Volusia County 2016: An Unforgiving Retrospective (Part 1)

Most of you have lives. You know, jobs and important activities that occupy your time and talents.

Pursuits that span beyond sitting at a computer in your boxer shorts, smoking cigarettes, pouring Rebel Yell in your coffee and brooding about local political corruption.

So, for those of you who want a condensed look back on the year that was – or a quick primer on the thorny issues we will face in 2017 – I’m putting my sedentary lifestyle to work for you.

Here’s my unadulterated retrospective on the year that was:

January 2016

Monument to the Mayor

We began the year with a look at the newly minted “Ritchey Plaza” – a sempiternal monument to former Daytona Beach mayor and founding member of the ‘in-crowd,’ Glenn Ritchey, which was built smack-dab in the smoldering remains of the once thriving Boardwalk – the epicenter of the now fading World’s Most Famous Beach.

With the scourge of crime, drugs, and unrestrained blight creeping in all directions, our own Daytona Royalty bestowed upon their long-suffering subjects this bright, shining opal – a park (?) resplendent with Adirondack chairs and eight (count ‘em) Royal Palm trees – strategically positioned around the bootlicking “I coughed up cash” plaques commemorating the largesse of the donor class.

In my view, the mega-wealthy camarilla that erected this shrine to their own self-importance in the center of what is left of our beachside should be ashamed of themselves.

But they aren’t.  The irony seems lost on them.

Trust me.  I’m the most ego-maniacal asshole you know, and this self-congratulatory bullshit made me blush.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

A bureaucracy, especially one as bloated as Volusia County, requires tax dollars like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host.  It’s very life depends upon it.

In the summer of 2015, County Manager Jim Dinneen proposed levying a half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation infrastructure repair and replacement.  The process began with Little Jimmy’s usual hysterical hand-wringing, and claims that transportation funding would run dry if we didn’t collectively bend over and accept the increase.

In 2016, City leaders balked and the county council effectively tabled the initiative.

Or did they?

In Volusia County, no tax, once proposed, is ever really dead.

Look for this issue to rear its ugly head in 2017.

February 2016

Seize the Daytona

When masses of street people descended upon the county administration building on Beach Street, their disorganized, but effective, protest did far more than bring much-needed attention to the problem of chronic homelessness in the Halifax area.

It exposed the harsh realities that many didn’t know existed in local government, such as:

The ineffectiveness of what passes for “leadership.”

The lack of basic cooperation between the municipalities and Volusia County.

The fact that Jim Dinneen has little, if any, effective communication with senior constitutional officers on important issues.

And, most important, we saw the level to which our elected and appointed officials will sink when the pressure is on.

Enough is Never Enough

 Volusia County uses public funds to purchase “off beach parking” while simultaneously increasing tolls, removing beach access points, and establishing even more ‘traffic-free’ zones – then the county suggested charging residents and visitors for parking (up to $20 per day) at those very same off-beach lots and public parks.

The hits just keep on coming. . .

March 2016

Students or Victims? 

After months of wrangling, the Volusia County School Board settled the school uniform brouhaha in favor of a personal dress code for students.

So far, so good.  I guess.

In a far less publicized (but incredibly telling) move, the school board also voted to abandon the long-standing “pass to play” academic requirement for student athletes.

In keeping with the nationwide trend of “dumbing down” the academic process, Volusia overturned rules which held students who participate in organized sports accountable for maintaining passing grades.

When did raising the bar become a bad idea?

April 2016

Our Harvard of the Sky

In “Speaking Truth to Power” we examined the brewing unrest at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

In an open letter to students, faculty and alumni, some fifteen former members of ERAU student government artfully and courageously exposed the outsize influence of Mori Hosseini – Chairman of the Board of Trustees and High Panjandrum of Political Power.

We also learned for the first time that while he served as a member of the Board of Trustee’s, Hosseini-owned Intervest Construction took more than $1.5 million out of ERAU in “office space, utilities and aircraft charter services.”

Interesting.

In my view, this issue best exemplified – in microcosm – the detrimental impact the consolidation of political power can have on organizations, government, and our democratic process.

With a cobbled together search for ERAU’s new president underway, this issue is one to watch in 2017 – especially as Mr. Hosseini funnels even more of our tax dollars into his own private university.

The Debacle in DeBary

In April, we began the strange and terrible journey that would become known as “The Debacle in DeBary.”

Thanks to the Pulitzer-worthy reporting of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles-Pulver, we got our first glimpse of perhaps the most disturbing example of criminal arrogance to ever compromise a local municipal government.

And that’s saying something.

From the quid pro quo corruption of John Miklos to the public cashiering of the City’s duly elected mayor, this sordid affair reads like a Travis McGee novel.

I spent a lot of time on this issue in Barker’s View this year.  It has all the gritty elements of dysfunction, hubris and governmental corrosion; and serves as the ne plus ultra of petty greed and public corruption run amok.

Hold on.  This one is just getting started.

A Sad Day for Volusia County

In May 2016, I published what would become the most read post on Barker’s View.

It dealt with the frustrating aftermath of the 5th District Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold a lower court ruling in the Let Volusia Vote referendum question.

It read, in part:

“Interestingly, in most cases elected bodies welcome the referendum process.  It serves as a buffer, a political heat shield on controversial matters that periodically come before them.  In this case, our elected officials fought tooth-and-nail to retain “exclusive authority” over all matters related to the beach. 

What does that tell you?

When viewed from the perspective of a compromised Volusia County political system, one that has been bought and paid for by a few ultra-rich elites who throw huge sums of cash at select candidates through multiple, but individually controlled corporate entities, you get the impression that citizen input and opinion on matters related to our beach is neither wanted nor considered.  Simply put, you were out bid.

 There is an ill-wind blowing across the breadth of Volusia County and it carries the stench of political corruption.  And at this point, it seems the powers-that-be no longer try to hide it.”

Despite the heroic efforts of Sons of the Beach and other grassroots initiatives, I’m afraid the die has been cast in the beach driving debate.  The county council election drove a stake through its heart – and We, the People, lost.

Look for even more giveaways in 2017.

June 2016

Calling it what it is

June saw our first foray into the local election season when I joined with others in calling bullshit on a dubious mailer sent to Volusia voters by County Chairman-elect Ed Kelley, wherein he championed himself an advocate for “beach access.”

Apparently, Ed’s double-talk worked.

Smart people understand that when politicians use the term “access” when addressing beach driving, what they mean is the ability to schlep your belongings to the shore from an “off beach” parking area designated by your government and paid for with your tax dollars.

Now, I’ve vowed to give Mr. Kelley a fair chance to prove himself – because that’s the right thing to do.  But I’m not optimistic.

Time will tell.

July 2016

Support your Local Police

During the long, hot summer of 2016, we took up the social epidemic of vilifying law enforcement.

Tragically, we saw deadly assaults on police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere – along with raging street demonstrations and violent riots in cities across the United States.

In July, I was asked to contribute to the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s “Community Voices” column and took the opportunity to support our besieged officers who bravely hold the line between order and anarchy.

My remarks were met with a cowardly, self-serving attack by former Ormond Beach Police Chief Larry Mathieson – a self-styled “consultant” – who opined that my “bias” in supporting law enforcement while condemning inflammatory media speculation, incendiary rhetoric, and our complete lack of political leadership (factors which I believe have contributed to the demonization of police officers) “are at the core of the problems with race, policing and violence in this country.”

In my opinion, Larry Mathieson remains the worst excuse for a police administrator I have ever had the displeasure of knowing.  Just a spineless asshole, and a continuing embarrassment to a proud profession.

I’m glad I got the opportunity to let him know that.

Eating the Elephant

There are many barriers to the revitalization of Daytona’s Beachside – and despite all the enthusiastic, but ineffective, ‘rah-rah’ speeches of the Regional Chamber of Commerce – we always seem to end up right where we started:

A urine-stained, trash strewn, Square One.

Perhaps more frustrating is the fact that the City of Daytona Beach appears to have abandoned any effort at code enforcement, infrastructure improvement, or effective change in our core tourist area.

In fact, Daytona’s community redevelopment funds are being given away – literally – in increasingly bizarre land deals that see hundreds of thousands in public funds spent on properties worth far less.

And still no explanation from City Hall.

Thanks to the noble efforts of a few intrepid residents who are actively purchasing and restoring blighted properties in challenged areas, there is hope.

Whether the City of Daytona Beach will assist these fledgling efforts remains to be seen.

Tomorrow we continue our look back at the people and issues that defined 2016.

Please stay tuned.

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