sector experience was serving as a “delivery associate” for Mattress Town of Gainesville.

The art and science of emergency management is not something one learns from a book.

It requires years of practical experience, training exercises, serving in positions of increasing responsibility during actual events, and building a solid reputation for competency under stress while mastering the myriad administrative, logistical and operational aspects of a very dynamic, multi-faceted profession.

It also requires a leader with proven skills that engender the trust of policymakers and the public.

Despite his shortcomings, in my view, Mr. Koon – a former naval officer and chief of emergency response for Walmart prior to his appointment – was treated shabbily by the Governor.

For instance, his weird March 2015 appearance before a Senate committee, during which he was prohibited by Scott from uttering the term “climate change,” left him looking like a buffoon.

Also, Director Koon was not allowed to speak directly to the media during emergency preparation and response operations as Governor Scott strategically became the voice of Hurricane Irma prep and you get the idea that the Department’s problems might not be all internal.

Perhaps Maul can put the hard lessons learned during his tenure at Mattress Town to work on the intractable problem of debris removal contracts?

I hope so.

This fetid pile of leaves and rubble actively decaying in my side yard is getting old. . .

Is it possible that a state as vulnerable as ours could find an experienced hand to oversee one of the most important functions our government performs?

I mean, is that too much to ask?

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season ends November 30th.

Angel:             Amy Pyle – Daytona Beach District 3 Candidate

It warms my crusty old heart to know that there are still good people willing to stand for public office.

Folks that see a need and do their level best to meet it.

Earlier this week, the fearless Amy Pyle – a pioneering resident who is, in many ways, personally responsible for the resurgence of credible efforts to revitalize our long-neglected beachside – has officially thrown her hat in the ring as a candidate for the Daytona Beach City Commission’s District 3 seat.

In addition to her service on various civic boards and committees, Amy has worked tirelessly with a devoted group of citizens to find workable, sustainable (and inexpensive) solutions to the difficult problems facing her community.

And she has put her money where her mouth is.

Amy has made her home in the heart of a very challenged area – one she believes has promise – and may well serve as the epicenter of the beachside renaissance.

That demonstrates a true personal commitment to public service that I find refreshing.

Let’s face it, you can have all the town hall meetings, committees and studies you want – but at the end of the day – it will require visionary people with a fresh perspective and a willingness to roll up their sleeves for the long haul to bring substantive change.

In my view, Ms. Pyle exemplifies the traits and qualities of a true servant-leader.

The foundation of Amy’s campaign is simple – putting neighborhoods first.  According to her website, Amy’s focus is working hard for clean, well-lighted streets and more:

“I will do everything in my power to squeeze slumlords from our neighborhoods and clean up blighted properties by encouraging a review of Code Enforcement procedures.  It’s time for our neighborhoods to come first.”  

Please visit www.amypyle.com for more information – or to donate to this important campaign.

Asshole:          City of Daytona Beach

The hits just keep on coming.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, shopkeepers, specialty boutiques and restaurants in Downtown Daytona have been hanging-on by their fingernails.

Literally.

From homeless encampments to destructive flooding, the beleaguered shopping and entertainment area along Beach Street can’t seem to catch a break.

Like many struggling “downtown” areas, the merchants who have staked their claim on the riverfront rely heavily on special events and area-specific festivals to draw customers.

Now, some business owners are rightly furious that the City of Daytona Beach has arbitrarily denied a permit to reschedule the annual Wine & Food Walk that was previously cancelled due to Irma.

The reason:  City officials have partnered with a promoter to host a food truck event on Main Street this weekend – complete with a “beer garden” – and they don’t want the competition.

None of this makes sense – and don’t hold your breath waiting for answers.

It is what it is.

According to the promoter, while the city isn’t paying to bring the event to town – it is providing in-kind services, such as police protection and waste management, “as well as electric power and portable restrooms.” 

In addition, the News-Journal reported that the City of Daytona Beach is also operating the beer garden.

Say wha…?

According to organizer Liz Otts of the Orlando-based Food Truck Crazy, Inc., “It’s similar to a grant, although we’re not calling it a grant,” she said.  She declined to discuss details regarding the event’s costs and financing and who gets the profits, except to say, “the city gets a portion. … It’s not public knowledge and it shouldn’t be public knowledge. We’re a private company.”

 Well, Liz, it’s not a “grant” at all.  Your “co-sponsor” is a public entity – using our tax dollars to assist with a for-profit event.

So, the public has every right to know.

Don’t like it?  Then start carrying your own water.

Eventually, a city spokesperson admitted that the citizens of Daytona Beach ponied up the $6,250 required for the permit – a fee that would normally be paid by Food Truck Crazy, Inc.

But a lot of unanswered questions remain.

For instance, considering that the majority of year-round Main Street businesses are, well, bars – why in the hell would the municipality engage in beer sales when the event is, ostensibly, to draw people to area merchants?

According to the News-Journal, Helen Riger, the city’s director of cultural and community services, blamed the whole snafu on the City Commission – explaining that they were “looking for ways to help Main Street” (and, apparently, screw-over downtown merchants in the process.)

“The way it works is that the city is co-sponsoring the event with Food Truck Crazy.  We’re not paying them.  She (Otts) is responsible for the food trucks, stage, entertainment and a portion of the advertising.  Money raised at the beer garden will go to help support the (nonprofit) Peabody Foundation.” 

Well, that’s not completely true, Helen.

In my view, while the City of Daytona Beach may not be “paying” for the event – it is damn sure covering every conceivable overhead cost – leaving nothing but pure profit for the “organizer.”

It looks like the city is also using its considerable power like some governmental Mafioso to crush any competition as well.

“You want a permit?  Screw you.  You’re not getting one.  Why?  Because we said so, that’s why.”

In most forward-thinking communities, multiple events can be held in a simultaneous, even complementary way.

When government stays in its lane and serves as an impartial service provider – allowing the natural competition of the marketplace to decide winners-and-losers – or just give variety – citizens are given the freedom to choose multiple entertainment options which provides participating merchants a larger circulation of potential customers.

Unfortunately for us – and the long-suffering businesses of ‘Downtown Daytona’ – the rules are different here.

I encourage everyone to visit Beach Street merchants this evening from 5:00pm to 10:00pm for a rally featuring live music, sidewalk sales and other fun activities to bring focus – and customers – to our hard-hit downtown.

Quote of the Week:

 “If our local governments had instead entered into contracts with local companies, would the piles of tree limbs, discarded lumber, etc., already be smaller — if not gone?”

Sara Jones, Port Orange, making perfect sense in a recent letter to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, lamenting the fact that large, out-of-town contracted debris haulers have failed to live up to their obligations to county and local governments in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

I agree with Ms. Jones.

Outdated and obstructionist FEMA reimbursement rules which roadblock local options are holding up progress, and limiting the ability of local companies to assist in the aftermath of natural disasters.

That’s all for me!  Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Politics of Self-Promotion

It’s no secret that we have a strange system of government here in Volusia County – part plutocracy, governed by a small group of uber-rich and incredibly influential people who trade in local political candidates like commodities brokers – and part authoritarian dictatorship, overseen by a mendacious front man, wholly controlled and deftly manipulated by these same wealthy insiders.

Whatever it is, our county government bears no resemblance to a representative democracy.

In most local elections, our choices for public office are quickly whittled down to the lesser of two evils by those who stand to benefit most.

For instance, the 2016 District 4 County Council race became the most expensive single contest in Volusia’s history with more than $503,000 going to two of the most mediocre candidates to ever crawl out of the local political swamp – Al Smith, and the eventual winner, Heather Post.

To say that Councilwoman Post’s short term in office has had some “challenges” is an understatement.

But she has shown real promise as well.

As a freshman politician who emerged from the ether to claim the District 4 seat, Ms. Post has been quickly indoctrinated in the ways of Volusia’s entrenched autocratic system, wherein the appointed County Manager controls all aspects of governance – to include the flow of public funds – totally insulated from the scrutiny of our elected officials and closely guarded by the very oligarchs seeking a return on their campaign investment.

Yet, Ms. Post has – time and again – made waves when she challenged this status quo, always with the mantra that she represents the interests of the people who elected her – not the whims of the County’s bureaucratic machinery.

I think that shows a true willingness to serve – and the courage to challenge the system.

In each case, the veteran politicians sitting with her on the dais of power – those who long ago accepted their role as a mere cog in a much larger and well-greased wheel – have attempted to publicly browbeat Ms. Post into conformity.

At last week’s County Council meeting, Ms. Post voiced her frustration over Jim Dinneen’s lack of timely information-sharing during the response to Hurricane Irma – and she was rightly taken to the woodshed.

Look, many of you aren’t going to agree with my take on this one – but I’m going to say it anyway.

In my view, like any greenhorn elected official during a time of crisis, Heather Post wanted desperately to transcend the policy role she was elected to and “help” with the administration and operations during the response and immediate recovery to Hurricane Irma.

But that’s not the way it works.

Apparently, County Manager Dinneen had little patience for Ms. Post’s request to remain “in the loop” at the Emergency Operations Center and there was a flashpoint – during which Post threw something of a tantrum, which, as I understand it, was a bit over the top and had the potential to disrupt the flow of important work.

To his credit, Mr. Dinneen simply walked away from it.

According to Ms. Post, the County Manager intentionally kept her in the dark – and even ordered senior staff to refuse her direct requests for information – and there is no doubt in my mind that’s how it happened.

These folks were busy doing their jobs – coordinating emergency response and recovery operations – while dealing with a multi-faceted crisis under stress.

Look, I’m no fan of Jim Dinneen – in fact, I abhor everything he stands for and represents in government.  In my view, Mr. Dinneen has little, if any, respect for the democratic process, our much-heralded “County Charter,” or the needs and wants of the citizens of Volusia County.

And I certainly don’t trust anything he says.

As our very popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood – another fresh set of eyes who has seen the monocracy in Deland up close and personal – explained, “Jim Dinneen is a lying sack of shit” “Either he has Alzheimer’s disease, or he’s a pathological liar.” 

Jim Dinneen
County Manager Jim Dinneen

Clearly, there was a confrontational dynamic at play as Irma’s fierce winds scoured and flooded Volusia County.

But, for good or for ill, Mr. Dinneen was solely responsible for managing and directing all operational aspects of our county government’s response to a serious and unfolding natural disaster – and while carrying out those duties, he was required to “deal” with an inexperienced elected official with her warface on – a new councilmember desperately seeking to see and be seen during the midst of a crisis – as she clearly overstepped her role and assumed some goofy fact-finding posture at the EOC.

Trust me.  I’ve been there, done that and still have what’s left of the t-shirt.

Politicians on Parade is a vignette that has played out during every disaster in every jurisdiction since Noah loaded the ark – it’s understandable, and can be effectively managed with patience and diplomacy.

After all, Ms. Post is new to the position and she comes from a first responder background.

I believe she sincerely wanted to help her constituents in a hands-on way.  She also tried hard to push timely storm-related information out on social media – and I’m sure that came from her innate sense of service.

I respect that.

But, if the information is accurate, the way she went about it during the event was wrong – and her weird policy of dodging a Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter’s questions and making counter-accusations about the newspapers motives doesn’t add credibility to her case.

Look, like any good politician, Councilwoman Post is a shameless self-promoter.

Her post-storm travels with the Volusia County Fire Chief (who must have drawn the short straw in the Department Head meeting), frequent Facebook reminders that she was on a “Conference call with Governor Rick Scott,” countless contrived selfies and clearly staged photographs of Councilwoman Post – clad cap-a-pie in military fatigue pants, black t-shirt and camouflage cap, hands-on-hips, looking for all the world like some deranged Generalissimo – are truly cringeworthy.

Whether posing for a picture while feeding Gatorade to an elderly shut-in – or skipping her actual duties in the Council Chambers to attend a photo-op with Slick Rick Scott – Heather Post was, literally, everywhere – before, during and after the incident.

Just ask her.

Let’s face it – it’s one thing to do a good turn for your constituents, it’s quite another to get your picture on the front page of the Ormond Beach Observer doing it, eh?

It’s all part of the game.  Politicians at all levels of government simply must tout their accomplishments – I assure you no one else is going to do it for them – and it’s important that their constituents know that they are active and involved in the community.

But timing is everything.

Ms. Post should understand that an elected official using an unfolding disaster as the backdrop for a personal marketing campaign is not without political risk.

Some view self-promotion as a critical leadership skill – others as a distasteful character flaw – and, despite our best efforts, public opinion is not always kind – especially when John Q is sitting in a sweltering house, sweating his ass off with no power.

Councilwoman Post has embarrassed her fellow elected officials – who kept clear of the fray and allowed the professionals to do their jobs – and I doubt her hyper-sensitive colleagues on the dais will soon forget Post’s grandstanding.

The only positive I can find in this sordid mess is the fact we got one of those interminable lectures so eloquently, and theatrically, delivered by Councilwoman Deb Denys.

I love those.

During the contentious post-storm council meeting, the always irascible Denys ripped into Ms. Post like a Pitbull on a pork chop:

“To try and make this hurricane event about one council member in a clash with the manager is not the right time.  To roll out a thundercloud before we even get to the point of debris removal and mosquito control and some really serious issues, because it’s your issue … I’m sorry,” Denys said. “We do not get involved in day-to-day operations.”

She’s right.  Ms. Post should stay in her lane.

But Heather Post isn’t the only one at fault here.

In incidents like this there is always a glimpse of something deeper – a peek behind Oz’s velvet curtain – a momentary perspective that exposes the genesis of the issue.

And it is infinitely more substantive than a silly spat between two ego-maniacal tin-pot government officials with situational delusions of grandeur.

Perhaps it’s time those in a position to effect positive change (namely us, the voters) take a hard look at this convoluted protection racket which permits the county’s chief executive to operate with a complete lack of accountability or oversight, strategically withhold information from policymakers, manipulate the process and effectively relegate the people’s elected representatives to the role of neutered marionettes – an elected body of no real purpose beyond rubber-stamping the edicts handed down from on high.

 

(Photo Credit:  Photo provided to the Ormond Beach Observer by Heather Post. . .)