For the past week I’ve been enjoying the beauty of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Although my family has lived in the Halifax Area for over 50 years, I was born in Tennessee and spent many summers there with my maternal grandparents.
It is a magical place.
I’ve always considered the Holston Valley a second home, and when the world goes crazy – as it certainly did last week – the mountains have become a wonderful escape and a place to clear what’s left of my mind and restore my broken spirit.
One of the great benefits of travel is the opportunity to see and contrast places different from your base.
It not only expands your “horizons,” as they say, it gives you the opportunity to do a little comparative analysis of how cities and regions differ from your own in terms of how folks live, work and play.
The community where my family keeps a small home plays host to a variety of heavy industry and significant regional employers, to include Eastman Chemical Company – a global specialty chemical manufacturer that employs some 6,800 people; Welmont Health Systems with 6,225 people on staff; Holston Medical Group which employs 5,300; BAE Systems, a facility manufacturing high-grade explosive compounds and ammunition for the military, which employs another 525.
In addition, the city is also home to Domtar, which produces 426,000 tons of xerographic paper each year with an estimated regional financial impact of over $1 billion dollars.
The net-net of this is low unemployment, low taxes, low utility bills, incredible educational opportunities, an expanding housing market and world-class recreation.
Why? Because it is important to large regional employers that they have the ability to attract the best-of-the-best.
They do that by offering exceptional community amenities and opportunities – such as quality schools, exceptional health and medical services, upscale restaurants and shopping, outdoor recreation and upmarket housing.
And in a city some 52,000 I saw exactly two people that I would classify as “homeless.”
By giving back to the community, corporations make it a more attractive place for current and potential employees and service industries. It’s the definition of a “win-win” proposition for well-managed communities.
Now, I’m not saying upper east Tennessee is utopia, or that having heavy manufacturing facilities in your backyard is everyone’s idea of quality living; however, I am saying that this is a prime example of a region that has learned to overcome the environmental and quality of life concerns that come with an industry-based economy.
In other words, visionary people played the hand they were dealt – and a strong, vibrant community is flourishing as a result.
Another thing I found refreshing was the stability of the local government – which I consider a prime litmus test of any community that wishes to attract and keep strong commercial investment (read: employers).
After all, no one wants to make an investment in a region where the powers that be can’t seem to get it together. And week-in and week-out, Volusia County reads like a bad nightmare of governmental corruption, greed, influence peddling and just good old fashioned incompetence.
When you travel, you see places that you can point to and say “they got it right” – and there are a few examples of that here. In my view, Deland and New Smyrna Beach are a two great local examples.
These communities have accomplished great things and held on to their unique identities despite the best efforts of Volusia County government to do everything possible to destroy public confidence and throw a monkey wrench in the economic engine that fuels our region.
As I’ve said repeatedly, in my view, the Debacle in DeBary best exemplifies everything that is wrong with local governance in Volusia County.
For example, last week the St. John’s River Water Management District’s Governing Board voted unanimously (with Chairman John Miklos recusing himself) to transfer the sensitive Gemini Springs Annex to the County of Volusia.
One would have thought that this would signal the beginning of the end of this sordid mess, but apparently not.
It seems the City of DeBary just won’t take no for an answer.
In perhaps the worst conceived move since city officials conspired with John Miklos to obtain sensitive wetlands for a transit-oriented development, on Wednesday the city council voted to modify its plans and continue pushing for a portion of the conservation lands to store and treat storm water runoff from their proposed transit-oriented development.
This move comes on the heels of perhaps one of the most controversial periods in the history of the City of DeBary – a time when we, the people, first saw the inner-workings of a small local government who lost its moral compass laid bare.
It’s like taking a look behind the scenes of a commercial slaughterhouse – it gives you a completely different perspective on those nice white, cellophane covered packs of T-bones in the supermarket meat case.
It’s something you simply can’t “unsee” – and we will never again look at our local governments the same way again.
Smart people would have used the SJRWMD ruling as a way of beginning the healing process – as a demarcation point from criminal insanity to the restoration of the public trust.
But nobody ever accused the DeBary City Council of being smart.
Note to Mayor Johnson and the DeBary City Council: IT’S OVER.
After all that has transpired, why is that so hard to grasp?
These people are like recalcitrant children who, having been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, continue to try – ad nauseam – to get more goodies by simply wearing down their parents with repetitive and increasingly more ludicrous arguments.
In a Daytona Beach News-Journal article detailing the City’s pathological incoherence, Roger Van Auker, DeBary’s marketing director for the transit-oriented development district is quoted as saying:
“If the city could get “40 or 50 acres for green area and open space, I think that would be a win-win.”
Are you serious? Do you really expect anyone with the ability for cognitive thought to believe ANYTHING associated with this abomination could still be considered a “win-win,” Roger?
Hey, Mayor and Councilmembers, don’t you understand that Van Auker is a shill for an “unnamed” developer?
Can’t you grasp the fact that you are under criminal investigation because Van Auker and other staff members – working in concert with former City Manager Dan Parrott – breached the public trust and attempted to backdoor this horribly conceived and blatantly corrupt development behind the backs of you and your constituents?
Do you realize that through your acts and omissions you have ruined the good name of your community and destroyed your personal and professional reputations?
Dammit! Are you that frigging stupid – or did the stars align in some perverse way to bring this many viciously corrupt politicians together in the same time and place?
It’s okay to admit that you are dumb.
It is a sign of personal growth to confess that you are an unwitting dupe; a hapless rube who has been hoodwinked by a cabal of cheap grifter’s with a slimy agenda.
In most situations ignorance is no excuse, but in this case, the elected and appointed officials of the City of DeBary are either painfully dimwitted – or shameless co-conspirators in the worst executed plot to exploit sensitive wetlands since Ponce de Leon washed up on a north Florida beach.
It just doesn’t seem to end.
In a ham-handed attempt to save what’s left of his foul career, on Wednesday DeBary’s Growth Management Director Matt Boerger continued to insanely flail and grasp – like a man drowning in swamp muck – as he offered increasingly absurd suggestions for keeping the ill-conceived development project on track.
Mr. Boerger – you have been exposed. Please, Stop. You are embarrassing yourself and the community who trusted you. Do the decent thing and resign. Crawl into whatever hole in the earth humiliated growth management directors use for shelter when they have been revealed as common sneak-thieves.
Now is the time for the DeBary City Council to do the honorable thing and fire Roger Van Auker, David Hamstra, and Kurt Ardaman – immediately.
And consider this a good start.
Begin the Purge. Flush this foul commode while you still have the opportunity.
The fact of the matter is that the City of DeBary will never regain the confidence of its residents and business community unless and until these disgraced and patently corrupt individuals are expelled from City Hall.
Frankly, in my view, the fact that City Attorney Kurt Ardaman concealed his active business relationship with SJRWMD Chairman John Miklos should be grounds for disbarment. At the least, he has exposed himself as an unethical scumbag who gives the legal community a bad name.
Ultimately, the Office of the State Attorney – and eventually the U.S. Department of Justice – will determine the facts and seek criminal accountability.
In the meantime, the elected officials of the City of DeBary need to demonstrate effective leadership by immediately terminating the public employment of any staff member who formulated, perpetrated or participated in this horrific fraud on the citizens of this good community.
At the very least, get their grimy snouts out of the public trough.
Now is the time to act, dammit.