On Volusia: Because it’s wrong. That’s why.

In the words of the immortal Walter Sobchak – “Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?”

Look, I admit it.  I can be a curmudgeonly asshole.

When something ‘steams my beans’ I’m not one to let it go – bringing attention to the obvious is kind of my stock-in-trade.

For instance, since I began this experiment in alternative opinion blogging, I have railed against our wholly corrupt campaign finance laws that permit the “Rich & Powerful” to purchase undue access and influence through the infusion of massive political contributions to the campaigns of hand-select candidates – a system that I believe has transformed our representative democracy into a bastardized oligarchy.

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

I’m weird that way.

When I spy something demonstrably wrong – counter to our sacred democratic principles – I spout-off about it, draw attention and scream “Hey, looky here, everybody!  There’s a turd in the punch bowl!”

For my trouble, many powerful people here on Florida’s Fun Coast don’t like me very much.

They believe my screeds are counter to their opaque “plan” to renew, revitalize and ‘bring high paying jobs’ to the beleaguered Halifax Area (while lining their pockets, and those of their friends, with the crumbs along the way) – and a naysayer sitting around in his boxer shorts drinking gin and pointing out our warts isn’t helping.

For the record, our ‘Movers & Shakers’ weren’t exactly inviting me to cocktail parties before I started this blog. . .

Now, our County Council is fretting about our ability to attract a qualified County Manager (a brokeback snake could do a better job than what we’ve experienced over the past decade) due to negative comments on social media.

Then, last week, our contract Medical Examiner (who has apparently made a cottage industry out of telling local government officials what they want to hear) is wringing his hands about the trouble we’re going to have finding a qualified forensic pathologist, what with Volusia County’s dismal reputation on the “Internet” and all. . .

Why is it inconceivable to our ‘powers that be’ that – just maybe – it’s the abject mismanagement, quid pro quo corruption, outsized influence of powerful insiders and the growing public distrust of county government that will have the biggest prohibitive effect on finding quality talent to fill our current executive vacancies?

I mean, why is it always someone else’s fault?

What became of the quaint notion that taking responsibility is the highest mark of leadership?

Like many of you, I have a fundamental problem with people who are elected to serve as stewards of our tax dollars – then carelessly, even maliciously, misuse our hard-earned money – and demand more of the same under the guise they are doing us a favor.  Or worse, when politicians try and convince us – the long-suffering taxpayers – that “things” conspired against them, or they were simply caught off guard. . .

A prime example is the still unfolding saga of the Volusia County School Guardian program, a state-mandated school security initiative which places armed civilians in elementary schools to augment sworn school resource officers posted to middle and high school campuses.

In my view, this program has been rushed from its inception, as the legislature attempted to do something – anything – to palliate the very real fear and outrage in the aftermath of Parkland, leaving county school districts with an underfunded mandate to provide armed security in every school in the state.

Now, the Volusia County School Board has taken the unprecedented step of literally begging money from the municipalities to cover the apparent shortfall.

On its face – it sounds reasonable, and I thought the Daytona Beach News-Journal did a good job of making the school board’s point in their recent editorial “Cities’ stake in school security.”

“The restriction hit particularly hard in Volusia County, which is in tight fiscal constraints and embroiled in negotiations with its teachers’ union. The budget approved last month dips into school reserves and includes a slight property-tax increase — but still falls short of the district’s needs by nearly $2.5 million. Even though the district has chosen a relatively low-cost option for elementary schools, hiring 50 specially trained “guardians” instead of using law enforcement, there’s just not enough money.”

Unfortunately, putting the arm on the cities to fill budget needs is not the way it works.

The Volusia County School District is an independent taxing authority with the responsibility and political accountability for managing public funds, organizing assets, preparing a budget and levying assessments to meet the needs of thousands of students, teachers and staff.

With a current budget approaching $900 million – the largest of any government entity in Volusia County – I find it incredulous that our elected officials on the School Board seem physically incapable of identifying internal funding cuts to provide for this priceless service to our precious children.

Where is it written that when a taxing authority fails to live within its means – or refuses to take austerity measures to prioritize and reorganize allocations to meet emergent needs – it can simply cry poor mouth and shame the cities into handing over tax dollars they collected from us for critical municipal services?

The School Board seems perfectly capable of lashing us with millions in debt for Taj Mahal building projects, on top of a half-cent sales tax increase, then engaging in serial poor decisions – such as appointing wholly unqualified middle-managers to fill the vitally important role of School Security Specialist, rather than finding the very best expert we can afford – or keeping Superintendent Tom Russell in place after some seventeen Volusia County schools dropped one letter grade or more last year.

Or how about the ham-handed “secret negotiations” that resulted in our elected officials approving a five-year contract with Florida Hospital – sorry, “AdventHealth” – naming the healthcare provider the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels” – for just $200,000 in cash each year. . .?

The agreement ended some 15-months of shadowy, back-alley negotiations by district officials that resulted in an agreement that gives AdventHealth all the marketing exposure they could have dreamed for – including naming rights, sponsorship options, districtwide distribution of branded material, and graduate recruitment options, among other benefits.

One might have thought that given our current dire financial straits – a direct advertising campaign reaching some 63,000 Volusia County families might have been worth a tad more?   

Whatever.

Now we are left in the untenable position of having a decades old backlog of school infrastructure projects, complete stagnation in negotiations with our teachers – who are desperately seeking a living wage for their important work, along with benefit improvements to stop the hemorrhage of talent as educators continue to flee Volusia for more responsible districts or professions that appreciate their contributions – and the stark realization that we cannot adequately fund prudent and necessary security measures.

In my view, this situation is serious – and only getting worse.  In fact, I can’t think of anything more important.

Now, it is time for the Volusia County School Board to stop bumming money from the municipalities in some weird double-dipping scheme and begin the difficult process of living within their means.

That will require taking the politically difficult steps necessary to adequately fund service delivery in this new reality and focus precious resources where they belong – in the classroom.

If they are incapable of doing that, perhaps it’s time We, The People, elect someone who can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 10, 2018

Hi, kids!

Wow!  I want to thank every member of the loyal Barker’s View tribe who took the time from your busy lives to send so many good notes and best wishes on my birthday this week!

It does my busted old heart good – and I was sincerely touched by your thoughtfulness.

Like most guys, I like to celebrate birthdays in high-style – after all, it damn sure beats the alternative – and it gives us over-the-hill types a good excuse to prove to ourselves we can still party like Rock Stars (until about 9:30pm, anyway) – as we commemorate another successful trip around the sun.

Now, in my 58th year, you – the incredibly faithful readers of this goofy alternative opinion blog – have given a renewed purpose to my life that I never thought possible.  Whether we agree on the important issues of the day or not – please know that you are never far from my thoughts – and I am genuinely grateful for your friendship, insight and support.

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

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

 Strap in, kids.  This one’s going to be a bumpy ride. . .

There are two things that give those of us standing on the outside looking in a brief peek through the greasy peephole of government – the budget, and those all-to-infrequent “goal setting” and “visioning” sessions – which are usually anything but.

Tuesday’s County Council “workshop” was no exception.

 In the aftermath of former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s murky machinations, physical neglect of public assets, backroom ‘deals’ that always seemed to benefit all the right last names and his abrupt departure, it took our elected representatives just two-hours to establish our collective priorities – this from a group that took the better part of a long day to discuss how many chickens may occupy a residential lot – which direction doors on beachfront portable toilets should face – and authorize an internal study to get to the bottom of perhaps the most perplexing problem of our era: Overfed seagulls fouling the pool decks of Daytona Beach Shores condominiums. . .

My ass.

If we learned anything from Tuesday’s lukewarm “workshop” it is that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, would rather take an ice water enema than submit to a forensic audit of Volusia County finances.

Seriously.  Old Ed really doesn’t want anyone from the outside looking in.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, rather than do the right thing and live up to his fiduciary responsibility to ensure accountability and increase public confidence in their government – our duly elected Council Chairman crowed, “Transparency, my foot!” he said, arguing that there’s plenty of that already in county government without throwing away money on an audit. “There’s nothing to hide.”

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

Ed Kelley really is that dumb – or that compromised. . .

In addition, our County Council decided that Jim Dinneen’s mysterious plan to extend the Daytona Beach Boardwalk – which included looting $2.5 million in ECHO funds each year and stashing cash for a publicly funded boondoggle that was never fully explained or understood (just as Little Jimmy intended) – will never come to fruition.

But what about the $100,000 in public funds that were allegedly spent on a shadowy “boardwalk study” that was authorized in October 2016 – which produced a few pretty sketches and spreadsheets – but has never been released for public consumption?

According to the uber-arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys,  “The boardwalk took a long walk off a short deck and it’s gone.” 

Unfortunately, it was holding hands with $100K of our hard-earned tax dollars when it took the plunge. . .

But who gives a shit? 

Easy come, easy go, right Deb?

During what passed as a “visioning” session, the much-ballyhooed Taj Mahal five-story Beach Street courthouse – which is planned to replace the upgradeable City Island courthouse, and has already resulted in the closure of the New Smyrna Beach facility – was listed as a “priority,” at least by the lame duck Councilwoman Joyce Cusack.

Remember when Old Ed Kelley – you know, our chief elected official – exposed his abject ignorance of the “behind-the-scenes” meetings by county staff when plans for the new and improved $260-million-dollar courthouse were discussed (“Meetings?  What meetings?”)

I do.

Well, now Councilwoman Deb Denys – who is locked in the political fight of her career – would have us believe that nothing has been finalized (except shuttering the New Smyrna courthouse and the Volusia County Administration building on Beach Street) and that the Council needs an “agenda item with all the information.” 

Say what?

Apparently, Deb is just as clueless as the rest of us hapless dupes.

“We haven’t agreed to anything,” Denys said, noting that the original concept never appeared on a council meeting agenda (since when was that a prerequisite for action by this council?)

“We need an agenda item with all the information.”

Am I the only one who remembers when Volusia County paid an Orlando-based consultant – you know, the proverbial out-of-town expert with a briefcase – a quarter-million-dollars to “study” the issue of our aging judicial facilities – then reported on six options with a nod to the total obliteration of existing space on City Island in favor of building a monstrous, five-story consolidated complex near the current S. James Foxman Justice Center on Beach Street?

(Which, as it happens, fit neatly with Old Ed and Little Jimmy’s plan to turn City Island over to their developer friends for condominiums. . .)

At that time, our highly-paid consultant’s presentation to the County Council (during which he telegraphed his institutional knowledge of our area by referring to Ridgewood as “Rockwood”) was repeatedly interrupted by then County Manager Jim Dinneen during a well-rehearsed (and totally contrived) explanation for his ambush-style July 2017 announcement of his Grand Courthouse Plan.

My point being – what became of the Dewberry study?

Probably mildewing in that dank depository of astronomically expensive consultant reports in DeLand where good ideas are sent to die.

I’ve got an idea, Ms. Denys?

How about you – as our duly elected representative – demand that county staff produce the results of the $248,000 courthouse study before the next iteration of the County Council forgets about it and commissions yet another consultant?

Yeah, right. . .

During the workshop we were also treated to another Dog-and-Pony Show by the Martha Stewart of Medical Examiners, Dr. Jon Thogmartin – the best marketing huckster for contract forensic pathology to ever storm a public podium – who reiterated that former Volusia County Medical Examiner and whistleblower, Dr. Sara Zydowicz, was full of ca-ca when she called foul on substandard facilities, a backlog of some 240 cases and dangerous working conditions at the morgue.

“All of the problems with the office were self-inflicted,” he (Dr. Thogmartin) said, adding that it took two weeks to catch up on the backlog and resolve cooler space issues.”

Two-weeks?

Now, you and I will just have to take the Good Doctor’s word for it – because Old Ed and the Funky Bunch on the dais of power aren’t really into transparency and independent verification of facts as a matter of public policy – not when it’s sooooo much more convenient to accept a highly compensated “expert” opinion, anyway.

According to Thogmartin, it won’t be easy finding a new chief medical examiner – what with all the negative chatter on the Interwebz and whatnot.  But I’ll just bet Dr. Jon “Have Skull Saw, Will Travel” Thogmartin could help us out for the right price?

I almost forgot – during the regular meeting of the minds – councilmembers approved yet another study (this time it only cost us $54,000) for an unnamed “third-party company” to set priorities for transportation infrastructure improvements.

You read that right.

According to Jon Cheney, Volusia County’s traffic engineer, “What we are wanting to do is (address) all of this tremendous growth.  The question we have asked is which project do we do next? We are looking at a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios.”

 I’ve got a ‘what-if’ for you – what if we summarily terminate the employment of every bureaucrat clogging the Volusia County Traffic Engineering Department who can’t immediately and definitively determine, based upon their institutional knowledge and expertise, how to prioritize transportation infrastructure projects?

There now.  That didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. . .

Angel:              The Long-Suffering Citizens of Deltona

What part of “we want her gone” doesn’t the Deltona City Commission understand?

Here, let Big Daddy help:

For months, residents of Volusia County’s largest municipality have begged, pleaded – and now demanded – the removal of Deltona City Manager Jane Shang.  In my view, the very real concerns of area residents are infinitely well-founded.

As I’ve written before, two ardent critics of the current administration recently found themselves reduced to outlaws when Shang – apparently with the full acquiesce of the elected officials – misused the full force and might of government to silence criticism with dubious criminal charges and the trespass law.

Folks, I can’t think of anything more anti-democratic – or detrimental to the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people – than the reckless use of a law enforcement agency to bring a politically active citizenry to heel.

During a highly contentious public meeting earlier this week, residents all but hurled rotten tomatoes at the dais as their fervent calls for Shang’s ouster – or at the very least her suspension from office until an independent investigation of her despicable actions by the Florida Department of Law enforcement could be initiated – fell on deaf ears.

In fact, beleaguered Mayor John Masiarczyk had the stones to menace his constituents into compliance with the not so veiled threat, “Don’t force us into doing things that are just going to be ugly.”

You mean there is something uglier in your arsenal than falsely accusing critics of a felony crime?

Just asking.  Because in over 31-years in municipal government, I never saw a sitting mayor – or any other politically accountable official – openly bully taxpayers in that grotesque manner.

To her great credit, Commissioner Anita Bradford made a motion to suspend Shang until an inquiry could be launched into her blatant misuse of law enforcement, dubious code enforcement practices and the flagrant violations of Florida’s public records law.

Commissioner Bradford also pleaded for definitive action by the elected body to ensure that the terror experienced by citizens persecuted by Jane Shang’s vindictive rule never happens again.

Her motion to protect residents was openly ignored by Shang’s toadies on the dais.

Thanks for nothing Commissioner (and current mayoral candidate) Heidi Herzberg.

My sincere hope is that someone – anyone – in a position to do something about the open thuggery being perpetrated by these stool stacks that have the temerity to call themselves ‘public servants’ – will find the courage to flash a badge and launch an in-depth investigation into the myriad issues that have pitted the citizens of Deltona against their own government.

Asshole           Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert

 Look, there is enough blame to go around on this one – but something about the termination and subsequent financial settlement with former Volusia County Sheriff’s Deputy John Szabo – stinks.

I was a police officer for a long time – over thirty-years – and one of the things you learn early in your career is that cops complain.

It’s too hot, it’s too cold.

We bitch when we get promoted – and we bitch louder when we don’t.

There’s either too much overtime, or not enough.

Your pants are always too tight, and you cuss every new burrito stain on your uniform shirt – then whine about the convoluted call you caught five minutes before the end of a 12-hour shift.

The citizens you protect don’t appreciate your service and the boss is a major league asshole (usually uttered with a few choice expletives while inadvertently sitting on your radio microphone – transmitting to everyone on the channel – including the chief).

It’s what we do.

As a police executive – you understand that its when cop’s stop complaining that you have a real problem on your hands.

Back in September, Deputy Szabo took to a union social media site (if you can’t bitch there, where can you?) to criticize Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s decision to commission an internal affairs investigation into the actions of two deputies who failed to have their body cameras activated during a pursuit on Interstate 95.

During the incident, somehow the tires of the wrong vehicle were deflated by Stop Sticks deployed by the deputies.

According to a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Szabo wrote to his coworkers, “No wonder so many people are leaving. Funny how anyone who legitimately tried to do the right thing gets (expletive) in the (expletive).  Just wondering if Chitwood had his body camera on. Wonder if the deputies didn’t have their (body cameras) on because they were pulled off the highway looking for the suspect vehicle and more concerned with not getting run over.”

 Trust me.  I’ve been called worse by people who worked for me – in retrospect, probably well-deserved – and we’re still friends. . .  Because I did the same damn thing to my boss when I was at their age and stage.

After learning of Szabo’s tirade on social media, Sheriff Chitwood apparently sought the advice of County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – in my view a mean-spirited asshole who has no qualms about suing his own constituents, with their own money, if it means protecting “the system” – who reportedly recommended that Deputy Szabo’s six-year career with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office be terminated.

Wow.

According to the News-Journal, Chitwood explained, “That decision was based on county legal telling me that his actions by posting on Facebook were a violation of county merit rules and was a terminable offense,” Chitwood said. “And based on the information I received from county legal, is what I went on and made my decision.”

 “I have quote, unquote labor attorneys that are supposed to be specialists in this field,” Chitwood said. “They tell me somebody violated the policies and the penalty is dismissal.”

 For bitching about the boss?  Really?

I mean, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

And therein lies the rub.

Many are wondering how Sheriff Chitwood – an extremely charismatic, outspoken elected official who has made some pretty wild public statements about his own former boss, Jim Dinneen, (lying sack of shit, etc.) and recently made a weird remark about Councilwoman Deb Denys’ knowledge of law enforcement being limited to the “fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard” – can find the moral authority to end a man’s career for speaking out in frustration on what amounts to a union bulletin board?

Sheriff Chitwood would have to be pretty thin-skinned to ruin a good cop’s career just because he spouted off to his coworkers in the locker room – or on Facebook, for that matter.

Look, from past experience watching Mr. Eckert in operation – I’m going to give Sheriff Chitwood the benefit of the doubt and trust that he based a difficult personnel decision in the Szabo case on bullshit legal advice from the County Attorney’s Office.

It wouldn’t be the first time Old Dan fucked up – or wasted our hard-earned tax dollars, for that matter.

So, at the end of the day, who do We, The People, ultimately hold responsible for the irreparable harm to former Deputy Szabo’s personal and professional reputation – not to mention the $42,000 in public funds required to settle the matter?

In my view, it’s time Dan Eckert was shown the same door that hit Jim Dinneen in the ass a few months back.

When is enough, enough?

I sincerely hope that John Szabo goes on to a full life of service in the industry of his choice, and that the indignity of this sorry blemish does not hinder his obvious contribution potential to law enforcement and public service.

Terribly sad.

Asshole:          NASCAR Chairman Brian France

On Sunday, police in the Village of Sag Harbor – a tony summer playground for the rich and famous in The Hampton’s – stopped a Lexus operated by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, 56, after he reportedly ran a stop sign.

Preliminary reports say that France was shitfaced – driving with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit.  Following his arrest, France was “found to be in possession of five pills, yellow in color, that were identified as Oxycodone.”

 Unfortunately, this wasn’t Mr. France’s first go-round.

He was charged with reckless driving in Seminole County in 2005, and the following year, the awkward grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France made the papers when he ping-ponged his Lexus down Beach Street before coming to rest at his Marina Point condo.

 Damn.  Even a no-account boozer like me can pronounced the word: UBER. . .

I took some heat earlier this year when I opined on an unfortunate leak from investment bank Goldman Sachs that the France family was exploring the sale of NASCAR.  Naturally, the news sent shockwaves through the industry – and the company’s headquarters on ISB.

Look, I don’t have a financial or emotional investment here – but our community does.

NASCAR lost me a few years ago – just like it lost thousands of other fans and lucrative sponsors – thanks to continuing mismanagement, weird rule changes like “stage racing” and the goofy “playoff” format, coupled with a parade of cartoonish television color commentators who make the “sport” unwatchable.

Add to that the loss of any driver with a real personality not crafted by some marketing department’s image group, and, frankly, it’s become a snoozefest – a  monotonous drone of cookie cutter cars – punctuated with the occasional staged fistfight between 20-something no-names in a feeble attempt to link today’s showbiz dreck with yesterday’s bare-knuckle motor sport.

What I do care about are friends and neighbors who work for NASCAR and its various subsidiaries here in Daytona Beach.  They rely on both the France family’s stewardship – and the viability of the sport – for their very livelihood.

For decades, the Daytona Beach Resort Area has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with DIS and NASCAR.

It was good while it lasted, but clearly our ‘powers that be’ haven’t actively planned for “what comes next” (come to think of it, they haven’t planned for anything, really.)  Instead, our elected and appointed officials throw millions in public funds at the problem (anyone remember the $40-million Daytona Beach and Volusia County gifted to ISC for their One Daytona project?) then hope things work out for the best. . .

Let’s face facts, like most family-businesses, stock car racing was never the same after the founders passed – and history shows that generational wealth is both a blessing and a curse – but I will never understand why the quirky France family, and those they pay to advise them, stood idle as the product slowly died?

Don’t take my word for it, watch any televised race – the grandstands look like a ghost town.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the France family was, “. . .being criticized by drivers and team owners, who fear the Frances are incapable of reversing the fade in fan interest and retreat by sponsors.

In my view, the oddball behavior routinely exhibited by Brian France (to include his bizarre performance at last year’s NASCAR Champions Banquet when he handed a box containing the 2017 Cup Series ring to Martin Truex, Jr. – then turned and walked away, without a handshake, or even eye contact, with the Champ) has contributed to diminished fan and industry confidence in the ‘brand.’

Look, if Brian France – or any other millionaire with the smarts to know better – wants to publicly immolate himself with booze and recreational pharmaceuticals, who am I to judge?  Just have the common decency to leave the helm of a business that thousands of people rely on to feed their families.

In my view, the time has come for Mr. France to finally gain that elusive sense of personal and professional responsibility that has evaded him for 56-years and step aside.  Permanently.

NASCAR is the foundation of a sport that desperately needs resuscitation – a CEO with a fresh set of eyes, hardworking hands and a renewed focus on returning the excitement of high-speed competition – before uniformity and ludicrous rules made it impossible to tell a Ford from a Chevrolet – and the charismatic, hard-scrabble drivers who appealed to the sports fanbase were replaced with cosmetic models.

You know, a true leader who will actually be at the track on race day – like Brian’s father and grandfather before him – not ripped to the tits on some suburban street in Long Island.

In my view, Brian France – and those who have allowed him to keep his hands on the wheel this far into the crash – are irresponsible assholes who have jeopardized a major source of jobs and revenue for our struggling area.

That’s unconscionable.

After all, the citizens of Volusia County have invested heavily to ensure the success of the France family – and their various subsidiaries.

We deserve better.

Angel:             The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Kudos to The Daytona Beach News-Journal staff writers and photojournalists who recently captured nine awards – including four first-place honors – during last weekend’s Society of Professional Journalists’ State Awards banquet.

The intrepid Dinah Voyles Pulver – who I believe is one of the finest journalists in the business today – took first place in environmental writing for her outstanding “Rising Seas” series.

In addition, chief photographer Jim Tiller was a finalist for photojournalist of the year, and honored in the breaking news category for his memorable image of a teenager who just learned she had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Sports columnist Ken Willis also took first place in feature writing for his piece about a man who was struck by lightning while fishing on the Ponce Inlet jetty.

The outstanding investigative reporter Seth Robbins received a second-place award in the same category for a series on Puerto Rico’s response to Hurricane Maria – with Lola Gomez taking third place in photography story for her work on the same piece.

In the crime and courts reporting category, staff writer Suzanne Hirt was honored for a series of stories about how underage girls become victims of human trafficking.

One of my favorite columnists – the incredibly insightful Mark Lane – was recognized in the general commentary and criticism catagory for his excellent “Footnote” column.

Well done!

And well deserved.

Quote of the Week:

“Ormond Beach can rejoice yet again if we adopt this rate because the city leaders have made Ormond Beach’s budget yet again our priority.  We run a lean, mean, machine in Ormond Beach.”

 –Ormond Beach Vice Mayor Troy Kent, the face of unchecked development, rejoicing in a proposed tax “decrease” from $4.28 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $4.17 – which remains 2.85% higher than the rolled-back rate of $4.05 so is technically considered a tax increase.

My God.  How do these people sleep at night?

The only lean, mean machine Mr. Kent champions in the City of Ormond Beach is another industrial woodchipper turning acres of old growth forests into cheap commercial development.

And Another Thing!

Well, summer’s over for Volusia County school students who head back to the grindstone on Monday morning.

I’ve been hypercritical of our district administrators for their handling of the new state mandated School Guardian program – a first-of-its-kind security measure that will place armed civilians in elementary schools throughout Volusia County.

My problem isn’t with those brave souls who answered the call, stood proud, and said “send me.”

I have nothing but pride and admiration for their willingness to serve in this important role.

However, I have a serious concern about the Volusia County School Board’s decision to place people, who in my view, are wholly unqualified to provide effective leadership and oversight of this sensitive program.

As many of you know, the results of a recent public records request revealed that our new School Security Specialist is a former band director and assistant principal whose lack of law enforcement or military experience would prohibit him from qualifying for the position he is charged with overseeing.

In another head-shaker, I was told directly by a senior school administrator – apparently in some weird attempt to lend credibility to a program that desperately needs it – that an associate security specialist had “FBI experience.”

I later found out that the individual’s federal law enforcement experience was limited to her time as a secretary in the FBI’s New York field office.

Now, I understand that there are serious doubts if our new school guardians will be adequately trained and equipped to provide their vital service to our precious children beginning Monday morning.

Myriad questions remain – and I, for one, am demanding answers from those who have been elected and appointed to serve the needs of Volusia County children and classroom teachers.

In my view, with a budget approaching $900 million dollars – it’s time we find out why our highly compensated superintendent and school board members failed to conduct a search for the best and brightest school security expert we could afford – rather than simply appointing a senior staffer who happens to be married to the district’s personnel director.

That’s all for me.

Have a great weekend, folks!

 

 

On Volusia: An Expensive Illusion

Today starts my 58th trip around the sun.

Go figure.

I’d like to lay some visionary insight on you, tell you that I’m smarter for the experience and sagely prognosticate about our collective situation here on Florida’s Fun Coast like some sapient Hosea for this weird time and place – a Prophet of Doom and Restoration.

But I can’t.

To be honest, I’m just as dumb as I was yesterday – a prime example that age does not define wisdom.

However, I am firmly convinced that I possess an ancient karmic soul with many lives behind me and many more to come.  This time around, it appears that exposing these shits and charlatans who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – then do the exact opposite – is my spiritual dharma and sacred cosmic mission.

Through the millennia, my preternatural ability to smell political bullshit and spot a cheese stealing rat like a gazehound seems to only get better – sharper, more focused and well-defined – and the longer I wait and watch, the clearer the three-dimensional political landscape becomes.

Trust me – that isn’t an easy feat, and it takes a practiced eye, especially during an election year.

This weekend, the intrepid reporter Dustin Wyatt – with the assistance of Dinah Voyles Pulver, truly one of the finest journalists working today – published an excellent exposé entitled, “Developers, builders fork over big money” – a remarkable piece that shines a very bright light on what I believe is the preeminent issue facing Volusia County.

After all, I’ve written about it, ad nauseum, for the past three years.

It’s the scourge of ‘pay-to-play’ politics that has turned our representative democracy into a bastardized oligarchy where a few well-heeled political insiders have found an effective means of subverting the electoral process, and subjugating the will of the people, through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local offices.

Clearly, our current election cycle is no exception.  (Did any sentient being think it would be?)

The News-Journal’s analysis found that, “Of the $423,729 reported to the supervisor of elections office through July 6, not including contributions made by the candidates themselves, $1 of every $5 has come from a developer or someone in the construction or building industry. . .”

I just hope no one out there believes this is a new phenomenon here in Volusia County – or that the problem is limited to the real estate development industry.

It isn’t.

Following the 2016 Volusia County Council District 4 election – perhaps the worst display of auction house politics in recent memory – the News-Journal identified the largest contributors in that ugly race as, “George Anderson, developer of the Ocean Walk and a real estate investor; J. Hyatt Brown, chairman and chief executive officer of Brown & Brown Inc.; homebuilder Mori Hosseini, chairman and CEO of ICI Homes; Theresa Doan, whose beachside properties and investments include three Main Street bars; businesses affiliated with International Speedway Corp. and its president, John Saunders; and companies affiliated with Consolidated-Tomoka, a land holding company.”

In fact, these High Panjandrums of Political Power gave $281,950 (out of total contributions of $503,000) through some 67 different corporate entities, “…many of them showing little to connect them back to their owners besides a mailing address.”

Perhaps what I find most disturbing is that our “Rich & Powerful” – and their obsequious, bought-and-paid-for chattel on the dais of power – would insult our intelligence and attempt to salve our very real fears of quid pro quo corruption by telling us all – with a straight face – that money doesn’t buy influence and access.

According to the colossally arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys, “I have never been told how to vote by any of my contributors.  Not ever.”

My ass.

Surely, they can’t believe we’re that stupid? 

Or worse, actually believe their own gibberish, right?

As I’ve previously written, when you consider the shit train of favorable rulings, millions in “economic incentives,” infrastructure support, tax abatement, multi-year extensions on “temporary” projects, unchecked growth, overlooked environmental atrocities, half-price public land sales to private interests, astronomically low impact fees, corporate giveaways and an atmosphere where the mere presence of these power players at a public meeting ensures an outcome favorable to their personal or professional interests – you understand how our system of county governance has become a shameless plutocratic oligarchy populated by political pimps and whores.

No more, no less.

While these uber-wealthy power brokers may not directly manipulate the figurative rods and strings that animate their elected fantoccini with formal requests, the money and empty accolades they lavish ensure that the selfish needs of those with the ability to control the outcome of elections are consistently met and properly camouflaged by the affectations of government.

They don’t have to ask – the money demands fealty to the process.    

And, in my view, anyone who tells you differently – or crows about their corporate “fiduciary duty to make sure we stay involved in this leadership” is a self-serving shit and a damnable liar.   

According to King Mori of the Exalted House of Hosseini – whose unbridled political power and vast financial influence extends to literally every nook and cranny of local, state and federal politics – “You can call every one of the council members and ask them if Mori has ever called and asked for a favor,” Hosseini said. “None of them will tell you that I have. … I believe the leaders we have are doing a great job altogether and collectively. They make a big difference in the future of our community.”

Bullshit.

Don’t take my word for it, look around.

Wade through the widespread civic stagnation, the creeping blight, dilapidation and overwhelming sense of hopelessness on our diseased beachside – or attempt to do business in this artificial economy where corporate welfare eliminates risks for millionaires and billionaires while small businesses continue to wither, collapse and die.

Or try and earn a living wage as a member of the slavish pool of cheap labor that serves the needs of a rotting hospitality industry – in a place where intractable problems are ignored as the smart money moves west, where taps in the sprawling “lifestyle communities” currently being built on our sensitive recharge areas will soon spew recycled sewerage, and the rest of us hapless dupes struggle under one of the highest tax rates and lowest per capita incomes in the State of Florida – then tell me again how the “leaders we have are doing a great job altogether and collectively.”

Folks, I don’t mind the illusion painted by our ‘powers that be’ – or even watching rich people openly play to the overweening vanity of dimwitted politicians – after all, lying boldly and fueling false hope is all part of modern politics – and the distorted delusion of prosperity and “leadership” espoused by our elected officials and their political benefactors is infinitely more appealing than our current reality.

Just stop blowing smoke up our ass and causing my neighbors and I to doubt our own instincts.

In my view, it is a dangerous proposition – one that threatens the very foundation of our sacred system of governance – when political hubris, bolstered by massive sums of special interest money, results in small-minded politicians believing their own lies.

 

 

 

 

Best of Barker’s View: A Fortuitous Opportunity

This piece was originally published in September 2017 – obviously, our ‘powers that be’ didn’t seize the opportunity. . .

Florida hangs off the continental United States like a weird appendage – a salty protuberance inhabited by an eccentric tribe that, since prehistoric times, have carved out their lives and livelihoods in the state’s swamps, pine scrub and coastal dunes.

For some, it’s the end-of-the-road – a chance for a fresh start in good weather.  For others, Florida represents the subtropical paradise of post cards, a tourist and retirement mecca for refugees from the Northeast who are trying to reclaim and recharge what’s left of a life spent servicing a corporate machine’s “customer base” that never even knew their name.

As the local, state and national media outlets flogged the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma last week (something I think we, as an advanced civilization, need to reexamine) – whipping every man, woman and child in the Southeast into a froth of fear and trepidation – residents of the Sunshine State got a stark reminder of just how vulnerable we are to the fury of Mother Nature’s processes.

Last week, Michael Grunwald, a senior staff writer for Politico and author of “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise” (Simon & Shuster 2006) wrote an excellent (if, in hindsight, slightly premature) piece entitled, “A Requiem for Florida, the paradise that should never have been.”

 According to Grunwald:

“The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830’s. 

 And they hated it.

 Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote.  “It was the most-dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.”  An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.”

The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida.”

The descriptor that I enjoyed most was attributed to an early visitor who remarked that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

I suspect if that wise sage could see things today, he would hold the same opinion. . .

In the late 1800’s, smart people realized that if man could control the flow and retention of water, much of Central and South Florida could be transformed from fetid swampland into something suitable for development – and sale.

And, quite literally, the floodgates of people and money began flowing in to the state and it hasn’t stopped for over one-hundred years.

Now, as old Robbie Burns reminded us, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry – and those of us who choose to live here know deep in our hearts that we are but one good blow away from returning to that “God abandoned” place so aptly described by those weary soldiers way back in the 1880’s – yet, we continue to do it the same way – time-after-time – hoping against hope that we can somehow fool nature and escape the inevitable.

Our colorful history also includes pirates and privateers of all stripes who prowled the waters of Florida plundering anything of value in the name of King or greed, and openly preying on the weak or disabled.

And they’re still coming – gaudy costume and cutlass replaced by thousand-dollar suits and Gucci loafers.

Earlier this year I wrote in the opinion piece, “On Volusia: Gird your loins for the Big Boom!” that it appears the idea of “growth management” in Volusia County – like representative democracy – has been effectively neutered, compromised or simply sold-off to those who stand to benefit most.

After all, it’s no longer about We, The People.

When it comes to managing development on this exposed spit of land, and the threat of urban sprawl and environmental exploitation, the public is no longer considered part of the discussion – our two-cents were outbid by a guy with two-dollars.

Instead, we learn about enormously intrusive and expensive projects in ambush-style, over-the-top announcements by County Manager Jim Dinneen – or get a glimpse of what our life will look like from some glitzy corporate press release, enhanced and regurgitated verbatim by our local news media – with glamor shots of our elected officials wearing goofy hardhats on their swelled heads wielding golden shovels to turn-over damp loam atop a water recharge area or the barrier dunes in the name of “progress.”

Here, on the “Fun Coast,” our “powers-that-be” never once consider the communal impact of massive development.  They are driven solely by the all-important question of who stands to make the most money in the most expedient way possible.

Then, those who receive public funds to serve in the public interest ignore their ethical responsibilities and work quickly to remove all obstacles and assume any potential risks to the developer through the liberal application of public funds and economic incentives.

With the hindsight of the potential loss an eyewall hit by a powerful hurricane could have posed to our extremely vulnerable area still fresh in our minds – perhaps we should use this as a fortuitous, God-granted, opportunity to reexamine the environmental and infrastructure impact of proposed residential projects from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Just maybe, before we start churning thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive lands into “brand-immersive lifestyle destinations,” we should consider the effects – positive and negative – that massive, unchecked development will have on our collective quality of life beyond the short-term benefits to a few well-connected insiders.

 

On Volusia: Crushing Dissent in Deltona

I’m touched by the kindness of my readers.

The fact that someone takes the time to seek out and read an alternative opinion blog tells me they are active and engaged in the affairs of our community – thoughtful, inquisitive citizens who consider all sides of an issue before forming views on the important issues of the day.

When I started this experiment, I could not have imagined that just three years on thousands of people from across the globe would read Barker’s View each month – and I am incredibly moved when someone reaches out to compliment my writing style, or say that my goofy take on things made them laugh.

I often say that I don’t write well – but I write a lot – and I am reminded of that fact every time I read the work of an author or journalist I admire.

Because I don’t have a formal education, I’ve become a good mimic of writers, poets, playwrights, reporters and columnists that move my emotions because, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – altering perspectives and challenging the reader’s views in a way that brings positive change – or provides, as Conrad said, “That glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

A colleague asked me the other day, “Why do you do this?”

He pointed out that my often-provocative essays have changed how some very important people view me in the community – in fact, many in a position of power really don’t like what I have to say about the machinations of government – or the sources and origins of the money that greases the wheels.

That’s okay.

Trust me – there are a few very influential insiders in Volusia County who benefit, personally and financially, from this bizarre system that consolidates power in weird Star Chambers like the shadowy CEO Business Alliance, comprised of incredibly successful millionaires and billionaires – many of whom have received tens-of-millions in government subsidies, handouts and contracts.

I get it.

But who will call bullshit?

Who works to expose the inner-workings, the sausage-making and backroom intrigues, collusion and maneuvers?

The answer to my friend’s question is at once simple, yet extremely complex:

I write my opinions on the injustices, the ineptitude and inherent corruption of this oligarchical system we find ourselves mired in because I desperately want positive change – I want people to know that we don’t have to accept this blight, dilapidation and neglect that is the natural byproduct of a “pay to play” hierarchy, where the needs of a wealthy few always outweigh those of the silent majority who are expected to pay the bills and remain silent – or else.

I want what we all want – even those who despise everything I stand for.

Believe me, I’m no more courageous or intelligent than the next person – in fact, most of what I see in the shadows of government I don’t understand at all – I simply want my sweet granddaughter and future generations in the Halifax area to live in a place that offers them a level playing field.

A place where achievement is based upon a willingness to work hard at work worth doing.

Where her ability to succeed isn’t dependent upon the color of her skin, or the size of her bank account, or measured by how many politicians she may or may not have in her back pocket.

I want her to live in an environment with clean water to drink, and fresh air to breathe – a place where every tree isn’t felled to make way for another convenience store or half-empty strip center – where greenspace and natural areas are valued as much as mega-developments and ‘theme’ communities with 8’ lot lines and a sickeningly contrived ‘lifestyle.’

And I want her to have the ability to control her destiny – and that of the community in which she lives – through an inclusive, participatory government based upon our hallowed democratic principles – a system which actively listens to the thoughts, opinions and diverse views of its constituency and weighs the needs and wants of the lessor among us with the same vigor and importance given to those of the ‘Rich & Powerful.’

I also want her to have the ability to speak out on issues of civic concern without facing the intimidation and fear of those elected and appointed to represent our interests on the dais of power.

If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage everyone to read the intrepid reporter Katie Kustura’s excellent exposé in today’s News-Journal, “Deltona complains of woman’s recording,” which details the despicable bullying tactics of Deltona City Manager Jane Shang, and that cowardly troupe of compromised flunkies on the City Commission, who have knowingly and intentionally misused the full might of Volusia County law enforcement to silence a vociferous critic.

It’s shocking.

It tells the story of Brandy White, a concerned citizen and activist who has worked tirelessly to expose the dysfunction and ineptitude of the Shang administration.  In April, Ms. White went to City Hall to obtain the results of a public records request regarding the city’s controversial civic center.

To document the encounter with public officials, White recorded her interaction with Deltona Finance Director Tracy Hooper in a public area of the building.

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

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

If you’re not moved to seething rage – perhaps you need to rethink what’s at stake here.

You really want to know why I write this goddamned blog? 

It’s to bring attention to shit like this – a wholly dysfunctional and completely corrupted “government” run amok – public officials (in the loosest sense of the term) who set upon outspoken critics like a pack of rabid wolves and crush dissent under the iron boot of an incestuous system intent on preserving the status quo regardless of who or what they have to destroy in the process.

Fuck that.

It’s high time Governor Rick Scott, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney turn their focus to the likes of Jane Shang and those elected officials who have abused their constituents, flagrantly violated both the letter and spirit of our sacred open records law and blatantly misused the omnipotent power of the law to secure an advantage over the citizens they ostensibly exist to serve.

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

Angels & Assholes for July 27, 2018

Hi, Kids!

I hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I’m enjoying mine.

Look, I’m not a huge fan of the heat, humidity and violent thunderstorms that have blanketed us these past few weeks, but as Floridians, it comes with the territory I suppose.

Nothing to do during these languid Dog Days but flop near the water with a cold beverage in your favorite Tiki tumbler and wait it out until October when our weather returns to whatever passes for “normal” here in the subtropics.

I suppose we all have our favorite season, and while some like it hot, fall is the time I enjoy most.

With a short pilgrimage to western North Carolina or East Tennessee, you can enjoy the foliage, wear something northerners call a ‘sweater,’ (it’s like a long-sleeved woolen thing) and get a taste of what it’s like to live in a place that actually has four distinct seasons.

Oddly, I also enjoy that weird autumnal Festival of the Macabre known as All Hallows’ Eve – a night for trick-or-treat, when adults dress up in goofy costumes, get wildly drunk at orgiastic parties in tony neighborhoods and live out their French Maid or Pillaging Pirate fantasies without the judgement that would be common the other 364 days of the year (you know who you are. . .)

Speaking of Halloween, I recently stumbled upon a real bonus for our friends at the Daytona Area Convention and Visitors Bureau – something that just might give them an opportunity to redeem themselves after spending $400,000+ (not counting in-kind services) to lure the much-ballyhooed back-to-back Shriner’s Mega-Conventions – another less-than-spectacular “game changer” which ultimately attracted less folks than a quilting bee. . .

So, here’s my plan:

On Wednesday, our friends at Universal Studios Orlando issued a press release announcing a cool new promotion for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, which begins on September 14th and runs through November 3rd this year.

“Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces will revolve around a dilapidated carnival full of decayed rides and games.  Along the way, guests will encounter guard dogs, a grotesque tunnel of love and armed carnies, according to Universal.”

I immediately thought, “Hot Damn!  Our ship has finally come it!”

I mean, we’ve got one of those very same “attractions” right here on the Fun Coast!

It’s called the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and it has all the spooky features and creepy inhabitants that Universal’s creative team has worked months and spent lavishly to recreate!

Here, you be the judge.

Take a look at the photographs below, and see if you can determine which one depicts a rusty graveyard of dilapidated carnival rides, ghoulish zombies and armed carnies (I’m not even going to describe the “grotesque tunnel of love”) – and which is a carefully conceived and artfully constructed special event which draws tens-of-thousands of Halloween revelers to the Universal theme park each year:

BW2carnival graveyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re welcome CVB!  This one’s on me – Gratis!

I’m just surprised our highly compensated Myrtle Beach Marketing Maharishis at The Brandon Agency didn’t jump all over this?  Because the eerie similarities between the two went through me like a double-dose of Dulcolax. . .

Never let it be said that Barker the Bitcher doesn’t bring real solutions to the table, dammit!

(Will someone please let the Halifax Civic League know I’m available to accept the J. Saxon Lloyd Distinguished Community Service Award this year?  Thanks. . .)

Now, let’s see if our ‘go-getters’ down at the Daytona Beach Economic Development office will seize this real opportunity to turn our frown upside-down and throw up some turnstiles around this “Haunted Hellhole” and turn it into a potential goldmine for city coffers this fall!

Trust me.  This thing has legs.

Like Mr. Kurtz,  I understand horror in the Conradian sense – and if our Boardwalk is going to scare the living shit out of tourists with the very real possibility of being maimed by a rickety roller coaster, or having their skull gnawed on by a cannibal wino behind the Bandshell – why not capitalize on our seedy reputation while its in vogue and make bank, right?

Right.

How about we turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

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

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

 I recently read an interesting article in Psychology Today that discussed the basic human emotion of shame (look, I’m too cheap for therapy, so reading PT and self-diagnosing is the next best thing, okay?):

“Embarrassment is a painful but important emotional state. Most researchers believe that its purpose is to make us feel bad about our social or personal mistakes so that we don’t repeat them, and its physiological side effects—like blushing, sweating, or stammering—may signal to others that we recognize our error and are not cold-hearted or oblivious.”

 Cold-hearted and oblivious.  Sound familiar?

When I read headlines like, “Volusia votes to hold line on taxes,” I often wonder if politicians are born without that cranny of the primitive brain that produces the emotion of humiliation – or if it is simply cauterized by the rush of overweening hubris once they are elected to high office?

After playing fast and loose with public funds since taking their seats, this latest iteration of our County Council now has the gall, in an election year, to act out this tired Kabuki on the dais – totally straight-faced – telling us all what courageous public servants they are for adopting the roll-back rate.

With a $768 million-dollar budget and a half-billion in the bank – in one of the most abominably overtaxed counties in the State of Florida – they act like they’re doing us a favor?

Seriously?

Look, during a 31-year career in law enforcement I developed a pretty strong stomach, but I physically gagged as our elected officials preened and crowed about what brave “risk takers” and watchful stewards of our treasury they are – even as they prepared us for a massive buggering in 2020 with horror stories about the “motherload of all tax increases.”

If it wasn’t all so blatantly choreographed, it would have been mildly entertaining.

For instance, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “If we have another storm, we will have a real problem,” said Councilman Pat Patterson, noting the recent two hurricanes drained $30 million from the county’s coffers, most of which still hasn’t been reimbursed. “We will have to roll the dice here and see how much risk we are going to take. I’m in favor of (no tax increase for residents) but I guess I’m a bit of a risk-taker.”

My ass.

While “Sleepy” Pat may fancy himself a wildcatting “risk taker,” in my view, he comes off as a narcoleptic political retread who has done everything in his power to protect the status quo in that bloated bureaucracy in DeLand – including destroying the personal and professional reputation of whistleblowers who tried in vain to point out real problems to those we elected to solve them – while blatantly stealing our century-old heritage of beach driving and demonstrating just how ineffectual he is when it comes to important issues like impact fees, transportation, corporate welfare, etc., etc.

The fact is, Mr. Patterson, and those other dullards we elected to represent our interests, have sat idle while our public infrastructure crumbled, dozed insensibly as our former County Manager secretly manipulated public policy and openly lied to their constituents, then voted in lockstep to ensure every whim of their political benefactors was met regardless of cost or appearance.

In many ways, Councilman Patterson represents all that’s wrong with this slimy oligarchy that passes for county governance.

Of course, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys literally got in on the “act” – tut-tutting at the weak knees of her worried colleagues and showing that special brand of strong, determined leadership we only glimpse at election time – as she droned on about our “strong fiscal position” and calmed the trembling masses by assuring us she is “100 percent confident that we can protect our citizens,”  in the event of a disaster with currently available funds.

Did anyone really think they were going to do anything other than roll-back?

Hell no.  Because lowering taxes is anathema to a system that needs an increasing number of tax dollars like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host.

My God.  How frigging stupid do they think we are?

Why is it that every election cycle politicians throughout Volusia County turn into a bad community theater troupe – poorly portraying the role of engaged public officials after years of completely ignoring We, The People, as they exclusively serve those special interests with the ability to ‘pay to play.’

Jesus.  It’s painful to watch.

I’m embarrassed for them.

As the “silly season” heats up, we’re about to be inundated with similar fantastic fairy tales embossed on glossy mailers telling us all how good we have it under our current crop of incumbents – many of whom are personally and demonstrably responsible for this civic death spiral we find ourselves in.

The fact is, the likes of “Sleepy” Pat, the painfully egotistical Deb Denys and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Old Ed Kelley, have irreparably ruined the public’s trust in their government – and that, gentle readers, is inexcusable.

So, the next time you hear one of these giddy assholes spouting off about how bright our future is thanks to their ‘bold, visionary leadership and experience’ – even as you drive by one hocked-out shithole of blight and dilapidation after another – or when you are told how wonderful it will be to drink our own recycled sewerage passed off as potable water – and are forced to sit desperately stranded in stand-still traffic thanks to unchecked and unplanned western sprawl – remember who is responsible for this quagmire in the first place.

Then, do the right thing and vote your conscience.

Angel:             Votran Driver Paul Okumu

Last Friday evening, the driver of a Votran bus courageously intervened to stop the sexual assault of a female passenger in Ponce Inlet.

You don’t see that much anymore – someone standing tall and putting all they have, and all they will ever have, on the line to help a total stranger.

Just before 7:00pm, the suspect, identified in reports as Michael Lemuel Speaks, 34, of Deltona pulled down his pants and underwear and began menacing the unidentified female victim as the bus traveled on South Atlantic Avenue in Ponce Inlet.

Most frightening, during the attack Speaks was armed with a knife – and was later found to have a handful of condoms in his pants pocket.

Without hesitation, and obviously little thought for his personal safety, Driver Paul Okumu, 26, of Port Orange guided the bus to a stop and physically confronted the armed degenerate in a valiant attempt to protect his passenger from harm.

During the confrontation, the suspect grabbed Mr. Okumu by the throat.  The ensuing struggle sent both men into a side window shattering the glass.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio hailed Okumu for the hero he is, “The Votran bus driver did a great job,” he said – adding that Speaks was “real uncooperative” – and threatened officers, spit at them, and attempted to kick out the window of a patrol car.

Scumbag.

Following his arrest, police confirmed that Speaks is a habitual offender who has been booked into jail no less than 35 times in the past eleven years.

Barker’s View offers a hearty tip o’ the hat to Mr. Paul Okumu – one tough bus driver – for his incredible courage and intrepidity in stopping a violent felon in the act of committing a heinous sex crime and ensuring that our criminal justice system gets one more opportunity to get it right and remove this dangerous piece of human excrement from our community.

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

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

The author Joseph Heller wrote in his novel Catch 22: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

While the County of Volusia has developed quite a reputation for accepting mediocrity as public policy – I’m not sure the safety and security of our schools is the place for what we have come to accept as ‘business as usual’ in DeLand.

As many loyal readers of this forum know, I was recently passed over for a position as a School Guardian – a state mandated security program which will place a hybrid of armed civilians and law enforcement officers on every school campus in the state.

According to district officials it was my own damn fault.

Although they received my resume and application, somehow my name didn’t appear on “the list” of qualified applicants that were called to serve.

Like the Amazing Kreskin, somehow, I knew instinctively that was going to happen before I applied. . .

But the experience piqued my interest in the mysterious inner-workings of this enigma who spends nearly $900 million of our hard-earned tax dollars each year ostensibly educating our children.

After four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who have been appointed to oversee this sensitive program – and I found that two of the three couldn’t qualify for the position they are charged with managing.

In my view, the credibility of this program is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in that will be required for success, so I asked for the names and qualifications of those appointed by Superintendent Tom Russell to provide for the safety and security of our precious children.

On July 16th, I received the following information from Greg Aiken, the district’s Chief Operating Officer, which read, in part:

“I have 22.5 years of military experience and 15 years in the School District where 14 of those years has been building and managing the safety and security program for the district.  I am a certified FEMA and TEEX Adjunct Instructor  for the past 10 years teaching all facets of emergency management all over the US.  

I am right now working with the current classes of school guardians to bring that program up and running by August 13th.  Mr. Craig Pender was appointed by the board to take over the day-to-day responsibilities of the Safety and Security program and comes to the department with school-based emergency management experience.  That position is a level 9.  Ms. Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales, has FBI experience and has been working the safety and security program for over a year now.  She is a level 6.

We have identified three (3) employees that will have the duties as the School Safety Specialist to ensure we have back-ups when the others are on vacation or out sick.  Mr. Pender is the primary with Rosalyn and myself as the back-ups.”

When I finally received the public records, I discovered that Mr. Pender – our brand-new school security expert – began his career 1994 as a Band Director at Southwestern Middle School – and most recently served as an ESE supervisor and Assistant Principle at University High School in Orange City.

However, he does have one very important credential – Mr. Pender is married to the School Districts Chief Human Resources Officer.

Now that’s an impressive career track for a middle-manager – but, in my view, without the required military or law enforcement experience – it doesn’t qualify Mr. Pender to assume the massive, almost unprecedented, responsibility for physically securing and providing close personal protection for 63,000 children and an untold number of teachers, staff and visitors.

Oh, remember Ms. Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales?  The one with the highly touted “FBI experience”?

Well, come to find out, she served as an “administrative secretary” in the FBI’s New York Field Office. . .

Again, Ms. Velasquez-Morales has an impressive career trajectory, I’m just not sure her secretarial duties at the FBI equate to the terribly important job she is being paid to perform.

Now, I don’t know shit about playing the clarinet in a marching band – but I know a little about what it takes to lead, supervise, motivate and administrate a group of armed professionals – brave men and women who are asked to go in harm’s way and provide a vitally important service.

I sincerely hope Mr. Akin, Mr. Pender and Ms. Valasquez-Morales are prepared, certified and capable of assuming this enormous responsibility.  If not, perhaps they have the collective personal and professional ethics to reconsider this “fake it till you make it” approach to school security administration – because it’s crystal clear Superintendent Russell didn’t think this through.

You know what pisses me off even more?

When someone in a position of high authority –  who receives public funds to serve in the public interest – blows smoke up my ass and tries to convince me that someone charged with overseeing the dynamic and gravely important mission of supervising armed security officers in elementary schools is painted as having federal law enforcement experience when they don’t.

Ms. Valasquez-Morales didn’t claim to have “FBI experience” – her boss claimed she did.

But why?

To appease my curiosity – or to bolster the credibility of a program that desperately needs it?

Regardless, in my view, a senior official misrepresenting Ms. Valasquez-Morales’ tenuous law enforcement credentials as a means of salving over my very real concerns about the leadership of the Guardian program is disingenuous at best – and borders on a bald-faced lie.

And that, gentle readers, causes me to question if there is more about this program, or other aspects of this festering bureaucracy, that are being obscured with double-talk?

Asshole:          Hard Rock Daytona

 There’s an old idiom that holds true time and again:  A picture is worth a thousand words. 

Hard Rock July 18

This is the public face of the “Four Star” property our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County sacrificed 410 linear feet of our unique heritage of beach driving to bring to our most important natural amenity and regional economic engine: The World’s Most Famous Beach. 

Remind me again exactly how a dismal scene like this “enhances the visitor experience”?

Now that the cocktail parties and fireworks are over, don’t ever tell me that Summit Hospitality – or anyone on the dais of power in DeLand – gives two-shits about us ever again. . .

Quote of the Week:

“I’ve been hammering away at this since I was elected.  They deserve to be paid better. One second, they’re sitting there dealing with someone who has a cat up a tree and the next second they’re dealing with someone who is delivering a baby or someone who is suicidal. They are a vital cog in what we do. What they do is a high-risk, high-pressure job. It really is.”

–Sheriff Michael Chitwood, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia County sheriff pushes raises for ‘underpaid, undervalued 9-1-1 dispatchers,” July 23, 2018

In my view, it’s high time these unsung heroes were compensated with a living wage for the incredibly important work they do to ensure our safety and security 24-hours a day.

And Another Thing!

After a stellar 25-year career with the Daytona Beach Police Department, Lieutenant Jake Mays is honorably retiring from public service after having been accepted to the Florida A&M University College of Law!

During his long career serving the citizens of Daytona Beach, Lt. Mays served in operations, administration, field training and evaluation, code enforcement and as a detective in both narcotics and general investigations.

In addition, his military service includes work as a K-9 handler with the United States Air Force Security Police from 1989 to 1993 – and mutual aid support in explosives detection for the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Navy and other law enforcement agencies.

It does my beat-up old heart good to see a former colleague bring a wonderfully fulfilling career to an honorable and successful close while he’s still young and healthy enough to contribute and enjoy another adventure.

We can be eternally grateful that men and women of Lt. May’s character and professionalism serve us so faithfully each and every day as members of the Daytona Beach Police Department.

We’re glad you passed our way, Jake.

Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement – and best of luck in your future law career!

That’s all for me, kids!

As always, thanks for taking the time to visit Barker’s View – please come back and sit a spell when you have the time.

Barker’s View will be on hiatus next week as we travel back to our Nations Capital for a few days – I’ll be posting some Best of Barker’s View in the meantime.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Fake it, till you make it

The author Joseph Heller wrote in his novel Catch 22: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

Sound familiar. . .?

I have a working theory that somewhere along the way Volusia County government services surrendered, en masse, to the forces of mediocrity.

When the people you serve stop expecting anything of substance from you – and your elected “leadership” embrace averageness and poor performance as public policy – then underachievement and shoddy standards become engrained in the culture of the organization.

Let’s face it, it’s easier that way.

During the height of the debacle at our Medical Examiner’s Office – a critical public service that provides professional medicolegal services to the judicial system – our elected officials, supported by the chairman of the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission, repeatedly told us that the loss of professional accreditation was no big deal – just a piece of useless paper hanging on the wall. . .

And when it came time to uphold the performance standards and “five star” amenities required by ordinance at the Hard Rock Daytona before the theft of our heritage of beach driving – we watched helplessly as Volusia County government accepted a building still very much under construction, with a slapdash façade for a seawall and visibly unfinished facilities as having met the exacting standards of their own law.

Now, the Volusia County School District wants concerned parents to believe the state’s school grading program is a waste of time – because “we don’t define ourselves by grades” (you know, the same system every student in the district is judged by?)

After receiving it’s third “D” mark in a row, parents of students at Palm Terrace Elementary in Daytona Beach were notified last week they have until Thursday to notify the district if they wish to move their children to a better performing school.

In keeping with their patented “hope as public policy” approach – school officials are banking that not many will opt to accept the state mandated transfer option.

According to Saralee Morrissey, the director of planning for the Volusia County School District, “People feel pretty strongly about their elementary school and take a school grade with a grain of salt.” 

 Really?

Because it’s a pretty big deal to parents I talk to.

Look, it’s just as easy to blame poorly performing schools on teachers as it is to blame law enforcement for crime.  The fact is, neither have a direct impact on the causative factors – those engrained community and districtwide issues that have led to these seemingly intractable problems.

But rather than listen to our hardworking teachers – those who are actually in the classroom molding children – when they complain of increasing workloads and decreased planning time, the destabilizing effect of arbitrarily changing school start times and early release days without consulting parents, or even the basic need for an elementary reading and math textbook – their pleas fall on deaf ears, dismissed by an arrogant top down decision-making process and asinine internal policies that have seen 17 schools drop one or more letter grades this school year.

Now we are learning of a plan unilaterally developed by district staff that would use $1.5 million in state funding to hire 16 new district employees and create four mental health “response and intervention teams” with money approved earlier this year by Florida legislators to increase school security following the atrocity at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The problem is – their “plan” was created with zero input from the five community partners that currently provide mental health services to our schools – including Halifax Health – who has been completely ignored – even purposely shunned – by district officials as they all but rolled-over for Florida Hospital.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The Halifax Health Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the district stating the Florida Hospital deal and the plan for the mental health services “appear to have been developed in isolation, without meaningful input from already invested community organizations.”

I find that disturbing and you should too.

As many loyal readers of this forum know, I was recently passed over for a position as a School Guardian – a state mandated security program which will place a hybrid of armed civilians and law enforcement officers on every school campus in the state.

According to the school district – it was my own damn fault.  Who knows?

But it piqued my interest in the mysterious inner-workings of this enigma who spends hundreds-of-millions in tax dollars each year educating our children.

After four public records requests to district officials, I was finally able to review the qualifications of those who have been appointed to oversee the incredibly sensitive Guardian program – and I found that two of the three couldn’t qualify for the position they are charged with managing.

In my view, the credibility of this program is paramount to achieving the internal and external buy-in that will be required for success, so I asked for the names and qualifications of those appointed by Superintendent Tom Russell to provide for the safety and security of our precious children.

On July 16th, I received the following information from Greg Aiken, the district’s Chief Operating Officer, which read, in part:

“I have 22.5 years of military experience and 15 years in the School District where 14 of those years has been building and managing the safety and security program for the district.  I am a certified FEMA and TEEX Adjunct Instructor  for the past 10 years teaching all facets of emergency management all over the US.  

I am right now working with the current classes of school guardians to bring that program up and running by August 13th.  Mr. Craig Pender was appointed by the board to take over the day-to-day responsibilities of the Safety and Security program and comes to the department with school-based emergency management experience.  That position is a level 9.  Ms. Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales, has FBI experience and has been working the safety and security program for over a years now.  She is a level 6.

We have identified three (3) employees that will have the duties as the School Safety Specialist to ensure we have back-ups when the others are on vacation or out sick.  Mr. Pender is the primary with Rosalyn and myself as the back-ups.”

When I finally received the public records that I requested earlier this week, I found that Mr. Pender – our brand-new school security expert – began his career as a Band Director at Southwestern Middle School, and most recently served as an ESE supervisor and Assistant Principle at University High School in Orange City.

He may not have the military or law enforcement experience necessary to serve as a Guardian – or a Florida School Security Specialist certification – but he does have one very important credential – Mr. Pender is married to the School Districts Chief Human Resources Officer. . .

(I don’t make this shit up, folks.)

Now that’s an impressive career track for a middle-manager – but, in my view, without the statutorily required experience – it doesn’t qualify Mr. Pender to assume the massive, almost unprecedented responsibility for physically securing and providing close personal protection for 63,000 children and an untold number of teachers, staff and visitors.

Oh, remember Ms. Rosalyn Velasquez-Morales?

The one with the highly regarded “FBI experience” – well, come to find out, she served as an “administrative secretary” in the FBI’s New York Field Office. . .

Again, Ms. Velasquez-Morales has an impressive career trajectory, I’m just not sure her secretarial duties equate to the incredibly important job she is being paid to perform.

Now, I don’t know shit about playing the clarinet in a marching band – and even less about providing secretarial services – but I know a little about what it takes to lead, supervise, motivate and administrate a group of armed professionals, men and women who are asked to go in harms way and provide a vitally important service.

I sincerely hope Mr. Akin, Mr. Pender and Ms. Valasquez-Morales are prepared, certified and capable of assuming this enormous responsibility to our precious children.  If not, perhaps they have the collective personal and professional ethics to reconsider this “fake it till you make it” approach to school security administration – because it’s crystal clear Superintendent Russell didn’t think this through.

Whatever.

You know what pisses me off?

When someone in a position of high authority –  who receives public funds to serve in the public interest – blows smoke up my ass and tries to convince me that someone charged with overseeing the dynamic and gravely important mission of supervising armed security officers in elementary schools is painted as having federal law enforcement experience – which could have meant anything from the person who inventories paper supplies to a Hostage Rescue Team operator – when they don’t.

To someone that actually has received advanced training at the FBI National Academy – and has actually worked criminal cases in the field alongside FBI agents – misrepresenting Ms. Valasquez-Morales’ law enforcement credentials is disingenuous – and borders on a bald-faced lie.

And that, gentle readers, causes me to question if there is more about this program, or other aspects of this bloated bureaucracy, that are being obscured with double-talk?

When you add the inability of our School Board to live within their massive $900 million budget – the largest of any government entity in Volusia County – a proposed tax increase, and the fact our elected officials voted just last night to limit our ability to speak to them on issues of public concern from a paltry four-minutes to just three-minutes, and one gets the disturbing impression we have real trouble on our hands.

The more I scratch the surface at Volusia County Schools, it becomes increasingly apparent that Superintendent Tom Russell, his senior administrators and our elected officials have lost touch with their core mission – and at least some have no qualms whatsoever about quibbling the facts when their motives are questioned.

That is unacceptable.

It is time our impressionable children learn that mediocrity is not a virtue to be admired.

 

 

 

On Volusia: A Balancing Act

Eastern philosophy teaches that all things in nature seek harmony – the Yin and Yang – a theory that is at once elemental, yet extremely complex, and encompasses everything in the universe.

Essentially, this concept of duality suggests that all things are interdependent, and even forces that are totally different and seemingly opposite can be complementary in the natural world – light/dark, fire/water, good/evil – progress/stagnation.

Even at the molecular level, life seeks equilibrium.

An atom – the fundamental building block of all matter – seeks the powerful balance of positive and negative charges – and anyone who has kept an aquarium knows the delicate, symbiotic relationships at play where one organisms poison becomes another’s sustenance.

This sense of stability is vitally necessary in politics as well.

In fact, very bad things happen when one faction becomes so powerful that it dominates all others.

For instance, consider how the scales would tip if a small group of extremely wealthy individuals chain-ganged political contributions to hand-select candidates for public office – infusing unnatural sums of money into local elections to provide an extreme, almost insurmountable advantage to a specific candidate.

Imagine the undue – even subliminal – level of influence that would give the Donor Class?

Or the destabilizing effect on citizens who see and experience one thing – yet are led to believe something totally opposite to their physical perceptions – and the havoc that would ensue if unchecked growth were permitted without first considering strategic infrastructure needs and service impacts of tens of thousands of new residents.

I was recently taken to task by a well-meaning friend who is worried that the opinions expressed in Barker’s View may have a detrimental impact on attracting the ‘best-of-the-best’ in our nascent search for a new county manager.

The thought being that any candidate who searches for “Volusia County” on the web will invariably be drawn to one or more of my outrageous ramblings on what condition our condition is in here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

I get it.

However, in my view, it is essential to have an alternative view to this lopsided, Pollyannaish smokescreen by those who seek to remain in power – a weird Fantasyland resplendent with cotton candy clouds and Big Rock Candy Mountains – and front page, above the fold headlines like, “New for Beachside: Optimism” give a disturbingly wrong impression to anyone who skims our newspaper of record.

As a realist, I believe the long-suffering denizens of Volusia County need to have the fictional party line buffered by the unvarnished truth – the good and bad, the positives and negatives – fact-based information and opinion to counter the ‘feel-good’ yarns that sugarcoat the obvious in a thin crust of false sanguinity.

Last week our ‘movers and shakers’ got together (once again) to stroke each other’s sizable egos and reaffirm to one another that things couldn’t possibly be as bad as they seem.

At a meeting organized by the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, the same tired people hashed over the same tired problems – you know, the perennial issues they have been painfully incapable of solving for decades – while they desperately attempt to convince us we should give them one more chance to try.

My ass.

A recent analysis by the News-Journal found that our horribly compromised beachside has lost $677 million in assessed value since 2008 – with scores of vacant and dilapidated properties growing like malignant tumors along the spine of A-1-A as it winds it way through our core tourist district.

So, rather than take definitive action to solve the problems that have hampered entrepreneurial investment, like-types continue to gather in elegant rooms and crow about what a great opportunity exists in an area that’s been left for dead by the smart money moving west – while the always giddy County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler gushes with enthusiasm about the non-starters proposed in the watered-down eyewash that was the Beachside Redevelopment Committee’s recommendations.

It’s mindboggling that they think we’re that dumb.

But they do.

Gentle readers, that sound you hear over the roar of the surf is the death rattle of a once vibrant tourist destination that has been allowed to wither on the vine – and now the “brand” that was once the World’s Most Famous Beach is being irreparably damaged.

With over $100-million in beachside CRA funds over the transom – it was good while it lasted for a few well-heeled insiders – but smart money follows the crowd – and it is clear that our ‘powers-that-be’ have turned their collective attention to the west.

But just maybe things aren’t as good as they seem out on Boomtown Boulevard either?

Now, we are “just being told” that our city, county and state officials don’t have a clue how to fix a patently obvious two-lane traffic bottleneck on LPGA Boulevard that (we are being led to believe) caught our elected officials and growth management “experts” by surprise – and more disturbing – that there is no money available to correct the problem, even if they wanted to.

My God.  This simply cannot be true, can it?

In a recent exposé in the News-Journal regarding the effect of exponential growth west of I-95 – and the almost criminal lack of infrastructure planning during the permitting process – our “leadership” claims they only recently realized the residents of thousands of new homes currently under construction on LPGA Boulevard will be caught in a pinch-point at the wholly inadequate Tomoka River bridge.

As Prince John Albright – CEO of the good old boy investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company, who sold the hundreds of acres of sensitive pine scrub that is now being churned into “theme” communities – recently said (straight-faced) at a public forum on growth:

“It’s crazy.  It caught everyone flat-footed.” 

Bullshit.

Folks, that’s the tip of the iceberg.

It is physically impossible to think that our government and private sector leaders could be that manifestly stupid – that greed-crazed – that they would press forward with these massive development plans knowing well it would gridlock everything from Ormond Beach to New Smyrna – then come back and tout their “strong, steady, experienced leadership” horseshit as they grovel for one more bite at this rotten apple.

Yet, that is what’s happening.

And they will use the western sprawl as an example of what they have ‘accomplished.’

As the election cycle heats up, we’re about to be inundated with fantastic fairy tales of how good we have it under our current crop of incumbents – many of whom are personally and demonstrably responsible for this civic death spiral we find ourselves in.

We will hear the likes of “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – a perpetual retread who has become so ineffectual that watching him spin his tired old wheels on important issues like SunRail and impact fees has become something of a pitiful pastime here in Volusia County.

Yet, he will audaciously tell us bald-faced lies about his “strong, steady leadership” and that “Experience = Results.”

Or the spurious yowling of County Council incumbent Deb Denys – whose campaign slogan, “An experienced leader who puts you first” is so patently wrong – so grossly mendacious – that  it supernaturally suspends reality.

Trust me.  Ms. Denys hasn’t “put you first” since she accepted her first campaign contribution.

The fact is, the likes of “Sleepy” Pat, the always arrogant Deb Denys and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Old Ed Kelley, have done more to ensure that the wants of the wealthy special interests are met – while completely ignoring the current and future needs of their constituents – that it will take decades to recover from this horrific reign of incompetence.

So, the next time you hear one of these giddy assholes spouting off about how great we all have it here – how bright our future is thanks to their ‘visionary leadership and experience’ – even as you drive by one hocked-out shithole of blight and dilapidation after another – when you are told how wonderful it will be to consume our own sewerage passed off as potable water – or you are forced to sit hopelessly stranded in stand-still traffic – consider who benefits most when the harmonic balance of truth and lies is repeatedly disturbed.

Consider what happens when we put our faith and trust in a system that has become so disconnected from our collective needs that it seemingly exists to perpetuate the status quo – and purposely mistakes mediocrity for “success” – so long as the right last names get an adequate return on investment.

If you are as shocked by these recurring revelations of base ineptitude and lack of strategic vision as I am, then please let your voice be heard – loud and clear – at the ballot box.

I fear it is our last, best hope for change.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 20, 2018

Hi, Kids!

Earlier this week I posted a little ditty about my horribly failed attempt to seek employment as a “School Guardian” – a state mandated security program which will place armed civilians in elementary schools throughout the Volusia County School District.

Well, as the Dude said, “New shit has come to light, man.”

Don’t ask me how, but at the end of the day, I just knew it was going to be my fault.

I just didn’t know how it was going to be my fault.

After being among the first to submit a resume to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in May – I received two very informative telephone calls confirming my qualifications for the Guardian position – and was directed to complete the School District’s on-line application.

I then received a personal email from Sheriff Mike Chitwood which confirmed, “I will forward (the resume) to the School Board” – and I proceeded to complete the on-line application.   

On June 16th I received electronic confirmation that my application had been received by the District.

Now, I’m told my name never appeared on “the list.”

According to a district official, “The notice you received was that the application was complete as you submitted it and modified it on June 19th.  I do not know why your name was not on the list except that you didn’t click the button to apply for positions.”

 Welcome to the Twilight Zone. . .   

I’m going to accept this bureaucratic loop-talk for what it is and chalk-up the whole weird experience as “my fault” – because I’m absolutely certain that no publicly-funded government entity would stoop to denying our precious children, teachers and staff the benefit of four decades of advanced training and hard-earned experience out of some malicious attempt to retaliate against my frequent biting criticism of the machinations of Volusia County government.

Or because “the button” wasn’t clicked.

Because that would be morally and ethically wrong – if not demonstrably negligent, right?

Right.

But I still want answers.  The stakes are too high.

This vitally important program is the underfunded brainchild of our state legislature – who, while facing withering pressure in the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, opted for a mandate that hires, trains and deploys a hybrid of armed civilians and sworn law enforcement officers to every school in the State of Florida.

Among the myriad issues hamstringing this imperative is the fact our School Board can’t seem to figure out how to adequately fund the program – leaving them groveling to Volusia County – and now the municipalities – for spare change like those ubiquitous wandering mendicants at any major intersection in the Halifax area.

mandate mendicant

Despite massive reserve funds, the Volusia County Council paid tacit lip service and threw a paltry $500K at the problem – and Deltona, which hosts some nine school campuses, isn’t chipping in a dime.

(Why is it that all the right last names can automatically demand any amount of tax dollars they need to underwrite a private project with a profit motive – yet, when it comes to protecting that which we hold most dear – our elected officials cry poor-mouth?) 

Oh, well – that’s another question, for another day. . .

As I continue to wait for the results of my third public records request for the job description, posting and qualifications of our new, statutorily mandated, School Security Specialist – a vitally essential position that will oversee the training, inspection and supervision of those brave souls who answered the call to protect our schools – more questions arise about the administration of the program – and the selection process used by district officials to staff this important role.

For instance, I continue to receive weird anecdotal information that the gentleman recently appointed by the School Board (without any external solicitation or competitive process) with direct responsibility for the Guardian program is a former Assistant Principal who lacks even the basic qualifications or certifications to serve as a Guardian – which requires military or law enforcement experience – let alone lead this incredibly sensitive security program.

Apparently, he did have one very special qualification – he’s married to the School District’s Senior Personnel Director. . .

You read that right.

In my view, it’s nepotistic bullshit like that could seriously damage the credibility of this crucial security program in the minds of those who are being asked to fund it through this bizarre double taxation scheme that taps municipal governments for cash.

More questions. . .

And why has it now taken 18-days to fulfill my relatively simple public records request – when others received similar information with a single phone call?

Look, I realize this is sour grapes on my part – I got passed over for reasons that remain murky – no big deal.  But the more I dig into the machinations of our elected members of the School Board and those who work for them – the more I get the feeling I didn’t want to serve under those people anyway.

For instance, I recently became aware that 54% of new teachers hired failed to return to the classroom in the 2017-18 school year – and that 59% of our schools are rated C or D, including 72% of our elementary schools.   

Damn.

Folks, we’ve got bigger issues than my brittle feelings at risk here – this is our children’s education we’re talking about – and accepting mediocrity is now a disease infecting every facet of county government.

You can bet your bippy I’ll have much more on these disturbing issues and more at Volusia County Schools in coming weeks.

Stay tuned.

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 see who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

 Angel:             Judge Belle B. Schumann

 If you are searching for a shining example of a true servant-leader – someone who rolls up their sleeves and goes to work every day with a burning desire to improve the lives of their neighbors and make our systems of justice and governance serve everyone equally – then look no further than Volusia County Judge Belle Schumann.

Last week, Judge Schumann’s extraordinary efforts were recognized with the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence. 

This prestigious honor is presented annually to one county judge and one circuit judge in the state who have proven themselves “an innovative leader on the bench and in the administration of justice.”

Judge Schumann is most decidedly an inventive and visionary leader.

Since being appointed to the bench in 2005, she founded the Volusia County DUI court and the SAVE docket, a pioneering initiative which provides alternative sentencing for homeless and indigent defendants – moving these cases away from the revolving door of incarceration in favor of the effective application of community service and treatment.

In addition, Judge Schumann chaired the Seventh Judicial Circuit’s Professionalism Committee and established a seminar for professionalism for area lawyers and doctors – and she has been a major force behind the establishment of a new homeless shelter in Daytona Beach.

She’s a damn fine judge as well – serving the citizens of Volusia County from the bench with fairness, firmness and compassion.

In my view, Judge Schumann exemplifies the strength of character, visionary leadership and dedication to fundamentally improving our community that one expects of a jurist committed to service in the public interest.

Congratulations, Judge Schumann!

We’re glad you passed our way.

 Asshole:          Deltona City Manager Jane Shang

In late 2016, the utter dysfunction that is the City of Deltona popped up on the Barker’s View radar – let’s face it, it was pretty hard to ignore – and things have only gotten worse.

In a post entitled, “Deltona: Welcome to 1984,” I described a grim situation wherein then Commissioner Brian Soukup made the unfortunate mistake of publicly questioning the motivations of City Manager Jane Shang – in my view, a flaky foul ball who seems to draw sustenance from drama and chaos – when she approved a highly unusual mid-service payout of some $93,000 in unused leave as part of a firefighter’s internal promotion.

To his credit, Commissioner Soukup took issue with the questionable expenditure and publicly stated he believed Shang lied to him by omission when he made inquiry into the highly unusual and incredibly expensive benefit on behalf of his skeptical constituents.

Mr. Soukup’s remarks were met with suspiciously sharp rebukes from Mayor John Masiarczyk and Commissioner Chris Nabicht (a former Deltona deputy fire chief who was forced to retire after a departmental “reorganization” in the wake of sexual harassment complaints – and allegations he would stop by a female subordinate’s office to “pass gas” – which Nabicht denied) both of whom thought Soukup’s comments somehow insulted the delicate sensibilities of the Deltona fire union.

During the ensuing brouhaha, Nabicht barked, “You’re out of line, Soukup.”

Oddly enough, two-years on, Nabicht is still defending the always controversial Shang and the frightful shitstorm that seems to follow her like a dark thundercloud of discord and confusion.

Ultimately, Commissioner Soukup did the only thing an honest public servant can and resigned his elected post:

“I can no longer be part of an elected body that, in principal and in practice, continues to create and operate in a culture of injustice and unethical and possibly illegal practices. It is a culture that absolutely refuses to respect, to include and to serve in the best interest of its residents. And worse, it is a culture that willingly condones and covers up unethical practices. It is clear that Deltona is being run by special interests and highly paid consultants, concerned only with lining their own pockets. I won’t be complicit in that!”

 That should have been a warning to the Deltona City Commission – but it wasn’t.

Now, things in Volusia County’s largest municipality have gone from bad to worse.

In May, the intrepid Deltona activist Patricia Gibson went to Deltona’s new conference facility, “The Center,” and paid to attend a Mother’s Day brunch.  During her visit, Ms. Gibson had reason to question whether the catering company hired with public funds to serve food at the event was in possession of the proper state licensing.

Despite the presence of high-ranking city officials, Ms. Gibson was apparently the only one present who seemed to care about the licensing issue – and she documented her interaction with city officials and employees with her cellphone video camera.

On May 18th, a state inspection resulted in four violations which have since been corrected.

For her trouble in looking out for the health and safety of Deltona residents, on May 24th a Volusia County sheriff’s deputy arrived at Gibson’s home and formally trespassed her from The Center, a public amenity paid for with tax dollars.

Why?

Because Deltona’s ‘powers that be’ don’t like Ms. Gibson very much.

You see, she frequently calls bullshit on a system that has operated more like an extortion racket than a municipal government – denying citizens and elected officials access to information, imposing onerous fees, using the code enforcement process like a cudgel, block voting on important issues, marginalizing those who are critical of the majority and repeatedly demonstrating open hostility toward constituents who speak critically of Deltona government – and it’s wholly dysfunctional water utility.

Now, it appears Ms. Shang has stooped to a new low – using the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office as her private Tonton Macoute to silence her most ardent critic.

After Ms. Gibson left the venue, Shang reported to the responding sheriff’s deputy that  Gibson was, “actually going up to people at their tables and putting her camera in their face while they were eating and asking them questions about The Center.”

I find that misuse of governmental power disturbing, and you should too.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, six city officials, employees and volunteers associated with the brunch wrote statements asserting that customers complained about Gibson filming them at the event.

“Deltona Commissioner Chris Nabicht wrote on May 21 he had asked Shang at the brunch to contact law enforcement and that he had heard other patrons complaining about Gibson and saying they didn’t want to be captured on video. 

“I requested that she have a deputy respond as I felt that Ms. Gibson was creating a disturbance and an uninviting atmosphere, by videoing staff and patrons in an unofficial capacity,” he wrote. “Her behavior was ruining my dining experience that myself and my friends and family had paid for.”

(Really?  Because it was the thought of Commissioner Nabicht crudely farting in a public office space that ‘ruined my dining experience’ this morning. . .)

Interestingly, “City officials say they don’t have any statements from customers regarding the presence of Gibson, who also paid to attend the brunch.”

Wow.

The brewing problem for Shang and Nabicht is – when the News-Journal reviewed Gibson’s raw footage, there was absolutely no evidence that she disturbed anyone other than already perturbed city officials – which materially corroborates Gibson’s assertion that she didn’t harass anyone.

Ultimately, the trespass warning issued by the City of Deltona against Ms. Gibson was rescinded.

It should never have been issued in the first place.

And this isn’t the first time Shang and Company have used this despicable tactic.

Earlier this year, Deltona citizen advocate Brandy White was charged with a felony ostensibly for recording a city employee in a public area of City Hall after being denied a public records request.

That charge is under review by prosecutors.

Perhaps most frightening, after Monday’s meeting adjourned, Commissioner Anita Bradford took the opportunity to personally apologize to Ms. Gibson – then admitted she didn’t speak up for a constituent who was wrongfully accused of a crime and sent through the ringer by the full might of government “because of my own fear of retaliation.”

Given the circumstances, that’s a legitimate fear.

Commissioner Bradford followed up with, “The right thing to do would’ve been to ask the governor to do an investigation.”

It’s still the right thing to do.

It’s also time Sheriff Mike Chitwood stop taking Ms. Shang’s phone calls, because this crank is about to get herself – and the community she micromanages with an iron hand – in very big trouble.

To his continuing personal and professional shame, “Nabicht said he thinks Shang is doing a good job for the city,” and “sometimes folks are going to be unhappy about things.”

You’re out of line, Commissioner – the time to make nice-nice has come and gone – and even a casual observer can see how Shang operates.

As I’ve said before,  concerned taxpayers have an obligation to question the motivations of an elected body – and an out-of-control city administration – that would stifle the free and open discussion of civic issues, engage in the misrepresentation, manipulation and controlled distribution of critical information, and demonstrate such a complete disregard for citizen concerns and input.

In my view, this gross misapplication of law enforcement deserves to be fully investigated.

Frankly, this is the behavior of a barbarous dictatorship – not a representative democracy – and it should have the full and undivided attention of any agency charged with enforcing public ethics and upholding the citizens trust in our system of justice.

In my view, Chris Nabicht – and any other city official who participated or stood idle while this gross injustice was perpetrated by City Manager Shang – should do the honorable thing and publicly admit that they bore false witness against a vocal community activist, then maliciously turned the law into a dull weapon to pound Ms. Gibson into submission, simply because they are tired of her criticism.

Then they should have the common human decency to resign and take Jane Shang with them.

It is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately terminate Shang’s reign of intimidation and order an independent investigation into the improprieties and unethical practices detailed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting – and the experience of private citizens who have felt the wrath personally.

Anyone who cares about good governance in their own hometown should care about good governance everywhere, and this necrotic situation in the City of Deltona – a wholly dysfunctional and terribly expensive Carnival of the Absurd that has destroyed the public’s faith in their government – simply cannot continue.

Angel:             Hyatt and CiCi Brown

Look, no one has been more openly critical of J. Hyatt Brown’s manipulation of Volusia County government through the infusion of massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for local offices as a means of ensuring his personal and professional interests.

But it is equally important to give credit when credit is due.

It was recently announced that Mr. and Mrs. Brown have pledged some $15 million of their own money to return Riverfront Park in Downtrodden Downtown Daytona to its former glory.

That’s a good thing.

Anyone who grew up in the Halifax area has fond memories of shopping downtown during it’s heyday – when a just reward for good behavior was a trip to Dunn Brothers toy department – and the park was a beautiful place to run and play, before whatever happened, happened.

While it remains hard for me to overlook the $15.5 million public investment in the private headquarters of J. Hyatt’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary, Brown & Brown – if in fact the Brown’s are personally investing in the rebirth of this important and highly visible amenity – then I support their efforts wholeheartedly.

Look, I realize that all the same last names will be involved in the private “foundation” that will ultimately govern and oversee perpetual maintenance of the public space – this is still Daytona Beach – and that level of ‘old money’ control comes with the territory.

Because of that, I think it is important that we, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, take a healthy ‘wait-and-see’ approach to promises made (after all, our “trust issues” are hard-earned); however, in my view, this is the kind of civically healthy partnership and entrepreneurial investment that can ultimately turn the tide of blight and dilapidation that has brought many areas of our once beautiful community to its knees – and continues to threaten our quality of life and future economic viability.

Because it damn sure isn’t going to get fixed otherwise. . .

Maybe it’s just my suspicious nature, but somehow, I know this is going to come back and bite me in the ass.

In my broken heart I know there is some underlying self-serving component to this unusual philanthropy that I’m too stupid to figure out just yet – because there are too many of the usual suspects in the mix, from Consolidated Tomoka to sitting City Commissioners, for my comfort.

But sometimes, when your back is against the wall, hope is all you’ve got – and on its face, this sounds like a big step forward for an area that’s been hanging on by its fingernails.

Hearty kudos to J. Hyatt and CiCi Brown for seeing a real need in their own backyard and opening their substantial pocketbook to restore this tarnished gem as a centerpiece for the renaissance of our downtown.

Asshole:         City of Daytona Beach Shores  

 What is it with local government these days?

Some small town elected officials increasingly favor the idea that if the majority disagrees with the thoughts and opinions of an individual member – they simply cobble together a Kangaroo Kourt, take a vote, and overturn the will of the electorate.

When these cheap coup d’états become the norm, why have popular elections in the first place?

I mean, why not just get a few ‘Rich & Powerful’ people together in the same room and let them decide who will represent us on the dais of power?

Oh, Wait. . . I forgotSorry.

Look, I’ve repeatedly sided with the beachside hamlet of Daytona Beach Shores in their ongoing David and Goliath struggle with Volusia County over that bureaucratic behemoth’s clandestine purchase of prime oceanfront property shackled to dubious plans to turn some of the most valuable real estate in Florida into an ugly off-beach parking lot.

As one would expect, officials in the Shores were banking on using their limited supply of beachfront property for additional vertical growth to support the communities tax base – in fact, that strategy was memorialized in the city’s comprehensive plan.

I have also been hypercritical of Shores Commissioner Richard Bryan’s near constant attempts at mollycoddling and appeasement.

Last year, I wrote that Volusia County has developed a frightening reputation as the biggest bully in the sandbox – pushing the cities around, arbitrarily removing or reducing services (remember your neighborhood library?), forcing its will on residents of incorporated areas and actively suing its own constituents (with their own money) to effectively remove the public’s standing and input in beach driving and access issues.

When the Shores decided it was going to boldly fight this boorish aggression, the lone dissenting voice was Commissioner Bryan – who, inexplicably, still believed his community could “work something out” with their belligerent antagonist and find a “win-win.”

I happen to disagree – and so did Mr. Bryan’s colleagues on the Shores City Commission.

Then, last month Commissioner Bryan attended a Volusia County Council meeting and opted to rise and express his personal opinion regarding the on-going governmental pushing-and-shoving – essentially moralizing that, “In my opinion, the County Council has shown good faith in trying to get this resolved without wasting much more time and taxpayer money, and I hope that we are reasonably close to a final written agreement.” 

Don’t take my word for it – read the transcript.  Mr. Bryan repeatedly prefaced his mealy-mouthed statements with, “In my opinion.” 

In response, City Attorney Lonnie Groot whipped the rest of the elected body into a froth when he wrote a provocative letter “expressing concern that Bryan’s comments, which came without approval from the rest of the City Council, created the impression he was speaking on behalf of the city.

Bullshit.

Then, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The City Council voted 4-1 this week to have a judge determine if Bryan crossed a line with either his appearance at the county meeting or the email. The inquiry will cost taxpayers $165 an hour.

Really?

In my view, this thuggish move to punish a sitting elected official and ensure lockstep conformity is eerily similar to the Debacle in Debary, where four thin-skinned and mean-spirited elected schoolyard bullies – in perhaps the most blatant act of political vengeance ever perpetrated in the history of local governance – spit in the face of 240-years of democratic principles and overturned the vote of the electorate in a cheapjack move to silence their duly elected, and most vocal critic, Mayor Clint Johnson.

They were embarrassed.  They didn’t like him.  So, they took the people’s choice out with extreme prejudice.

Sound familiar?

Look, like me, the Daytona Beach Shores City Commission doesn’t have to agree with Mr. Bryan’s goofy personal opinion – and his namby-pamby Neville Chamberlain act may well be counterproductive and wrong – but they have a duty and responsibility to defend his God-given right to express his views – to openly, vigorously and confidently exercise his First Amendment right to speak out and be heard on important matters of civic concern.

If Mr. Bryan wants to be a spineless asshole in the face of a Battle Royale with Volusia County – that’s between him and his constituents at election time.

From Volusia County to Debary and Deltona – now Daytona Beach Shores – the growing practice of using the full might of government – and the public treasury – to silence criticism, crush dissent and suppress the open debate of ideas under the iron boot of threats and intimidation is patently wrong.

When did it become acceptable to sacrifice our long-held democratic principles on the altar of political groupthink and conformism?

What are we becoming? 

Quote of the Week:

“The perception of our city is that our leaders hide in the shade, despise the sun and overall have a low respect for the citizens, the very people that they swore to represent.  The funny thing about perception is that it becomes reality.”

 –Deltona resident Jennifer Chasteen, The Daytona Beach News-Journal “Some seek Deltona manager’s ouster,” July 18, 2018.

Amen.

And Another Thing!

 Here’s a note from the Sons of the Beach website (www.sonsofthebeach.org) on tomorrow’s Second Protest of the Theft of Our Beach behind the Hard Rock Hotel from 9:00am to 3:00pm.

If you missed the last one – now’s your opportunity to join some great, civically active friends and neighbors in a cause important to the life of our community:

“A call to arms of all SOBs and for all those folks that missed the first one here is your chance to SUPPORT BEACH DRIVING. Bring your Pop-ups, grills, umbrellas, chairs, coolers, frisbees, homemade signs, surfboards, kites, and costumes.  Let’s have some more fun and show the Hard Rock and the County Council that this beach belongs to the people and is not a private beach for the larcenous Hard Rock Hotel.  The last one was a gas… Jim Dinneen is gone but forces of evil who are trying to steal our beach and continue their failed ideas across our county remain… Let’s show them that the practice of Volusia County Council representing developers over the resident’s needs to come to an end, NOW!

Hope to see you there!

Also, this evening those intrepid souls of the grassroots citizen action coalition, Deltona Strong, will host a very important forum with State Representative David Santiago regarding the myriad issues surrounding Deltona’s water utility.

This fact-filled event will be held at The Center from 6:00pm to 8:00pm this evening.

If you live in Deltona – or feel strongly about good governance everywhere – I encourage you to attend.  For more information, please visit www.deltonastrong.org !

Have a great summer weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Sour Grapes.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

–Saint Bernard of Clairvaux c. 1150

I’m the first to admit – I have my limitations.

For instance, I have absolutely no mechanical skill, and am forever at the mercy of tradesmen –  guys with trucks and toolbelts and the manual dexterity to build things, do plumbing repairs, patch a leaky roof and change lightbulbs.

They name the price – I pay it.  What the hell else am I going to do?    

Like my father before me, I don’t know which end of a hammer you blow in.

Suffice it to say, the Barker genome lacks the “handy” chromosome – and I come from a long lineage of men who never owned a power tool beyond a cocktail blender – and wouldn’t know what to do with one if we did.

While looking for a screwdriver to tighten that thing in the back of the toilet that makes the water sputter and spurt all night (you know that thing?)  I recently discovered a small red toolbox in my garage.  It contained a Tupperware lid and a set of ice tongs – so I used a dull corkscrew I had on hand to adjust the screw.

I have always admired friends who possess the ability to troubleshoot engine problems, do a “brake job” or adjust the spark plugs in their car.

While I have a passing idea of how to change a tire, the last time I tried, I discovered that a spare tire was an option I didn’t opt for when I bought the car.  Regardless, I couldn’t have figured out how to put the jack together if I had one (have you seen one lately?  It’s like a three-dimensional folding jigsaw puzzle. . .)

So, I called the dealership and they quickly came to my rescue.

Sports?  Forget about it.

Oh, I tried out, but simply never had the strength and coordination required to play organized athletics – where the outcome of the game always hinged on the weakest link – which was usually me. . .

In her infinite kindness, my mom would invariably offer reassurance when I couldn’t hit a baseball very far, “You’re good at other things.”

She was right.

I have two highly developed skill sets – honed by decades of advanced training, practical experience and hard lessons learned – and one is the ability to protect and serve others as a law enforcement professional.

The other is a preternatural ability to smell political bullshit like a bloodhound with sonar.

Following the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, politicians at all levels of government came under incredible pressure to do something – anything – to secure our schools and protect the precious lives of children, teachers and staff who, for reasons known only to madmen, have increasingly become the targets of psychopathic misfits bent on the destruction of all we hold dear.

In turn, with little thought and absolutely no idea how to pay for it, our state legislators did what they do best – they had a kneejerk reaction to a serious problem, handed down yet another unfunded mandate to local government, then went home.

In this case, our lawmakers ordered financially strapped local school districts to hire, train and place a sworn law enforcement officer or armed civilian “School Guardian” in every school in the state – and they must do it by the start of the 2018-19 school year which begins next month.

On May 18th, Sheriff Mike Chitwood sent a “call to service” to recently retired law enforcement officers seeking volunteers for the guardian program – or to serve as sworn School Resource Deputies.

“Many of you have committed a lifetime of service to your community.  We realize asking you to return to public service now may not be what you had in mind when you retired.  But we also believe there are those of you who will feel drawn to answer the call.”

That afternoon, I was among the very first to submit my resume for consideration.

I would have thought less of myself if I had not stood up and said, “send me.”

Here’s why:

I had the opportunity to develop a unique set of skills during 31-years in the police service – skills that were paid for by the gracious community I served.

Rather than let that training go to waste, I have maintained active law enforcement certification through the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission – and have successfully completed in-service training and regular firearms qualifications since my retirement in 2014.

I may not know how to hammer a nail – but I have qualified at the expert level with small arms since my earliest days in U.S. Army basic training – and later while developing CQB skills during Military Police School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama – and at nearly 58 years old, I shoot in the top percentile of my agency.

I can still field strip and reassemble an M16A2 rifle and Remington 870.  Blindfolded.

In 1996, I was invited to attend the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia, where I graduated alongside the top one-half of one-percent of law enforcement professionals in the world.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I received advanced training and was cleared to receive sensitive criminal intelligence and threat assessments – information that I used to conduct vulnerability studies and make physical security recommendations for critical public infrastructure.

I have authored accredited policies for high liability issues, such as use of force, defensive tactics and active shooter response – then enforced those policies in practice – and I chaired the Volusia/Flagler Police Chief’s Associations Standardized Emergency Management Protocol Committee for multi-jurisdictional incident command.

I have responded to every Florida Disaster to impact east Central Florida since 1983 – and was selected to lead a team of law enforcement officers to Dade County in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, where I helped supervised nighttime law enforcement operations in the challenged Liberty City area of northwest Miami.

In addition, I was cross designated a United States Customs Officer with the Blue Lightning Strike Force – and have personally conducted or commanded hundreds of covert narcotics and vice suppression operations.

I was a member of the State Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit under State Attorney Steven Alexander, and assigned to John Tanner’s Homicide Investigations Unit – and I am a graduate of the FEMA National Emergency Management Training Center’s professional development series – and later certified as a Professional Emergency Manager by the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association.

As Chief of Police, I developed my agency’s highly successful Honor Code, Pride in Public Service and Operation Lifeline programs focusing on values-oriented public service.

I have also received advanced training from former U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman – perhaps the foremost authority on the psychology and tactics of active shooter response in the world.

Most important to the matter at hand – I can tell you what it feels like to be shot at – what it smells and sounds like when someone fires a weapon and tries to kill you and others – and I can describe in detail what it takes to keep your composure when literally everyone around you is losing their mind.

Suffice it to say – I’m a lot of things, and I’m not a lot of things – but I’ve been around the block.

I thought – naively perhaps – that my hard-earned credentials and experience would be a good addition to the credibility of the Guardian program.

After two very pleasant telephone calls with a representative from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to confirm my qualifications, I was directed to complete an on-line application with the Volusia County School District, and, in early June, I received electronic confirmation that my application for the School Guardian Program had been accepted.

Then, I set about shining my shoes, getting a haircut and collecting my best suit from the dry cleaner as I anxiously awaited an interview that never materialized.

Days turned into weeks.

I followed reports in The Daytona Beach News-Journal which said nearly 200 people had applied for the program – and that those being considered were actively being vetted through a rigorous background process to determine suitability prior to beginning a 132-hour training program.

It slowly became apparent that I didn’t make the cut.

I didn’t measure up.

At least I hope I didn’t.

Because I would hate to think I was passed over for a job where my qualifications could help protect precious children because someone doesn’t like the fact I exercise my First Amendment right to criticize and question the machinations of my government. . .

Now, my other unique talent has kicked in – the one that allows me to sniff out the foul stench of political bullshit from a mile away – and ask the difficult questions bureaucrats would rather not answer, you know, like the petty asshole I am.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I didn’t know in my heart-of-hearts that Barker’s View – perhaps the most caustically accurate chronicle of the base ineptitude and abject corruption in Volusia County government to ever hit the web – was not going to be a consideration.

You see, most government entities support the First Amendment – right up until the very moment you exercise it.

Then, apparently, you become unemployable.

If nothing else, they missed a bold opportunity to silence their most vociferous critic.

I intimated to trusted friends that if hired by Volusia County, I was fully prepared to shut down this opinion blog as it would not be ethical to accept public funds to perform a job in the public interest – then openly criticize the government that employed me.

I’m old-fashioned that way.

Now – I’ve got all day to dig for the truth. . .

In my view, the one thing the “School Guardian” program desperately requires for success is the public’s trust – and both internal and external buy-in from those it exists to serve.

In short – it needs that credibility I mentioned.

Putting armed civilians in elementary schools is like walking on the planet Mars – it’s never been done before – and repeatedly hearing senior county officials say, “It’ll do until something better comes along” is, in my view, self-defeating and infinitely disparaging to those brave souls who answered the call.

The public’s faith and trust in the program will begin and end with it’s leadership and supervision.

To that end, on July 2nd I made a formal public records request asking for the job description and posting for the important role of School Security Specialist – a position each district is required by statute to designate.

I also asked for this individual’s resume listing his/her qualifications for this vitally important role.

After all, given the nature of the work, the morale and respect of the brave men and women who serve as guardians will depend to a great extent upon their personal confidence in those who have been appointed to lead them into harms way.

Oh, and I have asked for the salary range – you know, a cursory accounting of what you and I are paying for this “school security expert” who will ultimately be charged with the gravely important task of physically protecting our children and teachers.

As of today, I’m on my third public records request – and while I have become something of a weird Pen Pal with the school district’s Chief Operating Officer, Greg Akin – I still don’t have a clue about the qualifications and experience of those tasked with leading, supervising, inspecting and directing our School Guardians – and something tells me the district doesn’t either. . .

I’ve been told the reason for the delay is everything from the Forth of July Holiday – to multiple vacations by staff members – but in truth, I’m beginning to feel, well, put off. . .

From secret deals with Florida Hospital to controversial school mergers and non-productive negotiations with the teacher’s union and the lack of solid information on proposed school half-days, what is it with any arm of Volusia County government and transparency?

It’s like an information black hole in DeLand – but why?

Like an old friend of mine said when he heard I was passed over for a Guardian position, “I hope it’s due to incompetence and not malice.”

Me too.

Interestingly, the job posting for the School Guardian Program was re-opened by Volusia County Schools at 3:00pm yesterday. . .

Stay tuned, kids.  When I find out – you’ll find out.

To be continued. . .