The Debacle in DeBary: The Temptation of John Miklos

My wife and I enjoy the company of two wonderful dogs, Diamond and Nola, both of whom are very affectionate and have become the center of our household.  I often remark that we don’t so much keep a home as an elaborate support system for our dogs.

Our youngest, Nola, is just two years old and she can be very precocious.

While well-mannered in most respects, Nola’s one intractable failing is her complete inability to resist the temptation of food.  If Patti or I let our guard down and leave the slightest opening – Nola will seize the moment.

As good natured as Nola is, she simply can’t help herself.

Last Christmas I had just taken a beautiful Honey Baked ham out of the oven and placed it carefully on the counter to rest.  The family was gathered in the other room, all the trimmings were carefully cooked, prepped and baked and that incredible store-bought ham was as shining and resplendent as a $50-dollar piece of processed meat can be.  Just gorgeous.

As I walked into the living room to call the assembled extended family to dinner, I detected a weird shuffling sound behind me.  Imagine if you will my abject horror when I next heard what sounded like an Atomic bomb detonating in the kitchen.

Nothing – and I mean nothing – sounds quite like a ten-pound ham and its Pyrex baking dish smashing onto a tile floor from counter-height.  It’s a shock to the system.  My worst fear was instantly realized with the immediate recognition that Nola had helped herself to the centerpiece of our family’s Holiday dinner.

Now, as I stood there gazing at that wonderful, mahogany-colored, warm dark sugar encrusted beauty laying in a glittering debris field of broken tempered glass I immediately realized – it was not Nola’s fault, it was mine.

I had left the ham too close to the edge knowing full-well that our poor dog is pitifully incapable of any reasonable self-restraint in these matters.  So, we all tried to laugh and even took a picture for posterity.

Then Patti mixed a strong eggnog. . .

Leaving Nola alone in the kitchen and asking her to mind the lunch meat is like asking a big boar coon to watch your hen house – after a while, the poor bugger just won’t be able to help himself.

It’s in the genes, and at the end of the day, you know deep down that you have no one to blame but yourself.

Which brings me to the continuing saga of Long John Miklos and the curious case of the “DeBary Land Deal.”

It seems that John has a small environmental consultancy in Orlando, Bio Tech Consultants, Inc., that has had the most incredible run of success in ensuring his clients – generally big time land developers – get what they damn well want from the St. John’s River Water Management District.

I mean, it’s uncanny.

Did I mention that the same John Miklos also happens to be Chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s Governing Board?

Because he is.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but in most places promoting the interests of personal customers coming before the very same regulatory board that you chair would be considered a colossal conflict of interest – if not a criminal misuse of public office.

In most places, a person that engaged in that level of open thievery would be slapped in irons and publicly humiliated for high crimes against the environment and massive public corruption.

But this is Florida.  The rules are different here.

Since his gubernatorial appointment to the board, Miklos’ environmental record is, well, one for the record books – and an interesting confirmation of the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

In 2012, in order to facilitate a development near Vero Beach, Bio Tech received a permit to remove a tree which contained an osprey’s nest.  Turns out it was a bald eagles nest – but they took the tree down anyway.  In my experience, you mess with a bald eagle – or its nest – and the Federal government will tack what’s left of your hide to a barn door.

Not if your John Miklos.

Apparently, records of an investigation into the incident show that Bio Tech had a financial relationship with the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – the very agency conducting the investigation.

It seems Miklos and then FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright were business partners in two Florida corporations.  No prosecution was ever brought and Federal authorities gave the whole matter a wide berth.

Naturally, Miklos explained his relationship with Wright away as a mere partnership in a Polk County hunting camp.

He has a convenient answer for everything.

Then, last summer a subcontractor working for Bio Tech destroyed nearly 30 acres of restored conservation land in Osceola County.  Of course, John Miklos had a perfectly logical excuse – it was the tractor operators fault.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the gentleman operating the tractor said he was simply following a map personally given to him by John Miklos.

Again, regulatory officials investigating the incident found no violation.

Miklos also happens to be the longest serving chairman of the SJRWMD Governing Board, having first been appointed by Charlie Crist in 2010, then reappointed by Rick Scott to an additional four-year term in March 2014.  The Governing Board first elected Miklos as Chairman in 2013, and re-elected him in both 2014 and 2015.  His current term runs through November 2016.

Let’s just say Governor Scott must have a lot – and I mean A LOT – of confidence in ol’ John.

I mean, most folks would look at his environmental track record and glaring professional conflict of interest and say, “maybe not the best guy to be regulating our drinking water supply,” but not Rick.  In fact, the Governor cleaned house of any real environmental regulators at SJRWMD and allowed Miklos to essentially cherry pick the new executive director.

And that’s a big deal.

Conveniently, in 2009 the rules were changed so that only the biggest permits are decided by the Governing Board – the rest are administered by the Executive Director.  A good person to have on your side if you are an environmental consultant. . .

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported that an analysis of records obtained from the St. John’s River Water Management District shows that Miklos’ company has represented clients in permitted activities 117 times since he was appointed to the board in 2010 – and Bio Tech’s permitting activity before the district has more than doubled since he became chairman in 2013.

Life was good at Bio Tech.

Unfortunately, it looks like John Miklos and his co-conspirators at the City of DeBary dropped the ball.  Or, like all habitual criminals, they just got complacent.

The News-Journal’s Dinah Pulver hasn’t just peeled the onion on this slimy land deal in DeBary – she ripped that sucker open like one of those greasy “Bloomin’ Vidalia’s” at a chain steakhouse.

Of course, these cheap bastards have an answer for everything, and they’ve told themselves the same lies so many times that they are actually beginning to believe their own line of bullshit – and that’s the fatal mistake of the professional grifter.

Never fall victim to your own con.  That’s how you end up in a 6’x6’ cell like Bernie Madoff and Ivan Boesky.

Trust me, at the end of the day this debacle will lead all the way to the Governor’s Office.

When asked for comment on the deepening scandal at the St. Johns River Water Management District, Slick Rick repeatedly responds through his media liaison with the same rehearsed yammering about how he expects his appointee’s to conduct themselves in an ethical manner, blah, blah, blah.  But I think some folks are getting nervous in Tallahassee.

Scott knows full well that he put the fox in charge of the hen house and everyone associated with Miklos got rich on the double-dip.  Much like my Nola – John Miklos just couldn’t help himself when tempted.

In my view, Governor Scott either knew or should have known that John Miklos is a congenital liar and a pathological sneak thief with no morals and a personal disdain for transactional ethics.

Hell, he’s been engaged in the basest form of quid pro quo corruption for so long that he actually thinks its normal.

We are the victims of John Miklos’ crimes, and his exploitation of our sensitive conservation areas – the very areas he was charged with protecting – will have repercussions for our children.

Damn these scum.

Fortunately, it appears the worm is beginning to turn, and it’s going to be very interesting in coming days and weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Week that Was in Volusia County: The Debacle in DeBary, The Saga of Clint Johnson, and a Call for Jim Dinneen’s Job

It’s been an interesting week-that-was here in Volusia County.

The “Debacle in DeBary” boiled over this week with what local media outlets are calling the “Raid on City Hall.”

Search warrant in hand, investigators from the Office of the State Attorney and agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement collected some 37,000 emails between besieged City Manager Dan Parrott and all members of the city council – except Mayor Clint Johnson.

Apparently, these emails and other documents represent physical evidence in an on-going criminal investigation into a complaint filed by DeBary resident Mary Sue Scott, an ardent supporter of both Gemini Springs and open government.

Ms. Scott’s complaint alleges that Parrott may have violated the Sunshine Law when he selectively polled elected officials via email messages.  These communications were in furtherance of the patently corrupt land scheme designed to transfer some 102-acres of sensitive conservation land to the City of DeBary for a sprawling “Transit Oriented Development.”

During my service in municipal government I learned first-hand the lengths to which most elected and appointed officials will go to obey both the spirit and intent of Florida’s Open Records law.  The law is important, and it affects virtually everything Florida governments do, including email exchanges, text messages, public meetings, social functions, internal communications, records retention and more.

Are mistakes made?  Certainly.  That’s inevitable whenever human beings are involved in the process.  However, in my view, the situation in DeBary was absolutely intentional.  If Dinah Pulver’s outstanding investigative reporting has exposed anything, it’s that DeBary officials worked overtime to keep their negotiations and machinations out of the public eye.

The entire squalid affair reeks of quid pro quo corruption and the vile instincts of low-rent politicians and appointed officials who’s Faustian bargain put their own self-interests before the public good.

I suspect this Sunshine Law investigation is the tip of the iceberg.  In the end, Dan Parrott, Roger Van Auker, John Miklos, and the rest of these greedy bastards will be exposed and forced to face the shame and public humiliation that they so richly deserve.

The “DeBary Land Deal” will forever be synonymous with failure, and the good people of DeBary will long feel a sense of disgust whenever they pass City Hall.  Those members of the current council who aren’t jailed will be forced to flee, and they will never prosper again.  In the end, the stench will lead all the way to the Governor’s Office, and it will expose the inherent corruption in the gubernatorial appointment process and all but ensure Rick Scott’s humiliating defeat in his 2018 U.S. Senate run.

I have nothing but praise and appreciation for State Attorney R. J. Larizza, his incredible investigative staff, the good men and women of FDLE, and most of all, ace reporter Dinah Pulver whose distinguished reporting is nothing short of Pulitzer material.

It’s high time public integrity investigations receive the priority they deserve – especially in Volusia County.

In a related story, on Thursday morning Circuit Judge Sandra Upchurch denied an attempt by DeBary Mayor Clint Johnson to squash a weird, quasi-judicial hearing by the city council to oust him for alleged charter violations.

Now, anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will know that I haven’t been kind to Mayor Johnson.

Personally, I think his past conduct in attempting to stiff a small business owner for the cost of a very expensive bicycle under the guise that the bill would be paid by the City of DeBary is nothing short of despicable.  I’ve also been hyper-critical of his near constant self-promotion, exemplified by an insane ploy to cross the Florida Straights from Havana to Key West aboard a rickety homemade raft.

Couple these weird lapses in personal ethics and sound judgment with his very public battle with political detractors and council members and you get the idea that Johnson is either a shameless grand-stander or he’s not playing with a full deck.  Perhaps both.

Let’s face it, there’s a distinct “creepy factor” with Mayor Johnson that doesn’t inspire confidence.  Batshit crazy is generally an undesirable trait in our elected leaders.  Most people can understand and forgive what they see themselves doing – but do you see yourself drifting across the open ocean on a junkyard scow?

I think this off-the-scale weirdness quotient is a big part of the Mayor’s credibility problem, and that’s unfortunate, given the real need for strong leadership in the City of DeBary right now.

Incredibly, circumstances suggest that Johnson may be the only one in City Hall with clean hands.  If so, these efforts to oust him may be nothing more than a crude attempt to deny the Mayor the level of insider access he needs to fully expose the depth of corruption at City Hall.

The only thing transparent in DeBary government is the paper-thin excuse being put forward for the Mayor’s removal.

In my view, the unconvincing and wholly inadequate argument that Johnson somehow directed staff is prima facie evidence that Dan Parrott has orchestrated this kangaroo court as a smoke-and-mirrors distraction from the much more sinister issues facing the community.

I think it is past time for Dan Parrott to be escorted out of City Hall – preferably in handcuffs. As City Manager, this entire ugly affair begins and ends at his office door, and he has an obligation to stepdown and allow the City to begin the very long and difficult process of healing.  Once lost, the public trust is nearly impossible to reestablish, and it will be many years before the citizens of DeBary trust their elected and appointed officials.

They say that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and the City of DeBary desperately needs openness, transparency, and a full public exposure of this slimy land deal and anyone who was involved in it.

The sooner, the better.

Also on Thursday, the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premier beach advocacy group – publicly called for the termination of County Manager Jim Dinneen in an open letter to the Volusia County Council.

In his letter, Mr. Zimmerman poses some tough questions for our elected officials – and states some rock-solid facts:

“Sadly it appears that the County Manager has failed.  He has failed to respect our charter, which for all intents and purposes, is our fundamental governing document.  He has failed to respect citizen’s rights guaranteed by that charter.  He has failed to understand and protect the nature of the traditional use guaranteed by the charter and to hold in trust the beaches for the residents of Volusia County.  He has failed to provide for the safety of residents and visitors on our beaches.  He has failed to respect you The Council, by apparently inverting the nature of your relationship with him.  It is the council who leads and the manager who administers.  No, Mr. Dinneen has done more than fail, he has subverted your authority and made you subjects to his designs.”

Powerful stuff.

I applaud the efforts of Paul Zimmerman and his team of active and concerned citizens at Sons of the Beach to see Volusia County free from the mismanagement and mean-spirited oppression that have been the hallmarks of Mr. Dinneen’s tenure.

As I’ve previously stated, positive change will not be possible unless and until we elect people who will fundamentally change the manner and means of governance in Volusia County – who will put the will of the people first and let the influential few know that, while they have a place at the table, the “my way or the highway” mentality is contrary to participatory problem solving.

At the end of the day, the problems facing us begin and end in the County Manager’s office.

If you want effective change, Jim Dinneen must go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Future of Ormond Beach

‘“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C.S. Lewis

I like to think most politicians, at least at the local level, enter politics for all the right reasons – a willingness to serve and be a good steward, coupled with a real desire to improve the lives of their neighbors.  I also believe that most first-term elected officials have the best interest of all their constituents at heart, and they factor public opinion and popular will into the decision-making process, especially on matters involving the expenditure of public funds.

However, in some an ego-driven transition from public servant to self-important know-it-all takes place somewhere around their first re-election.  Inexplicably, they mysteriously become morally superior to the rest of us and transmogrify into pious nannies with a God complex – convinced they know what’s best for the rest of us.

For example, a few years ago a pseudo-strip joint known as Cheaters Cabaret rented space near the I-95/U.S.-1 interchange, a long neglected stop-off for interstate travelers that has fallen into a down-at-the-heels shabbiness marked by abandoned commercial space, homeless camps and overgrowth.

Initially located in unincorporated Volusia County, Cheaters met all zoning and permitting regulations and was issued a business tax receipt to operate.

Although I never drank there, friends who did told me it wasn’t one of the ubiquitous highway “gentlemen’s clubs” or “Oriental Spas” that dot I-95; you know, those seedy re-purposed convenience stores with serial masturbators hunched in dark corners amid the stench of organized crime, cheap perfume and stale beer.

I’m told it was more of a funky bar scene with bikini-clad women gyrating to overly loud music as both a draw and distraction for a handful of hardcore drinkers.  And if the occasional wardrobe malfunction flashed a bare nipple or two, well, no injuries were reported and I seriously doubt anyone outside the doors knew or cared.

For a good portion of my professional life I was charged with investigating vice crimes – and I got pretty good at it.  On occasion I was farmed out to assist other jurisdictions and have spent countless hours in places that would make your skin crawl.

I’ve seen things in public restrooms, “massage” parlors and other dark places that have left indelible scars on my mind that Ajax won’t remove.  I’m talking old school pimps, prostitutes and journeyman perverts with proclivities that would make the Marquis de Sade blush.  I’ve seen first-hand the degradation of human trafficking and commercial pornography operations, and I have sent habitual sex offenders to prison who were worse than predatory animals – sub-human scum.

From what I know of it, on its worst day Cheaters Cabaret didn’t come close to any of this.

Apparently the true sin of this small business was offending the delicate sensibilities of Fred Costello, his followers (read voting bloc) in the “Faith Community,” and the Ormond Beach Economic Development Department.

In a November 2015 piece in the Ormond Beach Observer, Rep. Costello explains the genesis of the City’s very odd, very expensive, and very time consuming war on Cheaters:

 Costello said the efforts to improve the U.S. 1 corridor began in earnest when the now defunct Cheaters night club opened in 2010.

“I contacted members of the faith community and said we need to stop this,” he said. Area churches protested the presence of the “gentlemen’s club.”

 Eventually, the City Commission passed ordinances which ended the performances at the club and it shut down.  It was also the existence of Cheaters that spurred the Coalition (“North U.S.-1 Coalition”) to action. “Business, government and the faith community all partnered together,” Costello said.  

This “partnership” consisted of members of Costello’s Faith Community surveilling the parking lot and taking photographs of patrons and their vehicles in a cheap form of public shaming, choreographed protests, the City’s use of selective legislation, shutting off utilities, and the indiscriminate use of the City Attorney’s office.

Apparently the only thing the City didn’t do is drag out their dusty copy of the Malleus Maleficarum and charge the bikini-gals with Witchery.

Our own New Puritan Fred Costello, and later Mayor Ed Kelley, used the full force, might and treasure of the municipal government to crush a low-rent saloon that didn’t comport with their “vision” for the north U.S.-1 commercial corridor?  Really?

Interestingly, at about the same time the Great Cheaters Inquisition was underway, the “North U.S.-1 Coalition” – a business group now headed by Maryam Ghyabi, the sister of master power broker and real estate developer extraordinaire Mori Hosseini – and a few other movers-and-shakers put together $20,000 as a good faith pledge to beautify Ormond’s Grand Gateway.

This amount was ultimately matched by the City of Ormond Beach, and Volusia County, in furtherance of pursuing a $500,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation – which, miraculously, was later increased to $750,000 – for beautification of the U.S.-1 median strips.

You read that right.  $750,000.00.  For landscaping.  Medians. . .

In a 2015 news article the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce’s own Peggy Farmer remarked (with an apparent straight face), “I think Maryam Ghyabi had a lot to do with that,” Farmer said. “She knows so many people at FDOT.”

Indeed.

All this sweet, sweet cash on top of last year’s promise by FDOT to spend nearly $900,000 to beautify the same I-95 interchange.  AND we got our eleventh (count ‘em) Dollar Store out of the deal!

Gosh.  All’s well that ends well, right?

What a bright and happy ending for all concerned – unless you happen to run a bikini bar or have an interest on U.S.-1 that doesn’t conform to “The Vision.”

Move along.  Nothing more to see here folks – our intrepid and visionary leaders have saved us from ourselves and put the iron boot to some unfortunate ugliness that was occurring on the outskirts of town.

You’re safe now.  Go about your lives in peace and harmony.  The witch is dead.

But is that really the end of the story?  I dunno, something keeps bugging me. . .

Being the paranoid, brooding weirdo that I am, when things don’t add up I sit in the dark, smoke cigarettes, and ask myself the deeper question: Qui Bono?

Who benefits?

Are these self-righteous politicians and well-connected insiders really looking out for my best interests, or is there something larger at play?

Did Fred Costello really mobilize the faith community of Ormond Beach to run Mephistopheles off of U.S.-1 – or were they used as hapless dupes; rubes in a greater strategy to remove impediments to something much more lucrative and substantial than another Dollar General?

And now that Cheaters has been waxed, who’s next?

Were our elected and appointed officials in Ormond Beach really willing to burn through tens of thousands of our hard-earned tax dollars just to run some chintzy bar out of business?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that the City of Ormond Beach and Tomoka Holdings, LLC – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the massive energy conglomerate ALLETE, Inc. – are poised to resume progress on a little pet project of Fred’s called Ormond Crossings.  A sprawling mixed-use development that will bring some 3,000 homes and five million square feet of commercial space to the vicinity of the same I-95/U.S.-1 interchange.

It’s being billed as the “Future of Ormond Beach.”

I’m no expert, but I bet you a few folks stand to make a fortune. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

Ed and Fred: Volusia’s Perennial Politicians

I always felt that Winston Churchill’s famous insight, “It’s a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations” was sound advice for a simpleton like me.

There is much to be learned from the musings of the great thinkers, and their quotes and anecdotes have helped shape my mind and sharpened my ability to think critically about the issues of the day.

For instance, I frequently use Albert Einstein’s famous thoughts on the definition of insanity as a metaphor for Volusia County politics.

I mean, we seem to do the same things – and elect the same people – over and over again, each time expecting a different result or a better outcome than last time.   It’s fitting, don’t you think?

And if it isn’t the exact politician that we recycle from seat-to-seat, we certainly tend to elect those who have been hand-selected and liberally financed by the same wealthy insiders who control just about everything here on the “Fun Coast.”

Ormond Beach Mayor Ed Kelley’s run for County Council Chair is a prime example.

Mayor Kelley wants us to believe that he’s the guy to “bring us together again.”  I’ve seen Fast Eddie at work, and trust me, he’s a whole different guy when things don’t go his way.

The fact is, Ed Kelley is a past master of using the power of government, selective legislation and the City Attorney’s Office like a club to enforce his narrow view of what’s good for the rest of us.

Sound familiar?

For example, let’s take the two-year war between the City of Ormond Beach and the now defunct “Cheaters” – a tawdry bikini club that was located on north U.S.-1 in unincorporated Volusia – or the City’s push to restrict seasonal motorcycle-related businesses and eliminate itinerant vendors during Bike Week and Biketoberfest in the same general area.

(All that money the City spent running Cheaters out of town really cleaned up that area, huh?  Have you driven by the southeast quadrant of the I-95/U.S.-1 interchange lately?  As always, don’t take my word for it.  Take a ride and see for yourself how all that tax-funded time, resources and effort benefited the public interest in the long run. . .)

In a 2014 piece by then Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Chris Graham, Mayor Kelley explained in no uncertain terms that he knows what’s best for us – and the U.S.-1 commercial corridor:

“We don’t need a string of motorcycle washes with girls in bikinis,” Mayor Kelley said.  “I don’t think that benefits anyone.  If anything we’ll have the businesses open year-round.  We don’t want to create a deserted Main Street.”

I believe Ed throws out the notion of fairness when he agrees to grandfather relatively new biker-themed businesses because they fit his view of what’s right and “wholesome.”  But he has no qualms about using the full might of government to force small established businesses out of the marketplace when they don’t conform to his arbitrary view.

In my view, that’s mean-spirited and counter to the basic idea of equal representation.

After reviewing Mayor Kelley’s campaign contribution reports, it’s clear where Ed’s true allegiances lie – and it isn’t with you and me.

People like J. Hyatt Brown and Mori Hosseini are highly successful businessmen for one reason only – they don’t spend a dollar without knowing exactly what the return on that investment will be.  It’s called a cost/benefit analysis – a metric used to determine the strengths, weaknesses, and potential gains on investment relative to cost.

In this case, the Big Three are making massive campaign contributions to the Kelley campaign for one reason only – to purchase access and political influence.  In return, they know that their personal and professional interests will outweigh those of John Q. Public every time.

As you prepare to cast your ballot this summer, ask yourself this:  Why would Brown, Hosseini and a handful of other uber-wealthy power brokers spend tens of thousands of dollars – both individually and through their various business entities – to support Ed Kelley for elective office?

What do you think they consider an appropriate return on that investment?

In other news, I read where perpetual politician and Ormond Beach dentist Fred Costello recently won the straw poll of Congressional candidates at the Volusia County Republican Party’s Hob Nob held – fittingly – at the taxpayer renovated Daytona International Speedway.

In Costello’s typical over-the-top ebullience, he gushed to the assembled followers of Republican Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter that he is “flipped-out excited!” about the prospect of serving in Congress.

Excuse me if I don’t share your enthusiasm, Fred.  I’m more of a “What have you done for me lately” guy. . .and your record speaks for itself.

I have some history with Fred Costello when he was Mayor of Ormond Beach.

Many years ago, my wife Patti had good cause to bring several serious issues facing our community to the attention of the Ormond Beach City Commission.  Not surprisingly, in the long run, then Mayor Costello didn’t do any of the things he said he would to correct the problems, and I seriously think Fred thought she would simply accept his inaction, kiss his ring, and go quietly.

He was wrong.

Although I have lived in the City of Ormond Beach for over fifty years, at the time I worked for a neighboring municipal government.  As a government employee, one of the first things you give up is your First Amendment right to voice your opinion on governmental issues.  After all, it never works out well when you speak ill of your boss – or your boss’s friends – and in Volusia County politics, those “friends” can have very long tentacles.

However, Patti didn’t labor under the same constraints and like me she has an opinion on just about everything.

When it became clear that Fred was actively working to support, or at least downplay, the very management and oversight issues she warned him about, Patti took it upon herself to take the Ormond Beach City Commission to school on the consequences of ignoring the will and opinions of their constituents.

Never underestimate the power of a smart, articulate woman who can speak eloquently on matters of community concern.

In addition to her persuasive speeches, Patti got her point out via Op/Ed pieces in local media – and even did a few on-camera interviews for regional network affiliates – relentlessly horsewhipping the Costello administration for every misstep and blunder.

The more she dug, the more issues she uncovered.  To include serious problems with the City’s drinking water system and irregularities in the maintenance and management of our public utilities that resulted in complaints to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Needless to say, the near constant harassment of this pestering woman didn’t sit well with Fred Costello, or then Commissioner Ed Kelley.  Her persistence clearly overstepped their myopic view of public participation and citizen involvement in the political process – you know, the whole right of citizens to petition their government for redress of grievances, thing?

Their opinion was, and is, don’t make waves or expose problems that could in anyway jeopardize our future political aspirations – keep it under the rug.  Out of sight, out of mind – even if the issue is ultimately damaging for the community.

So we watched as Fred transitioned from his polished public persona of the hyper-friendly, over-eager, neighbor/servant to this weird autocratic despot intent on subverting the process to silence this wretch and her followers who kept pointing out blemishes and tarnishing Ormond Beach’s blue-blooded reputation as Volusia’s premier affluent community.

Under Fred’s “leadership,” the Commission did everything in its power to limit citizen involvement – including requiring request forms for those wishing to address their elected officials and limiting presentations to five minutes – even going so far as to move public participation to the end of the meeting altogether, ensuring that speakers would be forced to wait until late in the evening after most audience members had left the chambers.

It was a cheap, ham-handed political move that ultimately backfired and publicly exposed Fred and Ed for the small-minded, angry little churls they truly are.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget Fred’s almost maniacal support of speculative developers who made a real run at turning Ormond’s beachside into the concrete canyons of South Beach – a political and financial nightmare that required a citizen-forced referendum to stop.

In addition, I won’t soon forget his tacit approval of development on the scenic “Loop,” or his support of the ill-conceived Ormond Crossings project, a massive residential and commercial development that would have crushed our existing infrastructure and municipal services resulting in an even greater tax burden for current residents.

I also think it’s rich that Costello’s campaign platform includes eliminating the EPA.  This from the guy who actually believes heavy aerospace manufacturing and launch facilities can be co-located with sensitive wetlands and estuaries at Shiloh in a way that “protects the environment.”

Rep. Costello actually made this statement knowing full well that NASA’s own environmental impact study showed that further development in the area would contribute to the “continuing cumulative impairment” of the Indian River Lagoon system.

On this point, Fred is either a liar or completely out of touch with reality – neither one a personality trait I want in our next congressman.

Despite the straw poll endorsement of Ledbetter and his Merry Band of Hob Nobbers, I hope thoughtful and engaged citizens will think twice before voting for Ed or Fred, Volusia’s perennial politicians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Volusia Politics: The Debacle in DeBary Continues

After serving three decades in municipal government I’ve found one thing to be universally true: You will never go broke betting on the stupidity of small-minded politicians and petty bureaucrats when they are under pressure.

Day after day, week after week another shocking example of local government at its very worst makes its way out of the City of DeBary.  It’s become something of a west Volusia tragi-comedy that we are hooked on like a weird soap opera.

But unlike a fictional drama this debacle is all too real, with important implications for all of us.

An “informational” meeting was held by the DeBary City Commission last night.  In essence an opportunity for the city administration to force-feed the villagers a bunch of civil engineering mumbo-jumbo, let their highly paid “consultants” perform some slight-of-hand, and attempt to convince everyone assembled why it’s a good idea to radically develop 102 acres of environmentally sensitive conservation lands around the Sun-Rail station.

Like any good conjuring act, if you expect to pull off the illusion you simply cannot allow the audience to ask the magician questions.  It defeats the purpose of the show and ruins the trick.

So last evening the City of DeBary denied their citizens the right to participate in the process and actually ask questions of their elected representatives on perhaps the most polarizing issue in the community’s history.  Add to this the backdrop of a sleazy backdoor selection process for the new City Manager – all but devoid of meaningful citizen input – and one might think DeBary government would prefer to do the public’s business in the dark.

Why wouldn’t they?  It’s a hell of a lot easier to get things done, in the manner you want them done, without nosy neighbors looking over your shoulder.  The only problem is – it’s against the law – not to mention a slap in the face to your constituents, neighbors and friends who trust their elected officials to act in a way that furthers the public welfare rather than their own self-interests.

In response, a group of concerned citizens led by DeBary resident Mary Sue Scott, who organized an online petition opposing the development which garnered over 4,000 signatures, staged a mass walk-out in civil protest of the sham proceedings.

Good for you, Mary.  And good for the other citizens of DeBary and elsewhere who exposed this political hypocrisy for what it is.

I’ve seen some pretty screwy behavior from a few low-rent political hacks intent on shoving their narrow view down the throats of a disgruntled populous.  But I have to admit, the boorish conduct of DeBary’s Growth Management Director Matt Boerger takes the cake.

In his best effort to paint detractors of the land deal as “outside agitators” (the first defense mechanism of an administration in flames) after the walk-out, Boerger asked remaining citizens of Debary to identify themselves by raising their hands, followed by a snide comment that the protesters who left the room were obviously not residents of the community.

For his trouble, Boerger took one broadside with boos, hisses and open jeers from the audience – the taxpayers who pay his salary – forcing him to immediately apologized for his crude and unfortunate remarks.

In my experience, citizens don’t appreciate being taunted by low-level civil servants with a chip on their shoulder.  They find it distasteful when an under-worked and overpaid paper pushing shovel-leaner snipes at them when they attempt to participate in their government.  And rightfully so.

Matt, your self-serving grandstanding will ultimately earn you a trip to the unemployment line – and lucrative make-work jobs like “growth management director” are few and far between.

That is if you don’t end up in prison with Parrott, Ardaman and Miklos.

Now is the time to downsize your lifestyle and get comfortable with indigent health care.

The second defense measure employed like clockwork by beleaguered politicians is to marginalize the opposition.  The time-honored best practice for accomplishing this is to demonstrate that your detractors are simple CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), most of which don’t even live here!

Last evening that took the form of asking citizens attending the public meeting to sign-in, then place a small star – you know, the kind your kindergarten teacher used to stick on your shirt when you colored within the lines and didn’t make trouble – on a map of DeBary corresponding with your address.  If you didn’t live in the city you were asked to place your star elsewhere.

Really?  Really.

The visual insinuation is beyond obvious and the intent is divisive.

The fact is the Debacle in DeBary negatively affects all of us.  The conservation lands that these cheap bastards have set their sights on are just that – sensitive wetlands, recharge areas, and interconnected estuaries that have been set aside for safeguarding, not financial exploitation.

The ecology of our region effects all of us equally, and you do not have to be a resident of DeBary – or even west Volusia – to feel the detrimental impact of the wholesale destruction of environmentally sensitive lands.

Having served in a small municipal government I can tell you that, behind-the-scenes, well-meaning employees and levelheaded advisers are working hard to convince the administration and elected officials to simply abandon this ill-conceived effort, change tack, and begin the process of restoring trust and healing the community divide.

You know, stop the hemorrhaging while there’s still time.  Kill this goofy land deal and abort the blatant coup d’etat recently launched against the arguably insane Mayor Clint Johnson – the original villain who is now actively emerging as the hero of this ugly and embarrassing imbroglio.

Unfortunately, these best efforts at reasonableness will fall on deaf ears and any chance at a rational solution is lost.

City Hall is already in bunker mode – hunkered-down and paranoid in the extreme – and they have been since the shocking revelation that the City Attorney is an active business partner of John Miklos, the shameless double-dipper and chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District governing board.  It’s kind of like one of those shocking movie twists where the character who is suppose to protect the victim turns out to be a monster in disguise.

Regardless, the administration of the City of DeBary needs to understand something going forward:

Your public self-destruction is wholly of your own making.  Your poor decision-making, fostered by greed, internal corruption and mismanagement brought you down.

Don’t presume to marginalize those who seek to participate in the democratic process.

We will not sign-in, be intimidated, or subjugated by your stupid and ill-conceived attempts to hide the truth and co-opt the process.

We will not be identified or ostracized by your star.

We will not be silenced by your cheap subversion of the rules of public participation and blatant ignorance of the Sunshine Law.

We are proud and strong citizens of Volusia County, and greater Central Florida, and we do not care a damn about your self-importance.

You have lost the moral authority to lead.

We will expose your greed-crazed corruption for what it is and ultimately take our government back at the local, county, state and federal level.  Your political careers are destined for the stinking ash heap of public servants who compromise their ethics for personal gain.

Check yourselves.  You work for us – and its high time you start acting like it.

Please read more here:

http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160518/NEWS/160519501/101040?Title=DeBary-meeting-on-land-deal-SunRail-plan-draws-protest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volusia County Needs Greg Gimbert

Last week I attended a meeting with Greg Gimbert to discuss his potential candidacy for Volusia County Council Chairman.

For just over an hour I listened intently as Greg spoke extemporaneously on the serious issues facing Volusia County.  To say I was impressed by what I heard is an understatement.

He spoke in clear, concise and passionate terms as he described the corrosive impact of big-money on the local political process, the importance of restoring character, transparency and integrity in government, and his overwhelming desire to leave Volusia County a better place for his young son.

More important, he not only explained the problems in clear, understandable terms – he offered constructive solutions as well.

That’s the mark of a leader.

Anyone can complain – I’m a prime example of that.  But it takes a special courage to actually step into the arena and fight for that which is fair and just; to spend oneself in a worthwhile struggle to protect and preserve the rights of others.

Unfortunately, the natural instinct to see wrongs and work to set them right is an increasingly rare personal trait today, and almost non-existent in the political realm.

Greg Gimbert exemplifies all these things – in his words, and his actions.

He is founder and chairman of Let Volusia Vote, a political action committee and advocacy organization committed to the principle that the people should have a fundamental right to self-determination over issues related to the beach, our most precious natural resource.

In that role, Greg Gimbert led a small group of committed individuals who organized – and galvanized – a coalition of over 22,000 Volusia County residents who signed petitions and stood together around a common goal of placing a charter amendment on the 2016 ballot to help ensure beach access for everyone.

This grassroots effort was met with fierce opposition by the entrenched power structure in Volusia County who went to unprecedented lengths – including the nuclear option of filing a lawsuit against their own constituents – to defeat the measure.

Trust me, when faced with the full might, treasure and force of government – and the potentially devastating implications of defending the idea that the people’s right to petition their elected officials for redress of grievances is inviolate under the United States Constitution – most would buckle to political power and abandon the cause.

Not Greg Gimbert.

When the chips were down, he worked tirelessly with Let Volusia Vote’s legal counsel to defend the rights of the people – your rights – all the way to the 5th District Court of Appeals.

Ladies and gentlemen, Greg Gimbert does not quit.  He is a proven servant-leader who does not kowtow to an embedded political elite, nor compromise his personal and professional ethics for political expediency.

In my view, Greg’s strong, collaborative leadership on issues as diverse as beach access, environmental advocacy (as exemplified by his Vice Chairmanship of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District), the appropriate public use of the Tiger Bay State Forest, and his work to prohibit the detrimental impact of fracking in Volusia County, is a testament to his ability to build consensus among different points-of-view.

In short, Greg’s civic-minded personal involvement in the important issues facing all of us demonstrate his deep sense of community pride and personal commitment to the highest ideals of public service.  I like that in my elected representatives.

In my view, there are people who have the ability to define their times, rather than be defined by them.  In an era marked by the open corruption of once trusted institutions, where political access and influence are sold to the highest bidder and a wealthy few are granted control of the lives and livelihoods of the governed, Greg has demonstrated the strength of courage and perseverance to stand alone, putting service above his own self-interests.

Greg Gimbert is a man for this time, for this place.

On a personal note, I have always been impressed by Greg’s personal integrity and commitment to his family.  He knows that character counts, and his service to the citizens of Volusia County has been marked by ethical conduct, the notion of fairness and a deep concern for his fellow citizens.

It’s why I trust Greg Gimbert’s judgment, and you should to.

I believe the outcome of this election will have historic implications for our way of life.

Let’s take back our government.  If not now, when?

Given the importance of this contest, I humbly ask that you give my friend Greg your support, and your precious vote, as we all work together to improve the heart, character and future of Volusia County.

 

 

 

A Sad Day for Volusia County

There is a melancholy in Volusia County today.  An overwhelming feeling of disappointment and a distinct loss of trust in people and democratic institutions that we once thought were inviolate.

Yesterday, thousands of long-time Volusia County residents and beach driving advocates (groups which are virtually synonymous) learned the sobering truth that our vote on the subject had been irretrievably stripped from us.

The 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach affirmed Circuit Judge Sandra Upchurch’s earlier ruling that the Let Volusia Vote charter amendment, which would have required a referendum for changes to beach access policies, was “facially unconstitutional in its entirety.”

I don’t mean to malign the justices of the appeals court.  They work within the confines of the law. Unfortunately, laws are made by politicians who don’t always represent the best interests of their constituents, or construct legislation within the narrow limits of the Constitution.

Last week I watched a recording of the proceedings at the 5th DCA and was most impressed by the persuasive argument and erudite presentation of Let Volusia Vote attorney Dennis Bayer.  He is a consummate legal professional who is not afraid to hold the wolf by the ears and fight for that which is right and just.  I am proud of him, and you should be too.

Conversely, I thought County Attorney Dan Eckert’s presentation was nothing short of a disaster.  He looked addle-brained, like Jed Clampett trying to order soup in a French restaurant.  The more he yammered, um’d, uh’d, and shuffled papers, the more confused he – and everyone else – became.  He was out to sea, and everyone in the courtroom knew it but him.  It was a stammering, ill-prepared performance that left me feeling angry that I was paying him, and utterly embarrassed for everyone involved.

If you think this is sour grapes – watch it for yourself.

But as bad as Eckert’s courtroom presence was, he had an ill-conceived and, in my view, patently undemocratic law on his side, and in the end, the elected officials of Volusia County prevailed against their own constituents.

So now the die has been cast and the democratic process – our sacred vote and legal standing as citizens, voters and taxpayers – has been subverted at great public expense by the very people we elected to represent us.

Interestingly, in most cases elected bodies welcome the referendum process.  It serves as a buffer, a political heat shield on controversial matters that periodically come before them.  In this case, our elected officials fought tooth-and-nail to retain “exclusive authority” over all matters related to the beach.  What does that tell you?

When viewed from the perspective of a compromised Volusia County political system, one that has been bought and paid for by a few ultra-rich elites who throw huge sums of cash at select candidates through multiple, but individually controlled, corporate entities you get the impression that citizen input and opinion on matters related to our beach is neither wanted nor considered.  Simply put, you were out bid.

There is an ill wind blowing across the breadth of Volusia County and it carries the stench of political corruption.  And at this point it seems the powers-that-be no longer try to hide it.

The Volusia County Council has gifted control of our County Charter – the controlling document that provides the very structure of our government – over to J. Hyatt Brown, an extraordinarily wealthy retired insurance executive and active member of the Brown, France and Hosseini cabal who control virtually everything our elected officials say and do.

Of course, Brown has a Charter Review Committee, peppered with the usual cast of characters, that provide plausible cover.  But make no mistake, what J. Hyatt wants he gets.

After all, he bought and paid for it.

Most recently, Mr. Brown and his committee used their considerable influence to take away your right as a private citizen to speak before the Volusia County Growth Management Commission, a so-called “super committee” with the power to approve or quash development projects countywide.

Last week, J. Hyatt appeared before his puppets on the County Council to direct (sorry, “suggest”) that they approve new rules to remove standing for citizens wishing to provide input on VCGMC deliberations.  In turn, J. Hyatt advised that he would drop his plan (excuse me, the “Charter Review Committee’s” plan) to ask voters to kill the VCGMC all together.

Under our Benevolent Dictatorship in Volusia County, we, the people, no longer have “standing” in much of anything – except, of course, when it comes to footing the bill.

Our elected officials have given millions of dollars in tax incentives, infrastructure improvements and other inducements to the “Big Three” and a slew of itinerant speculative developers.  Now, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from taking our beach, controlling access, eliminating driving from the entire strand, and gifting a private seashore to these dicey builders and their hypothetical projects.

We are now at the cold mercy of these goddamned grifters; smug shitheels in expensive suits and Gucci loafers who play with other people’s money and openly fuck with our beachside lifestyle.  And when they go belly-up – as they always do (just ask Bray & Gillespie, remember them?) – we’re left holding the bag as they trot back to South Florida, Canada or Russia.

County Councilman Josh Wagner was quoted in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal responding to the 5th DCA ruling by saying, “I have mixed emotions,” he said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. “On one hand, I feel good about my lawyer’s intuition … but this one’s hard.”

I’ll tell you what’s hard, Josh – getting openly screwed by a turncoat politician.

Mr. Wagner, do you think we forgot?

Do you think thousands of your disillusioned constituents simply forgot what you did?

Have you lost your mind?

Make no mistake, Mr. Wagner, that wasn’t your “lawyer’s intuition” at play – it was your congenitally corrupt nature – you and your friends got what you wanted – and your name will forever be associated with the wholesale betrayal of constituents, friends and neighbors.

In my view, you are the worst-of-the-worst in a cesspool of elected lowlifes in Deland – and the Wagner name will be gutter trash in this town for a generation.

Yes, there is an ill wind blowing across this county and at times it seems unstoppable.  But I still believe in my heart that we are better than this; that we fundamentally deserve fair and equal representation in our local political system and under the law.

To my neighbors and friends I would like to make a personal appeal.  I ask that you take a moment from your busy lives and careers to reflect quietly on what the events of the last week mean to all of us, both as individuals, and as a community.

I believe there remains one fundamental mechanism which, if used properly, will allow us to prevail over the insiders and well-heeled donor class that seem intent on taking our lifestyle and heritage away from us and handing it to outside speculators for backdoor personal enrichment:

It is the ultimate power of the ballot box.

To the best of my knowledge, we still have a democratic process that allows one person, one vote.  I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical, and visionary members of our community to high public office, we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness, and the spirit of democracy in Volusia County government.

 

 

 

 

 

A Party Divided

One night in September 2013, I sat in a motel room in Valdosta, Georgia and watched a freshman republican Senator from Texas launch a rambling 21-hour diatribe about the need to defund Obamacare at all costs.

I looked on in shocked disbelief as this strange little man openly defied our party’s leadership and unilaterally exercised the “Nuclear Option” as he personally set in motion a process that resulted in the shutdown of the United States Government.

This grandstanding earned Sen. Ted Cruz many life-loyal fans – and an equal number of mortal political enemies – many in his own party.

Somewhere during his interminable tantrum on the Senate floor I came to two important realizations: The Republican party no longer represented my moderate values – and Ted Cruz is one creepy dude.

So I left.

Just like that I filed the appropriate voter change request and was placed in the increasingly popular No Party Affiliation camp; a catch-all for an eclectic mix of the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, and the disgruntled refugees of a two-party political system gone haywire.

That said, as a “moderate conservative” the basic tenets of the GOP still resonate with me, and I have little in common with the modern Democratic party.  But in the present context, Donald Trump’s America-centered campaign made sense to me.

He has made provocative statements that I don’t agree with, and his personal bearing can border on the obnoxious, but more often than not he gets it right.

Like Trump, I happen to believe that its high time we scrape the rust off our foreign policy, project strength and leadership in an increasingly unstable world and reverse the detrimental effects of trade deals that have left the United States at a distinct disadvantage.

Like Trump, I also believe it’s time for the United States to stop kowtowing to tin pot despots on Presidential apology tours, reverentially bowing to the worst-of-the-worst on the world stage, and making weak and ineffective agreements with avowed enemies, one of which has the very real possibility of resulting in a nuclear-armed Iran.

I mean, can anyone imagine a President Trump’s reaction if Saudi King Salman failed to meet him at the airport?  He would have jet-washed the Royal Palace with Air Force One exhaust on his way out of town. . .

It’s called projecting strength abroad, not continuing failed policies that have made us a laughingstock around the world and caused our allies to question our commitment.

The fact is, none of the Republican candidates came close to galvanizing the base the way Trump did.  In fact, the GOP’s lackluster field of fringe players and political hacks promised nothing more than the same rehashed promises and talking points we have heard for the past 25-years.

We needed more and we got in the form of a brash, ego-maniacal P.T. Barnum who articulated our frustrations, spoke of our fears, understood our concerns and unabashedly promoted the notion that we, the United States of America, could be great again.

In turn, historic numbers of Republican’s ignored the rhetoric of their party leadership and voiced their collective opinion for the direction and leadership of this country at the ballot box.

Despite all odds – and the smug predictions of political pundits everywhere – Mr. Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and the reaction was almost immediate.

“He’s a demagogue, a misogynist bigot, an unstable narcissistic xenophobe, etc., etc.”

And that was from the Republican leadership. . .

Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest ranking elected Republican in the country, said he “isn’t ready to endorse Trump,” Sen. John McCain took a cheap shot or two, Jeb! Bush said he’s staying home on election day, and the befuddled Republican Old Guard began mumbling about fielding a “third party candidate” in Mitt Romney – a two-time looser so irrelevant that he couldn’t create a fart in a whirlwind when he took on Trump early in the process, and he can’t defeat him – or Hillary Clinton – in the general election.

Couple this with the usual hyperventilating democratic mouthpieces and liberal media doyennes who assure us in loop-mode that Hillary WILL be our next president because our WORLD depends upon it and one might get the impression Mr. Trump’s nomination has seriously threatened the status quo.

What seems to have escaped the GOP naysayers is the fact that hundreds of thousands of their fellow self-identified “Republicans” turned out in force to Trump rallies across the nation – and millions more cast their vote for him.

Trump’s campaign has become a movement that is quickly leaving the established order in the dust.

In a recent analysis the Washington Times wrote, “The elites invested their time, their money and their reputations in stopping Donald Trump, and nothing worked.  Rarely have so many tried so hard and failed so dismally, and rarely have the masses succeeded so spectacularly to impose their will on those who presume to call themselves leaders.”  

Trump’s message of returning our great nation to prominence, uniting a divided people, and restoring pride in America has obviously struck a chord, and the Republican leadership better damn well understand the ramifications of ignoring it.

In coming days, I suspect that smart republican politicians and party bosses around the nation will begin the process of shifting support towards the Trump candidacy.  However reluctantly.

If the #NeverTrump faction are still planning an eleventh-hour attempt to rewrite the convention rules, ignore the voter’s choice, and circumvent the democratic process to deny Trump the nomination on the floor in Cleveland, they risk splitting an already jittery and fragmented party down the middle.

The resulting civil war would forever and irreparably damage the GOP and all but ensure an eight year Clinton reign.

Best of Luck this Derby Day

I was up early this morning.

Derby Day always holds the excitement of what will come – the anticipation of what could be – and I feel lucky today.  After making a steaming cup of New Orleans-own Community coffee laced with some fine Kentucky bourbon to set the mood, I sat down to study the morning line from Churchill Downs.

My bets have all been placed and cloyingly sweet Mint Juleps will soon begin to flow.

This afternoon the ladies will don their fancy bonnets and we will gather with smart friends at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club (a far cry from the veranda of ‘The Mansion’ on the exclusive 6th floor of Churchill Downs) with thousands of others to watch the 142nd running of the most famous horse race in the world simulcast on the big screen from Louisville.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, dilettantes and degenerate gamblers alike will join together, drink heavily, scream, shout and cheer.  It’s high-energy to be sure, and I encourage you to join in the spectacle of it all.

A lucky few will walk out the heavy glass doors like champions – many others will attempt to run and hide from their bookies in the pine scrub off Williamson Boulevard, some who get caught up in the frenzy of it all and bet their gut-feeling will face forced eviction from their homes and be thrown into debtor’s prison.

But enough of that maudlin crap – there is possibility in the air and we are, after all, the anointed ones; veteran aficionados of the Sport of Kings.

I know Churchill Downs and it has always been good to me.  I have walked the Grand Foyer and drank Blanton’s Gold Edition in the elegance of the famous Millionaire’s Row – the ultimate venue where Kentucky Blue Bloods gather away from the boozy crowds – and the Smarty Jones Lounge, a private in-track chalet where local politicians and rich furniture salesmen pay a premium to escape the heat, humidity and throngs of drunken college students. . .

Late yesterday, like clockwork, I received a much anticipated annual phone call from a mysterious gentleman known only as, ‘Satch.’  A serious drinker and veteran gambler who has been banned from every casino in Indiana and is followed by large men in dark SUV’s whenever he ventures too close to Louisville or Miami Valley Gaming.

We have, as a team, been wildly successful and unapologetically toasted our winnings on many a sunny first Saturday in May.

He was calling from an exclusive luncheon in the clubhouse of the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati to discuss in whispered tones the latest odds and formulate our strategy for Saturday.

Unfortunately, our exact picks – by gentleman’s agreement with several gaming commissions – is shrouded in complete secrecy, committed to memory with no eyewitnesses, and never written down so as not to throw the handicappers into a twitter.  But let’s take a look at the morning odds from Churchill Downs:

  1. Trojan Nation – 42-1
  2. Suddenbreakingnews – 25-1
  3. Creator – 16-1
  4. Mo Tom – 20-1
  5. Gun Runner – 9-1
  6. My Man Sam – 19-1
  7. Oscar Nominated – 39-1
  8. Lani – 28-1
  9. Destin – 20-1
  10. Whitmore – 33-1
  11. Exaggerator – 5-1
  12. Tom’s Ready – 42-1
  13. Nyquist – 2-1
  14. Mohaymen – 12-1
  15. Outwork – 28-1
  16. Shagaf – 72-1
  17. Mor Spirit – 12-1
  18. Majesto – 61-1
  19. Brody’s Cause – 16-1
  20. Danzing Candy – 30-1

The Kentucky Derby is a wonderful piece of Americana, steeped in history, and while it may not be the most important race in the sport, it is certainly the most famous.  I hope you and yours gather together as we will, get some serious money moving around the room, and take in the beauty of the jockey’s colorful silks and the majesty of well-groomed thoroughbreds on a warm spring evening.

After all, Champions will be crowned today – and I want to be in that number.

Best of luck today.  And every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrogance Prohibits Reason

In the week that was we saw some interesting developments in the unfolding train wreck that is Debary government.  In Friday’s wrap up we look at the arrogance of power in Tiny Town and how the same issues plaguing Debary universally affect us all: 

The Council chambers at Debary City Hall were S.R.O Wednesday night – and the citizens were ultimately S.O.L.

In a unanimous decision, with Mayor Clint Johnson abstaining, the council moved to hold a hearing on June 1, during which the council will weigh evidence and testimony that Mayor Johnson violated the City Charter by improperly directing city staff.

I watched the proceedings online, and as I stared at the grainy images from Debary I was moved to rage by the mindless arrogance of men and women who have been elected by their neighbors to be good stewards of their community – and their hard-earned tax dollars.

It became immediately clear that this entire petty drama – a vignette in a much larger imbroglio of slimy land deals, gender discrimination lawsuits and intractable internal political issues facing the small town – has been orchestrated by City Manager Dan Parrott.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of blame to go around, starting with the bizarre behavior of Mayor Johnson.  As I’ve previously pointed out, his need for attention is nothing short of pathological.  Over time Mayor Johnson has polarized the community and, in my view, his conduct has called his mental stability into question.

In short, the guy’s nuttier than a squirrel turd – and his situational ethics are as pliable as warm wax.

Take for example his ill-conceived bicycle trip, a personal vacation ostensibly billed as a means of bringing attention to the need for outdoor trails in east Central Florida.  In the run-up the Mayor convinced a local small business to provide him with a high-end bike and riding accouterments under the veiled guise that the trip was a “city-sponsored event” – then crawfished on the deal when the bill came due.

It’s nauseating, and represents the worst-of-the-worst in small town government.

I’m not even going to get into his latest attention-getter – the Havana-to-Florida junk-raft ride.  He’s doomed to drown like a bilge rat, but if there is anything positive to come out of this, it exposes the depth to which this daffy bastard will sink for publicity.

Not to mention his complete ignorance of Florida’s Public Records laws, disdain for teamwork and lack of public decorum when speaking for the city on social media.

Someone should tell Mayor Johnson that the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” only applies to Hollywood starlets – not politics (unless your Donald Trump).

In my view, the real fly in the ointment is Dan Parrott, a habitual failure who represents all that’s wrong with the Council-Manager form of government, and a big reason why people in Debary no longer trust the system to represent their personal and collective interests.

On Wednesday evening a resident of Debary congratulated the City Council on their dubious distinction as the “Worst council ever.”  That’s a heavy condemnation from your neighbors and constituents – and makes it hard to look them in the eye at the hardware store.

But more important, it set Mr. Parrott squirming in his seat as he watched his career dissipation light flickering in the corner of his eye.

With great power comes great responsibility – in every arena except government, it seems.  Dan Parrott has an ethical duty to stop the madness and bring stability and unity to his council and his community.

Instead, he opts to stir the shit with a paddle like the Drama Queen he is.

In most municipal and county governments the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services.  For instance, the executive has complete freedom to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments and agencies of the city, and administrate all financial and budgeting processes.

Carte Blanche, baby.

But perhaps what bestows more omnipotence is the fact that managers personally control the flow of information to the elected body.  That is huge – and dangerous.

Florida’s open government laws specifically forbid elected officials from discussing matters coming before the collective body in private.  As a result, the only conduit they have to the real back-story – the nuts and bolts of most issues – is through the manager.

Depending upon the nature of the relationship between a city manager and the individual council members, the form and content of these briefings can vary wildly from full disclosure of the good, the bad and the ugly of an issue, to outright lies and fabrications.

Trust me.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

As a result, the appointed chief executive of the government has the very real ability to personally craft the outcome of any given issue coming before the elected body – and unless there is in-depth discussion during an open meeting – the legislative process becomes an exercise in rubber-stamping the manager’s prerogative.

In our representative democracy the only thing standing in the way of a city manager transmogrifying into Benito Mussolini is a five member elected body.  Policy makers comprised of, in most cases, well-meaning neighbors with a desire to serve their community.  Not professional politicians.

Generally speaking, City and County Managers are akin to itinerant laborers.  In most professions, termination is a death knell, but not in this case.  On average, managers are paid about four times the average income of the community, and they thrive and survive on lucrative severance packages, normally negotiated in the emotional confusion and direct aftermath of the catastrophe that led to their predecessors firing.

Municipal government – by and large – is the most reactive and effective from a problem-solving standpoint because our elected officials are so accessible to us.  They are our bankers, our lawyers, our retired postal worker, the local insurance agent.  In other words, they are “one of us” – and it is incredibly hard to hide in a city like Debary, Florida.

Local Council members also have the tough job of serving as the face of the city – the tip of the spear – and that comes with accolades, proclamations, and street parades – and sometimes rotten fruit and personal insults hurled in anger from the cheap seats.

It is no secret that Mr. Parrott and the remainder of the City Council despise Mayor Johnson.  Perhaps rightfully so.

But it is also clear that Parrott is using the power of his office to orchestrate the very public political execution of the Mayor on extremely weak and dubious charges of “directing city employees.”

In the end, Parrott’s plot won’t work for all the reasons that were eloquently explained by the Mayor’s attorney and Volusia County council member Doug Daniels.  Unfortunately for the citizens of Debary, the bunker mentality at City Hall, coupled with the political arrogance of people who know they aren’t spending their own money have now conspired, and the council is incapable of listening to reason.

During his presentation, a very elegant Attorney Daniels took the slack-jawed council to school.

It was a primer based not so loosely on a heavy message from the Gospel of John: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

In short, Mr. Daniels reminded the elected and appointed officials of Debary that he can and will subpoena emails and internal memorandums that will expose the mealy-mouth charges levied by Dan Parrott for what they are – while publicly convicting every elected official on the dais of the same damn offense in the court of public opinion.

They’ll be lucky if they aren’t thrown in stocks on the lawn outside Gemini Springs and humiliated by passing motorists for their crimes.

This sad situation is eerily similar to an old Three Stooges episode in which the boys took a rented boat to the middle of a lake.  When they reached open water Moe noticed that the vessel was leaking.  Bad.  Thinking fast, Curly Joe took out an auger drill and began boring holes in the bottom of the boat to allow the water to run out.  As the water raced in the more holes they drilled and the usual hysterics ensued.  I loved those guys. . .

The moral of the story of course was and is – when your ship is sinking – stop drilling holes.

Unfortunately, political arrogance prohibits reason.

Ultimately, the lawsuits will be massive and never ending.  Dough Daniels will carry his money out of City Hall in wheelbarrows, and many careers and political futures will forever be spoken of in hushed tones.

And Dan Parrott will be long gone.