Volusia Politics: With age comes wisdom

To those who think they hold the cards

I send out my kind regards,

To those who love and those who care,

I’ll meet you down the road somewhere

The SteelDrivers – Heaven Sent

As I’ve told you before, I’m not an educated man.

But I am getting older – turned 56 last weekend – and with age comes wisdom, I suppose.

When you’ve got more years over the transom than off the bow, you tend to think about things differently, at least I do, and more often than not, I have a different viewpoint on issues than when I was a younger man.

It’s all perspective.

For instance, I have always appeared older than my age.  It’s the gray hair, wrinkles, and bloat I think.  When people are surprised, I just tell them, “It not the years, it’s the miles. . .”

I’m what doctor’s call a “high miler.”

While my body lacks the strength and flexibility I once had, my mind is still relatively limber and I’ve gained a little insight from living out here on the ragged fringe all these years.

Most of what I know was learned the hard way – through trial and error – and experiential learning is the most expensive education you can receive.

It’s like touching a hot stove over-and-over again – or voting for perennial politicians. Eventually, pain receptors teach your brain the relationship and you suddenly realize, “Damn, that hurts.  I don’t think I want to do that anymore.”

A sudden recognition of cause and effect.  Inexorable proof that life really is a gradual release from ignorance.

As I begin another trip around the sun, I find that I’m settling into the “crusty retired guy” phase of life quite nicely.

In that role I have a lot more time to spend with the morning newspaper.  In fact, I dissect it, section-by-section, always in the same uniformed manner, until I have explored and contemplated the news of the day and developed distinct opinions on exposés and issues from the editorial page to the funnies.

I have some fun with it too.

In my hometown paper – the Daytona Beach News-Journal – they run an on-going section on the front page of the online edition called simply, “Mugshots.”  It’s a digital “Rogue’s Gallery” that constantly up-dates with booking photographs of weary looking friends and neighbors who are visiting the County Jail.

Since I have the time, most mornings I get a second cup of joe and play a little game with myself called, “Guess the Charge.”

It’s simple, really – feel free to play along.

Just pick a mugshot and try to guess what the miscreant was charged with.  Then click your mouse and the person’s arrest record is displayed.

I’m getting pretty darn good at it, too.

For instance, I can tell the difference between a DUI and a Retail Theft just by the amount of mascara draining down the person’s face – male or female.  And a young lady with a black eye and a satisfied smile?  Gotta be an aggravated battery.

You just know she cut some abusive dirt bag in some seedy trailer park near Mondex.

Some are easier than others.

I’ve noticed that the mugshot section is increasingly populated by people with tattoo’s on their face and neck.  I always guess a crime of impulsivity or opportunity when considering these guys.

I mean – unless you’re Mike Tyson or a Maori warrior – I don’t think you actually chew over getting a facial tattoo.  That’s more something you wake-up from a three-day bender with and wonder, “What the hell?”

Rarely does one say, “Honey, I’m thinking about getting the word ‘Psycho’ over my right eyebrow but I’m torn between the proper font.  The guys at the firm are no help.  Edwardian Script or a simple Helvetica?”

There just seems to be a direct correlation between face ink and your odds of ending up as a contestant on Guess the Charge.  Profiling?  Perhaps.

At the end of the day – it all boils down to poor decision making.

I’ve yet to see an attorney or a practicing physician with “By Whatever Means Necessary” printed in bold black ink on their neck.

Mine don’t, anyway.

As a result, when I cross one of these “facial art” types on the street – I tend to give them a wide berth.  It’s a safe bet they have impulse control issues – and I have enough friends, so. . .

Poor decisions.  Go figure.

Speaking of impulse control, those drunken sailors over at the Volusia County Council seem to have found yet another pet project.

Yep, another big money give-away from our seemingly bottomless corporate welfare fund.

Is there any “successful” large-scale corporate entity in Volusia County that can stand on its own two feet without access to the public trough?

I mean, it almost seems like government handouts and tax incentives have become part of the modern corporate funding scheme of any multi-million-dollar company.

You want to expand, renovate or develop?  Go ask government for some free tax dollars under the guise that it’s economic development – an “investment in the future.”

That gets them every time.

As everyone knows, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the international leader in aerospace education and research, and we’re lucky to have them in our backyard.  It’s a private university – governed by a Board of Trustees that just happens to be chaired by our own mega-millionaire, uber-powerbroker, incredibly wealthy developer and ERAU alumnus Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini.

You know, the same Mori Hosseini that shovels money into the campaign accounts of hand-selected candidates for local elective office like coal into a runaway locomotive.

Under Mori’s leadership – which is being openly (and courageously) challenged by nearly every former student government president and graduate for the past 20-years – the university has approached Volusia County with a request for package which includes $1.5 million in public funds, the opportunity to purchase county-owned land near the campus at half-price, and other financial incentives, to include reduced lease rates and consideration on future “grants.”

Naturally, our elected “representatives” on the county council are fawning all over it.

Whenever Mr. Hosseini or another member of the local donor class ask for something, certain council members begin instinctively and reverentially prostrating themselves before the High Panjandrums and start coughing up cash like a dyspeptic dog.

You can tell the deal is sealed when council members start using terms like “transformative” and “visionary” to describe the project.

Embarrassing, really.

“We’re tired of minimum wage jobs in Volusia County!”  Is the rallying cry – jobs, always jobs.

In recent years, the Volusia County Council has literally gifted millions in tax breaks, incentives, subsidies, infrastructure, and outright cash giveaways to privileged and profitable corporate entities.  Now, we’ve been assured by ERAU officials that this investment will result in a $1.8 billion “value” in economic development opportunities, to include – you guessed it –  jobs.

Want to place a bet on how much of that “value” you and I actually see?

According to Mr. Hossieni, ERAU is “going to the next level.”

Well, go.

Just don’t ask the already overburdened Volusia County taxpayer to fund your trip.

I have no doubt Mori could fund the requested $1.5 million from the loose change in his couch cushions.  Let’s face it, to his credit, Mr. Hossieni has been incredibly successful – and he’s going to put his name on it anyway.

I guess my question is: Why does the County of Volusia have to act as a high risk hedge fund?

What happened to the days when private colleges and universities – or large corporations, for that matter – paid their own way, raising funds from alumni, endowments and other private sources to finance campus expansions and development?

Embry-Riddle is actively building a $32 million research park called “The John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex” which hopes to bring together “venture capitalists, scientists, students, faculty and engineers” for research and development projects.

Who knew the venture capitalists would be you and I?

When (not “if”) the funding request is approved by the Volusia County Council the money will move around like some weird Three-Card Monte hustle.

The $1.5 million will come out of the tentative $4 million economic development budget, while the $400,000 from the discount land sale will go back in, and approximately $18 million of the $32 million used to build the “Micaplex” originates from state funds, and keep your eye on the money card, folks, just follow the Queen of Hearts and you win big. . .

And if Mr. Mica’s name is on the building, you can bet your bippy there are some massive federal dollars in the mix as well.

According to the News-Journal’s report, “The $1.5 million ERAU is seeking from the county would be used to assist companies using the research park who need additional startup funds. Businesses would be required to stay and grow in Volusia County.”

No word yet on what happens when the companies we finance go tits up. . .

Well, at least we can take comfort in knowing that any company receiving subsidies will be required to “stay and grow” in Volusia County.  You know, the place where any business other than a Bubba’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que franchise has about a six-month life expectancy. . .

But, hey, Mori says it’s another “crown jewel” for the community – and that’s all ye know or all ye need to know.

According to Councilwoman Joyce Cusack, “This is a part of a journey we must take to ensure our children’s dreams become a reality.”

Meanwhile, back at Barker’s Sideshow of Ugly Realities, we can no longer afford to repair our roads or rebuild crumbling infrastructure, our drinking water supply is stressed to the max, our schools are struggling, we’re charging people to access the beach, stealing ECHO funds for parking lots, have yet to develop a comprehensive plan to assist our homeless population and the council just voted to approve – unanimously and without discussion – a 1.8% tax increase on a county budget that has swelled to almost $850 million dollars.

Apparently we can’t afford core government services, but we can finance every “visionary” plan that the donor class believes would be “transformative.”

“Mark, you’re just a curmudgeonly asshole.”

“Clearly you’re not helping to make our children’s dreams a reality!  You’re just being the turd in Mr. Hossieni’s very expensive crystal punch bowl.  Why are you shitting on our CHILDREN’S DREAMS!?” 

To the contrary.

What I’m saying is that if we keep spending at current rates, our “children’s dreams” are going to be limited to what the over-taxed and underpaid little urchins can scrounge while they struggle to pay for the sins of their parents.

How far do you think a local plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, lawn service or other small business owner would get if he or she had the chutzpah to stand in front of the county council and asked for public funds to expand their service area, hire an employee or two, abate their taxes or renovate their facilities?

They would be booted out of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building on their ass to the hoots, hollers and laughter of the elected and appointed officials inside.

Frankly, it’s time the County of Volusia and the City of Daytona Beach got out of the speculative finance game and back to the business of providing their constituents with some competent core services at a price we can afford.

What a novel idea?

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of Forbes-listed billionaires begging for additional tax breaks, incentives and corporate handouts while the City of Daytona Beach is actively preparing to throw homeless people out of government subsidized motel rooms.

Just rubs me wrong.

You may remember that I’m the obstructionist shithead who thought warehousing the homeless using tax dollars might be bad public policy in the long-term.  But when you’ve committed yourself to helping and have already placed people in housing you follow through, dammit.

Why?  Because it’s the moral and ethical thing to do.  That’s why.

You don’t go to the Humane Society and agree to shelter a dog, then throw him out on the street without cover or food when it becomes financially inconvenient.

You shouldn’t do that with people either.

I’m sick and tired of hearing how spending more of our tax dollars on the latest shiny whim of the rich and powerful is going to solve our myriad social and economic issues.

Bullshit.  The examples are long and distinguished.

According to a 2013 piece in the News-Journal, from the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, “the city and county dished out more than $35 million in community redevelopment money — $50 million-plus in inflation-adjusted dollars — to help build and expand what is now the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort and the Ocean Walk retail, time-share and condo-hotel complex.”

Remember how we were force fed the same “less blight, more jobs” line when it came time to throw money – over $30 million dollars of it, as I recall – for development of the “E Zone”?

It was the same argument they used when our local “movers and shakers” stood in front of their hired handmaidens on the county council and “encouraged” economic incentives, subsidies, and more beach driving closures for the Westin and Hard Rock projects.

You remember – those high-end luxury motels that were billed as the panacea for everything that ails us here on the “Fun Coast”?

Well, I do.

(Quick question: Is the “Westin” being renovated by two guys on the weekends?)

Look, I’m sorry to be the fly in the ointment – but I just never see the outstanding return on investment that our High Potentates of Progress always promise.

I could be wrong.

Please don’t take my word for it.

Take a drive around the ‘World’s Most Famous Beach.”

Enjoy a quick tour of East International Speedway Boulevard, Main Street, or the immediate area surrounding the Boardwalk.  Stroll the neighborhoods in Mid-Town, and count the empty strip centers and vacant lots on the beachside, take in a show at the Ocean Center – wait, never mind that one (is the place still open?  I haven’t been to a concert there since Milli Vanilli broke up. . .)

My point is, where is the blight reduction and gentrification they promised?

Where are the jobs they promised our kids?

Hell, where are the “high paying” jobs they promised us?

Don’t get me wrong, there are bright spots – mostly private property owners that have had enough and invested their own money and sweat equity into cleaning up older homes and long neglected properties – but for the most part, nothing has changed.

Now, the cycle is beginning again.  In my view, good money after bad.

Word to the wise – If you do go to the beachside to have a look – do yourself a favor:  Don’t go after dark.

And don’t forget to vote.

Have a great weekend, kids!

 

One thought on “Volusia Politics: With age comes wisdom

  1. How did we get to pay to play corruption, the Fed Reserve dual mandate – Maximum employment, stable prices. How did we go from limited government to Leviathan. the New Deal decisions, to put it plainly, stripped the Constitution of most of its structural and substantive restraints on government and is corroding away our most basic human rights.

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