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.