I spent the better part of this week in South Florida – an interesting and eclectic mix of communities all sandwiched together – a mosaic bisected by U.S.-1 to the west and A-1-A to the east – each with their own unique culture and “feel.”
The big difference between here and there was the obvious emphasis on code enforcement, appropriate use of natural and civic resources and the importance of transportation/utilities infrastructure in high-population areas.
Don’t get me wrong – you can have South Florida.
Not a fan.
From the weird social contract between the “haves and have-nots,” the walled-off private beaches, and Old Money aristocracy of Palm Beach – a place that makes our uber-wealthy look like ham-and-eggers – and everyone who is anyone hide themselves and their incredible wealth behind thick shrubbery (except President Trump – he puts it right out there at Mar-a-Lago) – to the omnipresent homeless of Ft. Lauderdale – there are obvious challenges.
What I did not see on display in tourist and high-traffic areas was the open blight and dilapidation of Daytona Beach.
It’s there – you just don’t see it in places that anchor the local economy.
Areas like Las Olas Boulevard, a beautiful stand of luxury shopping and dining just outside Ft. Lauderdale’s central business district.
A leisurely stroll finds quaint boutiques, art galleries, yacht charters and chandlers, memorable restaurants – like the 70-year old “The Floridian,” where the owner holds court at a center table, greeting everyone who enters with a wide smile and warm welcome – and people dining alfresco with their pets at over three-dozen bistros and coffee shops.
Adjacent to the good vibe on Las Olas – behind the frontage – are a wide variety of funky shops like “Hole Foods,” an organic grocer where fresh coconuts are displayed next to delicious mangos and exotic tropical fruits and vegetables.
No wasted space. No vacancy – and no panhandlers.
It was what “Downtown Daytona” could be. Should be.
I recently heard some talk of a new trend in municipal government that privatizes all essential services, and elected and appointed officials essentially become contract managers.
Think DeBary. (Yeah. I know.)
Before that idea becomes the “next big thing” in Volusia County, our local powers-that-be might look at how some private water treatment and distribution companies have failed to live up to the hype.
Trust me. It’s disturbing.
I’ll have more on this trip in coming weeks.
In my view, we can learn a lot about finding solutions to common issues by simply looking at similarly situated communities. What works – what doesn’t.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
I wish we could, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Volusia County is under the control of some of the least visionary, openly dumb, sycophantic wooden puppets in the history of local governance.
But just maybe they could learn to be good mimics.
It is time for local officials to do as I do – openly plagiarize the good ideas and visions of others.
We are too far down the track to dawdle – let’s just steal sound revitalization strategies and proven economic development programs from other communities – and put them into play here.
Let’s accept the fact that – just maybe – after 30-years of blight, open thievery and catastrophic squalor – the failed visions of Hyatt, Mori and Lesa aren’t working out for us.
Let’s humble ourselves to the fact that we need help from those who know better.
I implore our elected officials to get outside their comfort zone – admit their own intellectual and creative limitations – and see what others are doing to build successful and sustainable economies in different parts of Florida and beyond.
People with proven results – not hucksters and speculative developers.
I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that what is happening here simply cannot be allowed to continue.
And time is marching on.
It’s time once again for Uncle Mark, your wayward traveler, to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my opinion, either contributed to our quality of life or detracted from it in some significant way.
Let’s see who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – this week:
Angel The City of Daytona Beach Code Enforcement
Earlier this week, nearly 400 owners of blighted properties – representing the full-spectrum of slum lords, absentee land owners, and fly-by-night property managers – were put on notice that the City of Daytona Beach is coming after some $4.46 million in outstanding code enforcement fines.
According to an excellent article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the old practice of waiting until a property sells to collect overdue fines and fees is ending. Now.
And that is a giant step in the right direction.
“People will see that we’re serious, and hopefully they’ll pay their fines and make repairs,” said City Commissioner Aaron Delgado, a strong supporter of the new effort to go after deadbeat code violators. “We won’t tolerate people who just let liens back up and do nothing.”
Folks, Aaron Delgado impresses me more every day.
Asshole The DeBary City Council
This week, Circuit Judge Randell Rowe handed the City of DeBary a backhanded victory in their incredibly expensive and highly embarrassing fight to reverse the democratic process, strip the citizens of their sacred vote, and justify their ham-handed coup d’état of the city’s duly elected mayor, Clint Johnson.
Following a very thoughtful process, Judge Rowe determined that seven of the eight “charter violations” brought by the council were, in fact, little more than vengeful sucker punches – dubious claims cut from whole cloth – by petty elected officials and a greedy municipal attorney who got their collective knickers in a twist over Johnson’s exposure of gross mismanagement and internal corruption on a scale that has made DeBary the poster child for bad governance everywhere.
In turn, Judge Rowe held his nose and found the final claim – that Mayor Johnson’s rant to disgraced former City Manager Dan Parrott to cancel a “ridiculous meeting” – met the dictionary definition of an order or directive.
Since the court cannot substitute its judgement for the DeBary City Council’s (nor would it want to) Judge Rowe found the text message sufficient to support a charter violation.
Note to the long-suffering citizens of DeBary:
In my opinion, when every major newspaper and media outlet in Central Florida is railing about the fecal-storm of utter dysfunction, abject greed and open corruption that has been exposed in your City Hall – the time has come to demand sweeping change.
While you still have something in the bank.
Simply handing the reigns over to a washed-up hack like Ron McLemore – a lying sack-of-shit on the run from allegations of sexual harassment and malingering on duty – does not inspire confidence – and it damn sure doesn’t come close to bringing closure and lasting resolution to this fetid mess that has marred the good name and reputation of one of Central Florida’s most beautiful communities.
You will never move forward with McLemore at the helm.
Although I don’t have a specific number, I would venture a guess that the City of DeBary has suffered mounting and crushing legal fees far north of $300,000 defending this chaos – this abomination – all because a few mealy-mouthed, small town politicians were personally embarrassed by a brash young man who tried to bring attention to institutional issues in local government.
Once again, the citizens of DeBary deserve better.
Angel Sheriff Mike Chitwood and VCSO
Kudos to Sheriff Chitwood and his outstanding deputies and staff on the successful conclusion of “Operation Indecent Proposal” – a five-day undercover sting designed to identify and arrest online child predators.
During the operation, some 14 degenerate assholes were arrested – with another 60 currently under investigation for using a computer to lure what they thought were 13 and 14-year-old children for sex.
These represent the worst-of-the-worst in our community, and my hat is off to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Office of the State Attorney, and all the local agencies and federal agents who worked so cooperatively to bring this human excrement to justice.
Keep going, Sheriff. Keep going.
Asshole The Volusia County Council
Going to war with the cities has become a hallmark of county government – something Chairman Ed Kelley told us he would put an end to if we just voted for him.
Talk about lying sacks-of-shit.
Look, I’ve learned that a leopard never changes his spots – because he can’t.
It’s in his DNA – and what you see is what you get.
The same holds true for County Manager Jim Dinneen and the elected officials he so deftly controls.
It appears the City of Daytona Beach Shores is reaping the whirlwind that comes whenever a municipality has the temerity to challenge the power and might of Volusia County.
Just like in past skirmishes, Little Jimmy is trotting out County Attorney Dan Eckert – who has made a unique cottage industry out of suing his constituents with their own money – to employ his patented bullying tactics and bring the Shores to heel.
The Shores City Council opposed a plan by Volusia County to purchase prime oceanfront property, remove it from the tax rolls, and pave over two parking lots to ensure “beach access” (read: removal of beach driving).
Now, in some weird David and Goliath drama – Daytona Beach Shores is attempting to bring an ordinance that would prohibit new parking lots east of A-1-A.
But make no mistake, Dan Eckert and Volusia County government will do what it wants – when it wants – and there is not a hot-damn thing anyone can do about it.
So, Daytona Beach Shores – how do you like the loyalties of Councilwoman Billie Wheeler now?
Quote of the Week:
“They’ve chosen to go down this road and quite frankly it’s not doing anyone any good for them to come in and push their weight around. They are the big and powerful county of Volusia and we are just the little tiny city of the Shores. It’s unfortunate.”
–Daytona Beach Shores City Planner and Small Town Rube Fred Hiatt, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal