A good “economic development” department wears a variety of hats.
Part theater, part huckster, part sales professional – the very reason for their existence is to lure new business and industry to their state, county or municipality, increase the tax base and provide job opportunities for their constituents.
Some even take the form of weird “public/private partnerships” – which normally serve to facilitate the transmission of public funds to private interests.
Unfortunately, how government goes about stimulating it’s strange view of economic growth can be hard to watch.
For instance, Volusia County is quickly moving away from providing quality public and regulatory services to the people. Instead, they increasingly see themselves as “business partners” with speculative developers, private universities, retailers and others who stand and fall based upon their access to the public trough and sympathetic politicians.
In my view, in their quest to create an artificial economy, our ‘movers and shakers’ now wrap anything and everything – from private development, to infrastructure, to open money grabs – in the “economic development” flag.
It’s as though the very designation somehow anoints the project with oil and shields it from public criticism or questions.
Add to that the exclusive clubs – shadowy secret societies, such as the Volusia County CEO Business Alliance – which, in my opinion, provide a clubby atmosphere for the uber-wealthy to stroke each other’s sizable egos, supply cushy jobs for exposed connivers, and serve as an iron buffer between politicians and those pesky rules and regulations, like Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Tally it all up and you get the feeling that perhaps there is something far more self-serving at play.
Look, I’m not talking about the Chamber of Commerce set – they tend to be more like a big goofy puppy – just happy to be here, and they’re happy you’re here too – and most municipal “economic development” directorates are just variations on that same silly theme. They mean no harm – and just want to promote the community in the best light possible.
My focus is on the big money, the motives of the “rich and powerful” as the News-Journal recently described them, who are increasingly telegraphing their true intent and wielding incredible influence over the process.
This sinister undercurrent was never more evident than during last week’s utterly bizarre County Council meeting, wherein our elected officials voted unanimously to amend a 2015 ordinance that placed specific performance standards on Summit Hospitality Management Group – the developer of the miserably failed Desert Inn/Westin project.
Despite what we were told during the developer’s very eloquent presentation, as most of us understood it, if certain specific metrics were not met by May 7, 2017 – to include that a “4 Star” Westin be open for business on that date – then beach driving would remain on the strand behind the hotel.
We get it. Issues conspired to delay the project, you couldn’t hammer out a deal with Westin, and you have decided to launch as a Hard Rock instead. Great.
No big deal – you lost the private beach – now you can go forward with any damn flag you want, in any time frame you want – and everyone hopes you are wildly successful. Go-man-go.
Unfortunately, in Volusia County it’s never that cut-and-dried – and the power brokers aren’t ready to admit that – once again – they hitched their anti-beach driving wagon to another loser.
On April 5th, one day before county manager Jim Dinneen staged his foolish “Grand Reveal” during an off-agenda ambush before the Volusia County Council – both Dinneen and Kelley surreptitiously sat down, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the developer and his attorney to actively promote the project before the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board.
Before hearing the first shred of testimony, analyzing a statement of need, seeking public input, or confirming that Hard Rock corporate was on-board. . .
Then, the following day, Dinneen and his handmaiden Kelley, orchestrated this weird surprise party during a duly-noticed public meeting – performing their best “this just in” breaking news ruse – and allowed Summit’s Abbas Abdulhussein to unveil the magical metamorphosis from Westin to Hard Rock.
The announcement was met with the wild applause, gyrations, screams and jubilation of our elected officials.
My question is – which master is our elected and appointed representatives serving?
Who, exactly, do Kelley and Dinneen work for?
It damn sure isn’t their long-suffering constituents.
The problem is – unlike those dupes we elected to look after our interests – not all of us yokels are that easily impressed by shiny baubles or rock-n-roll themed heartbreak hotels.
No. Many of us are more interested in preserving our heritage of beach driving and maintaining access to our most precious natural resource – and all-important economic engine – for everyone, not just members of the gilded leisure class or here today, gone tomorrow speculative developers.
As if this cheap scam wasn’t a foregone conclusion – to ensure that their hired hands were crystal clear on how they should vote – several members of The Halifax Area Illuminati, those enlightened deities of the exclusive CEO Business Alliance – were conspicuously present in the gallery.
When their High Panjandrum – the illustrious J. Hyatt Brown – rose in front of his chattel on the dais and told them collectively what their opinion would be – you could almost feel our elected officials symbolically clamoring to touch the hem of his high-dollar business suit and kiss the master’s ring.
And just like that – the developer du jour received all that he demanded and more.
I could almost hear the rotting corpse of Bray & Gillespie Management, LLC enjoying a raspy chuckle from its moldy grave.
Rather than live up to their firm promise to the people that beach driving would remain if clear standards were not met, our elected officials unanimously rolled-over and voted to extend the hotel’s completion date into 2018 – and accepted that the hotel would open as a Hard Rock – even when presented with clear evidence that the developer is nowhere close to a contract with the brand.
My God. When did these people lose the common human emotion of shame?
I hope that you will join me in questioning the motives, and undue influence, of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – in my view, a mandarinate of extremely wealthy insiders who apparently control the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides here in the Halifax area.
A mysterious clique led by the unfortunate Dr. D. Kent Sharples.
Yeah, that Dr. D. Kent Sharples.
The same stooge who single-handedly pissed away at least $1.4 million in Daytona State College funds on the steaming turd that was the American Music Festival – then landed a curious make-work gig as “President” of the CEO Alliance – in my view, to keep his mouth shut about the other flim-flam artists and rubes with recognizable names who were just as complicit in the fleecing.
Call me old fashioned, but when the people we elect on the promise that they will serve and protect our civic interests transmogrify into cheap lobbyists and sycophantic bootlickers – I get nervous.
And you should to.
I could be wrong, but I thought the only person who works directly for the CEO Business Alliance is Little Jimmy Dinneen? Now, Chairman Ed Kelley, has proven that he is an active pawn in a much bigger game – and he is playing his role as the doddering fool with a slack-jawed expression extremely well.
In my view, Ed Kelley and Jim Dinneen should not have been within a country mile of the meeting with Summit Hospitality and the News-Journal (or anyone else) before hearing the input of their constituents.
I believe it smacks of collusion – and the open corruption of the public hearing process – and best telegraphs that the self-serving whims of the well-connected will trump the actual needs and wants of the people of Volusia County every time.
Photo Credit: Daytona Beach News-Journal