Volusia County: A Complete Absence of Leadership

Only in Florida can you get up early, brew the morning coffee, and open your local newspaper to a front page piece on an eight-foot alligator walking around Lakeland dragging a human corpse in its mouth.

Unusual?  One would think.  Until you learn that last week two fishermen found another gator actively devouring a dead body in one of those open drainage canals in South Florida.

Must have been a shock for the wide-eyed tourists on Captain Jack’s Jungle Tour:

“Nothing to see here folks, happens all the time!  The cycle of life here in the subtropics – you live, you die, you’re consumed by a prehistoric apex predator in a fetid swamp west of Homestead.  Oh!  Look over there –  it’s a stork!”

Turns out, the sight of reptiles consuming human remains is not uncommon at all – just another one of those charming roadside oddities here in the Sunshine State, like Waldo’s giant rocking chair or the world’s largest chicken wing in Madeira Beach.

There are certain things that you just come to terms with when you live in Florida, like uninsured motorists and 90% humidity – and the frequent sight of drifters begging for change on the corner of most major intersections is one of them.

Anyone who lives in Central Florida – especially Volusia County – knows that we are basically a mosaic of small municipalities all living cheek-to-jowl while desperately clinging to the last vestiges of our unique identities.

Oak Hill is as different from Orange City as Edgewater is from Pierson.  Each has its own “feel” – from charming, tree-lined neighborhoods to light industrial concentrations to “Old Florida” beach towns – each community makes its own distinctive contribution to the whole.

Somehow, it works.  Not well.  But it works.

For good or ill, we tend to hang onto our civic personalities here like a Pitbull on a ham bone and the only thing we all have in common is that everybody hates the county.

If Volusia County government is involved in anything, trust me, it’s not done in a cooperative or collegial manner – and the homeless issue has been no different.  However, after much fighting and gnashing of teeth it appears there is actual movement on a long-awaited shelter to service east Volusia cities.

Mainly because the County is nowhere near it.

Unfortunately, there is clearly a trace of discontent and hard feelings lingering in the air as local leaders work through innumerable funding issues in the aftermath of the ugliness and backbiting at the start of this turbulent process.

You might remember that Daytona Beach and the Salvation Army came up with an emergency solution to the “Great Homeless Standoff of 2016” – that foul period earlier this year when normally nomadic “street people” set up a permanent encampment at the Volusia County Administration Building on Beach Street – ostensibly in response to the City of Daytona Beach’s ill-conceived plan to close bathroom facilities in a nearby park.

This stalemate with the great unwashed forced – and I mean forced – a larger discussion by leaders from the cities and county on a permanent solution to the “homeless problem.”

Naturally, those talks dissolved into a series of petty swipes and ultimatums with Volusia County setting arbitrary deadlines for Daytona Beach, Josh Wagner issuing personal insults, etc.

Initially, the county was willing to pay for the building housing the shelter, but not the day-to-day operations, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Add to that a bevy of self-serving “advocates,” parasites and other hangers-on mucking about in the debate and in the end – like peace in the Middle East – it appeared unlikely that progress on the issue would be possible in our lifetime.

Now, the City of Daytona Beach is poised to break ground on a “come as you are” homeless assistance facility on municipal land west of the city limits on U.S. 92.  In turn, the county may be asked to cover construction costs with operating expenses paid proportionally by east Volusia cities.

Now, I’m not one to give credit to the City of Daytona Beach – just take a drive around the neighborhoods and commercial corridors of the World’s Most Famous Beach and you’ll see why.

But in this case, I have to admit, they took the bull by the horns and made something happen.

However, I think the process leading to this point could have been more transparent – and this plan has been developed with little, if any, public input – just our money, not our opinion.  Typical.

(Perhaps our local governments have decided that working in the Sunshine is just too damn cumbersome, and who’s really held to account anyway?  Or maybe they’re just tired of being flogged like a rented mule every time an idea is debated – who knows?)

In the meantime, our leadership on the Volusia County Council took Daytona’s initiative as one more opportunity hurl cheap shots like beer-drunk wise-asses at a professional wrestling match.

Councilman Josh Wagner – the original King of Sleaze – recently opined in the Daytona Beach News-Journal that it is “unfortunate” that the planning process was less than open.  Nevertheless, he supports a shelter that would serve “the full homeless population.”

That is, he supports it until he changes horses in mid-stream and decides he no longer supports it.  Josh supports lots of things – then along the way he decides its more politically expedient to change his mind and screw those who supported him to the wall.

In my view, Josh Wagner is so crooked he has to screw his pants on in the morning, and he’s the only one in Volusia County who still thinks his opinion matters – it doesn’t.  This cheap, mean-spirited divisiveness has been the hallmark of his worthless political career.

Isn’t there a helpless waitress you need to have fired, Josh?

Whatever.  Just stay out of the way while the adults work the problem.

Heck, even our own cartoon character of a County Chairman, Jason “I didn’t run for the money” Davis admitted he was caught flatfooted.  While Mr. Davis is happy that “someone’s doing something,” he thinks it’s time “to be totally open and in the sunshine on this.”

That’s rich.

Jason Davis is a classless hack who’s been involved in so many backroom shenanigans and cockamamie schemes I’m surprised he can look in a mirror without breaking it.

And just when I was warming up to Doug Daniels he goes back on the shit-list for his spiteful suggestion that the shelter be placed in the old EVAC facility on Mason Avenue, rather than “out in the middle of the swamp.”

According to the News-Journal, Mr. Daniels stated, “I don’t think people will want to stay there.  If you don’t want to do something realistic, maybe you need to live with the problem.”  (For the record, the EVAC building is in Holly Hill – not Daytona Beach.)

Now, I’m one of the biggest misanthropes you know – but Doug’s remarks are insensitive even by my base standards.

Doug, I thought you quit?  I thought you found billable work in DeBary?  What gives?

Folks, it’s easy to sit in the cheap seats and lecture those who are actually in the arena doing the heavy lifting.  Trust me – I’m a master at it.  It’s how I pass my time when I’m not drinking.

The difference is that I’m a retired crackpot hunched over a computer keyboard, not an elected official actively accepting public funds with a sworn duty to provide visionary leadership and oversight for the rest of us.

At the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building it has become de rigueur to heap overweening criticism on the municipalities whenever they attempt, individually or collectively, to correct problems that rightfully should be shouldered by county government – like homelessness.

For instance, earlier this week Ormond Beach and Port Orange approved a request from the City of Daytona Beach to help fund extra beds at the Salvation Army for another 90-days.  Apparently, it was somehow determined that 22 of the 297 people who took advantage of the Ballough Road facility were former Ormond Beach residents while 18 of them last called Port Orange home.

Now, I think it’s great that the cities are finding a way to shoulder the collective burden in the complete absence of county leadership – but I’m just not sure how they determined the last permanent residence of these folks when proportioning the cost?

For the most part, the Salvation Army serves the long-term, habitually homeless – people who for one reason or another live on the street and move between zip codes and city limits like migratory birds.  Here today, there tomorrow.

Fixing a last known address for the purpose of divvying up the load sounds a bit dubious to me.  Oh, well.  If it works – it works, and you have to admit, it’s refreshing to see the cities ignoring the small stuff and focusing collectively on the big picture for a change.

It’s progress, but as usual, we’re not all on the same page – West Volusia just wants to do its own thing.

The City of Deland has announced it will be seeking county funds to improve “The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia,” a tony daytime facility which I have no doubt will one day have its own sidewalk wine bistro anchored by a Williams and Sonoma.

It’s just how they do things now.  I’m not knocking it – Deland has done it right.

Deland is hipsters with beards, tattoos and creatively douchey craft beers.  Here in The Dirty we’re working stiffs, bad chain restaurants and lukewarm Budweiser.

East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. . .


For me, the positive take-away is that municipal leaders on both sides of the county are working hard to find positive, long-term solutions to a universal problem.  While they may look at the issue from slightly different perspectives, the debate of good ideas and collaborative problem solving is a positive step for the future of Volusia County.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished, and I fear those who have taken a leadership role in finding solutions will have to deal with the petty-minded denigration of those piss-ants in the halls of power in Volusia County government.

It goes with the territory, I suppose.

It is just one reason why no county council incumbent currently running for re-election should even be considered – and the remainder shown the door at the first opportunity.

These haughty obstructionists – at the direction of Jim Dinneen –  have done their level best to hamper any reasonable attempt to find common ground on problems from beach access to the homeless issue – real challenges that affect all of us.

Now, let’s show them the consequences of their arrogance at the ballot box.


(Photo Credit: WESH)






2 thoughts on “Volusia County: A Complete Absence of Leadership

  1. Mark, I like your columns so much, sometimes I don`t know whether to giggle or Holler, but as usual, you get em pretty close to home.I might add, and please feel free to use this as a direct quote, It is my considered opinion that the Volusia County Council, IN ITS` ENTIRETY, is wholly incapable of performing any of the tasks it has been entrusted with, Has failed, for the most part in the performance of past duties, and has acted totally against the best interests of the majority of its citizens. I completely support the idea of removal by election of the entire council as a whole, and hopefully, a better selection of replacements is waiting in the wings. I know several that I personally consider worthy replacements.
    Hve one for me, good day. Yogi.


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