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?




8 thoughts on “Volusia Politics: “A Dearth of Leadership”

  1. Mark Barker,
    This is likely your best write-up yet. Here is what I see as to the root of the problem from which everything just kind of hangs in the balance: Daytona hasn’t decided what it wants or could be in terms of identity. And there is a clear lack of leadership no matter what side you are on:bRepublican or democrats. Cars on the beach. Cars off the beach.
    So long as there exists the strong manager form of government at the municipal and county levels, you are going to see gridlock. I’ve been covering this county for 20 years – the first half in your preference — mainstream media — and the latter half for the one you don’t mention — new media.
    I still apply the ol’ fashion shoe leather and pen to notebook reporter, though now I use a small video camera and publish my stories on a digital platform and onto the internet. Some of the players have changed, but the system has not. I remember one night I had overnight Spring Break coverage when Ocean Walk was brand-spanking new wand was going to be the economic engine.
    But this incarnation of Spring Break was really about 16 year-old girls lifting their braless tank-tops for beads from men twice their age in exchange for a quick glance at their breasts. When the party was over and the street sweeper came by just before dawn to grind up the broken beer bottles and the array of white paper plates, plastic bags and even vomit, I just had to smile.
    You know Mark Barker, as much shit as I take from people for my brand of smash-mouth journalism and the awards I’ve amassed in mainstream- and new media-modes, I’ve pretty much seen it all in my 20 years – serial killer Aileen Warns with her final ode to come back in the after-life to haunt us to dog and pony show in Judge Joe Will’s courtroom with the Earnhardt autopsy photos being sealed.
    To the more recent Waverly media audio recordings being destroyed to the murderous Farina Brothers, Trull brothers, X-Box slayings to Deidre Hunt and Virginia Larzelere moving from death row to regular prison life sandwiched in between.
    Nothing has really changed. Nor will it.
    All of which reminds me, that mid-1980s concert by Starship (which in the beginning was the Jefferson Airplane, then the Jefferson Starship and then just plain old watered-down Starship. And I never saw the World’s Most Famous Beach more packed when the the song, “We Built This City” blared from the monster speakers.
    Today, it’s big news when Mike Chitwood is operating a crane and tearing down a building. It doesn’t matter that he’s had double digit homicides or that suddenly something needs to be done about the homeless when they have been here all along.

    Henry Frederick
    Former award-wing cops & courts reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal
    Current award-winning everything reporter for HeadlineSurfer.com


  2. Homelessness is society unraveling. It can’t be addressed locally only inadequately coped with. The police can’t repair our society the’re being overwhelmed by its demands. Elected local officials are along for “the ride.” A successful local politician is someone who reassures the voter that they are handling things. What ails us and is the tail wagging our local dog is in Washington. We’ve lost local control of our schools, our government, and our money / finances are corrupt. Does anyone believe what is now being built in Daytona is economically sustainable? One Daytona, Tanger Outlets, Hard Rock (gone) residential construction. Feels like a bubble.


  3. You sound like a grumpy old man Barker, a wise grumpy old man. The average Joe has no voice in Volusia County. We need more people like you speaking out. Thank you my friend….


  4. All the coaches have to do in the locker room is say, “We are going out for the national anthem. You are welcome to join us if you intend to respect the flag and the anthem. If not you may remain here until the anthem is completed.”

    Simple. No rights violated.

    Sent from my iPhone



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