Volusia Politics: A Test of Courage

How do you define courage?

Is it in the soldier who saves the lives of his comrades, exposing himself to withering hostile fire while fighting valiantly against all odds?

Is it in the seamstress who defied racial injustice by refusing to sit at the back of the bus, and in doing so, took a brave stand against social oppression everywhere?

Or do we find it in the firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save a life, or the law enforcement officer who willingly goes into harm’s way to protect and serve?

Make no mistake – those actions epitomize personal courage.

Fortunately, for most of us, we will never have our mettle tested to that degree.  However, during everyday life, our moral and ethical courage is tested in countless small ways.

How we respond to those challenges when no one is looking defines our character.

This is especially true for those who hold themselves up for high office.  The people we elect and appoint to positions of great power and influence over others.

In my professional life, I was often called upon to impart whatever wisdom I accumulated over a long career to young and impressionable police officers who were just starting out in an occupation that requires great physical, mental and ethical strength.

I always tried to explain the importance of making principled decisions – even in the face of crushing criticism or pressure.  And I always reinforced the sacrosanct rule of never compromising our oath or sacred honor for anyone.

I also explained to them the importance of their personal appearance and professional bearing.

You see, the uniform will convey command and control just by your physical presence – and everything you do and say will come with the power and authority of your significant role.

And that’s important.

Officers can use their respected position in the community to influence situations in a positive way, to deescalate, lend strength and relevance to the voice of the weak, and resolve issues.

Elected officials can do the same thing.

It’s when we allow our authoritative presence, or a sense of entitlement, to control and feed our ego that things go wrong – when we stop serving others and start indulging the myth of our own self-importance that we become part of the problem.

I think County Councilwoman Heather Post recently got a lesson in the importance personal courage.

In a telling article by the respected reporter Dustin Wyatt in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “After lecture, Post backs off,” we learned the depth to which our elected officials will go to protect the self-serving image of the pack.

It is a classic example of form and appearance over substance – the epitome of all that’s wrong in government and politics.

Self over service, power over progress.

Earlier this month, the City of Daytona Beach approved the expenditure of $400,000 annually for the next four years to support the worthy goal of a homeless shelter in Volusia County.

In furtherance of the city’s admirable leadership in finding solutions to the devastating social, economic, and humanitarian issues of chronic homelessness in the Halifax area, last year Daytona Beach officials established First Step Shelter, Inc. – which includes a diverse board serving as the nonprofit’s voting body.

The board is comprised of several prominent elected and appointed officials, business leaders and others determined to find a compassionate solution to a problem that affects us all.

According to reports, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry said Councilwoman Post, “expressed to him a ‘passion for homelessness’ and told him she ‘wanted to be a part of the solution.”

This led City officials to the unmistakable conclusion that Post wanted to serve outside her position on the county council, and they ultimately appointed her to the board.

Frankly, at the time, I thought Ms. Post’s willingness to breach the divide, drop the arrogance and pretense of county government, and actually work collaboratively with others was admirable.

The fact that a sitting member of the Volusia County Council – a body who has been the single biggest obstruction to substantive progress on the homeless issue – was a refreshing sign of headway.

Unfortunately, in Volusia County politics, no good deed goes unpunished.

At the March 16th county council meeting, Councilwoman Post was set upon by her ‘colleagues’ – taken to the woodshed and publicly flogged like a recalcitrant child for having the temerity to actually see a problem and try to help.

How beneath the haughty, officious place of a majestic member of the Volusia County Council.

After all, these dirty piss-ants at First Step will be crawling before them soon, begging crumbs for their “homeless problem” – how could Post possibly get down on that common level?

According to the News-Journal, “Post said recently she was surprised by the way her fellow council members reacted to the news.  But the councilwoman didn’t let her peers know of her March 15 appointment beforehand and County Chair Ed Kelley called that a breach of “unwritten protocol” – especially considering the city’s board will soon ask the county for financial support.”

My ass.

The attack on Post was joined by the always vicious Deb Denys, the hapless Billie Wheeler, and the unfortunate, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson.  Not exactly a phalanx of political courage.

Apparently, Ed Kelley thinks it’s “bad policy” for an elected public servant to step outside their traditional role and lend their experience, passion, leadership and expertise to a problem that has dominated our local landscape, hampered economic development efforts, and contributed to the overall appearance of blight and dilapidation in Volusia County for years.

Frankly, I wouldn’t expect anything less from these cowardly shitheels.

Unfortunately, rather than find the strength of character to stand-up to the contemptuous bullies sitting with her on the dais, Post began this weird dance between the truth and a lie, prevaricating about her involvement, and denying that she had been appointed to the First Step board at all.

“I am not on the board.  They can’t put me on the board,” Post yammered – sounding like something out of a bad Gilligan’s Island farce.

Then, when pressed for an explanation for her bizarre dithering, Post said: “I really don’t want to discuss any of that anymore.  We just need to set all this ridiculousness aside.”

I guess not.

Looks like Heather Post learned one thing from her unfortunate attempt to break the obstructionist mold and get down in the grassroots to help resolve an intractable local problem – how to tap dance and quibble your way out of a sticky political wicket when personal courage and strength of character would have served her better.

How tragic.  How typical.

In my view, we should all applaud the efforts of Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado, who has shown the strength, leadership and representation we expect from a first year elected official with a fresh set of eyes, who said:

“The last thing I want to do is see political maneuvering endangering what is really a great project,” he said.

“This is the kind of thing I feared would happen: people will make a stand on something silly like this instead of seeing the project through. We need to leave our personalities and egos out of this and just get the job done.”

Now there’s a truth Heather Post should take to heart.

It is time Ms. Post understands that she was elected to serve the community – exactly like the rest – and she puts her proverbial pants on just like they do.

And screw her doe-eyed idolatry for that doddering fool, Ed Kelley – the number of debacles flaring on his watch is becoming a public embarrassment.

If Councilwoman Post doesn’t have the personal resolve and moral courage to face down those pathetic political cowards and work for substantive change – then she should resign her high office and make way for someone who can.



Volusia: Giving in to the Giant

I guess it’s the fact that I spent my entire adult life in law enforcement – or maybe I’m just God’s own misanthrope – but I am always suspicious of the underdog.

I know – most folks cheer for the little guy and love a good Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.  Rooting for the perennial loser who finally gets a shot at the big time is the American Way.

Perhaps it’s an unfortunate side effect of working 31-years in a business where people lie to you all day, every day – and dropping your guard, even a little, can get you killed.

No.  I’m always skeptical of the “feel good” story – wary of the latest tear jerking on-line donation campaign – always telling myself there must be more to the story.

After all, I know in my heart that sooner rather than later the wheel will come off the cart, the “rest of the story” will emerge, and things will go tragically sideways.

Friends and family send me those hyper-emotional fairy tales on social media – a squirrel who becomes a hometown hero when he saves the residents from a fire, a wolf who nursed a child in the wild, or an improbable sports clip where a pint-size team from Lickskillet, Indiana overcomes all odds to win the championship.

I always screw-up my face and say, “Bullshit!  Didn’t happen.”

Then I rush off to Snopes to debunk the story so I can throw it back in the face of my 83-year old mother who had the temerity to try and boost my spirits by sharing a simple, uplifting tale of adversity overcome.

“Mom.  Maybe the old man was lonely because he’s an asshole and nobody wants to be around him.  Did you ever think of that?” 

“No, son.  I just thought it was nice that the community rallied around an elderly widower.  How could I have raised such a bitter human being?”

“Well, somethings up with that old bastard.  Trust me.”

That said, I’ll tell you what I can’t abide – bullying by government and the “rich and powerful” (the News-Journal’s descriptor, not mine) who use their incredible influence to push a self-serving corporate and personal agenda over the will of the people.

Look, I realize that most of the time I’m the ultimate loser/underdog – the small titmouse giving the finger to the powerful elephant – but some wrongs just can’t be ignored.

Why?  Because in my heart-of-hearts I know that despite the wants, needs and passion of the people – when government and big money interests intersect – the result is a foregone conclusion.

And, in my view, that’s wrong.

For instance, take the unfolding drama in Wild West Volusia which pits the small Victoria Park community near the interchange of I-4 and Orange Camp Road, against a well-heeled Deland Dodge/Jeep/Chrysler dealer intent on imposing his idea of economic progress.

Brendan Hurley and his I4 Automall, LLC, have big plans to build a mega “Auto Mall” on property abutting the neighborhood – which appears to be the latest craze in automobile sales – wherein five or six different dealerships all co-locate near a major interstate highway and peddle their wares to gridlocked commuters from a perch on the frontage road.

Mr. Hurley’s plans include automotive sales and service, and outparcels with gas pumps, retail space, restaurants, etc.

So, what’s the problem, Barker – dude wants to use his property for a car lot – what’s your beef?

The problem is that the people who live there – folks like you and me – have a vested interest in preserving their quality of life.

Besides, the property isn’t zoned for car lots – and the residents of Victoria Park – a “master planned development,” which generally means unique amenities and specific zoning regulations that enhance and protect the aesthetics and overall lifestyle of the community – are pissed.

And they should be.

When Victoria Park was developed and marketed, the adjoining land use zoning did not permit auto sales.

After all, I’m not sure anyone would have bought property in Victoria Park if the original Master Plan included the amenity of listening to an amplified loudspeaker screaming, “Service, Line Two!” – twelve to fourteen hours-a-day.  Everyday.

Earlier this year, over 250 residents packed into a standing room only meeting of the Volusia County Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission (a group whose effectiveness I’ll leave to your interpretation) expecting an opportunity to vehemently oppose the rezoning which would permit the giant car lot to be developed, literally in their backyards.

Screw the ‘Will of the People’ – Volusia County staff had already recommended approval.

In fact, of the 3,400 residential lots in Victoria Park, county staff only saw fit to send formal notice of the proposed rezoning – you know, an action that could usher in a sprawling 9.6 acre development with a lot of moving parts –  to just 14 “parties.”


Well, I suspect that was all they were legally required to do – and besides – why get the yokels riled up when it’s easier to follow county manager Jim Dinneen’s proven modus operandi of stealth and subterfuge when ramrodding controversial issues, eh?

According to a recent editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Tough sell on automall,” it was reported that the panel cautiously, “…voted to delay a vote until June to allow the developer and the residents to work out their differences.” 

Actually, the matter was tabled for six-months at the request of Hurley’s high-priced mouthpiece, Mark Watts, an attorney with the venerable Cobb & Cole.

He made that request just one day before the previously noticed planning meeting.

Let’s face it, when you see the flames and pitchforks on the horizon, the best strategy is to fallback and re-package the steaming turd in a different box – camouflage it as anything other than a gigantic car lot.

 According to reports, Mr. Watts wanted the opportunity to hold “community meetings” and gently salve over the villagers concerns with extravagant promises and pretty pictures by renowned architects of just how charming a massive concentration of concrete and steel five-story automotive dealerships can be.

I can hear it now:

“Folks, trust us on this.  It’s called desensitization.  After a while, you just get used to the scream of air wrenches, the 24/7 glow of the giant LED lights, the toot-toot-toot of car haulers, and sales managers bellowing, “Spot that Durango under the lights!” Look here, we’ve got oodles of studies which show that in a few short years you won’t even know it’s there!”     

Yep.  Mr. Watts and that crack team of good hair and expensive suits at Cobb & Cole will make it sound almost pastoral.

Unfortunately, for the good people of Victoria Park, it will be anything but.

Ultimately, it will be like acquiescing and allowing the Jolly Green Giant to stay at your house until he gets back on his feet after the divorce.

He’ll sell you on it by saying, “Dude.  You’ll barely know I’m there.”

But once ol’ Jolly arrives, unpacks and gets comfortable – you’re going to find he takes up a LOT of room.  It’s just his nature.

And despite the smooth assurances, once a giant moves in, he’s damn near impossible to get rid of.  Trust me.

In my view, with a couple of glowing exceptions, communities in West Volusia are doing everything right.

They understand the intrinsic value of a quaint, Old Florida, small town feel – an atmosphere that many cities are struggling – and spending – to recapture.

With so much positive in play on the Westside, is this mega-development in the literal backyard of an established, up-scale community the highest and best use in the long term?

Does it contribute in a significant way to the quality of life for the majority of nearby citizens who have a vested interest in the value and prosperity of the area?  And what about the wasteland left on Woodland Boulevard when everybody up and moves to their new digs on I-4?

I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that big money interests have a chip in the game – and you don’t – despite what those who stand to profit most might tell you.

Frankly, folks – this is one underdog I can get behind.  But it doesn’t look good.

They are going to need more than our cheers.

In my view, it’s high time we stand with the residents of Victoria Park and let our elected officials know that there is some shit we won’t eat.

Photo Credit:  Daytona Beach News-Journal

Volusia Politics: Serfs Up!

“The word “Politics” is derived from the word ‘poly” – meaning many, and ‘ticks’ – meaning ‘blood-sucking parasites’.”

 –Larry Hardiman

Ever feel like you’re living in some Third World fiefdom?

Like we’re grubbing out an existence on the estate of some feudal lord where our lives and livelihoods are controlled by the benevolence and whim of a ruling class that feed off our collective labor like gilded parasites?

Because we are.

Those of us who “live, work and play” (as the Chamber of Commerce set likes to say) in Volusia County know that, despite the glossy pictures on those old “Wish you were here!” shell shop postcards, there are some not-so-pleasant aspects to life on the Fun Coast.

Things we don’t talk about to outsiders, or as I like to call them – “potential victims.”

One of these unspoken truths is our social and economic caste system that rivals the worst of the British Raj.  A massive gulf between the hoi polloi and the privileged uber-wealthy – and neither the twain shall meet.

I’m talking about Volusia County’s clearly defined societal stratum’s that are nearly impossible to escape due to our bastardized “system” where the worker bees produce – and a mandarinate of political power brokers control the hive, and distribute the honey as they see fit.

What smart people once suspected is now undeniable.

This week I read an eye-opening piece by Tony Jarmusz in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“’Never stopped dreaming’ ERAU ‘s new jewel, the MicaPlex, opens for research, job creation”

 At first blush, it was a puff piece on Embry-Riddle’s new “research” complex, but I couldn’t get past the first few sentences before I threw myself in the floor and openly wept.

Really.  I was a mess.

Trust me, it had nothing to do with the fact that the highly touted “MicaPlex” has finally opened.

Who gives a shit.

The headline should have read, ‘Never stopped scheming.

If you think that ostentatious glass and steel monument to the diversion of federal, state and local tax dollars to the benefit of a few private interests is going to improve your quality of life one iota, well, you’re crazier than I am.

No, I was overcome by the long-awaited exposure of our dirty little secret for all the world to see.

It’s like Mr. Jarmusz suddenly threw back the musty curtains to the collective gasp of the Great Unwashed masses, as we shielded our eyes and recoiled from the stark light of day:

“Suddenly Thursday, after 10 years in the making, the John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex became a reality.”

 “Standing before (a) crowd of roughly 200 of Volusia’s rich and powerful, the $21 million two-story glass, steel and concrete structure at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University drew praise and accolades.”

 My God.  “Volusia’s rich and powerful.”  Someone finally said it!

The News-Journal has publicly acknowledged the ugly chasm between the “haves and have nots.”

How bold.  How brave.  How utterly depressing. . .

For the first time since the News-Journal’s intrepid reporter Dinah Pulver fearlessly exposed the shady backroom shenanigans in DeBary, a professional journalist has courageously recognized the existence of our omnipotent, and overly pretentious, cabal of wealthy overseers.

I guess I shouldn’t get so emotional.

I mean, the fact that our local democratic system has been replaced by an open Oligarchy isn’t exactly “breaking news,” right?

Several years ago, I read an interesting public policy research study, conducted by professors at Princeton and Northwestern Universities, which suggests that the United States is now completely controlled by a “rich and powerful” elite.

Again, not exactly a news flash.

According to the findings:

“When a majority of citizens disagree with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.  Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

They closed with this:

“Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise.  But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

 I think that sums up our collective plight in 2017 Volusia County.

In my view, the infusion of big money – and I mean big money – into the local political process by a few exclusive insiders who have proven time-and-again that their motivations are purely self-serving is wrong.

It tips the balance in favor of a select few extremely wealthy corporate and individual interests in a struggling service economy where the average per capita annual income is around $24,000.

The net-net of these large infusions of cash to ensure the outcome of local races – and ultimately the control of county government – is the very foundation of the “benevolent dictatorship” I keep belching about.

As I’ve said before, people like J. Hyatt Brown, Lesa France-Kennedy, and Mori Hosseini are highly successful for one reason only – they don’t spend a dime without knowing what the return on investment will be.

As a result, when these very same “rich and powerful” insiders appear in the Volusia County Council chambers, invariably – and I mean 100% of the time – the issue, project or development they support is handed to them on a silver platter.

Our system is undeniably separate and unequal, stratified by power, wealth and insider access – and any elected or appointed official who tells you something different is a bald-assed liar.

Kudos to the Daytona Beach News-Journal for having the courage to call it like it is.

Now that we have formally acknowledged the cavernous divide between the “rich and powerful” ruling elite, and us “poor and weak” serfs, perhaps we can begin the process of leveling the playing field, cleaning out the Old Guard of entrenched bureaucrats, and returning the best principles of the democratic process to Volusia County government.

Volusia: Gird your loins for the Big Boom!

The older I get, the more I find myself using inane phrases like, “Back in my day” – or “There was a time in this country when. . .” 

The sad thing is, I can hear myself saying it – yet I am powerless to stop.  It just flows, as though confirming the fact that I’m a wobbly old fart is going to add credence to whatever ridiculous point I’m trying to make.

I suppose it’s part of life’s gradual transition from an active participant in societal pursuits to the doddering old fool in a cardigan.

One day you’re on top of the world – the next, you’re on the porch screaming, “You damn kids, get off my lawn!” 

Look, I am getting older – and some days, after a few too many afternoon cajun martinis, I get way out there on the lunatic fringe.

In my altered state, I can recall a time when our elected officials thought things through before acting upon impulse, sought constituent input to determine shared needs, then weighed them against the potential consequences – you know, ol’ Newton’s equal and opposite reaction thing.

It was a time when well-meaning people took more than a passing interest in their local government and participated in managing the growth, development and appearance of their community.

Never allowing the wants a few outweigh the needs of many.

Why?  Because they felt like their lives, livelihoods and opinions mattered to the neighbors they elected to local office.

It was like local government had an actual concern for the kind of world we will leave our children and grandchildren.

Today, it appears the idea of “growth management” in Volusia County is some quaint, old fashioned notion from a bygone era – like hand-churned peach ice cream or an actual representative democracy.

In fact, most people I talk to these days have simply resigned themselves to the fact that they no longer have any substantive control of their destiny.  The train left the station a long, long time ago, and We, The People, were left standing at the depot.

After all, it’s no longer about us.

When it comes to managing development, and the threat of urban sprawl, the public no longer contribute to the discussion – we know that our two-cents were outbid by a guy with two-quarters anyway.

Instead, we read about our communal fate in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – or get a glimpse of what life will look like from some glitzy corporate press release depicting our elected officials wearing goofy hardhats that are too small for their enormously swelled heads and wielding golden shovels.

When you remove the pesky opinions, suggestions and judgments of your constituents from the process – ramrodding big money ideas of “progress” and “economic development” is easy.

And all it costs our elected officials is their soul.

On the front page of this morning’s News-Journal I found an interesting piece by Aaron London:

“Boom to Grow – Volusia, Flagler among nations fastest growing areas; housing a challenge.” 

 According to a “just-released” report by the United States Census Bureau, the Fun Coast saw a population increase of nearly 15,000 in what our unfortunate out-of-state newspaper proofreaders list as “July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2016.”

I’m going to assume they meant 2015 to 2016 – but who can be sure, eh?

The Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach metropolitan statistical area, which includes our friends in Flagler County (I guess hoity-toity St. John’s County didn’t want to claim them), was the 21st fastest growing “metro area” in the nation during the same time frame.

Yep!  We’re sandwiched right between the thriving metroplexes of Logan, Utah and Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Arkansas/Missouri in the Census Bureau’s top 25!

In my view, this represents both a great opportunity – and the very real threat of rapid, unchecked development.  A real estate gold rush which could threaten our already compromised infrastructure.

You see, most places in the free world anticipate and plan.

They contemplate, solicit input and consider.

They look beyond outlet malls and fancy sporting goods stores and ask the difficult questions, like, where are we going to put all these new arrivals – and what effect will an estimated 15,000 refugees from the frozen north have on our drinking water supply?  Our streets, sewer, roads, parks and public transportation systems?  Where will we educate their children, treat them when they get sick, and provide for their safety and security?

Not in the Volusia County “metro area.”

No, here we immediately consider the all-important question of who stands to make the most money in the fastest, most expedient way possible – then we quickly clear all obstacles and remove any potential risk to the developer with the liberal use of public funds and incentives.

Then we grit our teeth, bend over, and wait for it.

“Build it and they will come!” is the rallying cry.

Damn the torpedoes – and, apparently, our drinking water.

If my math holds, in the next few years we could see over 12,000 new homes in developments stretching from Brevard to Flagler.

That’s an estimated 27,500 new Walmart shoppers, kids. . .

Of course, local realtors and regional home builder’s associations are unfurling their moldy “Happy Days are Here Again!” banners and touting the economic benefits of increasing residential inventory and marketing zero-lot-line wood-frame houses to the masses of rubes relocating to an area with no jobs, no money, and no vision.

And I get it.

Look, home sales are the bread-and-butter of the local real estate industry – and the people who build those houses – along with the skilled labor that make it happen – have suffered long and hard through a dark and very difficult economy.

But do we have the current means to support this massive growth?

Meanwhile – back in Deland – our elected and appointed officials are milling around with their thumb in their ass, overpaying for parking lots, and droning on about how to control the insidious disease of feeding seagulls white bread on the beach.

Rather than preparing, you know, considering the very real consequences of rapid residential growth, analyzing the market and environmental impact of these mega developments – or even thinking through the methods for funding and maintaining the infrastructure required to accommodate the coming hoards of 55-and-over Parrot Heads – it appears the people we have elected and depend upon to ask the tough questions are asleep at the switch.

In some cases, literally.

Perhaps before we start churning thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive lands into “brand-immersive lifestyle destinations” we should consider what effect – positive and negative – these new residential developments will have on our collective quality of life.

Call me a tetchy asshole – but whenever it comes to the nexus of environmental protection, land use regulatory oversight, and a big ol’ heaping pot of developer’s cash – I just naturally assume a failure of government to look out for my interests.

I’m weird like that.

In a revelatory 2012 article in the online magazine, Counterpunch, entitled “How the growth machine ate Florida,” Alan Farago wrote:

Florida is an enduring fascination. It is politically influential and culturally backward. It is a great backdrop for television for which no one can remember the plot. Florida exalts development and possesses unique natural resources. Its chief attractions that drove development in the 1950’s are in states of decay, aquifers, springs, estuaries, rivers, bays and the Everglades alternately treasured and spurned, vaunted and trashed, lit by God’s towering thunderheads and buried in a God forsaken culture of strip malls and anonymous platted subdivisions far from places of work.

 Sound familiar?

I thought so.


Volusia Politics: Spring has sprung!

Welcome to Spring 2017!

As usual, in Volusia County, everything is coming up roses!

This morning I read an interesting piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal heralding the return of the haughty “State of the County Address” – a useless non-event, specifically tailored to assuage the out-of-control egos of our elected and appointed officials in Deland – while they blow hot smoke up our collective ass about how well we are all doing.

The price tag?

Don’t worry about it.

(But it’s more than the per capita income here on the Fun Coast.)    

The $20,000 to $30,000 cost of a really nice lunch is being covered by the municipalities and some of the very companies who routinely benefit from Volusia County’s “economic development” largess.

We’re told the only expense for county taxpayers is the loss of productivity by staff – who have apparently been working since January to put the arm on the cities for $250 each – you know, communities that have suffered the daily abuse and bullying of county government for the past decade – and, of course, corporate sponsors with familiar names.

According to the News-Journal, to-date, the county has received over $22,000 in funding for this magnificent Celebration of our Greatness from ICI Homes, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida Hospital, Halifax Health System, Daytona International Automall, and “more.”

Question:  How is it that some of the very entities who have the abject gall to stand in front of the County Council crying like Ma and Pa Joad to wheedle millions of our tax dollars, half-price land deals, and other corporate welfare can, in turn, squander thousands of dollars for nonsensical, zero-return bullshit like this?

I think they call it, “poor optics.”

It’s like running into someone who owes you a bunch of money enjoying a nice bottle of Beckstoffer Cabernet with their Filetto al Barolo e Porcini at The Cellar.

Totally uncool.

Four years ago, former County Chair Jason Davis – in perhaps the only constructive decision of his tenure – reigned-in this silly event, which had been puffed into an ostentatious display during the Bruno administration, and moved the ‘address’ to the council chambers where it belongs.

If it belongs.

“You went from something that had about 500 people to something that had about 50 people,” said County Manager Jim Dinneen.

Did anybody miss it?

Just askin’.

Well, if nothing else, it gives our county staff a chance to open up and air-out the Ocean Center – which hasn’t drawn a crowd since the big reptile breeders banquet we were all so giddy about.

According to our exalted County Chair Ed Kelley, “I felt like (this event at the Ocean Center) was always well-received by the public,” adding that he hopes for a similar reception this time.

“I hope (the public) is able to see what the county has accomplished throughout the year and see the direction this county wants to go in.”   

I’ll bet you do, Ed.

The fact is, “The Public” could care less.

In a past life, I was routinely forced to attend this annual event and found it populated by stuffed-shirt politicos, appointed officials, bored staff members, ‘economic development’ types, and every resort town grifter with access to a public nipple, all schmoozing it up with a bunch of preening elected officials.   (Those in the know, tell me I’m wrong?)

What I didn’t see was Mr. & Mrs. John Q. Public – or anyone else who had an actual life outside of local politics.

Look, regular readers of this forum know that I’m not a glass-half-full kind of guy – especially when it comes to the machinations of Volusia County government.

But do we really need to resurrect this over-the-top soiree just to hear Ed Kelley tell us how great it is that we used $2.3-million tax dollars – including pledges from Daytona Beach businesses to buy tickets – to payoff JetBlue?

Besides, wasn’t that deal inked in 2015?

How many county chairmen get to take credit for that pearl in the sow’s ear?

Maybe our Chairman can explain the county’s complete inability to work with the cities to find a compassionate solution to chronic homelessness?

Now that’s something I’d like to hear.

Oh, well – I suppose there is one positive to these awkward – though grandiose – gala’s celebrating the magnificence and self-importance of those we elect to do the public’s business:

It serves to remind us why we will hold-up our collective middle-finger to the powers that be the next time they whine the blues and tell us scary stories about the need for a half-cent tax increase for transportation infrastructure – or anything else.

After all, any government organization that can demand, then piss-away, some $30,000 dollars for a self-congratulatory luncheon can damn well afford just about anything they find important.

Note to Chairman Kelley:  The benefits of a lavish State of the County address are lost on us uncultivated rubes who gaze in amazement at the cringe-worthy state of affairs in Deland – where our Sheriff has rightfully and openly exposed our County Manager as a “lying sack of shit” on the front page of the newspaper – and we keep rehashing corporate welfare projects and an increasingly artificial economy as “progress.”

Frankly, given our current imbroglios – it really is poor optics – either pure arrogance, or utter denial.

Neither of which instill confidence in our elected leadership during these difficult, and embarrassing, times.


Volusia Politics: Sign of the Times

As a voyeur of Volusia County government, I often remark that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The people – elected and appointed – come and go, but the system never changes.

I also believe that most of those who stand for elective office are inherently good people.

Let’s face it, anyone who willingly puts themselves through the meatgrinder that passes for politics in 2016 must truly have a sincere desire to serve.

The problem begins once the victory parties and pageantry of the oath of office ceremony are complete, and our newly minted elected officials finally take a seat on the dais of power.

It is then that the system reminds them of their true place and purpose – they work for the machine, not the other way around – and quaint notions like good governance and protecting the interests of their constituents are soon forgotten.

Those who fight against the system – idealists who strive valiantly to bring substantive change and insinuate the “will of the people” into the churning mechanism – are quickly chewed-up, marginalized and tossed aside.

Elected officials who fight the organism of government always end up looking like one of those tormented Russian bears riding a stationary bicycle – peddling feverishly, sweating and working hard, but never making headway – while the veteran politicians and fixers beat and humiliate them into submission.

It is the reason those lofty campaign promises we hear every election cycle are so much hot air.

The system takes – it does not give – unless you are one of those precious few in that high, rarefied air who can pay to play in the big leagues.

And the price of a ticket to ride costs more than your house.

Once you grasp this unsettling truth, watching the sausage get made can be, well, almost fun.

Take for instance the remarkable ability of our elected officials to take swift, decisive action on issues that most of us consider important – like the expenditure of millions of our hard-earned tax dollars on dubious land purchases and corporate giveaways – while relatively inconsequential items are dissected, debated, and analyzed ad nauseum.

Some say it’s a camouflage maneuver – drone on about the small stuff until even the most ardent political gadfly is hypnotized – and then move important legislation at the speed of heat.

Others believe it’s how County Manager Jim Dinneen sculpts public policy through the careful control of information – crafting the outcome of votes by telling our elected officials only what he wants them to hear.

Truth be told, it’s probably a combination of both.

Another thing that always gives me a chuckle is how our council members shape-shift into pseudo-experts regardless of the question at hand.

For instance, during a recent discussion on the big-ticket item of expanding the number of chickens a resident can keep in unincorporated areas, suddenly everyone becomes Abraham Lincoln – raised on a working farm in a rustic log cabin, trading fresh eggs for essentials and reading by the faint glow of a coal oil lamp.

Funny stuff, really.

Yet when it comes to preserving Volusia County’s most important economic engine – our beach – regardless of how silly the issue at hand (feeding birds, for instance) the only apparent solution is adding signage to a shoreline that has so many placards, traffic control signs, and rows of ugly wooden poles that it no longer bears any semblance to a seashore.

How about just saying, “There are somethings we cannot control – we’ve brought attention to the issue, now let’s move on.” 

No, the prevailing sentiment of government at all levels is we must legislate away our every trivial annoyance.

But the real draw during last Thursday’s county council meeting was the unresolved blood feud between Sheriff Mike Chitwood and County Manager Jim Dinneen.

Despite the council’s painful, time consuming jokes during the great “bird feeding/chicken coop” debates, the Clash of the Titans loomed large.

Unfortunately, it became increasingly clear that the wagons have been circled.

Our elected officials made it perfectly clear that Jim Dinneen is isn’t going anywhere – and Mike Chitwood doesn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of holding a constitutional office in Volusia County.

You see, when serious issues periodically come forth that have critical implications for all of us – such as protecting our heritage of beach driving, or deciding potential improvements to the county charter – invariably our County Attorney’s Office finds a way to eliminate the will and participation of the people.

On Thursday, county attorney Dan Eckert set the stage to ensure Sheriff Chitwood’s call for a charter amendment never sees the light of day when he spit, sputtered, hemmed and yammered his way through what (I think) was his opinion on the ability of the electorate to effect change.

For the life of me, I can’t figure Dan out.

Either our county attorney suffers from a convenient neurological speech impediment that prevents him from communicating in coherent sentences – or he has mastered the strategic ability to muddy any issue at hand with his cockamamie gibberish.

If I understand Mr. Eckert’s legal interpretation – only the state legislature can bring substantive changes to the Volusia County charter – and We, The People, who are governed by it are quite simply bent over and paralyzed.

We’ll see.

At the end of the day, our intrepid County Chair Ed Kelley came up with the bright idea of asking Sheriff Chitwood to call him whenever he felt Little Jimmy was being mean and not playing pretty – you know, the always effective “I’ll run tell daddy” defense – to salve over their public death match.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Another interesting thing happened this week.

During their goofy off-the-agenda comments segment – where, apparently, most of the real work gets done – the council once again conveniently re-wrote history.

Even though it was patently clear to every man, woman and child that our elected officials were caught humiliatingly flat-footed – absolutely out-of-the-loop – on the nearly $1-million-dollar purchase of private land on Main Street in Daytona Beach – now, they would have us believe that nothing was amiss and everyone acted completely appropriately.

They dismissed our criticism out-of-hand.

According to the Very Reverend Fred “BMW” Lowry’s astute comments in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “We can’t possibly know everything about everything,” Lowry said, adding that he “trusts staff.”

 I felt even more comforted when Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson assured us, “I know that our attorneys did everything right,” Patterson said of the land purchase. “And to be criticized constantly for doing something right just frosts me a little bit.  Somehow people think we are doing something evil, and I’m tired of hearing that.”

 I’ll bet you are, Pat. . .

Nothing to see here, folks.  Little Jimmy has explained everything away quite nicely – and we’re getting sick and tired of your cruel criticism of the high and mighty – so shut the fuck up and take our word for it.

In other news, Heather Post continued her education when she learned the ramifications of asking for too much information.

Councilwoman Post had the temerity to ask if she might be given a heads-up whenever important or controversial issues come up that she might be asked about.

You would have thought staff had been directed to perform an advanced neurosurgical procedure while wearing wool mittens in total darkness.


Word to the wise, Ms. Post – the system says you will be told all you need to know, when you need to know it.

Just accept the Pablum fed by Mr. Dinneen and his staff – and try not to act surprised when you get ambushed for your abject ignorance on the important issues of the day.

Know that none of your fellow elected officials are given any substantive information either – so just sit back in your posh swivel chair and bask in the bliss of pure ignorance.

Just ask “Sleepy” Pat – he’s a past-master of the art.

It has been interesting watching Chairman Kelley, and neophyte Council members Billie Wheeler and Heather Post, receive their indoctrination in the uncomfortable realities of an oligarchical system that works in the interest of a few – and abhors the input of the governed.

Just another tragic sign of our times.


Volusia Politics: Cage Match, Baby!

Wow.  Really.  While we have guests over. . .?

The Clash of the Titans in Deland just hit a rolling boil – and both the tone and tenor of the discourse is dropping fast.  (Where’s my popcorn?)

The Great Chitwood/Dinneen Blood Feud of 2017 continues to spill out onto the street like a good old timey bar brawl.

Unfortunately, it comes at a time when we have a hundred thousand bikers and college students in town for their respective annual Bacchanalia – all potential customers of a “brand-immersive lifestyle” in Jimmy Buffett’s tequila-fueled faux utopia in the wetlands just west of I-95.

Well, except the college kids.

They need actual jobs to payback those soul crushing student loans, and, well, all we can offer is part-time positions folding shirts at a retail outlet – or warehouse work at a place where our demographic will support the loading dock, but not the upscale grocery it supplies.

Nothing like having friends over, then trotting out your dirty laundry and parading it around the living room.

While blowing a kazoo, crashing a cymbal and beating on a Tom-Tom.

Ah, well.  Shit happens, even in the best of families.

When I opened this morning’s Daytona Beach News-Journal and skimmed reporter Dustin Wyatt’s excellent piece, STANDOFF – Volusia County power struggle between Chitwood and Dinneen escalates, I thought for a minute there I was reading a Barker’s View blog post.

Chitwood called Dinnen a “lying sack of shit.” “I don’t want to be in the same room with that liar,” Chitwood added. Replied Dinneen: “Is he afraid of me? If he has something to say about me, he can say it to my goddamn face.”

 And things went south from there.

A politically astute friend of mine remarked that perhaps it’s time for one of those WWE Steel Cage matches – you know, a “two men enter, one man leaves” Battle Royale – to solve the issue once and for all.

I think he may be onto something.

Our County Council Chairman Ed Kelley – who throughout this mess has demonstrated the leadership skills of a wilted Lilly – proclaimed, “They need to build bridges and just get over it.”

Memo to Chairman Kelley:  The “bridges” these guys built back when this riff first became public now look like spans over the Rhine after World War II – a mass of flaming, mangled wreckage.

Now it’s up to you – as our elected Chair – to provide some frigging guidance and control (look it up in your ICCMA elected official’s handbook).

In my view, Ed can start by getting a handle on the likes of Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – who openly lied to his constituents in Sunday’s News-Journal when he pompously tut-tutted that exempting Volusia County from pending legislation to return constitutional sovereignty to the sheriff was a “done deal.”

According to Patterson, our high-priced lobbying firm in Tallahassee had already met with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Artiles, and that “he agreed to” remove Volusia from the mix.


According to Sen. Artiles, “At this moment, the language does not exclude Volusia County” he said.  “(The bill) currently creates uniformity among the 67 counties in Florida.  We are willing to work with anybody and hear everyone’s opinion to make this bill better.”

 Wow, Pat.  That’s not what you told us last week?

 Talk about a lying sack of shit.

You see, Sleepy Pat is a retread politician (with an unfortunate sleep/wake cycle) who likes to use ambush-style, cheapjack tactics like – rather than advertise the people’s business on the public agenda – he strategically brings up actionable items during his goofy comments, then – as if by magic – he receives an immediate unanimous vote of the full council without so much as consulting Sheriff Chitwood, reading the text of the bill, or (cough, cough) communicating about the issue beforehand.

Pat Patterson now has all the credibility of a feral hog caught in a cage trap – it was easy getting in, grabbing some headlines and trashing Sheriff Chitwood like the sycophantic toad that he is –  but not so easy to extricate himself once the senator who actually wrote the bill called him out publicly.

Go back to sleep, Pat.  We liked you a lot better when you were pitching out of your chair like a narcoleptic bear on Ambien.  Don’t worry, Little Jimmy will bring you up-to-speed on what you need to know – when you need to know it.

While we’re on the topic – that little $1-million-dollar land purchase deep inside the city limits of Daytona Beach didn’t help the County Council’s credibility much either.

Unfortunately, (for us) our elected officials are literally paralyzed with fear and completely neutered when it comes to holding Jim Dinneen to any reasonable level of accountability.

Little Jimmy is protected by the uber-wealthy insiders – the power brokers who artificially inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into local elections and now control virtually every aspect of county government.

And you can bet your pippy Mr. Dinneen isn’t going anywhere.

Neither is Sheriff Chitwood.

As a duly elected official, the Sheriff has the political insulation of the people who voted for him – and make no mistake, Mike Chitwood is extremely popular with residents of Volusia County.

As I’ve said before, Sheriff Chitwood is passionate about what he does – and he has demonstrated incredible ethical and physical courage during his impressive public service.

Conversely, Jim Dinneen has proven – time-and-again – that he is a cheap bagman, beholden to the special interests and two-bit grifters who gorge at the public trough and have no plan to stop anytime soon.

In my view, this dispute will ultimately result in Dinneen giving Chitwood a wide berth – the freedom to administer his department without the petty micromanagement he’s known for – and Chitwood will eventually be brought to heel by a system that neither wants or needs progressive input – or any substantive change that might result in improvement to service delivery and fiscal efficiency.

At the end of the day, it’s not about We, The People.

And it’s damn sure not about improving public safety in Volusia County.

It’s about protecting the mechanism that permits the right people access to the bloated coffers of a government that has been sold to the highest bidder.


Volusia Politics: In the Kingdom of Jim Dinneen

There are a lot of things about government that don’t quite make sense.

That’s why most rational people just ignore it.

Trying to figure out the moves and motivations of the Volusia County Council is like buying a factory reject jigsaw puzzle – you’re just setting yourself up for frustration.

I’ve often equated Volusia to a Shadow Government, where nothing is truly as it seems.

A dark, mysterious place where power was taken from the people long ago and consolidated in the hands of a supreme being – the county manager.

For instance, the Office of Sheriff – a person We, The People elect every four-years to serve as our county’s chief law enforcement officer.  A constitutionally established office with the power to enforce state law and county ordinances, who acts as the Executive Officer of the court system, serving process and enforcing orders.

At least that’s what most people think they voted for.

Although the constitution requires that each county elect a sheriff, it also allows counties with a home rule charter approved by the electorate to eliminate, transfer, or substantially alter the duties of the office.

When the Volusia County charter was established by special law in 1970, the Office of Sheriff was abolished – along with the other traditional constitutional offices of tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of the circuit court – and their power and duties were transferred to new charter offices.

The duties of sheriff were transferred to, and divided between, the department of public safety and the department of corrections.

Our duly elected sheriff is essentially a de facto elected department head – technically classified as the Director of the Department of Public Safety under the direct control of the County Manager.

The State of Florida is considering legislation which would allow voters to return constitutional sovereignty and traditional authority to the Office of Sheriff in charter counties.

Guess what?

Our county manager, Little Jimmy Dinneen, wants no part of it – and he’s willing to lie to you, me and our elected officials – and spend our hard-earned tax dollars – to retain his Napoleonic power over his Kingdom in Deland.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Earlier this month, during a meeting of the Volusia County Council, Jim Dinneen and his bootlicking toady, county attorney Dan Eckert – in an open display of premeditated treachery – orchestrated a vote to allow Dinneen and his staff to work with the county’s highly-paid lobbying firm to exclude Volusia County from the pending legislation on the dubious grounds of protecting home rule and “the right of the people to vote.”

That’s rich.

Considering Mr. Eckert spent most of last year suing his constituents with their own tax dollars specifically to prevent their right to vote.

Interestingly, the backroom work to exclude Volusia County from the sheriff’s legislation began in Tallahassee a week before the County Council even considered it.

Our elected officials acted without consulting – or even notifying – Sheriff Chitwood, soliciting his input, or announcing their intentions on the public agenda.

Still think your county council wants or needs your involvement in your government?

So much for those haughty campaign promises, huh?

Without undertaking any independent review of the proposed legislation – Ed Kelley, that doddering fool we elected to the important role of Chairman – and the other stuffed suits on the dais – voted unanimously to support Dinneen’s Machiavellian horseshit.

Unfortunately, we would later learn that this wasn’t the only bald-assed sleight-of-hand perpetrated by the County Manager during that fateful meeting.

This was the same session during which Jim Dinneen purposefully concealed vital information regarding the nearly $1-million-dollar purchase of a parcel of land fronting Main Street in the City of Daytona Beach from our elected officials.

In turn, our county council – the very people we elected to represent our interests – once again voted blindly, like the good little rubber stamps they are – before being excruciatingly exposed as pitiful victims of their own astonishing lack of preparation, political intuition or basic intelligence.

Last Friday, Sheriff Mike Chitwood did what those bought-and-paid-for cowards on the council dais couldn’t when he publicly called for Jim Dinneen to be fired.

In an incredibly pointed interview on local talk radio, Chitwood described Mr. Dinneen as a “disingenuous human being,” a “megalomaniac” and courageously warned us that it is time to give the county manager and county attorney’s offices an “enema.”

According to reporter Dustin Wyatt’s excellent overview in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, Chitwood noted, “He (Dinneen) lies and misleads the council,” referencing the land deal situation: “How do you know he’s lying? His lips are moving.”

Truer words were never spoken.

The response from several members of the council was predictable – and exemplified how quickly the power brokers can circle-the-wagons when their cash cow is threatened.

Take Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson’s mean-spirited admonition to a fellow elected official:

“If he’s unhappy with the way things are going,” Patterson said of Chitwood, “maybe he should resign.”

Asked why he didn’t so much as talk to Sheriff Chitwood before the recent council discussion, Patterson said: “It’s not all about Chitwood.

Apparently, it’s not about you and me either – you know, the people who overwhelmingly voted Mike Chitwood into office?

In my view, this building blood feud best exemplifies the depth to which our county government has been compromised by big money special interests who now control every aspect of the current administration.

Sheriff Chitwood is right – as our duly elected sheriff his constitutionally created office should be free of the bondage and dictatorship of a screw-job appointed official who is wholly controlled and protected by the shadow figures who manipulate government through massive campaign contributions and outsized personal influence.

Our home rule charter has many important benefits – but make no mistake, it is tailor made to permit powerful external forces to sway the system.

Why do you think the same faces appear on the Charter Review Commission time, and time, and time again?

Somewhere along the line, Jim Dinneen forgot the one irrefutable fact of public service:  His power to administrate our county government is derived from the will and trust of the people – not a select few uber-wealthy puppet masters with a profit motive.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Sheriff Chitwood – a man of proven integrity with the first set of fresh eyes we’ve had in years – is sounding the Klaxon on Little Jimmy’s micromanagement, strategic deception and unadulterated dishonesty – while our elected officials ignore the dire warnings and publicly chastise the messenger.


It’s how things are done in the Kingdom of the Strawman – a place where an appointed manager with no political accountability can publicly humiliate the people’s elected officials, openly obfuscate the facts, and completely alienate the democratic concept of public input and fair debate.

In my view, a partial repeal of the county charter to exempt the high office of sheriff from the tyrannical control of a foul ball like Jim Dinneen is both warranted and necessary.

And, despite the bleating and quibbling of our horribly compromised County Attorney, it is infinitely possible.

In the meantime, our elected officials can take the first important step to restore public trust by terminating Mr. Dinneen’s reign of abject incompetence and deceit.

We’ve had enough.

Only when this Little Caesar with a God complex has been removed from power can we begin the difficult process of rebuilding reputational confidence in those we have elected to represent our interests – and bring back fundamental trust in our terribly wounded system of governance.





Volusia Politics: The United States of America v. Dwayne Leron Taylor

What do you call the federal indictment of a former State Representative on charges of wire fraud related to campaign finance violations?

A good start.

It’s also a tragically sad ending for an important local role model.

On Thursday, former State Representative – and Daytona Beach City Commissioner – Dwayne Taylor, was indicted on nine counts of wire fraud by federal prosecutors in Florida’s Middle District following allegations that he claimed thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures to conceal ATM withdrawals and checks written to himself in violation of state campaign law – and United States Code.

If convicted, Taylor faces a maximum penalty of 20-years in federal prison on each count.

Per the grand jury indictment, in an abominably dumb move, Taylor saw fit to appoint himself as his own campaign treasurer – a dubious practice permitted by current campaign finance law – during his 2012 and 2014 runs.

Apparently, he made the illegal withdrawals, totaling approximately $2,800, in nine transactions between June 2012 and August 2016.

Federal prosecutors claim that Taylor fraudulently reported the embezzled funds as petty cash.

In addition, the indictment seeks a monetary judgement of some $62,834 in campaign funds, “representing the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the offense charged in Counts one through nine.”

Clearly, this would exceed the $100 per week permitted for office supplies, transportation, and other petty essentials directly related to a candidate’s campaign activities.

In 2008, voters elected Taylor as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, initially representing the 27th District.  In 2012, following redistricting, he was reelected to the Florida House representing the 26th District.

Then, in 2015, Mr. Taylor announced his intention to run for the Volusia County Chair before changing tack and launching a campaign for Florida’s Sixth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives – the post now held by Rep. Ron DeSantis.

A cursory check of Mr. Taylor’s campaign contribution reports finds all the right local players represented.  Typical of Volusia County politics, each of our uber-wealthy High Panjandrums of Political Power contributed to Taylor’s various campaigns – if just to hedge their bets.

Was Dwayne Taylor a stand-out politician?  Hardly.

But he was a true Daytona Beach success story – and that is a rarity – something that comes around about as often as the Comet Kohouteck.

Taylor grew up in humble beginnings in the tough Daytona Village Section 8 project, which, prior to a recent renovation, was a deteriorating collection of dreadfully challenged block apartments in the crime infested area between Keech Street and Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard.

He was living proof to thousands of kids that anything is possible.

Dwayne Taylor embodied the promise that with hard work, and a dedication to education, you can go from the bottom of Daytona Beach to the halls of power in Tallahassee and beyond.

In 1996, I had the distinct honor of graduating from the Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.  Alumni of that distinguished program have adopted a quote by President John F. Kennedy which guides our professional ethics – and our personal commitment to the highest ideals of public service:

“For those to whom much is given, much is required.”

Our elected and appointed officials could learn something from that valuable aphorism.

For over thirty years I made my living in local government service.

From the earliest days, my superiors drilled into me the importance of preserving the public trust – the foundation upon which government derives its moral authority and legitimacy.

Now retired Chief John P. Finn told me the day I was hired, “I won’t abide a thief or a liar – and of the two – I’d rather have the thief.” 

He demanded complete honesty from the law enforcement officers under his command – in all aspects of our service, on-duty and off – and it was doom for anyone who quibbled the facts, bore false witness or spoke an untruth.

After don’t touch a hot stove, it was the best life-lesson I ever had.

Truth, or consequences.

Perhaps it was my chief’s strong commitment to professional integrity – or my parents early influence – but whenever I faced an ethical dilemma during my career, I got a weird feeling in my core alerting me that the choice I faced was illegal, immoral or unethical.

It never failed.

I might have ignored it on occasion – after all, whisky and bad decisions will be my epitaph – but that sensation of right-and-wrong has never let me down.

I think we all have that internal alarm – call it a conscience, or an ethical sixth sense – but unless you’re a depraved psychopath it’s what keeps most of us on the straight and narrow path of righteousness.

Unfortunately, there are a few elected and appointed to high office who believe the rules no longer apply.

Locally, you need look no further than the Debacle in DeBary to see the damage a mob mentality, fueled by unbridled hubris and revenge politics, can have on a community – or the ethically questionable Volusia County money-shuffle, cloaked as ‘economic development’ incentives, which always seem to benefit top tier campaign donors, or interests and industries close to them.

It’s no better at the federal level where politics has literally become a blood sport.

Perhaps our local officials can learn something from Mr. Taylor’s tragic example.

But I doubt it.

In my view, the time has come for local governments throughout Volusia County to take a long hard look at themselves, and this bastardized system of insider politics that continues to spiral out-of-control.

Look, I’m not talking about an elected official who goes back on a campaign promise – or changes political allegiances in mid-stream – those stories are as old as time.

I am talking about the behind-the-scenes machinations and murky ‘wink-wink’ deals that divert public funds, property and resources to private interests.

Time-and-time-and-time again.

Something tells me that Mr. Taylor isn’t the only local politician who will have trouble sleeping tonight.

The prospect of a cumulative 180-years in federal prison will have that effect.

Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that he isn’t the first – or the last – area politician or appointed official who has crossed the line.

I hope the U.S. Attorney’s Office focuses its powerful resources on the ‘Fun Coast’ and restores the public’s trust in our system of governance.

It is time for a reckoning.







Volusia Politics: Jim Dinneen’s “Safe Space”

I’d like to welcome those of you joining our little program in progress. . .

It’s been quite a week for Barker’s View.

In the past few days, folks have visited the site in droves, thousands of new visitors have come from near and far to read these world-weary views on Volusia County politics.

That’s probably a bad thing for those of us who live, work and play here on the Fun Coast.

Look, I rarely write about all the ‘feel-good’ fun stuff happening in Volusia County.

I’m not an optimist.  I’m a brooding asshole.

It’s just how God made me.  And I am convinced he put me here, in this strange time and place, for a reason.

You want the canned ‘happy-happy!’ from some corporate marketing department touting the benefits of a brand-immersive old folk’s home with a cool “Caribbean Soul” vibe – or piffle on the incredible “synergy” created by a tax-supported, cookie-cutter sporting goods store – you’re in the wrong corner of the interwebz.

If you are reading Barker’s View, that means the wheel as come off the cart at some level of government – and you know that I’ll be sitting here in my boxer shorts, hunched over the keyboard, stirring the pot, goring sacred oxen and kicking the politicos while their down.

Someone’s got to do it.

Besides, my hypocrisy knows no bounds – and I’ve got the time.

It’s a goofy opinion blog.  Don’t like it?  Don’t read it.

I think most regular readers of this forum are smart enough to figure out that if you want an erudite, scholarly examination of the local issues by professional journalists and political analysts, you read the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Orlando Sentinel, or any of the mainstream media serving the Central Florida market.

Regardless of the outlet, it tends to all be riffs on the same theme.  A delicate tightrope act over the dangerous chasm between the truth and the almighty advertising dollar.

But, if you have a hankering for an alternative point-of-view – a itch for the rambling thoughts of a bearded weirdo who watches the mind-numbing machinations of government, filters the intrigues through a gin-soaked mind, and puts his twisted opinions down with a heavy-measure of hyperbole, sarcasm, and cynical embroidery – I’m your guy.

Pull up a chair, pour yourself three-fingers of good bourbon (it’s in the cabinet, above the bar), light-up a Marlboro and make yourself at home.

Consider this your “safe space.”

A profane, often irreverent salon where we can sit together and take an unvarnished look at the inner-workings of local government with a jaundiced eye – and perhaps expose the whores, pimps, book-lickers, fixers and rich political insiders that grease the wheels and work the system to their advantage in the boardrooms, council chambers and back alleys of Volusia County.

What brought all our new readers to the site?

Well, earlier this week we learned that Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen, a sneaky bastard with a penchant for making sure our hard-earned tax dollars make it into the right people’s hands – pulled a fast one on our elected officials.

While you and I – and, it appears, the bulk of the Volusia County Council – were being lulled into a catatonic state by the incessant hype of what passes for ‘progress’ in the Halifax area – Little Jimmy was working up a nearly $1-million-dollar purchase of some paved-over land fronting Main Street in the heart of Daytona Beach’s “Entertainment Zone” redevelopment area.

To make a very strange story short, it appears Mr. Dinneen strategically failed to let the City of Daytona Beach in his plan – or tell his bosses on the county council the full truth – including the fact that municipal zoning regulations prohibit a parking lot on the land, which is exactly the excuse Dinneen used to ramrod the purchase in the first place.

In the aftermath, our elected officials, especially our new Chairman Ed Kelley, and Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, both former city officials who ran on platforms touting their ability to mend fences with Volusia County’s 16 municipalities – constituencies that have been kicked around like a cur dog by Dinneen and his staff – were left looking for all the world like a gaggle of out-of-touch dupes.

Because they are.

Look, I’m not smart enough to figure out the A-B-C’s of this highly suspicious land deal – partly because guys like Jim Dinneen make sure you never quite connect A to C.  He’s bright enough to know that exposing the identities of the shadow players isn’t good for his long-term viability as a first-class fixer.

And make no mistake, Little Jimmy stands firmly at the nexus of public funds and private interests – a cheap bagman with the situational ethics of a broke-back snake who loathes everything you and I hold dear.

In my view, Jim Dinneen is like the kid in school who gets good grades but nobody ever sees him study.  A guy with no particular skills – other than a weird knack for getting elected officials to follow him down mysterious paths – and the impudence to collect his stratospheric salary and benefits package with a straight face.

In most public or private organizations, you only embarrass your bosses on the front page of the local newspaper once – then, your sorry ass is taken to the woodshed where you receive the Bastinado treatment by your humiliated victims before being tossed into the street to face your deepest fears, and enemies, alone.

But not in Volusia County.

This is like a Shadow Government where nothing is as it seems.

Except, our eyes are beginning to adjust to the darkness.

Little Jimmy is smart enough to know the importance of protecting his interests, and those of his handlers, from the petty whims and quirks of the elected officials – those scarecrows in cheap suits who sit on the dais and fritter away under the almost quaint notion that they are in control of something important.

Self-important dimwits, too stupid to understand that they don’t know what they don’t know – while Jim Dinneen consolidates power through the careful control of information.

When things go sideways – like they most certainly did last week – Mr. Dinneen cloaks himself in the political muscle of the real power brokers.  The uber-wealthy insiders who directly benefit from the dangerous combination of Dinneen’s preternatural lack of professional integrity and his direct access to the public checkbook.

That’s Little Jimmy’s “safe space.”

Any elected official in Volusia County worth his or her salt knows that you cross the wrong people in this town at your own risk.

After all, they didn’t shovel hundreds of thousands of dollars into a local election without knowing the exact return on investment – and Jimmy is their little man behind the curtain who keeps the money flowing.

So, don’t expect Ed Kelley – or any of the others we elected to represent our interests – to hold Mr. Dinneen accountable for his sins in this dubious land deal – or anything else.

Our once proud politicians are scared shitless.  And they should be.

They know which side their political bread is buttered on – and so does Jim Dinneen.


Photo Credit:  The West Volusia Beacon