Angels & Assholes for September 25, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel              City of Holly Hill

“I’m so disappointed with the city of Daytona Beach,” Hawes said. “The city has spent millions and millions of dollars on all kinds of crap, and they stonewalled us.”

Robert Hawes, President, The Veterans Museum and Educational Center, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Downtown Daytona war museum finds new home at DAV in Holly Hill,” Sunday, September 20, 2020

It is a tale of two cities. 

One, a quaint riverside community that is enjoying a vibrant renaissance while retaining some of the last vestiges of the affordable “Old Florida” lifestyle.

The City of Holly Hill – the “City with a Heart” – with its canopied streets, parks, outdoor recreation opportunities and traditional neighborhoods – has what other innovative communities are spending heavily to recreate:

A true civic identity and firm connection to its rich local history.   

The other, a world-famous beach destination that, rather than capitalize on the greatest natural amenity on earth, remains a rudderless scow, unable to embrace those unique qualities and seaside character that set it apart – beyond the drudgery of recurring special events – that are quickly losing favor with long-suffering residents and proving unsustainable for local businesses.  

As a result, the City of Daytona Beach has sold its very soul to a handful of self-serving real estate developers and wealthy insiders with a profit motive, who have stacked the political deck and proven, time and again, that their “vision” for the rest of us doesn’t extend far beyond the bottom line of their own bloated bank accounts. 

Many do not realize that the Halifax area has an interesting military history – including hosting a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps facility in the wartime 1940’s, where some 22,000 women received training – along with Naval Air Station Daytona Beach, where aviators and aircrew received advanced flight training utilizing outlying naval airfields at New Smyrna, Spruce Creek, Ormond Beach and Flagler County.  

For the past several years, a group of committed local veterans have attempted to find a permanent home for an extensive collection of rare militaria, working diligently to convince the City of Daytona Beach to save the City Island Recreation Center – a unique part of our communities wartime history built in 1943 – a historic gem, now located on the new Veterans Memorial Bridge causeway, that has fallen victim to strategic rot – another taxpayer-owned public asset allowed to decay into oblivion by an almost criminal lack of maintenance, repair, and upkeep. 

In the opinion of many, the recreation center would have made the perfect home for The Veterans Museum and Educational Center.

Unfortunately, it is quickly becoming evident that city officials are intent on destroying the World War II era structure in the name of what passes for “progress” here – a fate that became apparent last year when City Commissioner Rob Gilliland callously announced at a public meeting, “It is absolutely not a priority for me to spend $1 million” on the recreation center.  The likelihood of that (building) surviving is not good.”

And, so it goes. . .

For the past several years, The Veterans Museum and Educational Center’s vast collection has been kept in a space above a shop on Beach Street while its curators searched for a place of honor at the Daytona Beach “International” Airport or a suitable municipal building.

Unfortunately, both options fell through. 

According to reports, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry threw the group some proceeds from a local golf tournament – but it wasn’t enough to make a lasting difference.

Things looked grim for these veterans committed to preserving an important part of our history. . .

Now, the museum has joined forces with the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 84 at 605 8th Street in Holly Hill – a long-time veterans service center that will serve as an appropriate space for this wonderfully eclectic assemblage of our nation’s historical military artifacts – in a community that both honors and values military veterans and their courageous service to our great nation.   

After receiving the cold shoulder from the City of Daytona Beach – who made it evident early on that officials couldn’t care less about the museum and what it represents – curators found a warm welcome waiting in Holly Hill.   

According to an excellent piece by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Robert Hawes, president of The Veterans Museum and Educational Center, said:

“Hawes said he received a much different reaction from Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte.

“He said he was humbled we would move into Holly Hill, and he said the city will do everything it can to help,” Hawes said. “What a difference.”

Forte said he was very impressed when he toured the current museum site on Beach Street.

“It was just awe inspiring,” said Forte, whose father was a Korean War veteran. “It almost gives you the chills when you see what they have.”

Forte said having the museum in Holly Hill will add to the city’s cultural offerings, and the city will promote the facility on its Facebook page. Holly Hill doesn’t have the money to help out financially now, but might be able to send funds in the future, Forte said.

“We are very excited to have them here,” the city manager said.”

Wow.  What a difference indeed! 

According to reports, the museum should open at the DAV facility in early November. 

In my view, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte is one of our area’s sharpest thinkers – a true leader who looks at the concept of community holistically – placing equal importance on each part of the complex civic equation.

Clearly, Mr. Forte saw relocating the veteran’s museum as a no-brainer – a way to help a worthy organization in need – while contributing to the community’s cultural and artistic life.    

In my experience, Mr. Forte understands the importance of working cooperatively with a committed group of elected officials and residents to develop the city both economically and culturally – with a strong focus on citizen inclusiveness and wellness – which has brought to life innovative projects like the Pictona at Holly Hill sports complex and a variety of beautiful riverside parks and community amenities. 

In my view, this is a shining example of why the City of Holly Hill is the perfect – and most welcoming – location to relocate or start a business.

If you would like to assist The Veterans Museum and Educational Center as it makes the move to its new home, a GoFundMe account has been established here: https://tinyurl.com/y54x9azq

Asshole           Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The “Do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy at ERAU reached its nadir this week when ten tuition paying students were unceremoniously suspended for the duration of the fall semester for failing to meet the school’s stringent coronavirus precautions at off-campus parties. 

You read that right.

In a shirking release announcing the excessive disciplinary action last Friday, the University had the unmitigated gall to exclaim, “Doing the right thing requires accountability.”

If that is true, perhaps Embry-Riddle President P. Barry Butler should take a long, introspective look at his two-faces in the mirror – then do the honorable thing and resign. . .

As some of you may remember, in an excellent article in the student newspaper, The Avion, entitled, “Double-Standards: Controversy arises as Embry-Riddle hold first external event,” we learned that in late August our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hossieni, as the exalted Chairman of the Board of both ERAU and the University of Florida (?), hosted an elegant soiree at the 177,000 square foot aeronautical athenaeum which bears his name – the Mori Hossieni Student Union.

As telling photographs from the ill-timed evening depicted, the on-campus event was held without any adherence to accepted COVID-19 protocols – no face coverings, no social distancing, not even the common decency of recognized senior leadership setting a personal example for students and staff that the rules apply equally – or they apply to no one.

Frankly, the UF event transcended a reckless disregard for on-campus public health regulations, as it jeopardized Embry-Riddles sacrosanct safety culture, something that is omnipotent in the aviation and aerospace engineering community.

In turn, the student body and alumni were so incensed by the hypocritical arrogance displayed by Chairman Hossieni and his guests that some demonstrated on campus, while others took to social media to express their shock and anger.

I guess suspending ten of their fellow classmates clearly illustrates what can happen to one’s academic career when you piss-off the Big Guy, eh?    

In his pompous, tone-deaf explanation for ruining the scholastic lives of ten students, President Butler totally ignored the dung-covered elephant in the room, and reinforced the clear double-standard that exists on ERAU campuses when he cravenly tutted:

“Navigating the Covid-19 pandemic will be this generation’s Great Depression.  When you look back on this time in your life, you will want to look back with pride, knowing that you faced a daunting challenge head-on. You will want to tell your future employers and your children that you made tough personal sacrifices to serve your country. To everyone in the Embry-Riddle family who has been selflessly doing the right things – thank you. Your strength of character and patriotism will serve you well throughout your lives.” 

Bullshit.

How will you look back on this ethical dilemma, Dr. Butler? 

In my view, this cowardly retribution for typical off-campus behavior sets a shining example of how the arrogance of power allows some to abdicate responsibility for their own actions while ensuring lock-step conformity by those they lord over.

Sound familiar?

Get used to it, kids.

Perhaps this abuse will serve as a better lesson than any professor could teach on how those who demand obedience to the rules – while totally ignoring them in their personal and professional lives – quickly lead once quality organizations into moral bankruptcy and ethical ruin.   

Quote of the Week

“It is a shame I was not contacted for this article, since I have championed water quality issues for the county since 2014. Improving water quality is a long-term challenge. It could take decades to restore our aquatic habitats if we don’t support a coordinated approach.  Water pollution did not occur over night. Therefore, it will take a long-term, multi-pronged strategy to restore our water quality.”

–The Always Arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s letters to the Editor, “Clean water takes commitment, continuity,” Sunday, September 20, 2020

Does Deb’s shameless self-promotion ever end?

I guess News-Journal editor Pat Rice and Company better tighten up, eh? 

How dare they publish an article without Dishonest Deb’s input?

My God.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the not-so-recent phenomenon of egotism in politicians – a problem that reaches epidemic proportions during the election season – when public figures are forced to advance themselves against other strong personalities – apparently by any means necessary.    

But Deb’s smug admonition to a news organization takes the cake. 

Hell, it takes the whole damn bakery. . .

For years, as a perennial politician, Dishonest Deb Denys has cloaked herself as an environmentalist – insinuating herself into “leadership” positions on various do-nothing political insulation committees with impressive sounding names – using the position to take advantage of photo opportunities with goofy oversize checks (for pitifully small amounts) all while our lakes, rivers, springs and the Indian River Lagoon continue to give up the ghost.

Perhaps there is a reason why News-Journal reporter Abigail Mercer did not seek comment from Dishonest Deb for her informative piece, “Officials want to educate West Volusia on septic tank pollution. It’s a daunting task.”

Maybe Ms. Mercer, like everyone else in the region, is tired of having sunshine pumped up their backside by a craven politician trying hard to disguise her abysmal record on environmental protection and almost cult-like support of unchecked sprawl?

Instead, Mercer reached out to Jeff “Plan B” Brower – Dishonest Deb’s capable opponent in the hotly contested Volusia County Chair race – for his educated thoughts on this important matter.  

As everyone knows, Mr. Brower has been front and center on the septic-to-sewer debate from West Volusia, to Ormond-by-the-Sea, and Oak Hill – talking hard facts with residents, listening to their concerns, discussing solutions to nutrient pollution with environmental experts, and begging elected officials to get more information before throwing good money after bad.

“We need to take the politics out of the equation. Conversion of septic systems to sewer should not be done for the benefit of developers in order to make their projects more valuable,” Brower said. “They should also not be skipped when the infrastructure is in place … because they are not politically rewarding. Soil testing should indicate a need for change because of excess nutrients in drain fields with inadequate soils.”

He also spoke out against the current widespread use of biosolids as fertilizer – the product of wastewater treatment plants – calling instead for a high temperature commercial composting plant to handle the material produced in Volusia County. 

Clearly, Jeff Brower understands the importance of obtaining all available information from stakeholders – then developing commonsense initiatives to preserve and protect our sensitive environment from the extraordinary pressures of overdevelopment – something that makes Ms. Denys – and her campaign contributors in the real estate development industry – very nervous.   

In my view, that all-important “trust issue” is becoming increasingly influential this election cycle – and it is painfully clear to anyone paying attention that no one much cares what Dishonest Deb has to say about anything these days. . .

And Another Thing!

Earlier this week, I called out Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May after she launched a personal attack against me during her weekly radio program – issuing a seething “recommendation” that I take my information on the machinations of the municipal government from her directly – rather than analyzing what I see and hear – then expressing my personal opinions in print. 

Yeah, right.

In my view, Ms. May’s rebuke – which included an arrogant diktat that I refer to her exclusively as “Commissioner” (her “elected, official title”) – was a thinly veiled warning – a cheap threat to my sacred constitutionally protected right to free expression, one that allows citizens to challenge the might and power of government without fear of official or personal reprisal.   

At least one civically active member of our area’s economic elite, Mike Panaggio, owner of the successful Daytona Beach-based DME Sports Academy and member of the First Step Shelter Board of Directors, reached out on social media, referring to me as a “discontent,” and dropping a well-intentioned challenge that I meet with Ms. May.

“Give Commissioner May the benefit of the doubt. Meet with her and then write your follow up. We will all wait to see if you meet or not.  As Lao (sic) the outcome.  Who knows maybe something good can come out of this after all.”

No offense, Mr. Panaggio, but I will not be meeting privately with Commissioner May. . . 

First – I do not trust her motivations.  Not many of her constituents I speak with do.    

Second – I do not believe she has anything remotely interesting or original to bring to the conversation, beyond what her uber-wealthy handlers tell her to say.

Finally – I initially thought she was just another clueless elected placeholder, supported by self-serving insiders who needed another marionette warming the Zone 3 seat – now, she just comes off as a nut-job with a God Complex. . .    

A civically active friend of mine told me Ms. May was back at it on Wednesday, seemingly obsessed with the fact I would have the temerity to challenge her omnipotent power or opine on her performance, trashing me and this blogsite on the radio in her bizarre passive-aggressive singsong.    

Creepy.

I don’t like bullying in any form, and Commissioner May’s self-absorbed abuse on the airwaves – where she is the de facto voice of the City of Daytona Beach – strikes many as a heavy-handed attempt by a  powerful public official to force a civically involved citizen to sit-down and shut up – using her full might as an exalted “Commissioner” to marginalize the messenger and cast a chill on our right to hold government accountable.     

That often happens in Halifax area politics when someone gets too close to the truth – our ‘powers that be’ find a dull-witted attack dog looking to impress and turn him or her loose. 

I get it.   

Rather than simply using (or rejecting) my pointed thoughts as a barometer of how others in the community might feel, she chose to provoke a public tempest in a teapot.

So, welcome to the deep end of the cesspool that is political debate in 2020, Ms. May – come on in, the water’s fine. . .   

Mr. Panaggio might be surprised by the number of current and former public officials and members of our “ruling elite” that I have a friendly, productive and on-going dialog with – committed servant-leaders who don’t agree with me on anything – real policymakers and influencers with hard bark who don’t take political criticism personally – smart people who can look beyond their own narrow views and consider an alternative opinion.   

I admit – I don’t have the answers.  After three-decades in public service, I am not sure I ever did. 

That’s okay.  Not my job. . .    

But it is distressingly clear that many of our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – don’t either – yet they will not admit it.    

More disturbingly, they are not willing to thoughtfully analyze the problems using external input – choosing instead to salve their grandiose sense of self with hollow praise, listen to themselves ramble on the radio, or simply attack the messenger – while ensuring their political survival by doing what they think will help keep their well-heeled benefactors dragging on the public teat.    

Whatever. 

My advice for thin-skinned politicians who are easily triggered by barbed criticism – harsh as it may be – is to stay away from social media – which has become an equal opportunity soapbox for anyone wishing to voice their eclectic views and opine on the civic, social and economic issues that we collectively face without fear or filter.    

And they damned sure should not be reading this blog. . .

Here is a free civics lesson for elected officials from the vantagepoint of 31-years in the fray:

Pick your battles.

If something does not directly improve the lives of your constituents, or progress the economic, social, and civic concerns of the community – let it go.

Squabbles with critics and gadflies wastes precious time, and makes you appear petty and weak-minded, unable to accept criticism and use it to your advantage. 

That does not mean one must have a perfect grasp of their emotions – just don’t give in to your base instincts.  It might feel good temporarily – but bickering with your detractors ultimately does nothing to further your political career.

Do not get caught up in formalities – like insisting on being called by your elective title – that just makes you appear like a vainglorious heel to supporters and cynics alike.

Respect is earned – not demanded.

Frankly, most people of real importance realize that hypercritical feebs like me are not worth their time – and they’re right.  Elected officials of any significance spend themselves furthering the hopes, dreams, and needs of those they serve – and, in return – they earn the right to advance their ideas to the next level.      

And, most important, listen to people, even when you disagree with their position, and embrace a diversity of thought and opinion – its both enlightening and liberating – because that is how we learn.   

There.  Take it or leave it. 

Otherwise, Commissioner May would do well to keep ignoring those thin voices in the civic wilderness who try, time and again, to provide critical constructive input, and protect her fragile self-esteem by listening only to those with a profit motive who speak nicely when telling her exactly what they want her to hear.  

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

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!

“Egomania is an obsessive preoccupation with one’s self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation. Someone suffering from this extreme egocentric focus is an egomaniac. The condition is psychologically abnormal. The term egomania is often used by laypersons in a pejorative fashion to describe an individual who is intolerably self-centered”.

–Mark D. Griffiths, Ph.D., “A Long Self Life: A personal look at egomania,” Psychology Today, April 2014

It’s no secret that most politicians – especially those who ascend to a seat of power – have a pretty high opinion of themselves.    

In fact, given the toxic nature of politics in 2020, megalomania appears to be a prerequisite, because most “normal” people recoil from the manure furnace that is modern political campaigns, regardless of how much money, perquisites, and privileges the office holds. 

During my long career in public service, I had the pleasure of working with many servant-leaders who entered politics to help their community progress – and others who allowed their oversized ego to turn them into everything they hated when they took office. 

It doesn’t take long for that transformation to become evident.

Last week, I took the Daytona Beach City Commission to task for their refusal to approve a reasonable coronavirus safety plan and issue special event permits for a toned-down Biketoberfest – a move that would have allowed struggling small businesses on Main Street and beyond to avoid economic collapse. 

I was also hypercritical of their decision to regulate Go-X scooter rentals out of the core tourist area with draconian restrictions, including forcing a private business into a “license agreement” with the municipal government in order to operate in the city.

In turn, I thought it strange that Zone 3 Commissioner Quanita May insinuated herself into the mix by “negotiating” with Go-X behind the scenes – outside the view of her constituents or colleagues on the dais of power – something that took other commissioners by surprise and left Ms. May back-paddling for answers. 

It was bullshit – and I called her on it.

(Don’t take my word for it – watch the archived Daytona Beach City Commission meeting of September 9, 2020.)  

And, for many, it called into question what other ex parte “negotiations” she may have entered into with Halifax area businesses – and why?

Disturbingly, on September 16, during her weekly radio program, Commissioner May launched into a weird, passive-aggressive attack against me – and our sacrosanct First Amendment right to free speech – our inalienable right to self-expression as a check on government overreach – that allows an impartial sharing of all points-of-view, not just those of haughty elected officials.

Inexplicably, Ms. May allowed her overweening sense of self-importance to run rampant when she said:

“There are a few of you, are going to start calling me Ms. May. 

You will not call me Quanita. 

And you will not call me “Q”. 

And you can address me by the title “Commissioner” May – or “Ms.” May.

“And that’s to those of you who feel compelled to go to Facebook and have articles – and those of you who feel compelled to write articles with inaccurate information where you rant, and you rave, and you carry on. . .” 

(I guess “ranting, raving, and carrying on” is now solely limited to our Monarchical elected officials whenever they feel like haranguing lowly citizens from the dais?)

In my view, it appears “Commissioner” May has become, well, unhinged. . .

And, it was frightening to anyone who values our right to speak truth to power.

She went to condemn those who are “overly prolific and profuse with their use of language,” before singling me out (“Mr. Barker – dear, dear Mr. Barker, who so loves to overuse the English language…”) with a chilling warning that if I have something to say to her, or would like more information, then “I highly recommend you call me – and when you call me, sir, you can call me “Commissioner” May, by my elected official title, or you can call me Ms. May, and when you call me, I’m more than happy to have a conversation…”

She continued to ramble until warning me – pointblank – that if I have something to say, I can say it too her face – “don’t say it in print. . .” 

My God. 

In turn, “Ms.” May’s invective turned to asking that I telephone her so she can give me the “reality” of the situation. . .

Look, I’m not easily intimidated but, frankly, I was shocked by Ms. May’s threatening tone, should I refuse to take her “recommendation” or not use her exalted title, or become overly prolific with the English language when challenging her power – or, God forbid, reject her version of “reality.”

Wow.     

Look, I understand the complex nature of ego – especially in public figures who are forced to advance themselves against other strong personalities – but, I am not running for (or from) anything.

I’m just a simple-minded citizen observing the sausage being made from the cheap seats – providing my own goofy alternative opinion of local government in action – all while poking fun at the gross dysfunction, quid pro quo favoritism, and shameless self-promotion inherent to Volusia County politics – never presuming that the views of an elderly has-been like myself could stir such strong emotions from an all-powerful sitting official like “Commissioner” May. 

Note to “Commissioner” May:  IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!

If I thought for one nano-second that “Ms.” May had a clue about the current plight of small businesses in the City of Daytona Beach, I would reach out in a heartbeat – but it has become increasingly clear that “Commissioner” May is missing the larger picture – beyond her own hyper-dramatic need to appear “engaged.”

Like thousands of others in the Halifax area, I’ve grown disillusioned by the anti-business stance of this iteration of the Daytona Beach City Commission – it is just part of why entrepreneurs and small businesses are actively moving out of Daytona Beach – running to the welcoming arms of other area communities who see the need for a diversity of commerce beyond the selfish wants and whims of our social and civic elite with the wherewithal to pay to play.

(As a loyal reader of these screeds, I am certain you know to whom I am referring, “Ms.” May – some of the most prolific recipients of public largesse are listed on your previous campaign finance reports. . .)

Regardless, We, The People, from which all government receives its power, should not be intimidated by the not-so-veiled threats of a powerful public official who ‘feels compelled’ to take to the airwaves and order that I, or anyone else, limit our criticism to forums she can control.

As for me, I will continue to write my personal opinions and frustrations on this alternative opinion blog in keeping with the sacred protections granted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

And I will be as overly prolific and profuse as I damn well want to be.

Trust me, “Commissioner” May – in a couple of years when you’re no longer relevant to the conversation, I won’t mention you at all. . .

In the meantime, under those same inalienable freedoms, “Commissioner” May can either choose to read my opinion on the issues of the day – or not. 

Photo Credit: City of Daytona Beach

Angels & Assholes for September 18, 2020

 Hi, kids!

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

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

Before we get this weekly hayride started, I just want to say that I HAVE THE BEST READERS IN THE WORLD! 

Thanks to all of you, this goofy alternative opinion blog has returned a true sense of purpose to my life, and allowed me the privilege of meeting so many wonderful, civically active, people in our community.

Whether we agree on the issues or not – I am extremely grateful that we can remain friends and share a chuckle at the absurdity of our political predicaments here on the Fun Coast.   

Something you may not know about me – I have a rather acute form of social anxiety – a weird sense of Hikikomori – that manifests as an almost hermit-like avoidance of social situations – a self-isolation that transcends the relatively recent phenomenon of quarantines and social distancing. . . 

In short – I don’t get out much. . . 

Last Saturday, with the help of a couple close friends, I screwed up my gumption and stopped by the well-attended Take Back Your Power! fundraiser supporting the candidacy of Jeff “Plan B” Brower for Volusia County Chair at Crabby Joe’s on the Sunglow Fishing Pier. 

Quite unexpectedly, I met the wonderful Sherry Huskey-Hopson and her husband, long-time readers and loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe – true BV Angels – who gifted me with an incredible hand painted lamp fashioned from a tequila bottle, beautifully adorned with Thin Blue Line flags!

I hate to admit it, but I was so taken aback by the Hopson’s kindness that I got a little misty. . .

From the bottom of my beat-up old heart – please accept my thanks for this wonderful gift.

I sincerely appreciate everyone who takes the time to read Barker’s View, form an opinion, and generate a greater discussion of the issues in our community!

You guys are the best! 

Angel              Volusia County Council

It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong. 

On Tuesday, former four-term Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, who currently serves as the at-large member of the County Council, spoke in opposition to Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s request for a Bearcat armored vehicle.

Mr. Johnson couched his disagreement in terms of fiscal responsibility.

Regardless, Councilman Johnson’s initial resistance came off angry and wrong – and conflicted with the previous convictions of Sheriff Johnson. . .   

Given his vast law enforcement experience, Ben Johnson knows better than most – when you need an armored tactical vehicle, you really need an armored tactical vehicle – and with the looming possibility of a change in administration in Washington, it is imperative that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies prepare for the very real possibility that all federally granted tactical vehicles, weapons, and equipment currently in use will be removed from service, literally at the stroke of a pen.   

Should that occur, it would leave the Sheriff’s Office with just one armored vehicle – vital equipment which is used extensively during emergency management operations for hurricanes and highwater rescues – and provides a critical tactical advantage to deputies during armed encounters. 

Councilman Johnson’s opposition stirred a passionate response from Sheriff Chitwood – during which he repeated Mr. Johnson’s own 2015 concerns when President Barack Obama stopped the transfer of surplus military equipment to law enforcement.

In addition, Sheriff Chitwood explained that VCSO has operated millions-of-dollars under budget each year of his administration – something he has every right to be proud of during these unprecedented times.   

To his credit, Councilman Johnson changed tack – and agreed that the safety of Volusia County residents and law enforcement is too important to leave to chance, and, given the uncertainty of the upcoming presidential election – he agreed to err on the side of caution and support the appropriation. 

Because that is what a true statesman does. 

They leave personal biases and preconceived notions outside the chamber, listen to the lively debate of ideas, put personal hostility aside, weigh the information presented, and make an informed decision in the best interests of all constituents.

I was extremely proud of Ben Johnson – and Sheriff Chitwood – who proved he can hold his own in the political arena. 

It has been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I’m quite sure that’s what good governance looks like.

Then, after the obligatory politically correct mewling and handwringing, I was also glad to see the Volusia County Council give some much-needed hope to struggling small businesses when they agreed to consider Biketoberfest activities on unincorporated properties who adopt reasonable safety procedures during the annual fall bacchanalia next month.

When faced with the option of a temporary moratorium on special event permits – or allowing the event with responsible safety restrictions – our council members opted to strike a cautious medium and impose protocols which may allow area businesses to take advantage of the crowds that will naturally attend this popular annual rally.

The Volusia County Council will take up the matter at their September 28 meeting.  Let’s hope they throw struggling businesses a lifeline when its needed most.     

Inexplicably, last week, many watched in horror as perhaps the most anti-business coalition in the history of the Halifax area crushed area merchants – many of which have been brought to the point of extinction by the economic collapse – when the Daytona Beach City Commission, under the “leadership” of Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, openly ignored the fervent pleas of small business owners and refused to support a reasonable safety plan that would have allowed a toned-down Biketoberfest at its traditional epicenter next month. 

Although couched as a public health measure, the asinine abdication by Daytona Beach officials was mean-spirited and officious – and will be remembered for the lasting damage it will naturally inflict on our already crippled local economy.

In addition, Daytona Beach area residents, visitors and businesses will forever live with the consequences of the strange time their hapless elected officials refused to implement a commonsense coronavirus prevention strategy, which would have allowed businesses to provide food and beverage service, entertainment, and outside vendors, while maintaining social distancing and other precautionary measures.

I know some vehemently disagree with the City of Ormond Beach’s decision to permit Biketoberfest activities in that community, but when you consider the number of families that have been financially devastated by the economic shutdown – our friends and neighbors standing in breadlines, on the very brink of losing their homes, businesses and future – it is the right decision, one that brings hope, and allows everyone to make their own decision whether to attend the event or not.

Not unexpectedly, the always arrogant Dishonest Deb Denys, used the opportunity to flex her muscles and flaunt her dictatorial nature when she crowed, “I think it’s better that we set some parameters on what we expect for our citizens…” 

Hey, Deb, guess what? 

The citizens you have lorded over for the past eight-years are sick and tired of your ludicrous idea of nanny state politics – and we don’t need you to “set parameters” on the lawful conduct of free people – nor do we give two-shits what your expectations are for the rest of us – just adopt a reasonable safety plan, okay?  

Why can’t Dishonest Deb simply recognize the gravity of this situation to the lives and livelihoods of small businesses across Volusia County who are facing imminent economic disaster – get off her high horse – and stop making everything a cheap “look at me” powerplay?

My God.

Once Councilwoman Denys is beaten like a gong by the people’s candidate – Jeff “Plan B” Brower – in the Volusia County Chair race in November, perhaps someone should memorialize her pompous pontifications on a marble plaque and hang it in the council chamber as a reminder to future politicians who conveniently forget their role. . .

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only pretentious horseshit that marred an otherwise positive public meeting. 

Not to be outdone, our doddering fool of a County Chair, the lame duck, Ed Kelley, made it a point to show just how pious and petty he can truly be when he opined from the dais that Sheriff Chitwood brought his department in under budget due to unfilled personnel vacancies – not because of fiscal responsibility to the citizens he serves so well.    

Bullshit.

It was a cheap shot by a confused old hack trying desperately to remain relevant as his disastrous political career comes to an unceremonious end.  Nothing more. 

His shabby comments did not add to the discussion. 

No one asked for his backhanded “clarification.”

The simple old flunky could not help himself. 

So, as Tuesday’s unusually productive meeting was brought to a close, Old Ed seized the opportunity to besmirch Sheriff Chitwood, and, in doing so – illustrated in the purest way possible – why the citizens of Volusia County voted to approve Amendment 10 and returned constitutional sovereignty to the Sheriff and other essential elective offices. 

Angel               Joe Roebuck and SCCY Firearms

Earlier this week, we were given front row seats to the ongoing melodrama starring FitUSA – an Ormond Beach sportswear manufacturer that successfully diversified into personal protective equipment at the advent of the pandemic – and is now threatening to move the medical supply arm of the business (and the 500 jobs it promises) to Atlanta, unless city, county and state officials come up with an extortionate $5 million to $7 million in public incentives. 

It’s not pretty.  A public relations nightmare run amok. 

I called bullshit in a Barker’s View piece earlier this week entitled “Give or Take,” and many of you agreed with me. 

That’s why it was so refreshing to learn that Joe Roebuck – a self-made success who began manufacturing reasonably priced, high-quality SCCY Firearms (pronounced Sky) in a small shop in South Daytona – has committed to keeping his expanding business in Volusia County.

Without any government handouts attached. 

I admire that.

I also admire Mr. Roebuck’s excellent product. 

Having owned an early SCCY model, I can report that these compact handguns are tailor made for the popular concealed carry market, extremely reliable, and competitively priced for anyone looking for a quality, well-fitted, semiautomatic handgun. 

According to a great piece by business reporter Clayton Park in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, by the end of October, all SCCY operations will be consolidated in Daytona Beach, operating from a 21,000-square-foot building off Bill France Boulevard – with a second manufacturing unit set to occupy a portion of the vacant Costa Del Mar headquarters at Center Point Business Park on Mason Avenue. 

In 2017, Mr. Roebuck announced plans to move his operation to East Tennessee after officials there offered a very lucrative incentive package worth some $5 million – including 68-acres of land for an expansive headquarters campus.

However, facing strong competition for skilled workers – which drove labor costs through the roof – Mr. Roebuck made the decision to return all SCCY operations to Daytona Beach. 

In doing so, Mr. Roebuck earned the respect, good will, and grassroots appreciation that FitUSA lost in its mercenary demand for millions in scarce public funds during a pandemic. 

According to Mr. Park’s informative report:

“Roebuck said the new jobs he plans to create here range from $14 an hour for low-skill machine operators up to $90,000 to $100,000 a year on average for skilled engineers.

“We pay above market and we also offer a full benefits package that includes a 401(k) program. We pay more than 90% of medical, including vision and dental, and offer two to three weeks of PTO (paid time off) and all major holidays off,” he said. All employees at SCCY are full-time. “We don’t have any part-timers here. We operate in three shifts.”

In my view, Joe Roebuck is a true ‘Hometown Hero’ who represents the kind of responsible corporate partner the citizens of Volusia County so desperately need and deserve.    

Asshole           First Step Shelter

The differences between West Volusia’s “The Bridge” come-as-you-are homeless assistance center and the City of Daytona Beach’s extravagant First Step Self-Improvement Seminar and Spa could not be starker – or more telling.

Apparently, First Step’s executive director and governing board failed to realize (or care) that the needs of the vulnerable homeless population – literally their raison d’existence – did not stop during the coronavirus pandemic.

Only their willingness to help. . . 

I have a problem with that. 

Citing COVID-19 fears, for nearly six months, the First Step facility has refused to accept new residents, leaving just a handful at the facility which is capable of providing shelter to between 45 and 100, depending upon who you talk to.   

In my view, pulling up the drawbridge, barricading the portcullis, and cutting off services to those in need is a unique way of preventing the spread of coronavirus at the 15,820-square-foot, $6+ million homeless assistance center in the hinterlands west of Daytona Beach.  

By any metric, the First Step Shelter – from its inception – has been a shit show of epic proportions, and has exposed the whale dung level of dysfunction and mismanagement that has kept smart people shaking their heads, suspicious donors at arm’s length, and left many curious if some members of the board have lost their marbles. . .

For instance, area businessman and First Step board member Mike Panaggio gushed in the News-Journal this week,  “I continue to be very proud to be involved,” said shelter board member Mike Panaggio. “I think now we’re on the right path.” 

Really? 

What planet is Mr. Panaggio on?    

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the shelter’s perpetual failure to launch is a colossal embarrassment – and has perpetuated the sense that, so long as the current multi-dimensional management scheme is allowed to continue, absolutely nothing will fundamentally change.

Because, like every other public/private pursuit, First Step is no longer about providing essential services.  Now, it is little more than an income source for multiple layers of staff and management – the homeless be damned.

I mean, is there another explanation?

Yet, manna from heaven continues to fall into the shelter’s coffers – and, given the facility’s recurring $113,000 monthly nut – First Step needs all the help it can get.        

Earlier this week, the Volusia County Council directed some $1.09 million in CARES Act funding to the needy First Step shelter – a cash infusion that will apparently be used to hire even more staff – and convert the homeless shelter into the Lord Mountbatten suite at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. 

In addition to a 1,000 square foot addition, which will serve as an initial quarantine area for new residents, the facility will see a dedicated computer room and a floor to ceiling partition for the multipurpose room.

The remainder of the federal funds will be used to:

“…hang microfiber curtains around bunk beds to prevent germ transmission; install motion-activated faucets, urinals and toilets; add UV air disinfection units; build outdoor patio roofs; buy patio furniture; purchase high-grade washers and dryers; hire a housing coordinator who would help find residents places to live; and add another new full-time employee who would monitor residents for up to 12 months after they moved into permanent housing.”

Some of the money may also be used to pay security deposits and provide rental assistance for residents transitioning to their own housing – however, there is no word when First Step will resume providing these programmatic services to homeless persons – other than the robotic bureaucratic mantra, “as quickly as possible, as quickly as possible, as quickly as possible. . .”

Whatever.

In keeping with the governmental practice of showering money on failing programs while starving those who are doing the most good – the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, which operates DeLand’s The Bridge homeless shelter, is also in line for a small bite of the CARES Act funding. 

Unlike the all-but-shuttered First Step, the West Volusia program is practicing reasonable COVID-19 precautions while actively assisting homeless persons at its 6,300 square foot facility, which will officially open on September 28. 

At present, the low barrier shelter is helping people get off the street through its innovative day care program, which offers activities, personal care, and medical/mental healthcare referrals to those in need, while welcoming the hungry with a nutritious lunch at 11:30am and dinner at 5:30pm. 

The Bridge shelter is quickly becoming a beacon for those less fortunate in West Volusia – a shining example of what First Step could be – what it should be.   

Quote of the Week

“It was really disappointing to learn that our local Republican Executive Committee voted against support of ECHO and Volusia Forever! At the cost of less than $30 a year for taxpayers, ECHO over the last 20 years has helped fund 203 projects for Environmental, Cultural, Historical and Outdoor Recreation.

The Republicans position went against funds for nonprofits; without ECHO, the nonprofit groups could not have created or preserved such wonderful attractions like Lilian Place Heritage Center, the Pioneer Settlement, DeBary Hall, Ponce Inlet Lighthouse Park, Peabody Auditorium, etc. ECHO has supported cultural and art groups such as the Art League and the Athens Theater, plus it upgraded youth athletic fields and community parks. This is an impressive list of projects that have benefited all.

Volusia Forever has assisted with the acquisition of approximately 38,000 acres of land which were saved for water and natural resource protection. This funding is most needed as we look 20 years ahead and realize land must be preserved if we are to restore our springs and renew our aquifer which provides drinking water.

ECHO and Volusia Forever must be approved by voters to continue the important funding for preservation of our quality of life in Volusia County.”

–Nancy Long, South Daytona, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, “Opposition to ECHO disappoints,” Tuesday, September 15, 2020 

For the record, I am not a Republican or a Democrat – I’m someone who has learned to think for myself – and have come to the conclusion that neither of the major political parties represent my interests.

That’s why I find it disturbing that partisan politics are playing such an influential role in the debate over the return of Volusia ECHO and Forever – two tax supported environmental and cultural programs that have brought such tangible benefits to residents and visitors.

Last week, the Volusia Republican Executive Committee snootily tut-tutted their opposition to these initiatives – citing the need for roads and utilities over parks and greenspace – which, I assume, is a crude attempt to correct the sins of those malleable politicians they supported who allowed unchecked sprawl to outpace infrastructure.  

Now, the Volusia Democratic Executive Committee is weighing in, jumping up-and-down, giddily expressing their support of ECHO and Forever as a clear means of showing how “different” and morally superior they are from Republican’s in a cheap effort to gain a political advantage this fall.

Whatever.

In my view, these important funding sources transcend partisan politics. 

At least they should.

With strengthened oversight, a disciplined commitment to responsible spending, and a willingness to check craven politicians who would pervert these programs to fund projects outside their intended purpose (like purchasing off-beach parking lots and squirreling away cash for a dubious “boardwalk extension”) it is possible to have both.

Call me selfish, but I happen to believe it is important that my grandchildren enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities, hiking trails, cultural and artistic venues, wildlife habitat and environmental treasures like clean lakes, springs and rivers – rather than endure a bleak civic life marked by half-empty strip centers and ghastly “theme” communities – built over what were once the pristine wetlands and natural places of their grandfather’s youth.

And, when it comes to actually protecting and preserving our local environment, neither Republicans, nor Democrats, have done more than generate hot air. . .   

I have found wisdom in the 1966 opinion of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno, who wrote of the importance of supporting the acquisition of those important amenities that make a community home: 

“The objective of a community is not merely to survive, but to progress, to go forward into an ever-increasing enjoyment of the blessings conferred by the rich resources of this nation under the benefaction of the Supreme Being for the benefit of all the people of that community.

If a well governed city were to confine its governmental functions merely to the task of assuring survival, if it were to do nothing but to provide ‘basic services’ for an animal survival, it would be a city without parks, swimming pools, zoos, baseball diamonds, football gridirons, and playgrounds for children.

Such a city would be a dreary city indeed.  As man cannot live by bread alone, a city cannot endure on cement, asphalt, and sewer pipes alone.

A city must have a municipal spirit beyond its physical properties, it must be alive with an esprit de corps, its personality must be such that visitors—both business and tourist—are attracted to the city, pleased by it, and wish to return to it.

That personality must be one to which the population contributes by mass participation in activities identified with that city.”

Amen.

And Another Thing!

As promised, things are heating up in the Volusia County Chair race between the incumbent lump, Dishonest Deb Denys, and her hardworking opponent, Jeff Brower, a gentleman farmer from West Volusia who has proven his commitment to improving our quality of life. 

In my view, this is the most important local election on the ballot – because it represents the stark difference between the haughty, self-serving, and totally compromised status quo – an oligarchical system wholly owned by our civic and economic elite with the wherewithal to pay to play – and the bright opportunity for new beginnings and an inclusive vision for the future of Volusia County. 

In recent weeks, the troubling refrain I hear from friends and neighbors is that, on the rare occasion they bothered to seek Councilwoman Denys’ assistance – their calls and emails went unanswered – totally ignored – almost as if they didn’t exist, or their concerns had no validity in a place where only the right last names deserve the attention of elected officials.

Sound familiar? 

Many of these residents had never needed help from their elected representative before – and their lasting impression of Volusia County government was forever tainted by the arrogance and ignorance of one unresponsive member who answers only to her uber-wealthy puppet masters.

Like many of you, I have quit trying to figure out Dishonest Debs motivations.

Besides, the reasons for her involvement in this base form of access restricted politic$ are self-evident.

It is just part of why Jeff Brower has earned the unwavering support of the Volusia County Deputies Association and the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association – our brave first responders who boldly hold the line to protect my family and yours. 

And it is why Volusia County residents continue to reject the timid recommendations of has-been politicians and obsequious hangers-on – stalwarts of the tired Volusia County Old Guard – still trying their best to pander to the last vestiges of the Ruling Class in the only way they know how. . . 

How sad. 

If you are interested in hearing Jeff Brower’s exciting plans to end overdevelopment, protect our fresh water supply, stop corporate welfare, and establish realistic spending priorities to improve infrastructure – I hope you will attend his energetic campaign’s Finish First! fundraiser at beautiful Gemini Springs Park in DeBary tomorrow. 

This is a great opportunity to meet the candidate who finished first in the primary – a true servant-leader who represents our best hope of preserving the environment, protecting our quality of life, and returning responsive representation to Volusia County government.

The activities begin at 10:00am in the park’s OK Corral Pavilion – with a cookout, soft drinks, and treats – and music by Danny G and Robyn Collins until 2:00pm.  Please feel free to bring a covered dish to this community-oriented event!  

Jeff’s special guests will be William Sell, candidate for Debary City Council Seat 2, and David Sossa, candidate for Deltona City Commission District 6.

Please come out and show your support! 

For more information on how you can help, please visit: www.jeffbrowervcc1.com 

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

On Volusia: Give or Take

I don’t know about you, but I don’t respond well to threats. 

Never have.

Perhaps it’s my rebellious nature and highly-developed sense of fairness – or maybe I don’t appreciate it when someone puts a knife in my ribs and makes demands – because that is the textbook definition of extortion, not the give-and-take of negotiation.

Somewhere along the line (about the time our perverted campaign finance scheme came off the rails) state and local governments became piggybanks – showering millions in public funds and tax incentives on any business and industry who knew the secret password: “high paying jobs.”  

It also helps if they remember which political campaign to donate to when the time comes. . .

Like all enterprises subject to the immutable ebb and flow of the marketplace, it is rare when a business who receives an artificial infusion of cash from a government entity can make good on those guarantees. 

More disturbing, the no-strings-attached nature of these giveaways make it almost impossible for government to recover “our” investment, when downturns lead to layoffs, or worse. . . 

And when recipients of our elected official’s largesse fail to live up to expectations – those “economic development” shills who put the deal the together could care less. 

After all, they didn’t gamble with their own money – and its always easy to fall back on the mantra – “It takes money to make money.”

In my view, this weird system is tailor made for problems – a smokescreen of backroom maneuvering where municipal business development practitioners have mysterious “code-named” projects poached by the public/private Team Volusia – which normally serves as little more than an international travel club for Keith Norden and Company – who claim credit for just about every business start or relocation that comes our way. 

Of course, non-disclosure agreements keep the prying eyes of John Q. Public away while the sausage is being made – because our role in the process is to pay the bills, remain silent, and be thankful for the warehouse jobs and minimum wage scut work – while crony capitalism rules the day.    

Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a disturbing piece by business reporter Clayton Park regarding FitUSA – a local sportswear manufacturer who found sudden success producing face masks and personal protective equipment for a variety of end users during the pandemic. 

According to the report, six-months ago, FitUSA President Troy Olson sought assistance from the City of Ormond Beach to launch FitUSA Medical – the division which produces PPE – “…in an effort to save his struggling sports apparel company.”

Now that his manufacturing company has become wildly successful, it appears Mr. Olson is back with a new proposition – pay up, or we move our company – and the 500 new jobs it promises – to Atlanta.

You read that right. 

If the city, county, and state fail to produce a goody bag worth between $5 million and $7 million in the next few weeks – one that matches the lucrative inducements being offered by the State of Georgia – we are told FitUSA could possibly relocate its operations to Atlanta.  

Sound familiar? 

It should. 

Three years ago, former County Manager Jim Dinneen warned that if the City of Daytona Beach, County of Volusia and the State of Florida failed to cough up a collective $15.5 million in incentives to underwrite Brown & Brown’s new headquarters building on Beach Street – King J. Hyatt Brown just might up and move the whole shebang to Hot ‘Lanta

Right. . .

And don’t get me started on the $4.5 million in grants that were gifted to Tanger Outlets – or the  $40 million in city/county incentives granted to the privately owned One Daytona – which, even with massive public support and “amenity fees,” continues to struggle to keep tenants alive six years on. 

Trust me. It doesn’t stop there.

The list of those who have received public handouts is a long and distinguished line of the Halifax areas civic and economic elite. . .  

In a confusing about-face, earlier this week, FitUSA advised the News-Journal that it apparently failed to notify its current employees in Ormond Beach about the company’s plans – which sparked an internal panic – resulting in a quick clarification that the sports apparel division would remain here – while FitUSA Medical will potentially move out of state absent public incentives. 

We also learned that Dr. Kent Sharples and his shadowy Star Chamber of millionaires at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance have insinuated themselves into the mix – offering to match the City of Ormond Beach’s offer, “…so long as  the jobs created by FitUSA would pay an average of at least 115% of the current average annual salary for workers in Volusia County.”

I’m confused.

Some might see that as a noble effort, until you realize that most workers in Volusia County earn an average annual wage of just $38,760, so, the 115% requirement would pay those sewing for FitUSA some $44,574 – which is some $3,274 above the annual wage ($41,300) of the “hundreds of jobs” Brown & Brown promised in return for its whopping incentive package – and far above the national average for the industrial sewing trade.   

Look, I am all about raising the bar – let demand for skills drive the market, I say – but are those salary levels sustainable long-term?

I don’t know. 

It appears Dr. Sharples doesn’t either.

According to the News-Journal, “That is the hard part with that,” said Olson of the CEO Business Alliance’s incentive offer. They are asking us to pay higher than the average annual wage for the (apparel) industry. The top sewers in the country don’t earn that much.”

In my view, this is just one reason why government has no business meddling in the private marketplace – picking winners and losers while skewing the playing field – and why no one in their right mind would allow Dr. Kent Sharples and his band of sharks at the CEO Alliance within a hundred miles of their business. . . 

Here’s hoping Troy Olson and FitUSA see the inherent benefits of keeping his workforce in Volusia County without demanding burdensome government handouts to gain a short-term advantage. 

In my view, that’s not what good corporate citizens do.

Clearly, Ormond Beach has much to offer that Metro Atlanta doesn’t  – and the top three reasons are traffic, traffic and traffic – not to mention the fact the State of Florida has no state income tax, a relatively low cost of living, beautiful weather, ready access to interstate logistics and transportation, great quality of life and a diverse workforce. 

If that’s not enough – then get the hell out. 

Because when businesses receive corporate welfare and government-granted favoritism it costs the rest of us – while providing the influential elite even greater dominance in Volusia County’s artificial economy – at least until natural market factors intervene and the revolving door continues.    

It’s time for this patently unfair give or take to stop.   

Angels & Assholes for September 11, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Patriot Day – September 11th – honors the memory of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and those who perished when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville,  Pennsylvania.

This day is also when we solemnly remember those valiant first responders who laid down their lives, courageously giving the ‘last full measure of devotion’ saving others – and those who continue to succumb to illnesses related to their extraordinary service at Ground Zero.      

These vicious attacks on our nation by radical Islamic terrorists reminded us of our external vulnerability – yet demonstrated how, in our darkest hour, American’s forget our differences and come together to protect those freedoms we hold dear. 

But what about our internal vulnerability on this day of reflection and national introspection?

Unfortunately, that sense of national unity and patriotism we felt in the days, weeks and months following the attacks has been replaced by disharmony, lawless rioting, and calls for anarchic change to our democratic system and the incredible freedoms it ensures all of us. 

Are we doing to ourselves what others tried and failed to accomplish?    

With our nation so terribly broken and divided by literally everything – race, age, gender, political affiliation, ideology – let us remember that this is the day we have set aside to recognize and honor those we lost – and the shared traits that bind us together as Americans – as we show the world our collective resolve and our enduring love for this great nation. 

Let us never forget.

Angel               B-CU President E. Brent Chrite

In a February 2020 letter to alumni, Bethune-Cookman University President E. Brent Chrite didn’t pull any punches.

“2020 will be a pivotal year in the history of B-CU,” President Chrite wrote. “It will be the year our beloved university prepared to close its doors, or it will be the year we turned a corner and began moving toward an exciting future.”

At that anxious time, B-CU was in its second year of academic probation after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges demanded the elimination of an $8 million operating deficit and improvements to its system of governance.   

The loss of accreditation would have signaled the death knell for this challenged institution – one that has been financially gutted by mismanagement, a lack of oversight by its self-serving trustees, and voracious greed. 

Last week, Bethune-Cookman University learned that it will maintain its all-important academic accreditation, thanks to the collective efforts of so many faculty and staff, who have worked hard to right the ship under the extraordinary leadership of Dr. Chrite.

Under Dr. Chrite’s stewardship, the University was able to reduce expenditures, complete an extensive review of policies and protocols, and overhaul all contractual obligations and transactional relationships and “recalibrate” them to B-CU’s advantage. 

In addition, the school brought together experts in finance, accreditation, and academic governance, and increased private sector support to transform the University “…into a properly running institution of higher learning.”

Fortunately, thanks to the support of Volusia County’s own political powerhouse, Mori Hossieni, in March, Bethune-Cookman learned that it would receive a $17 million annual recurring infusion from the Florida Legislature. 

The funds will be used to assist students struggling to pay for their college education – and go a long way to restoring confidence and standing to this important HBCU.    

Kudos to Dr. E. Brent Chrite, and his inspiring team, for honoring Dr. Bethune’s dream and pulling this vital local institution from the brink of disaster. 

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

I have a strong suggestion for the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau’s next attempt at a marketing slogan:

“Daytona Beach: Where fun goes to die.”

On Wednesday evening, I watched in horror as perhaps the most anti-business City Commission in the history of the Halifax area crushed area merchants – many of which have been brought to the point of extinction by the economic collapse – when elected officials ignored the fervent pleas of area small business owners and refused to support a reasonable safety plan that would have allowed a toned-down Biketoberfest next month.   

The vote came on the heels of another harsh measure that all but ensures the death of Go-X scooter rentals on the beachside – a wildly popular attraction that some area hoteliers and other businesses have used to pay the bills during these disastrously lean times.

It became clear that the gluttonous City of Daytona Beach was trying desperately to siphon off private profits with onerous registration regulations and a “franchise agreement” with scooter operators, who will now be required to submit a proposal to city staff in the next 90-days – one that includes burdensome regulations and sets technological limitations on the devices – and, no doubt, includes heavy fees – for the privilege of doing business in our artificial economy. 

Ignoring the fact that many small businesses in our community have finally found a profitable venture that provides area residents and visitors with a fun means of personal transportation around our core tourist area – the discussion quickly turned to just how difficult the municipal government can make it on operators after Commissioner Quanita May felt slighted by Go-X representatives – who apparently didn’t pay proper fealty to her officious sense of self-importance when she insinuated herself into the private marketplace. 

Frankly, it was sad watching business owners and their employees literally beg their haughty elected representatives – explaining how the rentals have helped them feed their families and returned a sense of hope during this unprecedented economic downturn – while the owners of Go-X were publicly humiliated from the dais for having the temerity to do business without first coming before the Monarchy, hat in hand, and offering up their pound of flesh to the municipal government. 

But the true damage to our crippled local economy came when the majority exposed their pre-determined plan to reject Biketoberfest special event permits – and killed a well-thought, common sense coronavirus prevention strategy – which would have allowed Main Street businesses at the traditional epicenter of Biketoberfest to safely provide food and beverage service, entertainment, and outside vendors, while maintaining social distancing and other precautionary measures. 

Instead, despite the call by Commissioner Rob Gilliland to impose the safety regulations as a means of reducing exposure, the majority imposed their draconian will – voting to reject the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s safety plan out-of-hand – stopping outside vendors, and cruelly shitting on the hopes of some thirteen small businesses who signed a pledge to keep visitors and employees safe. 

My God.

Where is the “leadership” of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce who, rather than serving as sycophantic majordomos for the civic and economic elite, should be fighting tooth-and-nail for the very survival of their members? 

While the Daytona Beach City Commission callously plotted ways to deny area businesses the ability to safely take advantage of the thousands of visitors that will naturally come for the decades old special event – thoughtful leaders in Ormond Beach and Holly Hill were signaling their support for area merchants by formally approving special event permits, allowing concerts, and welcoming other entertainment venues and options during the event.   

If you live, work, or play in the City of Daytona Beach – I sincerely hope you will take the time to watch the archived video of Wednesday evenings travesty for yourself.

If you can stomach it. . .

Rarely will you see this level of abject arrogance by an elected municipal body intent on destroying the economic viability of the small businesses, employees and families that form the backbone of this struggling community.   

Angel              The Bridge Homeless Shelter

Kudos to the City of DeLand and all of West Volusia for opening a true low-barrier, come-as-you-are homeless shelter.

The Bridge, which will be operated by the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, is a true community-based assistance center that will be capable of housing up to 30 people and provide daily services – such as showers, haircuts, and medical/mental health referrals – to many more each day.

Perhaps most important, it welcomes clients to a day care program – allowing homeless persons a place to spend time and receive essential services – rather than congregating in public spaces.    

In short, The Bridge is everything the massively expensive First Step Shelter isn’t. 

According to an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “We want people to come to The Bridge in lieu of hanging out downtown or in parks around the city,” said Susan Clark, executive director of the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia. “We want to have activities occurring on site, where folks are welcome to spend their day.”

I find that refreshing – a facility committed to helping those less fortunate – rather than simply existing to pay exorbitant salaries to high-titled hangers-on. . .

Although the shelter won’t open until September 28, at present, an onsite commercial kitchen prepares two hot meals each day, including lunch for anyone suffering from homelessness or hunger.  The meal is served by volunteers beginning at 11:30am.

This winter, facility will serve as an extreme cold weather shelter – providing refuge to an additional 75 people.

The Bridge is located at 421 South Palmetto Avenue in DeLand.

For more information on how you can help, please visit www.neighborhoodcenterwv.org .    

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

I made a promise to repost this screed earlier in the week – so, if you missed it on Tuesday, here you go:

As you can tell, I’m not a fan of the Volusia County School Board – not because I have any personal animosity toward the members – just a lifelong distain for those who ascend to positions of high responsibility and either cannot, or will not, step up and provide credible leadership during a crisis.

That’s wrong.  Because the School Board oversees a lot of moving parts – most important being the education and welfare of our children when we place them in the care of teachers and staff – and that should not be left to chance or experimentation. 

There is too much at stake. 

In my view, you can tell a lot about people and organizations by the way they react under pressure. 

In fact, I believe it is the only true litmus test for leadership. 

After all, we see someone’s true character when everything is in jeopardy – and it has become crystal clear that our elected officials on the Volusia County School Board do not have what it takes when the chips are down. 

Real soup-sandwiches. . .

Last week in this space, I took the board to task for their miserable failure to keep students, teachers, staff, and taxpayers informed during a pandemic – and their refusal to foster a free and transparent organizational culture where everyone feels comfortable openly expressing their opinions on the issues of the day and making substantive suggestions for bettering the system. 

Then something weird happened. 

Just days after education reporter Cassidy Alexander’s informative piece in the News-Journal announcing that district officials would not be releasing the numbers of positive coronavirus cases by individual school, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin proved her malleability by immediately obeying the unilateral diktat of Chairwoman Ida Wright, who has obviously succumbed to the “circle the wagons” siege mentality that has gripped the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.

At Chairwoman Wright’s personal direction, Dr. Balgobin sent an email under her hand to principals, departments, and “Cabinet Members,” ordering that all media communications be solely “facilitated” through Kelly Shultz, who oversees the district’s failed Office of Community (Dis) Information. . .

Trust me, Ms. Wright.  That horse has left the barn.

In my experience, once the recognized “leader” of an organization – like the board chair, or interim superintendent, of a school district with a bloated budget approaching $1 billion – begins suppressing the free exchange of information after losing their ability to control the message, well, it is impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

And Wright and Balgobin should have known that.

Now, these repressive actions appear petty and heavy-handed – an attempt to suppress the free speech of teachers and staff trying desperately to bring serious issues to light – and it telegraphs to everyone watching that senior leadership has lost internal control of the district. 

Make no mistake, Ms. Wright wasn’t trying to “mitigate risk” when she nervously ordered Dr. Balgobin to muzzle teachers and staff – she was protecting the district’s false narrative.

Given the continuing pattern of indecision, vacillation, and oddball policy reversals that have marked Dr. Balgobin’s short tenure at the helm – that’s a big problem. 

Following the board’s meeting on Tuesday afternoon it became apparent that our elected officials are now consumed with a paranoid effort to anticipate where the next criticism is coming from – obsessed with trying to outfox their detractors – rather than provide comprehensive leadership based upon a plan that supports the educational and operational goals of the district.

And this shit train continues to derail with no one at the switch. . . 

Inexplicably, instead of simply allowing Blundering Balgobin to fulfill her role as Deputy Superintendent in Dr. Scott Fritz’ medical absence – you know, what she was hired to do – the School Board took the unprecedented step of scratching the term “interim” from her current title – immediately elevating her to Superintendent without any formal evaluation, public input, or process – I mean, beyond the hyper-dramatic mewling and cooing of Board Member Jamie Haynes. . . 

Say what?

At the end of the day, I guess this means that the board has effectively launched Superintendent Fritz into the ether, literally from his sickbed?

It was all horribly confusing – just as School Board Attorney Ted Doran no doubt intended.

When talk turned to treating our “new” Superintendent to a massive pay raise commensurate with her title (we currently pay her $579.00 per day), the board strategically signaled that – while her raise/bonus is a lead pipe cinch – Balgobin will need to keep up appearances and wait until teachers and staff negotiate their paltry bump – which, at best, will amount to little more than crumbs off Dr. Balgobin’s groaning plate. . .   

My God. . .at a time when the School Board just took $11 million from reserves to balance its bloated budget – and set a proposed millage rate some 33.3% higher than the rollback rate?   

During these terribly uncertain times, rather than demonstrate sound leadership and a “lets pull together” resolve to meet the myriad challenges head-on, our elected officials promote a struggling deputy superintendent who is clearly over her head – and reward her amateurish fumbling with a substantial pay increase that well exceeds the annual salary of many of those teachers and staff who have lost confidence in her abilities.   

Mind boggling. 

Quote of the Week

“May we humbly suggest something, in the face of ongoing construction that  – along with COVID-19  –  has caused immense disruption to downtown Beach Street business owners? We suggest that permit  fees for the city should be negated in good faith for this billing year.  Brick and mortar shops need thoughtful and real-time consideration as we endure bridge and street constructions that has lasted years.”

–Allan Brewer, Ormond Beach, president and owner of Evans and Son Jewelers, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, Monday, September 7, 2020  

Let’s face it, Beach Street merchants have been the redheaded stepchild of Daytona Beach officials for years – but so have those who try to eke out a living on Main Street, Midtown, East ISB, etc., etc. 

Depending upon who you are in the Halifax area’s economic hierarchy, the City of Daytona Beach has proven that they could give two-shits if you live or die – especially if your business stands in the way of say, J. Hyatt Brown’s plans for our future – or any project pushed by Sir John Albright’s CTO Realty Growth – or if you refuse to obsequiously kiss the Monarchial ass of some pompous elected or appointed official. . .   

For what seemed like an eternity, the Orange Avenue Bridge project disrupted the flow of business to downtown merchants with little, if any, of the grand promotion and mitigation the City of Daytona Beach promised would happen – you know, right before they went ahead with a plan to destroy the existing streetscape in favor of yet another streetscape? 

It is becoming clear that not everyone will survive the “progress.”

The growing number of vacant storefronts along Beach Street is a testament to what happens when the entrepreneurial spirit collides with the self-serving, ego-driven wants and whims of our well-heeled political insiders with a profit motive.

The fact is, the City of Daytona Beach does not have the best track record of attracting and nurturing small businesses in those areas where they are needed most – and many in our community are coming to the realization that this anti-business philosophy and strategic blight is being used to lower property values and make their ultimate acquisition more advantageous to those insiders who pay to play. 

What else could it be?     

Fortunately, surrounding cities continue to benefit from those startups who simply cannot – or will not – jump through the capricious hoops and laborious bureaucratic bullshit that marks any attempt to establish a new business in Daytona Beach. 

So, they simply move north or south to appreciative communities who welcome their enterprises with open arms. 

Given the withering pressures Beach Street businesses have historically experienced, my sincere hope is that Mr. Brewer and others will get some well-deserved relief.

I’m not holding my breath – and I’ll bet long-suffering downtown merchants aren’t either. . . 

And Another Thing! 

For reasons known only to him, earlier this week, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry once again waded into the fetid swamp of social media to throw his weight around – this time to label the moderator of the increasingly popular Facebook political forum – Volusia Issues – as a racist and bigot.

Why?    

Earlier this week, civic activist Greg Gimbert posted an accurate jab at Mayor Henry’s backhanded endorsement of Volusia County Chair candidate Dishonest Deb Denys, stating:

“Breaking News: BLM Democrat endorses Developer Republican in the sellout of working-class Volusia. Poopy water at 11.”

Now, you don’t have to agree with me – or Greg Gimbert – but I didn’t see anything inherently inaccurate about his statement. 

After all, Mayor Henry’s acquiescence to the wants of real estate developers is self-evident – and his “experimental” toilet-to-tap scheme will have us all drinking our own sewage when massive population density exceeds the limits of our aquifer.

That’s now a given. 

And, Mayor Henry remains an ardent supporter of Black Lives Matter – an organization which continues to call for the murder of law enforcement officers and the defunding/abolishment of police departments, while these self-proclaimed “trained Marxists” continue to use violence and intimidation to “burn down” our democratic form government.

I’m sorry, but as much as I abhor racism, narrow-mindedness and intolerance in all its vile forms – I simply cannot accept the violent actions and rhetoric of this organization – one that advocates the wholesale slaughter of public servants and stokes violent chaos as a means to an end – and I am surprised that Mayor Henry would embrace it either.

Yet, he does. 

And anyone who disagrees with him is branded a “racist and bigot.”    

What bothered me most is when Mayor Henry made a wide leap and used Mr. Gimbert’s criticism to bully Volusia County Chair candidate Jeff Brower – insinuating that Mr. Brower was somehow complicit in what he described as a “bigoted agenda” because he refused to denounce Gimbert’s pointed personal opinion – something that confused both Mr. Brower, and many of the Mayor’s stunned constituents, who finally saw this tinpot tyrant for what he is.   

The Mayor’s post began as a weird boost for former County Chair candidate Gerard Witman’s recent endorsement of Brower’s opponent, the developer’s darling, incumbent Councilwoman Deb Denys. 

Then, Mayor Henry launched an unprovoked, sustained, and wholly mean-spirited personal attack on Mr. Brower’s character and reputation – diminishing Brower’s significant contributions and activism for Daytona’s forgotten residents in Midtown and beyond – and defaming his attempts to bring positive change to the stagnant status quo.        

In fact, many Daytona Beach residents and business owners told me later they were shocked by the tone and ferocity of Mayor Henry’s attack on Jeff Brower – using a loose association of a resident who simply supports his campaign (as so many of us do) – to force Mr. Brower to absurdly deny being a racist on a public forum. 

It didn’t surprise me. 

Mayor Henry and Ms. Denys share the same influential campaign contributors in the real estate development industry – so, I assume Hizzoner is just doing as he is told.  Like always. 

Things must be getting desperate over in Dishonest Deb Denys’ camp. . .

Wow.

Just when we thought the disastrous Mayor Henry could not stoop any lower – he astounds his critics and supporters alike with a despicable display of arrogance and pomposity rarely seen in Volusia County politics. 

This was not Mayor Henry’s finest hour. . . 

I hope you will join me tomorrow afternoon as friends and supporters of Jeff Brower for Volusia County Chair join together at Crabby Joes Deck & Grill on the beautiful Sunglow Fishing Pier, 3701 South Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, to raise funds and support Jeff’s final push to victory!

The “Take Back Your Power!” fundraiser goes from 1:00pm to 4:00pm with great food and drink specials, served up in a relaxed atmosphere.    

This is a great opportunity to meet Jeff, ask questions about the issues important to your family, while enjoying a beautiful setting with other residents concerned about the future of Volusia County.

Hope to see you there!

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

Controlling the Narrative

Loyal readers of these screeds will see this post again on Friday in our regular piece “Angels & Assholes” – our weekly roll call of those who tried to screw us – or tried to save us – during the week that was. 

You can find it in the Asshole column. . .   

In my view, you can tell a lot about people and organizations by the way they react under pressure. 

In fact, I believe it is the only true litmus test for leadership. 

After all, we see someone’s true character when everything is in jeopardy – and it has become crystal clear that our elected officials on the Volusia County School Board do not have what it takes when the chips are down. 

Real soup-sandwiches. . .

Last week in this space, I took the board to task for their miserable failure to keep students, teachers, staff, and taxpayers informed during a pandemic – and their refusal to foster a free and transparent organizational culture where everyone feels comfortable openly expressing their opinions on the issues of the day and making substantive suggestions for bettering the system. 

Then something weird happened. 

Just days after education reporter Cassidy Alexander’s informative piece in the News-Journal announcing that district officials would not be releasing the numbers of positive coronavirus cases by individual school, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin proved her malleability by immediately obeying the unilateral diktat of Chairwoman Ida Wright, who has obviously succumbed to the “circle the wagons” siege mentality that has gripped the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand.

At Chairwoman Wright’s personal direction, Dr. Balgobin sent an email under her hand to principals, departments, and “Cabinet Members,” ordering that all media communications be solely “facilitated” through Kelly Shultz, who oversees the district’s failed Office of Community (Dis) Information. . .

Trust me, Ms. Wright.  That horse has left the barn.

In my experience, once the recognized “leader” of an organization – like the board chair, or interim superintendent, of a school district with a bloated budget approaching $1 billion – begins suppressing the free exchange of information after losing their ability to control the message, well, it is impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

And Wright and Balgobin should have known that.

Now, these repressive actions appear petty and heavy-handed – an attempt to suppress the free speech of teachers and staff trying desperately to bring serious issues to light – and it telegraphs to everyone watching that senior leadership has lost internal control of the district. 

Make no mistake, Ms. Wright wasn’t trying to “mitigate risk” when she nervously ordered Dr. Balgobin to muzzle teachers and staff – she was protecting the district’s false narrative.

Given the continuing pattern of indecision, vacillation, and oddball policy reversals that have marked Dr. Balgobin’s short tenure at the helm – that’s a big problem. 

Following the board’s meeting on Tuesday afternoon it became apparent that our elected officials are now consumed with a paranoid effort to anticipate where the next criticism is coming from – obsessed with trying to outfox their detractors – rather than provide comprehensive leadership based upon a plan that supports the educational and operational goals of the district.

And this shit train continues to derail with no one at the switch. . . 

Inexplicably, instead of simply allowing Blundering Balgobin to fulfill her role as Deputy Superintendent in Dr. Scott Fritz’ medical absence – you know, what she was hired to do – the School Board took the unprecedented step of scratching the term “interim” from her current title – immediately elevating her to Superintendent without any formal evaluation, public input, or process – I mean, beyond the hyper-dramatic mewling and cooing of Board Member Jamie Haynes. . . 

Say what?

At the end of the day, I guess this means that the board has effectively launched Superintendent Fritz into the ether, literally from his sickbed?

Why not simply allow Balgobin to fill the seat until Dr. Fritz is well enough to come back to work – or make a decision to fill the superintendent vacancy if, and when, he is unable to return using the normal selection process?

It was all horribly confusing – just as School Board Attorney Ted Doran no doubt intended.

When talk turned to treating our “new” Superintendent to a massive pay raise commensurate with her title (we currently pay her $579.00 per day), the board strategically signaled that – while her raise/bonus is a lead pipe cinch – Balgobin will need to keep up appearances and wait until teachers and staff negotiate their paltry bump – which, at best, will amount to little more than crumbs off Dr. Balgobin’s groaning plate. . .   

My God. . .

During these terribly uncertain times, rather than demonstrate sound leadership and a “lets pull together” resolve to meet the myriad challenges facing the district head-on, our elected officials promote a struggling deputy superintendent who is clearly over her head – and reward her amateurish fumbling with a substantial pay increase that well exceeds the annual salary of many of those teachers and staff who have lost confidence in her abilities.   

Mind boggling. 

Photo Credit: Fox 35 Orlando

An Illusion of Truth

Every election season we reach a point where truth blends with absurdity.

That does not happen by chance. 

The nature of modern political campaigns is to warp our perception with half-truths, spin and alterations – a form of cognitive manipulation where candidates and their handlers attempt to create a weird alternate reality where we forget about their record and how our needs and input were ignored.

Because, as the saying goes, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

It’s political gaslighting at its worst, and includes all the classic techniques – blatant lies, words that do not match past actions, marginalizing those things that are dear to us, projecting their own faults on others, portraying others as liars or lunatics, using confusion to craft an alternative narrative and keep constituents guessing. 

Sound familiar?   

We have come to expect that, and smart people recognize the smokescreen for what it is.

But what about when that manipulation becomes a part of our civic lives?   

Here on Florida’s Fun Coast, we are lied to so frequently by those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests that we no longer know what to believe anymore – and our distrust of local government and those who have hijacked it for their own self-serving purposes – has made true civic and economic progress impossible. 

For instance, last year, the City of Ormond Beach spun a fantastic yarn about how the 20-year old police facility on Granada Boulevard was suddenly vulnerable to storm surge in the event of a hurricane, along with a handful of easily corrected routine maintenance issues that were painted as insurmountable – a threat to the building’s continued viability.  

Rather than simply explain to citizens that the property now represents valuable real estate, vital to the completion of the downtown streetscape project that has transformed our community, a potential commercial space better returned to the tax rolls – or explaining that the police department should move west as the community expands – the first thought of our elected officials was to lie to us – blatantly and with confidence. 

To facilitate the ruse, the Ormond Beach City Commission even hired a local developer to identify potential relocation sites – at a cost of $30,000 from the city’s general fund. . . 

More recently, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm engaged in a weird, clearly orchestrated scam – a feint maneuver designed to mislead citizens into believing they need a new $25 million dollar City Hall complex – all while shilling for a Tampa-based developer who seeks $15 million in public funds to underwrite a parking garage for a downtown apartment complex. 

It was cheap, clearly choreographed in advance by those ‘in the know,’ and when the shim-sham was exposed – it left us all feeling gullible and set upon – as our elected officials continue to play their scripted role as the uninformed rubes who need “more information” before putting their constituents even further on the hook to help another private developer maximize profit. 

This weekend, The Daytona Beach News-Journal published an intriguing article on how our return on a $40 million public investment in the woefully underperforming private shopping complex, One Daytona – which was originally sold as a means of producing some 4,300 “direct and indirect jobs” and $250 million in local taxes – “are nowhere close to its original projections.”  

In another article, Beat Kahli, the developer of the proposed Avalon Park Daytona project – a city within a city – that, once complete, will add 10,000 residential properties and one million square feet of commercial space to the already overdeveloped area west of Interstate 95 – is now telling us we “misinterpreted” his request for a $75 million bond backed by the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia.   

“Kahli said he was willing to issue the bond himself but wanted assurances from the county and city that the money could be counted against the impact fees paid on Avalon Park Daytona as it is built out.”

Whatever you say.   

For now, Mr. Kahli is busy insinuating himself into the local political scene with campaign contributions and a three-year $10,000 commitment  to Team Volusia – becoming a “board level” investor in Keith Norden’s public/private travel club – which immediately resulted in Mr. Norden assuaging our growing fears with, “I haven’t met Beat, but I’ve heard good things about him.”

I’ll bet you have. . .  

Most recently, we are being led to believe that Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry has had a change of heart on affordable housing for the thousands of residents in his community and beyond who are living at or below the poverty line – with many now standing in breadlines as their businesses and ability to support their families are crippled by draconian state and local regulations ostensibly designed to show that our politicians are doing something to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

After years of green lighting massive sprawl in “New Daytona,” adding catastrophic pressure to our wholly inadequate transportation infrastructure and water source, only now does Mayor Henry suggest its time for developers – who have hauled untold profits out of our sensitive pine scrub and wetlands – to actually give something back to the community in the form of workforce housing?

All while other elected officials wring their hands and tell us that if we “…burden developers too much, they’ll invest somewhere else.”

Bullshit. 

And the list goes on. . .

We believe because we want to believe.  We need to believe.

And those who hold the power use this illusion of truth to continue ramrodding their hidden agendas and profit motives, hoping against hope that we will simply come to accept that civic stagnation and malignant blight in our core tourist area and elsewhere is somehow off-set by massive theme communities and shopping centers to the west – exploiting and destroying our natural places in their perverse idea of “economic development.”

In November, you and I will have the opportunity to ensure that our voices are heard – just as we did during the grassroots effort to overturn last years shameless money grab in the guise of a half-cent sales tax increase – and unseat incumbent politicians who have sold us out to the highest bidder and pursued this continuing deception as a means to an end for well-heeled insiders. 

I have said this before – please vote like your lives and livelihoods depend upon it.

This ones important.

Angels & Assholes for September 4, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

Angel               Holly Hill City Hall

I tend to develop a strong attachment to places and things. 

People?  Not so much. 

Social scientists describe this bond as a “strong sense of place,” yet, the causal factors remain elusive.  Essentially, it comes down to developing a visceral connection to spaces and environments where we gain a certain indefinable sense of well-being that we long to return to.    

For me, this person-to-place connection evolves over time – but once we become emotionally joined, the spaces and places where I live, work and play become part of my identity – and I want to explore and learn everything I can about them.

The excellent website “The People, Place, and Space Reader,” which brings together the writings of scholars from a variety of fields to help make sense of the way we “shape and inhabit our world,” explained the concept of “place identity”:

“A sense of place identity derives from the multiple ways in which place functions to provide a sense of belonging, construct meaning, foster attachments, and mediate change. The place identity of a person can inform their experiences, behaviors, and attitudes about other places. Place identity is a versatile concept upon which many psychological theories of human–environment relations are built.”

For most of my adult life – I had the pleasure of working in a beautifully unique building that exuded a sense of civic strength, permanence, stability and “monumentality” – which is defined as a “spiritual quality inherent in a structure” that conveys the feeling of its eternity. 

The cornerstone of Holly Hill City Hall was laid in 1939 by Works Progress Administration laborers, and after two-years of heavy construction, the citizens of the community celebrated completion of the building on Labor Day weekend 1942. 

According to a report from the day:

“A handsome and spacious structure of native coquina stone, concrete and steel, the new municipal building faces Ridgewood Avenue from the middle of a nine-acre park. One Of the largest public buildings in the county, it houses the town’s municipal offices, two school rooms and a manual training room for the high school, the fire department, police department, an office for the state road department and a fully equipped first aid room for the defense council.”

During the dedication ceremony, Bernard M. Beach, president of the town council and mayor pro tempore, “…told his townspeople and their guests that the building was “a monument to a people unafraid to plan, to sacrifice and to serve.”

The massive stone building became my second home (sometimes my first) and no matter what happened in my life, I knew that if I just get back to that building, there were people there who loved and cared about me – I knew everything would be okay – and I cared for her as she cared for me.

Thanks to preventive maintenance, the commitment of community leaders to preserving the past, and a daily TLC by those who work within, this weekend we celebrate Holly Hill City Hall’s 78th Birthday – and honor her continuous service to the citizens of this wonderful community!

In my view, that is the very essence of stability and permanence – something sorely lacking in east Volusia – where we destroy our past in the name of “progress” every time. 

Congratulations to the elected and appointed officials, city staff, and the citizens of Holly Hill – past and present – for your ever-lasting courage and undaunted willingness “to plan, to sacrifice and to serve.”     

Happy Birthday, old friend.

Asshole           Volusia County School Board

“Policy making invariably involves taking measured risks in the face of uncertainty, for one has neither a prior template nor the luxury of indecision.”

― Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan, Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Earlier this week, Volusia County students returned to school in all its various forms, despite the continuing fears of parents, teachers, and staff – who rightfully remain concerned about the safety of classroom instruction during a global pandemic. 

What a week its been. . . 

Last Sunday evening, some parents were still taking to social media, begging for answers to their myriad questions just hours before the start of school, adding to the trepidation that many families are feeling this week. 

I felt deeply sorry for them. 

It was distressing to watch confused parents grasping for information, trying desperately to do right by their children on the very eve of the school year – all while mixed signals continued to flow from a variety of district officials – the concept of a single point of contact be damned. . .

Then, we made national news after throngs of students at a local high school were photographed congregating in a common area, as kids will on the first day of school, seemingly oblivious to the clearly unenforced social distancing requirement. 

And, on Thursday, we learned that the district’s do-nothing custodial contractor has been employing the sickening (literally) practice of using toilet water to “clean” bathroom floors and fixtures.  Gross. 

(Hey, what do you want for $14.2 million annually?  Well-trained janitors using modern disinfection practices?  Pshaw!) 

Whatever.

In my view, it was the weird U-turn on the district’s non-policy of keeping mum on coronavirus cases in Volusia County schools that, once again, exemplified the depth of dysfunction that perpetuates this culture of mediocrity and keeps students, teachers and staff guessing.           

Everyone understands that this is a complex situation, and no one is completely comfortable, regardless of the method of instruction they have selected.    

However, for many families, it is imperative that students have choices – including a return to brick-and-mortar schools for those who simply cannot thrive in a virtual environment – or where domestic constraints prohibit online learning, close supervision, etc., while parents earn a living outside the home to keep a roof over the child’s head. 

So, we must accept the fact that, with some 40,000 students returning for face-to-face learning this week, it is not if, but when, there will be a coronavirus outbreak. 

But how will families, teachers and staff know if they have been exposed so immediate disinfectant and quarantine procedures can be implemented to prevent the spread among vulnerable family members?

The short answer is – up until Wednesday, they wouldn’t have.  

According to a disturbing article in last Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, entitled “Volusia Schools won’t publish virus info,” we were shocked to learn that:

“Although guidance from the U.S. Department of Education authorizes school districts themselves to release COVID-19 case information, the Volusia County school district will not be keeping track of positive cases or outbreaks of COVID-19 at schools, spokeswoman Kelly Schulz confirmed. It will not be notifying students or staff who come into contact with individuals who test positive on campuses.”

Instead, the district simply abandoned its duty to protect children, families, and staff by transferring that sacred notification obligation to those close-mouthed, almost paralytically ineffective, bureaucrats at the Volusia County Department of Health.  

Incredibly, when Department of Health mouthpiece Holly Smith was asked by the News-Journal to confirm a “rumored outbreak” at a school,“…she refused to provide any information.” 

You read that right.

Ultimately, Ms. Smith gave one of those typical non-committal answers we have come to expect from the Volusia County Department of Health, “The Department of Health is continuing to review and determine the most appropriate method for reporting outbreaks in schools.”

My ass.

So, the wild speculation and scramble for substantive information continued unabated.    

According to News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander’s informative piece, several social media sites have been established – including a great site I follow called Anonymous Volusia Teacher – which is described as the “Unofficial Twitter for those Volusia County School Teachers afraid to speak out.”

(Can you believe that in 2020 – after the horrific scandals at Mainland High School and beyond – teachers and staff members are still afraid to speak out on important matters that affect the lives and education of Volusia County students?  So much for that ‘culture change’ we were promised, eh?)

Some staff members began reporting potential COVID-19 exposures at area schools, openly expressing concern that the district’s administration was silent on the potential danger. 

Recently, when a staff member at Flagler County’s Bunnell Elementary School tested positive – families received a timely notice from the principal advising of the situation and explaining what those who may have been in “close contact” (based upon contact tracing) could expect – and Orange County Public Schools have effectively used social media platforms to spread the word on potential outbreaks.   

In my view, that represents prudent and effectual public engagement during a pandemic.   

The idea of a school district – or public health organization – remaining mute on the potential spread of this contagion is a reckless abdication of their personal and professional responsibility, a spineless stance which puts students, faculty, and staff in jeopardy. 

Then, everything changed.  Again.

On Wednesday, with little official explanation beyond “The Florida Department of Education has requested COVID-19 reporting, blah, blah, blah,” district administrators reversed course – now reporting that it will list coronavirus cases on a district “dashboard” twice each week. 

Although the online postings differentiate between students and staff, it stops short of correlating the number of positive cases with individual schools – turning the whole sordid mess into a weird parlor game.   

Better than nothing, I suppose. . .

Unfortunately, this unconscionable wavering and perpetual lack of a cohesive plan has resulted in chaos – adding more confusion and upheaval to an already difficult situation.  In fact, it is quickly becoming a cautionary tale for other districts – a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis.   

This institutional hesitancy and vacillation is wrong, and it cannot continue.

Clearly, this administration no longer has the luxury of indecision.

Unfortunately, this latest official about-face fell on Interim Superintendent Carmen Balgobin’s tenuous watch. 

Under any reasonable system of accountability – our elected representatives would demand that Ms. Balgobin come down from the Ivory Tower of Power and reassure stressed parents and staff that someone is actually at the helm of this foundering ship – or resign and make way for someone who can.  

Instead, in keeping with Volusia County’s practice of rewarding abject ineptitude, next week the School Board will vote to give Ms. Balgobin a pay increase commensurate with her responsibilities. . .  

My God.

By any metric, this asinine flip-flopping on important communication strategies in the face of a pandemic is contrary to the standard of leadership we expect from those who hold the health and safety of our precious children in their hands.

Angel               Volusia Councilwoman Heather Post

I admit, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issues.

That’s okay. 

I’m a cantankerous asshole who enjoys passing the time arguing with people – and Ms. Post is a very active and involved elected official who must prove her worth to the people she serves every four years. . .

And, in the often-skewed playing field of Volusia County politics, keeping your seat at the table can be a tall order – especially when the elected official refuses to “go along and get along.”

But one thing her detractors must admit: Ms. Post has demonstrated a true willingness to get down in the trenches and fight hard for her constituents, despite the withering criticism and eye-rolling horseshit of her compromised “colleagues” on the dais of power.

Recently, I became curious after County Attorney Mike Dyer announced (with a straight face) that Volusia County taxpayers expended just $1,988.83 on the County Council’s protracted litigation seeking to overturn the will of voters and exempt Volusia from Amendment 10, which rightfully returns constitutional sovereignty to elective offices.

Having traded with both private and public attorneys most of my adult life – it seemed incomprehensible to me that a legal challenge going all the way to the First District Court of Appeals – with the possibility of being heard by the Florida Supreme Court – could have been pressed for less than the cost of a kitchen appliance.

So, I placed a public record request seeking hard answers from the County Attorney’s office.

(Stop snickering, dammit.  I tried, okay?)     

When it appeared my simple intreat was falling victim to the old shim-sham of bureaucratic jukes and sidesteps – cleverly designed to put time and distance between the question and answer – I reached out to Councilwoman Post for help.

To her great credit, she immediately went to bat for me. 

Ultimately, my request, and Ms. Post’s helpful intervention, was all for naught as my worst fears were realized: No one currently employed by Volusia County knows for sure what the litigation actually cost!

That’s right.  Nobody knows.    

In a memorandum between Deputy County Attorney Kevin Bledsoe and his apparently clueless boss, Mr. Dyer, I learned that the “hard costs” paid by Volusia County amounted to $2,073.89 – just $85.08 more than what Dyer announced to the County Council. 

Close enough for government work as they say, eh?

It seems that under former County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert, “No itemized accounting of attorney work hours was maintained,” and Mr. Eckert was the “…attorney of record in these proceedings.”

According to Mr. Bledsoe’s report, apparently, Cujo Eckert actually went into his own pocket –  spending $915.46 of his own money – to cover case-related expenses, including “filing fees, hearing transcripts, and service fees.”

Really?  Talk about dedication. . .

So, at the end of the day, they blamed the lack of a comprehensive accounting on poor departed Dan Eckert – who has taken up the rocking chair after being unceremoniously launched into forced retirement earlier this year after four decades of public service. 

Of course, it would have been gauche for anyone in a position of authority or oversight to have picked up a phone and asked Ol’ Dan if he recalled how much time he spent on the challenge.

So, no one did. 

Whatever.

At the end of the day, we will never know exactly what the Amendment 10 challenge cost Volusia County taxpayers – because that is what the inner-circle wanted from the beginning – knowing full-well that their constituents would quickly tire of throwing good money after bad simply to keep Sheriff Chitwood and the other constitutional officers under the thumb of a politically unaccountable manager. . . 

But, just maybe, something positive came out of this.    

As I understand it, under the county’s current management and accountability protocols, attorney timesheets are only generated when there is an expectation of recovering fees from an opposing party – otherwise, I guess it’s ‘do whatcha wanna’just look busy whenever Internal Auditor Jonathan “Le Fantôme” Edwards ethereally drifts through the office, eh?    

Is it physically possible that absolutely no one in county government – from Mr. Dyer to County Manager George Recktenwald – knows what anyone who works for them are doing from day-to-day? 

I’m asking because that is the perception.   

According to Mr. Bledsoe’s thorough enlightenment of the strategically ill-informed Mr. Dyer, in the aftermath, “we” will now track attorney time in “significant litigation” such as the Amendment 10 challenge, “for reference purposes in the future.” 

You know, as opposed to taking someone’s word for it. . . 

What a hell of a way to run a railroad.

Thank you, Ms. Post. 

I sincerely appreciate your dedication – and your assistance.

Quote of the Week

“I will join my fellow alumni in calling for the immediate removal of Mori Hosseini from the Board of Trustees of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and, if that is not pursued, then the immediate resignation of President P. Barry Butler for abetting in this blatant offense toward the communities involved.”

–Michael Von Kreuzfaufsteiger, writing in Medium.com, “Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Complete Disregard of Safety Procedures for Board Members Shows an Extreme Lack of Leadership,” Sunday, August 30, 2020  

Strong words, following equally strong disappointment among ERAU students who – after weeks of draconian measures designed to ensure campus compliance with COVID-19 prevention protocols – discovered that a “retreat” was held for the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees in their student union – sans face coverings, social distancing or common decency. . . 

According to an excellent article in the student newspaper, The Avion, entitled, “Double-Standards: Controversy arises as Embry-Riddle hold first external event,” on August 27, our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hossieni, as Chairman of the Board of both ERAU and the University of Florida (?), hosted the elegant soiree at the 177,000 square foot aeronautical athenaeum which bears his name – the Mori Hossieni Student Union

Clearly, that level of hypocrisy did not sit well with the student body – nor should it. 

Many outside the university have questioned, “What’s the big deal?  So, what if Mori and his sycophantic pals didn’t wear masks.” 

The problem is, in an aviation and engineering environment, an omnipotent safety culture exists to save lives – and the shared beliefs, values, and rules of adherence and conduct are equally applicable to everyone – from the top of the organization to the newest incoming freshman. 

Because once weakened or ignored, safety procedures become functionally and operationally meaningless.    

This circle of safety is not limited to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – because, as an emerging aerospace research hub and trusted feeder to the global aviation industry – ERAU is part of the aerospace and aviation community as a whole, a place where safety management is only as effective as its weakest link.

Pilots do not mitigate risk some of the time – they do it all of the time – so that safety and professionalism become ingrained in everything they do.

After all, would you put your family on an airplane designed, built, and flown by people who embrace a convenient “do as I say, not as I do” approach to risk management?  

In my view, when the senior leadership of a prestigious aeronautical university – those charged with enforcing the rules and tenets upon which a positive safety culture is built – flippantly violate acceptable prevention strategies in the vulnerable environment of a crowded campus, it destroys trust, and undermines the foundational elements that have made ERAU the premiere aviation and aerospace university in the world.    

And Another Thing!

Guess what? 

Earlier this week, former Volusia County Chair candidate Gerard Witman, a virtual unknown who was eliminated during the primary, threw his support to the incumbent, Dishonest Deb Denys.

I know, who saw that coming, right? 

More important – who cares

Frankly, Mr. Witman lost me the minute he gave his bizarre answer to The West Volusia Beacon’s cogent question, “What are one or two of the big issues (facing Volusia County)?”

“From all I’m hearing, the COVID-19 is the big thing. Some cities say you have to wear a mask or get penalized, and I don’t know that you ought to penalize them.  The masks are going to help, because they do stop droplets. Aerosols are 0.5 microns, and droplets are large. The cloth masks are effective.”

I’m not kidding.  That was Mr. Witman’s answer.  

I immediately thought, “Is this some sick joke?” 

It wasn’t. . . 

Yet, some 15,000 wholly out-of-touch Volusia County voters either Christmas treed their ballot in the interest of time – or  thought it better to cast their sacred vote for a no-name meddler with absolutely zero grasp of the issues – rather than return Dishonest Deb Denys for another bite at the apple.  

Suddenly, Mr. Witman, who, in my view, looked uncomfortable and oddly out-of-place during the “debates,” is now Ms. Denys poster boy – a newly minted pseudo-expert in the administration of Volusia County government – who is now making an odd appearance on her paid political advertisements.   

Bullshit. 

In coming weeks, we can expect to see a full-court press as the Denys campaign attempts to get off the defensive and remake their candidate into something, well, remotely likeable – because she damn sure cannot stand on her abysmal record.

Last week, I received a call from a politically astute friend of mine who had been asked to run interference for a well-to-do group of Denys supporters who were righteously indignant that I referred to Dishonest Deb as an Asshole in this space.   

I happen to like both the caller, and those who asked him to intercede, but I did not apologize. . .

Because ‘them’s the rules’ on Friday – you know, the whole “…the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way,” thing?

In my view, there has been ample evidence over Ms. Denys eight unremarkable years on the Volusia County Council to support my assertion that she has detracted from our quality of life by selling out her long-suffering constituents, flip-flopping on past promises, and doing exactly what she is told by our civic and social elite who purchase her loyalty through massive campaign contributions. 

Hide and watch. 

The next two months will exemplify the fetid shit show that is Volusia County politics in all its foulness, as those with a chip in the game and their hired guns expose their fangs, and do everything in their considerable power to marginalize Jeff Plan B Brower.

Trust me.  Things are about to get vicious, now that Mr. Brower has demonstrated that he is ready, willing, and able to challenge the entrenched status quo. 

As the knives come out, ask yourself this important question:

Why would anyone seek to continue the toxic environment in DeLand – a cheap oligarchy totally devoid of optimism or substantive public participation – marked by hidden personal agendas, gross ineptitude, and insider influence that has destroyed the public’s trust in their government – by returning someone to power who has enjoyed nearly a decade at the trough, yet has accomplished nothing of substance for her long-suffering constituents? 

Look, this is a long-term affliction that has rotted the very soul of Volusia County – jeopardizing our civic, economic, and ecological future – with thousands of families living at or below the poverty line – and is not something anyone can correct overnight. 

However, in my jaded view, it is past time to staunch the bleeding and remove the malignancy caused by these craven incumbent marionettes and the puppet masters who control them.

In my view, that is vital to the healing process – and electing Jeff Brower is a good place to start.  

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

ERAU: The Arrogance of Power

Some days this blog writes itself. . .

As a homegrown mechanism for pointing out the political absurdities and hypocritical horseshit that permeates our haughty government offices and defines our social and civic elite here on Florida’s Fun Coast, this blogsite was founded on watching from the cheap seats and writing down the farcicalities I observe.

And the orchestrated shit shows I see through a bloodshot eye rarely disappoint. . .

For instance, in 2016, I watched intently as the Volusia County Council ponied-up $1.5 million in public funds to underwrite struggling startups at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Complex – while simultaneously authorizing the sale of public property near Clyde Morris Boulevard and Bellevue to the University for half  its appraised value.

In my view, at that point, you and I – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County – became de facto members of ERAU’s prestigious Jack L. Hunt Society in grateful recognition of our generous endowment to the University.

So, for the past four years, I have taken it upon myself to keep an eye on our investment.

You’re welcome. . .

In that time, I have come to understand that Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – our own Harvard of the Sky – belongs in toto to our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hossieni – and the students, faculty and staff are just visiting.

As I’ve previously noted in this space, Mori’s Machiavellian attempts to control virtually every aspect of University operations and administration – including unilaterally selecting the university’s senior leadership – has not been well received by those who pay tuition or prepare and present the best curriculum in aerospace education.

In April 2016, student government representatives going back 15-years issued an open letter denouncing the actions of the ERAU Board of Trustees and expressing their collective concern for the future of the University.

Then, in August of that year, the faculty senate took the courageous step of issuing a vote of no confidence against the board – the most powerful statement of disapproval available to faculty members – many of whom felt marginalized under Mr. Hosseini’s dictatorship.

In Mori’s expansive world, he controls organizations and institutions with the dominance of a Feudal lord – and those who get crossways with the Big Man suffer the personal and professional consequences.

And this unbridled power – which seems to exempt Mr. Hossieni and his hand-select minions from the rules, decrees and social imperatives that control the rest of us – has never been more evident than during this most recent escalating brouhaha – one that has left ERAU student’s righteously pissed off.

What?  You didn’t hear about it?

Well, that shouldn’t surprise anyone – because it is the last thing The Daytona Beach News-Journal is going to tell you about. . .

According to an excellent article in the student newspaper, The Avion, entitled, “Double-Standards: Controversy arises as Embry-Riddle hold first external event,” last Thursday, Mori – as Chairman of the Board of both ERAU and the University of Florida (?), hosted an elegant soiree at the 177,000 square foot aeronautical athenaeum which bears his name – the Mori Hossieni Student Union – for the UF Board of Trustees.

With student’s and staff having been warned, in the gravest of terms, that any violation of the University’s stringent COVID-19 safety protocols would result in draconian punishment – up to and including being sent home – it became apparent that the rules only apply to the little people. . .

As The Avion’s news editor Oliver Du Bois and staff reporter Mike Shekari so aptly explained:

“On Thursday, Aug. 27, a retreat was hosted for the University of Florida Board of Trustees by the Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach Campus. As part of this retreat, on Thursday night a banquet was held in the Student Union for the Board of Trustees, which shares its chairman with Embry-Riddle’s board, Mori Hosseini. Based on photographs taken by students during the banquet, it appears that over 30 individuals attended. The images also show that tables at the banquet seated six people and did not have any form of divider. Whereas students are only allowed to eat in groups of four and most other campus areas where food is consumed is required to have dividers. Banquet attendees were also in the Student Union without masks. However, what is truly disturbing about this incident is that the university violated its own COVID-19 control policies, which mandates the wear of face coverings and physical distancing of tables and chairs during events.”

Wow.

Facing growing outrage by students who rightfully perceived this event as a dangerous double-standard, on August 28, University President P. Barry Butler issued a lame mea culpa, calling the gross violation of safety protocols a “valuable learning experience.”

In addition, Dr. Butler explained that all attendees had been screened and tested for COVID-19 – while admitting that “…social distancing was insufficient and face coverings were not consistently worn. Moreover, the appearance of the event, particularly as visitors were dining and talking without face coverings, was bad optics to say the least, as it appeared hypocritical and may have caused some of you to think that our rules are ‘good for thee, but not for me.’”

My ass.

That’s exactly what it was – the arrogance of power on parade.

It appears the ERAU Student Government Association didn’t buy Butler’s bullshit either and issued their own statement to students on Friday, which read, in part:

“Chairman Hosseini and his guests attended a dinner in the Mori Hosseini Student Union [building] that was not in compliance with the University’s COVID-19 policies … The SGA [Student Government Association] Executive Board has heard you, and we agree that the actions of Mori Hosseini and the UF [University of Florida] Board of Trustees on Thursday were absolutely unacceptable … Everyone must be held to the same standard. Our safety is non-negotiable.”

Now, students have scheduled an “Accountability Protest” this morning at the Jim W. Henderson Administration & Welcome Center – as calls grow for Chairman Hossieni’s removal.  (See more here: https://tinyurl.com/yxun63vj )

Trust me.  Despite Dr. Butler’s fervent desire – this is not going away anytime soon.

Nor should it.

This is a big deal.

Because it has eroded the omnipotent safety culture that is critical in an aeronautical environment – one that holds everyone to equal standards of safety and conduct – and has personally insulted the efforts of students, faculty, and staff to safely reopen the University’s residential campuses to face-to-face instruction in keeping with the Board of Trustees’ desire.

While I admire – and wholeheartedly support – the valiant efforts of ERAU students to transform this beleaguered University and begin the difficult process of rebuilding trust, my fear is nothing will substantively change, and this cloistered institution will remain deeply embroiled in these recurring controversies so long as it is aggressively controlled by one man who casts a very large shadow on campus and off.

 

Photo Credit: The Avion

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 28, 2020

Hi, kids!

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

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

It’s been an unsettling week here at Barker’s View HQ.

Many years ago, when Patti and I scrimped and saved to obtain a mortgage on our little wood frame cracker box up here in north Ormond Beach, the selling point for me was a beautiful old-growth oak tree that graced the front yard.

We bonded from the minute I saw her.

The spectacular Southern live oak was complimented, just across the cracked front walk, by an equally majestic Florida maple that graced us with its spectacular color change each year when the weather turned cool.

The towering trees provided shade, cooling and shielding the front of our little house, and they paired well with a stand of cedars and several young oaks in a way that enhanced the landscape and gave our arrogantly shabby home some “curb appeal.”

Because I have been cursed with a brown thumb – a horticultural malady that automatically ensures the untimely death of any plant, shrub, or flower that I touch – these trees were the landscape.

Unfortunately, in time, the maple fell victim to high winds during one of the glancing coastal hurricanes – dropping with a mighty crash and completely blocking the street – leaving a huge divot in our yard as the root structure pulled the lawn up like a tattered carpet.

A short while later, we learned from a practicing arborist that the gigantic oak tree – which I guess was well over 100-years old, and appeared to be comprised of several trees that comingled and fused over time – was decaying from the inside out, leaving the compromised structure in jeopardy of collapsing onto our house, or worse. . .

During my working years, I once investigated a terrible tragedy wherein a lady was killed, instantaneously, by the crushing weight of a falling water oak – a tree, that by all outward appearances, was strong and healthy – when the enormous trunk toppled onto her car as she drove past on a quiet residential street.

Call it bad luck, destiny, or fate – but I have never forgotten the horror of that scene – and the incomprehensible odds that the victim would be passing at the very moment of the trees demise.

So, for the best of reasons, after receiving another opinion from the City of Ormond Beach, it was confirmed that my wonderful old friend must come down.

So, it did.

With a municipal permit in hand, my majestic specimen was felled by the herculean effort of a team of skilled tree surgeons, using heavy equipment and roaring chainsaws, in a nine-hour effort – one that saw hundreds of gallons of water flow from the diseased trunk as, piece by heavy piece, my beautiful old girl was reduced to so much sawdust and fireplace logs.

The superintendent of the job told Patti that his crew got many dirty looks from passersby – and one concerned neighbor even stopped his car and angrily took pictures of the ugly scene – no doubt documenting evidence of the environmental atrocity for proper authorities. . . But, I assure you, no one was sadder than me to see her go.

Hell, I don’t blame them for being mad at me.  The neighborhood lost something incredibly special – and the entire block has a different feel.

In fact, I could not bring myself to watch the arboreal euthanasia.

Instead, I took to the bed, listening again-and-again to the weighty “whump” as her limbs were severed and fell to the ground – my situational depression was comforted by our dogs, Nola and Benny – who seemed to sense something unfortunate was happening outside.

I am told the old gal put up quite a fight – with her damp and rotted wood crimping the mechanized blades as she wept water and slowly succumbed. . .

Now, the yard looks barren – and our house stands out like a sore thumb – with the blemishes of its well-past-prime paint job now more prevalent than ever, as curb appeal suddenly gave way to a certain down at the heel’s dreariness.

Fortunately, the cycle of life will begin anew in coming weeks when we replace both trees with young, sturdy hardwoods – something of a leap of faith – as I doubt either Patti or I will live to see them in their natural prime.

But our grandchildren will. . .

When you think about it, planting a tree is a leap of faith, an act of hope for the future, the slow transformation of a thing of beauty, over decades, that others will enjoy long after the planter shuffles off this mortal coil.

As farmer and WW1 veteran, Nelson Henderson, so aptly put it:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

There now.  Somehow, I feel better. . .

Thanks for listening, friends.

Angel              Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom

I know something about small town managers.

I have worked for great ones – the best in the business – who, by their personal example, inspire their staff to greatness – and I have endured the worst of the worst – craven jacklegs who can do serious damage to a hapless community in a very short period of time.

Rarely is there a happy medium.

Small town city managers typically fall into two categories – young, inexperienced neophytes clutching a newly minted degree in public management, seeking to gain experience and make a name for themselves in the maelstrom of tiny town politics – or the grizzled veterans on the run – fresh off the dreaded “managers in transition” list – trying hard to put time and distance between their last disaster and ‘what comes next.’

So, when a community finds a professional chief executive with a solid track record of civic progress and a noble willingness to serve – smart elected officials hang on to that rare commodity at all cost – because that quality of care, commitment and concern is worth more than gold bullion.

Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom was sui generis – a city manager who embodied the important personal and professional attributes of a true servant-leader, embraced values-based public service, and made an enduring impact on the citizens and staff he served so well.

In a wonderful piece last week, FlaglerLive.com wrote:

“Beloved by his staff and fiercely protective of it to the point of willingly risking his job in his staff’s defense, Newsom was outspoken, folksy, at times salty-tongued and unafraid to be confrontational. . .”     

I admire that.

Larry Newsom died Sunday at AdventHealth Palm Coast.  He was 56.

His enormous contributions to the City of Flagler Beach, one of the last quaint vestiges of Old Florida, will be sorely missed.

Requiescat in pace.

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

 At the risk of coming off like the egotistical shitheel I am:

When I am right – I’m right!

Earlier this week, I published a screed entitled “Cui Bono? To Whose Benefit?” speculating that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm’s surprise “Daytona Emerging” announcement was little more than a ruse – a confidence game designed to conceal the fact he and Sir John Albright of CTO Realty Growth, Inc. (formerly known as Consolidated Tomoka Land Company), want to use public funds to underwrite a parking garage for an apartment complex at International Speedway Boulevard and North Ridgewood Avenue.

In order to do that, Mr. Chisholm – acting as a shill for the Tampa-based developer Framework Group – threw a lot of dust in the air to keep our focus off the actual prize.

His elaborate scheme included detailed architectural renderings of a multi-million-dollar City Hall complex, a grocery store, five-story parking garage and a “multi-family building” complete with rooftop pool.

Then, on Wednesday, during a weird meeting of the Daytona Beach City Commission – which was apparently called by Mr. Chisholm (?) – the true scam was revealed when citizens learned that their lame duck City Manager is acting as a cheap facilitator for CTO Growth Realty and an out-of-town developer with an unsustainable plan that, by his own admission, cannot succeed without an infusion of millions in public funds to construct the apartment complex’ parking garage.

Don’t take my word for it.

According to an article by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Phillip Smith, president and founder of the Framework Group, told commissioners his Daytona Beach apartment project is at a crossroads because the rent he would charge won’t support the cost of the garage.”

Say what?

Naturally, Mr. Smith then baited the hook with the classic J. Wellington Wimpy dodge, you know, the old, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” ploy, when he told the slack-jawed elected officials that if his first venture in Daytona Beach is successful, he’ll be back to “tackle more residential projects.”

My ass. . .

Now, many of you are wondering, “Hey, Barker, why didn’t you just bestow the Asshole of the Week award on Mr. Chisholm and place blame where blame is due?” 

 After all, the News-Journal described commissioners as “cool” to the idea, what gives?

Because, rather than tell Mr. Chisholm to focus on his own desk in the waning months of his tenure – or explain to Framework Group that they should go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan they can afford – Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, Commissioner Rob Gilliland, and others encouraged Chisholm to “explore” the specifics of the project and put together details on how the city could possibly afford the project’s $15 million price tag.

In my view, that’s a tall order, given the fact they have all but exsanguinated the Downtown CRA with an $800,000 annual commitment to J. Hyatt Brown for maintenance of his riverfront esplanade. . .

Weird how you can paint yourself into a corner when you fail to plan, eh?

Look, I’m not going to gloat and say I told you so – that would be pompous and arrogant.

But I told you so. . .

Now that the groundwork has been laid, you can bet your sweet bippy that the citizens of Daytona Beach will soon expend CRA funds to underwrite a for-profit project for our new friends at the Framework Group.

It is going to happen.

Why?

Because no one wants to be perceived as holding up “progress” – not on CTO Growth Realty property – which sits ugly and vacant since the churches and surrounding structures were demolished. . .

It is becoming clear that residents of Daytona Beach are being groomed with elaborate, pie-in-the-sky plans on the front page of the News-Journal – dramatic depictions of all the wonderful hotels, retail, bistros and penthouse apartments (that may or may not happen) as Burgoyne Properties – which has sat on a huge chunk of Downtown Daytona for more than 80-years – scramble to secure changes to the city’s comprehensive plan before Jim “Sugar Daddy” Chisholm takes up the rocking chair early next year.

Now, all the usual patsies and cheerleaders are crowing about how “fantastic” the future of our downtrodden downtown is, now that J. Hyatt’s glass and steel monument is preparing to open later this year, and Burgoyne Properties is getting zoning changes they can sit on for years.

And, time is of the essence.

God forbid, the next city manager might actually encourage city officials and stakeholders to develop a coherent, transformational and comprehensive plan resulting in an ideal urban center – rather than a patch-work hodgepodge of projects designed to ensure that all the right last names have unfettered access to the public trough.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and keep asking the important question:  Cui Bono?  To whose benefit?

Angel              Volusia County Council

I am on a roll this week, kids!

On Tuesday, my deep, focused, and fervent prayers were answered. . .

Last week in this space, I submissively prostrated myself in front of our all-knowing, all-powerful Monarchs on the Volusia County Council and reverently beseeched them to abandon their two-year legal challenge to the voter approved (63% of Florida voters and 54% of Volusia County voters) Amendment 10, which returns constitutional sovereignty to certain elective offices.

Back in December 2018, instead of accepting the voter’s decision, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, began telling tall tales that the transition would cost taxpayers $10 million – then, led the charge to have former County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert use public funds to challenge the people’s decision in the courts.

Of course, the Volusia County Council’s Royal Decree to contest the results of a fair and lawful election came during a typical off-the-agenda ambush.

Ultimately, the fight was joined by the doyen of the Volusia County Old Guard, Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, and his co-chair of the group that a half-century ago cobbled together the county’s original charter, Dr. P. T. “Bud” Fleuchaus.

Inexplicably, you and I – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County – paid all legal fees and administrative expenses related to Bud and T. Wayne’s attempt to exempt Volusia County in the name of “protecting” us from ourselves by warding off any challenge to the omnipotent charter that leaves very little power or influence in the hands of citizens.

Last week, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee upheld a previous ruling by a Leon County circuit judge rejecting Volusia County’s ill-thought opposition to Amendment 10.

On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council agreed to drop the legal challenge going forward.

To their credit, it was the right thing to do – and Councilman Ben Johnson was correct in his depiction of the challenge as “divisive” and a “waste of time.”

Now, Drs. Bailey and Fleuchaus, the old lions of Volusia County politics, will have to pay for their own damn attorney if they want to continue this asinine push to retain and consolidate power in the hands of a politically unaccountable manager, while relegating our constitutional officers to little more than elected figureheads.

In keeping with tradition, Old Ed, and his sidekick, Dishonest Deb Denys, droned on, trying their level best to convince their constituents that the challenge was intended to protect provisions of the sacrosanct charter – not overturn the people’s right to self-determination at the ballot box.

Right.

I should also say that the county’s staff worked diligently, under often changing and unclear circumstances, to prepare for the transition and ensure that essential services will be available to residents in January – because they did.

Unfortunately, serious questions remain. . .

During his oddly muted response, County Attorney Mike Dyer stated for the public record that the total cost of Volusia County’s aggressive two-year challenge of Amendment 10 cost taxpayers just $1,980.88 – that’s it.

Really?

For less than the cost of a household appliance, the full-might of Volusia County government – including the research, preparation and all necessary legal work of former County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert (who was paid approximately $109.15 per hour) and our current representative, Mr. Dyer (who receives approximately $79.33 per hour) and their staff – mounted a protracted legal argument that went all the way to the First District Court of Appeals for less than $2,000?

My ass. . .

So, with great trepidation, earlier this week I virtually entered the murky labyrinth of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand when I emailed a public records request seeking an itemized accounting of all expenses related to the litigation.

Initially, my simple request to the point of contact listed on the Volusia County website for the County Manager’s office was returned by the former employee – who retired in November 2019 – directing me to yet another deputy clerk, Karissa Green, which resulted in a canned response advising that she is working “remotely.”

So, I asked my duly elected representative, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, for help negotiating the bureaucratic maze – and to her great credit – she reached out to both the County Manager and County Attorney to clarify for me exactly how much the Amendment 10 legal challenge cost taxpayers – she even managed to get the contact information corrected on the website!

In my experience, most lawyers do not work for free – and billable hours is their stock in trade.  Even salaried government attorneys (one would assume) must account for their time as a managerial necessity – but, I have yet to receive an official response to my inquiry.

So, like you, I sit and speculate. . .

My fear is that I am about to enter the rabbit hole – hoping against hope that Mr. Dyer and Mr. Recktenwald do not try to equivocate that Volusia County cannot produce an accurate accounting for the legal fight because none exists.

I suspect they will ultimately blame poor old (now forcibly retired) Cujo Eckert for not keeping accurate records of the time he, his deputy, and staff spent formulating a strategy and preparing their case – essentially telling me (and you) that the only factual expenses related to the Amendment 10 challenge add up to just $1,980.88 in filing and administrative fees.

Bullshit.

The fact is, anyone who has ever employed an attorney knows that this protracted litigation cost far more than what we are being led to believe.

And there is absolutely no reason to lie about it!

In my view, if our “new” County Attorney has mislead both the County Council, and the citizens of Volusia County, by quibbling the cost for political expediency – then he must resign or be terminated immediately – because he will have lost the trust of those he serves.

Unfortunately, Mr. Dyer will have no one to blame but himself.

Time will tell. . .

Quote of the Week

“The County Charter Architects of the old days have always sought to abolish the people’s Sheriff’s Office and replace the elected sheriff with an appointed one. They, along with a County Council majority that does whatever it’s told, tried their best to defeat Amendment 10 on the ballot and in court, and they failed.

There is no point in continuing to lie about it, but I have a feeling that Ed Kelley’s lies won’t be finished until the day he steps down from office. November can’t come soon enough.”

–Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood announcing an end to the County Council’s asinine legal fight against the voter approved Amendment 10, which returns constitutional sovereignty to his office and others, Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Well said, Sheriff Chitwood.

And Another Thing!

As usual, “Barker the Bitcher” has a problem.

During council member comments at what passed for a Volusia County Council meeting on Tuesday, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – a current candidate for the County Chair seat – used her lofty position to direct County Manager George “Wreck” Recktenwald to provide water quality and wetlands protection information in response to campaign criticisms leveled by her opponent, Jeff “Plan B” Brower and others.

You read that right. 

 Now, to be clear, Dishonest Deb attempted to couch her “request” as a council action, a means of answering “purposeful misinformation” during an “election cycle” – but it was clear to everyone watching what her true motivations were.

Don’t take my word for it, watch the archived video of the meeting here:  https://tinyurl.com/y6eapn8q – the action begins at 3:56:31.

Rather than formulate a cogent response based upon her appalling “go along and get along” record with developers – one that has contributed to continuing water quality issues at Blue Spring, DeLeon Springs and Gemini Springs, each of which have been declared “impaired” – fish in the St. Johns River developing ulcerated lesions linked to pollutants – and the slow death of the Indian River Lagoon, where nitrogen runoff from fertilizer and leeching sewage has had a devastating impact on underwater vegetation – now, Dishonest Deb wants you and I to pay Mr. Recktenwald and his staff to collect oppositional research to bail her out.

That’s bullshit.

And probably illegal. . .

Back when I was playing government, public officers were statutorily prohibited from using their official positions to obtain a special privilege or benefit for themselves or others.

Since Ms. Deny’s critics and political opponent do not have an equal ability to turn to the County Manager from the dais of power and suggest he produce mitigating evidence on water quality and wetlands protections to answer her detractors during an election cycle – I’d call that a ‘special privilege’ directly related to Deb’s political campaign.

Or am I missing something?

Because it sure looked as if Mr. Recktenwald was attempting to run an uncomfortable interference for Ms. Denys when he gave a cursory glance looking for majority approval.

Anyone who lives on the Fun Coast understands the injurious effects sprawl and unchecked development have had on our sensitive wetlands and over-stressed aquifer – and they can see right through the gauzy disguise of Ms. Deny’s shameless attempts to weaken environmental protections as she pursues her weird goal of luring “space-related” industry to endangered areas of Southeast Volusia and beyond.

Also, I think everyone understands that the absurd “hurt here, help there” wetland mitigation scheme currently in use will ultimately prove to be an ecological disaster.

Perhaps Ms. Denys disagrees.  But she should speak for herself.

In my view, if Dishonest Deb wants to stand on her dismal environmental record – marked by brazen posturing, weird photo-op’s, and her never-ending game of musical chairs in dubious “leadership” roles with various political insulation committees – so be it.

But she should simply admit that Volusia County is experiencing unprecedented growth with little consideration to the long-term effects on wetlands or the continuing degradation of water quality in our lakes, rivers and estuaries – then tell us what she plans to do about it.

In my view, it crosses a very bright ethical line when a sitting elected official who is seeking higher office blatantly directs career civil servants – who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – to compile reports and studies that she can use to deflect political flak and criticism.

That is what paid political consultants and campaign hangers-on are for.

In short, if Ms. Denys wants to mount a defense to the withering condemnation of her abysmal record by her opponent – and her constituents – then she should pay for the research without arrogantly expecting Volusia County taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Like Sheriff Chitwood so eloquently said – November can’t come soon enough. . .

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