“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.
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.