Eating the Elephant: The Revitalization of Daytona Beach

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

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

As man cannot live by bread alone, a city cannot endure on cement, asphalt and sewer pipes alone.

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

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

From the concurring opinion of Justice Musmanno in Conrad v. City of Pittsburgh

I was reminded of Justice Musmanno’s opinion while reading a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial, “Reclaim beachside with the power of fun.”

It seems simplistic to believe that the entrenched problems of blight, crime and homelessness – intractable struggles which have plagued beachside neighborhoods for years –  can somehow be diminished by free entertainment at the Bandshell – but it certainly can’t hurt.

As Dino Paspalakis, President of the Friends of the Bandshell, said – “Gives folks something to do.”

I’ve been hyper-critical of the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia for their habitual inability to address the many serious issues facing the important core tourist area of A-1-A and points west.

They just seem incapable of progress.  On anything.

Like most political conundrums in Volusia County, the over-analysis, posturing and endless droning by inept politicians and their clueless staff does little, if anything, to actually correct the underlying conditions.

Take the issue of chronic homelessness as an example.

The powers that be have kicked that can so far down the road it’s now taken the form of essentially throwing money at slumlords for vacant motel space to house the habitually homeless.

We, the people, have heard so many bait-and-switch “suggestions” – a few of which sounded promising – only to have the rug pulled out from under us that now it’s just confusing – for me, anyway.

Trust me, I’ve said for months that this has nothing to do with long-term problem solving – and everything to do with who gets their head in the public trough.

Remember last winter when I said that this debacle would ultimately boil down to who gets the money?

Recently, some 30 “community leaders” got together at Daytona State College for a three-hour jaw-bump about how to best deal with the issue.

Again, it was little more than an exercise in hot air generation, but the one thing that did emerge from the confab was some strategic hand-wringing by a representative of something called the Florida Housing Coalition – which appears to be populated by bankers, real estate types, appraisers, and property managers – all bent on promoting the Golden Goose benefits of government subsidized housing.

Not surprisingly, the president of the FHC, Susan Pourciau, suggested that Daytona Beach take advantage of its existing housing stock with the goal of getting a homeless person from an emergency shelter and into a subsidized apartment or home within 30-days.

According to Pourciau, “It seems counter-intuitive to put someone with no income in an apartment, but it turns out that’s what sets them up for success,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to get a job out of an apartment.”

In my view, it doesn’t just seem counter-intuitive – it’s ludicrous.

What Susan failed to mention is that it also sets owners of low income rental properties up for success when their rental income is guaranteed by you and me.

It’s a win-win – unless you happen to be the taxpayer footing the bill.

Then it’s your quality of life that suffers when roads deteriorate, recreational amenities go away, and core services are reduced because your municipality is deeply engaged in a very expensive and “counter-intuitive” social experiment.

You know the old adage, “Give a man a fish and he’ll keep coming back, day-in-and-day-out, taking increasingly larger and more expensive fish from you because now he feels entitled to your fish, and your initial generosity has now established a customary practice that guarantees him access to your fish” or something like that?

Well, it’s true.

In my view, putting a chronically homeless person who is either incapable or unwilling to support themselves with absolutely no other resources or support simply sets up a situation where we are doing little more than warehousing people.

How does this scenario possibly help someone long-term – beyond giving them four walls and a roof?  If government all but ensures that your hierarchy of needs are met, where is the incentive to escape?

And more important – where does it end?

If there is one element that has contributed to the cancerous degradation of east Volusia communities, it’s the prevalence of fleabag motels in the major commercial corridors of Ridgewood and Atlantic Avenues.

If you want to point a finger at active crime and blight incubators, you need look no further than these over-mortgaged, under managed and poorly maintained dumps that harbor itinerant drug dealers, prostitution, and nuisance crime.

Prior to the convenience of Interstate 95, the main route to South Florida was U.S.-1.  During these early years, quaint mom-n-pop motels called “tourist courts” serviced travelers from Jacksonville to Miami.

Over time these properties have evolved into transient housing for a segment of the local population trapped between homelessness and low-income housing.  Those who by virtue of the Halifax area’s pervasive paycheck-to-paycheck existence simply cannot afford the requisite first month, last month and security deposit required to transition to an apartment.

Over three decades in local law enforcement, I have seen babies born and raised in these motels – who later raised families of their own in the same dilapidated and deplorable conditions.

An endless cycle of inescapable poverty, addiction and hopelessness.

In my view, if you want to help someone – these folks have demonstrated the ability to pay $300+ per week to keep a roof over their heads, and with a temporary rent subsidy, they just might be successful.

In other areas of our state, these blighted properties have been bought-up and torn down to make way for redevelopment and private investment. In my view, even vacant property is preferable to these service-sucking, vermin infested holes that drag down both the appearance and property values of everyone around them.

I doubt the Daytona Beach City Commission had the Hilton in mind when they agreed to place some 80 long-term homeless in area motels at a weekly cost to the taxpayers of between $6,000 and $16,000.  So while Mr. Chisholm and company seek to repair one problem, they exacerbate yet another.

Our elected officials have known since January – seven months – that the temporary fix afforded by the Salvation Army had an expiration date.  Yet these dunces are still no closer to a viable solution than they were last winter.

So, ultimately, they fall back to the only solution government knows – throw money at it.

Essentially, the same ineffective politicians have deferred finding a solution to the same ineffective staff members and the circle goes round-and-around.  You know, like suggesting we place a homeless shelter in the dead center of a yacht basin – one of the few truly “upscale” locations in downtown Daytona, then blame the NIMBY factor when their wholly inappropriate idea is rejected.


At the end of the day, we find ourselves grasping at anything positive – regardless of how disconnected from the core issues it may be – as a way of keeping the light in our community’s eyes from being extinguished altogether.

In my view, the good work of the Friends of the Bandshell in presenting the annual summer concert series is nothing short of admirable.  Clearly, the shows are bringing more local families to the long-neglected boardwalk area and that is an extremely encouraging step forward.

For the past few years we have attended several seasonal concerts at the Bandshell and in each case have left very satisfied with both the venue, amenities and the quality of the entertainment.

If you haven’t been, it’s a very fun evening, although, as with most things, you sometimes have to take your pleasure with some pain.

Trust me – planning is everything.

Our logistics for taking in a Bandshell concert involve arriving early and aggressively jostling for a parking space in the elevated garage across from Ocean Walk.  This involves copious use of the car horn, steely-eye determination, and polished heel/toe driving skills.

You’ll see what I mean. . .

Remember, it’s a drive-free beach at the boardwalk so parking is limited to county-owned space – especially with predatory tow trucks circling the nearby empty parking lots of deserted strip centers like hammerhead sharks.

Once the ugliness of the elevated garage is sorted out, it’s a short elevator ride and walk across the concourse to the stairs, through the breezeway, around the corner, down the steps, and onto the Bandshell grounds.

When you arrive, take a minute to visit “Richie Plaza” – the France funded monument to former Mayor Glenn Richie’s many civic accomplishments.  A beautiful tribute that stands out, literally, like a pearl in the sow’s ear that is beachside Daytona.

One of the main conveniences of the venue is the ability to rent a comfortable plastic lawn chair from the City of Daytona Beach.

From there, it’s simply a matter of finding an open spot in the crowd.

Over time, we’ve learned that the best place for taking in the show is at extreme stage right – directly in front of the loudspeaker tower, near the bar, and adjacent to the boardwalk access.

This spot positions you perfectly for the “show within a show” that begins just after sunset.

That’s when the same group of half-drunk, zombie-like vagrants emerge from the shadows of the boardwalk like clockwork and begin staking out their turf by plopping-down in the vacant rented seats of paying visitors who have temporarily left for the bar or the bathroom.

Then, the “Theatre of the Absurd” begins.

Now, picture in your mind’s eye the comical scenario that ensues when the fan with a rental chair returns from the bathroom to find a fellow concertgoer – one who has taken to the convenience of urinating in his pants for the past few days – occupying his/her spot!

Oh, Lawdy!  We laugh till our sides hurt!  It’s like watching one of Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera” episodes!

The look on the unfortunate persons face who actually rented the chair – hands full of nacho’s and beer – returning to their seat and staring down, slack-jawed, at the chemically-altered bearded weirdo now warming their chair with his wet, sand-encrusted ‘jorts’ is just priceless.

Add to that our fellow Patron of the Arts who has been sleeping in a tattered business suit under the pier for the past month, and who is now screaming incoherently above the music into an inactive cell phone – which he suddenly and violently throws to the ground in front of me, smashing it into small shards that fly into my bare ankles – and you truly have a magical night to remember in Daytona Beach.

How fun.

You might think I’m being facetious – I’m not.

We actually prefer to sit in that area of the venue just to watch the wacky hijinks of the always comical wandering hobo’s.

Let’s face it, “tribute bands” are either really good – or really bad – there is very little in-between.  So it helps to have a diversion when your Billy Joel impersonator looks and sounds like a used car dealer from Hoboken.

As regular readers of this blog know – I’m a simple asshole who makes light of everything – so don’t take my word for it.  Check it out for yourself.

These are truly serious problems that have no easy answer, and I’m sure my fun-poking doesn’t help the process.  But just maybe it brings attention to the issues.

Perhaps we should take our small victories when and where we can.

After all, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and Lord knows we have a huge woolly mammoth dinner on our collective plate in Volusia County.  But I agree that the simple act of providing people with a free diversion has gone a long way to returning life to areas of our community that have suffered for far too long.

We need a lot of things fixed in Volusia County – and we can no longer afford the same stagnate and ineffective cycle of incompetence that our current officials are seemingly incapable of escaping.

But that’s what elections are for, eh?

We are beginning to see glimmers of hope – such as the good work of Friends of the Bandshell and other all-volunteer change agents who are working hard to improve things and breathe life into a community desperately trying to escape the dreariness Justice Musmanno so eloquently described.

So long for now, I’m off to buy some rental property. . .


Of Papa and Politics: A Week in Key West

I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached critical mass on the political front.

My God.  Does it ever end?

Like Dr. Thompson said, “How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?”


Back-to-back national conventions, coupled with the steady drumbeat of the local races, have left me longing for a time before campaign signs, stupid slogans and the constant dissection of every word spoken by every candidate from municipal dog catcher to the presidency.

It’s the quintessence of the 24-hour news cycle run amok.  I’m certain this is the tenth circle of hell that Dante missed.

I think we should declare a temporary ceasefire.

Just a few days to catch our breath, talk about something other than politics, and stop the relentless carpet bombing of party strategies, meaningless endorsements, staged debates, contrived campaign slogans, forced smiles, trash-talk, worthless billboards and the omnipresent talking heads.

A chance for our friends and neighbors who are running for local elective office to take a much needed break from prostrating themselves before the electorate and collect the last remaining shards of their personal dignity.

Last week, when I just couldn’t take it anymore – I bailed.  Sorta.

I learned a long time ago the benefit of taking a few days away to change perspective and recharge the batteries.  For most, the balance of life – the yin and yang, if you will – wobbles when they work hard, but fail to play with equal enthusiasm.

I’ve never had that problem.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – and I take a vay-cay.

No one ever accused me of hyper-extending myself.  Especially since I laid my burdens down and joined the ranks of the gainfully retired.  Like Augustus McCrae, I’ve always thought that since Patti works so much, I have an obligation to do less.

You know, to keep the world balanced on its axis.

For the past week or so, I’ve been in Key West enjoying the company of close friends and all the wonderful things that Florida’s island paradise has to offer.

The Keys have changed dramatically since I first went down as a teenager in the mid-1970’s.

In many ways, Key West has transformed into everything the “end of the road” once rejected – t-shirt shops and theme bars patronized by throngs of cruise ship warriors hustling their way through a precious few, dreadfully humid, hours on Duval Street.

Most of us know Key West as the place Jimmy Buffett wrote about in songs like “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and “Woman Going Crazy on Caroline Street.”  But like Buffett himself, Key West has slowly transitioned into a mega-marketed, uber-wealthy, plasticized version of what it used to be.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, but when most of your old haunts now have logoed tank tops and neoprene beer coolies strategically placed for retail sale as you stumble out, you know times have changed in Margaritaville.

It’s still a great place to visit and decompress, and it remains one of the most unique cities in the country.  And with the right pair of eyes you can still see vestiges of Old Key West when you venture off the beaten trail.

If you go down, take some time to get off the bar stool and explore the Lower Keys – it’s an amazing eco-system and offers some great local history, from stories of drug smuggling to the infamous Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower.

That’s right.  A bat tower.

Along about 1929, a guy named Richter Perky had the idea that he could build a thriving community on Sugarloaf if he could just get rid of the millions of malaria-carrying mosquitoes that made the place virtually uninhabitable.

The pests swarmed in huge dense dark clouds, screaming and humming then setting upon and biting incessantly any warm-blooded creature that happened onto the island.

In the summer, it is said that the few locals were driven temporarily insane by the sheer number of the bugs.  So many that one early resident lamented that he could rake the mosquitoes off his arm in the late afternoon.

Seeing an opportunity, Perky decided to construct a bat roosting tower from plans purchased from a self-described bat expert in Texas.  The thought being that the bats would control the mosquito population while living comfortably in their brand new, state-of-the-art high rise.

In fact, the 30-foot tower was marketed as having, “all the conveniences any little bat heart could want.”

With construction complete, Mr. Perky went to San Antonio and purchased hundreds of the furry winged creatures which he transported back to the island in his specially constructed “bat mobile.”

It was quite a happening on little Sugarloaf Key.

All the townsfolk turned out to watch their new pest controllers take up residency.

Bleachers were built and festive bunting was affixed and the whole town was in a froth of welt-scratching civic pride when Perky ceremoniously opened the door of his truck – and every single bat flew out and away, and away, and away, never to be seen again.

Not one bat ever roosted in poor Perky’s tower.

Today, the tower still stands as a monument to the folly of man at the end of an unnamed dirt road just south of the Sugerloaf Lodge, a few hundred feet from a suspicious landing strip which is home to a skydiving operation run from a thatched hut on the crumbling asphalt ramp.

While I was staring up at the tower, I wondered to myself how many times that “expert” in Texas sold those same bats?

But I think ol’ Perky would be proud.  Today, the real estate market on Sugarloaf Key is booming with single-family homes starting in the mid $600,000’s.

Only in Florida.

Last Friday night I stood as a contestant in the 36th Annual Hemingway Look-a-Like Contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

For the uninitiated, Ernest Hemingway lived in a beautiful Spanish Colonial home on Whitehead Street during the 20’s and 30’s, one of the most prolific periods of his career.

When Hemingway first arrived in Key West from Paris, he claimed, “It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms…Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks.”

I can report that not much has changed in that regard.

To commemorate the Nobel prize winning author’s legacy in Key West, each July the city plays host to “Hemingway Days,” featuring a literary contest, three-day marlin fishing tournament, and a wild “Running of the Bulls” event, all centered around the world famous “Hemingway Look-Alike Contest” at Sloppy Joe’s – which is said to be one of Ernest’s favorite watering holes back in the day.

It’s an amazing spectacle with over one hundred portly, white-bearded old guys parading across the main stage to the hoots and hollers of hundreds of drunk supporters, tourists, and disinterested locals, all vying for the coveted title of “Papa 2016.”

Having registered for the event back in February at the urging of a friend, who, while quaffing drinks at Sloppy Joe’s, saw my likeness in the bar’s Hemingway-themed logo and drunk-called me to urge my participation.

“You’re a shoo in!” he said. . .

The call caught me drinking some daiquiri concoctions called “Papa Dobles” (a favorite of Papa Hemingway), so I thought, “It’s an omen! – Why the hell not?”

The contest is spread over three nights with the preliminaries beginning on Thursday.

Strategically, I selected the second night to make my appearance; the thought being I could gain some good intelligence by watching the first round contestants.

I later learned that very little can adequately prepare you for this incredibly unique competition.

About six o’clock the sprawling barroom transforms into a swarm of screaming supporters, each waving signs, paddles and hoisting gigantic spinning heads featuring the likeness of their “Papa Wannabe.”

Add to this the open and shameless bribery of the judges – each of whom is a former winner and member of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society – dogs wearing beards, and eastern European tourists clamoring for photographs with the contestants and you have a variety of pandemonium I’ve rarely encountered.

During a meet-and-greet with fellow participants and former winners, I actually saw a young lady, 20-something, snuggled-up to a fat guy who looked just like me (they all did) while her boyfriend urged her to remove her right nipple from her bikini-top so he could take a picture for posterity.

I thought this must be some kind of weird Field of Dreams for hypertensive old white guys. . .

On the night of the competition, we were herded to the edge of the main stage while two guys serving as Masters of Ceremony fanned the crowd into a frenzy of anticipation.

In the only element of organization evident during the entire event, we were called – eight at a time – in alphabetical order and given just 15-seconds to plead our case before the white-bearded judges seated in front of us.

Having fortified myself with several rum-based libations – I was well in the spirit when, suddenly, a microphone was held to my face and my 15-seconds of fame began.

Now, I’ve done my share of public speaking and I had practiced my “campaign speech” to perfection. I felt my spiel had just the right mix of humor and “aw shucks” humbleness necessary to sway the vote in my favor.

But when the moment of truth finally came, I found myself shouting something akin to, “Errrrrmeeegerd! Soooohabbytoobeeher!  I’m a troubled man for troubled times!  Vote Barker 2016!!”

And just like that, the crowd went crazy – as only a packed house of slap-happy drunks can – and the microphone was quickly moved to the mirror image standing to my right.

There was a whole lot of heart on that stage.  There was also a whole lot of high blood pressure and prostate issues. . .

After much tabulation and anticipation, the Papa’s totaled the votes and the preliminary finalists were announced – and, alas, I wasn’t one of them. . .

I didn’t feel so bad, after all, some of my competition have been involved for many years (one gentleman was celebrating his 20th year in the event without once having been selected as a finalist).

I also learned that the selection process has a great deal to do with your level of participation in the Society – fundraising, etc. – and less to do with how much you may or may not favor Ernest.

Politics.  At the end of the day, I simply traded one weird campaign for another, I suppose.

On the bright side, I met some wonderful people – including Michael Groover, the husband of southern super-chef Paula Deen – who made it all the way to the finals on Saturday night, only to be vanquished by Dave Hemingway (no relation) of North Carolina who was ultimately crowned “Papa 2016.”

(For the record, both Ms. Deen and her husband were incredibly warm, inviting and approachable.  Wonderful people, indeed.)

It was a weird scene to say the least – one of the strangest things I’ve ever been involved in (and trust me, I’ve been involved in some weird shit) but I truly enjoyed the experience.

You know what they say – “There’s always next year” – and I’ll definitely be back to try again.  A little grayer and a little fatter – but it’s the only race I know where those two things are considered attributes.

Let’s end with a Hemingway’s quote on politics:

“All the contact I have had with politics has left me feeling as though I had been drinking out of spittoons.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ernie. . .


Stop Blaming the Police

Five dead in Dallas.  At least three law enforcement officers killed and three wounded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

My heart is breaking.

There is a war on police officers in the United States.

I am ignoring my own rule, writing this as I watch events unfold, rather than wait for all the facts to be known.  Screw it.  My emotions are raw – a seething mix of utter sadness and building rage – and perhaps I should ask forgiveness now for the tone of my remarks.

But I won’t.

I will never apologize for supporting my brothers and sisters in law enforcement – and I will remain forever proud of my service and my profession.

One week ago I wrote an essay that appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal editorializing my support for law enforcement in the aftermath of the ambush-style murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

Now, on a beautiful Sunday morning, we suffer yet another deadly attack.

Following the publication of my op/ed last Sunday, former Ormond Beach police chief Larry Mathieson took me to task in his own Community Voices article, “Police can fight hostility.”

According to Chief Mathieson, my “bias” in supporting law enforcement while condemning inflammatory media speculation, incendiary rhetoric, and our complete lack of political leadership (factors which I believe have contributed to the current demonization of police officers) “are at the core of the problems with race, policing and violence in this country.”

He then stated, in part:

“Doing better is where police should focus their energy. Instead of thinking in terms of paranoia, and pointing the finger of blame at the media, the president or the boogie man, let’s focus on what we can do as a profession to do things better. Let’s start by pointing the finger of responsibility at ourselves.” 

Chief Mathieson – I’m not sure what “boogie man” you’re referring to, but a monster killed five law enforcement officers in Dallas two weeks ago, and another just took the lives of three more in a savage assault in Louisiana.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of spineless, namby-pamby apologists like Mathieson telling these brave men and women who are actually in the arena how they should do things “better.”

How dare you.

And by the way, it’s not “paranoia” when officers are being slaughtered in the streets.

I find it nauseating – although not unexpected – that in the aftermath of the deadliest day for law enforcement since 9/11, Mr. Mathieson had the abject temerity to opine that law enforcement officers – who proudly and bravely hold the line with a target on their backs – should “point the finger of responsibility” at themselves.

Initially, I simply considered the source and opted to let it go.

Let’s just say that – despite his extremely high opinion of himself – Larry is not someone I, or anyone else I know, consider an expert on much of anything – certainly not law enforcement leadership.

Frankly, I dismissed it as the babbling of an irrelevant has-been exploiting a bad situation to gin up business for his obligatory retirement “consultancy.”

But with officers lying dead in the street in Baton Rouge, my rage will simply not permit me to sit quietly.  I fear that someone might mistake my silence for acquiescence to Mathieson’s horseshit opinions and International Association of Chiefs of Police group-think.

The fact is, Larry Mathieson is a “consultant” – in my view, just another leech on the government teat – who makes his living as a self-described expert, exploiting and hyping problems that he can advertise to help resolve for a hefty fee.

How many law enforcement officers have to die before you see the utter shame in blaming these brave souls for the craven acts of despicable and cowardly domestic terrorists?

Stop pointing your fucking finger.  It is not law enforcement’s fault, Larry.

Do you see that now?

Just last week, while the Dallas Police Department was burying its dead, I witnessed news footage of college-aged young people of all races marching through a major metropolitan area chanting, call and response: “What do we want?  Dead Cops!  When do we want them? Now!” then “We should shoot you!” and “Fuck the Police!”


Unlike Larry Mathieson, I don’t particularly care what underlying social conditions or “community perceptions” may or may not have contributed to this vile brand of hatred.  I recognize it for what it is – strategic ambuscades targeting police officers as a terroristic means of advancing a twisted ideology of racial animus to incite further divisiveness.

I also know that when certain groups scream death threats in the streets of America, openly calling for the wholesale murder of law enforcement – and then we see officers dying in violent attacks – only a fool would deny that there is a direct and menacing correlation.

When those same horrific and provocative chants – protected as they may be – are then tacitly approved, if not bolstered, by the knee-jerk comments of President Obama, candidates, political hacks and so-called “social activists,” it sends a distinct message that cops lives don’t matter.

Add to that a complete lack of political leadership in the country – and a few gutless police administrators who preach mollification and self-blame –  and you have a hell broth of radicals, apologists and shameless opportunists clawing to fill the void.

In Washington, there is a growing tradition of demonstrating unity and symbolizing respect by bathing the White House in colored lights significant to the occasion.  In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the colors of the French flag were used.  When gay marriage was ratified by the Supreme Court, the colors of the rainbow shone brightly at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Last week, Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, formally asked the White House to consider this public show of support for the fallen officers, and for law enforcement around the nation, following the ambush attacks in Dallas.

President Obama refused.

Spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking for the President, advised the White House would not light up the façade in blue, stating that Mr. Obama had acknowledged the loss in other ways.

Really?  It’s a few light bulbs.

But more important, it symbolizes a strong political statement of support for police that Mr. Obama and his administration simply refuse to make, least he alienate the radical fringe.

Better to cultivate political favor from these ‘rebels without a cause’ than honor the memory of eight dead heroes.

I fear things are going to get worse before they get better in this godawful Summer of 2016.

Once again we will mourn the dead and pray for the wounded – and our brave men and women of law enforcement will lace-up their boots, pin on the badge, and go in harm’s way to protect us.  All of us.  United, as always.

God bless them.

In my view, it’s time we ignore the arrogant lecturing of self-promoting pseudo-experts like Larry Mathieson and others who spew the cheap rhetoric of appeasement and apology.

Let’s simply take a stand in support of the men and women of law enforcement.

They damn well deserve it.


The Debacle in DeBary: The hits just keep on coming. . .

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything – you suddenly realize – you haven’t seen anything.

If there is any DeBary resident that needs further evidence to support the fact that the current city council is in an unrecoverable tailspin, then welcome home from the dark side of the moon and please read Dinah Pulver’s excellent piece in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Developer squabbles with DeBary, faces penalties for clearing.”

As I commented last week, in one of the most ham-fisted political maneuvers in the history of municipal governance, the council voted to table a plat approval request from the Henin Group for Riviera Bella Unit 4 – a parcel of land under development on Fort Florida Road – which is literally a stone’s throw from the 30-acres of old growth forest that Henin plowed into a primordial ooze sans permit or authorization.  Just did it.

It was evident to everyone that tabling the plat approval was inextricably linked to the illegal land clearing – a point not missed by Mr. Henin’s very smart Orlando-based attorney, Tera Tedrow.

Hell, City Attorney Kurt Ardaman couldn’t have telegraphed the council’s intentions any better if he had hired a skywriter.

According to the News-Journal, Ms. Tedrow wrote a strongly worded letter to the City of DeBary, essentially saying what the rest of us already knew, “…it was “clear” that issues pertaining to the land clearing “may have been the true motivation for tabling the plat approval.” She stated the developer would pursue a legal remedy if the plat is denied or “continues to be unnecessarily delayed.”


One would think that, given Mr. Henin’s environmental misconduct and open disregard for the rules and laws at Riviera Bella, he might have thought it prudent to let the dust settle and maybe build a little goodwill with residents in the area who are still staring at the hideous gash he left in the earth.

Instead, Mr. Henin says in essence, “Know your role, city council.  You’re holding up my money – do it now or I’ll sue your eyeballs out!”

Yes, sir.  Three bags full, sir.  “SPECIAL MEETING, Y’ALL!”

In my view, this is akin to the armed robber who cuts his finger while ripping the cash register out of the wall – then sues the convenience store for his medical bills.

Now, let me get this right: The Henin Group willfully and unlawfully – and in my view, with a well-formed criminal intent – clear-cuts some 30-acres of sensitive land from the face of the planet, then, in perhaps the greatest show of unbridled hubris since Gaius Caligula, threatens legal action against the victims (the citizens of DeBary) when they have the temerity to temporarily stop further construction while they investigate the crime and analyze appropriate sanctions?

Then, the arguably insane Mayor Clint Johnson – whose outrageous antics have embarrassed the community and absolutely alienated him from his fellow elected officials – acts completely in contradiction to the wishes of the majority of the council and schedules a special meeting to approve Henin’s plat request.

You know, the very request that the council voted in the majority to table just last week.

The Mayor would have us believe that he called the urgent meeting out of concern for the city’s mounting legal bills – and his hand-wringing over the community’s reputation with would-be developers.


Mayor Johnson, do you honestly believe in your heart-of-hearts that you can improve the obscene reputation of this council by pandering to a developer that gutted 30-acres of land right under your nose without so much as a city tree removal permit – let alone any official authorization from state or federal regulators?

Do you think that blatantly ignoring the will and direction of your fellow council members – and your constituents – will somehow restore your “reputation” in the speculative real estate industry?

My God.  It’s like currying favor with a ditch pig in hopes the other greed-hogs still find you attractive.  At the end of the day, you’re still wallowing with filthy swine.

While Mayor Johnson attempts to paint himself as “pro-growth” – in reality, he has flagrantly exposed himself as the craven toady of Jerome Henin.

I might not have my finger on the pulse of DeBary residents, but I’ll just bet they don’t give a tinker’s damn about Henin’s “severe financial detriment” or “multi-million-dollar closing.”

I know I don’t.

In fact, I couldn’t care less.

In my view, the Henin Group – much like the DeBary City Council – has demonstrated an absolute disdain for ethical conduct and completely ignored the public’s welfare.

The difference being, the Henin Group is a private business trying their level best to scratch-out a profit, even if they have to pay a few pesky fines along the way for their appalling crimes against the environment.

It is time for the residents of DeBary to come to the sobering realization that this council needs to be recalled (a nice way of saying, the bums should be thrown out of City Hall on their asses).

In an environment where goofy tweets and Facebook posts constitute grounds to spend piles of taxpayer money in an attempt to remove a sitting mayor – one might think that the conflagration of utter dysfunction, quid pro quo corruption, staff complicity and total incompetence (coupled with the open pandering to the very developer that told what passes for city “regulators” to go pound sand as they scoured the land) would be enough to launch these feckless assholes.

Clearly, we have gone far beyond the point where any thinking person can say with a straight face that this council has any semblance of the citizen’s interests at heart.

When they aren’t blathering tirelessly about Mayor Johnson’s pending “forfeiture hearing” or wasting precious time plotting how they can “build around” protected conservation lands, they are busy spitting and spatting about their quirky internecine wars from the dais.

All while nine months into the budget cycle the long suffering townsfolk still do not have the first inkling of what next year’s budget might look like.

All the citizens know – or apparently need to know – is that the cost of legal expenses is going to be astronomical.

Damn your infrastructure repair and replacement.

Damn your recreation and leisure budget.

Your friggin’ leech-like lawyers are going to make bank.  Handsomely.


According to the News-Journal’s report, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials said one of the agency’s gopher tortoise agents and “city officials” investigated the Riviera Bella property and didn’t find any evidence to support concerns from nearby residents that protected turtles lived on the land that was cleared.

Naturally.  Nobutty saw nuttin’.

I wonder how many residents of Fort Florida Road were interviewed?

Now, I’m no “gopher tortoise agent,” but I would be curious how one makes a determination that no endangered tortoises lived on that tract – when the land has been compacted and graded level by excavators – coupled with the fact the little buggers live everywhere else in the neighborhood?

It’s my understanding that persons living in the area reported that the roadway looked like the floor of an abattoir – littered with the carcasses of dead wildlife – in the immediate aftermath of the land clearing.

A friend and I have personally visited the site twice – once immediately after the clearing was reported, and again last week.

Of course there is no evidence of gopher tortoises, or anything else.

The land has been clear-cut, graded, and seeded.  Now, it’s in the process of being staged to look like a Swiss meadow.

These things happen when you allow the suspects to clean-up the evidence.

Reminds me of the time in the not too distant past when the hero of the Gemini Springs Annex debacle, John Miklos, through his company Bio Tech Consultants (you might remember them), felled an American Bald Eagle’s nest on property under development near Vero Beach.

According to Mr. Miklos, it was all one big “misunderstanding” – seems he thought it was an osprey’s nest. . .

A subsequent investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission failed to result in criminal charges, but concluded that there was a “financial relationship between Bio-Tech and the (then) chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.”

Federal wildlife officials also failed to act – or to comment on the source or significance of Mr. Miklos’ relationship with then FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright.

State records indicate that Miklos and Wright formed Gulf Mitigation Solutions, Inc. in 2010, and China Grove LLC in 2014.

That’s right.  They were in business together.

I’m not sure what the corporation does – other than apparently mitigate speculative developer’s chances of being indicted for environmental crimes.

Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, Mayor Johnson and the gang quibble over the meaningless while DeBary burns.







Support your local police. Please.

Last Thursday morning, the Daytona Beach News-Journal was kind enough to ask if I would give my thoughts on the police-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Given the fact that I have an opinion on literally everything – and a long background in police operations – I was quick to accept the invitation with humility and pride (it’s the bloggers version of being called up to the major leagues for a cup of coffee).

Having served most of my adult life in law enforcement, when these terrible incidents occur I tend to support the actions of the officer until the facts prove otherwise.  Invariably, if we wait until all the elements of the encounter are known, we learn that the police officer was defending his or her own life in a potentially violent situation.

When the facts prove otherwise, the officer is more often than not quickly held-to-account.

As has become the norm, in the immediate aftermath of a deadly police-citizen encounter, certain politicians instinctively use the opportunity to denigrate the actions of law enforcement.

For instance, following the shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Point, President Obama – before any of the facts were known – told all American’s that they should be “deeply troubled” by the events.  Rather than calm fears and encourage patience, the President went on to describe the incidents as being “…symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

Then, in perhaps the worst example of gubernatorial leadership in the history of the Republic, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D) made the wholly irresponsible statement, “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white?” Dayton said. “I don’t think it would have… I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

Regardless of your personal opinion on the serious issues we face, were these remarks appropriate under the circumstances?  Did they help bring calm to the situation, or did they fan the flames of speculation and divisiveness?

From that perspective, I spent a few hours cobbling together my thoughts on the apparent breakdown in police-community relations in certain areas of our country – after all, we never think things are as bad in our own backyard as they appear to be in those far-off places we see on CNN – and wondering why the media kept playing video snippets of the incidents totally outside the context of a comprehensive investigation of the facts.

In my original essay, I spoke of things like building bridges between the various factions by establishing a foundation for discussion based upon the common human values and virtues that we all share.

By and large, I believe that regardless of race, color or creed we all want peace, dignity and respect.  We all want equal opportunities for education, good jobs, the freedom to worship and the opportunity to contribute to society in a healthy and meaningful way.  We all want to raise our families, pursue our livelihoods and enjoy our friendships in a nurturing, free and supportive environment.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Just before 9:00pm Thursday evening the world watched live newsfeeds from downtown Dallas as a peaceful protest suddenly turned into a bloodbath.

In a cowardly ambush specifically targeting white police officers, a lone assassin changed everything, and the buzzwords “community policing” and “everybody’s life matters” just didn’t resonate anymore.

And in the absence of strong leadership, our nation succumbed to fear, suspicion and chaos.

As the hours passed my anger built as I watched in horror as young demonstrators shouted epithets and spewed hate-filled rhetoric just inches from the faces of stoic police officers who bravely and patiently held the line to protect protesters and the general public alike.

I watched as angry spittle struck the bare faces of officers who bravely and unflinchingly held their ground and I quietly wondered if I would have had the inner-strength to control my emotions under similar circumstances.

I then watched proudly as Dallas Police Chief David Brown demonstrated extraordinary leadership, courage, and poise under extreme pressure as he slowly transitioned to both the face of this tragic incident – and America’s Chief of Police.

To Chief Brown’s great credit, he didn’t try to put an artificial happy face on an atrocity – nor did he wallow in outrage and self-pity.  He simply told us the facts we needed to know – he calmed our fears – and he spoke eloquently on the harsh realities of law enforcement that American needed to hear.

He also set in motion the process of healing the “Thin Blue Line” by reminding us that law enforcement is a family, and that police officers should let nothing come between them or break our special fraternal bond.

Thank God for Chief Brown’s incredible leadership at a time when our nation needs it most.  He changed my perspective and brought me back to reality.

In my view, we live in an age where snap perceptions of police misconduct – often based on jangled video snippets and inflammatory rhetoric – fuel an immediate and certain rush to judgement.

Law enforcement officers are assumed guilty and convicted in the court of public opinion at the speed of social media – at times before investigators have even arrived at the scene.

The result is an untenable environment where those sworn to uphold the law and safeguard our communities no longer enjoy the basic right of equal justice before the law, or the fundamental presumption of innocence.  The rule of law has been replaced with rabble-rousing, incendiary assumptions and hearsay – and now a direct attack by a domestic terrorist.

Americans should be outraged when our political leadership almost instinctively use their important role to fan speculation and intensify emotional conjecture in the immediate aftermath of deadly police-citizen encounters that none of us – especially law enforcement – want to see continue.

To my mind, this blatant and terribly reckless rhetoric by state and national politicians is indicative of one of the very real problems facing the American people: A complete lack of moral and ethical leadership on the national stage.

Just as law enforcement officers have a sworn obligation to serve all members of society – including those with a demonstrated hatred of police – our elected officials have an equal duty to use their positions of trust to urge calm, encourage patience and restore unity in times of crisis.

To check the prevailing wind and fall in line with reactionaries in the immediate aftermath of an incident in a cheap ploy to exploit tragedy for political gain is wrong – and it is the antithesis of courage and leadership.

Following my commentary in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, some felt I condemned the killing of five Dallas police officers while failing to address the “reasons” behind the shootings.

Frankly, I don’t care what the shooters motivations were.  His willful and vile actions in taking innocent lives in a self-described act of racial hatred is patently and utterly wrong.

There can be no moral, ethical or societal explanation or justification for this act of terrorism.

Please understand that I respect everyone’s position on this and other important social and political issues facing our great nation.  I encourage the healthy debate of logical and well-thought opinions and the search for common ground.

I can take the heat and we can still be friends.

The fact is we have great divisions in America today.  At a time when we should be celebrating our diversity and enjoying the harmony, inclusiveness and innovations of a modern world we seem more split and alienated than anytime in recent history.

In the early 1990’s I remember attending a Community Oriented Policing symposium where the concepts of community and problem-oriented policing were discussed as the new federal mandate for law enforcement operations nationwide.

In fact, the government employee who facilitated the discussion made the comment that, “Any police administrator who fails to embrace this philosophy won’t be working in this business in five years.”

That rather bold assertion prompted a discussion between my colleagues, who, after hearing the concepts discussed, came to the realization that what the federal government proposed was the very manner in which we had policed our small community for years.

But we fell in line.

Under the Clinton administration, we received funding from the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.  In turn, we took officers who had been assigned to police/community relations programs, (“Officer Friendly,” McGruff the Crime Dog, crime prevention activities, school programs, drug abuse prevention, etc.) and put them in “Community Policing” roles.

Officers stopped going out into the community, holding neighborhood watch meetings and teaching crime prevention techniques and started collecting statistics, tabulating “full-time personnel equivalents” and applying for, then managing, federal grants.

I watched as small town police departments took officers off the street and had them staff “sub-stations” because the Community Oriented Policing Office told us police departments needed to “decentralize” our operations.  (Never mind that we were a community of four square miles – one size fit everyone.  Or so they thought.)

I watched as traditional agencies transitioned from true service-oriented, community based programs to data-driven policing concepts.

But I did not speak out – I joined lockstep with everyone else – least I be one of those dinosaurs that was jettisoned from the service because I failed to embrace the federal government’s committee-style decision to force their homogenized version of “good policing” down our collective throats.

The net result was that our communities received massive amounts of federal grant dollars for everything from personnel to advanced equipment – and at the end of the day – all it cost us was our soul.

Between the “let’s do good” concept – and the implementation – comes the problem.

In my view, bureaucracies beget bureaucracies.

We went from being peace officers working in the neighborhoods of our communities, holding meetings in living rooms, and playing with kids in the street – not because the government told us we needed to do that to check off a block on a grant management report – but because we actually enjoyed interacting with those we serve, to statisticians.

As a patrol officer I got to know many people in the community.  I knew their children and their extended family.  I celebrated life events and attended to them during dark and difficult times.  And when they broke the law, I arrested them and worked diligently to see justice served.

But at the end of the day, we helped each other.  As a community should.

For instance, the small city I served collected more food for disadvantaged people than any other municipal government – or the County of Volusia – year in and year out.

I trusted those I was sworn to serve, and they trusted me.

My experience was not unique.

The community I served supported their police officers, and in turn, the men and women who wear the badge found helpful ways to give back.  They cleaned-up properties for the disabled, mowed lawns, painted houses and went into their own pockets to see that the hungry had a meal.

To my view, that is the very essence of community-based policing.

Was my agency perfect?  Far from it.

Did I make mistakes as Chief of Police?  More than I care to remember.

But when we erred, I like to think that we did our level best to make things right again.

Now, I fear that in a well-meaning attempt to set comprehensive standards for policing the federal government will once again ignore the local knowledge, familiarity and social cohesion that strengthens communities.

With the advent of law enforcement accreditation, the vast majority of law enforcement agencies throughout the United States already share common rules, regulations and proven operational policies.  My concern is that the Department of Justice and other well-intentioned federal regulatory and oversight agencies will once again attempt to use a one-size-fits-all approach to correcting issues, both real and perceived.

Given today’s unrest – I’m not sure the government’s concept of community-oriented policing worked.

While I’m no expert, I think the process of rebuilding trust begins with kindness, compassion and a sense of community pride – something you rarely find on a government grant application.

I once worked for a police chief who said, “Change that happens overnight never lasts.  Change that is implemented thoughtfully, over time, is transforming and lasting.”

Smart man.

Now is the time to mourn the dead, remember their bravery and sacrifice, support and promote healing for the wounded, and take a moment in time to reflect on those things that unite us and bind us together as members of the human race.

Whatever we do, let’s pray we get it right this time.






The Debacle in DeBary: We Live in Interesting Times

There is an ancient Chinese expression that roughly translates, “Better to be a dog in peaceful times, than a human in a chaotic period.”  I prefer the apocryphal English version – often referred to as the “Chinese Curse” – which, with a double-edge, wishes, “May you live in interesting times.”

My father also had a favorite saying – “God helps those who help themselves.”  Although my dad generally used the phrase to dismiss persistent charity solicitors, I suspect his motto was actually meant to emphasize the importance of self-reliance and personal initiative – you know, like the sage guidance, “The best way to get on your feet is to get off your ass.”

We can all agree, the City of DeBary is living through some interesting times, and after watching last night’s city council meeting, I’m not sure the powers-that-be have the capacity, or intelligence, to help themselves – or their constituents.

The fact is, we are all living in some pretty remarkable times.

Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey – a man I respect immensely – attempted to explain to the American people why, after reading a laundry list of specific incriminating evidence, Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted for mishandling classified information.

It seems we no longer hold the powerful and influential “Ruling Class” accountable for anything.  It is apparent that the once sacrosanct ideology of equal justice before the law is slowly becoming a quaint artifact of Americana.  The rules apply to us, but not to them.

The rule of law is being eroded from the top down – and just like in the debacle in DeBary – eventually the people lose respect for the canons, the leadership and the moral imperatives that keep our system of governance – and our society – functioning in the public interest.

Regular readers of this forum know that I try to wrap my thoughts and opinions in anecdotes and yarns.  Perhaps it’s my way of adding some sugar to the bitter medicine.

But when it comes to the desperate situation in the City of DeBary, I don’t feel I can do that anymore.

In my view, the issues faced by the good people of DeBary are more dark, even cancerous, and I fear that there is something far more menacing afoot at City Hall.  Sadly, I’m not real sure who can help them – those who should give a damn apparently don’t.

People ask me why I care so deeply about the future of a community on the other side of the county – one I really have no direct connection to and I certainly have no “skin in the game.”

The short answer is that good governance is important to me.  And it should be to you, too.

I strongly believe that the people deserve better in terms of political representation at the local, state and federal level.  I still hold to the basic concept that people have the right to expect that elected officials will serve the best interests of the public in a transparent, honest and inclusive way.

Regardless of whether its DeBary, Washington, D.C., or Columbus, Ohio – when elected and appointed officials betray their oath of office and intentionally act in a manner contrary to the rule of law, it adversely affects all of us.

It weakens our democratic system of governance and goes contrary to our American traditions of fairness and equality.

On Wednesday evening, I watched the proceedings in DeBary with a growing inner rage and sense of disbelief that bordered on hysteria as the city council once again demonstrated the depth of their collective stupidity – or perhaps their well-orchestrated collaborative goal of distracting us from the serious issues facing the community by droning on about nonsensical issues, frittering away precious time and wallowing in self-important arrogance.

All while the City of DeBary burns.

In my view, not since the Watergate scandal has a mainstream news agency attempted to give more sound advice and positive direction than the Daytona Beach News-Journal has provided the City of DeBary.  All for the price of a newspaper.

While responsible media outlets attempt to remain objective and report only the facts, smart people can usually “read between the lines” and gain valuable insight and direction when a bad situation is laid bare.

Not in DeBary.

Rather than change tack the elected officials blast full-speed-ahead, still fighting petty internecine wars on the dais, debating the intricacies of what constitutes a charter violation, and paying outside attorneys to polish trumped-up “evidence” and validate Dan Parrott’s mean-spirited spitefulness as an acceptable basis to oust a sitting Mayor.

While I find it incredibly difficult to believe that five seemingly civic-minded people could be this dumb – or openly corrupt – I’ve come to accept that in this environment literally anything is possible.

I am not alone.  People I consider experts on government operations shake their heads and confess they have never seen anything like what is being allowed to transpire in DeBary.

For instance, during Wednesday’s meeting DeBary’s Public Works Director, Alan Williamson, openly admitted that nine months into the current budget cycle he has yet to prepare the first iteration of his department’s budget for FY2016-17.

Now, in his defense, Mr. Williamson did suggest that the Public Works budget request wouldn’t be much different from last year (I suppose that’s as scientific as things get in this slap-dash administration).

In the government I served, a department head would have been summarily fired for that level of intentional dereliction.  And rightly so.

Not in DeBary.

When you actually observe the city council in action, it becomes readily apparent that not all the cards are on the table.  Last night I witnessed some of the most bizarre and seemingly nonsensical exchanges between council members, the City Attorney and members of staff in the history of municipal governance.

In most places, when a member of the council moves to table an issue on the public agenda – and that motion is seconded and approved by a vote of the majority – then the matter is postponed for consideration at a later date.  Move on.

Not in DeBary.

The City Council took formal action to table a plat approval request by the Henin Group for the Riviera Bella Unit 4 project (located just down the street from the property that was clear-cut by Henin without permit or approval.)

Ostensibly, the postponement was designed to give council members additional time to review the request.  I’ll leave it to you to consider the real reason – I have my thoughts, I’m sure you have yours.

But rather than simply table the matter to a later date and move forward, in his loopy interpretation of Robert’s Rules of Order (bolstered by the city attorney’s cockamamie advice) Mayor Johnson allowed the Henin Group’s attorney to speak on the issue – an item that was clearly already off the table – which prompted perhaps the most bizarre exchange ever seen at a government meeting.

During the discussion between Boerger – who recommended approval of the request – and Ardaman, it was clear the City Attorney was doing his level best to insinuate that Boerger needed time to perform additional “investigation and analysis” on a matter that he had already recommended for approval – and that had already been placed on the public agenda.

In my view, Attorney Ardaman did this in a clumsy and totally ham-fisted attempt to justify the council’s action by retroactively ensuring the postponement met the requirements of City Code.

The attorney for the Henin Group simply stood by in utter disbelief – like someone witnessing a dog speak perfect English – as Mr. Ardaman rambled on like a victim of aphasia.

Trust me, it was painful to watch.

Then, in perhaps the most surreal event of the evening, Mayor Johnson (to the chagrin of his attorney, Doug Daniels) and the other members of the council (sans Lita Handy-Peters) engaged in a convoluted discussion regarding the Mayor’s pending “forfeiture hearing.”

The emotions of the drawn out back-and-forth ranged from obstinate determination, to capitulation, to a weird quasi-solution wherein the Mayor would admit to having violated the charter in return for having the entire ugly affair dropped.

In DeBary City Hall, mincing words is all important – substance and actual progress in dealing with the serious issues of the day – not so much. . .

Fiddling while Rome burns.

At the end of the day, the council voted to move the hearing once again – this time to avoid a conflict with the Florida League of Cities annual bacchanalia at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida.

Interestingly, Mr. A. Kurt Ardaman is scheduled to teach a course at the conference to elected and appointed officials from throughout the State of Florida, entitled: A Practical Guide on How to Avoid Public Records Lawsuits and Sunshine Law Update. 

You read that right.

Mr. Ardaman did such an outstanding job stewarding the City of DeBary through the intricacies of the Sunshine Law that city officials are under active criminal investigation.  So the Florida League of Cities has hired him as a subject matter expert to instruct other government officials.

We’re in great hands here in the Sunshine State, folks.

In my view, the Florida League of Cities is a fraternity designed to protect screw-ups and incompetent assholes through the establishment of group-think protections.  It also serves as a legal means of facilitating government contractors access to elected officials – for a cost (say footing the bill for “Death by Chocolate”) or the “Inaugural Celebration,” billed as:

It is time for some fun…an evening at the student union! Join your fellow League “students” as we travel through time to enjoy fellowship, fun, games and good food at the FLC University Student Union! You’ll have a great time shooting hoops on the basketball court; making commemorative “university” goodies to take home; spending a little time in the “dorm” playing pinball or darts; or tailgating to celebrate the big event. We’ll see you at the union! Don’t forget your favorite team t-shirt or jersey – wear your school colors and show your school pride!

Contributing Sponsors for Entertainment:

GOLD: American Fidelity Assurance Company; Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A.

SILVER: Access Rec. LLC; AdComp Systems; Advanced Processing and Imaging; Calvin, Giordano & Associates, Inc.; CGI Communications, Inc.; Florida Beverage Association; Florida Power & Light Company; Marcum LLP; Sunshine 811; WCA of Florida, LLC  

 How fun.

I guess after listening to A. Kurt Ardaman drone on about how to get yourself indicted for Public Records violations you need to blow off a little steam, eh?

Nice to know a portion of my monthly FP&L bill is going to commemorative “goodies” for elected officials. . .

I give up.

Clearly, we’re living in some pretty interesting times.













The Debacle in DeBary: It’s now, or never.

“NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky, And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

 As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book

In a recent installment of this blog I wrote extensively about the maneuverings of the Henin Group – an unscrupulous developer operating like a festering Guinea worm under the skin of the City of DeBary – who shamelessly, and apparently without any serious regulatory impediment, scoured nearly 30-acres of pristine old-growth forest and sensitive wildlife habitat from the face of the earth without any official permit or authorization.

In my opinion, they did it because they could.

The curse of professional boxers is Dementia Pugilistica, “Punch Drunk” syndrome.

The condition is brought about by repetitive blows to the head and symptoms manifest as neurological disturbances, delusions, a dulling of the senses – and ultimately the inability to think, reason, or care for oneself.

In my experience, your body can take a lot of abuse – but if you hammer on the old coconut hard enough, and long enough, bad things are going to happen.

The body politic is no different.

The Henin Group – like any good freebooting opportunist – took full advantage of the stupor and confusion that has engulfed the City of DeBary like “Mountain” McClintock in Requiem for a Heavyweight.

While the jury is still out on the manner and cause of the city’s rapid descent into this fetid quagmire of corruption and mismanagement, it is clear that the trauma of the experience has left the municipality unable to defend itself.

Bullies, thieves and opportunistic leeches thrive in that environment.

When an individual or organization is left maimed, devious and unprincipled assholes will always flock to the scene.  They prey on the wounded and fleece the shell-shocked – or just plunder as much as they can before the dust settles.

What the City of DeBary is experiencing is the law of the jungle.

A system in which only the strong survive and the sick, the stupid and the helpless are culled to preserve the herd.  In nature, if you are vulnerable and caught out in the dark, wolves will smell the stench of weakness in the air and daybreak will find them gnawing on what’s left of your skull.

It’s Natural Selection in action, and when the sheepdogs are neutered, distracted, or paid-off – the wolves will begin to circle.

Mother Nature abhors dumbness.  Fools do not last long in the wild.

In an excellent article by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “The Cost of Controversy – DeBary’s legal bill hits $160K and still growing, exceeds budget,” we learned the net cost of the serious and deepening instability at City Hall.

I suppose it should come as no surprise to anyone that DeBary is actively and agonizingly being exsanguinated by parasitic attorneys, but once again the city council appears to have been caught flatfooted.

According to Councilman Rick Dwyer, (who is the only cast member in this ugly drama who has shown even a scintilla of leadership) “We need to look at what has caused us to exceed our budget and take the appropriate measures to either amend it or get the costs under control.”

Why is it that Mr. Dwyer always comes off sounding like Rip Van Winkle awakening in an Ambien stupor to discover the house is on fire?

Are you serious?  Do you really need to LOOK AT WHAT CAUSED THIS!?

Here’s a wake-up call – you don’t have time to “study on it,” Jethro!

Your community is in the midst of a conflagration – a five alarm fuck-up – and you must stop the hemorrhaging.  Now!

I don’t mean to sound hysterical – but when is someone, anyone, in a position of responsibility going to come to the very serious realization that DeBary is in real trouble here?

Apparently, the reoccurring problem stems from the city’s ludicrous pursuit of Mayor Clint Johnson.

The bills related to this hound-and-hare spectacle are approaching $25,000 and growing.

That includes $13,831 in legal fees incurred in the lead-up to the now postponed “forfeiture hearing” designed to oust Mayor Johnson for dubious “charter violations.”  As I understand it, two attorneys greedily accumulated some 56-hours of billable work on what they – and everyone else knew –  was a damnable fool’s errand.

Rather than use sound judgment and simply advise the council that there is clearly no logical evidence – or even basis –  to remove the Mayor for silly tweets, obnoxious Facebook posts, and operational communications with the city manager; instead, the City’s legal firm indulged the clearly unstable Dan Parrott in his maniacal and increasingly desperate scheme to take Clint Johnson down.

It’s like a doctor taking a hypochondriac’s word for it that he has cancer.  “Well, then.  There’s nothing left to do but amputate the leg.  Pay the receptionist on your way out…”

Apparently this figure does not include the work of a second law firm hired to prosecute this nonsense before Parrott’s kangaroo court – or the $20,000 the Mayor’s attorney, Doug Daniels, plans to submit to the city in the matter of Johnson’s defense.

What happened to the city attorney’s moral and ethical obligation of loyalty and independent judgment?

Are Mayor Johnson’s hands squeaky-clean?  Hell no.

He bears a lot of responsibility in this debacle – but Parrott and the remaining members of the council had no right to subvert the process and remove Mr. Johnson from elective office.

And everyone – except, apparently, the city’s attorneys – knew it.

The News-Journal also reported that the city incurred $17,868 in general legal expenses, including the other Johnson-related issues (public records, ethics complaint, etc.) and advice on “how to respond to questions from The News-Journal as it investigated the city’s plans to try to build a stormwater pond and other development on 102 acres of conservation land.”

Really?  You used the taxpayer’s money to spin answers to the newspaper?

You might recall that the city hired Bio-Tech Consulting, a company owned by John Miklos, the chairman of the St. Johns Water Management District, which owned the land in question and controlled the permitting process required for the proposed transit-oriented development.

Interestingly, Miklos and DeBary City Attorney Kurt Ardaman are listed as officers in a corporation registered with the state called Medjool Investments.

That’s right – the city attorney and the double-dealing, utterly corrupt, quid pro quo beneficiary John Miklos are in business together!

A fact Mr. Ardaman conveniently forgot to mention to his clients – the citizens and elected officials of DeBary.

In my view, Ardaman sold his soul in some Faustian deal with the congenitally corrupt Miklos, and for that he should be disbarred – if not hung by his ankles like a piñata from one of the last remaining pine trees in Bella Riviera East and publicly humiliated for his crimes.

I can’t help but feel that these attorneys are actively taking advantage of this mess.

Don’t you see that?

For a community the size of DeBary to even consider budgeting $200,000 for legal services is, in my view, over the top.  One would think that the city could hire a full-time, in-house city attorney for far less than that.

It is not appropriate or fair to suggest that all lawyers are parasitic scumbags who prey on the weak and vulnerable.  I have friends who practice law, and I have personally benefited from their willingness to do the right thing, for the right reasons.

I have watched them work tirelessly to get it right – prosecutors, civil litigation and criminal defense attorney’s alike – men and women who are a true credit to their profession and the backbone of our justice system.

However, in my view, the City of DeBary is in the midst of the perfect storm – the community is essentially adrift without any strong or positive leadership, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and the members of the city council – the ones elected by the citizens to protect and steward their interests – are engaged in a painful Battle Royale among themselves and their critics, totally oblivious to the conflagration growing around them.

On Wednesday evening, the council will consider Ronald McLemore to serve temporarily as their interim city manager.

Mr. McLemore has been involved in some shady issues in Daytona Beach and elsewhere – and whether his hands are completely clean in these past public imbroglios is open to speculation.

What we do know is that the City of DeBary can’t afford many more blows to the head.

McLemore better damn well be who – and what – he claims to be.

This is why it is incumbent upon the city council to work diligently, and in the public interest, to recruit and select the best possible candidate to serve as chief executive of this beautiful but imperiled community.

It is also time for Mayor Johnson and the members of the DeBary city council to pull their head out of their ass, gain some situational awareness, and immediately put a stop to the financial hemorrhaging and exploitation that is rapidly draining the public coffers dry.

I’m not sure if anyone told them this when they ran for public office – but as elected officials these people have a sworn fiduciary responsibility to act solely in the best interests of their principals – the citizens of the City of DeBary.

The sad fact is, the city’s various attorneys – those who are paid handsomely to serve in the public interest – know this.

An attorney is also a fiduciary of his client – in this case, the City of DeBary.

As a recipient of public funds, the city’s legal team has an obligation to place the needs and interests of the community above their own.  They must make full and fair disclosure about the nature and direction of their representation – including potential conflicts of interest – and they cannot take advantage of their position to gain a profit at the expense of the client.

It is increasingly clear that the city council and their staff do not effectively communicate on matters important to the financial and operational health of the community.  This is clearly exacerbated by the lack of strong, stable leadership in an organization in crisis.

Now is the time for the DeBary City Council to pull together – to actually serve in the best interest of their constituents – and begin the process of healing and restoring their broken community.

I fear it’s now, or never.



(Photo Credit: AMC Entertainment Network, LLC)



The Right to Read and Write: Thoughts on Independence Day 2016

Since I was a young guy I have been an omnivorous reader of just about anything and everything I can get my hands on.

I don’t care if it’s the latest’s Hemingway biography, a literary classic or the back of a shampoo bottle – I read it.

Like travel, regardless of your age or stage, reading expands your mind – makes it more limber, anyway – while enhancing the mental clarity, vocabulary and insight required for living a deeper, more inspired life.

If you teach your children and grandchildren nothing else – teach them to read well.

I don’t know how your summer book list is shaping up, but I always find it interesting to see what other people are reading.

The New York Times Insider series “By the Book” will periodically post interviews with authors, journalists, editors, celebrities, political commentators and Washington-types.  They always begin with the very interesting question, “What books are currently on your nightstand?”

The answers have always intrigued me and give an oblique insight into the individual’s personality, interests and values.

I currently have several great reads in active rotation (literally on my nightstand – or Kindle) which include:

Stephen King: On Writing.

Part memoir and part master-class tutorial on the craft of writing.  So far, superb.

Red Right Return – A Buck Reilly Novel by John H. Cunningham.

When I was a child, the Hardy Boys got me hooked on reading.  Soon, Joe and Frank were replaced by the fabulous Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald (simply delightful books).

Red Right Return is proving to be a great Florida-based gumshoe adventure.

I also enjoyed the Hoke Mosely detective series by Charles Willeford.  Pure fun.

Both the Travis McGee and Hoke Mosely works are crime/detective fiction set in Florida’s murky underworld and I enjoy the familiar locations and plot lines that often read like a Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry column.

If you haven’t yet read Tim Dorsey’s “Serge Storm” series, your missing out – classic Sunshine State characters and hands down one of the funniest, most engaging series you will ever read.

In Red Right Return, Buck Reilley lives in the La Concha Hotel in Key West and operates Last Resort Charter and Salvage aboard a 1946 Grumman Widgeon flying boat.

So far, a great read.

The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand by Jim Harrison.

From the New York Times Book Review, Jim Harrison is not your average foodie. He is no pinkie-in-the-air fusspot who finds delight in taste-testing balsamic vinegar or drizzling sea salt from some distant shore on his blanched asparagus stalks. In this collection of his essays and correspondence, ”The Raw and the Cooked,” he presents himself as the Yosemite Sam of dining — a rootin’, tootin’ culinary combo plate of Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, Julian Schnabel and Sam Peckinpah. He eats with vigor and writes with unbounded gusto. His enthusiasms are so visceral that readers may put the book down feeling as if they have just been trampled by the bulls at Pamplona.

I highly recommend anything written by the late Jim Harrison – outstanding.

Ballet for Guys by Will Kern.

This novel was written by my high school friend, Will Kern, and published by Canopic Publishing, a small, quality-over-quantity publishing house owned and operated by another high school friend (and one of the finest writers practicing the craft today) Mr. Phil Rice.  (

In addition to this first novel Will is also the author of “Hellcab,” one of the longest-running shows in Chicago theatre history.  He is also an accomplished screen writer and producer of award-winning short films.  A true Renaissance man.

Will Kern currently lives with his wife and son in South Korea.

I look forward to starting Ballet for Guys as my first fun-read of our summer vacation in Key West later this month.

And please check out Phil Rice’s latest work, “Winter Sun: A Memoir of Love and Hospice.”  An important and poignant chronical of Phil’s end-of-life journey with his late wife Janice.  Incredibly moving.  Winter Sun is available on Amazon.

How It Was by Mary Welsh Hemingway.

Through the years I have read virtually every Hemingway biography ever written.  Trust me – there are a lot of them.  I recently found this excellent first-person account written by Papa’s fourth wife.  First published in October 1976, Mary tells the story of her often tumultuous life with Hemingway from Cuba to that tragic morning in Ketchum.

While I realize that there is very little new material that can be written about the great man’s life and times (many of the recent bios are little more than psycho-analytical bullshit mixed with supporting anecdotes) I do think the thoughts and revelations of his most intimate partner should make for an interesting and thought-provoking read.

And that completes my summer reading list, for now anyway.

I would love to hear about yours.

I am also interested in how people read today.  Do you prefer hard/soft cover tomes or electronic platforms like Kindle and Nook?  I use both.

The convenience of downloading books on my iPad-based Kindle cannot be ignored.  But most out-of-print or obscure material can only be enjoyed the good old fashioned way.

My wife Patti takes the technological short-cut of books on tape.  She regularly loads up her iPod with novels of all genres – mysteries, historical romance, fantasy, you name it – and she listens to them everywhere.

I’m convinced it’s actually her way of effectively ignoring me – put the old earbuds in and tune out the moans and ravings of the old man…

Smart woman.

In addition to books, I have always been a prolific consumer of daily newspapers.

On any given day I skim four or five (always online) in addition to the morning electronic edition of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

I also very much enjoy Henry Frederick’s always informative take on the local political scene on his online site Headline Surfer.

Sometimes, just for fun, I’ll select an English language paper from some weird Third World hellhole, or a location I happen to be interested in from a geo-political standpoint, and see what’s going on in their backyard.

During one of these recent forays into the foreign press, I came across a piece in an online aggregator called “Caribbean News Now!” written by Arley Gill – a magistrate and former minister of culture on the island of Grenada – entitled, “Politicians are the same everywhere.”

The lede immediately caught my eye.  I have always suspected that about politicians.

Essentially, Mr. Gill described the ‘gutter’ politics inherent to the process in most areas of the Caribbean basin.  As he chronicled the current U.S. presidential election, he equated the ugly tone and name-calling by certain candidates to the historical enmity seen in his own local politics.

In short, Mr. Gill wrapped up his thoughts by saying, “The Yankees now have taken it to a place where we have been for the longest while.”

Interesting how others see us when viewed from afar.  Something we should learn from.

I thought about sending Mr. Gill some clippings from Volusia County – talk about your gutter politics.  Whoa.

Since I began writing this blog I have enjoyed the opportunity to interact with many readers – some I know, some I’ve never met – and discuss their various thoughts and insights on the issues of the day.  They are almost always incredibly kind and generous with their criticism of my posts and provide so much moral support and “stick with it” encouragement.

Needless to say, I have been most impressed by the remarkable intelligence and thoughtfulness of the Barker’s View readership.

I have also been contacted by several candidates for local political office who ask for my advice or take on one topic or another.  Sometimes I feel the need to remind them that I am essentially a retired dude hunched over a keyboard in my boxers – clearly, with too much time on my hands.

But I appreciate the fact that they value my opinion and try hard to help when I can.

Some regular readers call or text and take me to task for something I’ve said that they disagree with – sometimes vehemently – and that keeps me humble, focused, and on my toes.  They often give me “the rest of the story” that perhaps I missed, and urge me to do my “F-ing” homework before blathering on about things I know nothing about.

It shows the length to which some very special and intelligent people are moved by local issues and politics, and they want me to get it right.  Dammit.

Of course, there is a very small percentage of readers who, for some reason, just don’t get it.  Unfortunately, I have to remind them that this forum is like a television – you can simply turn it off.

Please feel free to keep me honest.  I value the constructive criticism.

Trust me – I’ve got some thick skin and I can take as good as I give.  We can still be friends.

I try hard to stick to the facts as I know them, but let’s face it, these missives are purely my own jumbled thoughts and weird opinions – I’m not publishing the Washington Post here – but I try to keep it in the middle lane while having some fun with Volusia County’s self-important politicians and pompous ruling class.

As citizens of the greatest nation in the history of the world, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees us all the right to form independent opinions, speak our mind and write what we feel.

It also affords us the right to a free and unfettered press, to peaceably assemble for lawful purposes and to petition our government for redress of grievances.

I can’t think of anything more important.  These rights form the very backbone of our American way of life.

We keep these rights and freedoms limber by exercising them.  Regularly.

On this Independence Day, please take the opportunity to read something provocative, speak out passionately on an issue, enjoy a newspaper and form any opinion you want on any issue that is important you.

Then take a minute to remember the millions around the globe who live under the iron boot of brutal and oppressive regimes, and the thousands imprisoned for daring to speak their mind or hold viewpoints contrary to those acceptable to the state.

Folks, that’s what it’s all about.

These freedoms are the very reason we are being attacked by radical Islamic terrorists and bashed by every tin pot dictator in the world.  They hate us because we represent everything they despise – basic human rights, religious freedom, protection from oppression and the inalienable right to determine one’s own destiny.

Take a stand.  Exercise your right to read, speak and live your lives as free and equal citizens.

And, most important, let’s remember those heroes who sacrificed their lives to preserve this incredible, and extremely fragile, way of life.

It’s important.

Have a wonderful Independence Day, everyone.




The Debacle in DeBary: Important Answers to Difficult Questions

I have no formal education.

I like to say that the only thing that kept me out of college was high school – and that joke’s not far from the truth.  But the fact is, I had every opportunity to pursue higher education and, against the advice of literally everyone important in my life, I denied myself that important benefit.

My failure to complete a degree diminished my self-confidence and made me feel inferior to college educated peers my entire professional life.  I was a fool.

My father told me that the true benefit of a college education is in broadening your perspective and demonstrating to potential employers that you have the mental perseverance to finish what you started.

He was right.

Education imparts so many intrinsically important traits – the ability to read critically, a foundation upon which to form sound opinions and a healthy world view, and the capacity for logical, independent thought.

It also provides the recipient with self-confidence while leveling the playing field.  A degree is also a prerequisite to virtually all executive-level positions and provides a competitive edge for promotional opportunities.

After graduating from Seabreeze Senior High School, my best friend and I had a few fits and starts at Daytona Beach Community College – he even got to spend a few semesters at Florida State University (they didn’t ask me to come along).

Just as well.  It was immediately apparent I wasn’t cut out for higher education.

During the few classes I actually attended, it seemed to me that they spent a lot of time teaching answers to questions no one asked in the real world – and in the late 1970’s the liberal views of the lecturers and tenured teachers I was subjected to were often very different than my own.

Rather than embrace this diversity of opinion, I railed against it (as 19-year old dummies often do) and ultimately disappointed my parents by failing virtually every class I signed up for.

At the end of the day, my friend and I found ourselves throwing a Frisbee on the beach, skipping the few classes we were enrolled in at DBCC, and generally floating through life as rudderless beer drunks.  Not a bad way to go, really.

I’ve actually returned to that lifestyle in retirement. . .  Weird how things come full circle, right?

Fortunately, the United States Army offered something called the “buddy plan” and a few weeks later a gentleman known as Senior Drill Sergeant Ainsworth and his competent staff of life takers and heart breakers snatched both of us into the harsh reality of life in a hot and humid place called Ft. McClellan, Alabama.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I do not have an advanced degree, I did, however, graduate Summa Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks.

Trust me, it’s the most expensive education you can ever earn.

Obviously, I’m not that smart.  But out of necessity I have become an excellent experiential learner – I read voraciously, write extensively on issues that are important to me, and I try to maintain situational and social awareness on the critical topics of the day.

For instance, I learned aerodynamics and meteorology by earning a Commercial pilot certificate – and the mathematical intricacies of trigonometry by obtaining an instrument rating – where determining wind correction angles and time, speed and distance calculations can mean the difference between life and death.  There is no letter grade, you either land the airplane or it lands you, and survival is determined by the angle and velocity at which you return to earth.

Trust me, there is a big difference between learning the nuances of geometric theories in a classroom and being bounced around in the confines of an aircraft flying under instrument meteorological conditions.

Perhaps most important, by necessity, I have developed into an extremely good mimic.

I watch, read and listen to people that I admire – and I rob their ideas, mannerisms, methods and opinions.  I absorb the positive qualities of others and learn from their negative attributes and mistakes.

My favorite author, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson – a true American genius and someone I regularly steal thoughts, words and brilliant phrases from, said: “I’ve been plagiarizing my whole life.  It’s called learning.”

As a young law enforcement officer I identified people – both inside and outside my organization – who possessed the advanced skills, talents and expertise I needed, then I learned literally everything I could from them.

Like a leech sucking the blood of its host – I was determined to take and emulate their superior knowledge and skills as a means to make me better at my chosen profession.

Trust me when I say, I have been incredibly fortunate to have some wonderfully talented and extremely patient people put in my path of life – each of which helped me become a better person and police officer.

As an example, I learned to write from a career advertising executive who was awarded perhaps more American Advertising Awards that anyone in the industry.

A wonderfully unconventional, terribly flawed, chain-smoking genius of a man.

His name was C. Elliott Anderson, and he served as the Harvard educated creative director for the internationally acclaimed marketing firm J. Walter Thompson in New York.

He came to Florida as the advertising director for ITT’s Palm Coast project.

When Elliott finally came to the difficult realization that the dog-eat-dog corporate experience was crushing his highly developed sense of personal creativity and self-worth, he had a meltdown that resulted in a mid-life career change.  Then well into his 40’s, he left advertising and became a police officer in small town Florida.

He was the first person I knew whose prose was more akin to musical lyrics.  The style of his writing was melodic, almost poetic.  The words blended effortlessly and harmoniously, and it was a pure and high pleasure to read.

Elliott Anderson was a true man of letters.

We worked together as patrol officers, and during the long overnight hours when things were quiet, Elliott would help me write police reports.  At first, he would literally tear the pages up in front of me without criticism or comment, visibly disgusted by my lack of preparation and effort.

Begin again, Barker.

Then, he gradually began to use a thick red grease pencil to highlight my errors in sentence construction, grammatical oversights and word selection – slowly coaxing the flow of ideas into logical sequence and developing the ability to take a collection of cold, even random facts and use them to tell a story.

Elliott retired long before I did, and he later died of lung cancer well into his 70’s while living comfortably as an expat in the Philippines.  I still keep the correspondence we exchanged in my desk drawer and from time-to-time I re-read them, just to conjure the memory and guiding spirit of an eccentric genius who left me such a wonderful gift.

Every letter he wrote to me ends with this important, hand-scrawled guidance: “Read, Learn, Grow.”

Words to live by, my friends.

As a new and inexperienced patrolman I was fortunate to have the very generous tutelage and coaching of several veteran police officers, men and women who took me under their wing and showed me the lifesaving skills, tactics, tricks and techniques that they don’t teach impressionable young recruits in rookie school.

Things like, always “watch the hands” – and when you are engaged in a physical brawl, if you control your adversary’s ability to breathe – you take the fight out of them rather quickly.

It sounds brutal, and it is.

But if you’re struggling for control of your duty weapon in a dark alley, trust me, you’ll gladly – almost instinctively – choke the shit out of someone.

I was also taught that if you draw your firearm without intending to use it, it was best to file down the front sight first as it would make it easier when the person you pointed it at shoved it up your ass. . .

But most important, these veteran officers taught me the importance of asking questions – the right questions.  That not only included the art and science of interviewing witnesses and interrogating criminal suspects, but the ability to ask yourself important internal questions as well.

Personal questions you need to ask periodically to remain balanced, objective, and ethical in the pursuit of facts, evidence and the truth.

Self-examination helps keep you grounded, humble and personally aware while engaged in the practice of seeking the truth.

Am I working in the best interests of those I serve?

Am I acting objectively or am I allowing emotions and personal biases to affect my judgment?

Am I doing the right thing for the right reasons?

Important questions, indeed.

Last Wednesday evening I watched the DeBary City Council interview Ronald McLemore, their top candidate for interim City Manager.

An interesting process which, at the end of the day, told us far more about the elected officials than Mr. McLemore.

I am happy to report that the council members conducted themselves in a professional, controlled, even collegial manner.  However, some of the questions were clearly more digs and swipes directed at Mayor Johnson that fact-finding tools – specifically when it came to social media.

However, I thought Mr. McLemore acquitted himself quite well.  I was proud of him.

He told the truth, answered questions thoughtfully and thoroughly, and even took the occasion to teach and guide the council on some important issues – such as the ethical obligations of elected and appointed officials, the importance of listening to your constituents, and the benefits of professional development to staff effectiveness.

Now, I thought Mr. McLemore’s self-conceptualization of his management philosophy as, “I’m here to facilitate your success” was a bit contrived.  I thought we needed more substance in that answer.

After all, he has made his living in a profession where most practitioners are more focused on assisting their own success and playing elected officials against one another has become the accepted means of accomplishing that goal.

Dan Parrott was a master of the craft.

In addition, Mr. McLemore didn’t mince words when it came to discussing some of the barriers and issues facing the city council – and he even called out Mayor Johnson to a degree.

I found it refreshing, actually.

Is McLemore without blemishes – no.  Who among us are?

Mr. McLemore was right when he explained that career civil servants – especially those in leadership positions – will inevitably fall victim to unscrupulous poor performers and malcontent employees intent on receiving an undeserved payout.

For a period in the community I served, we called it the “supplemental retirement plan,” as seemingly everyone who was discharged – regardless of cause – would file a frivolous lawsuit on their way out the door just to squeeze a few thousand dollars from the city’s insurance carrier.

They knew – right or wrong – that the insurance company would deem it cheaper simply to settle the suit than to fight it.  It is the infinitely frustrating curse of government everywhere and there is no easy answer.

Perhaps most important, I felt the very process of interviewing Mr. McLemore was an extremely cathartic exercise for the members of the DeBary city council.

For once, they appeared unified in meeting an important goal, and kept their emotions and predilections to themselves.

If you watched the proceedings closely, you could hear the very real concern in their voices and see their collective desire to obtain strong and effective management for a community in distress.

While, at times, their efforts look pathetically like a coyote with its leg pinned in a trap, desperately trying to free itself from the inevitable – on Wednesday evening the council showed some true grit and collective leadership – for the first time in a long time.

For what it’s worth, I was impressed.

The Q&A with Mr. McLemore also exposed some serious problems in the community – many of which can be directly linked to the worthless former manager, Dan Parrott.

For instance, it is now July, and the City of DeBary has yet to produce the first draft of an operating budget for FY2016-17.  Given the fact that as interim Mr. McLemore has just 90-days to serve – he has the enormous task of formulating a multi-million-dollar budget (with lots of moving parts) in a very short period of time.

Is that doable?  Sure.

But it’s going to take a lot of collective hard work and cooperation to accomplish, and that’s not a bad thing.

If the City of DeBary can benefit from anything – it’s the exercise of working hard together to accomplish important goals in a collegial, ethical and supportive environment.

I think Ron McLemore is up to that task.

At least, like Mayor Johnson said, “I hope so.”

Admittedly, I’m just an uneducated bumpkin – but I’m smart enough to believe in the enduring words of a young Anne Frank who said, “Where there is hope, there’s life.  It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”

Words to live by, my friends.

Have a happy and safe Independence Day, everyone.