It’s no secret.
Local politicians are famous for blowing smoke up our collective ass – sugar-coating the myriad issues that continue to hamper substantive progress – and ignoring, even obstructing, common sense solutions to entrenched problems.
We’ve come to accept it. Like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus – it’s a grand tradition here on the Fun Coast.
Yesterday, Volusia County officials resurrected the formal “State of the County” address – an annual soiree once again held at the all-but-shuttered Ocean Center – where anyone who is anyone gathers for a “free lunch” – and sits quietly while our county chairman spins wacky fantasy yarns about how good we have it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it. I had to wash my hair.
During the administration of former Chairman Jason Davis, the practice of holding a grandiose function was halted in favor of a more subdued event in the council chambers.
It was perhaps the only bright idea Mr. Davis ever had.
But not Ed Kelley. If you’re going to bring attention to your missteps and blemishes – go big or go home.
After all, why bother to stand for high office if you can’t engage in periodic ostentatious displays of political fallacy and tax-funded celebrations of your own self-importance?
Initially, we were told that the party was being financed by some of the biggest recipients of the county’s largesse – Brown & Brown, ICI Homes, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (which has become a legal dependent of the citizens of Volusia County) to name a few.
In addition, 16 municipalities – that’s right, your city and mine – ponied-up $250 each to help pay for Ed’s big day – yet, county officials looked us in the eye, with a straight face, and yammered that absolutely no tax dollars were wasted in the production of this flamboyantly stupid insult to our collective intelligence.
Now, do you think city officials went in their own pocket for the $250? Me neither.
I realize it’s a relatively small amount. Just don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.
In my view, it’s bad public policy for Volusia officials to accept what amounts to an open gratuity from businesses which will invariably receive county contracts, “economic development” funds, half-price on public land sales, infrastructure improvements, tax incentives and just good old timey cash payouts from public coffers.
Is Brown & Brown getting out of the government insurance business – or the campaign finance game?
Has ERAU finally decided to stand on its own two-feet, build an endowment, and stop begging money from Volusia County and every tin-pot politician who owes Mori Hossieni a political favor? (Trust me. That list is long and distinguished.)
If not, it smacks of something more than a civic donation.
Yes, I’m almost sure I remember some pesky provision of any and every public ethics code ever conceived that says – when public entities accept funds from private organizations – it undermines the legitimacy of government.
But since when has anyone confused Volusia County with legitimate government, eh?
In his goofy sales pitch to the assembled members of the Ruling Class, Chairman Kelley crowed:
“This room is full of excitement. Positive excitement.” (Lest it be confused with outright panic.)
“With the energy that’s in here, all of you just better hold on and watch because we are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Central Florida corridor.”
It’s official. Ed Kelley is delusional.
Look, it’s one thing to whip the Chamber of Commerce crowd into a frenzy of optimism with a free lunch and a flashy video – the rest of us, out here in the trenches, aren’t so easily convinced.
We’re “holding on” alright. Barely.
Just don’t expect us to accept rehashed horseshit as the latest, greatest, accomplishment of County government.
During the 2016 “State of the County” good-time lecture, former Chairman Jason Davis puffed out his chest and squawked:
“As the County Council waited at the airport for the first JetBlue plane to land, I was struck by the excitement and energy in the room. Almost 500 people took time from their busy day to celebrate this milestone, waving signs and greeting each arriving passenger with cheers. At that moment, I thought, “Now this is what ‘turning the corner’ looks like!”
Yep – after putting up $2.3 million in public incentives, including $400,000 in advertising, revenue guarantees, and demands that local businesses purchase tickets from the airline – we got daily service to New York City.
So that’s what “turning the corner” looks like?
Hey, Ed – word to the wise – when you’re hosting a ‘Dog and Pony show’ it’s best to bring in some fresh livestock.
Sadly, at yesterday’s celebration, Chairman Kelley once again trotted out that exhausted, swaybacked old nag that is the JetBlue experience.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“Highlights the county shared include: The arrival of daily JetBlue flights at the Daytona Beach International Airport.”
Let’s agree on one thing – an “accomplishment” can only be counted in the “Look what we did with your money!” column for three (3) years. Then, it is no longer an “accomplishment” – it’s a dry turd.
In Volusia County, at that point a perceived “achievement” has usually transitioned to a cautionary tale any way.
In addition, Ed took credit for cash infusions to the “Micaplex” research facility, the opening of Tanger Outlet (yawn – frontage road outlet malls are so “last year”), “efforts during and after Hurricane Matthew” (?), and FDOT’s construction of the Orange Avenue bridge.
Hell, the only thing Big Ed didn’t take credit for was the Trader Joe’s distribution center, Mr. Ford’s horseless carriage and the advent of penicillin.
In my view, the only pure public triumph on the list was the county’s $3.5 million underwriting of Halifax Urban Ministries to operate the Hope Place shelter for homeless teens and families.
And let’s face it, even that feat was more a testament to the persistence and clout of Mrs. Forough Hossieni than it was to the political and moral strength of our elected officials.
I could sit here at Barker’s View HQ and rehash a laundry list of why our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County should hide their heads in shame – rather than participate in extravagant merrymaking – but I’m trying to keep my morning Gray Goose Bloody Mary down.
From Votran to homelessness to beach access to Jim Dinneen’s cockamamie cycle of bloopers, fuck-ups and political pratfalls – gaffs that have left our elected officials looking like out-of-touch hayseeds with a cognitive disorder – I’m afraid there is very little we can take pride in here on the Fun Coast.
I hope that our “new” County Council will use this embarrassing period in our history to their (and our) advantage, change tack, and work collectively to find real solutions to the serious economic and social problems facing our communities.
In my view, the process of progress begins with launching Little Jimmy Dinneen like a Saturn 5.
With luck – and hard work – at next year’s over-the-top rendezvous of politicians and hangers-on, perhaps Mr. Kelley can list some real achievements – true progress in areas of homelessness, blight, dilapidation, and authentic economic development.
Now that the party’s over – let’s get to work.