Volusia Schools: Where’s Superman when you need him. . .

The award winning 2010 documentary “Waiting for “Superman” examined growing issues in American public education, following the lives of five students and the trials and tribulations of their efforts to be accepted into a charter school.

Along the way, the film exposed the increasing bureaucratic and professional insulation that makes it difficult to hold teachers and administrators accountable for poor performance, conflicting expectations at the local, state and federal levels, funding disparities, the positive and negative effects of teacher’s unions and other intractable issues facing the system.

Naturally, comparisons were made – and some academics challenged the accuracy of the producer’s findings – claiming the documentary was no more than a “marketing piece” designed to break unions and privatize education.

The film also reminded us that “education statistics” have names.

Several weeks ago, I took the Volusia County School District to the woodshed for their continuing – and in my view, counterproductive – practice of playing hopscotch with school principals.

For reasons known only to district administrators, principals are routinely moved from one school to another, resulting in instability, and leaving students and teachers with no sense of continuity, and the communities which host the schools with no one to partner with – or hold accountable – long-term.

For years, the cities have sat quietly while the Volusia County School Board – elected officials with the ethical and fiduciary responsibility to set effective and efficient educational policies for the district – have functionally ignored festering issues in challenged schools.

According to an excellent piece by Erica Breunlin in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, at least two communities in east Volusia are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Recently, Holly Hill Mayor John Penny asked City Manager Joe Forte to read a scathing letter during an open meeting of the School Board, demanding better for his long-suffering constituents.

South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall – an outstanding career public servant who recently retired as that city’s chief of police – also raised difficult questions when South Daytona Elementary (the second largest in Volusia County) received a “D” grade from the state in June.

In my view, standing idle while students in poorly performing schools circle the bowl – literally through no fault of their own – is morally reprehensible, and counter to the economic and social health of the communities involved.

Unfortunately, things appear to be getting worse throughout the Sunshine State.

During the last legislative session, Governor Rick Scott and our elected lawmakers telegraphed their true commitment to public education when they passed a budget which drastically reduced per-student funding.

The net-net is that Volusia County will receive millions of dollars less from the State of Florida – money which historically supplements district funds raised primarily through our property taxes.

Add to that a weird, grossly inequitable, state funding formula which punishes already strapped Volusia taxpayers – coupled with the almost pathological inability of our School Board to live within their means – and you get the feeling our children are doomed to be victims of a horribly failed system.

In addition, late last week we learned that several important volunteer-based literacy programs won’t be returning to Volusia County schools this year.

Citing a “lack of resources,”  Junior Achievement and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (both based in Orlando) announced that they will be pulling their programs which served a collective 6,500 local students in some 360 classrooms countywide.

That hurts.

But what I find most disturbing is the continuing mismanagement of assets and personnel – things district administrators still have direct control over – and the seeming lack of strategic planning that is quickly creating a financial quagmire while reducing service delivery.

For instance, in Holly Hill, five principals and nine assistant principals have passed through what Mayor Penny aptly describes as a “revolving door.”

There can be no doubt that this near-constant administrative swirl has resulted in a sense of flux and uncertainty in a school comprised almost exclusively (94%) of economically disadvantaged children – a student population which is expected to surge to over 1,000 this school year.

According to the News-Journal, the district has selected former Pathways Elementary principal Jason Watson to head the challenged Holly Hill School when classes begin next month.

This gives reason for hope – and Mr. Watson is certainly saying all the right things.

It’s a tall order, but I hope he truly is the caped superhero that can come to the rescue of this beautiful, but challenged, community when they need it most.

One question the News-Journal’s report didn’t answer is the rapidly spreading rumor that Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry is being considered for Holly Hill’s assistant principal slot.

I find that interesting.

In 2010, then City Commissioner Henry – while serving as assistant principal of Mainland High School – was charged with nine felony counts of voter fraud, including two counts of absentee ballots and voting violations and one count of conspiracy to commit the same.

The State Attorney’s Office dropped all criminal charges against Mayor Henry during the summer of 2011 – and he ultimately left Volusia County Schools – taking an administrative position with the Putnam County School District.

At the time, the terms of his departure were sketchy – with reports claiming he voluntarily resigned his position with Volusia County when it was announced he would not be returning to Mainland where he had served for 18-years.

Now, unconfirmed reports have Mayor Henry high in the running for the assistant principal slot at Holly Hill – although his name has yet to be officially placed on the School Board’s agenda.

Superman?  Hardly.

But at this point, I’ll just bet the city is willing to give a second chance if it means returning stability and performance-based accountability to a school in desperate need of both.

Unfortunately, these persistent rumors – which I have been told were propagated by certain sitting School Board members – only adds to the confusion surrounding the future of Holly Hill School.

Clearly, city officials, families of students and the beleaguered teaching staff have every right to question the districts motives – and secrecy.

 

Photo Credit:  WFTV

 

Who will stand for them?

The following was excerpted verbatim from the job description for a law enforcement officer in a community in Volusia County:

“While performing the duties of this job, the employee frequently works outside in inclement and/or rapidly changing weather conditions, including extreme heat, extreme cold, direct sunlight, high humidity, heavy rain and strong winds. The employee occasionally works near moving mechanical parts; in high, precarious places; and with explosives, and is occasionally exposed to fumes, foul odors or airborne particles; toxic or caustic chemicals; vibration; in dark and confined spaces; and in the presence of wild and/or dangerous animals. The employee will occasionally be exposed to the presence of blood-borne pathogens, bodily fluids, and work in close physical proximity to sick, injured, and deceased persons. The noise level in the work environment is usually moderate; however, depending upon conditions, the employee may be subjected to loud, sustained or modulating noise levels, including but not limited to emergency vehicle sirens, gunfire, shouting, alarms and environmental sounds.”

There’s more.

Add to that the fact “the employee” will be required to work all hours of the day and night – on weekends and holidays – during their children’s birthday parties and piano recitals, on Christmas morning, New Year’s eve, wedding anniversaries, family outings and special dinners.

The conditions of their employment demand that “the employee” respond on a moment’s notice from a family campout, Cub Scout meeting, movie theater or restaurant – leaving their children and significant other behind – to investigate a grisly homicide scene, manage a traffic fatality, negotiate with a mad man, make dynamic entry into a building containing an armed and barricaded suspect, interview a battered child, comfort a rape victim, notify a family that their loved one has died, locate an Alzheimer’s victim or work “mandatory” overtime.

“The employee” will be required to operate sophisticated equipment and write detailed technical reports from memory – complete extensive forms, checklists, affidavits, citations and documentary narratives – account for property and items of physical evidence, search dangerous prisoners amid the ever-present threat of hypodermic needles, razor blades, knives, firearms and improvised weapons.

Make a mistake or overlook something and “the employee” and others will die.

Every move “the employee” makes – each verbal or bodily sound he or she utters – will be digitally recorded and stored for later in-depth analysis and withering criticism by the media, internal affairs investigators, attorneys, judges, juries and the public.

In some cases, the gruesome details of “the employee’s” untimely death or murder – their last pitiful cries for help or horrified spontaneous utterances – will be recorded in high definition and displayed on the internet for general entertainment – or the tense and desperate nanoseconds of decision-making leading to their use of deadly force will be captured, assessed frame-by-agonizing-frame, and widely critiqued by “experts” and others who were comfortably asleep in their warm beds when the dangerous armed encounter occurred.

“The employee” will regularly grapple and fight with intoxicated, drugged, physically powerful or mentally deranged criminal suspects – being punched, kicked, bitten, choked, pummeled, spit upon and have their genitals crushed and eyes gouged – all while desperately struggling to protect a powerful firearm, electronic control device, collapsible baton, folding knife and pepper spray canister from being ripped from their belt and used against themselves or innocent bystanders.

You know, the “innocent bystanders” who quickly devolve into a group of hostile agitators shouting slurs and incendiary taunts while live-streaming every moment of the frantic struggle with a cellular phone and refusing to assist?

“The employee” will be required to spend 12 to 14 hours at a time in the confines of a patrol vehicle that stinks of feces, urine, coagulated blood and vomit that he or she hasn’t had time to personally clean out from the last prisoner they transported – you know, the guy who spent the entire ride spitting flem and snot through the partition while describing all the things he will do to “the employee” when the handcuffs come off.

Cuts, scrapes, bruises, broken fingers, chipped teeth, bad knees and recurring mental pictures of traumatic events are things “the employee” will be expected to accept and “deal with” – least they be mocked and ridiculed for a lack of physical or mental toughness.

“The employee” will be routinely required to absorb personal, racial and sexual slurs, epithets, physical threats and gross verbal denigration by criminals, “social activists,” unruly mobs, and members of the public – intense provocations that would see “the employee” terminated, demonized and prosecuted if he or she should psychologically break and respond in kind.

During times of extreme weather emergencies, “the employee” will kiss their family goodbye and wish their neighbors well as they evacuate to safety – knowing well that they will work in soaking rains, flooded roads and deadly winds with little food or rest in soggy boots – then, in the aftermath, they will perform technical rescues, assess and mitigate damage, and secure other people’s homes and property while ignoring their own.

For their willingness to serve – every time “the employee” puts on the uniform bearing the name of the political jurisdiction they protect – there is an elevated chance they will be required to trade their life for the safety and security of those they are sworn to serve.

I’ve written on this important subject before.

I lived it for over three-decades.

On Thursday, the Volusia Deputies Association will sit down at the bargaining table with officials from County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration to negotiate a regionally competitive pay and benefits package for those brave men and women who put their very lives on the line to protect and serve all of us.

Given the near-constant waste, money shuffles and utter mismanagement that has been the hallmark of Mr. Dinneen’s tenure – the lies, dodges and blunders that are routinely accepted or ignored by our elected officials – perhaps it’s time for those of us who sleep comfortably under the blanket of protection provided by law enforcement to stand in defense and support of the VCDA’s noble efforts to obtain a wage equivalent to that of their brothers and sisters in other area agencies?

In my experience, it is not surprising that Mr. Dinneen is preparing to sink every taxpaying citizen of Volusia County into massive debt – an estimated $260-million+ over 30-years – to build the brick-and-mortar physical plant for a sprawling courthouse and county office complex in Daytona Beach – all while fighting a competitive compensation package for those brave souls who will actually put themselves in harm’s way to provide the complex physical security and logistics for these important public facilities.

Last week, an esteemed group of judges, politicians and government officials met with the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board to explain the need for a new criminal justice facility to replace the aging courthouse annex.

They spoke passionately about the ever-present dangers and security concerns.

In response, everyone who is anyone in Volusia County almost immediately agreed that we need to accept Mr. Dinneen’s seemingly over-the-top request – without question or concern – and quietly acquiesce to the most expensive project ever undertaken in our county’s history.

$260,000,000.00

Done deal.

Now, will those same respected judges and revered public officials support the efforts of the Volusia Deputies Association and demonstrate the personal and professional courage to back the men and women who stand the line in their courtrooms and secure the thresholds of their offices by demanding that Mr. Dinneen provide our deputies fair and equitable compensation?

Time will tell.

I, for one, will remember who stood in support of these brave men and women – and who did not – during my next trip to the ballot box.

I hope you will too.

 

Contract negotiations will be held on Thursday, August 3, 2017, at Volusia County Agriculture, 3100 East New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida.  The public is encouraged to attend.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 28, 2017

Hey, kids!

Barker’s View has been on the road again this week!

This time, travels took us to the interesting and completely unique master-planned community known as “The Villages.” 

Located in Sumpter County, just outside of Leesburg, The Villages comprise a sprawling, all-inclusive retirement development that gave me a vatic glimpse at what “Latitudes Margaritaville” will ultimately mean for east Volusia County.

With zero-lot-line homes at various price points anchored by kind-a-cool theme shopping areas, each hosting unique restaurants, retail, professional offices and entertainment venues – all of which surround over 630 holes of golf – it became apparent to me that the nearly 160,000 residents need never leave the grounds to enjoy a full and happy life.

The one amenity that stands out to even a casual observer is the compulsive focus on the grounds and landscaping.  The pristine common areas and prominent greenspaces are manicured around-the-clock by an army of groundskeepers which give the entire community an almost Disneyesque feel.

Look, it’s not my cup of tea, but I can tell you that there are significant civic lessons to be learned from that cloistered environment – such as the importance of attention to detail, sense of community, pride in appearance, and the role of planning, infrastructure and maintenance to quality of life.

If you’ve never been to The Villages, I encourage you to take the drive.

Last week, I (once again) succeeded in pissing off some Very Important People in the Halifax area.

Only this time, some folks on both sides of the “beach issue” joined hands and collectively kicked me in the keister for my open skepticism of the “do-good” potential of the much-ballyhooed Volusia County “Beachside Redevelopment Task Force.”

Even the Daytona Beach News-Journal took time to reassure everyone that the same “rich and powerful” – many of whom have physically controlled the economy and direction of our community for the past 30-years – have now somehow abandoned their failed strategy of supporting a grand “panacea project” in favor of identifying and funneling government grant money to an even wider selection of speculative developers – or earth-moving innovations like “pedestrian safety” or improving communications between the cities. . .

Really?

I have a lot of respect for the incredibly good work of my friend, Paul Zimmerman, and others on the committee who have been on the cutting edge of beach advocacy for many years.

I just wonder if they have hitched their wagon to the right team?

Despite the many empty assurances that this committee is the catalyst for all good things, I’ll be damned if any long-term resident of the Halifax area should get their hopes up over the dubious promises of yet another Blue-Ribbon committee populated by the same political appointees representing the same entities with a profit motive.

People who make their living doing business with government.

Real estate brokers.

Insurance executives.

Family and friends of the uber-wealthy power brokers that call the shots in Volusia County politics – interconnected factions that have a proven interest in removing our heritage of beach driving in favor of even more speculative development.

I know, I know – it’s not about beach access and management.

Clearly, those important aspects of our lives have already been decided by those who truly matter in the oligarchy that is Volusia County government.

Interestingly, members of the redevelopment committee have complained that residents haven’t turned out, en masse, to sit in the bleachers, eat popcorn, and watch them tut-tut over questionable studies and listen to the likes of Daytona Beach Redevelopment Director Reed Berger.

(Hey, you want a recommendation?  How about suggesting that Reed Berger – and any other “economic development” type who accepted public funds, then stood around with their thumb in their ass while the place deteriorated into a festering hole, be immediately terminated, pilloried on the front steps of City Hall, then put on a Greyhound bus?)   

Let’s be honest, in the aftermath of the public embarrassment that was the News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series – an exposé which exposed the abject blight, greed, dilapidation and complete ineptitude of area redevelopment officials – citizens came out to voice their decades of pent-up frustration and demand substantive change to the rotten status quo.

Anyone remember the News-Journal’s “Beachside Town Hall”?

I do.

Instead of hearing the shared exasperation of residents, demanding accountability, and forcing current assets to do their damn jobs – our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County handed us a political insulation committee comprised of all the right last names.

Trust me.  The long-suffering taxpayers of Daytona’s beachside and elsewhere realize exactly what this group represents – and their silence is deafening.

In my view, given the recurring lessons of history, we have a right – and an obligation – to be skeptical of this process.

Well-meaning or not, the harsh condemnation of wary residents (by people who identify themselves as “community advocates”) on social media is unwarranted.

Say what you want about me – I could give a shit.  But don’t denigrate the very real concerns of long-suffering beachside residents.

That’s divisive – and wrong.

Look, we’ve seen this all before – and if you think it’s somehow helpful to marginalize the motives and concerns of taxpayers because they don’t attend bullshit meetings – or simply lay back and trust some of the very people who have tried to openly screw them in the past – you should consider the source of our growing cynicism.

Screw it.  I’m wrong – you’re right.

Let’s all give peace a chance.

But a year from now – when the VIP recommendations of Mr. Grippa’s committee have been put on the dusty shelf next to the master plans, economic development studies, and the myriad other “feel good” political insulation measures sitting on Jim Dinneen’s bookshelf – proposals that have been ignored time-after-time-after-time – please don’t come back and ask for the confidence of those of us who held the line against more smoke, mirrors and eyewash.

Those who seek to lead on important civic matters would do well to realize that the public’s trust is fragile – and all concerns should be held valid until proven otherwise.

Again, I hope I’m wrong.

Now, it’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s have a look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel:             Chief Craig Capri and the Daytona Beach Police Department

Nothing – and I mean nothing – contributes to the degradation of the soul of a community like the illicit drug trade.

In addition to the human toll, the cycle of addiction and supply is a natural crime generator, spawning theft, prostitution, exploitation and the neighborhood curse of nuisance offenses which slowly destroy our quality of life.

This morning residents awoke to the news that the Daytona Beach Police Department – with the assistance of local and federal law enforcement agencies – took 53 active drug dealers off our streets in a sweeping operation known as “Kickoff Return 2017.”

The City of Daytona Beach has many challenges – but our community also has a lot of positive assets working hard to solve entrenched problems and turn the tide.

In my view, through his decisive leadership Chief Craig Capri is proving his mettle – and his unwavering commitment to the highest ideals of community-oriented policing.

My heartfelt congratulations and sincere thanks to Chief Capri and the hardworking officers and agents for the difficult and dangerous work which resulted in this substantial success.

Angel:             Mr. Arthur Ray Brinson

I admire a man who seeks the truth and fights honorably in the cause of protecting those things our society holds dear – truth, honestly, transparency – and strives to preserve our collective trust in those who are elected and appointed to high positions of oversight and responsibility.

The interesting case of former Bethune-Cookman University Trustee Arthur Brinson has all the dramatic intrigue of a good whistle-blower novel, and his struggle has exposed the tragic dysfunction that results when power corrupts absolutely.

Earlier this week, we learned that Circuit Judge Christopher France will allow Mr. Brinson’s legal action – a lawsuit alleging that BC-U wrongfully terminated his service on the Board of Trustees – to move through the courts.

You see, Mr. Brinson, the former president of Bethune-Cookman’s National Alumni Association, had the personal courage to live up to his ethical and fiduciary responsibilities as a trustee and question the weird financial machinations that left the school with an $18-million operating loss, a declining endowment, and horribly mired in a dormitory financing scheme that may ultimately cost some $300-million over time.

Things are about to get interesting, now that Mr. Brinson’s attorney can depose all the right people.

In my view, the time has come for Interim President Hubert Grimes to throw open the shades and welcome the disinfecting qualities of sunlight and fresh air into Bethune-Cookman.

An important first step is jettisoning Chairman Joe Petrock – and inviting a top-to-bottom audit of the university’s management, administrative and financial practices – to include an investigation of the acts and omissions of those who are charged with overseeing those processes.

Asshole:          County Manager Jim Dinneen and the Volusia County Council

You don’t need a Cassadaga crystal ball to foretell future big money projects in Volusia County – just follow the expensive breadcrumbs left by the consultant reports, expert opinions and political insulation “studies” that our elected and appointed officials frequently commission while we’re focused on other things – like residential chicken coops, beach traffic cones and derelict parking lots.

For instance, last fall the County Council spent $248,000 of our money for an outside study of Volusia County court facilities.  Last week, the real reason for this expensive confirmation of things we already knew became crystal clear.

In my experience, no less than a dozen current employees of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office have the education and practical expertise to conduct an in-depth survey of courthouse security processes and produce actionable recommendations.

These security issues have been well-known to court administrators for decades.

In addition, I’m relatively certain that prisoner transport and court security protocols are regularly reviewed as part of VCSO’s incredibly expensive state and national law enforcement accreditation process.

But when County Manager Jim Dinneen is preparing to roll-out a monstrous, five-story, $260-million, “best-of-the-best” courthouse and county office facility in “Downtown Daytona,” he knows the importance of elaborate stage dressing and expensive lighting effects to enhancing the melodrama.

And that includes the implied credibility of a pricy “expert” opinion.

With a quarter-million-dollar outside needs assessment in his pocket – and the pre-arranged acquiescence, or active support, of his handlers – last week Dinneen strategically overshadowed our looming property tax increase with the bombshell that he plans to put us, our children, and our grandchildren in massive debt for the next 30-years.

For a really nice courthouse.

In typical form, rather than let the judges and courthouse administrators concerns speak for themselves, Little Jimmy still finds it necessary to conjure his best flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories, “You have people who are suicidal, homicidal coming through these doors!” – then touts the project as the best “economic development” scheme in the history of east Volusia County.

“This will have more of an impact on Beach Street than anything else we can do from an economic development standpoint,” Dinneen said. “This is the icing on the cake.”

Wow!  Another ‘game changer’?  Icing on the cake?

What a congenital bullshitter.

With Dinneen’s personal assurance that this Taj Mahal courthouse strategy is the only way to go – everyone got into the collective swoon that occurs whenever the government money tit is exposed for the coming binge.

Hell, our local “visionaries” are already salivating over the many ways they can exploit City Island.

So, get ready to say goodbye to “The Jack” and “The Library” – because I can assure you those long-term public amenities don’t “fit” with a brand-new multi-tower condominium project.

Oddly, Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson even took the weird tack of ignoring the hard work and perseverance of residents, entrepreneurs and city officials in the revitalization of Woodland Boulevard by alluding that the “new” Deland courthouse was the panacea that made everything gel.

 “DeLand is the envy of a lot of cities because of what it (the courthouse) spawned. I think it will be fantastic, and I’m really glad that we are moving in this direction and I’m glad to be part of it.”

Whatever.

What I find interesting is that without the first public hearing – you know, an opportunity for those who pay the bills to have a voice in the most expensive undertaking in our history – or even a second professional opinion – Volusia County officials, through their Deland-based consultants, have already determined how many parking spaces will be necessary, commissioned conceptual drawings and determined 20-year staff projections.

Done deal.

Just shut up and pay the bills, John Q.

Still think our elected officials on the Volusia County Council give two-shits what you think?

As usual, We, The People, are just along for the very expensive ride.

In a way, you’ve got to hand it to Little Jimmy – nothing takes the sting and political criticism out of a proposed tax increase quite like the specter of $260-million+ in public debt.

Angel:             Daytona Tortuga’s Baseball – Marketing Department

Despite their dismal season on the field, the Daytona Tortuga’s front office still knows how to generate interest in community baseball.

From the recent Bob Ross bobblehead promotion – complete with painting instructors in theme-wigs, t-shirts, DVD’s and a look-a-like contest – to on-going promotions like Thirsty Thursdays and fireworks extravaganzas – the Tortuga’s are putting the fun back in baseball.

Clearly, the Tortuga’s management and marketing professionals are putting careful thought into the team’s unique promotions – innovative events that continue to draw fans to our beautiful and historic ballpark.

My hat’s off to everyone in the Daytona Tortugas organization that works hard to keep the tradition of minor league baseball one of the most enjoyable family pastimes in Volusia County.

Angel:             Volusia First Step Shelter Benefactors

I recently took NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation, and Daytona International Speedway to task for giving a collective $15,000 – $5-grand apiece, complete with a check presentation ceremony – to support operations of the proposed First Step homeless shelter.

After all, it’s one thing to donate money to a good cause – it’s quite another to get your name in the newspaper doing it.

Right?

My rudeness prompted some to question why I would poo-poo a sizeable corporate donation when the shelter project is staring down a $200,000 annual operating shortfall?

I dunno.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have a fundamental problem with the fact these same billion-dollar, Forbes listed, family-controlled enterprises recently asked for (and received) some $40-million in public funds (read: our money) for a private project specifically designed to further their business interests.

Call me an asshole, but I just thought a little ‘give-back’ might be in order.

I’m petty that way.

(Hey, Tanger?  Got any spare change, mister?  I seem to recall we helped you out during your time of need as well. . .) 

 Ah, thank God for those ‘anonymous’ donors, huh?

Gets us all off the hook, right?

Besides, I believe charity begins at home – which is why the $65.00 in disposable income I have left at the end of the month goes for a fresh handle of Tito’s and a carton of Marlboros. . .

Regardless, it is important to recognize the increasing number of area business leaders and concerned residents who are opening their hearts and pocketbooks to solving perhaps the most vexing local problem of our time.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, my fans at the CEO Business Alliance recently donated $30,000 – which was benevolently matched by Wholesale Lighting’s Rose Ann Tornatore and friends – along with a much-needed $18,340 from the FAITH organization.

In turn, the City of Ormond Beach is considering the extent of their contribution and other public and private entities are stepping up to fill the void.

In my view, that’s admirable – and demonstrates the generosity of a community that has sought a compassionate solution to homelessness in the face of political roadblocks and posturing for far too long.

Word to the wise – I wouldn’t rest until the job is completed.

In Volusia County, even “done deals” have a way of unraveling – and the First Step Shelter is far too important to the life and health of our community to see that happen.

Stay vigilant.

Quote of the Week:

 “No matter how good its ideas, though, there’s no point in finding solutions to improving an underperforming area if the powers that be aren’t interested in what their appointees come up with. That is expressed not with “thank yous” and pats on the head when the committee is dissolved, but with follow through — a commitment to act on the proposals.”

Daytona Beach Editorial, “Beachside panel has potential,” touting the painfully obvious to long-suffering beachside residents – or those who have been living on the dark side of the moon since 1983.

Please don’t forget that Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach advocacy organization – is having a fundraiser on Sunday afternoon at Sunsetters, 115 Main Street, Daytona Beach, from 12:00p to 3:00p.

Donate to the cause, pick-up some cool SOB swag, and enjoy a really good time with a great group of people who are fighting hard to preserve our heritage of beach driving.

Hope to see you there!

Have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 21, 2017

Hi, Kids!

It’s been an interesting week.

On Thursday, we learned from County Manager Jim Dinneen – in a well-scripted roll-out of both a comprehensive tax increase, and the proposed construction of a new five-story courthouse and four-story office complex in downtown Daytona – a project that we (you, me, our children and grandchildren) will be on-the-hook for to the tune of $195-million to $260-million over 30-years.

Man, you’d think we were building a Bethune-Cookman dormitory or something?

The good news out of DeLand yesterday was the fact that the County’s beach concession contract will be awarded to a local company – and the previously proposed, completely ludicrous, micro-managing “staff recommendations” that would have required all vendors to paint their trucks a homogeneous white – were roundly rejected by our elected officials.

I was proud of Vice Chair Deb Denys for supporting the removal of onerous – and expensive – “white truck” regulations.

Now, can we ferret-out those members of “staff” who waste precious public time and resources developing ridiculous and meaningless rules?

Look, Volusia County clearly needs a new justice center – the Court House Annex has seen better days – and Circuit Judge Terry Perkins was right when he said that someone is going to get killed.  Security at that facility is virtually non-existent – and the fact there has not been a serious incident is a testament to the men and women of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office who move prisoners and (until yesterday) provide physical security.

I’m just not sure we needed a $250,000 consultant’s study to tell us that – and time will tell how the new private contractor who has been tapped to provide security services at Volusia County courthouses will work out.

I’ll have more on these and other important issues facing us here on the Fun Coast next week.

Now, it’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel:             Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond

This week we learned the sad news of the passing of Judge Kim Hammond.  For more than 30-years, Judge Hammond served the citizens of the Seventh Judicial Circuit with incredible dedication, compassion and commitment to the law.

He was a fine jurist – but a better human being.

Judge Hammond passed away under hospice care in Ormond Beach on Sunday.  He was 72.

Kim Hammond was a talented athlete – an All-American quarterback at Florida State University – and he even played professional football in Miami and Boston.  But Judge Hammond will be best remembered for his steady hand and calm demeanor while presiding over three-decades of criminal cases in Flagler County.

He was one of the most genuinely nice people I ever met in the Criminal Justice system.

Judge Hammond taught us that kindness, a keen sense of humor and gentle compassion can fundamentally change people – and our system of justice – for the better.

That was his contribution – and his legacy.

He will be missed.

Asshole:          Florida Department of Environmental Protection

 Given the historical dysfunction and ineffectiveness at FDEP, unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised to read the terrible news out of Deleon Springs this week.

If you haven’t taken the family to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Pancake House at Deleon Springs State Park – you’re doing it wrong.  Cooking your own buckwheat pancakes on an open griddle in the cozy little restaurant has been a family tradition in Volusia County since I was a small child.

People gather around the beautiful clear spring, tour the museum and walk the grounds while they wait for a table in the small wooden building – which can be an hour or more on weekends.

This wildly popular attraction has been operated by the Schwarze family for 56-years.

State regulations require that park vendors renew their concession contract every five-years – and the Schwarze’s agreement expires on September 30th.

When they attempted to renew – the family business couldn’t get anything out of Tallahassee.

Nothing.  Crickets.

Through no fault of their own, this West Volusia icon is now in danger of closing – not because it’s a failing business, to the contrary – it is because a long-term contractor hasn’t received any substantive communication from the state regulatory agency who governs their lives and livelihood.

It’s hard to order supplies, reassure frightened employees and plan for the future when you don’t know if you have a future.

Following a public outcry on social media – some state bureaucrat finally got off their ass and had a preliminary meeting with the restaurant.  A state spokesman later gave the Daytona Beach News-Journal some gobbledygook attempting to explain the problem away – but a resolution has not been reached.   

If this quaint family restaurant goes away simply because a leaderless hulk of a state regulatory agency can’t get their collective shit together, that is a travesty.  Unfortunately, it is indicative of the level of incompetence and inefficiency that has ruled FDEP – and other state agencies – since the organization was fractured and neutered by our reptilian governor, Rick Scott.

According to the News-Journal, there is hope that a contract extension can be put in place before the deadline.

I damn sure hope so.

Asshole:          Tony “Beachside” Grippa  

 Set your watch – I’m going on the record right now:

The much ballyhooed “Tony Grippa Beachside Redevelopment Committee” will have absolutely no substantive impact on the future stability and revitalization of our long-suffering beachside and core tourist areas. 

I hope I’m wrong.  But I’m not.

In a recent article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, former Brown & Brown executive, closet beach advocate and redevelopment committee chair, Tony Grippa, announced to the assembled political appointees that, “beach management is not within our purview for the committee.”

Yahtzee! 

Goodnight, everybody!  Thanks for coming – hope everyone feels better about themselves for having participated!

Really?

It’s like asking someone to rebuild, refurbish and restart a hocked-out, rattletrap jalopy – only they aren’t permitted to touch the engine.

When pressed by the intrepid Paul Zimmerman and Dave LaMotte – the only authentic beach advocates on the board – about the importance of beach access to the revitalization process – Grippa responded, “Certain issues have kept this community from developing.  Let’s start with things that can bring the community together.”

 I agree – Volusia County’s abject failure to openly and honestly discuss beach access and management issues is at the very top of the divisive issues list.

But that’s never going to happen.

Transparency on matters relating to the beach – or anything else – is directly counter to County Manager Jim Dinneen’s strategic plan to whittle away public access and participation in the process – so he misleads our elected officials into believing that even discussing these important issues will unleash Pandora’s Box.

So, let’s sit around and talk about ‘feel good’ things that bring us together!

Let’s all sit cross-legged on the floor, hold hands, and listen to the likes of Daytona Beach Redevelopment Director Reed Berger regale us with tall tales about how well the city and county work together, drone on with his revisionist history of redevelopment on the beachside, and hem-and-haw during questioning by committee members as he exposes his complete ignorance of the issues at hand!

That always helps, right?

Screw it.

Another earmark that immediately gives away the crushing ineffectiveness of any “improvement committee” ever formed in the Halifax area is when wealthy members start using phrases like, “I’m so darned excited!” and “I think we’re going to make a really, really big difference!”

 No, you’re not.

You are a hand-select group with all the right last names – and special interests.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Tony Grippa is a nice guy – and most of the people serving on this committee are highly successful, incredibly smart and very influential members of the community who truly mean well.

But they must see what’s going on, right?

Let’s call this what it is right up front – another ad hoc “See, we’re trying!” political insulation committee formed by those moral weaklings on the Volusia County Council in the aftermath of an embarrassing news exposé on the abject blight, dereliction of redevelopment officials and agencies, and the inherent corruption of politicians and half-bright political insiders who insist on bedding down with every speculative developer who drifts onto Daytona’s beachside.

Trust me – the elected officials who concocted and approved this committee could give two-shits less what their appointees ultimately come up with.

Unless the group’s findings support County Manager Jim Dinneen’s goofy boardwalk extension plan (which is already being budgeted, so hide and watch) – or comport with the exact needs, wants and profit motives of those uber-wealthy power brokers that committee member Dr. Kent Sharples dutifully reports to – it’s an empty exercise, like pissing your pants in a dark suit.

You’ll get a warm feeling, but no one really notices.

At the end of the day, local and county government is not going to redevelop the beachside.

Unless and until the ‘powers that be’ stop the neglect, enforce property management and maintenance codes, stop tolerating blight generators and dilapidation, and work collaboratively with committed residents to make the beachside an attractive, profitable place for private investment – we are doomed to more of the same.

It’s that simple – and we don’t need another impotent committee to tell us that.

Again, let’s all hope that I’m wrong on this one.

Asshole:          Volusia County, Daytona Beach CVB & Ocean Center

 Last Friday, a friend and I were driving south on A-1-A from Ormond Beach.

We were on our way to grab a beer and a sandwich at North Turn in Ponce Inlet, which, by the way, isn’t a bad way to pass a warm summer afternoon.

Around Belaire Plaza, we noticed an increasing number of jacked pick-up’s – you know, those big trucks with the huge tires, stratospheric lift kits, roaring exhaust and weird neon paint schemes – usually driven by a twentysomething suburban white kid with a baseball hat on backwards and a budding attention-seeking complex?

I know about these things – my goofy high school friends and I were their ‘founding fathers’ forty-years ago.

By the time we were just north of Seabreeze Boulevard – they were everywhere.

Three screaming trucks pulled out in front of us, blowing coal-black smoke and squealing tires as they raced south toward Main Street.  I muttered “assholes” under my breath as my friend reminded me that they were just kids having fun.

Being known for my keen and cultivated sense of perception and advanced deductive reasoning skills – I shrugged my shoulders and commented, “Must be some kind of truck thing going on?” 

No shit, Sherlock.     

As it turned out, an estimated 10,000 participants and spectators turned out in their smoke-belching, train-horn blaring, monster machines for Daytona Truck Meet 2017 – billed by promoters as the “Coolest Summertime Truck Show on Florida’s East Coast!”

Add to that it was the coolest summertime truck meet most locals never heard of.

I like to consider myself fairly clued in to local current events – but I was caught flatfooted by this one – and I think Daytona Beach city officials were too.

After all, we spent a collective $400,000 in public funds on our successful attempt to lure about the same number of Shriners to town last week – and it was all we heard about for a month.

I dunno – maybe we expected a heads-up?

Unfortunately, over the course of the weekend event, a few turds decided it would be a good time to show their ass.

In the aftermath of the drinking and rowdiness (things I enjoy) and the traffic gridlock and reckless driving (things I don’t enjoy) on Atlantic Avenue last Saturday night, I took a drive through the epicenter – essentially Hartford Avenue south to ISB – on Monday afternoon.

The street surface looked like Big Daddy Don Garlits and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney were vacationing in Daytona Beach with the Force family.

It was damn near a continuous stripe of burnt rubber on asphalt for as far as I drove.

I couldn’t help but shake my head when I thought what that craziness must have sounded like in the wee-hours of Sunday morning.  I also wondered how much more motorized mayhem the good residents of our struggling beachside are expected to endure?

From what I read, police were caught off-guard by the traffic, residents in the area were telling stories that rivaled the debauchery of the former BCR/Spring Break days, and it was clear that the famous “ire” of Daytona Beach residents – a collective anger that can make or break a special event – was slowly rising like hackles on a hound dog.

In my view, much of this could have been avoided with better communication between those who hosted the event – the Ocean Center – and those who helped promote it – the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau – and the residents those facilities and organizations ultimately serve.

I get the sneaking feeling the City of Daytona Beach was left out of the loop.

And the citizens who live beachside were clearly blindsided.

No one that I have spoken with in recent days was remotely aware that 10,000 monster trucks were descending on the Halifax area last weekend.

Now, everyone is pissed off by the infantile stupidity of the few bad apples that turned A-1-A into a scene from a bad Mad Max movie – and they should be.

I’m going to stop short of labeling the Daytona Truck Meet an asshole, because not everyone involved acted out.

However, the event now has a stigma attached and, based upon the comments at yesterday’s Volusia County Council meeting – this event is dead as a doornail.

And that’s a shame.

When properly managed, the infusion of 10,000 people for a single event can have a significant economic impact on our community – the annual Jeep gathering proves that.

Regardless of whether you agree that sporadic seasonal theme “weeks” and “(insert happening)-toberfests” are the way forward for Daytona Beach – I think we can all come together in demanding better communication from our elected and appointed officials – and the various tax-supported agencies responsible for promoting tourism in Volusia County.

Those of us who are directly impacted by these virtually unannounced “pop-up” special events deserve better.

Angel:             Judge Hubert Grimes

 After being appointed interim President of Bethune-Cookman University, retired Judge Hubert Grimes has hit the ground running, doing his level best to right the imperiled ship, tighten the sails, and stop the money leaks that have threatened to sink the school.

Considering recent in-depth investigations by the Daytona Beach News-Journal (something they do incredibly well) and a growing outcry by concerned students and alumni – you know, the ones who pay the bills – over the secrecy and goofy financial machinations by outgoing President Edison O. Jackson – Judge Grimes has little time to waste.

To his credit, Grimes has called for a forensic audit of the financial quagmire that was the University’s involvement with a dormitory financing scheme that may ultimately cost some $300-million over time.

That’s an important step in reconstructing the “who, when, why, and how” of this ugly mess.

I have one question:  How is it possible to keep Board of Trustee’s Chairman Joe Petrock in place?

After all, these financial atrocities – the exorbitant pay increases, the $18-million operating loss, a cash shortfall of nearly $8-million, the DeVos bruhaha, a declining endowment and the dormitory debacle – all occurred on Chairman Petrock’s watch.

Am I wrong?

I am certain Judge Grimes understands the importance of a clean house to starting fresh – and building trust.

In my view, that begins by jettisoning the locally well-connected Joe Petrock and restoring student confidence in the direction and oversight of the B-CU Board of Trustees.

Asshole:          Florida Department of Corrections

Regardless of your personal thoughts on crime and punishment – I think we can all agree that in 2017 – inmates in the State of Florida should be afforded basic human rights and civilized treatment while incarcerated.

For the past seven months, State Representative David Richardson has investigated conditions in Florida prisons – to include conditions at Tomoka Correctional Institute just west of Daytona Beach.  During unannounced tours of facilities throughout the state, Rep. Richardson has found that inmates are being denied necessities – such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, sheets, shirts, soap and toilet paper.

That’s right.  Toilet paper.

During my working life, I once went into Tomoka to inspect a truck we acquired for the police department.  Inside, I noticed that some of the inmates were literally wearing rags – something I dismissed as their work clothes.

Now, it would appear this is the norm.

Unbelievable.

Once again, this draconian mismanagement speaks to the utter dysfunction of the Florida Department of Corrections – a systemic issue that has seen many good men and women leave the corrections service in frustration and disgust.

I congratulate Rep. Richardson for his good work.

Quote of the Week:

“He has a look-at-me attitude. He’s flashy.”

Daytona Beach Police Sergeant Tim Ehrenkaufer, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, describing the attributes of a 10-year old budding career criminal who is suspected of stealing at least three automobiles in the Halifax area since June.

To heck with an ankle monitor – take the kid’s toilet paper away.  Show him what life on the other side is going to be like. . .

Have a great weekend!

 

A Floridian’s Nightmare

No political rants or angry screeds on our dismal collective condition here on the Fun Coast today.

I just can’t muster it, kids – nor could I be responsible for what I might say in my current state.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

The heat and humidity of “Florida’s Summer of 2017” is driving me loopy.

I’m losing it – and as Travis Tritt said, “The whiskey ain’t workin’ anymore.”

I have a weird sociological theory that refrigeration is the only thing that separates us from the Great Apes.

You remember the 1986 movie The Mosquito Coast?

It was an excellent drama about an increasingly insane inventor who set out with his family to build a utopia in the jungles of Central America.  In a pivotal scene, the mad man – expertly portrayed by actor Harrison Ford – screams, “Ice is civilization!”

Dude was right.

As you may have heard (after all, I’ve bitched about it to anyone who’ll listen for days), the air conditioner at Barker’s View HQ took a dump last week.

As my luck goes, even a $750 emergency after-hours diagnosis, complete with several refrigerant recharges by experienced service technicians, failed to resuscitate that beautiful water-to-air contraption that has run full-tilt and kept me in cold comfort for the past ten-years.

Look, I don’t have a clue what a ‘heat index’ is – but that sucker has been in the low 100’s for days.  Suffice it to say, it’s friggin’ hotter than the Hinges of Hell.

As my beloved air conditioner slowly died in my arms – I was frantic.

As any Floridian would be.

I began writing increasingly larger checks to different technicians, “doctor shopping” for one more fix of R-22 refrigerant (at $100 per pound?) that I hoped would forestall the inevitable.

Let’s face it – my motives were purely selfish.

When the unit quietly gave up the ghost during the overnight hours last Monday, her passing was marked by the internal temperature inside our home climbing to a steady 86-degrees – where it has stubbornly remained for over a week.

As is my habit during times of acute crisis – I immediately stripped to my boxer shorts and mixed a strong cocktail – then dug the fans out of our sweltering garage, wept openly and began drinking heavily.

After extensive training, and intense knowledge and practical testing, the Federal Aviation Administration has granted me certifications as an instrument rated commercial airplane pilot.  At one time in my life, I could expertly program sophisticated GPS systems and set up other navigation and communications radios all while orienting and operating an aircraft referencing only the flight instruments.

But I’ll be dipped if I could ever program my air conditioner’s thermostat.

As I went through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, etc. – sweat dripping from the moobs I’ve grown in retirement – I stabbed wildly with my index finger at the backlit plastic box on the wall – a technological advancement that looks like the flight deck of the Space Shuttle – insanely cussing and hoping against hope I would hit just the right button that would bring back the cool.

It’s called heat-induced psychosis – I think.

In the end, it was not to be.

She was not coming back.  I knew that.

Once reality hits, you would be surprised just how inventive even a tool like me can get.

Look, you can spend $175,000+ for an advanced degree in the physics of fluid dynamics – or you can simply watch a heat-crazed Floridian as he expertly daisy-chains a series of box fans to direct a tepid breeze into his bedroom when the A/C shits the bed.

Am I wrong?

The good news is it’s nothing a new $6,000.00, 3.5-ton unit with multi-position air handler and internal purifier in Architectural Gray powder-coat can’t take care of.

The bad news is they can’t put that sweet love machine in until Friday.

Could be worse.  Right?  (That’s been my mantra for the past few days. . .)

In the meantime, Patti and I are throwing elbows and jockeying for position around a couple of portable air conditioning units (God’s Love in a Box) that the installer mercifully loaned us.

It’s dropped the temperature in the main part of the house to a balmy – but doable – 79.

The dogs?

Well, they have their own portable unit going – it’s a cool 72-degrees in Patti’s home office where they idly lounge about in total comfort.

The moral?  Take nothing for granted, my friends.

I guess.

And stay cool. . . If you can.

 

 

 

On Volusia: More “Fun Water” Please!

I recently wrote a blog in anger – that happens from time-to-time.

Nearly 1,700 good folks like you read it in less than 48-hours – and more are tuning in by the hour.

I guess I’m not the only one who’s pissed off on the Fun Coast. . .

In a piece entitled “Adding Insult to Injury” I posted a photograph of a scene I happened upon quite by accident.

On Friday, I stopped by the ABC Fine Wine and Spirits in Ormond Beach to pick up a fresh handle of Tito’s vodka – “fun water” – as I like to call it.

As I was exiting the parking lot – I observed a patch of weed-strewn asphalt just off Northshore Drive that is being used by Volusia County officials to store beach traffic signs, a red lifeguard tower, and other county-owned equipment and detritus – all in plain view of residents and visitors alike.

CardinalAlthough you wouldn’t know it by looking at the dilapidated structure now, but the cracked parking lot surrounds what was once Florida’s first “shopping center” – serving the Ellinor Village subdivision.

After being vacated and languishing on the soft beachside real estate market, in 2015, the Volusia County Council purchased the property for $1.8 million tax dollars at the recommendation of County Manager Jim Dinneen, ostensibly for “off-beach” parking.

The building has been there a longtime. When I was kid, I used to ride my bike down to Black’s Pharmacy where I would buy a few packs of bottle rockets and some candy – and those of us who grew up here in the 70’s can (vaguely) remember partying hard at the Other Place, Ormond’s premiere Rock-n-Roll venue.

Now, just two-years after becoming county-owned property and vanishing from the city’s tax rolls, the lot has become a shabby, unkempt eyesore – complete with faded paint, unchecked weeds, ugly No Trespassing placards and brown wooden boards covering all doors and windows.

I defy anyone to tell me the difference in the general appearance of Cardinal Drive and A-1-A in Ormond Beach and any intersection in Ciudad Juarez.  Seriously.

It radiates a feeling of hopelessness.

After reading last week’s blog, a regular reader of Barker’s View dropped me a note to say that, until recently, he lived in a home directly behind the former shopping center.

He estimates suffering a 20% loss on the value of his property when it sold – something he directly attributes to the horrific conditions on the county’s property.

Another reader alerted me to serious issues at county facilities in DeLand as well.

Someone “in the know” wrote that conditions inside the “old jail” (I believe they were referring to the facility on New York Avenue, downtown) and former elections offices have become disorganized dumping grounds as well.

I don’t know – I’m just passing along what I was told.

Maybe one of our elected representatives could get off their ass and take a tour?

In a scene that could only come from a macabre Twilight Zone episode – or the pages of the Daytona Beach News-Journal – in February, it was reported that Volusia County and the City of DeLand were discussing swapping a municipal-owned building on West Rich Avenue for the county’s former jail property.

What’s weird about that, Mark?

Well, let me tell you:  A sticking point was the fact County Manager Jim Dinneen said he wanted a promise from the city that the property will be used for development.

“We don’t want to swap property and for them to turn it into a park,” Dinneen said.

“We are really interested in creating jobs. We want to know what kind of economic development plan they have.”

 You read that right.

The most historically dysfunctional shitheel to ever occupy a County Manager’s office had the abject temerity to give a dictating lecture to Mayor Bob Apgar, City Manager Michael Pleus and the outstanding team of city staff and residents who recently received national recognition as the best Main Street in America on how they should use a vacant jail that has stood out like a weeping syphilis chancre as the downtown area around it was beautifully redeveloped and revitalized.

How dare that chiseling shit presume to tell the City of DeLand – or any other progressive community – how to do anything?

Is it possible that Jim Dinneen has become so tragically delusional – so horribly bent by his virulent form of megalomania – that he actually believes anyone other than his highly-paid toadies and clueless elected officials care one whit about his kleptocratic thoughts on “economic development” – or anything else for that matter?

You may remember way back in 2015 when Dinneen was caught flatfooted after trying to push a $64-million plan to renovate and replace county-owned buildings and facilities that he and his staff had strategically allowed to deteriorate?

You remember the sights of weed-strewn storage lots, dilapidated metal buildings – the leaking ceilings, rodents, snakes and vermin in the Sheriff’s Office evidence facility – unkempt public works facilities and other scenes of utter dereliction – punctuated by astronomically expensive Taj Mahal construction projects for new buildings and facilities?

I do.

Apparently, Little Jimmy lives in a bizarre Fantasy Land where worker drones throw good money after bad to build replacement facilities – then allow the same government bureaucrats who trashed and neglected the former facilities to go to work on the new ones.

In one glimmer of hope – Dustin Wyatt, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – reported today that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, is urging his fellow elected officials to sell off some of the multi-million dollar “off beach” parking lots that are sitting vacant.

In my view, Ed’s either seen the light – or he has a friend in need of some cheap beachside property.

Look – I’ve said this before – it’s time for our elected officials to begin the process of removing Jim Dinneen and restoring confidence and organization to a government gone wacky.

This walking Napoleonic complex is a foul ball – a con artist who serves as a well-paid shill for influential power brokers – who could give two-shits about those of us who pay the bills.

Sheriff Chitwood was right when he said, “Either he (Dinneen) has Alzheimer’s disease, or he’s a pathological liar.” 

The fact is, the disgrace on Cardinal Drive – an eyesore foisted on residents and visitors alike – is not the first county-owned property that has served as a “blight generator” in neighborhoods where these facilities are located – and if Dinneen has his way – it damned sure won’t be the last.

And people ask why I drink. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Adding Insult to Injury

Well, Mark has his knickers in a wad again.

Yep.  “Barker the Bitcher” is at it again.  It’s the little things that set me off like a Roman candle.

In my experience, you can tell the strength and quality of an organization by the way they handle the “small stuff.”

And it’s all small stuff.

In author Michael Levine’s excellent 2005 work, “Broken Windows, Broken Business,” he opined that organizational problems – large and small – often result from managements inattention to seemingly insignificant details.

You see, an organizations true priorities are exposed by the trivial.

According to Levine, “There’s a significant psychological impact to dingy surroundings—to stained carpets and broken toilets.”  He believes that you simply cannot convince those you serve (or your own employees) that you truly care about them if you are constantly sending subliminal signals that you don’t.

Smart guy.

Whenever I get away from Barker’s View HQ – even if it’s just to run a few errands – I use the time to consciously observe my surroundings.

Like anyone else, I can become desensitized to the contributors to blight – such as that zombie house in the neighborhood that hasn’t been inhabited since the Great Recession – or an overgrown, trash-filled vacant lot.

After a while, you tend to ignore these things and just drive right by – they become part of the everyday landscape of our lives.

But imagine being a visitor – someone new to the area who is looking to relocate a business or purchase a home – seeing our area in living color for the first time in their lives.

I mean, they’ve heard all the hype and splendor espoused by our redundant chamber of commerce/advertising authorities/visitor bureaus, and let’s say they bit on an expensive Danica Patrick ad.

Or maybe you’re a conventioneer – say, a member of the big Shriners International “mega” get-together – a group somewhere south of 10,000 that we threw some $400,000 in public funds at to coax them to Daytona Beach this year and next.

We got’em.  They’re here.

Now what?

I can assure you these folks aren’t blind to the blight, dilapidation and neglect that permeates many highly-visible areas of the Halifax area.

And I’m not talking about the archetypal, Snidely Whiplash-looking Daytona Beach slumlord here.

I’m talking about Volusia County government.

Late last week, I was (naturally) leaving a liquor store on South Atlantic Avenue in Ormond Beach when the blatant “do as I say, not as I do” arrogance of Volusia County government hit me like a ton of bricks once again.

If you happen to be a taxpaying citizen of Volusia County – I think you’ll feel the same way.

In 2015, at the direct recommendation of County Manager Jim Dinneen, the Volusia County Council approved the expenditure of general funds (and stolen ECHO dollars) for the purchase of 1.8 acres of property on the west side of State Road A-1-A in Ormond Beach for $1.8 million.

$1.8 million – of our tax dollars.

This dubious purchase was part of a frenetic land-grab – a spending spree spurred by Dinneen, as he encouraged our elected officials to piss away multi-millions of our hard-earned tax dollars on any and every available space where Little Jimmy felt he could shoehorn an “off beach” parking lot.

At the time – in perhaps his only cogent thought during a brutally uninspired term – our former cartoon character of a council chair, Jason Davis, doffed his goofy fedora and said, “We keep buying all this property, which is part of the prerogative of this council, but there’s still underlying costs that are going to come up for development,” he said, estimating costs of redevelopment could reach $50 million.”

“We’re buying all this land for parking lots, but where are we getting the money to build the parking lots?”

Well, apparently, “we” are getting at least some of it by openly ignoring even routine maintenance and upkeep on these incredibly expensive parcels – and blatantly violating city codes and ordinances in the process.

In the photograph above, you see that the rear of our despicably unkempt $1.8 million county-owned property at the northwest corner of Cardinal Drive and State Road A-1-A is now being used as an open storage yard for a lifeguard tower and various beach speed limit and directional signage – some carelessly toppled– all set on the cracked asphalt of a weed strewn parking lot of a faded, abandoned building that sits like a long-dead carcass in the epicenter of Ormond Beach’s tourist area.

To add insult to injury – it’s off the city’s tax rolls as well.

Tragically, this dumping ground is almost purposely exposed to public view – a neglected shithole set on the fringe of a residential neighborhood – an open eyesore for residents and visitors alike.

With millions being spent on dubious “economic development” incentives – and all of us being urged by the “powers that be” to use less water, clean up our lawns and properties, and pay more-and-more in taxes and fees – just who in the hell do these people think they are?

My God.

Still think Jim Dinneen and our historically arrogant and completely out-of-touch members of the Volusia County Council give two-shits about us and our quality of life?

Not if you live anywhere near a county-owned facility they don’t.

And if I hear one more insult from some stuffed shirt millionaire or politically active CEO about how beautiful things are here on the Fun Coast – I’m going to vomit.

When this latest debacle – this government-funded blight generator – makes it’s circuitous way back to DeLand, you can bet your bippy our responsibility-averse County Manager will once again publicly blame the “Coastal Division” for yet another five-alarm fuck-up and our $97,000 per year “All Things Beach” Director, Jessica Winterwerp, will make yet another public apology before cashing her paycheck.

Hey, Jessica – maybe you can use more of our money to hire another Miami-based consultant to tell you how to properly store your division’s equipment?  You know, so that it doesn’t contribute to the appearance of a Third-World pigsty?

Something else Mr. Levine proposed is the novel idea that senior leadership should eject poor performers from the organization as quickly as possible, letting everyone know that the issues have been effectively dealt with.

Not in Volusia County government – you go along, you get along – and your strategic ineptitude will be handsomely rewarded.

How much longer will we – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County –  be subjected to this level of gross mismanagement, embarrassment and abject neglect of every reasonable expectation of community standards and aesthetics?

As I’ve said, ad nauseum, in government, as in most progressive organization, accountability exists when a responsible individual – and the services they provide – are subject to oversight.

This occurs when the person with the paid responsibility is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, omissions, expenditures and performance.

Despite the obscene amount of corroborating evidence proving that Mr. Dinneen is physically incapable of holding his senior staff responsible for this continuing pattern of gross mismanagement – rather than demand accountability – our elected officials continue to praise Dinneen’s performance and reinforce his arrogance with staggering salary and benefit increases that have reached the point of absurdity.

The most visible symptom of the abject dysfunction at the top of the county’s organizational chart is consistently the bureaucracy’s inability to properly manage and maintain county-owned facilities.

Look at the photograph again – or better yet, load up the family and check it out for yourself.

Maybe snap a few pics for your elected representative.

Then consider the ramifications of openly storing a bunch of faded wooden sign frames and a big red wooden tower in your backyard – you know – in plain view of your neighbors?

See what happens.

I guess what pisses me off most is the fact that County Chairman Ed Kelley sold us a bill of goods.

He claimed to be a responsible “everyman” who served Ormond Beach for many years.  So why does he allow the very government he oversees to foist this irresponsible and highly-visible dumping ground on his most loyal constituents?

Why?

Because Ed Kelley and Jim Dinneen don’t give a damn about you – we were outbid during the election – and they prove it every day.

Pay the bills and shut up, John Q.

We dump publicly-owned property and equipment when and where we want to.

We misplace traffic cones and inexplicably prohibit parking on a section of beach during the busiest season of the year – with no explanation or accountability.

We bully and trash the municipalities with impunity.

We engage in an on-going series of missteps, foul-ups, administrative gaffes, bureaucratic bloopers, weird “oversights” and outright errors in sound judgment with absolutely no reasonable oversight or professional accountability.

We pay incompetent shitheels hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in salary and benefits each year while expecting nothing – nothing – in return.

In short – we do what we want, when we want – and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Am I wrong?

In my view, Ormond Beach City Manager Joyce Shannahan – a true bright spot in the fetid wasteland of local government – should direct code enforcement officers to take immediate and decisive action against Volusia County until this blatant eyesore at Cardinal Drive is remediated.

I can assure you they would do the same for you or me.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 14, 2017

As a cop, I interviewed thousands of victims and witnesses through the years.

Invariably, the target of a financial crime could recall the exact moment they became suspicious or knew that something wasn’t right – yet they pushed forward, getting deeper into the scheme, or continuing to trust the group or individual who exploited them despite mounting evidence they were being duped.

For some it was greed – others felt sorry for the suspect – or they trusted that he or she was who or what they said they were, but all agree they should have cut ties immediately when they first suspected a problem.

Strong personalities can convince you to ignore your instincts.

It’s why we rely on trusted financial professionals to give us the best advice possible – not because they are better or worse at picking investments – but because they take emotion and impulsiveness out of the equation and steer us away from unscrupulous (or just dumb) money mistakes.

Most large organizations have a president, chief financial officer and a board of trusted directors to provide overlapping oversight.

And when that important system breaks down – or intentionally or unintentionally fails to act in a manner consistent with its fiduciary responsibility – it is time for change.

Most corporate Chief Executive Officers, and others serving in senior leadership roles, will tell you the importance of knowing when to make your exit.

Jumping ship too soon – or too late – can be equally destabilizing for the individual and the organization.

Management experts have established certain cues that suggest when it is time to take your leave.  These include defensiveness, resistance to change, and an aversion to internal and external transparency which results in an environment where the chief executive does what he or she wants – rather than what the organization needs them to do.

There are other metrics which organizations can use to tell when it’s time for drastic changes to the Board of Directors as well – such as resistance to change, silencing criticism, lack of strategic fiscal management and an over-reliance or fealty to the CEO.

Sound familiar?

When Bethune-Cookman University announced earlier this week that Dr. Edison O. Jackson had opted for “early retirement” in the wake of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s exposé on B-CU’s staggering $17.8 million operating loss and declining endowment, I immediately thought he exited with grace – and at exactly the right time.

With all that’s transpired, I question the strategy of allowing Dr. Jackson to stay in place through the end of August – or the board’s decision to pay Jackson for a “four-month sabbatical.”

Regardless, in my view, his departure is a good start.

Although Dr. Jackson’s strong personality, exorbitant salary and propensity for secrecy in fiscal affairs have contributed to the university’s financial quagmire – the trustees had a fiduciary, if not ethical, responsibility to students and alumni to keep the institutions financial and administrative house in check despite the weird internal machinations in the president’s office.

That’s their job – not rubberstamping the whims and wants of a chief executive with a spending problem – or ignoring serious warning signs of potential fraud.

The practice of simply launching dissenting points-of-view from the board, ignoring credible requests for forensic audits, and proceeding full-speed-ahead with an asinine and incredibly expensive financing scheme for campus dormitories, sets the stage for a good old-fashioned house cleaning.

In my view, that should begin with the resignation of board chairman Joe Petrock.

After all, he has been an active participant in the mismanagement – the depth of which is slowly being exposed – and has arrogantly ignored alarms that B-CU was headed in the wrong direction.

Most disturbing is the fact that Petrock has been remarkably closemouthed on the important issues surrounding Dr. Jackson’s departure – and has attempted to dismiss solid news reports as being based upon “rumors” and “misinformation.”

In my view, Petrock’s response is in keeping with the board’s apparent failure to ensure adequate due diligence on the company which ultimately received the dorm contract.

For example, when there is evidence that a managing partner has been sued (twice) for fraud – and a mysterious forensic examiners report shows that the original agreement with the company may have contained Dr. Jackson’s forged signature – maybe the board should have taken a second look?

Hell, any one of those glaring clues should have resulted in an immediate all-stop.

It’s high time that Bethune-Cookman look outside the cronyism and hangers-on in Daytona Beach and find an experienced change-agent with a reputation for financial conservatism and a background in successfully turning around challenged organizations.

The right person is out there.

This historic university is far too important to the life of our community – and the legacy of Mary McCloud Bethune deserves better from its caretakers.

Don’t you think?

Now, it’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s have a peek at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

Several weeks back, I included a piece in this space taking the Volusia County School Board to task for their absurd practice of hopscotching school principals – a strategy that has resulted in instability, uncertainty, and a distinct lack of leadership – especially in difficult to manage schools.

Earlier this month, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte personally appeared before the School Board and read an important open letter from Mayor John Penny asking for a halt to the constant churn of senior executives at the Holly Hill K-8 School.

To say that the good citizens of Holly Hill have been repeatedly screwed by district officials is an understatement.

For instance, in 2011 the community was in line for a new middle school – only to be jumped by the construction of Hinson Middle in Ormond Beach.  Then, Volusia County told the city that it now lacked sufficient student population to justify a new school.

The old switch-a-roo.

Instead, the school district built a weird, seemingly experimental, Kindergarten through Eighth Grade facility which has desperately struggled since the merger of Holly Hill’s middle and elementary schools.

Apparently, in the past six-years the Holly Hill K-8 has seen five principals and seven assistant principals pass through the doors – something that has resulted in a poor performing school with little hope for improvement.

In my view, the City of Holly Hill is struggling to improve economic development and build a better quality of life for its residents.  This is made more difficult by the presence of a neglected and chronically failing school.

My hat’s off to Mayor Penny and City Manager Forte for their strong leadership in taking the fight to the Volusia County School board.  They recognize that students and families in this beautiful but challenged community deserve better – and they are working hard for substantive change.

Angel:             Halifax Health District Board of Commissioners

Kudos to the Halifax Health District Board of Commissioners for their hard work in reducing the current tax rate for the publicly funded hospital.

This represents an 88% reduction since 2007.  That’s impressive.

I know folks can be hyper-critical of Halifax Medical Center – but I spent a week there once and found the experience most satisfactory.  In fact, the customer service and medical care I received was second-to-none, literally from the time I walked in the front door.

It’s refreshing to see a local taxing district that practices sound fiscal management and supports its operations independent of public funds.  Rather than working from the assumption that tax dollars will always be on the increase, Halifax Health has developed strategic long-term plans for other sources of income.

Volusia County has one of the highest combined tax rates in the State of Florida.  Clearly, Halifax Health is the one taxing district setting the standard for reducing this crippling burden that continues to hurt area families and hinder real economic development in the region.

Good job!

Angel:             Daytona Beach Special Master David Vukelja

 Earlier this week, the City of Daytona Beach – through Special Master David Vukelja – took another bold stand against malignant beachside blight when the resolute magistrate once again held landlord Jack Aberman’s feet to the fire.

After being forced to apply for rental licenses on 14 properties, Daytona Beach will now require that Aberman open each of those units to inspectors before August 2 – you know, just like everyone else.

Area residents are right to be skeptical – after all, many have lived next door to drug dens, flophouses, hobo jungles, overgrown lots and unlicensed rental properties for years.

Evidence suggests that Aberman – and others like him – have advertised substandard residential properties and reaped the benefits that naturally result from putting profits over preventive maintenance.

At the core of the process is the right of people to live in reasonably safe surroundings with the basic necessities of modern shelter – clean water, a secure roof, sanitary septic – a space free of vermin and insect infestation.  Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is for some Daytona Beach landlords – especially when life safety codes are viewed as an impediment to cash flow.

During this week’s hearing, a former victim who shared two of Mr. Aberman’s homes with a host of rodents, questioned whether the landlord would once again skate through the code enforcement process unscathed as he has so many times before?

Clearly, liens and civil enforcement actions mean nothing to those who exploit the system for personal gain.

My hope is that Mr. Vukelja’s firm, no-nonsense approach will force compliance once and for all.

In my view, if Mr. Aberman continues this gross manipulation of the “affordable housing” cycle – to include accepting some $90,000 in public funds to make repairs to 18 commercial rental units (and avoid enforcement action) many of which deteriorated back into abject squalor – should result in criminal prosecution.

Recently, a big fuss was made after the Volusia and Flagler Sheriff’s Departments arrested a few unlicensed general contractors.  What about a continuing enterprise that has advertised and rented unsafe, vermin infested, substandard and unlicensed housing units for years, subjecting cash paying customers to the dangers of life safety and property code violations then pocketing the profits?

If that’s not an on-going criminal exploitation of those who can ill afford to be taken advantage of, I don’t know what is.

Asshole:          Gloria Daniels and Halifax Health Medical Center 

 I wrote about this earlier in the week – but it bears repeating.

Recently, I saw a meme depicting an infant child and a small dog which said, “If you have to be told we’ll die in a hot car, you’re too stupid to have either of us.”

Last Sunday, Gloria Daniels – a homeless person from Illinois who was living from her automobile – suffered chest pain and drove to Halifax Hospital for medical assistance.  Unfortunately, she left her small pug in the car, apparently thinking that cracking a window and leaving food and water would allow the dog to survive the hellish heat of a Florida July afternoon.

To add insult to injury – a security officer found the dog in the car.  Thank God, right?

Wrong.

Rather than immediately act to rescue the animal from almost certain heat injury or death – this mental midget opts to leave him put and “check” on the pup a couple of times before finding it dead in the car – cooked to an internal temperature of 109.9.

He literally watched the animal die.

For her failure to report the dog’s presence in the car, Daniels has been rightfully charged with a felony crime for her cruelty.  But in all honesty, when did her responsibility end – and the security officers begin?

She was admitted for a medical emergency and left her pet behind in the parking lot – Daniels should have alerted someone, if she was able.

The security guard was just an irresponsible dipshit.  Mid-afternoon on a July 9th?  Really?

Look, no one stands-up for cops, firefighters, security personnel and other first responders as vehemently and consistently as I do.  Even when they’re wrong – because I know first-hand the no-win situations they face daily.

But this case is patently indefensible – knowingly leaving a dog trapped in a 115-degree oven for hours on a summer afternoon is beyond my comprehension.

This represents willful and wanton negligence and deserves to be dealt with in the harshest of terms.  In my view, this level of abject stupidity and gross carelessness simply cannot be foisted on those who depend on professional security services.

Folks – I’m begging you – if you have pets or small children, please develop a system to double-check the interior of your vehicle and ensure that no one is left behind, even for a minute, every time you exit the car.

Every time. 

And if you come upon an animal or child trapped inside a hot vehicle, take rapid and decisive action to ventilate the interior, remove the victim as rapidly as possible, then contact law enforcement and emergency medical personnel immediately.

I keep a window-shattering spike in my vehicle’s “go bag” for just such an emergency.

Seconds matter.

Asshole:          Senate President Joe Negron 

I’m a prime example that not everyone is cut out for college.  I was either too smart or too dumb to join my contemporaries into the ivy-covered walls of higher education – a decision I’ve regretted numerous times in my life.

However, Daytona Beach Community College, now part of Florida’s state college system, gave me the opportunity to attend a local law enforcement recruit school and begin a successful career.

Other’s I know have moved on to great things after attending Daytona State’s nursing, culinary, emergency medical and fire service programs.

It’s literally a place for local kids to jump-start their lives.

Community colleges provide access to education and technical training opportunities for thousands of citizens who either lack the tuition or grades required to qualify for in-state or private universities.  Course offerings at state colleges tend to mirror the requirements of the local workforce, while also offering a limited selection of baccalaureate degrees.

Recently, Senate President Joe Negron twisted arms and worked overtime to boost funding for Florida’s universities at the expense – and detriment – of the state college system.

According to Negron’s thinking, state colleges offering four-year degrees represent direct competition to Florida’s universities – and he apparently believes community colleges should be relegated to trade school status – all while he worked to help certain state universities achieve “elite” status.

That’s bullshit.

For a time following my retirement, I worked in the international flight training industry where I helped negotiate a contract with a state college in Central Florida to provide a comprehensive pilot training curriculum, aircraft and airport facilities.

It was clear that our operation would never compete with the likes of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – nor was it meant to.

Our company provided a unique opportunity for non-traditional students and veterans to obtain flight training in preparation for a career in aviation at the reasonable cost found at state and community colleges.

Look, I agree that the third-largest state in the union should have at least one university ranked in the nation’s top 10 (University of Florida is ranks 13th, while Florida State comes in at 38th) – but not at the expense of local educational opportunities.

In the end, Negron and the State Legislature shorted state colleges some $25 million dollars in a convoluted scheme that also seriously hurt traditional public schools, students and communities throughout the state.

This Tallahassee Two-Step – “pet project” – crap needs to end.

Quote of the Week:

“Current stats compiled by the local United Way show that nearly half of Volusia County households can be described as impoverished or “asset-limited, income constrained” — a phrase describing families that don’t meet the legal cutoff for poverty, but struggle to afford decent housing, food and other basic needs.”

Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial, Use Caution with Taxes, July 7, 2017

That’s it for me!  Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

I’m Begging You – Let’s help make it stop

I recently saw a meme depicting an infant child and a small dog which said, “If you have to be told we’ll die in a hot car, you’re too stupid to have either of us.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting fed up with the number of innocent children and dogs that suffer and die each year after being left or forgotten in hot cars – a grim occurrence that naturally peaks during the sweltering summer months.

Last Sunday, Gloria Daniels – a homeless person from Illinois who was apparently living from her automobile – suffered chest pain and drove to Halifax Hospital for medical assistance.  Unfortunately, she left her small pug in the car, apparently thinking that merely cracking a window and leaving food and water would allow the dog to survive the hellish heat of a Florida July afternoon.

A security officer found the dog in the car.  Thank God, right?

Wrong.

Rather than immediately act to rescue the animal from almost certain heat injury or death – this mental midget opts to leave him put and “check” on the pup a couple of times before finding it dead in the car – cooked to an internal temperature of 109.9.

Come on.  He literally watched the animal die.

For her failure to report the dog’s presence in the car, Daniels has been rightfully charged with a felony crime for her cruelty.  But in all honesty, when did her responsibility and criminal liability end – and the security officers begin?

She was admitted for a medical emergency and left her pet behind in the hospital parking lot – Daniels should have alerted someone, if she was physically able.

The security guard was just an irresponsible dipshit.

Mid-afternoon on a July 9th?

Really?

Look, no one stands-up for cops, firefighters, security personnel and other first responders as vehemently and consistently as I do.  Even when they’re wrong – because I know first-hand the no-win situations they face daily.

But this case is patently indefensible – knowingly leaving a dog trapped in a 115-degree oven for hours on a summer afternoon is beyond my comprehension.

To my mind, this represents willful and wanton negligence and deserves to be dealt with in the harshest of terms.

I happen to know Halifax Health Security Chief Mark Jones personally.  He is a good man, dedicated to public protection, and a proven asset to Halifax Medical Center.  I have every confidence that he will take appropriate action to see that the offending officer is held personally accountable for this sickening inattention to their ethical responsibility as a security professional to protect life and property – in all its forms.

Far be it from me to tell Chief Jones how to do his job, but this asshole should be launched like a Saturn 5.

Now.

The security of a medical facility is a difficult and incredibly important job – due, in part, to the vulnerability of patients, professionals and others who visit and work in the relatively open environment of a hospital.

In my view, this level of abject stupidity and gross carelessness simply cannot be foisted on those who depend on professional security services.

Folks – I’m begging you – if you have pets or small children, please develop a system to double-check the interior of your vehicle and ensure that no one is left behind, even for a minute, every time you exit the car.

Every time. 

And if you come upon an animal or child trapped inside a hot vehicle, take rapid and decisive action to ventilate the interior, remove the victim as rapidly as possible, then contact law enforcement and emergency medical personnel immediately.

I keep a window-shattering spike in my vehicle’s “go bag” for just such an emergency.

Trust me.  Seconds matter.

 

On Daytona: Bring Back “Chatterbox”

I enjoy reading the news.

It’s how I learn.

In days gone by, I used to like the feel of newsprint in my hands – the smell of the ink and shiny black residue that would appear on your fingers gave the feeling you were part of things.

The consumer.  The last link in the chain.

Back in the day, it took a symphony of professionals – reporters, editors, layout specialists, typesetters, pressmen, distribution and delivery folks – everyone coordinating against the clock to get it right and get it to your door.

Those who grew up in the Halifax area might recall getting both a morning, and an evening, newspaper.  We even had a “society column” known as “Chatterbox” written by the inimitable Margie Schlageter.

How things have changed.

Today I take my news almost exclusively online.  I can read an aggregate of trending articles from around the world, three or four national newspapers, a few digital opinion sites and finish up with our local paper in the time it takes me to finish a couple-cups of coffee.

I read it all.

A check of my browser bookmarks finds an eclectic list of hard news, editorial, national politics and alternative opinion blog sites that I frequent – everything from The Economist to obscure New Orleans street-sheets.

But I always return to my favorite – The Daytona Beach News-Journal – the paper that first fueled my obsession with current events, gave my father and I a point to connect, helped teach me to read analytically and think critically, and brought the latest news of the day to our doorstep every morning.

It still fascinates me – and the newspaper continues to provide for my on-going education.

For instance, just last week I learned that an Osteen man found a human skull in a bag while mowing his lawn.

Oddly, I wasn’t surprised by that.  You probably weren’t either.

After all, this is Florida – the sight of an alligator walking through a crowded parking lot with a corpse clamped firmly in his jaws is almost commonplace – and dinner table conversations often start with, “Honey, I heard the neighbor found a set of human feet in a Publix bag on the side lawn.  I wish people were more considerate. . . How was work?”

No, I just took another sip of coffee and moved on – reading the latest How Great Thou Art piece on yet another member of Daytona’s uber-elite – then perused the most recent installment of the Who Bought the France Manse? series.

I also learned that a recent study of financial hardship conducted by the United Way found that 89,476 Volusia County households are considered impoverished or “asset-limited, income constrained.” 

It goes by the cute acronym – ALICE.      

The term represents those among us who are working, but due to child care costs, “transportation challenges,” high cost of living, food, fuel, taxes, etc. are living paycheck-to-paycheck – just above the poverty threshold.

You read that right.  42% of our families are impoverished.

The study also found that Volusia – the second highest taxed county in Florida – has an average household income that is a dismal $7,000 less than the state average.

Go figure.

Over the weekend, I also learned of a plea agreement with a convicted felon who was in possession of a firearm and shot a young man in the chest – killing him in the street – as the two argued over some frivolous issue on Garden Street last year.

Page C-3.

Apparently, the State of Florida and the accused killer’s defense attorney reached an agreement which will have him serve just 15-years in prison.

The victim was 25-years old.

Life gets cheaper everyday here on the Fun Coast.

Not a lot of outcry from that ugly news either.

I guess we’ve become desensitized – comfortably numb – to violent crime, political corruption, neglect and abject poverty in the Halifax area.

I mean, we’ve had so much smoke pumped up our ass by the chamber of commerce set and our local elected and appointed officials that our basic human emotions of shock and empathy have developed a thick mahogany bark.

To assist our collective anesthetization, local media outlets on the Fun Coast put great emphasis on the frivolous.

Meaningless, empty issues become “big news” – such as making a pulp fiction mystery series out of the identity of a recent homebuyer – someone who paid less than $5-million dollars for a home real estate experts say would have brought $20-million anywhere in South Florida (you know, a place where the newspaper of record doesn’t waste a good reporters time trying to publicly identify a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous. . .)

Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the fourth or fifth installment of the News-Journal’s in-depth exposé on a carnival vendor erecting transitory midway rides in that ugly scar on the City’s boardwalk – a temporary spackling to cover that gaping hole – at least until the Shriner’s mega-convention is over, anyway.

Or the fact that the ‘powers that be’ in Port Orange are still hung-up on who they should name the old police department building after.

Man, that civic conundrum has provided weeks of diversion for the masses, eh?

Apparently, the number of residents who submitted facetious names to point out how ludicrous these things become – such as “Building McBuilding Face,” “Little Trump” and “The Forgotten One” – was lost on their elected officials, folks who take these things very seriously.

After all, what good is public service without getting your name on one of those ubiquitous bronze plaques that prominently grace every public works project in every city in the world – a goofy monument listing the name of every politician and appointed official associated with the thing except those who paid for it?

I’m often taken to task for being negative about everything – nothing ever seems to measure up in my world – and well-intentioned people say that Barker’s View should spend more time looking at the positives, you know, “building up” our areas “renaissance” instead of constantly pointing out our faults and blemishes.

Perhaps.

But my legendary hypocrisy only goes so far.

In my view, contributing to this smokescreen of positivity is a disservice to those intrepid citizens who have taken the blinders off and are working diligently to bring attention to the serious social, economic and civic issues that face communities throughout the Halifax area.

Grassroots efforts that are gaining true momentum in stimulating those in City Hall and beyond to begin the arduous and expensive process of tackling blight, dilapidation and the feeling of hopelessness that has hampered true revitalization for years.

Apparently, regular readers of this forum feel the same way.

I’m extremely pleased to report that this experiment in alternative opinion continues to post impressive numbers, with thousands of readers seeking out these amateurish screeds monthly.

Maybe our local media could take a hint?

Look, we are hungry for hard news – we need the good, the bad and ugly – and the incredible response to solid, in-depth reportage, such as the News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series, demonstrates that.

If our politicians and the “Power Brokers” who control them need their ego stroked – let them join a Country Club.  The rest of us need objective reporting to form solid opinions – and develop our situational awareness on the important issues of the day.

Perhaps it’s time for the Daytona Beach News-Journal to resurrect Chatterbox and get the society gossip – and self-important blathering’s of enthusiastic millionaires telling us how wonderful we all have it – off the front page.

What do you think?

By the way – please join Barker’s View this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm on GovStuff Live! with Big John on WELE 1380am, or online at http://www.govstuff.org (listen live button) as we discuss the topics important to our lives and livelihoods in the Halifax area.