The Debacle in DeBary: The Final Chapter?

Last year, Barker’s View cut its teeth as an opinion blog on what would become known as “The Debacle in DeBary” – a squalid tale of treachery, abject greed and the base arrogance of political power run amok in Tiny Town.

As I came to understand it, over the course of months, the City of DeBary devolved into a crystal example of what can happen when a small-town government becomes hopelessly enmeshed in the intrigues of property developers and those who – for a healthy fee – navigate the fast and loose Turkish bazaar that passes for environmental protection and permitting in the Sunshine State.

The city’s surreptitious scheme to develop some 102-acres of environmentally sensitive land adjacent to the DeBary SunRail station was first exposed by the incredible investigative journalism of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles Pulver.

Her outstanding reportage peeled the onion on the St. John’s River Water Management District governing board’s permitting process – to include the fact public officials transferred public funds to Chairman John Miklos and his Orlando-based “environmental consultancy” for his personal assistance in securing SJRWMD permissions for the transit oriented development.

For those joining the fun late – you read that right:  The Chairman of the SJRWMD Governing Board received money from public and private clients to lobby for their interests in front of the very state regulatory board he oversees.   

Perhaps more disturbing, in Florida – arguably the most openly corrupt state in the union – that level of quid pro quo sleaze is perfectly acceptable – even encouraged by our reptilian governor.

Yep.  When pressed, the Florida Commission on Ethics – you know, the people who are charged with protecting the public’s trust in government – called no harm, no foul.

It got better.

We later learned that DeBary’s city attorney, A. Kurt Ardaman, had a business relationship with Chairman Miklos – something he conveniently failed to disclose to his clients.

Then – as if things couldn’t get more bizarre – last summer, disgraced former City Manager Dan Parrott fled the building with a sack full of “severance” money just ahead of gross sexual discrimination allegations – but not before he and Ardaman cobbled together some curious “charter violations” against the community’s chief whistleblower, and duly elected mayor, Clint Johnson.

The charges essentially involved a series of goofy tweets and opinionated social media posts Mayor Johnson made voicing his frustrations with an increasingly out-of-control municipal government.

Once everything was in place, a Kangaroo Court was convened and the will of the people – the sacred majority vote of DeBary residents – was arbitrarily overturned by the city’s four remaining thin-skinned, mean-spirited elected officials in the most blatant act of political vengeance ever witnessed in the history of local governance.

They were embarrassed.  They didn’t like him.  So, they took him out with extreme prejudice.

Somewhere along the line a local residential developer took heavy equipment and brazenly churned acres of sensitive natural lands near Konomac Lake into a primordial ooze of black muck – right under the nose of seemingly clueless municipal regulators.

Locals reported observing endangered tortoises and other creatures fleeing for their lives – but state officials were later unable to confirm the presence of protected wildlife on the parcel.

A bulldozer blade can have that effect.

Add to that the fact the Office of the State Attorney and Florida Department of Law Enforcement developed probable cause that a public records crime had been committed and obtained a search warrant which was served during a highly-publicized law enforcement raid on City Hall.

The story goes on-and-on – you can read all about it in the News-Journal archives – or review my convoluted views on the sordid mess elsewhere on this site.

For a while, it was fascinating to watch.  I mean, it had all the elements of a good Carl Hiaasen novel.

Then, things just turned sad.  For me, anyway.

It was like watching the hapless victim of a strongarm robbery being pummeled into submission while thugs in expensive suits rummaged through the wounded dupe’s pockets.

Frankly, I quit opining on the fiasco when the current city commission agreed to provide interim City Manager Ron McLemore – a veteran bureaucrat with an incredibly checkered past – an open-ended contract paying full-time wages for part-time service

 (I wasn’t surprised.  In my view, the consistent characteristics of McLemore’s career involve negotiating maximum compensation for half-assed performance, documented instances of conducting personal business while receiving public funds, unresolved allegations of sexual harassment and preternaturally creepy personal conduct in the workplace.  Those types always seem to land on their feet in places in crisis – especially when the options are limited.)

In truth, what turned me off was the fact that, during each phase of this unfolding Greek tragedy, city officials – those who were elected and appointed to protect the public’s interest – kept hiring a long parade of highly-paid Winter Park lawyers to explain and aggressively defend the increasingly over-the-top shenanigans at City Hall.

Everyone who was anyone in the politically entrenched ivy-covered law firms near Park Avenue got a piece of the public pie – served up a la mode by A. Kurt Ardaman, Esquire.  The legal fees foisted on DeBary taxpayers piled up so fast and furious that even seasoned local attorneys – real sharks accustomed to fleecing the lame and the stupid – became outright queasy.

Look, I’ve seen a lot of brutal shit in my day, but can anyone with a conscience not avert their eyes from the metaphorical scene of a baby seal being repeatedly bludgeoned with a spiked mattock?

So, eventually, I took the cowards way out and simply ignored it all.

Not my monkeys.  Not my circus.

This week we learned that the Office of the State Attorney concluded their investigation of the City of DeBary when prosecutors publicly announced they were unable to develop sufficient evidence of civil or criminal violations of Florida’s public records law.

Perhaps by design, too much time has passed for anyone other than those directly affected to have any real emotional response to the news.  It is what it is.

Naturally, the subjects of the inquiry were “tickled and thrilled” by the outcome.

Something else we learned was that DeBary taxpayers once again picked up the bill – nearly $14,000 – for an extremely skillful defense attorney who was hired to represent the personal interests of elected and appointed officials who were under criminal investigation.

Those same public officials refused to sit for interviews with investigators on the good advice of their tax-funded attorney after he reviewed the search warrant affidavit – then made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain “use immunity” for his clients, a legal procedure which protects a witness against the governments use of his or her immunized testimony in the prosecution of a criminal act.

When asked by the Daytona Beach News-Journal if the inability to formally interview council members and staff impacted the outcome of the investigation, a state attorney spokesperson cryptically responded, “Obviously we made our decision on the evidence available.”

 So, another chapter in this sordid story ends.

Hopefully, the final chapter.

While those who wandered off into the festering quagmire of the Gemini Springs Annex deal may consider this some weird victory, I can’t help but feel that the true victims of this shit-storm of mismanagement, ineptitude, and petty political arrogance – the long-suffering citizens of DeBary – have been left holding the bag that was once a quaint riverside community of great promise.

Oddly, at the end of the day, I feel terribly sorry for everyone involved.

Perhaps now those members of the community who still care will see the benefit of strong, ethical management and representation to the future fiscal, social and civic health of DeBary.

It’s not too late to change course, clean house and start fresh.

Correct the sins of the past and learn from painful mistakes.

Please don’t let the tragedy of the “Debacle in DeBary” be the legacy of this beautiful, but horribly tarnished, community.

 

Angels & Assholes for June 30, 2017

When I’m wrong – I’m wrong.

I’ve obviously got an outsized ego – but even a heel like me knows that the correct and gentlemanly thing to do is admit when you make a mistake – take personal responsibility – and make things right.

Earlier this week I wrote a long-winded, melodramatic screed entitled “Because they can,” wherein I took County Manager Jim Dinneen to task and excoriated the Volusia County Council for what I perceived was a gross display of abject arrogance in placing ugly, lime-green “No Parking” traffic cones on the beach behind the new Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock county-owned-off-beach lot.

You may remember that our elected officials assured us all that we would be permitted to use that section of our beach behind the project until the hotel is complete and open for business.

Only then would our ability to drive and park on that section be taken away from us.

That was the “deal” as I understood it.

In my histrionic blogpost, I droned on, ad nauseum, (as I am wont to do) railing against the county’s latest “power play” and telling everyone who would listen that the decision to prematurely ban parking from the strand behind the still under construction Desert Inn was indicative of the council’s predilection for shamelessly breaking their promises to constituents.

I screamed that this was no more than a show of strength – a blatant bait-and-switch reversal –an open demonstration of the county’s power and influence over beach use and access.

And I said that anyone who still believes that our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County have the best interests of their constituents at heart is, well, “delusional.”

I was wrong.  And I admit it.

It wasn’t political hubris and arrogance at all.

It was GROSS INCOMPETENCE.

Yep.  Good old fashioned bureaucratic ineptitude.

So, let the record stand corrected.

According to Dustin Wyatt, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Little Jimmy Dinneen confirmed this week that he was totally unaware that a large section of the beach had been cordoned off to parking – a ban which, according to the article, had been on-going since Easter weekend.

Clueless.

That is, until Sons of the Beach President Paul Zimmerman made inquiries.

In a previous piece on this latest Bruhaha on the Beach, Beach Safety Director Ray Manchester (the latest in a long line of county employees enlisted to explain beach policy to the public) cited a 2012 County Council “service model” which gives officials the authority to arbitrarily remove cars from the beach, before lecturing us on the benefits of his new parking-free beach.

“This no-parking zone also doubles as an extension of the park and provides a car-free area where the public can set up for the day safely above the tideline and traffic lane.” 

 In the style of the classic servant-leader – Mr. Dinneen immediately deflected blame for the “mistake” on something called the “Coastal Division” (?) – then reverted to his archetypal micromanagement style by publicly blistering his employees, “When it’s on the beach, they should have gone through me specifically, but they didn’t.”

Way to accept responsibility, Skipper.  (Look it up in your County Manager Handbook).

Then, in keeping with her near-constant “look at me!” fetish fanned by the lead-up to her 2018 campaign, the always nasty Councilwoman/Vice Chair Deb Denys reverted to her previous stance and announced publicly that she now supports removal of the parking restrictions (after supporting the complete removal of beach driving behind the Desert Inn – after saying she opposed the complete removal of beach driving behind the Desert Inn – oh, whatever).

“It wasn’t really a council directive,” she said, adding that every decision regarding the beach should come from the council.”

 Wow.

Naturally, our doddering County Council Chairman Ed Kelley instinctively chimed-in, citing his unwavering support for anything and everything that removes cars from increasingly larger swaths of the beach.

Apparently speaking before Dinneen announced it was a “mistake” –  in his typical disjointed style – Ed said:

 “It seems like common sense to me (?).”

 “Cars parking there would mean limited access for people (who use the parking lot). 

Say what?

Hey, Eddie – from the painfully obvious file – the very nature of “off-beach” parking limits access for people attempting to, well, access the beach.  Get it?

I mean, what gives?  Ed Kelley is a long-time beach access advocate, right?

Yeah.  I’m almost positive he told us that.

I distinctly remember a glossy, bright red mailer that went out to all “beach supporters” under Ed’s hand during the highly contentious 2016 election cycle wherein he squawked about his commitment to beach driving and access:  https://barkersview.org/2016/06/

“Beach driving access was here long before any of us.  It must be preserved.”

“We should maintain a balance of beach driving and off-beach parking to accommodate all who enjoy our beaches.”

He then yammered on about some quaint notion of “protecting the public trust,” yada, yada, yada.

I could go on about all the times the Kelley campaign told us that Ed supported “beach access” (something we now know was a dog whistle for “more off-beach parking lots”) but I won’t – and I damn sure won’t mention Chairman Kelley’s heroic efforts to protect the public trust – because there haven’t been any.

Whatever.

Now, it appears the “mistake” will be corrected – and the historic “Ray Manchester Decree” prohibiting beach parking behind “off-beach” lots will be formalized by the full County Council.

“What I will suggest,” Dinneen said, “is sometime in the future, the council might want to consider this.  Because there is definitely logic behind it.”

No there isn’t.

Logic doesn’t factor into this convoluted shit-train that passes for “governance” in Volusia County – and it hasn’t since Jim Dinneen took the helm.

But don’t you worry, Jim – your annual pay raise and benefit increase will go off like clockwork later this year – and the rest of us, the ones who pay the bills, will simply sit back and take it.

Like always.

Hey, Deb Denys – you want to secure at least one vote?

Make a motion to fire this five-alarm fuck-up of a county manager.  Do it now.

I guarantee it will buy you the adulation and respect you so richly crave.

On that up-beat note, it’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my humble 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 – during the week that was:

Angel              The City of Daytona Beach

During a recent City Commission meeting, officials took a unique, common-sense approach to eliminating one of the worst contributors to blight, crime and hopelessness on the beleaguered beachside.

In lieu of initiating expensive, and time-consuming, foreclosure proceedings on two upside down, dilapidated crime incubators on Braddock Avenue, the City has – in exchange for a firm promise to remediate the problem – agreed to forgive some $40,000 in code enforcement liens if the slumlord responsible for the violations transfers ownership of the properties to the mortgage holder.

Look, I admit, I can be hard on City Attorney Robert Jagger – but my hat’s off to him on what is clearly a creative, cost-effective and very efficient means of cleaning up two incredibly noxious beachside properties.

Good work, sir.

Angel               Eddie Hennessey and the Streamline Hotel

 A tip o’ the hat to Mr. Eddie Hennessey for his beautiful renovation of the Streamline Hotel which held its formal grand opening earlier this week.

I like a man who has the commitment and dedication required to finish what he starts – that’s a rare commodity in the Halifax area.

No one crows about the need for substantive revitalization efforts – or the importance of stabilizing our economy with something other than an artificial infusion of “economic development” funds (read: tax dollars) more than I do, and this project fits the bill perfectly.

The Streamline is really something special.

I like the fact that this was a local effort, as well.

Despite the delays and frustrations of restoring an old building, local builders Anthony and Paul Viscomi and their crew did amazing work transforming the former “hostel” into a world-class hotel.

It took a lot of guts – and a $6-million investment – to see this project become a reality.  In my view, Mr. Hennessey, his partners, and staff can take great pride in what may well be the catalyst for the revitalization of our long-suffering beachside.

That’s something we can all take pride in.

 Asshole           NASCAR, Daytona/International Speedway Corporation

On Wednesday, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that the Forbes-listed billionaire France family – through their business entities NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and International Speedway Corporation – ponied-up $5,000 each (complete with check presentation ceremony) for Volusia County’s first homeless assistance shelter.

Admittedly, that’s about $15,000 more than I donated.

I guess where I take the ass is that – given the tax breaks and publicly funded incentives which have been poured into the DIS facility and other France family business interests for years – just maybe I expected, more?

I know – DIS brings in thousands of visitors each year!  The facility is worth its weight in gold!

(Then why did they rip-out a quarter of their grandstands and replace them with a pixilated pattern that gives the optical illusion of paying customers?  Just curious…)

Given the fact that taxpayers will contribute over $800,000 each year towards the nearly $1-million cost of operating the facility – which remains some $200K short for the first year – perhaps those who the News-Journal describes as our “Rich and Powerful” could go in their incredibly deep pockets and give a little back.

Hey, maybe I’m the asshole – and an ungrateful one at that.

After all, no one owes anyone anything, right?

It’s just that the next time the France family – or anyone else with a personal net worth of over $1-million – comes around asking for over $40-million in public funds for another “entertainment and shopping” venue to complement their business interests, impact fee reimbursements, infrastructure improvements, or any of the other “win-win, public-private partnerships” that invariably mean public funds benefiting private interests – I, for one, will remember the paltry $5-grand they threw at perhaps the most vexing problem of our time.

Asshole           Deltona City Commission

 Rather than demand that the City Manager and staff find a workable solution to the myriad issues surrounding trash collection in Deltona – the City Commission has taken the easy – and expensive – way out:

They hired a contractor to tell them what they already know.

For a time in my life I served as an interim city manager – perhaps the worst period of my long career in municipal government.  It’s a job that requires a high-degree of creativity, the ability to multi-task, a lot of diplomacy and an institutional knowledge of the million moving parts that make up the inner-workings of a community.

One of the first things I noticed upon moving into the role was the vast number of “consultants” and “contractors” that hang on a public entity like suckerfish on a whale shark. It’s a weird symbiotic relationship – the consultant ostensibly provides expertise (and a healthy layer of political insulation) – while commanding often exorbitant fees and performance bonuses for their time.

Word to the Deltona City Commission:  The hiring of public sector consultants is a slippery slope.

I’ll just bet if you look around, you might find that a current staff member has some unique suggestions to solving the waste management issues you face.  In turn, you may save a few bucks while showing confidence in the contributions of your employees.

If not, maybe it’s time to find a new manager for your team – one that cultivates problem-solving and innovation in those receiving public funds to serve in the public interest.

Just a thought.

Asshole           Ormond Beach Rotary Club

 Look, I could give a damn if three-generations of male, well-connected and well-heeled, Ormond Beach ‘movers-and-shakers’ want to have a Sausage Fest at The Grind every Thursday night – go for it.

In fact, for a time I belonged to an all-male Ormond Beach club that will remain nameless.  I got out of the organization not because it was gender exclusive – but because it was dull and lifeless.

That club now admits women, and I’ll just bet it’s a better place for it.

Full disclosure: I was a Boy Scout, too.

According to Rotary International, the service organization focuses on several important areas, to include, promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene, saving mothers and children, supporting education and growing local economies.

I’m not sure how much of that gets accomplished by the fella’s in the Boom-Boom Room at Kona Tiki Bar on a Thursday night.  (If you’ve ever been to Kona on a Thursday night, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

The fact is, those wishing to serve and contribute to the betterment of their community through participation in a service organization shouldn’t have to form their own club because the existing organization is effectively closed to those who don’t meet the groups exclusive definition of who is worthy – and who is not.

That’s all I’ve got for this week!  (Is there anyone I forgot to alienate?) 

Have a great weekend, kids!

 

Hey, “Money is Money” Fuggedaboutit…

I’ve taken some heat since I started this little social experiment.

People “in the know” who toil in the Halls of Power and boardrooms throughout Volusia County tell me of the comments, the tantrums, and the strange angst that these goofy opinion pieces bring to some of Volusia’s “Rich and Powerful.”

Friends tell me of the side-ways glances and open hostility that can come from merely mentioning the fact they read Barker’s View – or, God forbid, agree with some of these weird screeds – others change the topic or refuse to mention the blog at all.

Some have “unfriended” me altogether.

That’s to be expected, I guess, and after 31-years in law enforcement I’ve grown some hard bark – not easily offended.  Truth be told, I like the feud that naturally results from confronting an entrenched power structure when they’re wrong.

There was a time when the competition of ideas and a free, transparent debate of the issues of the day was the foundation upon which sound public policy was built.  Not anymore.

Now, our guiding principles of governance are most often formulated by those who can pay-to-play.

The premise of an alternative opinion forum is that not everyone will agree on every issue.

As the author, my role is to float a notion – generally something that effects all of us – and allow you, the reader, to think critically, independently analyze the information, consider the point-of-view, form your own unique assessment and further the discussion.

People and organizations that agree on everything tend to be more of a dull mutual admiration society, a government agency controlled by a megalomaniac shitheel who suppresses dissenting opinions as a matter of internal policy, or the CEO Business Alliance of Volusia County.

I believe that the beauty – and relevance – of Barker’s View is that it remains one of the few outlets on the Fun Coast where we can discuss and debate the issues of the day, agree to disagree, and remain friends and neighbors.

What I find unfortunate, although not unexpected, is how those in positions of power and influence will invariably attempt to marginalize and silence opposing viewpoints as an effective means of protecting the status quo.

The oligarchical system that passes for governance in Volusia County – to include the various fraternities and societies where power goes to be among like-types – requires that communications be limited to trusted parties.

Any public statement must focus exclusively on the positive – accentuating only that which lends credence to the optimistic smokescreen that helps keep those of us who pay the bills in the dark – even as the stark reality of our collective situation festers around us.

It’s why our elected officials on the Volusia County Council are so often exposed as uninformed churls – figureheads who are fed a steady diet of bullshit and indoctrinated in the imperative of towing the official line, eschewing even the appearance of independence, and – above all else –  always facilitating the wants of those influential powerbrokers who hold the paper on their political lives.

Sad, really.

Trust me – I sincerely appreciate your comments and dialog on social media and off-line – even when that criticism is pointed, harsh and personal.  I subscribe to the maxim that he who seeks the truth should give no mercy – and expect none.

For the record, my working theory is that if you are one of the ‘movers-and-shakers’ or ‘high panjandrums of political power’ I bitch about who put self-enrichment above the civic needs of your constituents and I call you a mendacious asshole – I just naturally assume you feel the same about me.

There now.  That’s something we can all agree on!

I recently read the incredibly interesting – and telling – piece in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, penned by the outstanding tag team of Seth Robbins and Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, aptly entitled – “The Project is Real.”

Anyone who has driven down A-1-A recently has seen the gash in the sand that we are told will be the foundation of the towering twin-spires of the Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums – a $185 million beachfront monstrosity that is being constructed by Russian developer Alexey Lysich’s Protogroup.

The ground has been cleared and the pilings driven into place – the foundation of this spectacular new addition is ready to go – and everything is in place.

Except the financing.

In typical Halifax area style, the public has been given a glimpse of some extraordinarily beautiful architectural renderings – complete with pixilated little cars and happy shadow people frolicking about – and our hopes have been buoyed by some preliminary construction activity at the site and a parking garage.

Unfortunately, Protogroup has yet to secure the cash necessary to see the project out of the ground.  It’s admirable that Lysich and family have dropped some serious personal coin on the project – but, frankly, we’ve heard it all before.

You may remember that chilly night back in January 2014 when, as the News-Journal described the scene, “200 local power brokers sipping cocktails and gazing into glass cases that held Jim Morrison’s jacket and Duane Allman’s guitar gathered to celebrate the kickoff of condo sales for the planned Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe on the oceanfront.” 

I sure do.

Anyone who was anyone was urinating all over themselves in a fit of excited incontinence over the latest, greatest “panacea project” that was going to save all of us from this festering blight and neglect that is destroying our quality of life and hampering any real economic development.

To ensure the project, J. Hyatt Brown let his hired hands on the Volusia County Council know just how much he supported the removal of beach driving from the strand behind the “Hard Rock” as an incentive for the development (take a guess how they voted?).      

Then, just two-years later, we were all being dressed-down on the front page of the paper by a dejected Henry Wolfond – the Canadian developer who blamed his abject failure on everything except his twisted business model of charging Palm Beach condo and hotel prices in a Hooterville market.

Now, former Mayor Glenn Ritchey – who apparently negotiated the project with the Russians way back when – is once again firing up the Allstar Goodtime Band and playing a rosy tune for all of us skeptical rubes who can’t seem to recognize a good thing when we see it:

“We’re riding the crest of a wave of good things in our community,” Ritchey said.  “Just seeing (construction) cranes creates an air of positivity.”

Hell yeah, Glenn!  I can feel it deep down in my loins!

Excitement is in the air again!  Again.

Unfortunately, the recent News-Journal piece also exposed some potentially uncomfortable information that was found during a review of the “Panama Papers” – leaked documents that contain personal financial information regarding the offshore bank accounts of uber-wealthy individuals and public officials from around the globe.

Although offshore business entities and banking is legal where permitted – from the “who’d a thunk it” file – some shell corporations and offshore accounts are used for fraud, tax evasion, and the avoidance of international sanctions.

Really.  I’m not making that up.

Apparently – according to the Panama Papers – a guy by the name of Alexey Lysich of St. Petersburg, Russia is associated with an offshore bank account in the Seychelles.

In his defense, Lysich told the News-Journal he – “doesn’t think its him” – and assured us all that neither he, nor his family, has any connection to the Russian government.

After all, “Money is money” Lysich said.

He’s right.  It is.

But – call me crazy – I just like to know the origin and security of it before I get overly excited about the “next big thing” on the long-suffering beachside.

Look, I wish Mr. Lysich well – and I hope his mega-project does everything for Daytona Beach that Mayor Ritchey promises it will – but we’ve been fooled before – and I’m not sure we can afford another boondoggle on the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Because They Can…

During my working years I tried to keep an equal “work/life” balance.

Fact is – I failed miserably.

Most people like to think they follow the “work hard/play hard” manifesto, but most of us put our nose to the grindstone and pick our head up 30 or 40-years later wondering where the time went.

I know I did.

After all, putting food on the table, paying the mortgage and providing a reasonably comfortable life for your family takes precedence over leisure and recreation.

Now that I have “time on my hands” – I truly see the value of leisure travel, taking in new things and experiencing unique places – to a balanced life.  Perhaps more important, getting away from the day-to-day allows us to “recharge,” clear our hearts and minds of extraneous twaddle, and invigorate ourselves for what comes next.

Most of all, even short trips from home give us new opportunities to learn something we didn’t know before the journey.

Last week, I took a few days away to drive my 82-year old (going on 28-year old) mom to her summer home in the Holston Valley of east Tennessee.  We packed up her shiny black Ford F-150 Harley Davidson Edition pickup truck (seriously, she’s 82 – five-foot nothing – and drives a Harley truck), along with my niece and nephew, then set out on the open road.

For the next four days, I took in the sights and sounds of Jonesborough, Tennessee – the oldest city in the state – and home to the International Storytelling Center.

While strolling around the quaint town square and spending a few minutes at the Center, I learned that regardless of how sophisticated the culture, historians and sociologists agree that storytelling is our most powerful tool for effective communication.

According to the storyteller’s ethos, “Each of us has the power to tap into our stories, our narrative assets, to become better communicators – to entertain, to share our history and culture, to spread knowledge, to persuade, to advance a cause, to teach, to dream a vision of the future.”

It’s true.  No matter how advanced the medium of transmission – the fact is, storytelling is still how we communicate our thoughts, opinions and experiences as a community.  Be it online newspaper, satellite radio, podcasts or internet blogs like Barker’s View – we can empower, enrich and inspire others through our unique experiences and take on the events of the day simply by the stories we tell.

When I returned home, I took a few minutes to catch up on the news of the day – the topical stories from here on the Fun Coast.

Wow – what a week it was.

From news that the Forbes-listed France family of billionaires – d/b/a NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and International Speedway Corporation – dug around the couch cushions and found $5,000 from each business entity to contribute to the new homeless shelter – to the mysterious mid-stream resignation of Halifax Urban Ministries Director Mark Geallis, deepening concerns about Bethune-Cookman University’s finances, and the murky dealings of a Russian developer building a $185 million dollar condominium/hotel project on the beach who “doesn’t think” he’s associated with an off-shore bank account in the Seychelles – then reassured everyone with the quip, “money is money” – these were some interesting stories indeed.

But what caught my eye was a recent yarn spun by Dustin Wyatt in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Beach advocates question parking policy at new lot.”

Look, everyone is aware that the Volusia County Council – through the machinations of County Manager Jim Dinneen – have done everything humanly and governmentally possible to ensure that Summit Hospitality receives a private, traffic-free beach behind it’s languishing multi-year renovation of the former Desert Inn – a project which (we’re told) is set to become a “Hard Rock” hotel sometime in the next decade.

The assurance was that the strand behind the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock would remain open for beach driving, parking and public use until the hotel opens for business.

Right? 

I mean, that was the deal, right?

As part of the original “deal,” Summit agreed to sell a parcel of land south of the hotel to Volusia County for off-beach parking.  (Why our elected and appointed officials didn’t demand the land transfer as part of the gifting of our heritage of beach driving is – like most things – over my head.)

We were then told County government gave Summit $1.8 million of our tax dollars to purchase the lot – then poured on another $774,635 of public funds to pave a 100-space parking lot (?).

Nearly simultaneous to the grand opening of the off-beach lot – our elected and appointed officials placed a series of hideous lime-green traffic cones emblazoned “No Parking” along the beach directly behind the equally hideous Desert Inn.

Why?  Because they can.

You see, in 2012 the Volusia County Council approved something called a “beach services model” – a power grab cloaked in the always effective “safety and aesthetics” argument – that allowed county officials to arbitrarily remove cars from “major off-beach parking lots and parks.”

Still, this doesn’t adequately explain why Volusia County developed a no parking area on the beach behind the still-under-construction Hard Rock?

That wasn’t part of the “deal” they made with us guileless peons and desperate rubes who double as taxpayers, was it?

According to Ray Manchester – Director of Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue, and latest county employee to communicate beach policy to the public – let us know that “hundreds” of people (including, of course, “families with children”) have been attracted to the space behind the Desert Inn like moths to flame by the new parking lot.

“This was done (no-parking signage) to provide users of these parks clear access to the beach and the ocean without having to navigate between parked cars and moving traffic.  This no-parking zone doubles as an extension of the park and provides a car-free area where the public can set up for the day safely above the tide line and traffic lane.”

Yeah.  But that wasn’t part of the “deal,” Ray?

The fact is – there aren’t “hundreds” of people on the sand behind the Desert Inn – on the day the News-Journal dropped by, there was one old dude in white socks and sandals squatting on a beach chair and prattling about non-existent kids running into traffic from a non-existent “hotel” that has been under endless renovation for the past two-years.

What gives?

This latest power-play once again demonstrates that Volusia County will openly reverse policy – and shamelessly break promises to constituents – simply to flex their muscles and demonstrate the level of power and influence they have over beach use and access.

Anyone who still believes that our elected and appointed officials in Deland have our best interests at heart is delusional – they are gutless liars – and this latest bald-faced bait-and-switch is indicative of the level to which county government will stoop to ensure that We, The People, remain subservient to their capricious whims – and a distant second to the self-serving needs and wants of speculative developers with a constant hunger for public funds and private beaches.

Stories don’t always have a happy ending – and sometimes they can be downright depressing.

But, hey, like our latest benefactor said – money is money – right?

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Survey Says!

“But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner room will be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

–Luke 12:2-3

Even though I am an ordained minister I do not consider myself an overtly “religious” sort.  (www.ulc.org)

More spiritual, I suppose.

As a Man of the cloth and a True Believer, I say my prayers, seek the truth, hope for the best, and on stormy nights I like to take up the Bible and read aloud by the flash of lightening from the Book of Revelations – a downright terrifying, yet exhilarating, account of how this all will end – which, for most of us unrepentant sinners – involves being cast alive – screaming and flailing and demanding to speak to our attorney (who is, no doubt, right behind us in line) – into a fiery lake of boiling Sulphur.

If you’re a politician who routinely violates the public trust, and puts self-promotion and enrichment over the greater civic needs of your constituents – or if you pass time as a pack-a-day, besotted, foul-mouthed opinion blogger with no social grace – you better get your asbestos swim trunks on – you’re gonna need ‘em.

Heavy shit, man.

Another thing I take heart in is the comforting assurances found in scripture which tell us that all things will be revealed in time – what is whispered in the dark and slippery places will eventually be heard in the bright light of day.

Maybe right here on the often prophetic Barker’s View, eh?

This morning I read an interesting piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Volusia sales tax survey advances – Private funds to pay for effort to gauge public support for increase.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I read the words “tax” and “private funds” in the same lede, a foreboding sense of dread washes over me, accompanied by a clammy sweat, hand tremors and a metallic taste in my mouth – like biting into a dry cell battery.

According to the News-Journal, the auspicious CEO Business Alliance of Volusia County – a millionaire Star Chamber under the current leadership of the resurrected Dr. Kent Sharples (formerly of Daytona State College) – has hired Tallahassee-based Clearview Research to conduct a study gauging public support for the proposed half-penny sales tax increase – funds ostensibly to be used for transportation, and now, “other infrastructure” improvements.

Being the suspicious asshole that I am – after reading between the lines of the article, I came away with two immediate impressions:

1.)  The fix is in.

When you pay a pollster with private funds – the results of any study, regardless of how scientific or unbiased they may be – will forever be tarnished by the fact that the poll was taken by a private company in the paid employ of those who stand to benefit most from the results.

2.) Once again, the oligarchical fraternity that is the CEO Business Alliance of Volusia County is overtly protecting its private interests and investments by insinuating themselves into a very public – and very political – process.

“Mark – you conspiratorial turd – these guys just want to help!  How in the hell could these rich folks possibly benefit from public transportation infrastructure funds?” 

 Well, let’s have a look-see.

Earlier this year, work was completed on the Williamson Boulevard extension – funded with $15.8 million of our tax dollars – which directly served the needs of Mori Hosseini, the High Panjandrum of Volusia Politics and president of ICI Homes, who just happens to be building his swansong development – Woodhaven – which includes 1,300 homes and 400 apartment-townhouse units on 762 acres west of Interstate 95 and straddling 2.6 miles of the Williamson extension we paid for between Airport Road and Pioneer Trail.

Yep.  A while back, Volusia County entered a “partnership” with the Florida Department of Transportation, the City of Port Orange, and a quasi-governmental agency called a “community development district” which was set up through ICI Homes and the property owner – Mori Hosseini.

$15.8 million tax dollars.

That’s a lot of cheese – especially when our elected and appointed officials are crying poormouth over shrinking infrastructure funds, telling scary stories of $1.5 billion in current needs, and painting a picture of the apocalypse if We, The People fail to approve a one-cent sales tax increase – even as they continue to rubber stamp mega-developments from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Now, something called the Volusia Roundtable of Elected Officials – a political insulator and groupthink tank – comprised of municipal mayors and managers which will ultimately be responsible for divvying up the cash – hopes to learn the following from the privately funded survey of some 600 Volusia County residents:

Will the public support a sales tax?

Will voters support a tax for water infrastructure or will it be for transportation only?

Is a half-cent or full-cent tax hike necessary?

Will it be better to place the question on a primary or general election ballot?

Look, I’m not some weird Cassadaga soothsayer – and I don’t have the mystic ability to read minds – but I can tell you right now how this dubious “study” is going to play out:

The News-Journal defined Rich and Powerful – the influential power brokers who rule their environment and ensure their financial interests by controlling what passes for local governance – will see to it that the “public” WILL support a one-cent sales tax – funds which will ultimately be used to provide transportation and utilities infrastructure for whatever project or development provides the most return on their investment.

If you think for one minute that the Volusia CEO Business Alliance is ponying up funds to a private research firm because they are looking to lighten the load on the taxpayer and protect your interests and mine – wake up and get your head in the game.

As I have written before, the good citizens of Volusia County have seen firsthand the inability of our elected and appointed officials to live within their means.

They have witnessed the mismanagement, the exorbitant executive salaries, raises and gold-plated benefit packages for County Manager Jim Dinneen and the county attorney, the “Taj Mahal” construction projects, the half-price sale of public lands to private interests, the dubious “economic incentives” and cash giveaways, and the County Council’s almost supernatural ability to fund every pet project, infrastructure improvement and private venture of these uber-wealthy political insiders.

My hope is that all 600 survey respondents remember these ugly and continuing insults to our collective well-being when answering on behalf of the other 507,000 of us.

Yeah.  Right.

 

(PS – Barker’s View will be on-the-road this week!  Please join me again next week for my twisted take on the news and newsmakers that effect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast!  Stay cool my friends – see you in a few days!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Daytona: “This is what we were looking for…”

Through the years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in New Orleans – the Big Easy – perhaps the most enchanting, yet enervating, city in the world.

In fact, my wife and I were married there – on the muddy, swift-moving Mississippi River aboard the authentic Paddlewheeler Creole Queen – amid the chaos, craziness and incredible pageantry of Mardi Gras.

I have seen New Orleans at her best – and at its worst – and have grown to love it, warts and all.

Despite the spectacular beauty, antebellum charm and almost electric energy of the City that Care Forgot – there has always been an element of real danger – there were 424 murders in Orleans Parish the year we were married (one shooting occurred within 25-yards of us) – and there is an overriding sense that it is a place that doesn’t suffer fools.

For instance, one of the first things an uninitiated tourist learns is – when a stranger with a cigarette tucked behind one ear and a pint of warm gin loitering on any corner of Bourbon Street challenges, “I’ll bet I can tell where you got them shoes, and what street you got them on!” – it’s best to keep walking.

You know the scam, after the rube accepts the bet – the street hustler quickly exclaims, “You got your shoes on your feet, and you’ve got them on Bourbon Street.”

Don’t argue – just pay the man the $10 you owe him. . .

If you’re brave enough (preferably in a group) and you amble into areas outside the French Quarter, you may come upon a guy in a ratty pinstripe suit with slicked-back hair tucked up under a dirty fedora, gathering a crowd for the shell game.

The idea of the sport is simple –  a pea is placed under one of three identical walnut shells, and you simply try to keep track of it while the shells are quickly rearranged.

Usually, there is one guy in the crowd laughing about how bad the hustler is – while another keeps ambling up and placing $100 bets – winning about half the time.

Members of the audience are persuaded to place bets and guess which shell the pea is under – and a player might even win a few bucks.  For a while, anyway.

Then, the grifter will draw the lucky player in ever closer – usually with the help of an encouraging shill working the audience – then rapidly increase the amount of the wager – even allowing the person to place his or her finger on top of the walnut to secure the pea under the exact shell everyone in the crowd saw it placed.

Using wizard-like slight-of-hand, the shark will quickly fleece the unsuspecting dupe – always with a very polished “Awwww, that’s too bad” mock pity – while raking in money hand-over-fist all night long.

It always amazes me that otherwise intelligent people will keep believing, trusting their eyes and failed instincts, even when it becomes apparent they’re being scammed.

You see, a good hustler knows that with the right prompting most people will respond in predictable ways.  Unless you’re the one being hustled – it’s an amazing thing to watch.

I was reminded of this recently when I read the bold headline (frontpage/above the fold) in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Rides to the Rescue,” touting the return of carnival rides to the scuzzy wasteland that is the Boardwalk.

“It’s great,” city Redevelopment Director Reed Berger said when he heard about the new rides.

 “This is what we were looking for.  It’s something to do on the Boardwalk.”

 Great.  Yeah.  But why the surprise, Reed?

According to the News-Journal, about a month ago, Berger – perhaps the most ineffective redevelopment official in the history of that dubious trade – entered talks with a South Florida amusement company – Hildebrand Rides – who originally planned to set up Spiders, Twisters, and Rocket Flyers in downtown Riverfront Park this summer.

Apparently, the company works the fall and winter county fair and festival circuit (although the event schedule on their website hasn’t been updated since 2012) and, one assumes from the reporting, that they are looking for a convenient place to set-up shop for the summer months.

Berger convinced the amusement operator to erect a few rides at the Boardwalk instead.

“This is where we needed a catalyst to get that place cleaned up,” Berger said. “The timing all worked out.”

Well, that – and the unmistakable fact that some 10,000 Shriners and their families are breathing down the city’s neck, preparing to flock into town in the next few weeks only to be greeted by the abject squalor, malignant blight and horrific dilapidation that was well documented in a recent photographic tableau on this blogsite – and within clear and open view of anyone who goes anywhere near our core tourist area.

Christ.  How fucking stupid does Mr. Berger think we are?

Please – stop pissing down our backs and blaming it on rain.

It is patently clear to me that the Chamber of Commerce set – and their redundant cronies in the various “convention and visitors bureaus” – who threw off the traces of ethical and moral conduct when they actively courted and encouraged Shriners International to hold their Imperial Session in Daytona Beach – a place hardly ready for primetime, large scale conventions – are getting nervous.

Look, it took a $24,294.25 taxpayer funded bar tab to get it done – but they did it.

Now, just days before tens of thousands show up to be entertained, Reed Berger and company finally get off their numb asses and throw a strategic coat of paint around, sweep some sand under the rug, and haul in a few midway rides to cover up the godforsaken mess that is the storied ruins of our Boardwalk.

Graciously, the “E-Zone’s” benevolent dictator – George Anderson – has entered a short-term “deal” with Hildebrand Rides.

If history holds, Mr. Hildebrand might be in for a ride more terrifying than any Tilt-a-Whirl in his inventory.

“We haven’t talked about anything beyond this summer,” Anderson said in the News-Journal.

Of course they haven’t.  It is what it is.

Eyewash.

A short-term – clumsy sleight-of-hand – designed to put something, anything, in that festering hole in the heart of the only tourist draw on the World’s Most Famous Beach.

I mean, after you’ve taken the wife and kids to the incredibly engaging, always entertaining, Main Street district – or fought off roving bands of aggressive panhandlers for the umpteenth time near the Bandshell – you simply must enjoy the unique sights, sounds and smells of the Boardwalk on a humid Daytona Beach evening.

Right?

Our tourist and redevelopment officials are beginning to get queasy – and their fear is palpable.

As I’ve said before, I’m no marketing strategist – but even a rube like me can understand the impact of negative word-of-mouth by 10,000 victims of a bait-and-switch scam on future convention and tourism business.

And this ham-handed attempt to quickly spruce-things-up on the virtual eve of a mega-convention – while attempting to convince long-suffering residents that a few temporary carnival rides represent a renaissance – is just mean-spirited and unconscionably wrong.

Too little.  Too late.

Like I said, it always amazes me that otherwise intelligent people will keep believing, trusting their eyes and failed instincts, even when it becomes apparent they’re being scammed.

Awwww, that’s too bad. . .

 

The Importance of a Robust National Debate

I don’t know about you, but the near constant lecture of citizens by members of the media on the importance of civility in the local and national discourse is wearing thin.

Maybe it’s a sensitive point for me because I write a goofy personal opinion blog focusing on regional politics – and, I admit, I can often resort to salty language or tongue-in-cheek anecdotes to describe my thoughts on the machinations of the local ruling class.

But this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ scolding by print and electronic media outlets in the aftermath of the horrific shooting of a Republican member of Congress and others by a politically obsessed madman in Alexandria, Virginia is, in my view, the epitome of hypocrisy.

In his recent opinion piece, “When political nastiness turns violent,” Pat Rice, the editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, wrote:

“These are strange times. Even in local debates about friction-point issues like beach driving or homelessness, it’s become OK to demonize the opposition. What happened to the notion that there can be more than one reasonable point of view?”

He went on to say that in the age of social media, “Anyone with a laptop and time to kill can spread vicious lies.”

What Mr. Rice failed to mention with sufficient emphasis is that news outlets who buy ink by the barrel – or those with 24-hour televised and online access to millions of Americans – can spread some wildly venomous lies as well.

Earlier this year, the internationally respected public opinion pollster Gallup reported in its annual confidence poll that Americans’ trust in the “establishment” media reached its historical nadir with only 32% of consumers stating they have a “great deal or fair amount of trust” in their news sources.

And this growing distrust wasn’t simply an off-shoot of the still highly contentious 2016 presidential election – cynicism, mistrust and wary skepticism of mass reporting has been free-falling for the past 20-years.

As a result, citizens are increasingly turning to alternative sources of news and opinion, even as the tone of our political discourse continues to reach new lows.

Perhaps there’s a connection?

In fact, to my complete surprise, Barker’s View has – as of today – received 90,279 views in just eighteen months, with hundreds searching and reading these screeds daily.

Clearly, the growing popularity of this site has nothing to do with the richness of my writing – or the depth of my intellectual analysis of the news and newsmakers of the day.

Not by a long shot.

Perhaps blogsites like Barker’s View provide a constructive source for the many in Volusia County who are thirsty for an alternative to the regurgitated corporate/government press releases, marketing spin and carefully crafted sound bites that attempt to paint an artificially bright picture of life on the Fun Coast – something that is completely counter to the abject reality of our day-to-day lives in the Halifax area?

Look, if my posts sometimes seem mean-spirited, even hostile towards our elected elite, it is born from the frustration of watching our system of governance co-opted by uber-wealthy power brokers and their store-bought politicians who consistently ignore the will and needs of their constituents.

Who said We, The People are simply supposed to shut up and quietly take what we are handed in the interest of political courtesy?

I cannot think of anything more profane, perverse or anti-American than that.

In short, I – and others like me – are tired of being lied to, ignored and marginalized by the very people we elected to represent our best interests and serve as stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars.

And we will not remain silent.

In my view, our system of governance thrives and does its best work in an atmosphere of robust and spirited debate of the important issues of the day – in fact, it demands it.

A healthy democracy requires the competition of ideas – something that can only happen in a place that values transparency, personal freedom, and the honest exchange of ideas.

Even when that discussion involves concepts that make self-serving politicians and powerful appointed officials uncomfortable.

I like Pat Rice.

In my view, he is a caring and professional newspaperman who has gone the extra mile to ensure that the News-Journal takes the thoughts and suggestions of the people it serves to heart.

Mr. Rice is also busy juggling the incredibly harsh realities of publishing a daily paper in the digital age – a time when the business of news is almost universally controlled by mega-conglomerates with overt political slants –and the non-stop fight to squeeze a profit is reflected in continuing staff reductions and the painful cost saving measures of out-of-state editing, proofing and printing that is ruining the product.

It’s a hard dollar.  I get it.

Interestingly, in his opinion piece, Mr. Rice found space to take a swipe at the President – agreeing with those who believe “…the nastiness increased with Trump’s presidency.”

I hope Mr. Rice would also agree that the cage match known as The Media vs. Donald J. Trump – a hostile, trench warfare-type battle – has resulted in some of the most sustained and caustic attacks on a sitting president ever, and, conversely, the harshest public rebuke of the national media in our history.

He might also concur that this hyper-incendiary, non-stop narrative naturally results in building anger and frustration.

We live in a time when we all consume the same media silage – much of it originating from dubious “unnamed sources” and “persons close to the Oval Office” – where self-righteous talking heads and so-called “journalists” in the paid employ of national media outlets use the exact same language, words, phrases and terms in what passes for “reportage” in 2017 America.

Now, news outlets on all sides of the political spectrum are pointing fingers of blame, insisting that the lunatic perpetrator of the cowardly ambush of Republican politicians was incited to violence by either the virulent, hateful rhetoric of the left – or the often-divisive public policies of the majority party and the White House.

The fact is, this despicable act of terror was the isolated criminal act of a mentally disturbed misfit who resorted to the last horrific act of a coward.

Fortunately, his deranged personal and political motivations died with him.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop “the mainstream media” from immediately politicizing the tragic event – prompting disgusting tweets and posts on social media implying that the attack was somehow deserved, the expected knee-jerk calls for gun control, and wall-to-wall, hour-after-hour speculative “reporting” that transitioned the matter from criminal incident to political football at light speed.

In my view, the media’s round-the-clock promotion of this weird “see what you did” blame game – and continuing insinuation that the hostile rhetoric of “the left” or “the right” has provoked an atmosphere where political violence is a foregone conclusion – is patently wrong and serves no constructive purpose.

In fact, it undermines our democratic values and traditions more effectively than the one-off act of some sick bastard living out of a van.

Everyone understands that violence and terroristic threats are counter to the collective and enduring character of our nation – and they must never become an accepted part of the national exercise of our differences.

And the madness we witnessed this week should never be allowed to have a chilling effect on the spirited and robust debate of the myriad issues faced by an American citizenry graced with the rights – and responsibilities – of free, open and unfettered speech.

 

 

Angels and Assholes for June 16, 2017

Hi, Kids!

You know, I’m the first to admit – I don’t have all the answers.

Truth be told, I’m just as clueless as the next guy when it comes to formulating lasting solutions to the difficult, often intractable, problems we communally face here on the Fun Coast.

But that doesn’t stop me from complaining. . .

Fortunately, there are a few people in Volusia County who have the will, vision and strength of character to stand for high office – then actually live up to their campaign promises and work in the public interest to improve our quality of life and nurture true economic development.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of spending a few minutes with Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado when Barker’s View visited Govstuff Live with Big John.

In fact, despite my goofy interjections, I thought it was a pretty good two-hours of substantive local radio.

During our discussion of wide-ranging topics from homelessness, to aggressive code enforcement and the opioid epidemic – I found that Mr. Delgado has a fresh perspective and a courageous willingness to speak his mind, even when his views do not necessarily comport with the boat anchor policies of politically correct groupthink.

That’s refreshing – and the kind of creative leadership we’re going to need if we have any hope of clawing our way out of this shit-pit of blight, dilapidation and crushing governmental ineptitude.

In what has become a virtual mantra on this blogsite – I have had my fill of self-serving (often self-enriching) politicians that continue to stand in direct opposition to progress – especially in areas that have a day-to-day devastating effect on our quality of life.

For instance, how anyone could openly oppose a compassionate shelter option for homeless persons – a hard-fought plan that brought together thirty-two faith-based congregations representing over 30,000 residents, municipal governments, diverse social service organizations and people from all walks of life who are dedicated to making Volusia County better than it is – strikes me as wrongheaded and counter-productive.

Especially when that opposition comes from officials elected by the people to work in our collective interest.

Yet, this week Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys – followed in lockstep by the Very Reverend Fred Lowry (who apparently played hooky the day they taught humility and compassion at the seminary) – voted to oppose the First Step shelter project citing increasingly dubious nuts-and-bolts arguments which, frankly, no longer make sense.

“Sleepy” Pat Patterson was absent.

At the end of the day, the forces of that which is right and good prevailed – and we are finally moving forward with tangible solutions to this incredibly vexing problem.

I hope you will join me in congratulating those members of the Daytona Beach City Commission and the Volusia County Council who had the foresight and courage to stand with the clear majority of residents to support this important first step in alleviating the devastating social and economic effects of homelessness.

Well, alrighty then!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my humble 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 – during the week that was:

Angel              Volusia Council Chairman Ed Kelley

Look, no one has been more hyper-critical of Chairman Ed Kelley than me – and for good reason.

However, I thought he showed sound leadership in emphasizing the positive during the First Step shelter vote.

Rather than build a wall of political insulation, you know, the “I hope it works and you prove my whining and nay-saying wrong, but if it doesn’t work, I’m on record as having said, “I told you so” tack of the incredibly self-serving and mean-spirited Deb Denys – Chairman Kelley struck a tone of cooperation and consensus building – something that will be sorely needed in the months to come.

Rather than focus on himself – or take selfish credit for the shelter project – Mr. Kelley steadfastly championed those who committed themselves to finding solutions and helped to develop a unified vision.

Then, he reassured his constituents – the ones who will pay the bills with their hard-earned tax dollars – that the project “Will Work.”

In my view, that is just the kind of positivity and top-shelf support this project deserves.

Asshole:          Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys

If there is one consistent obstruction to substantive progress on the myriad issues facing residents of Volusia County it is the abject arrogance of Councilwoman Deb Denys.

On issues large and small, Ms. Denys always finds a way to protect “the system” – to ensure the best interests of county government are protected, while the true needs and wants of her constituents are ignored or openly opposed.

From her bald-faced lie on preserving beach driving, to her blatant obstruction of a compassionate solution to homelessness, Deb Denys exemplifies all that’s wrong in Deland.

As Councilwoman Joyce Cusack led the majority vote approving county funding for the First Step shelter – an intractable Denys voted in opposition – then continued to grandstand with her self-important “prove me wrong” challenge.

Screw that.  How about helping for a change?

After countless years and setbacks, public, private and faith-based organizations came together to see a plan to fruition that will, for once, provide basic shelter for homeless persons and serve as a catalyst for alleviating an issue that has hampered true economic development and contributed to the malignant blight that effects all of us.

How do you oppose that?

In addition, at the same meeting, Ms. Denys gave us all a brief glimpse into the future when she openly voiced her support for increasing beach access fees for out-of-county visitors – you know, the “tourists” we’re always crowing about – and spending to attract.

How terribly sad.

As usual, Deb – thanks for nothing.

Asshole           Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen

 It’s patently obvious that I’m not the brightest bulb in the box – but I know when something stinks – and this “land-share” deal between the City of Daytona Beach and Volusia County reeks.

In March, with zero public input, the Volusia County Council approved a mysterious deal concocted by County Manager Jim Dinneen to spend $970,000 taxpayer dollars for 34 parking spaces fronting Main Street deep in the City of Daytona Beach, effectively removing the parcel from the tax rolls in perhaps the City’s most economically depressed redevelopment area.

This weird deal was shot through the grease so fast that even City Manager Jim Chisholm – and members of the County Council – were caught flatfooted and left looking like a passel of rubes with a collective cognitive disorder.

Our input wasn’t required – and apparently the say of our elected officials wasn’t important either – only their vote to approve.

Now, we are led to believe that Mr. Chisholm has had a cosmically strange change of heart – and his reasoning just added confusion to the conundrum of why it is necessary to spend nearly one-million of our tax dollars for a few parking spaces for the wholly underutilized Ocean Center complex.

According to Chisholm, At this point it’s a holding place that’s being provided by the county until we have a development plan that could perhaps change it. That’s their intent.”

Oh, and Daytona can use it for parking whenever they want – and if the right developer comes along – the county has agreed to sell it in the interest of progress.

A holding place?

For $970,000 tax dollars?

Look, even though a parking lot wasn’t part of the “long-term vision” for Main Street – at the end of the day – Friends Bank (who just happened to be represented in the deal by now Deputy City Manager Jim Morris in his previous life as a real estate attorney) will make a pretty penny, and you and I will be left holding the bag for another dubious, overpriced land purchase orchestrated by the preternaturally self-serving  Jimmy Dinneen.

Kudos to Daytona Beach Commissioner Aaron Delgado for having the foresight to postpone formal action on this steaming turd until more information is known.

They say that everything is revealed in time.

I can’t wait to see who is actually benefiting from this burgeoning debacle.

Angel              Daytona Beach Code Enforcement Officer Glejuanda Davis

In an outstanding show of resolve, on Tuesday the City of Daytona Beach presented their well-prepared case against slumlord Jack Aberman before the incredibly bright Special Master David Vukelja.

In my view, Mr. Aberman’s GEA Seaside Investments represents a continuing criminal enterprise – whose predicate acts include gross and continuing consumer fraud, violations of life-safety codes, housing regulations, and open evasion of the rental inspection process – a corrupt organization that has defrauded and endangered dozens of tenants in substandard housing throughout the Halifax area.

For Code Enforcement officers like Glejuanda Davis, addressing the malignant blight in large swaths of the city must be like trying to eat an elephant.

It can be accomplished – but only if you focus on taking one bite at a time.

The efforts of Ms. Davis, and the staff of the Daytona Beach Code Enforcement Division, are commendable – and I hope that the elected officials and city administration will provide them the high-level support and resources required to turn the tide and revitalize this long-suffering community.

They have a lot of hard work ahead.

Asshole           Daytona Beach Shores City Commission

This week the Daytona Beach Shores City Council voted 3-2 to overturn a 20-year, voter backed, 12-story height limit.

In doing so, Mayor Harry “Tight-lipped” Jennings, Councilwoman Peggy Rice and Councilwoman Lorraine Geiger gave their collective middle-finger to the will of their constituents – and the recommendations of their planning board.

Anyone who has been to Miami Beach has seen the impact skyscrapers can have on the appearance of a beach community.  The canyon-effect – and wide shadows that all but block out sunlight from wide swaths of the beach – monolithic structures that contribute to an almost claustrophobic feel.

I’m no political scientist, but I suspect that the residents of Daytona Beach Shores will have something to say about this at the ballot box in 2018.

And they should.

Asshole           Hard Rock Hotel – Daytona Beach

Earlier this week I needed to restock the bar here at Barker’s View HQ and stopped at a liquor store on the beachside.

Since, as a Volusia County taxpayer, I’m now a quasi-investor in the project, I decided to take a drive past the languishing Desert Inn/Weston/Hard Rock project to check on our progress.

The place looked like a ghost town.

The only thing moving that afternoon was some torn plastic sheeting waving in the late afternoon breeze.

What one would have expected to look like an anthill, still had the feel of a project being completed by two guys working on the weekends – especially with Summit Hospitality Management Group still announcing an October due date.

Maybe the interior was alive with construction workers and craftsmen creating the “phenomenal amenities” both the Volusia County Council and the Daytona Beach News-Journal have been promising us for the past three-years would somehow make up for the continuing loss of our heritage of beach driving.

Hell, don’t take my word for it – cruise by the site and have a look for yourself.

This week, Hard Rock International issued a flashy press release finally letting us all know the hotel will actually carry the brand – which was the final hurdle to ensuring the removal of cars from the strand behind the property.

According to the News-Journal:

“From the gorgeous beaches to the NASCAR races that draw in hundreds of thousands of people each year, we’re thrilled to bring our product to visitors and locals alike in Daytona Beach,” Marco Roca, executive vice president of global hotel development at Hard Rock International, said in the company’s formal announcement.

Whatever.

Quote of the Week:

“It will work. It will work. It will work.  It’s the right thing to do. People who are putting forth support for this will make sure it will work.”

–Volusia County Chairman Ed Kelley responding in the Daytona Beach News-Journal to Councilwoman Deb Denys continuing defense of Jim Dinneen & Company’s failed policies and lack of strategic vision on the countywide problem of homelessness

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

 

On Daytona: Hope Springs Eternal

Once you’ve seen the devastation of abject poverty – real, inescapable poverty – your view of the world changes.

Forever.

I’m not talking about some goofy ‘social consciousness’ marketing strategy adopted by multi-millionaire hippies making ice cream in the idyllic dairy fields of Vermont – or the narrow view of some wet-behind-the-ears college student masquerading as a “resistance activist” while seeing the world outside their parent’s house for the first time from the ivy-covered cloisters of higher education.

When I was a much younger man, I found myself in the Dominican Republic – an incredibly beautiful Caribbean nation of some 10-million which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti to the west.

I found palm trees, soft white sand beaches, the friendliest people you’ll ever meet and some of the finest baseball anywhere in the world.  I also quickly found myself in a relationship – and, eventually – a marriage.

My second wife lived with her extended family in the capitol city of Santo Domingo – a teeming metropolitan area on the banks of the Ozama River – in a desperately impoverished quarter of Ensanche Espaillat.

The area was so ridden with violent street crime and utter destitution that taxi drivers refused to bring me to my in-law’s neighborhood – essentially a chain of interconnected tin-roofed shacks with bare block walls joined to others by wooden partitions and overlapping sheets of rusted metal.

A place where it was not unusual to see a skinny chicken run inside the house from the street, skip across the living room coffee table, and blast out the backdoor in a flash of filthy feathers – while outside laughing women gossiped and threw soapy wash water into the street before hanging colorful wet laundry on drooping clotheslines.

When my wonderful friend, Dominican native Miguel (who, for over 20-years now, has lived and thrived in Ormond Beach with his beautiful wife Gloria and two incredibly talented sons, Miguelito and, my Godson, Juan Carlos) would drop me off at the end of the dirt road, I would stop at a small bodega on the corner and buy a bottle of Brugal Anejo, an unbelievably smooth aged Dominican rum, as a gift for my wife’s maternal grandfather – who I respectfully addressed as “Don Julio” – an aging, ebony-skinned afro-Caribbean man who barked rapid street Spanish, smoked hand-rolled cigars and ran “things” in the dilapidated “Barrio.”

For instance, my mother-in-law operated a brisk clandestine Bingo game using loose American cigarettes for prizes – a commodity that I supplied by the case from a duty-free shop at Miami International.

Anyone who got out-of-line in the neighborhood – or tried to cheat the family gambling enterprise – answered to Don Julio and the ancient Colt 1911 .45 pistol (marked U.S. Government on the frame) that he constantly carried in his waistband.

The old man liked me.  We were friends.

It was rumored that he fought for the resistance elements that ultimately toppled the brutal regime of Raphael “El Jefe” Trujillo, the country’s long-time dictator responsible for the deaths of some 50,000-innocent people and the wholesale looting of the national treasury.

I was told that during the 1960’s civil war, when my now ex-wife was a small child, to visit a doctor her father would cover her in his arms and run while ducking gunfire in the streets.

A beautiful, incredibly complex, tropical paradise.

I fell in love with the place – and the people – and during my frequent visits I tried to help whenever I could.

Once, while traveling in the lush hills near Santiago de los Caballeros, Miguel and I came upon an overturned truck whose cargo of fresh mangoes had spilled all over the roadside.

With the driver’s permission, we quickly gathered up several bushels, paid the man a few pesos for his scattered wares, and loaded down the trunk of Miguel’s immaculate Chevrolet with the tasty tropical fruit.

When we returned to my wife’s parents home that afternoon, I carefully distributed the fruit, ensuring that every family in the neighborhood received an equal amount – and that every child who flooded the street, grabbing at the hem of my shirt, had a sweet dessert and a few pennies in their pocket that night.

I never once felt threatened – or even uncomfortable – in that terribly impoverished place.

Only love and unconditional acceptance.

In fact, my fondest memories of Santo Domingo are of sitting in an old wooden chair on my in-law’s front porch – with a belly full of rice, yucca seasoned with garlic, salt and lime, and savory Sancocho – having my hair expertly trimmed by a neighbor using only a double-edged razor blade clenched between her thumb and forefinger – while sipping an ice cold Presidente, listening to Merengue and watching the vibrancy of life pass on the muddy clay street outside.

These stories bring back fond memories for me – from hiding in the backseat of Miguel’s car as we raced along the Malecon, dodging flaming tires and groups of angry rioters that blocked intersections during a quickly called Huelga – a short, violent general strike common in the region.

Or the time I spent hours listening to tall tales told by an itinerant ship captain – an actual descendant of a 17th Century English pirate from Roatan Island – over rum cocktails and strong Honduran cigarettes in the bar at Las Americas International Airport.

He spun a fascinating yarn about an isolated South American Indian tribe who still hoard Spanish gold as we waited for an airplane to Port au Prince that we both knew wasn’t coming.

It sounds like a Jimmy Buffett ballad – but it’s real life in the Tropics.

Something that will never be copied by a Canadian developer in an artificial “Caribbean theme” retirement community carved-out of the pine scrub west of the Interstate.

And it has nothing to do with escapist marketing.

From this rich experience, I discovered that people who have absolutely nothing can be among the most proud, generous, loyal and intensely happy people on earth.  I also learned that those who have everything can be among the saddest, selfish, most self-serving louts I have ever known.

A society divided by class – the haves and have-nots – can be a dreary, often frustrating place.

You know, I can come off like a disaffected hardass, but I still believe that most people, if given the opportunity and a level playing field, will work hard to support themselves and their families.

They will strive and sacrifice for a better, more prosperous life.

I also believe that recent events prove that the “Daytona Beach Resort Area” still has hope for something better that what it has become.

In my view, many in the Halifax area are trapped in the housing Catch 22 – just enough income to rent month-to-month – a situation where they quickly become victims of unscrupulous slumlords – scumbags like Jack Aberman.

For years, Aberman’s GEA Seaside Investments has preyed upon the least of us – taking money from the working poor and the elderly in exchange for dilapidated and substandard housing in properties that should have been declared uninhabitable and demolished years ago.

It represents the epitome of greed – something that has played such a devastating and malignant role in so many aspects of our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast.

During this week’s Daytona Beach Special Master hearing, a few of Aberman’s victims came forward and gave accounts of the atrocious living conditions – rats, insect infestations, compromised roofing, rainwater and the elements pouring into living areas, broken appliances, no maintenance and desperate calls for help being ignored.

The stories they told were heartbreaking – and exemplified the level of arrogance that allows Aberman and others like him to openly skirt building codes, housing regulations and basic life-safety regulations – violations that have allowed some areas of Daytona Beach to take on the look and feel of a Third World shithole.

In my view, these rental scams represent criminal negligence and endangerment – cruel consumer fraud – and continuing criminal enterprises that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

I hope you will join me in commending Special Master David Vukelja, and the staff of Daytona Beach Code Enforcement, for aggressively enforcing the rule of law and intervening in this horrific cycle of victimization and blight that has had such a profound effect on true economic development and the quality of life of our community.

Their work gives us hope.  And that’s a start.

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

On Florida: The Age of Endarkenment

My favorite singer/songwriter is the incomparable Ray Wylie Hubbard – the enormously talented Texas troubadour/philosopher/bard best known for penning the 70’s anthem, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”

In 2010, Ray released a superb album entitled:

“A. Enlightenment  B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C).” 

Say what you want – that’s a damn good title – and a pretty fair experiential lesson for life in post-millennial America.

As much as we like to think we live in the Land of the Free, the fact is, our daily lives and livelihoods are increasingly controlled by forces we can’t begin to understand – or compete with.

Allow me to lay some heavy ‘enlightenment’ on you:

We live in a world where it’s difficult to comprehend what’s happening at City Hall – let alone in Deland, Tallahassee and Washington – because big money has effectively taken We, The People out of the equation.

We’ve been written out of the contract.

Our Rich and Powerful – the descriptor used by the Daytona Beach News-Journal to identify those who manipulate and control our destiny through an artificially created economy built upon the carefully directed flow of public funds – know what’s good for us, and themselves.

They purchase politicians at election time like chattel and use them as a convenient means of controlling their environment.

We are simply a means to an end – a necessary nuisance whose presence is required in the voting booth – and whose tax dollars are necessary to grease the right wheels in a system that no longer bears any semblance to a representative democracy.

Our local ‘powers-that-be’ tell us what they want us to hear – as though we were addle-brained children.   They paint some weird Fata Morgana on our collective horizon – a superior mirage that can only be realized if we follow their twisted logic – a panacea hotel, boardwalk expansion, or acquiescing to millions in corporate giveaways to make way for the “next big thing.”

While our lawmakers in Tallahassee simply ignore us.

Anyone who still thinks government has their best interests at heart – or that politicians give a tinker’s damn about the will of the people they represent – need look no further than the Florida legislatures shocking foot dragging in developing reasonable regulations for medical marijuana.

During the regular 2017 legislative session, lawmakers got hung-up on intractable differences over capping the number of storefronts – and ultimately failed to agree on how many dispensaries the state should have before time ran out.

So much for the concept of a free, open and reasonably regulated marketplace, eh?

Fortunately, the legislature was forced into overtime to hammer out issues related to economic development (read: corporate welfare funding) and education allocations – which provided a last/best opportunity for lawmakers to formulate rules and regulations for the implementation of medical marijuana in Florida.

When Governor Slick Rick Scott perceived the two sides were close to a deal, he added the “pot bill” to the special session, and, finally, a compromise came together.

Regardless of your feelings on the medical marijuana issue – the fact that our elected officials in Tallahassee initially shirked their sworn duty and refused to conform to the will of the people, put the objections of the always tight-assed law enforcement lobby over the needs of their most vulnerable constituents, and allowed the petty money grubbing and bickering inherent to our legislative process to hamstring a constitutional amendment supported by 7 out of 10 Florida voters – should be a real eye-opener for everyone.

I happen to support medical marijuana in all its forms, because I believe it is the right and compassionate thing to do for seriously ill people.

Unfortunately, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and other state and national organizations representing law enforcement executives don’t agree with me – and there are millions of reasons (and dollars) why.

After all, the “War on Drugs” has been so wildly successful in Florida and elsewhere that we should keep doing the same thing over-and-over again while expecting different results.

Add to that the greed factor in Tallahassee – a historic problem that helped Florida become the epicenter of the opioid epidemic – and you get the idea that perhaps profit motives are taking precedence over sound public policy.  Again.

Remember?

In the first six months of 2010, Florida medical practitioners bought more Oxycodone pills (41.3 million) than all healthcare providers in every other state in the nation combined.

You might also remember that in 2009, during the height of Florida’s “OxyContin Express,” Slick Rick Scott was working overtime to – inexplicably – torpedo efforts to create a prescription drug database which would have helped curtail the proliferation of “pill mills” that illicitly supplied dangerous and highly addictive narcotic pain medication to the Southeastern United States and beyond.

Now – far be it from me to cast aspersions – but I find it interesting that Governor Scott accumulated much of his incredible personal fortune in 2002, after founding a chain of walk-in clinics in Florida called Solantic – which has been described as the “Starbucks of Healthcare.”

When you add the Governor’s earlier shenanigans at Columbia/HCA, which was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud after Scott was forced to resign in 1997, and you get the idea Rick is relatively comfortable profiting from the dark side of the healthcare industry.

It is estimated that medical marijuana will be a billion-dollar industry in Florida in just three-years.

Do you think ensuring that the right people were perfectly situated may have played a role here?

Anyone else of the opinion that setting the economic playing field was more important to Florida legislators than fulfilling the therapeutic needs of their constituents?

In my view, if you’ve ever seen someone you care about struggling with the horrific effects of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the devastation of chemotherapy, or the debilitating results of post-traumatic stress disorder, I’m sure you can appreciate the benefit of anything that can bring effective palliative relief.

And if you truly are suffering – I could care less how you ingest medicinal marijuana.

But compassion wasn’t a factor here.

In my view, this represents the ne plus ultra example of how those we elect to high office – at all levels of government – routinely ignore the will of the public they are sworn to serve – an arrogance of power that I find both ethically and morally contrary to our system of democratic governance.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, I think we can all agree that the greed, squabbling and back-handed swipes that have resulted in legislative gridlock in Tallahassee simply cannot continue.

Look, I have been openly appreciative of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s efforts to clean up state government – but his willingness to enter “secret” budget negotiations with Slick Rick and the obstructionist Senate President Joe Negron – was, in my view, counter to his stated goal of transparency in government.

In fact, it stinks.

Then, before the recent special session, Corcoran and Negron couldn’t even agree on what they agreed upon during their clandestine parleys.

See what happens when politicians conduct public business outside the public’s view?

Interestingly, I think Congresswoman, and 2018 democratic gubernatorial candidate, Gwendolyn Graham summed it up best when she said, “They made a secret backroom deal, now they can’t even agree on the secret deal they made, and they’re costing taxpayers with a chaotic special session filled with dysfunction and devoid of any leadership.”

 Unfortunately, she’s right.

All we truly know at this point is our reptilian Governor got what he wanted in the end – millions of tax dollars to fund his pet corporate welfare conduits – Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

 (Yeah, I’m aware of the limitations that have been put on Enterprise Florida. Do you really think these provisions will hamper even one tax dollar from flowing into the right hands?  Hide and watch.)

The rest of us got a ham-handed, clear-as-mud plan to implement medical marijuana which will invariably face legal challenges from John “For the People” Morgan, and every other facet of this budding industry.

“For the People.”

Now there’s an enlightening concept our elected officials at all levels of government should reconsider.