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!

 

One thought on “Angels & Assholes for July 21, 2017

  1. Mark…great tribute to Judge Hammon. I considered him a friend and one heck of a bagpipe player. The Lord needed the sounds of his pipes more than we.

    Like

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