Volusia Politics: You can’t outrun your conscience

From the painfully obvious file, I’m not a runner.

Since I retired from police work, I’m not chasing anybody – and nobody is chasing me.  Besides, my military service cured me of two things:  Camping and running for pleasure.

While I understand the health benefits of lacing up some fancy neon shoes and pounding the pavement – it’s just not for me.

My doctor is a great medicine man who has kept me tuned and patched for nearly 20-years now, but he is absolutely consumed with long-distance running and biking.  He and I are about the same age, and he routinely competes in various endurance races and physical contests that border on masochism.

I have another friend who thinks nothing of getting on a feather-lite racing bicycle and putting in 60-miles in an afternoon.  He claims to receive some euphoric feeling – a sudden release of endorphin’s (I think).  It apparently has an addictive effect and keeps the pedals churning.

Whenever I come upon him peddling along in my traffic lane, I give him a taste of the chrome just to nudge him over and ensure a healthy respect for the motoring public.

I hate to say it, but I get the same giddy sensation from a quick six pack of Bud heavy.  And, when done right, I don’t need a shower afterward.

At 5’-11” and 230lbs., with a pack-a-day habit and a permanent ashen complexion, I’m what doctor’s call a “high miler.”

Hell, even my own aerobically-obsessed physician knows that running would pulverize my knees into powder and grind what’s left of my hips into bone splinters.

No. I avoid running at all costs.

Besides, I don’t look good in spandex.

Neither does County Manager Jim Dinneen, but that doesn’t seem to stop him.

Naturally, Jimmy is a runner – it’s ostensibly a hobby, but he still finds a way to burn through public funds while he puts in the miles.

Last weekend “thousands” (although the actual number of participants is still being argued) of runners gathered at the Daytona International Speedway for the highly-touted “Daytona Half Marathon” – sponsored by DIS, Brown-n-Brown Insurance, and, well, you and me.

Yep.  Mr. Dinneen is convinced the annual event will become the “next big thing” so he has no problem throwing our tax dollars into the mix.

Exactly how this expenditure of public funds benefits the greater public interest has yet to be fully explained (I’m sure it has something to do with “jobs”) – but anytime Brown-n-Brown or DIS is in the mix, it seems our hard-earned tax dollars aren’t far behind.

This year, you and I contributed some $40,000 to the Daytona Half Marathon (not counting services), money that was washed through the tax-funded Halifax Area Advertising Authority ($25,000), the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority ($15,000), and the West Volusia Advertising Authority ($5,000).  (Whew!  That’s a lot of advertising authorities!)

You know what gives me the pre-race diarrhea?

The fact that our elected and appointed officials have the utter gall to whine, ad nauseum, that we are completely and horribly broke in terms of transportation infrastructure funds – while we continue to throw precious tax dollars at every bullshit whim, want, and corporate welfare scheme of our uber-wealthy power brokers – and mismanage what is now a horribly bloated $800+ million-dollar annual budget.

It gets back to the age-old question of what government should do, and how much should it tax to do it?

In my view, one positive to come out of our $40K investment in Little Jimmy’s latest folly was the fact that we finally got our Volusia County council members in ‘racing suits’ – coveralls emblazoned with the names and corporate logos of their sponsors.

I’ve been advocating this for years.

Given the massive amount of corporate campaign contributions in county races, in my view, our elected officials should be required to put the insignia of their patrons on the sleeve of their jersey – right out there for everyone to see.

The symbolism of News-Journal Editor Pat Rice as the cream filling in a sandwich of council members Heather Post and Billie Wheeler, each wearing suits festooned with Brown-n-Brown, International Speedway Corporation, etc. etc. insignia, was not lost on us yokels up here in the cheap seats.

It’s what we call in the business, “bad optics.”

Speaking of the bought-and-paid-for class, Jimmy’s fun run came on the heels of the highly-feted Team Volusia Gala at the tony Mori Hosseini Center.

In a follow-up article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Team Volusia dinner big on enthusiasm, short on details,” business correspondent Clayton Parks wrote, Team Volusia’s annual dinner was long on celebration but somewhat short when it came to offering details regarding how the group can take its efforts to boost the local economy to the next level.”

Indeed.

But the photographs which accompanied the article just oozed swank.

Our movers-and-shakers, all in their finery, rubbing elbows, air-kissing, and sipping white wine – wow – simply elegant.

I didn’t attend the soiree.

Instead, I took a somber drive around the beachside – our core tourist area, and the main economic engine of our county – and took in the unkempt streets, the blighted commercial and residential properties, the empty storefronts and weed-strewn vacant lots, the stumbling homeless, the knocked down fences with boards and slats akimbo, and the gaudy airbrushed signage on the temporary storefronts which anchor our “here today, gone tomorrow” economy where a few get fat on tax-funded ‘economic incentives’ and the rest eat shit and die.

And I thought to myself, “How in God’s holy name can these people look at themselves in the mirror after accepting awards and empty accolades for their “leadership” of this unfathomable debacle – this economic and humanitarian tragedy?” 

I still don’t have an answer.

I’ll just bet they don’t either.

Flagler Beach Politics: Dumb as a Rock. (Sorry, rocks. . .)

Here’s a riddle for you:  Which has more common sense and public approval, Flagler Beach City Commissioner Kim Carney?  Or a pile of rocks?

Anyone who has driven A-1-A through the quaint beach community lately has noticed the growing number of cairns – rocks carefully placed one atop another to form a small tower of stacked stones.

Since prehistory, cairns have been built by societies and individuals for a variety of purposes, from trail markers and navigational aids to sentimental memorials and personal commemorations.

And sometimes, they are constructed by tourists and locals in small beach towns just for fun.

Last week, my little niece and I took the coast road from St. Augustine to Ormond Beach, and as we passed the short stretch in Flagler Beach, she pointed and smiled – noting how “cool” the rock formations were as we tried to count them driving past.

She wanted to stop, get some ice cream, and check out the cairns.  You know, actually visit the community and contribute to the local economy in some small way.

How unique is that?

When she asked who made the interesting structures, I responded that it was most likely beach walkers having a little fun with the erosion protection rocks.  But then I thought to myself, maybe these strange structures are some mysterious monument to the abject stupidity of government intervention in the natural process – and the mean-spiritedness of some small-town politicians?

After all, the Brainiac’s at the Florida Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believe that doing the same thing over-and-over again while expecting a different result is good public policy – and a sound use of our hard-earned tax dollars.

“Let’s see, we piled granite and coquina stones at the dune line to prevent erosion – and Hurricane Matthew took our rocks – and half of A-1-A – with it.  So, what should we do?” 

 “I know!  Let’s pile more granite and coquina stones on the dune line.  Good idea!”

The Corps of Engineers is currently “studying” beach renourishment options, and the initial design phase won’t be finalized until the middle of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season. . .

Naturally, whenever people actually attempt to derive some level of pleasure, relaxation, or enjoyment from their public beach invariably the “Fun Police” arrive on-scene and put the kibosh on that shit.

Enter Flagler Beach City Commissioner Kim Carney.

In a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal article entitled, “Stone stacks piling up in Flagler Beach,” Commissioner Carney is quoted, “They’re getting too high, they’re too distracting.”

“The height is just getting out of control.”

“People aren’t even supposed to be over there,” Carney said of the stretch of S.R. A1A where most of the cairns have appeared over the past several weeks. “It’s a construction area, it’s posted ‘No Trespassing.'”

Out of control?  What a nit-picking asshole.

“I believe those rocks are there for a purpose, and they’re not being used for that purpose,” she said.

At what point do certain elected officials transition from public servant to boarding school rector with a God complex?

Especially one that is up for re-election. . .

Politicians like Kim Carney wouldn’t know fun, or a bright idea, if it bit them on the backside – let alone their role in governing a small tourist community.  But they damn sure know how to throw their weight around and crush anything they don’t understand.

For example, does anyone remember Commissioner Carney’s wholly inappropriate involvement in a sexual battery case involving James McDevitt – the son of long-time Flagler Auditorium Director Lisa McDevitt – who pled guilty in 2015 to violently raping a woman in Flagler Beach?

I do.

In an excellent editorial on the sordid ugliness by Pierre Tristam in FlaglerLive entitled, “The Inappropriate Commissioner Kim Carney,” wrote:

“Carney is a friend of the 22-year old’s mother, Lisa McDevitt, and has led fund-raisers on her behalf. No one begrudges that involvement. But Carney went much further. She sought to discredit the victim of the rape and elicit a story from FlaglerLive to that effect, while also attacking the local judicial system and the victim’s advocate system.”

Did I mention that Commissioner Carney sits on the Flagler Auditorium Governing Board?

Because she does.

The fact is, Kim Carney represents everything I despise about small-minded, self-serving politicians.  In important issues, such as a violent sexual assault – or matters as insignificant as a budding tradition of building small stone cairns on a quiet beach – she feels the need to insinuate herself.

Look, you may think I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill – and perhaps I am.  But often it’s the seemingly trifling matters of governance where we uncover the dark side of those in power.

And intentionally attempting to discredit and bash the victim of a violent sexual assault is reprehensible – regardless of who, or what, you are.

In my view, people like Commissioner Carney are bullies – politicians who find fault and threaten the full force and might of government – simply because they can, and that is counterproductive and unacceptable.

When I told my niece that someone wants to take down the cool little stone sculptures we saw, she said that person was a “doody-head.”

I agree.

I hope those trespassing rock-stackers, the voters in Flagler Beach, remember Commissioner Doody-Head’s ridiculous pettiness on March 7th.

(Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Exhibit A: In Defense of the Thin Blue Line

Having spent most of my life in law enforcement, I have developed a few non-scientific theories regarding perceptions of the police service in our society.

One of those is that the average person interacts with a cop twice in their lifetime.  Maybe.

Most of us have received a speeding ticket, been in an automobile accident, or the victim of a minor crime that we reported to the police.  Beyond that, we are only acutely aware of a police presence when we are driving along and suddenly see a patrol car – screech, “Oh shit!  There’s a cop!” – then slam on brakes to slow our excessive speed.

Admit it.  Hell, I do it all the time.

Law enforcement deals with a very small percentage of the population – perhaps 2%.  The “frequent flyers” – career criminals, drunks, addicts, predators, street hustlers, thieves, the homeless, mentally ill and the violent – the dregs and wolves of society.

My other notion is that on the rare occasion when we actually need a cop, if he or she shows up two minutes early, or two minutes late (based on our time schedule), then the officer is either overzealous or a slacker – you know, the whole, “there’s never a cop around when you need one” thing.

Most of what we think we know about law enforcement officers is derived from television programs, movies and the media – all of which, for increasingly similar reasons, are inherently incorrect.

The entertainment industry produces a product to amuse and provide a brief distraction for the majority of the public – it’s how they stay in business.

On the other hand, rather than report the news, the “mainstream” media now produces a product that they think represents what the majority of American’s want to hear – it’s how they stay in business.

I’m convinced it’s an advertising/demographic thing – just feeding the machine – because reporting fact-based “news” rarely matters anymore.

Since the terrible summer of 2016, despite all evidence to the contrary, everything we see or read in the “news” has a subtle – but noticeable – anti-police bent.

They think it’s what people want to hear.

I love the Daytona Beach News-Journal.  In my view, they do a great job, under difficult circumstances, and a few of their reporters are personal heroes of mine.  They put out a good newspaper most days, and work hard under the crippling financial constraints that plague what remains of print media in this country.

However, a recent editorial touting changes to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office body-worn camera protocols, well, rubbed me the wrong way.

The piece began, “John Braman is Exhibit A on the value of outfitting law enforcement officers with body cameras.”

Bullshit.

As most of you know, John Braman is a former Volusia County Sheriff’s Deputy who was apparently exposed as a common thief when several DUI suspects complained that he removed cash from their wallets.  Additional evidence supporting these serious allegations was captured by Braman’s body-worn camera during an arrest last August.

To correct the record, John Braman is an aberration.

He is a rarity in a profession that derives its moral authority to enforce the law from the public’s fragile trust.

What he represents is a grotesque monster that rarely shows itself, but that many are convinced exists.  The proverbial “bad cop” who confirms latent suspicions about everyone who ever pinned on a badge and took an oath to serve and protect.

The News-Journal’s editorial relies on these fears and myths for its substance.

Look, it appears John Braman crossed a very clear line – and if his suspected crimes are proven true, he deserves everything he gets – and more.

No one despises a bad cop more than a good cop.

But let’s not overlook the fact that the clear majority of law enforcement officers do a dangerous job with honor and incredible dedication to protecting life and property.

Our lives and property.

In their horribly skewed op/ed, the News-Journal evokes the specter of widespread corruption, writing Without video evidence from the Aug. 1 stop in Ormond Beach, who knows how that investigation would have proceeded. . .”   

Who knows?  I know.

The case would have proceeded the way thousands of other criminal cases are conducted – even in the absence of “tell-all” video footage:

An investigator – acting without bias or pre-conceived assumptions – would develop facts to support or contradict the allegations, establish probable cause that a crime has been committed, swear to the accuracy of his or her work, then submit those findings to the State Attorney for independent review and prosecution.

And the News-Journal’s editorial board damn well knows it.

As a former law enforcement executive, I agree that body-worn cameras are a good idea.  In the vast majority of cases, these devices exonerate officers of baseless allegations by criminal suspects and false witnesses.

Invariably, the grainy footage exposes people at their worst – displays in living color the result of man’s inhumanity to man – and captures the dangers, insults and degradations our officers face in the line of duty.

That is “Exhibit A” in the case for police cameras – a fact rarely reported – and one the News-Journal’s editorial barely touched upon.

In my professional experience, I can count on one hand the number of police corruption cases that have occurred in Volusia County over the past thirty-years.  Incredibly few and far between – with actual police misconduct almost universally rooted in bad decisions, off-duty stupidity, or toxic personal relationships.

Not graft, bribery or organized criminal conduct – but common human frailties.

To add insult, the News-Journal’s editorial surmises that, If officers know all their activity is being recorded (without any “police tactics” loopholes), they have disincentive to take any shortcuts — and the confidence that their lawful actions will be proved justifiable.”

What a crock of shit.

What a disservice to those who take an oath to trade their lives for ours, to put our safety above their own self-interests, to protect the weak and vulnerable and stand the line against crime, anarchy and victimization.

Put a camera on Volusia County’s elected and appointed officials and watch the mechanism of government grind to a steaming halt. . .

The fact is, the precision and expertise required to get a good case from crime scene to courtroom leaves no room for “shortcuts” – and no police officer worth his or her salt needs a camera tacked to their shirt to show pride and dedication in their work.

Look, I still love our friends at the News-Journal, but perhaps it’s time the editorial board realizes that the silent majority of American’s – people of all colors and creeds – are beginning to ignore the jabbering of the radical fringe and are standing in strong support of our nations law enforcement officers.

And rightly so.

Each week, we mourn slain police officers and pray for the wounded – and our brave men and women of law enforcement continue to selflessly lace-up their boots, pin on the badge, and go in harm’s way to protect us.  All of us.

The thin blue line.  United, as always.

Our police officers deserve our respect and admiration.

Unlike many other pillars of our free society, these incredible men and women earn it every day.

 

 

Barker’s View for Dummies

I recently received a sincere note from a Barker’s View reader asking why I have a “hard on” for a certain highly accomplished former elected official.

My friend seemed convinced that this extremely wealthy and civically engaged individual is somehow different from the rest of the ineffective, self-serving politicos, highly paid slugs, puppeteers and hangers-on who I take to task on this page.

Perhaps he is – but I tend to judge people by their actions, not the strength of their personality – and a drive through the challenged commercial areas and neighborhoods of our communities tells me our powers-that-be can do better.

I realize these screeds can seem personal – even hurtful, at times – because stirring powerful emotions and public interest in the process is the intent.

Rest assured, I remain one of the few people in this nation that you can agree to disagree with and still be friends.

I make it a point not to lose pals over politics (others may dump me for my weird views or political leanings), but neither the national media, nor the raving of demagogues on either side of the political spectrum, are going to dictate my personal relationships.

Besides, I don’t have that many friends, and I’m not tossing anyone on the ash heap because they think President Trump is a fascist and I don’t – or they believe Jimmy Dinneen is the best county manager we’ve ever had (well, we might part company over that one. . .because only a lunatic would go that far. . .)

Look, I believe this blog only holds relevance to those who enjoy it – nothing I write here is going to change the world (or even DeBary, for that matter).  But, thankfully, hundreds of people read Barker’s View each week to gain an alternative perspective on the news and newsmakers in east Central Florida and beyond.

Given the times, I believe that is important to our local discourse – and the future.

Smart people understand that, at the end of the day, this forum remains one man’s opinion.  The genesis for additional dialog and analysis.  Nothing more.

When I get a call or an email from one of our local ‘movers and shakers’ who I’ve taken to task and we can have a laugh over some satirical – even sarcastic – descriptor I’ve used, I know they “get it.”  After clearing the air, invariably we get down to a productive discussion over the meat of the matter at hand.  Often, we find some common ground and move the conversation beyond my goofy name-calling.

It is safe to assume that those people are true statesmen, men and women who have the flexibility of mind to understand that good public policy is forged in the searing heat of vastly differing public opinion – and that diktats handed down from on high rarely, if ever, serve the best interests of the governed.

Those who give me a flinty stare, or take personal offense to something I’ve written, are either too thin skinned for their chosen profession – in it for all the wrong reasons – or too self-absorbed to understand the grave issues we face here on the “Fun Coast.”

Besides, good governance does not occur in a vacuum.

Please understand, if you appear in this column it is because you are relevant.  Vitally important to the political and economic health of Volusia County – an elected or appointed official, or someone extremely influential to our system of government and commerce.

If you read these essays, you are equally relevant.  Vitally important to furthering the narrative and holding those in power accountable for their actions and intent, which is essential to the imperative of checks and balances in a representative democracy.

I guess what I’m saying is – if you get your knickers in a twist because I refer to you as a “malignant ulceration on the body politic” or a “rabid shitheel” – get over yourself.

Use the tone and tenor of these ham-handed dissertations as a means of gauging the sentiments of your constituency – rather than the limits of your own self-esteem.

I served in municipal government for three-decades, and trust me, I have faded some heat in my day.  In fact, there were times I needed an asbestos suit just to show up for work in the morning – but that comes with the territory.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been called worse by better people than me.

Besides, eagles should not be angered by the jabbering of crows – grow a backbone (and a sense of humor).

Look, I admit it – I am singularly the most fucked-up person you know.  A maniacal bastard who flails around every day seeking desperately to uncover what passes for ‘The Truth’ – and to understand the ramifications of that reality for my family, my friends – and my community.

Deal with it.

If you have been elected or appointed to a position of high office, or hold influence over the process in some way – then wield that awesome power in the interest of those who put you there.

Be open to alternative opinions and trust the suggestions of your constituents (especially when the sweat and spittle flies as they rage at you from the public podium) and make sound decisions – even when those difficult choices are controversial.

Our government was meant to be participatory.

The critical debate and evaluation of ideas and differing points-of-view are as vital to the process as elections.

These are the activities we expect of good citizens in a free and open society.

It’s what our Founding Fathers had in mind.

And if you still insist on taking it personally – well, screw you.

That’s your problem, not mine.