Angels & Assholes for July 7, 2017

Hi, Kids!

Here we are on the cusp of the big Shriners International mega-convention at the Ocean Center and things in and around our core tourist areas are looking up!

If you haven’t driven down Atlantic Avenue in the last week I encourage you to have a look-see at what a fresh coat of paint and a few pallets of sod can do for the overall aesthetic of the place.

Look, you and I both know it’s a thin veneer – a façade, really – and that if history repeats as it is wont to do, we will plunge right back into the squalor, blight and destitution that we experience when we don’t have guests over.

But what the hell – enjoy it while it lasts, right?

For now, just sit back and appreciate all the self-important accolades by and for everyone who has a personal need to take individual credit for the convention.

I mean, everyone who is anyone is writing their version of history in the pages of the Daytona Beach News-Journal – recounting old memories of meetings gone by, and hyper-inflating their contributions and “leadership” in tales that get taller with each telling.

But what the hell – what good is a mega-convention if you can’t attach your name to it?

Plus, I enjoy poking fun at these blowhards.  (It’s why people hate me.  It’s why I hate me. . .)

Frankly, I don’t give a damn whose idea it was – after all the yammering, political posturing and money spent – let’s just be glad the Shriners are arriving – en masse – with their fezzes at a jaunty tilt and their clown cars and motorcycle squads polished and ready for the big parade.

The organization does tremendous work through the famous Shriners Hospitals for Children – charitable work that has earned Shriners International a Four Star (97%) rating for accountability and transparency.

Good work, gentlemen.

Let’s wish the nobles well as they enjoy what we all hope will be a great week on the “World’s Most Famous Beach.”    

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 see who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          The County of Volusia

There are certain pivot points where we get an opportunity to see just how bloated and out-of-control County Manager Jim Dinneen’s shit-train of an administration truly is.

Several recent high-profile screw-ups on the beach introduced us to numerous directors, deputy directors, supervisors, consultants, contractors, and a host of other high-paid chieftains and hangers-on who make up this sprawling bureaucracy that has grown like a malignant wart fed on tax dollars.

For instance, last week’s no-parking debacle behind the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock project bought us a lecture by Beach Safety Director Ray Manchester – then Mr. Dinneen deflected blame on something called the “Coastal Division,” which, according to Volusia County, is responsible for “managing, maintaining and improving coastal parks, beach access and coastal recreational facilities for the quality-of-life benefit of residents and visitors.”

 We were also introduced to the culprit responsible for the parking cone issue, Jessica Winterwerp, the Director of the Coastal Division – who, by-the-by, reports to a completely different Director than Director Manchester.

Director Winterwerp has been busy of late trying to figure out how to speed things up at beach access kiosks after Council Chairman Ed Kelley had to wait a few minutes for the common peons ahead of him to settle their bill, listen to the litany of rules, roll their windows down and turn on their lights, before driving onto the strand.

How many overlapping layers does it take to manage a public beach?  I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.

But perhaps it explains why it costs $10 bucks to get on the beach. . .

Now, we learn that Volusia County will reach down and dictate the manner and means by which beach concessionaires can earn their livelihood and feed their families in the future.

In typical fashion, the county is raising fees, enacting onerous regulations, and doing everything in their considerable power to price the independent operator out of the business.

That includes the asinine requirement that everything from hot dog carts to ice cream trucks be painted a homogenized white.

Why?

Well, our tyrannical elected and appointed officials couch this gross overreach, and open suppression of the free market, in the tired promise that they’re doing it all in our best interest.

In her latest contribution to any issue of the day – something we can expect week-in-and-week-out until the 2018 election – the always self-important Councilwoman Deb Denys commented, “This is a discussion council has to (have).  However, I do know part of the goal is to bring the vendors up to a better quality visually. We want a better product.”

 No, you don’t.  You want more money, Deb.

You want to continue propagating ridiculous rules, regulations, fees, “do this, don’t do that” decrees, erecting more signage, and doing anything possible to make the “beach experience” so burdensome on families and visitors that we simply give up and allow you to exploit what’s left as cheap incentives for speculative developers.

Why won’t you simply admit it?  I, for one, would respect you if you did.

I encourage everyone who cares about the future of our beach to take a minute and join Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere grassroots beach advocacy group.

If you are fed up with overpaid county bureaucrats telling you and your family what you can and cannot do on your public beach – or believe that our heritage of beach driving deserves protection from the arbitrary whims of the uber-rich – please visit http://www.sonsofthebeach.org and sign-up.

Maybe even toss a few bucks to your new civic organization to help with legal fees and other programs to protect our most important economic engine.

You’ll be glad you did.

Angels:            Citizens 4 Responsible Development

How could anyone in the Halifax Area not be totally impressed with the consistently good work of Amy Pyle, Linda Smiley, Anne Ruby, Sandy Murphy, Ken Strickland and the members of Citizens 4 Responsible Development?

Not content to stand back and accept more of the same, C4RD boldly steps into the breach and develops workable solutions to problems that have plagued Daytona’s beachside and beyond for decades.

Now, the group is pushing forward with plans to bring colorful artwork to the desolation and dreariness of Main Street.

By partnering with ArtHaus, a local artist supply dealer, C4RD members obtained a ready source of student artwork for display in the empty windows and dingy storefronts of Main Street.  This simple, but highly effective project promises to bring life, charm and a true sense of community back to this historically challenged area.

Thank you C4RD – and the other grassroots organizations that are working hard for effective and lasting change.

Asshole:          Lambda Legal

In some weird attempt to bring attention to themselves, Lambda Legal, the self-described “oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work,” is attempting to defend the indefensible.

Earlier this week, the organization publicly criticized Sheriff Mike Chitwood and his deputies for the arrests of 18 degenerates who were observed by law enforcement officers engaging in open sex acts in public parks throughout Volusia County.

According to Susan Sommer, Lambdas Director of Constitutional Litigation, “It’s very disturbing, the effort to publicly shame and humiliate gay men.  It puts men at risk of harassment, of even vigilante behavior against them, and generally these kinds of law enforcement techniques are more draconian than any alleged transgression would warrant.”

What? 

Susan, I strongly suggest that you get out of your New York City office and see for yourself what the good people of Volusia County – gay and straight – have been dealing with for years.

During a long career in law enforcement, I both participated in and supervised hundreds of vice suppression operations.  In my experience, most of these perverts aren’t gay men at all – they are warped assholes with a compulsion to anonymously seek out like-types and openly expose themselves and masturbate in public spaces and restrooms.  Period.

This isn’t about developing meaningful, long-term relationships – in fact, many times words aren’t even exchanged.

It is disturbing, unsanitary and dangerous.

Unfortunately, this conduct is so widespread that I cannot think of one local jurisdiction that is not adversely affected by it – which is why I would never go to any public park – and I damn sure wouldn’t take small children to one.

And members of our community who are gay find this behavior just as offensive as any heterosexual citizen does.

The reasons why we are even having this bizarre conversation speaks volumes about how disjointed and completely out-of-touch our society has truly become in 2017.  I mean, there are obviously more pressing civil rights and sexual orientation issues that organizations like Lambda Legal can focus their efforts on?

Attempting to justify open sexual conduct in public parks – places where young children go to play – is the height of irresponsibility and, in my view, irreparably damages the cause and reputation of the LGBT community by associating law abiding gay and transgender people with a criminal sex offense.

As Sheriff Chitwood said:

“What group stands up for the people that want to use the park and should not be subject to a man masturbating or a man walking up to them soliciting sex and rubbing their groin and grabbing their ass?  So, their argument holds no water with me.”  

 It doesn’t hold water with me either, Sheriff.

 Good Job, sir.    

 Angel:             City of Daytona Beach

Kudos to the Daytona Beach City Commission for considering permitting food trucks to have a bigger impact on our limited local dining scene.

Anyone who has been outside the cultural wasteland of Volusia County can attest to the popularity of food trucks.

Of course, some are worried that the presence of these movable food vendors will somehow “erode the economic health” of existing brick-and-mortar restaurants – but in all honesty – I don’t see that happening in communities where food trucks have been embraced for the convenience and alternative they provide.

Look, it seems that restaurants in the Halifax area have a life expectancy of about 18-months – regardless if it’s a chain or a mom-and-pop.  Sadly, they come and they go.

I recently attended a party at Ormond Brewery and had a chance to sample the delicious food produced by “Southern State of Mind” – an insanely popular food truck operated by my old friend Lee Buckner – a local family man with a phenomenal talent in the culinary arts.

Trust me – If you haven’t tried the slow smoked pulled pork, you’re doing it wrong.

In my view, food trucks add a festive atmosphere wherever they set up – and its high time the citizens of Daytona Beach have the opportunity to enjoy the eclectic offerings these unique venues provide.

Quote of the Week:

“There was not an inch of the beach not covered with garbage, it’s everybody’s cups, food, plates, alcohol, you name it. There are cigarettes, diapers, pads, tampons, needles — it’s pretty disgusting.”

Kary Ford, CFB Outdoors, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal regarding post-July 4th beach cleanup efforts

 

Volusia Deputies Association: Bold Move

Over the trajectory of a long career in law enforcement, I have seen both sides of the labor/management divide.

The good, the bad and the ugly of organized representation in public service – and the ever-changing bounty and abuses by elected and appointed officials who alternately curry favor with – or openly punish – unions depending upon which way the political wind blows.

When I was first hired, my department had only recently organized with the Police Benevolent Association and feelings on all sides of the equation were still raw.  And throughout my career I was in-and-out of the union due to various internecine squabbles or promotions.

Trust me when I say that 35-years ago a small-town police officer made substantially less than they do now – and city policy prohibited us from working a second job or off-duty details.  I was 22-years old, just a kid, really, and I didn’t make as much as my friends in the private sector.  I was also required to pay into the pension fund, union dues, etc. (my friends did not) which left very little at the end of the month.

I was ridiculed, laughed at, told by friends and family to go to college, get into business, start making money and build a comfortable life.

My first wife and I divorced my rookie year.

I think the instability, changing hours, call-outs, low pay, and the natural uncertainty that police families face every time their loved one leaves for work all conspired against us.  Plus, we were young and couldn’t see beyond tomorrow.  Those anxieties are still a reality for law enforcement families and they always will be.  It’s not for everyone.

When I came on the department I found a family.

Like all families, my fellow officers and I could argue and fistfight (but nobody else better get involved or you fought all of us) and we forged strong bonds that transcended working hours.  In fact, for a period, I don’t recall having more than a handful of friends who weren’t cops.

We worked together, drank together, celebrated births, weddings and deaths together, laughed together, cried together, got thrown out of bars together, and, in some cases, we lived together.

Regardless of how problematic life became, I always knew that if I could just make it back to the police department there were people in that building who truly cared about me – and that no matter what – I would always have a couch to sleep on, a hot meal, a cold beer and someone who could help me work through the issue.

For instance, one time I really needed three-hundred dollars.

I mean, I really needed three-hundred bucks.

I made some stupid financial mistakes and overextended – bought a used Nissan 280ZX, a sportscar that was just on the cusp of what I could afford, applied for my first American Express card, spent a few too many nights picking up bar tabs and ran up a few unexpected bills.

Twenty-three years old, recently divorced, and dead broke.

They were coming for my car – my only means of transportation to and from work – and my rent was due.  My roommate is now the insanely successful owner of a major Daytona Beach automobile dealership – but at the time – he didn’t have the cash to meet both halves of the rent either.

I was between a rock and a hard place, as they say.

Just when I thought I was about to suffer the embarrassment and inconvenience of having to turn my car back into the dealership – my sergeant pulled me aside in the locker room, quietly handed me three one-hundred dollar bills, and said, “Pay me back when you can.”

I scrimped and saved until I repaid the debt – but I will never forget that unexpected act of kindness by a brother officer.  I didn’t ask for the money – and he really didn’t have it to give – but he knew I had a problem and did what he could to help.

That’s what being part of this incredible brotherhood and sisterhood is all about.

We’re both retired now – but I recently reminded that wonderful man how much his generosity meant to me.

He jokingly asked when I was going to pay him back. . .

I’ve noticed that law enforcement officers today have lost some of that collegial closeness, amity and camaraderie that us “old school” cops knew “back in the day.”  We tended to remain with the same agency for 30-years – enjoying the good times and suffering the bad times together.

Times change, and the new breed of young men and women called to the police service tend to be more career oriented, less focused on custom and tradition, and much better educated than my generation of officers.

They question the “why” of things.  We rarely did.

For good or for ill, this “new generation” are more self-aware – and infinitely more mindful of better opportunities elsewhere.

Law enforcement has become less of the lifestyle it was when I was young – and more of a technical career path where practitioners hopscotch departments and disciplines depending upon how green the grass may be compared to where they currently serve.

They have in-demand skills – and they want, and deserve, to be adequately compensated for their contribution.

Most of the people that I came up with in local law enforcement are either retired or serving in senior leadership positions – and when we get together these days the tales get taller and we commiserate over health insurance, lament the latest knee replacement, share pictures of the grand kids – and invariably tell the young cops how it was “back in our day.”

Knowing full-well that this generation is facing some of the most difficult social circumstances to ever confront the police service in the United States.

Now, the Volusia Deputies Association find themselves in a pitched battle with County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration over an antiquated pay and benefits package that has resulted in an exodus from the Sheriff’s Office in recent years.

Add to that the current culture war within the agency that naturally occurs when a very popular and charismatic long-term sheriff like Ben Johnson is replaced by a very popular and charismatic outsider like Mike Chitwood, and you have some serious organizational stressors at play.

The deputy’s union has been roundly criticized for their recent public awareness effort utilizing a large truck sign announcing, “Volusia Deputies are Understaffed and Underpaid – Enjoy the races at your own risk,” which they paraded up-and-down International Speedway Boulevard during the big Coke 400.

Good on them.  Bold move.

This stark message might embarrass the ‘powers that be’ – and you may not agree with it – but it’s damn sure true.

Some have complained that the union appears to be crying poor-mouth in an environment where the average per capita income is in the toilet (whose fault is that?) – even Sheriff Chitwood belittled the effort as a “juvenile prank” and encouraged members to take the 3% retroactive deal the union leadership recently rejected.

Granted, I’m supernaturally biased when it comes to the issue of law enforcement pay and benefits – and, I’ve been on the management side of the bargaining table, trying hard to keep compensation and expensive benefits in line with my bosses demands – but the fact remains, if we paid these brave men and women what they are worth we couldn’t afford them.

Imagine actually living the biblical verse, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?  Here I am.  Send me.”

Willingly and repeatedly putting your life, and your family’s future, on the line for people you don’t even know – even people who hate you – day in and day out – in a furnace-like environment where the vitriol, hatred of established authority, and the open slaughter of members of your service is increasing exponentially throughout the nation.

That takes pluck.

The fact is, these deputies do a remarkably dangerous and dirty job with a high-degree of pride, honor and professionalism in an era where those increasingly quaint attributes are snickered at.

Going into harm’s way and facing the horrors of the worst-of-the-worst of our society – protecting and serving under extremely difficult circumstances – with their every word and movement recorded for later criticism by those who could have, would have, done it better.

Given the abject greed, mismanagement and fiscal waste that is the hallmark of the Dinneen administration – the gross executive salaries, multiple retirements, deferred compensation plans, allowances and insurance packages – hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual pay and benefits to a county manager and senior bureaucrats who continue to accept bloated pay raises while proving daily that their personal and professional loyalties lay exclusively with a handful of power brokers with a profit motive.

While Sheriff Chitwood may disagree with the method of getting the message out – he ran a wildly successful campaign on the very foundation of securing a better wage for his deputies.

Given the wide margin by which the Sheriff was swept into office – it appears a sizable majority of the good people of Volusia County agree.

I also hope that union leadership will avoid putting their membership in the middle of a clash of the titans.  Reasonableness and compromise is all important to the collective bargaining process.

In my view, we simply cannot allow our sheriff’s office to become a training ground, a steppingstone to Orange County, Seminole County, the Orlando Police Department and beyond.

Reasonable compensation and benefits strategies that reduce pay compression, restore regional competitiveness and encourage a progressive, career-oriented environment at VCSO will pay dividends in increased service delivery and better institutional knowledge for years to come.

We need that now, more than ever.

I hope you will join me in supporting the Volusia Deputies Association Local 6035 in their effort to secure a better future for the courageous men and women of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – and their families – who sacrifice so much for our security and protection.

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

Happy Independence Day!

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effe  ct their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

On Daytona: A Moral Responsibility

When we first came to live together in groups, and later tribes then communities, our society developed certain moral imperatives – a concept described by 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant as a strongly-held principle that compels a person to act from a place of pure reason.

For instance, stopping at a red light is a modern moral imperative.

Conversely, making a promise that you do not intend to keep is a great example of not following a moral imperative.  According to Kant’s thinking, violations of “moral law” are ultimately self-defeating and contrary to sound reasoning.

Let’s carry this concept out a bit further.

Imagine a dystopian nightmare where drivers may or may not obey the rules of the road.

Have their vehicles properly insured – or not.

A place of complete uncertainty where we elect our neighbors to high political office with the reasonable expectation that they will serve honorably, in our communal interest, and follow the basic rules of ethics and morality – or perhaps they will simply ignore us – and use their important positions for self-enrichment, personal aggrandizement, or to profit their friends and political benefactors.

An environment where greedy slumlords openly market horribly dilapidated and sub-standard residential properties to the working poor, foregoing preventive maintenance and basic upkeep for years in favor of enhanced profits.  Perpetuating the exploitative Catch-22 inherent to “affordable” housing.

A world where a few officials with the moral responsibility to set community standards and affect positive change openly and arrogantly oppose reasonable efforts to provide the homeless even basic shelter from the elements.

Can you imagine what that society would look like?

Of course you can.

We live it daily here on the Fun Coast.  Am I wrong?

I recently read a letter to the editor in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “The other side of aggressive code enforcement,” authored by an absentee Daytona Beach property owner.

While lauding the News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series, and “…subsequent steps city officials are taking to address exposed issues,” the lady, who listed her place of residence as Texas, went on to say, “In the endeavor to guarantee that code enforcement is empowered to pursue true negligence, unhindered city commissioners must guarantee that International Property Maintenance Code provisions ensure fines and other punitive actions are tempered with judgment — allowing owners to address issues while keeping penalties proportional to violations.”

Apparently, the City of Daytona Beach slapped a $15,000 code enforcement lean on the absentee landlord’s rental after a tenant repeatedly parked a vehicle on the grass in violation of city ordinance.

Ultimately, she felt the frequency of the violations were exaggerated by city officials as the fines total almost as much as those placed on a decrepit nearby home which officials have condemned as unfit for human habitation.

The result of such disparities is an agency that can be manipulated into a tax-funded intimidation mechanism by feuding neighbors with personal grievances.”

In the opinion of the writer, “Code enforcement officials must be empowered with the means to this end (keeping neighborhoods attractive), but it is imperative that checks and balances assure vigilance so waste and abuse are avoided. 

 Otherwise, a tool of our community becomes a contrivance for harassment and revenge.”

 I agree.

But it is also a clear imperative that those earning income from apartments and rental homes maintain their properties in accordance with housing codes, life-safety regulations and the aesthetic standards of the community.

Frankly, I’ve only read the owner’s side of the story – but I find it difficult to believe that her property racked up $15K in code enforcement fines because a tenant occasionally parked on the lawn – or because a disgruntled neighbor “manipulated” the system.

I could be wrong.

In my opinion, the landlord’s views on complaint driven code enforcement efforts – and allowing even the appearance of political involvement in this important quasi-judicial process – ultimately leads us back to the filthy, dilapidated place we are working and spending to escape.

I am not unsympathetic to the writer’s plight – but there are legal avenues and processes already available to remedy the situation she described without compromising the system.

From the vantage point of over 30-years in policing – to include the enforcement of municipal codes and ordinances – elected officials shouldn’t be within a country mile of these efforts, let alone have the “unhindered” ability to influence the administration or prosecution of violations – or impose their politically motivated “judgement” on the compliance process.

In my experience, any code official worth his or her salt knows when the process is being weaponized by feuding neighbors or commercial interests – and the due process requirements and consistency of documentary evidence needed to prove a violation leaves little room for a “set up.”

Look, the City of Daytona Beach is at a crossroads.

One path leads to a renaissance – a rebirth of our beachside and the revitalization of long-neglected core tourist areas and attractions, which, despite what the power brokers would have us believe, is the true economic engine of the Daytona Beach Resort Area.

The other dark and slippery road returns to more of the same – malignant blight, stagnation, an artificial economy based on government hand-outs and the creeping despair and squalor that is destroying any sense of community – and the quality of life for residents throughout the Halifax area.

By all metrics, there are extremely encouraging signs of progress.

The code enforcement process in the City of Daytona Beach is based upon the rule of law – grounded in the important concepts of fairness and due process which protect the Constitutional and property rights of all citizens.

The system contains ample provisions for direct oversight and discretion at all levels, from the officer on the street, to the legal decisions of the fair but firm Special Master, David Vukelja.

History evidences that a “complaint driven” process is a toothless method that takes self-initiation away from officials charged with uncovering violations in favor of waiting for someone to reach the point of exasperation and make a formal complaint.

This impotent process has left large swaths of the city in virtual ruin – and has kept compliance officers playing catch-up citywide.

It has also allowed the continued proliferation of slumlords who routinely – as an established business practice – blatantly skirt codes and ordinances.

In my view, when you allow any viable avenue for elected officials to meddle in the process, use their political power to advocate for constituents outside the Special Master’s purview, or exert personal influence over the actions (or inaction) of subordinate code officers, you are ultimately left with an incredibly frustrating, completely illegitimate system that is ripe for abuse.

The City of Daytona Beach continues to take heat for the perceived lack of attention and years of neglect that have left sections of the beachside looking like a Third-world shithole.

Fortunately, most signs are positive, and for the first time in a long time, city officials are listening to the complaints and suggestions of residents and civic organizations with a vested interest in revitalization.

In my experience, when you have a situation where there is open political and administrative support for fair but aggressive code compliance efforts – good things can happen.

The ultimate key to success is a consistent process – one where the rules and regulations are equally applied to everyone without favor or bias – focusing on improving safety and ensuring compliance over punitive fines and foreclosures.

I believe hope and redevelopment can be just as contagious as blight and dilapidation.

With luck, the fledgling efforts of the City of Daytona Beach to clean up the beachside will spread to other challenged areas and foster the restoration and economic resurgence of east Volusia County.

City officials working hard on these and other issues need our support.

Frankly, it’s now – or never.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal