Volusia Politics: The Loose Goose

My grandfather was a wise old sage.

He was born in “Bloody Harlan” County, Kentucky, at a dark place called Cranks Creek, near the confluence of Martin’s Fork to be exact, not long after the turn of the last century.

His grandfather, George Washington “Wash” Smith, was forced to move the family across the Cumberland into Lee County, Virginia, following a bitter feud with the Cawood clan – a deadly quarrel that began as a festering dispute over local partisan politics related to the infamous Turner-Howard Feud.

The Smiths were Republicans – the Cawoods, Democrats.  And they were all crazy.

It all started when a long removed uncle of mine, Noble Smith, shot and killed his 22-year old brother-in-law, Charlie Cawood, in a general store where whiskey was sold and drunk over a plank counter.

It seems Charlie Cawood, a man with a bad disposition who hated the GOP, was drinking heavily when he reached down, grabbed his young son, and stood him up on the bar.  He made the boy dance like a rooster – flapping his arms and stomping about – then encouraged the child openly denounce the Republican Party.

Everyone laughed.  Except my Uncle Noble.

Words were exchanged and Noble ordered Charlie to leave the bar and not return.  Local historians say that, although Charlie left, he returned a few minutes later having armed himself.

That’s when my uncle picked up his 1873 Winchester and killed ol’ Charlie in the doorway.

Noble didn’t say a word – just raised his rifle and fired – then collected his orphaned nephew and went home.

Due, in part, to the politics of the day, Noble was acquitted of murder following a trial at London, Kentucky.   The newspaper reported the following:

 “When we went to press last week the case of Noble Smith for the murder of Charlie Cawood, in Harlan County, was on trial. Nine speeches were made in the case for the Commonwealth and five for the defense. Friday the Jury came in with a verdict of acquittal, and Smith was discharged from custody.”

Unfortunately, the outcome didn’t help and the bad blood thickened.  Ultimately, Uncle Noble took his family and moved west to Washington State where they prospered in logging and timber.

The rest of the Smith kinfolk moved deep into Lee County where they established a farm and homestead in the White Shoals area of the Powell River Valley near present day Rose Hill.

The family farm was located on bottomland at the end of a very rough wagon trail, not a road really, constructed primarily of smooth grey flat river rocks.  The rutted path wound through the woods past the entrance to a system of karsts and caverns which were used to hide troops and cattle during the Civil War.

By design, the land they settled was so inaccessible, so hidden away, that if it had not been for the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority, I’m not sure my people would have ever been found.  I’m convinced that World Wars could have been fought, depressions and recessions could come and go, and my great grandparents would never have known until they brought their burley tobacco to market and overheard the news from other farmers.

I have a small, well-worn leather pouch that belonged to my great grandfather, Creed Smith.

Inside is a silver, quarter-sized dried fish scale – perhaps a good luck piece – a few coins, and a paper ledger. The old man and his mule would plow neighboring fields and he would record the cash transactions in the journal.

He always charged more for the mule than for himself.

Eventually, my grandparents packed up their young daughter and hauled her out of an old wooden cabin in the Virginia backwoods for jobs building the great hydroelectric dams at Norris and Fontana.

When my grandmother got tired of traveling with the TVA, they ultimately settled in Kingsport, Tennessee, where I was born and spent a great deal of time in the company of my grandfather.

Both of my maternal grandparents had a unique way with the language, and I learned a lot about life from their humorous homespun euphemisms.  They were from a different time and place and it showed.

In fact, when my grandmother – who was one of the funniest women I have ever known – would write a letter, she used the old English “ye” rather than “you” in her correspondence.  She never quite learned to pronounce the word “pizza” – and always answered the telephone with a drawn out, “Aw-right?”

When I would try and good-naturedly correct her, she would say, “Honey, hush.”

My “Granny” talked constantly, told funny stories with a flourish, and found humor in just about every situation.  In the late afternoon, we would often sit in a long wooden swing on her front porch while she shelled peas or stringed beans, giggling and talking as her arthritic fingers worked her “mess of beans.”

I can honestly say, I haven’t laughed quite as hard at anything since she passed – a wonderful spirit.

On the other hand, my grandfather was a very quiet man, although with a great sense of humor, who taught me valuable lessons with his old-timey mannerisms, ways and sayings.

For instance, he would always give me his spare change which I carried around in a little hand-me-down squeeze purse he gave me.  Whenever I would build up a nest egg, granddaddy would carry me downtown to a small newsstand on Broad Street where I would buy a “poke full” of candy – a box of popcorn that erupted all golden, hissing and popping, from an ancient, oily machine that filled the entire street with that wonderful salty/buttery aroma – and a short bottle of cold “Co-cola” for far less than a dollar.

The wonderful singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith once described the smell of a Woolworth store like, “popcorn and chewing gum rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe.”

That’s what Wallace News smelled like.

While I thumbed through the magazines and perused the candy rack, my granddad would sometimes play the machines at the back of the store.  Later in life I realized that those “pinball” machines were probably more than just a time-and-dime waster.


On occasion, when I was really flush, I would pick out an additional comic book or two – maybe drop a nickel in the slot and take another ride on “Champion” the buckskin mechanical pony (with a real leather saddle) that went up-and-down and back-and-forth on the sidewalk just outside.

My grandfather would look down at me and warn, in that thick southwestern Virginia drawl, “Son, you’re going through your money like shit through a goose.”

Naturally, when I got back to the house I would burst through the back screen door and repeat my new found aphorism to my grandmother.  In turn, she would act shocked and admonish that I, “Ought not talk ugly,” threatening that if I did she would have to “cut me a switch.”

She never did – and it was always obvious from his mischievous smile that my grandfather was secretly proud of the fact that he had added to my growing vocabulary in such a meaningful way.

I was thinking about my salty primary education the other day while reading the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s coverage of the Volusia County Council “making good” on their promise to give the International Speedway Corporation a down payment of $12 million in public funds on a total commitment of some $20 million for the One Daytona complex.

That’s $5 million cash – we’re going to borrow the rest.

The more I read, the angrier I got – and the good Lord knows my grandmother would not have been happy with the “ugly talk” that filled the room.

Our own county chair – and forth stooge – Jason Davis, was quoted as saying, “You go by today and tomorrow it’s changed.”

Yep.  That’s the way those government-funded construction projects seem to go, Jason.

See, Auntie Lesa tells you how much of our money she needs, then those guys with the big Tonka trucks build things that benefit her family.

Now, put your cowboy hat on and let’s go get ice cream.


In other news, last month the County Council agreed unanimously to continue its $250,000 membership with Team Volusia, and signed off on budgets totaling some $13.4 million for the county’s three – count’em – tourism advertising agencies.

Did I mention the $1.5 million we handed to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University?

We’re told it’s to bailout struggling startups who find themselves short on cash at the university’s new “research park” – which is, apparently, another name for a place where folks gamble on their unproven ideas with your money.

Also, County Manager Jim Dinneen recommended approving the sale of public property valued at $800,000 to ERAU for the obscene half-price of $400,000.

Just gave it away to their friends at the Harvard of the Sky.

Oh, don’t let me forget, county officials are all set to vote on their proposed $849 million budget – that’s right, EIGHT-HUNDRED-FORTY-NINE-MILLION DOLLARS – which, naturally, includes a tax increase.

Not to mention the Volusia County School Board who just adopted an $852 million operating budget.  Like board member Linda Cuthbert said, “That’s a lot of money!”

Thanks for your insight and elucidation, Linda.

(Does someone help these people with their communications – or do they just blurt out the painfully obvious like victims of delayed echolalia or a child learning to talk?)

Not to fear, County Manager Jim Dinneen has a “plan” – it’s called Little Jimmy’s “Go to Zero by 2018.”

I’m not sure if Dinneen means he wants zero debt by 2018 – or he plans to spend every last dollar until all accounts hit zero?

“It’s about cost control because we can get out of shape really quick and really fast,” Dinneen told the News-Journal’s editorial board.  “It has to do with fiscal discipline.”

(Sorry.  I just snorted coffee through my nose and threw-up in my mouth a little.)

Let’s talk more about “Go to Zero” later, shall we?

After reading of Mr. Dinneen and our elected officials weird idea of “fiscal discipline,” I was once again reminded of my grandfather’s prescient warning – we truly are going through money like shit through a goose – and I don’t think that poor, diarrheal bird’s bowels are going to tighten up anytime soon.






Volusia Politics: Are Boss Hosseini and ERAU at a crossroads?

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men…”

 John Adams, 1776

As a casual observer of regional politics and governance, what I enjoy most is determining how seemingly disconnected people, events, and issues come together to form the whole.

Deciphering the interesting personal and professional relationships of the players – and the money.

In many ways it’s like working an intricate jigsaw puzzle, except you keep the jagged pieces floating around in your head, then use those random parts to solve a three-dimensional brainteaser.

Initially, you may have more theories and speculation than hard answers, then, suddenly, another fragment will come into play and the whole dynamic changes.

It’s like Hercule Poirot contemplating a whodunit.  Except, I’m not as smart as Inspector Poirot – I still have to ask myself the difficult questions. . .

By any measure, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini has mastered the art of controlling his environment.

In fact, one might say that Mr. Hosseini is the Political Picasso of this time and place – the King of the Realm – someone who casts a very wide (and some say, dark) shadow over national, state and local affairs.

For many years, residents of Volusia County have quietly accepted the fact that we are governed not by a representative democracy in Deland, but rather a “Benevolent Dictatorship,” ruled by the big three plutocrats – Mr. Hosseini, Hyatt Brown and the France family.

We have watched as they bought and sold our elected officials like chattel, stood by as our elections were artificially manipulated by the infusion of unnaturally large sums of cash, and quietly worried as Mr. Hosseini used his vast wealth to purchase increasingly greater political influence; ultimately becoming the most powerful person in the State of Florida.

If you have political ambitions in Volusia County, wish to serve in elective office, or on a governing or advisory board in this state – even receive appointment to a judgeship – you will be required to prostrate yourself before the High Panjandrum of Political Power and ask for, well, his permission.

You see, unless you are anointed, your chances of participating in our “democratic” system of governance in any meaningful way is slim to none.

Mr. Hosseini is president and CEO of ICI Homes, one of the largest residential home builders in the United States.  An incredibly successful developer with diverse business interests.

In addition, he is an alumnus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, where he currently serves as the powerful chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees.

In April, a dozen current and former members of ERAU’s Student Government Association issued an open letter – accompanied by a petition containing some 1,500 signatures – questioning the motives behind Chairman Hosseini’s altruism, his “outsize influence,” and the “cronyism and conflicts of interest” engaged in by some sitting members of the board.

In summarizing their very real concerns, the former SGA members wrote:

“The board should not be the personal playground of those seeking buildings named after them.  Nor should it be a vehicle for trustees simply along for the ride, padding their bios with a board seat.  It should be an honor and a privilege that comes with great responsibility – and accountability.”

Understand, this took some chutzpah – the students and faculty have been nothing short of courageous.  After all, you don’t strike out at the king without damn good reason.

During this internal brouhaha, we also learned that between 2010 and 2012, ERAU paid more than $1.5 million to Hosseini-owned companies in lease payments for office space, utility costs, and aircraft charter services, “at fair value in the ordinary course of business.”


I guess the ERAU alumni were right – perhaps Mori’s motives weren’t so philanthropic after all.

Last week, in an insightful article by the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “ERAU presidential search draws faculty fire,” we learn that Mr. Hosseini’s reign is again being openly challenged for the second time in five months.

Now, professors and staff faculty members are showing their displeasure over the board’s heavy-handed process for selecting the university’s next president.  In fact, the faculty senate recently took the board to the woodshed – issuing an unprecedented vote of no confidence – the most powerful statement of disapproval available to faculty members.

We now have alumni, the student body and the faculty calling for a change in leadership and direction – talk about a crossroads moment with max pucker-factor for all involved.

Most colleges and universities use a system known as “shared governance” where faculty, administrators and the board work collaboratively and share in the decision-making process.  At ERAU, Mori operates by the only method he knows – he stacks the deck with board members so the outcome of the presidential search becomes a foregone conclusion.

Now, here’s where things get interesting – at least for me:

In early August, Mr. Hosseini and interim university president Karen Holbrook, came before the Volusia County Council and asked for (read: Ordered) $1.5 million in public funds, ostensibly to be used to assist companies using ERAU’s new research park who need additional startup funds.

According to the News-Journal’s report, “In addition to the $1.5 million requested from the county, ERAU board chairman Mori Hosseini and interim president Karen Holbrook asked to buy county-owned land located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Clyde Morris Boulevard and Bellevue Avenue. The land is valued at $800,000, but school officials offered half, or $400,000. The school district uses part of that land now and County Manager Jim Dinneen anticipates, if approved, it taking a few years before the sale is finalized.”

Little Jimmy Dinneen.  That dirty scumbag lies to us even when the truth would serve him better.

It seems Dinneen’s “a few years” turned into little more than one-month when an item recommending approval of the sale of the county-owned “B-1 Barn” property at Clyde Morris and Bellevue to ERAU suddenly appeared on the Volusia County Council’s September 22, 2016 agenda.

The recommended sale price: $400,000 – just what Boss Hosseini ordered.

Of course, the half-price, bargain basement sale of public property to a private concern (whose former president was making well over a million dollars annually) was unanimously approved by the county council.

Now, I’m just speculating here – not making accusations, mind you – just asking a question:

Didn’t we learn in April that Mori Hosseini took somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million dollars out of Embry-Riddle in the form of “office space, utilities and aircraft charter services” associated with university operations?

And isn’t that the exact amount – among other financial concessions – Mori asked for and received from Volusia County, ostensibly for incentives related to the ERAU research park?

So, when the music stops, the only one left without a chair is us – the taxpaying citizens of Volusia County.

Everyone is whole – except us?

Am I missing something?

Is it possible that this perverted Three-Card-Monte scam has become so prevalent and so lucrative that they don’t even try to hide it from us anymore?

As I’ve said before, the students and faculty of ERAU have something important to say, and in my view, they deserve to be heard.  They are living in a microcosm of what the rest of us deal with everyday.  The difference being, we pay for it in exorbitant fees and taxes – while the students fund it with their outrageous tuition.

I have a feeling this won’t end well – at least for those courageous faculty members and students who had the guts to point out the obvious.

And it won’t end well for the rest of us either.

So long as we continue to elect candidates who are bought and openly controlled by uber-wealthy political insiders, we will get what we deserve.



Volusia Politics: Ever feel like a mushroom?

They say the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For instance, historians tell us that during a scorching week way back in July 64 A.D., a huge fire ravaged Rome.  Some 70 percent of the city was gutted and over half the population was left homeless.

It was, by all accounts, a disaster of epic proportion.

Depending upon who you believe, Nero, the fifth Emperor of Rome – who’s reign was marked by lavish personal luxuries and tyrannical, self-centered, rule – either started the fire for his own sinister motives, or he was the hero who quickly organized fire control measures and humanitarian relief efforts to assist the thousands whose homes and businesses were destroyed.

Regardless, as with most of Roman history, this episode didn’t end well for Emperor Nero.

He became so unpopular and distrusted that a few years later he was declared an enemy of the state and committed suicide by thrusting a dagger through his own throat.

Because I have been psychologically programmed through near constant negative reinforcement, I instinctively distrust most politicians.  As a result, I tend to believe the popular fable that has Nero arrogantly entertaining himself by playing a fiddle (a “lyre” to be historically correct) while the conflagration consumed the city.

Yet, old Nero lives on in infamy – his entire time in power remembered for one colossal screw-up.

In fact, the tale has become so popular that the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns” has come to exemplify politicians who focus on trivial matters while neglecting significantly more serious threats.

Sound familiar?

I was reminded of this allegory last week while reading the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s interesting article, “Mushroom Motorhomes?  Volusia chair pushes to loosen law against plugging in RVs.”   

In short, our own Mad Hatter, Volusia County Council Chairman Jason Davis, recently proposed that the full council make changes to the current ordinance prohibiting owners of recreational vehicles from connecting to water, sewer, or electricity – or generally using the vehicle for residential purposes – except in a designated RV park.


Well, because one improbable interpretation of the ordinance might adversely affect Mr. Davis.

Oh, and his brother.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – realizes that the intent of the ordinance is to prohibit your neighbor’s Uncle Eddie from parking his mint green 1972 Condor II in the driveway, dumping the “shitter” in the storm drain, and generally establishing homestead.

Besides, it’s a non-issue.  According to the News-Journal, at best, code enforcement fields about 20 complaints a year countywide – all for people living in motorhomes outside designated parks.

My point is – who gives a damn?

I write, ad nauseum, about the cancerous blight and dysfunction that threatens the vitality and progress of our core economic drivers; I bitch incessantly about critical issues, such as homelessness, crime, environmental debacles and unchecked spending, problems that are virtually ignored – or simply kicked down the road while the corrosive effects are allowed to fester – openly and publicly – for everyone to see and feel.

All while we wait for our elected officials to act.  To do something.  Anything.

We wait, dumbstruck, while ostensibly bright people look to the sky, waiting breathlessly for the next great silver bullet – that one real estate developer that will lead us out of this troubled place like a great visionary Pharaoh of Progress.

We wait, as our public infrastructure is left to crumble.

We wait, as our water supply dwindles, and more recharge areas are destroyed by development.

We wait, as our beach is pushed further and further out of reach – physically and financially – with exorbitant entrance fees for families and visitors in vehicles.

We wait, as our disastrous county manager, Jim Dinneen, lectures that we can no longer afford transportation infrastructure while he openly carts $300,000 in taxpayer dollars out of the county coffers each year in obscene compensation for his dedicated service to a few political insiders and influence peddlers.

We wait, while our county council literally gives away tens of millions in public funds to private special interests, as homeless people are physically pushed onto a vacant lot with two water spigots and a portable toilet.

We wait, while Mr. Davis has the audacity to waste precious time and resources modifying an RV ordinance so he and his brother can periodically vent their musty play toys. . .

I could go on – but I won’t.

Like me, you live it every day – I’m preaching to the choir.

After all, this isn’t the first time Mr. Davis has gone off the reservation.

Anyone remember his fateful trip to Washington for what the rest of the council thought was a simple request for transportation funds?

Instead, out-of-the-blue, he went to the Capitol and concocted his own kooky plan to have SunRail make a sharp right turn north of DeBary, then follow State Road 472 and across I-4 – where another station would be constructed – then along I-4 to the Volusia County Fairgrounds – where yet another station would be built – then northeast, across I-95, finally terminating at a third station at the Daytona Beach International Airport?

Hell, at the end of the day, he can’t even get a few miles of track to connect the City of Deland.

How about his ridiculous request that the full council vote to support his strange get-rich-quick scheme du jour which would have him and a friend clean-up the Mosquito Lagoon with something he called, “Reef Balls”?

Oh, there was that time he submitted “suggestions” to the Charter Review Committee which would not only permit the county chair to submit tie-breaking votes in private – but would also provide Mr. Davis with a 67% percent pay raise, bringing his annual salary to some $85,000.00.

Remember?  Anyone?

Well, I do.

One might think that in the waning moments of his ill-fated reign, Mr. Davis might at least attempt to leave things slightly better than he found them – to make some effort in the public interest.

You know, the whole “legacy” thing?

Something other than being forever remembered as a double-crossing, ineffectual cartoon character in a goofy bush hat and ill-fitting suit who presided over perhaps the most embarrassing chapter in Volusia County history.

Please don’t think for one minute that the heir apparent, Ed Kelley, is any better.

He’s worse – by a long shot.

If you don’t believe that Ed Kelley will use the full might and treasure of government to serve his own interests – and those of his friends – look no further than his rule in the City of Ormond Beach.

The difference is – Jason Davis is congenitally stupid.

Ed Kelley is something else altogether.

He’s a mean-spirited perennial politician who is wholly bought and paid for by the same wealthy insiders that have controlled this county like a private fiefdom for years.

Stupidity you can educate – unchecked ambition and political aggression is something completely different.

Be aware of that when making your own Sophie’s Choice this November.

How does Chairman Davis’ effort to change the RV ordinance benefit you and I?

It doesn’t.

What it does is underscore the fact that the County of Volusia continues to treat it’s constituents like mushrooms:

They keep us in the dark and feed us bullshit.


Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal



The Debacle in DeBary: Damn Outside Agitators. . .

Government, in its purest form, provides for and protects the welfare of its electorate – not the self-interests of its practitioners.

An institution where representatives are elected to high office by their fellow citizens to exercise legitimate authority and provide effective leadership in furtherance of the community’s collective needs.

Quality government is marked by oversight, accountability, collaboration, an institutional respect for the rules, and efficient stewardship of its resources.  It ensures that political and economic goals are based upon consensus – which requires that all views be heard and weighed equally during the decision making process.

Most of all, good government requires strict adherence to the basic doctrines and democratic principles that form the very foundation of our Constitutional Republic.

In recent weeks I have been criticized by a few unfortunate residents of the City of DeBary for speaking out on the myriad problems facing the community – a small minority who still believe that a good old fashioned coup d’etat is still the best means of manipulating political change.

“Don’t listen to him!  He doesn’t live here!”

Your right, I don’t.

But when did living in the city limits of DeBary become a prerequisite for having an opinion on the ghastly form of governance the elected and appointed officials have foisted on the people there?

I’ve never lived in Mogadishu, but I understand the macro effect of how what happens in Somalia can have a direct impact our lives and livelihoods here in the United States.

Public corruption, transparency, respect for the rule of law and basic accountability to those who are affected by the actions of the elected body directly relate to the stability of the community, the region, and beyond.

I equate DeBary and the other municipalities in Volusia County to a group of people sitting quietly in a restaurant while one guest at the table acts out inappropriately, screaming and fighting like a recalcitrant child, throwing food, pocketing silverware and generally being sloppy.

It’s beyond embarrassing because it paints the entire dinner party in an unfavorable light.

On a good day, the DeBary city council operates like some weird third world junta – relying almost exclusively on a poorly constructed and extremely malleable “city charter” that is interpreted as the group of four sees fit by what passes for a “city attorney.”

If you don’t like what the duly elected Mayor has to say – or the manner or means by which he said it – just conjure up some dubious “charter violations” – lend legitimacy by hiring yet another attorney to prosecute a bizarre “forfeiture hearing” – then launch the people’s choice into the political stratosphere like a Saturn 5.

Damn the Florida statutes governing the recall of elected officials.

Damn the basic constitutional protections of free speech and governance of the people, by the people, and for the people.

In DeBary – four misguided council members and a greed-crazed lawyer control everything.  The “charter” is all they recognize.

For all these reasons and more, I was not the least bit surprised when I read in the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the City of DeBary and their preternaturally stupid former city manager, Dan Parrott, was being sued in federal court yet again.

This time by the former City Clerk, Stacy Tebo.

According to her suit, which was filed last week, Tebo was summarily demoted and then fired after she dared to complain of gender discrimination against female municipal employees.

This lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar federal discrimination action filed by former Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett.

In March 2015, both Tebo and Blissett filed gender bias complaints with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that Parrott implemented a compensation plan that gave the city’s male employees a 12.54% pay raise, while female employees received a 2.13% increase.

Of course, Parrott has denied the claim, telling anyone who will listen that he was merely following a “consultant’s study” that showed male maintenance workers were underpaid – while female administrative employees were not.

How convenient.  How disproportionate, but convenient.

If nothing else, this ugly exercise has exposed the extent to which the use of “consultants” has contributed to the breakdown in our representative form of government.

Elected and appointed officials at all levels of government routinely employ these overpaid pseudo-experts – usually has-been’s with pliable opinions – who serve as the middleman on every decision from employee pay to massive transit oriented developments.


Because these whiz-bang “authorities” on all things government come with their own asbestos suits – tailor-made to fade the political heat when things go sideways.  Period.

You see, they haven’t been elected or appointed to anything.

Now, I don’t want to paint the entire industry as racketeering charlatans.  Hell, I have close friends who bill themselves as consultants and do a great job of facilitating progress in their respective fields of expertise.  But I suspect even they are vaguely amused at how easy it is to wring green dollars out of the public teat.

Look, how long do you think it would take for the average human resources director to research a regional compensation and benefits analysis and present an accurate in-house report to the decision makers?

You can do a reasonable job just by reviewing readily available open source information or even through a brief phone call to local personnel directors.

Trust me, I know.  I’ve produced highly touted governmental “studies” before lunch, doing little more than cut-and-paste.

But hardened mercenaries like Dan Parrott – administrators who have survived internecine political wars and have the scars to prove it – know the first rule of government service: CYA – Cover Your Ass.

So, they take the cowardly – but extremely safe – route of hiring an outside consultant to “look at the issue.”  Doesn’t really matter what it is – and after all – it’s not their money.

Unfortunately, most of these highly paid “advisers” know which side their bread is buttered on from the moment the contract is awarded – and their initial discussions with the city manager generally tells them all they need to know about the preferred tone, tenor and “direction” that their final recommendations should take.

Let’s face it, in a crowded field, most consultancies understand that independent thinkers are rarely asked back.  They serve, by-and-large, as a rubber stamp – a guy from out-of-town with a briefcase – and they play an incredibly useful purpose to risk-adverse government officials.

Interestingly, I just read where the City of DeBary has hired yet another Winter Park-based consulting firm – Associated Consulting International – ostensibly to tell the city council what types of businesses should be placed around the SunRail depot.

That’s right – $18,000.00 in taxpayer funds to tell us what the city’s highly paid Transient Oriented Development Marketing Director, Roger “Low Profile” Van Auker, should – at the very least – already know.

I mean, Parrott hired him for his institutional knowledge and incredible expertise, right?


Now, you might remember that in 2015, the DeBary City Council appropriated in excess of $75,000.00 in public funds for an extensive market-based Transit Oriented Development Master Plan which was researched and completed by the mega-planning consultant, Littlejohn.

As I recall, one of the key elements of this incredibly expensive report – which Interim Mayor Lita Handy-Peters now pathetically refers to as the “pretty picture book” – was a market analysis which spelled out in very specific terms the types of businesses one would want in the TOD:

“Demand from residential development within the TOD Core area for neighborhood-oriented retail will attract convenience stores in a village center setting. When a critical mass of development is reached, community-oriented retail will materialize, such as a drug store, grocery, dry cleaners, barber shop, fast casual restaurants, and a bank. Office developments are unlikely to occur in the TOD areas due to the station’s undeveloped, rural setting and distance away from major employment and retail centers. Small-scale office space catering to real estate offices, banks, outpatient and dentist clinics, and other supporting services are more appropriate to establish in the TOD Core area.”

 Now they want to spend an additional $18,000.00?

To tell them what?  The difference between a Domino’s and a Papa Johns?

According the West Volusia Beacon, DeBary’s own Secret Squirrel, Roger Van Auker, is already drumming up some type of business or another in the TOD – even without the all-important ACi study in hand:

 “There is some activity in that TOD right now, but it is confidential right now,” Van Auker continued. “Things are happening, but they cannot be announced right now.”

 So, Rog – you need the eighteen grand feasibility study or you don’t?

I’m soooo confused. . .

I guess it just makes sense that when the chips are down, Dan Parrott instinctively falls behind the shield of yet another consultant’s report.

Dan can hide – but what this treacherous asshole can’t do is dodge his stupid and wholly inappropriate remarks about female employees in the workplace.

“Women don’t think clearly because they are too emotional.”

Speaking of DeBary City Hall, “There’s too much estrogen here.”

Mindboggling, really.

Don’t misunderstand – I knew Dan Parrott was a bungling, wholly incompetent little shitheel – I just didn’t realize what a misogynistic tyrant he was.  In fact, some of his more blatant missteps have caused smart people to question his very mental stability.  There really is no other rational explanation – other than greed, I suppose – the oldest motivator in the human experience.

I’m just spit-balling here, but what do you suppose the chances are that an ill-humored Schweinhund like Dan Parrott – a simpering bully who would demean the service and contribution of women in the workforce, then fire them out-of-hand when they dared to complain about it – would cobble together a few bogus charges against an elected mayor who was asking all the wrong questions?

Am I the only one who could imagine something like that happening?

I hope when these ladies are through with Dan in federal court that he walks like a eunuch the rest of his life.

To those few ostriches who still believe everything’s hunky-dory down in River City, the evidence is beginning to back-up like I-4 at rush-hour – and the putrid stench of political corruption and mean-spirited power mongering is getting too vile and pervasive to ignore.

Note to DeBary residents from the patently obvious file:

A few of your elected and appointed officials are positioning your community for a Grade A Prime screwing by their real estate development friends – while fattening up every law firm and consultancy in Winter Park in the process.  And as long as they can interpret your charter and land development codes any way they damn well want, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Trust me.  You don’t have to live in DeBary to see that.








Part II: Touring Florida’s “Forgotten Coast”

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” 

Lao Tzu

When taking a trip – even across town – I find it’s always better to be a traveler than a tourist.

There’s something about driving through new places – or even your own hometown – with a leniency of purpose that slows things down, lets you absorb the surroundings with all your senses and truly experience the essence of a place.

That’s not possible scurrying about on a tourist’s itinerary.  You can’t plan for it; you have to let it happen.

Florida’s Big Bend Scenic Highway takes you east from Apalachicola, over the causeway traversing East Bay, and into the small town of Eastpoint.  While crossing the bridge, we began to notice an increasing number of fluttering objects filling the air, small bodies darting and swooping wildly in the breeze.

We had unexpectedly encountered the early fall migration of the regal Monarch butterfly.

Each fall, thousands of Monarch’s begin their 3,000-mile flight from the United States to winter habitats in Mexico.  The area between St. Marks and Apalachicola is rich with swamp milkweed – apparently the only food source the butterflies will take during their long trip south.

The butterflies become increasingly more prevalent as we drive over the four-mile bridge to St. George Island on Highway 300, the only land-based connection between the mainland of Florida and the natural beauty of this incredible barrier island.

Once you arrive on-island, the first thing you notice is the St. George Lighthouse, complete with its small, weathered keeper’s house, positioned in a picturesque setting that welcomes you to the white dunes and soft sands of St. George.


The current lighthouse is the forth iteration of the structure, which was rebuilt after the original crumbled into the Gulf of Mexico due to the effects of constant beach erosion and a whipping by Hurricane Opal in 1995.

Like most lighthouses, St. George’s has a rich history – that’s part of why I’ve always been fascinated by them.  During the Civil War, the light was extinguished so as not to assist Union naval vessels during their blockade of the bay – and the light’s third order Fresnel lens was taken down and placed in the old oil house for safekeeping.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew carried away a large section of beach around Cape St. George and the Coast Guard deactivated the light as an active navigational beacon two-years later.

In 2004, the St. George Lighthouse Association, in cooperation with Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, salvaged bricks and other parts of the lighthouse from the water and opened the beautifully restored lighthouse to the public in 2008.

Today, the site houses a small museum and boutique gift shop in the keeper’s house.

If the beach is your idea of a vacation paradise, then St. George Island should be on your bucket list.

Some 28-miles long and one-mile across at its widest point, the island has a smattering of small beach-themed stores and restaurants (I’m happy to report that no chain stores were evident).

In addition, the island is home to the Dr. Julian G. Bruce State Park offering primitive camping, hiking trails and a variety of “eco-tourism.”

One thing I noticed was the abundance of native dune vegetation, seagrasses and goldenrod, all growing naturally among the flood-stilted vacation rentals that are very prevalent along the island’s southern coast.

Nothing moves fast on St. George Island – including time.

Turning north onto the causeway headed back to the mainland we encountered a group of happy children all bunched together at a porch rail, passing the early afternoon waving wildly and laughing at passing motorists.

As we honked the horn and waved back, the kids screamed in delight, and I thought how that simple surprise so appropriately accented the open and friendly feel of St. George Island.

Continuing east on 98, we encounter the southern edge of Tate’s Hell State Forest, a uniquely named 200,000-acre monument to what happens when man attempts to manipulate nature for his own reward.

In the 1960’s, the ecology of the forest was substantially altered to dry the land for the production of timber and turpentine.  The unintended consequence was massive amounts of freshwater runoff containing phosphorus and nitrogen laden fertilizer into Apalachicola Bay – home to the sensitive oyster beds and abundant fisheries that have sustained the residents of this area since the Creek Indians called it home.

In an effort to protect the Bay’s natural resources, in 1994 the State of Florida began purchasing the majority of the property with Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program funds and continues to acquire additional land for restoration.

At the mouth of the scenic Carrabelle River we come to the small town of, well, Carrabelle.

As we pass a cool little public beach, complete with concrete cabanas, picnic facilities and restrooms, I happen to notice one of those “historical markers” that seem to pop up out of nowhere.

Fearing we may have inadvertently missed the World’s Second Largest Ball of Twine, we turned around and drove back to take a quick look just to satisfy our curiosity, and I’m glad we did.

Interestingly, during World War II the area around Carrabelle was the location of Camp Gordon Johnston – an amphibious training base where the heroes of the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division practiced for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Although the barracks and training facilities are gone, the waters and beachfront between Carrabelle and nearby Dog Island stand as a scenic monument to the brave soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division who spearheaded the landing on the bloody shores of Utah Beach.


After their successful landing, the men of the Ivy Division fought through the hedgerows of the Cotentin Peninsula on their way to taking the critically important port of Cherbourg, France.

I never knew this place existed.

Continuing to the easternmost part of Franklin County we turn onto the narrow access road leading out to Alligator Point.  This unique ecosystem is dotted with fresh and brackish ponds, slash pine flatwoods, sea oats and stands of cattails and other marsh grasses.

Driving through these pristine wetlands we begin to notice the first real impacts of Hurricane Hermine.

The shoulder of the two-lane roadway was littered with piles of decaying sea-grasses, and we saw the effects of saltwater intrusion on the abundant freshwater plants and succulents due to Hermine’s strong storm surge.

Apparently, the salinity of Alligator Harbor nearly mirrors that of the Gulf of Mexico, and the area is quickly becoming home to a vibrant clam harvest.  As we drive along commercial farming operations are evident in the shallow estuary between the sand spit and the mainland.

Turning west onto Alligator Point we get our first view of Hermine’s damage up close.

Along the coast road, wind-whipped water has completely eroded and undermined the asphalt, leaving large slabs of broken concrete and detached road surface scattered chock-a-block on the shoreline rendering the area completely impassible.


You can tell that it’s a hardy bunch out here, and I have no doubt they will quickly rebuild and restore the infrastructure.  In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Hermine, a resident of Alligator Point was quoted in the Panama City News-Herald as saying, “We have running water and beer.  We’ll survive.”

My kind of people.

Leaving Alligator Point, we took time to explore Bald Point State Park which encompasses over 4,000 unspoiled acres of upland pine scrub and oak thickets at the confluence of the Ochlocknee and Apalachee Bays.

The park is popular with bird watchers as bald eagles and other raptors call the area home.

Bald Point State Park

Now moving northeast along the Coastal Highway, we pass southeast of Sopchoppy through the tiny unincorporated villages of Panacea and Medart, across the dark waters of the Wakulla River, then right onto Lighthouse Road toward St. Marks.

Originally known as San Marcos de Apalache, the town was founded by the Spanish in the 17th century and is now home to just 272 people – a ton of boat slips – and two really cool bars.

Pulling into what passes for downtown, essentially where the road plays out, you have a choice of the Cooter Stew Bar and Grill or the aptly named Riverside Café.


At first blush, Cooter Stew’s “Cold Beer – Good Food” is extremely popular with the middle age biker crowd who cruise along the scenic byways of Wakulla County – most of whom can be seen wearing leathers and sporting their various colors, having beers, and passing a really good time at several wrought iron tables outside the establishment’s small porte-cochere.

Instead, we opt for the Riverside Café – a massive Seminole-style, palm-thatched “chickee” expertly constructed of cypress logs and intricately woven fronds.

Given the fact that the restaurant is located directly on the St. Marks River, and Hermine damage was evident all around with docks pushed onshore, wooden walkways uprooted, and boats sitting askew in the weeds – it was clear that this natural construction method weathered the storm better than any other structure on the river.


We stretched our legs and ambled inside the cavernous tiki bar, through the security check announcing that all patrons are subject to search (which told me things can get pretty hot on a Saturday night in St. Marks), and took a seat at one of two bars.

The friendly 20-something bartender was busy mixing a long line of tall, aqua-colored rum concoctions served in quart Mason jars, and directing good-natured jabs at the manager, who later told us it was a family operated business where arguing with your siblings is just one perk of working there.

We quickly downed a couple of cold beers and Marlboro’s – which was just what the doctor ordered following our morning’s travels.

For those who don’t know, my traveling companion and I have been best friends for 50-years now – and that’s a unique achievement given the transient nature of the Halifax area.  We grew-up together, joined the Army together on the old “buddy system,” and served in law enforcement in neighboring departments until our respective retirements.

Through the years and miles, we’ve become family.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for us to “fall off the wagon” at the most inopportune times, and more than once we’ve had to be rescued by our wives after leaving for a quick trip and ending up double-shitfaced at some obscure bar miles from our intended destination.

The stories are legendary.

It was clear we were rapidly slipping past the point-of-no-return when we contemplated shots of George Dickel whiskey as a natural complement to another round of beers.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and we begrudgingly ended our party before it really got started – leaving St. Marks in the same slightly disheveled, but infinitely welcoming condition that we found it.


Next – Part III:  Exploring Steinhatchee via the Fish Creek Road, then on toward home.



Florida Politics: Ensuring Silence

There’s an old joke, “I used to be a people person, but people ruined that for me.”

That about sums up my outlook these days.

It seems that every news cycle brings a new political fiasco that reinforces the notion that those we have elected and appointed to represent our collective interests are really only interested in benefiting themselves or the uber-wealthy cabal of influential insiders.

Whether you follow the constant ebb-and-flow of politics or not, eventually, even the most disconnected citizen begins to feel the consequence of government corruption, ineptitude and insider influence in their daily lives.

Even if they don’t immediately recognize the forces at play, they instinctively sense that they – and their tax dollars – are being used to grease the cogs on a much larger wheel.

I read with interest the Daytona Beach News-Journals recent editorial, “Fine line between watch dogs, attack dogs,” regarding the Florida Commission on Ethics decision to ask a judge to decide whether Flagler County should be allowed to recoup legal fees and “costs” associated with ethics complaints filed against county officials.

While I agree that any regulatory system – especially one as complaint driven as the Florida Commission on Ethics – is subject to abuse; in my view, sincere reports of actual or suspected corruption far outweigh the malicious or petty misuse of the process.

During my career in law enforcement I was the subject of several baseless complaints, and I frequently fielded frivolous allegations against my officers – usually esoteric grumbles citing “rude” conduct stemming from a traffic ticket, or more severe cases involving people seeking revenge for an official action taken by the officer.  It goes with the territory.

While I agree that we should take definitive action against those who abuse the system, I am just not sure that the imposition of Draconian judgments – awarding legal fees that are far in excess of the penalties often assessed to adjudicated wrongdoers – against whistle blowers who bring earnest suspicions to light is ultimately beneficial.

In Florida’s ethics system, there are numerous and quite specific checks-and-balances which ensure due process at every step, and permit a thorough vetting of accusations while protecting both the subject of the complaint and the integrity of the process.

The Commission on Ethics has a very detailed and statutorily dictated mission with a clearly defined assessment process.

When a complaint is received, it is reviewed for credibility and appropriateness under the law.

Most cases are dismissed at this level as either lacking sufficient legal merit under state ethics statutes, or identified as a malicious attempt to besmirch the character and reputation of a sitting official.

If the complaint is found to meet the rather high standards necessary to proceed, a thorough inquiry is conducted by the commission’s own independent investigators.

If the evidence collected during the investigation warrants, the full Commission holds a hearing to determine whether probable cause exists to proceed.  If so, the case is prepared and presented to an administrative law judge by an attorney serving as an “advocate” for the Ethics Commission.

During this hearing, the subject of the complaint has the right to present evidence and testimony in their defense, cross-examine witnesses and present legal arguments and challenges.

The process is very much like a non-jury trial.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge – serving as an independent adjudicator – makes a factual finding and comes to a legal conclusion based upon the totality of the evidence.  That ruling is then sent to the full commission for final action – which can be anything from complete dismissal of the charge to sanctions for sustained misconduct.

The process isn’t a fly-by-night kangaroo court where a citizen is allowed to throw dung against the wall until something sticks.  To the contrary – it is a strict, highly defined process that ensures fairness and incorporates due process at each step.

Clearly, Flagler County has had its share of ethically challenged politicians.

If anyone doubts the exhaustive process required to find an elected official guilty of statutorily defined ethics violations, look no further than the epic saga of Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, his predecessor Don Fleming, or the 2015 indictment of former Supervisor of Elections Kimberly Weeks on twelve felony counts.

In the case of Sheriff Manfre, following a two-year imbroglio, in July Governor Rick Scott finally signed an executive order reprimanding and censuring him for a series of blatant ethical lapses, to include misuse of a public agency credit card and accepting unreported gifts.

That’s rich.

At the end of the day, the Sheriff – while serving as the highest law enforcement official in Flagler County – received a scolding by perhaps the most corrupt governor since Louisiana’s Huey P. Long – along with a paltry $6,200 fine.

That’s funny.  It’s like the fox admonishing the coyote for raiding what’s left of the hen house.

According to the News-Journal, since November 2014, some 26 complaints have been filed against Flagler County officials with the Commission on Ethics – all by members of something called the “Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies” – and by Supervisor Weeks herself.  (Presumably before her arrest.)

Now, I don’t know the merits or the impetus of these complaints, but apparently all but three of them were dismissed by the Ethics Commission, and that clear abuse of the system deserves a second look.

However, one of those allegations – filed against Flagler County Commissioner Barbara Revels – was thoroughly investigated and proven to have merit.

In fact, the Commission on Ethics ultimately found that Mrs. Revels voted without first disclosing a very real conflict of interest when Flagler County purchased the old Memorial Hospital in Bunnell for $1.23 million in the summer of 2013.

It appears that Barbara had a personal financial relationship with Palm Coast Intracoastal Bank, one of three owners of the hospital property – and I don’t mean a Christmas club account, either.

In fact, the investigation found that the bank had increased Revels’ line of credit just before her vote.

The report of the investigation reads like a good, old fashioned Florida mystery novel.

Ultimately, Revels was found to have violated Florida law, and for her trouble, she was fined a measly $2,500 – again, no more than an inconvenience – just the cost of doing business in Flagler County.

In a 2015 study by the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, Florida was identified as one of the most corrupt states in the union – as if we needed an Ivy League research project to confirm it.

The report found that the Sunshine State ranks in the “very common” category for both “illegal” and “legal” corruption.

According to the Safra Center, “Illegal” corruption is defined as “The private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.” 

Sound familiar?

“Legal” corruption is defined as, “The political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.”

Sound familiar?

According to Lawrence Lessig, the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard University and former director of the Safra Center, such dealings are but one aspect of the broader issue of institutional corruption, which sounds eerily similar to what we experience here:

“Institutional corruption is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including, to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness.” 

Hello, DeBary?  Are you listening?

How about voters in Volusia County?  Sound anything close to what you’re feeling?

Me too. . .

I think it’s clear that the State of Florida generally, and Volusia/Flagler Counties specifically, have a problem – one that won’t be solved by weakening the ability of citizens to refer their suspicions to the very organization charged by law with investigating and correcting public corruption.

In my view, Florida’s ethics statutes – and increasingly, our public records laws – are being viciously attacked and eroded by the very politicians who seek to benefit most.

Permitting prohibitive financial judgments for legal fees and subjective costs against citizens who file complaints – even those with merit that are not acted upon – will not only have a chilling effect on would-be whistle blowers, but it will add yet another layer of insulation to corrupt politicians who know citizens simply won’t risk their family’s financial future to hold them accountable.

National Affairs: Enough is Enough

I would like to thank Big John for hosting me on Gov Stuff Live yesterday – Volusia County’s premier public affairs forum.

It has been my pleasure to call Big a friend for nearly 30 years now, and I always enjoy his unique take on the topical issues and newsmakers of the day.  I also enjoyed speaking with a few regular readers of Barker’s View – thank you for taking the time to call.

While I normally try to stay local, I feel compelled to weigh in on a serious matter of growing national concern.

Like many of you, I have followed with interest – and now utter disgust – the building coast-to-coast shame of National Football League players following the lead of San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick by engaging in various “protests” during the playing of our national anthem before regular season games.

Look, I understand that the same First Amendment rights that allow me to spout-off ad nauseum about government and politics offer Mr. Kaepernick the same protections.  What I don’t understand is the blatant disrespect he, and a rising number of other multi-millionaire NFL players, have shown to the United States, our way of life, and those who have given their lives in defense of our communities and this great nation.

Naturally, President Obama quickly weighed in on the issue – from the G20 summit in China of all places – offering his automatic tacit approval of all things anti-police.

In my view, no one – and I mean no one – currently living and thriving under the cloak of freedom and security provided by the United States of America should openly and publicly denigrate our nations flag and national anthem.

I didn’t say they don’t have the right to – I said they shouldn’t do it.

Why?  Because it’s wrong.

Because young people adulate and emulate them as role models.

Do we have problems in this country?  Certainly.

Do we, as American citizens, have the inalienable right to protest issues of the day?  Absolutely.

But for millionaire prima donna athletes to use their celebrity and access to stage these orchestrated, insensitive, and highly inappropriate attacks on our flag and the law enforcement community during these extremely popular nationally televised sports-entertainment events is shameful and quite frankly – repulsive.

Especially on the 15th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  A day of service and remembrance – Patriots Day.

As a retired law enforcement officer am I bitter?  You bet your ass I am.

Damn angry, too.

If the owners, coaches and the league are either unwilling, or incapable, of effectively addressing this on-going and patently shameful slap in the face to the men and women currently serving in our armed forces, our veterans, and our law enforcement officers, then it is time for the fans to correct the problem externally.

After all, the NFL leadership has sent conflicting messages from the outset.

When the Cowboy’s organization sought to show unity with the Dallas Police Department following the tragic deaths of five officers in a July sniper attack by wearing simple “Arm-in-Arm” decals on their helmets, the club’s request was swiftly – almost immediately – denied by league officials.

Yet, players wearing socks depicting pigs in police uniform during practice, or those openly engaging in outrageous physical protests (sitting, kneeling, raising fists, etc.) during the playing of our national anthem, go completely and very noticeably unaddressed.

These failures of leadership fall squarely on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who clearly has the power to control this embarrassing chapter in our nation’s history under the terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the Player’s Association.

There are important reasons to keep politics out of sports.  Mr. Goodell and the owners know that.

Traditionally, football is something we can all unite around.

Regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status – we sit shoulder-to-shoulder in a neighborhood bar or in the comfort of our living room recliner – to cheer on our team, celebrate our city or regional pride, and forget about life for a while.

Are we reaching a point in this country where specific teams will now represent various points of view along the political spectrum?

“The police supporters of Dallas do battle with the San Francisco 49ers and Black Lives Matter tonight on Monday Night Football!”

What is professional sports becoming?

What are we becoming?

Frankly, there is little difference anymore between the NFL and the WWE – except everyone knows that pro wrestling is carefully orchestrated theater – while the domestic violence, rape, animal abuse and thuggery by certain NFL players is all too real.

I would like to share a personal request that I believe represents our collective best response to both the players involved and the National Football League:

While I respect the players right to political demonstration; we, the fans, also have a right to be heard.

In that spirit, I hereby refuse to watch or attend any NFL game, or to purchase any officially licensed merchandise, until this appalling practice of “protesting” during our national anthem is stopped.

It is time to boycott.

If the National Football League stands by its decision to prohibit police unity emblems – while openly supporting public demonstrations against law enforcement during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner – then the choice is clear.

At the end of the day, we are not Saints, Dolphins, Packers or Seahawks.  We are Americans.

While we may face difficult issues and entrenched political divide in this country, national pastimes like professional football should remain unsullied by self-aggrandizing personal protests and shameful demonstrations on the most popular and most watched stage in America.

Some things are infinitely more important than sports.

In my view, there is no place for this open contempt of our most hallowed national symbols by overpaid, ego-driven sports figures, and it is time we let the National Football League – and companies who advertise their goods and services with them – know that the fans are watching.

In more ways than one.






Volusia Politics: “A Dearth of Leadership”

In coming weeks, Floridian’s will begin to experience what passes for the “change of seasons” here in the sub-tropics – a gradual decrease in the oppressive heat and humidity of summer; cool mornings and warm days, a sharper angle to the evening sun – if you live here, you know what I mean.

Don’t haul out the sweaters just yet, we won’t need those until January – and if you’re looking for the splendor of fall color, well, that’s going to require the obligatory October pilgrimage to western North Carolina.

Like many things in Central Florida, the autumnal equinox is subtle but noticeable.

For good or for ill, what we will see quite vividly is a rapid rise in the tone and tenor of political campaigns at the local, state and national levels.  In a few short weeks, things will heat up to a fever pitch – the debates, endless soundbites, and more crazy rhetoric and speculation.

No substance, mind you.  Just smoke and mirrors.  All pap – no substance.

If you thought the primary season was weird, trust me –  you ain’t seen nothing yet, baby.

I have always considered myself to be the archetypal ‘every man’ – you know, that guy from the “reasonable man standard” who is often cited in tort and criminal law as a hypothetical person in normal society who exercises average care, skill, and judgment, and serves as a comparative standard for determining liability.

For instance, you might pick up a brick and bash your neighbor in the head because – despite repeated warnings – he insists on blasting a ramjet-powered leaf blower at dawn’s early light.

Well, when you’re clapped in irons and hauled before the court for grievously battering your fellow citizen, the judge will explain that a ‘reasonable man’ would have suffered the noise in silence – not stoned their neighbor like a Neanderthal – as he has you locked away for everyone’s safety.

People often say that the police are all that stand between our civilization and chaos – order and anarchy.

I disagree.

The police have become mere societal referees with their every call subject to video review in the booth.  Law enforcement is slowly being neutered and soon they will have no more effect or influence on the actual prevention of crime than they currently have curbing our collective propensity to exceed the speed limit when we’re late for work.

I still believe we have more sensible, law abiding and rational people in the social order than we have unreasonable kooks – although it seems my argument gets more flimsy each news cycle.

But for how much longer?  And what happens when the scale tips in the opposite direction?

And what will that do for our ‘reasonable man’ standard when the inmates actually take over the asylum, eh?

“Barker, these are dark and difficult questions that no one wants to be bothered with.  You’re disturbing people, dammit.  Get back to calling politicians funny names, okay?

Got it.  Let’s save those ominous ramblings for another day, shall we?

Look, the nut I’m trying to extract here is that, like the average guy, I don’t normally attend local political debates at the News-Journal Center.  You won’t find me at a goofy “hob nob” or any other political soirée where the local elite gather to see-and-be-seen, discuss the issues of the day, and rub elbows with candidates groveling for elective office.

It’s not like the candidates will actually flesh-out their unique vision and plan for changing our lives for the better, right?

So, like most of you, I just don’t bother with all that haughty political backslapping.

Besides, like most ‘reasonable men,’ I’m more of a complainer than a ‘doer.’

If you’re anything like me, you read the newspaper, watch what passes for mainstream “news,” and hit the mute button whenever any political advertisement comes on television.

Even in this vast void of hard knowledge, somehow we form opinions – even strong ones – on the issues that are important to us.  Then we naturally equate those needs to the one candidate who most closely represents our individual views and values.

Unfortunately, this information vacuum gets stronger the closer you get to local politics.

Even this far into the election cycle I still don’t know the individual candidates’ stance on many of the issues that are important to me.

I hear rumors.  I listen to smart people ruminate on what they think they know.

But the fact is – I’m clueless, and so are they.

For instance, can anyone tell me county chair candidate Ed Kelley’s actual strategy for correcting the myriad problems facing Volusia County?

Just one?

According to Ed’s campaign material, he will provide something called “leadership and unity” on issues such as “homelessness, transportation, environment and efficient spending.”

Great news!  But how?

I mean, you haven’t done it in any post you’ve held to date, right?

Nothing – and I mean nothing – about Ed’s past political history demonstrates that he has ever had an original thought in his life.  I think we can all agree – like him or not – Ed Kelley is not the most creative thinker to ever come down the political pike.

At best, Ed Kelley is just another homogeneous, perennial politician who, despite being in one elective office or the other for years, has done nothing to correct the economic, social and political problems that threaten more of the same for east Volusia.

He’s just changing seats.

But Ed has a pseudo-celebrity son who made it big in ‘Bro Country’ following what must have been some weird Faustian bargain with the Publicity Devil.

And for some voters – that’s all it takes.

I’m not even going to mention Ed’s opponent, current VCC Chairman Jason “The Mad Hatter” Davis.  He’s a cartoon character, really – a pathetic oddball that has presided over the most ineffectual council in perhaps the history of Volusia County – and that’s saying something.

How about Al Smith?  Or Heather Post, for that matter?

What do we truly know about their positions on beach driving, growth management, environmental issues, the use of ECHO funds for parking lots, or our current county council’s inability to be taken seriously by our SunRail “partners” or anyone else?

We’ve heard the anecdotes and gossipy chit-chat – but what do we actually know?

It’s clear that Al has an abysmal history when it comes to good decision making – he owes the citizens of Daytona Beach tens of thousands in back power bills after determining that ice skating would be a good fit for a beach community (or whatever the hell you call it.)

At some point, Smith ran his family’s chocolate factory – then, for some reason, he transformed into a giddy radio windbag and something called an “event promoter.”

His opponent’s past is even murkier.

Apparently Heather Post’s law enforcement career has more holes in it than a moldy slice of Swiss cheese.  I believe she was terminated by Sheriff Ben Johnson for gross misconduct – then mediated her job back – and later received a settlement or buyout, before quitting public service altogether to become a soi disant ‘entrepreneur’ with dubious resources.

Do we really want someone who is legally prohibited from working in Volusia County government sitting as an elected policymaker?

I’m just asking.

Frankly, I don’t know anything about her – or where she stands on the issues – and I bet most of you don’t either.

Mrs. Post claims to support reducing “redundancy in government and increased collaboration and communication.”

Oh, and she wants to improve our “general quality of life.”

That’s like saying, “I like ice cream.”

How?  What is your strategy?

How to you plan to accomplish these lofty goals from the loneliness of the District 4 County Council seat?

Hell, Doug Daniels actually knew what he was doing and he threw up his hands and ran jabbering for the hills.

Ah, screw it – it’s all so confusing.

My point is, this is what passes for potential ‘leadership’ in Volusia County – political retreads and a few unpolished newcomers with dubious backgrounds and even foggier stances on the important issues facing all of us.

Let’s face it – these political novices don’t have a clue.  They are outsiders looking in at government through a greasy, opaque glass and telling us what we want to hear, hoping we will give them the key to unlock the door.

As for Ed and Jason, we know what we’re getting with them – we’ve seen it all before.

Look, I think it’s high time we got some new blood on the Volusia County Council – but are Al Smith and Heather Post the answer?  I hope so – because they represent our only choice in District 4.

What does this mean for you and I?

It means business as usual – regardless of who we elect.

Does anyone still wonder why only one-in-four people bother to vote in Volusia County?

In recent days the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board seems to have awoken from their Rip Van Winkle act and come the collective realization that Daytona Beach – and to a much larger extent, Volusia County – suffers from a lack of identity and vision.

Welcome aboard.  Where have you been?

It appears that the News-Journal has finally taken off the black armband, dried up their tears grieving the untimely demise of the Hard Rock, and come to terms with the fact that there truly is no one at the helm of this drifting ship of fools.

In a recent editorial addressing the issue of homelessness – and more to the point, why our elected officials can’t seem to find a reasonable solution – the News-Journal wrote, “Volusia County has plenty of ideas on how to address homelessness.  What it lacks is a cohesive strategy, the result of a dearth of leadership.”

Bravo.  That one well-constructed sentence so eloquently explains all that is wrong is Volusia County – and not just as it relates to chronic homelessness.

Recently, News-Journal columnist Mark Lane wrote an outstanding essay touting the value of a strategic vision to transforming our community.

I agree.  The only thing that will ultimately bring positive and fundamental change to our quality of life in Volusia County is vision and leadership – strong, effective and focused leadership.

Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone on the local political horizon who remotely possesses those qualities.

Do you?




Volusia Politics: How long do we mourn the Hard Rock?

It’s all about perspective.

Regular readers of this forum know that I can be less than kind when calling out certain elected and appointed officials who seem incapable of either recognizing, or understanding, the depth of the entrenched issues facing us here on the Fun Coast.

Some see it as constructive criticism, others as a mean spirited cheap shot, but one thing is certain – nobody likes the bearer of bad news.

I’m frequently accused of being a maudlin naysayer – you know, the caviling whiner who never gets the fuzzy-wuzzies about anything.  The contrarian thinker with nothing good to say about the Turkish bazaar that passes for government in Volusia County.

Guilty as charged.

We live in troubled times, and as I’ve said before, someone has to stay on the outside.


In recent days there has been a whole lot of mawkish hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the untimely death of the Hard Rock project – a refulgent high rise condo/motel that we were told would have risen from the dunes like a magical, transformative panacea and suddenly cured all the evils that afflict us.

The media reports of the project’s demise were almost funereal.

Hell, I all but drew the curtains and draped the mirrors in black crepe.

The Toronto-based developer, Henry Wolfond, rode into town like a lion, full of big promises and big demands.  He was the latest Bodhisattva of the Beach – an enlightened, compassionate visionary who quickly won over the local mandarinate and convinced them that he held the answers – the magic bullet that would forever kill the economic wolf that has had us by the collective throat for far too long.

As always happens, Volusia’s influential insiders and their hand-selected politicians, worked valiantly to convince us – the ignorant, unwashed rabble who have been burned so many times by speculative developers that we smell like charred ham – that if we just acquiesce to the demands and allow the removal of yet more beach driving, the tradeoff would drag us up from this squalid ash heap and save us from ourselves.

When we, the people, wouldn’t relent and dutifully bend over to the demands of Bayshore Capitol – or accept the sycophantic toadying of our own ‘high panjandrums of progress’ as being in our best interest – they did what they wanted anyway.

To hell with what their constituents wanted or didn’t want.

By 6-1 vote, the Volusia County Council folded like a cheap beach chair to the ultimatums of the developer and enacted ordinances removing beach driving from the strands behind the fictitious “Westin” project and the magical cure-all that would be the Hard Rock.

At the time, our own J. Hyatt Brown was quoted as saying, “It is a positive step.  It is one that we will never regret, and it is a step that in the future we will look back and say, ‘Good job you all.’

Never say never, J. Hyatt.

In an interesting December 2010 article in the Toronto Star, business reporter Tony Wong noted that our prospective Canadian savior, Henry Wolfond, went cross-border shopping for real estate during the depth of the recession.

Like any good scavenger – or speculative developer – Wolfond took full advantage of a bad situation and began acquiring Florida oceanfront real estate for literally pennies on the dollar.

According to Wong:

“But even by Florida deal-making standards, the deep discount price on the beach front property he closed on in September was astonishing.  The buzz reached a fever pitch among real estate circles in Daytona Beach after some “Canadian guy” had apparently purchased 3.82 acres of prime land in Daytona Beach that sold for $23 million in 2006.  The cost?  $2.5 million, representing an astonishing 89-percent discount.  The original buyer had taken a $20.5 million haircut. . .”

 I just love that part – “even by Florida deal-making standards.”  Classic.  It proves that the whole world looks at these self-important politicians and “economic developers” like the obsequious dupes they are.

 At the time, Wolfond self-righteously commented that he had picked up the beachfront property in Daytona for not much more than a “very nice home in Thornhill” (a suburb of Toronto).

In addition, Wolfond’s well-capitalized real estate fund, “Fenix Opportunity” (by-the-by, Fenix is apparently Spanish for Phoenix – the mythical bird who rose from the ashes symbolizing renewal) was on a feeding frenzy in Florida, snapping up distressed properties like a chicken on a swarm of June bugs.

Wow.  It was all cotton candy clouds and big rock candy mountains for Henry and his partners.

Life was good.

Bargain basement prices on prime real estate and a political environment that proved our elected officials would sell their children’s souls for a buck meant the potential for huge profits.

I mean, it was the perfect scenario – and I’m not even talking about the gravy:  All of us unfortunate locals were in line for jobs cleaning hotel rooms, working in an industrial laundry or toting bags for the pretty people who would come and luxuriate on the Hard Rock’s exclusive private beach.

Man.  The world was spinning in greased grooves, just like Steinbeck said.

Then, on a recent late summer Sunday morning, we poured a cup of joe and opened the Daytona Beach News-Journal, only to be taken to the proverbial woodshed by our very own benevolent redeemer, Henry Wolfond.

Yep.  Seems it was our fault that he was forced to pull the plug on the ‘Hard Rock Daytona Beach’ – or, as he described it, “a catalyst for massive investment into the Daytona Beach beachside community.”

Many of us read the article twice and came away with the uneasy knowledge that – despite what Glenn Ritchey told us – Mr. Wolfond was no longer our friend.

According to Hank, “obstructionist” elements in the pro beach driving community crushed our little goose that shit the golden egg with “continuous and ongoing litigation” as part of a “strategic effort to prevent the certainty needed to allow the construction of this project.”

Following Mr. Wolfond’s weepy and condescending eulogy, the News-Journal expended rolls of newsprint ensuring that all involved with this much heralded, yet dead-on-arrival, theme hotel got an equal chance to point their finger and lecture us on what a bunch of poopy-heads we all are for “killing” the project with our sinister stratagem of “uncertainty and delay.”

It appears that Bayshore’s highly paid mouthpiece, Glenn Storch, took the loss personally.  He was last heard lamenting in mournful terms, “It is as if many folks want Daytona Beach to fail.”

My ass.

Note to Mr. Wolfond:  If you can’t find a way to turn a reasonable profit on 3.8 acres of prime beachfront property that you literally picked up at a $20.5 million discount – knowing full-well that we’ve driven on this beach for, oh, the past hundred years or so –  then you probably should have shown up at business school the day they taught, well, business.

Just maybe there is some shit we won’t eat.  Did you ever think of that?

Maybe there is a certain segment of the silent majority here on the “Fun Coast” that are sick and tired of being manhandled by government overreach.  Beleaguered taxpayers that have learned through near constant trial and error that, despite the glittery promises, speculative developers really don’t have our best interests at heart.

Listen, don’t lecture me – you greedy bastard – about how exercising our God-given, constitutionally protected right to petition our government for redress of grievances has negatively impacted your ability to fleece a bunch of hapless rubes into buying overpriced rock-n-roll themed condominiums.

Don’t presume to tell me that citizens seeking judicial review of their county councils “give till it hurts, then give some more” economic development strategy – a policy that is quickly stripping our local heritage – somehow gave your “investors” a case of the heebie-jeebies.

If Henry Wolfond – or any of these goddamn leeches that throw in with him – thought that they could make a dime off this place there would be nothing, and I mean nothing, that could stop them.

Every pirate in the world has sacked and looted this strip of sand for the past 500 years.  So if Henry thinks he can puff out his lower lip and make us feel bad, he’s sadly mistaken.

We’ve become grizzled veterans of these petty little storms created by people who make their living gambling with other people’s money – usually ours.

Hell, going broke in Daytona Beach is almost a rite of passage for speculative developers, land rapers, and greedheads.  Just ask Bray & Gillespie – or any of the poor saps still holding the paper on their big time promises.

Maybe ol’ Hank should have done his homework.

If you can’t turn a dollar on dirt-cheap beachfront property – in an environment where local government will literally agree to anything and cough-up corporate welfare like a dyspeptic dog – then perhaps the problem goes a little deeper than beach driving and disobedient locals.

Perhaps it’s time the powers that be turn their accusatory fingers at themselves and determine exactly where this shit-train jumped the track.

Regardless, I’m tired of being harangued by a cheapjack Canadian hustler and these ‘oh-so-smart’ fools in local and county government who so enthusiastically bought into the hype.


Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal via Twitter



Volusia Politics: You won. Who cares.

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”


Here it is Labor Day.  To say I enjoyed working in a pursuit important to the life of my community is an understatement.

During my professional life I served in a very active and dynamic police department.  Our agency served a small town that was often challenged with “bigger city” issues due to our very close proximity to our larger, much more troubled neighbor.

It was a busy, rapidly changing life – moving and jumping from one thing to another.

A career full of challenges to overcome, increasing responsibilities, wonderful camaraderie, interesting and exciting situations – never a dull moment, as they say.

Then one day you turn around and 31-years have come and gone – literally in the blink of an eye.

A nice party is thrown in your honor, people say lovely things about your service to the community, commemorative plaques are bestowed, and then around midnight the party starts to wane and you find yourself standing alone, realizing how ephemeral it all was.

The following morning starts “the next phase” of life – retirement – what everyone waits for.

The great reward we all swap the best part of our lives for. The recompense for our sacrifice.

Trust me – the transition can be difficult.  And I suspect some of us never quite make the leap.

Last January I found a constructive outlet for my limited energy but boundless opinions when I founded this blog – Barker’s View.  Unbelievably, in just nine months my little experiment has been viewed some 30,000 times and continues to generate some healthy, even heated, criticism of my views and opinions on local politics – good and bad.

Recently, a reader referred to me as a “hack” whose only “claim to fame” is blogging about issues in DeBary.

The critic is right – I am a hack.

I have no formal training in either creative writing or journalism – and anyone who mistakes these missives as anything other than one man’s opinion is delusional.  These essays aren’t fact-based reporting – they are, at best, the nonsensical rants of someone who sees wrongs but no longer has the strength of character or practical means to right them.

Little more than a voice from the wilderness, I suppose.

After all, someone has to stay on the outside looking in, right?

I have also received some very uplifting, heartfelt and constructive observations from friends and strangers who enjoy reading this blog.

On a recent afternoon I received a very kind note from a very prominent person in our community – an individual who I’ve never met and with whom I’ve often disagreed.  Suffice it to say, he draws a lot of water in circles that I’m not privileged to travel in.

This very important reader told me that, despite the fact I often take him to task, he believes my essays are valuable in the context that they hold those in government accountable.  He urged me to continue.

Perhaps he’s right.

Truth be told, I have an on-going dialog with a few of the politicians and appointed officials that I write about – ones whose hearts are in the right place, and who are smart enough to know that my missives aren’t that influential, good or bad.  Public servants who can find humor and perhaps some kernel of insight in my prattle.

I find that refreshing – especially in today’s ‘take-no-prisoners’ political environment.

I respect those who can disagree with me – even vehemently – but still laugh at themselves and be agreeable at the end of the day.

Another person I deeply respect told me that one reason these “movers and shakers” read the blog regularly is because – even if I’ve called them a gutless pig, or worse – the fact that someone took the time to mention them means they are politically relevant and still essential to the discussion.

That’s true.

It’s all fun, but interestingly, I find that the older I get the less I actually care about how others view me – or my opinions – than I did when I was a younger man and the stakes were higher.

I think it was the late, great poet and author Jim Harrison who said that one of the benefits of aging is the fact you truly don’t have to care anymore.

Young people say, “I don’t care,” but they know in their hearts they don’t really mean it.

They haven’t the luxury.

In actuality, they care deeply because their career, family or other important personal or professional obligation requires that they pay attention and commit themselves both physically and emotionally to all that life demands.

But as we get older, we have earned the preference of simply becoming disinterested; less concerned about the day-to-day trivialities of life.

For instance, when I say that I really don’t care what people think of me anymore – I mean it.

I could give a Tinker’s damn.

The negative perceptions of others simply don’t matter anymore.  I suppose that I have outlived whatever level of vanity causes anxiety over whether or not someone else agrees or disagrees with what I do, or how I think.

Perhaps it’s just been beaten out of us by a certain age.

While certain aspects of my life no longer interest me in the least – I find that other, more complex concerns, really bother me. Issues like environmental crimes, political influence, bullying behaviors by government, and cruelty toward children and defenseless animals top the list of things I feel passionate about.

I suppose it’s why I speak out in the one venue I have left – a personal opinion blog site.

Recently, the Daytona Beach News-Journal posted what I felt were some rather strange views on the recurring issues facing our beachside – and the role beach driving advocates may or may not have had in obstructing what some consider “progress”.

The newspaper went so far as to say that since traditional beach driving candidates were almost unanimously rejected at the polls during the recent primary, the results nullify the argument that beach access is a “live or die” issue for local politicians.

Interestingly, both of our current county chair candidates – Ed Kelley and Jason Davis – campaigned on a strong pro beach driving platform.  Even though smart people – voter’s familiar with the candidates’ histories – understood going in that what Ed and Jason say is often counter to what they actually do when it comes time to vote.

In my view, what nobody in a position to matter wants to admit is that east Volusia still suffers from a deep-seated apathy – the result of long-term political disfranchisement – and an acute identity crisis exacerbated by a lack of vision for the future or focus on the serious problems we face.

A large segment of our elected officials still believe that the right development is all we need to collectively rise like a Phoenix from the fetid ashes of beachside blight and degradation.

For instance, take Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm’s remarks in the aftermath of the Hard Rock announcement – “It’s just a matter of finding the right high-quality hotel.”

He just doesn’t get it.

There is no individual developer – or single project – that will ultimately serve as a panacea for the problems that face us.

Perhaps we should begin to listen to those who are actually in the arena working to make a difference – folks like Daytona Beach urban redeveloper Jack White.

In an interview with the News-Journal, Mr. White was right in his assessment that there is no “silver bullet” solution to the host of ills plaguing renewal efforts.

Smart people like Mr. White understand that it will take more than a “Margaritaville” hotel to turn things around long term.  People need a reason to come to the World’s Most Famous Beach beyond speed weeks and motorcycle rallies.

They need entertainment and vitality in a safe, fun environment.

Steadily falling occupancy rates and a lack of strategic vision by our local and county elected officials has more to do with why investors shy away from the Halifax area than beach driving or any silly theme hotel.

Face it.  Absent the beach, there is simply no reason for people to spend their disposable income vacationing here.  None.

And our elected and appointed officials have the unmitigated gall to point their finger and blame us for their colossal failure to ignite interest and effect positive change.

It’s time the powers that be realize that we live in an environment where just 27% of the electorate still care enough to vote.  I can only assume that the remainder of our friends and neighbors – the silent majority – have simply given up.

They have come to accept that no matter who they vote for, nothing changes.

Shapeshifting politicians like Ed Kelley, Jason Davis and Josh Wagner have done more to damage the reputation, credibility and stability of Volusia County government than anything – yet the electorate has become uncomfortably numb to the political atrocities, insider influence and government overreach that have become the norm here on the Fun Coast.

Over time, it’s been beaten out of them.

The News-Journal – and those influential insiders in local and county government – should understand that this primary was not a ringing endorsement of those who would fritter our heritage of beach driving away to the highest bidder; but rather a gross indictment of a system that has become so detached, unresponsive and ineffectual that no one truly cares anymore.

Congratulations.  You won.  Who cares.