On Volusia: Even more lies, damn lies and statistics

Earlier this week I wrote a goofy opinion piece on the Volusia County Council’s recent implementation (read: rubberstamp) of a $2.50 per day “Customer Facility Charge” levied on those who use rental car agencies at the Daytona “International” Airport.

According to airport officials – and County Manager Jim Dinneen – the fee is expected to generate an annual “Cash Flow” of +/- $850,000.00 – funds which have been earmarked for a $12-million-dollar cosmetic “modernization” of a perfectly serviceable facility; to include improved rental car facilities, parking lots, and access roads.

It’s okay, because every other airport in the free world is doing it – and vacationers and business travelers never remember being fleeced, anyway.  Right?

Right.

According to our always hyper-exuberant County Manager, the rental car user fee is part of a mysterious “larger strategy” (one I’m sure we will learn all about during an off-the-agenda “Grand Reveal” at a yet-to-be-determined County Council meeting after Little Jimmy gets all the benefactors lined-up.)

“We have a plan in place that we are moving forward with to modernize our airport and it will be second to none when it’s done,” Mr. Dinneen announced.

In other words, Dinneen believes our elected officials are too addle-brained to understand the “big picture” mechanics of a $12-million-dollar expenditure – so we’re all asked to simply accept the fact he has a “plan” in place – a cryptic “larger strategy” – that “we” are moving forward with.

My ass.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how any of this is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, our elected ‘leadership’ is once again just along for the ride.  This proves the tail isn’t just wagging the dog in Deland – it’s dish-ragging our entire elected body around the Council Chambers like the pathetic political weaklings they are.

When the original article appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Dustin Wyatt told us that the user fee, “. . .is expected to generate $850,000 a year for the airport that will (be) used to help fund a number of interior and exterior projects in the near future.”

So, a smart friend of mine took the liberty of doing the math:  $850,000 per year, divided by 365-days, equals $2,328.76 a day, on average.  Divide that by the $2.50 per day user fee – and airport agencies would need to rent an average of 931 cars per day to meet the revenue projection.

In addition, our friend contacted rental agencies doing business at DIA and discovered they have a combined inventory of approximately 250 cars on-site.

So, if we take all the cars in inventory and apply the national rental average of 25-days per car/per month – that’s 300 rental days per year/per car – or 75,000 rental days on total available inventory each year.

If the entire vehicle inventory at DIA were rented virtually all the time – the County’s new Customer Facilities Charge will only generate approximately $187,500 annually.

That’s not chicken feed – but it’s not $850K either.

I called bullshit on the numbers provided by Volusia County – and threw a shit-fit on this forum (as I am wont to do) explaining to anyone who would listen that I felt we were being openly lied to by Mr. Dinneen and his senior administration.

I also suggested that, perhaps, someone (like our local media outlets?) should attempt to peel the onion on this one and find out why we – and our elected officials – are being force-fed inflated revenue estimates on a seemingly innocuous airport project?

In response, the News-Journal reached out to Volusia County for an “explanation.”

Unfortunately, their dogged investigative efforts were stymied by a staff spokesperson (not our elected representatives or our highly-paid county manager) who clarified, in essence, that Barker is an ignorant shitheel who doesn’t understand the concept of “transaction days.”

You see, according to spokeswoman Shelley Szafraniec, if a customer rents a vehicle for seven days, the $2.50 user fee would total $17.50.

Oh!  I get it now – $2.50 X 7 = $17.50!  (Don’t I feel like an asshole?)

And the airport “estimated” 396,116 “transaction days” in 2016.

“So, here’s the formula: 396,116 X $2.50 = $990,290.  Airport officials reduced that total by 15 percent to be conservative ($841,745) (?) and then rounded up to $850,000 (?).”

See Barker, you dipshit, there’s nothing to see here!

Have another drink, you ignorant fop, and stop questioning important people about the obvious.

It’s simple math – don’t you understand the concept of “transaction days”?

Wait a minute.  (Doing my best Columbo impression.)

Why in the hell are “airport officials” still estimating rental car transactions for 2016 in late August of 2017?

Is it possible that in some weird effort to determine the operational and economic effectiveness of services at DIA, our highly-paid “airport officials” might drop by the old kiosk and ask the rental car agencies how many cars they rented last year?

The problem is – despite Ms. Szafraniec’s best efforts to spin this dry turd into something palatable – 396,116 “transaction days” would mean DIA car agencies collectively rented 1,085 vehicles per day – every day – in 2016 (for Volusia County accountants, that’s 396,116 “transaction days” divided by 365-days.  It’s worse if you use the national rental average.)

Now, I seriously doubt Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – one of the busiest hubs in the world – rents a collective 1,000 cars per day.  I could be wrong.

Once our intrepid Volusia County spokeswoman sorted out the mathematical wheat from the chaff on the rental car figures – the News-Journal boldly pressed the stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars about why this is considered a “fee” or a “charge” and not a good, old-fashioned “tax.”

Well, Ms. Szafraniec looked down her nose at our local newspaper and explained, “It is not a tax, because of its purpose.”

 Oh.  Okay.

To make sure we all understand, the Volusia County Office of Media Relations trotted out yet another “spokesperson” from their virtual clown car of spin doctors and took the News-Journal to task for adding the word “tax” in the headline of the story announcing what is clearly a “Customer Facilities Fee.”

According to spokeswoman Joanne Magley, “On the other hand, a user fee is for users that wish to use the product or service, and solely benefits the users that choose to utilize the service.  The public views the word tax as negative.” 

Hey, News-Journal – what part of that don’t you get?  “A user fee is for users that wish to use a service.” 

(See page 12 of the Rocko & Sluggo School of Government Mass Communications: ‘How to camouflage a tax by any other name – and sell it lock, stock and barrel.’)

Folks, there was a time when the only thing government truly feared was the public exposure of a free and unfettered press.

That was when media outlets demanded answers directly from the decision-makers – especially when they were caught with their pants down – and weren’t “put off” by insulating spokespersons and “media relations” talking heads.

Look, I’m not knocking Dustin Wyatt – he’s a good young reporter with a very bright future, and he works for a much larger system – my issue is with the relatively new general acceptance that permits government entities to openly lie to their constituents with no apparent fear of public accountability.

Especially when their sketchy math and dubious “estimates” are diametrically opposed to the facts.

Trust me.  This rental car user fee scheme stinks – and Jim Dinneen is, once again, selling us a slick bill of goods.

Because he can.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

On Volusia: More lies, damn lies and statistics

I’m like most of you – show me a reasonable, fact-based explanation of need – and you have my support.

Having spent most of my adult life in municipal government, I get it better than most.  Sometimes we must collectively bite the bullet and kick-in for a neglected public infrastructure project – like roads or water distribution improvements.

If the actions of our elected officials comport with their rhetoric – in other words, if the government entity requesting funding lives within their means and generally serve as good stewards of our tax dollars – We, The People, will step up and do our part to pay for quality public services and upgrades.

This is especially true when user tolls or impact fees can be used to pay the freight without increasing our taxes.

But, tell me a lie and you’ve lost me forever.

In this weird Land of Oz we inhabit, our elected officials are manipulated like a troop of marionettes by a little man who works the controls of government as directed by a clique of politically influential power brokers.

As a result, nothing is truly as it seems, and time-and-again we fall victim to anther bait-and-switch scheme which erodes our confidence and leaves us questioning literally everything our County government does and says.

It is increasingly obvious that those we have elected to represent our interests are mere tools of a much more powerful shadow system.  Every time County Manager Jim Dinneen launches another sneak attack – his patented “public policy by ambush” that I’ve crowed about ad nauseum – our County Council members are left looking just as flummoxed as the rest of us hapless dupes.

That shouldn’t be, but it is.

And when fools like me have the temerity to question his motivation, Little Jimmy comes back before his “bosses” with his hat-in-hand, stares at his wingtips, and explains that he has an “ethical obligation” to keep everyone in the dark, work out the important details behind closed doors, ensure all the right recipients of public funds are in position, then throw a surprise party so as not to create “confusion” during the early stages of any project – even when that project is a proposed $260-million courthouse/office complex that will be the most expensive undertaking in the history of Volusia County.

Or a $12-million-dollar airport renovation. . .

In my view (and that of our High Sheriff Mike Chitwood), Jim Dinneen is a congenital liar – a crooked screw-worm with the situational integrity of a broke-back snake, who has no qualms telling people what he thinks they want to hear.

Then, when people catch wind of his bullshit – Jimmy salves everything over with talk of his “ethics” and “obligations” – professional qualities he read about somewhere, yet lacks the basic ability to comprehend in a public service context.

On Saturday, the Daytona Beach News-Journal published an interesting piece announcing Mr. Dinneen’s autonomous implementation/Council rubberstamp of a $2.50 per day “airport user fee” on car rentals originating at Daytona “International” Airport.

It’s no secret that our “leadership” in Deland never met a tax – or a revenue stream – that they didn’t embrace like a ratty Teddy bear.

“Who cares, Barker?”

“We live here you asshole!  We don’t rent cars at the airport – so why not let those luckless rubes who bought the Danica Patrick ads pay for our airport renovations whenever they pick-up a mid-size economy sedan at DIA?”    

 Hey, I agree.  Sounds like the perfect scam to me – put the burden on tourists and business travelers.  I get it.  And like airport officials said, “Everybody’s doing it.”   

Where I have a problem is the weird connection between renovation costs and the revenue estimates generated by this user fee.

Over the weekend, a smart friend of mine sent me the arithmetic on the numbers provided in the News-Journal piece.  Specifically, Volusia County told us that the fee, “. . .is expected to generate $850,000 a year for the airport that will (be) used to help fund a number of interior and exterior projects for the near future.”

According to Little Jimmy’s always “Over-the-Top, Biggest and Bestest” rule of mass communications, “This rental car fee is part of a larger strategy.  We have a plan in place that we are moving forward with to modernize our airport and it will be second to none when it’s done.”

 Wow.  Second-to-none.  Again.

So, my friend took the liberty of doing the math:  $850,000 per year, divided by 365-days, equals $2,328.76 a day, on average.  Divide that by the $2.50 per car user fee – and airport agencies would need to rent an average of 931 cars per day.

That’s a butt-load of cars.

Because I’m a mathematical illiterate – I asked another smart friend to check what my grandmother used to call, the “ciphering.”

The figures were spot-on.

In addition, my suspicious friend estimated that all the rental companies doing business at DIA have a combined inventory of approximately 250 cars on-site.

So, if you take all the cars in inventory – and apply the national rental average of 25-days per car, per month – that’s 300 rental days per year/per car – or 75,000 rental days on total inventory each year.

According to my calculations – if the entire vehicle inventory were rented virtually all the time – the airport user fee will only generate approximately $187,500 annually.

So, what gives?

Where is the additional +/- $662,500 per year Little Jimmy’s administration promised?

I’ll give you two guesses – and the first one doesn’t count.

Ultimately, the bulk of the cost will be borne by you and me – the taxpayers of Volusia County – to renovate a perfectly beautiful, and serviceable, airport with just three major carriers in residence.

Folks, this is the ne plus ultra example of what I call the “bullshit factor” in any Volusia County revenue estimate, and it is Jim Dinneen’s stock-in-trade.

He will lie to us – on the front page of the newspaper – when the truth would serve him better.

Once again, Sheriff Chitwood was right – Dinneen is a “lying sack of shit.”

How sad that our elected officials must sit idle and watch, powerless to do anything substantive to remedy Mr. Dinneen’s near-continuous missteps, gaffs and outright lies.

That’s what happens when you sell your soul for a campaign contribution.

Word to the wise:  Look for more of it – piled higher and deeper – in the lead-up to the one-cent sales tax “gloom-and-doom” snow job that we will all be hearing more about very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 25, 2017

Hi, kids!

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:             City of Daytona Beach Shores

Anyone remember the old Charles Atlas advertisement in the back of comic books, “The insult that made a man out of ‘Mac’”? 

It depicted a little guy and his girlfriend sitting on a beach towel while the strongman kicked sand in their face.  Given the bully’s size and strength, there was little Mac could do about it.

Sound familiar?

Earlier this week, the City of Daytona Beach Shores sent a clear message to Volusia County:

You’re not going to kick us around anymore.

In a 4-1 vote, the Shores City Commission strengthened their comprehensive plan by specifically prohibiting parking lots east of State Road A-1-A.  The full effect of the new ordinance sets the stage for a legal confrontation between the small municipality and the County of Volusia – who planned to build two beachfront parking lots on land the Shores would prefer become part of their geographically limited tax base.

Cities can be weird that way.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, Volusia County has developed a frightening reputation as the biggest bully in the sandbox – pushing the cities around, arbitrarily removing or reducing services (remember your neighborhood library?), forcing its will on residents of incorporated areas and actively suing its own constituents (with their own money) to effectively remove the public’s standing and input in beach driving and access issues.

The lone dissenting voice was Shores Commissioner Richard Bryan – who, inexplicably, still believes the community can “work something out” with their aggressor and find a “win-win.”

My ass.

Eventually, even Commissioner Caspar Milquetoast must understand that you simply cannot bargain with an aggressive tyrant who has proven he will fight you – tooth-and-nail – to get his way.

Especially when these parking lots are a prerequisite to the county’s ultimate goal of eliminating beach driving.

In Volusia County, concessions in the face of belligerence is perceived as weakness – not compromise – and it emboldens the likes of County Manager Jim Dinneen and his well-paid muscle, County Attorney Dan Eckert.

In their world, the county’s omnipotent power will always supersede the right of municipalities to local governance and self-determination.

The next step in this convoluted (and very expensive) process calls for a public “conflict resolution” meeting between Dinneen and Shores City Manager Michael Booker.

Anyone want to bet how that soiree will turn out?

Asshole:          City of Daytona Beach

 In the aftermath of the barbarism in Charlottesville, I went on social media and posted my personal thoughts on the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces – and the asinine calls from some radical elements to desecrate the graves of Confederate soldiers and war dead.

In my view, the rancor over Civil War statuary is a modern problem spurred by the relative few in the strange post-election “Antifa” movement – a loose knit group of self-described anti-fascists – who act a whole lot like fascists – and a relative few “neo-Nazi” white supremacist turds and bedsheet wearing douchebags on the extreme right.

Both groups have discovered the value of media coverage, which reaches its zenith whenever a few dozen militant weirdos clash in a public park – preferably under the guise of “protecting” or “protesting” a monument, incident or other contrived cause célèbre.

How do I know this?

Because in all my years – including sixteen-years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies – I never once saw these historical pieces set-upon by bat-wielding kooks in black hoods.

Not once.

In my view, this entire ruckus has been carefully crafted in these uncertain times to fit the narrative of rightfully marginalized elements of our society who are desperate to gain some smidge of relevance in the chaos that passes for national discourse.

These groups – on both sides of the spectrum – are base opportunists, and they feed during times of instability.

I am blessed with an incredibly diverse family.

Our son-in-law is African American and a promising young law enforcement officer, my infinitely talented Hispanic godson is a popular DJ and up-and-coming Hip-Hop recording artist, and my dear little niece is mixed – as my precious granddaughter will be when she makes her grand entrance to this big ‘ol goofy world in early October.

My ex-wife is Dominican of African heritage – and during our time together we experienced the ugliness of racial intolerance first-hand – mainly from bigoted assholes who liked to make fun of things their limited minds couldn’t possible understand.

My great-grandfather’s-father – Harrison “Brewster” Crockett – a farmer from Lee County, Virginia, served in the 25th Regiment of the Virginia Cavalry, and my great-great uncle, Stephen Barker, served in the Union Army as a member of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery.

He died at the Battle of the Crater and is buried under a simple marble stone at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg, Virginia.

Destroying my Grandfather Crockett’s U.S. Government-supplied Confederate grave marker can’t erase my family’s past – or change the history of this nation – anymore than it could make me love my family more than I do.  He was from a different era – but his lineage beats in the heart of those I love and hold dear.

His granddaughter, my grandmother, was the most loving and accepting person I have ever known.  She taught me that character – not race or status – is most important, and she abhorred prejudice or injustice in any form.

I bore arms for my country, like my father before me, with malice towards none but our country’s enemies.

In other words, the Barker’s are just like any typical American family.

People can do what they will – but leave me and mine alone.

We know love, accept our past, and nothing can change the devotion and commitment we feel toward our nation’s future – or our family’s love.

Last week – literally under cover of darkness – and without any open discussion or public input, the City of Daytona Beach found it necessary to preemptively scour all vestiges of the Civil War from public spaces.

Like me, I’ll bet you didn’t know there were any Confederate monuments in Daytona Beach until the News-Journal found it necessary to dig through every nook, cranny and long-forgotten graveyard in the tri-county region to ensure our area wasn’t left out of the controversy.

Hell, they even did a front page, above the fold, full-spread on a monument in the City of Palatka.

Palatka.

We are told the local markers will be cleaned and moved to a “more fitting” venue – like the dusty backroom of a museum.  There the plaques will receive the same attention and significance they had when they sat virtually unnoticed in Riverfront Park – absolutely none.

Now that we have erased these historical markers from the local landscape, perhaps we will have more room for yet another monument commemorating the self-importance of some stuffed-shirt politician or local blowhard?

Now there’s something we should all find offensive.

Angel:             The Sun and Moon

Kudos to those familiar celestial bodies who joined forces to put on one heck of a show for a wide swath of North America this week.

For the first time in a long time, people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and political persuasions came together in awe as we collectively gazed toward the heavens to witness a total eclipse of the sun.

Somehow nature knew – as she always does – that we weird little creatures that inhabit earth needed a diversion from the ugly divisiveness, violence, hatred and base inhumanity that passes for political discourse in this terrible Summer of ‘17.

For a couple of hours, we all focused on something larger than ourselves – and our petty self-interests – and were reminded in the most extraordinary way how insignificant, yet infinitely interrelated, we all are in the vastness of the cosmos.

However, not everyone was permitted to take-in this incredible natural phenomenon first-hand.

My nine-year-old niece, Genesis, attends elementary school in upper-east Tennessee – a place where education is left to the municipalities – not the county or state.

Every student in the community was provided a pair of solar eclipse glasses, proper parental releases were obtained and plans were set in place to ensure that each child had the opportunity to view and participate in this uber-historic event.

The city’s schools partnered with local businesses to obtain the protective glasses, and dismissals were delayed by 15-minutes to ensure optimum viewing and transportation safety.

Following the event, Genesis excitedly called and gushed about what an awesome sight the eclipse was – something she will never forget.  I won’t either – it was cool.

Unfortunately, Volusia County School students weren’t so fortunate.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a seventh-grade science teacher, Jaclyn Dukette, of Creekside Middle in Port Orange went into her own pocket to purchase 30-pairs of solar eclipse glasses for her students.

What a wonderful act of kindness by a teacher obviously devoted to her profession – and her student’s education.

Then, in their infinite stupidity, district officials refused to permit Ms. Dukette – or anyone else under their control – to view the eclipse with their students outdoors, directing that they watch the event unfold on television.

Really?

That’s like listening to a Mardi Gras parade on the radio – there’s a lot missing in the translation.

Obviously, Ms. Dukette, and other dedicated teachers like her, were “brokenhearted” and “saddened” that their students were denied this matchless chance to experience “real time science,” all because some risk averse paper-pushers in Deland thought it better to deny every child in Volusia County Schools this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Apparently, the district’s irrational fear was that the children in their charge would collectively gawp at the fiery orb in the sky until their retinas resembled crispy pork rinds in some weird eclipse-induced psychosis conjured by the Sun God Ra.

Who the hell knows – it’s the Volusia County School Board, your explanation is as good as mine – but imagine how the student’s must have felt?

Here’s a cosmic riddle for the ages:  Why is it that when faced with reasonable choices – Volusia County officials invariably opt for the most absurd, ridiculous, or expensive?

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Angel:             Mr. Bill Jones and Metra Electronics

It’s no secret that Holly Hill School is struggling mightily – a situation made worse by the Volusia County School District’s odd strategy of treating the students and faculty like second-class citizens, playing hop-scotch with top administrators and doing everything possible to create uncertainty and instability.

Look, ineptitude and institutional incompetence in Deland is one thing – the safety of children and teachers in neighborhood schools is quite another.

When classes began earlier this month, Holly Hill School administrators discovered they did not have enough internal communications radios for faculty and administrators.

In my experience, given the importance of timely information-sharing during a campus emergency, when the ability to direct evacuations and critical services is all important, this represents a serious safety violation.

With no good options from district officials – those clueless bureaucratic dullards who constantly cry poor-mouth over their inability to live within an annual budget totaling in the hundreds-of-millions or build more Taj Mahal facilities without strapping you, me, our children and grandchildren with additional crippling debt – the Holly Hill Police Department stepped up to help.

The department’s Top Brass reached out to their long-time community partner, Metra Electronics, which is headquartered in Holly Hill.

Without hesitation, Mr. Bill Jones, the incredibly successful and philanthropic owner of Metra – and the genius behind Ormond’s West Granada Boulevard renaissance – generously offered to fund the project and ensure that Holly Hill School is adequately equipped and prepared.

Now, key school personnel will have a sound network – with expanded capabilities to allow direct communications between school officials, law enforcement and first responders.

I recently used this forum to express my love for the City of Holly Hill and the beautiful people who make it such a wonderful place to live and do business – well, this proves my point.

Kudos to Mr. Jones and his outstanding team at Metra – you are the epitome of Hometown Heroes!

Angel:             Chief Craig Capri and the Daytona Beach Police Department

The tragic suicide of a 23-year old man in Daytona Beach earlier this week underscores the fact that our mental health system – at all levels – continues to fail those who need it most.

In the aftermath of what was originally reported as an officer involved shooting – Chief Craig Capri and his outstanding team of professionals responded to the emergency with transparency and professionalism.

In exceptional fashion, Chief Capri, Mayor Derrick Henry and others urged calm – and the agency countered rumor and speculation in the immediate aftermath with solid facts and reassurance.

Once again, Chief Capri and his team at the Daytona Beach Police Department have demonstrated a textbook example of how modern, community-based policing practices bolster the public’s trust in law enforcement – and open lines of communications during times of crisis and uncertainty.

In my view, law enforcement administrators across the nation can learn from Chief Capri’s example.

Quote of the Week:

“They have joined the Chamber, so they have already made a commitment to the community by investing in that. It’s certainly a destination-type business and because of the national recognition, they will be a draw for people interested in their type of establishment.” 

“It will definitely be one of the more visible additions to the area, but I think they are cognizant of being part of the community.  That’s reflected by them looking at how they can be an effective partner with the Chamber. So, I think it’s a positive.”

Nancy Keefer, President and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, yammering in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, (I think) welcoming the new “Coyote Ugly” saloon to Seabreeze Boulevard and ushering in a refreshing new era of “Honky-Tonk” – beer, racing, tits and bikes.

Apparently, the Chamber is pushing some new economic development strategy:

Seasonal, special event-driven commerce on Daytona’s beachside!

Hey, it’s not light manufacturing – or the high-tech research and development jobs we were promised – but you do get a shot of El Poko-Loko Tequila when you dance on the bar, so, we’ve got that going for us. . . (sigh)

That’s a “positive,” right?

That’s it for me – have a great weekend, kids.

 

On Deltona: Standing on Principle

There are many pathways to public service – the willingness to commit ourselves to a cause greater than our own self-interests and work hard for the common good.

Some make a career of the civil service or serve in the military, others seek appointment to public positions of high responsibility, or volunteer with grassroots efforts to affect positive change in their communities.

And then there are those intrepid few who stand for election to public office.

The motivations and drive to hold oneself out as a political candidate are as varied as the people who participate in the process – a desire for community service, civic involvement, a need to change the status quo, the real ability to make a positive impact, patriotism – and the less noble reasons of power, prestige, personal and professional benefit and outsized ego.

In local government, those we elect to serve are our friends and neighbors – the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker – average people who give of their time and talents to serve in our collective interest. They are our insurance agent, realtor, dentist and clergy, school teachers and retirees, business owners and attorneys – folks from all walks of life, experience and backgrounds.

They take the late-night phone calls about trash collection, patiently listen to citizen complaints, explain the labyrinth of government processes, set budgets, hear zoning disputes, sit on boards and committees, listen to mind-numbing presentations, raise funds and awareness, endure relentless lobbying and persuasion from “power brokers” and competing interests, field personal insults and inquiries, and attend myriad ribbon cuttings, chamber events and rubber chicken civic functions.

In most cases, they serve in the public interest – but a few succumb to the temptation of power and become everything they hated when their political journey began.  Others are simply weak-minded or unprepared for the reality of politics – and are quickly taken into the maw of the “system,” a machine that feeds greedily on tax dollars and rejects creativity or individual thought in favor of homogenized conformity and fealty to the shadowy, behind-the-scenes shot-callers who use the public purse for personal enrichment.

For their trouble, everything our elected officials do and say is subject to withering criticism by louts like me.

Many who stand for public office quickly realize it is simply easier to go along, and get along.

But a few brave souls stand firm to their personal convictions, reject conformity, corruption and the status quo, and take a principled stand to serve their constituents honorably while fighting the strong currents of special interests and those elected and appointed officials who are indebted to them.

While I did not always agree with him, in my view, Deltona City Commissioner Brian Soukup was one of those.

His often-unique take on the issues of the day were always centered on the needs of his constituents – with a sensitivity for how decisions made today would ultimately affect the future of Volusia County’s largest municipality.

Unfortunately, his efforts were often met with a belittling arrogance by certain members of the City Commission who are clearly conflicted in their civic loyalties.

Last fall, in a Barker’s View post entitled, “Deltona: Welcome to 1984,” I described a dust-up wherein Commissioner Soukup had the abject temerity to question the motivations of City Manager Jane Shang – in my view, a compromised foul ball who feeds on drama and dysfunction – when she approved a highly unusual mid-service payout of some $93,000 in unused leave as part of a firefighter’s internal promotion.

Commissioner Soukup took issue with the questionable expenditure and publicly stated he believed Shang lied to him by omission when he made inquiry into the matter.

Mr. Soukup’s remarks were met with suspiciously sharp rebukes from Mayor John Masiarczyk and Vice Mayor Chris Nabicht (a retired Deltona deputy fire chief) both of whom thought Soukup’s comments somehow insulted the delicate sensibilities of the Deltona fire union.

During the ensuring brouhaha, Nabicht barked, “You’re out of line, Soukup.”

Out-of-line?

Questioning a $93,000 in-service payout is out-of-line?

A sitting elected official publicly announcing that he may have received questionable information from the City Manager is out-of-line?

Really?

Then, in perhaps the most chilling move ever witnessed from a local municipal government (at least since the coup d’état in the City of DeBary) – Deltona officials proposed something they called a “civility ordinance” – a screwy law designed to control the manner and means by which the people’s elected representatives could point out the errors and omissions of senior executives and voice critical opinions of staff performance or address constituent complaints.

Although the measure ultimately died unceremoniously, it exposed the rapidly metastasizing cancer that is the Shang administration to the air and light of day.

As the “system” will, other self-protection measures were soon implemented, such as denying elected officials ready access to corroborating information by imposing onerous fees for public records requests (you read that right: the City of Deltona charges elected officials for access to public records) block voting on important issues, the selective release of information to individual commission members, marginalizing those who are critical of the majority, open hostility towards constituents who speak critically of Deltona government, a decision barring individual commissioners from placing items for discussion on the agenda without majority approval and a perverse measure which allows only “positive and short comments during commission comment time.”    

On Monday, Commissioner Soukup gave up his fight for government of the people, by the people and for the people in the City of Deltona.

In his scathing letter of resignation, Mr. Soukup wrote:

“I can no longer be part of an elected body that, in principal and in practice, continues to create and operate in a culture of injustice and unethical and possibly illegal practices. It is a culture that absolutely refuses to respect, to include and to serve in the best interest of its residents. And worse, it is a culture that willingly condones and covers up unethical practices. It is clear that Deltona is being run by special interests and highly paid consultants, concerned only with lining their own pockets. I won’t be complicit in that!”

 The citizens of Deltona have lost a principled leader – an elected official who served in the best traditions of our democratic system of governance – and worked hard to make Deltona City Hall more accessible, transparent, and inclusive.

Unfortunately, the bastardized “system” of what passes for government in Deltona abhors those attributes.

In my view, it is time for Deltona residents to seek answers to the dark questions posed by Mr. Soukup’s resignation.

Now is the time for taxpayers to question the motivations of an elected body – and a city administration – that would stifle the free and open discussion of civic issues, engage in the misrepresentation, manipulation and controlled distribution of critical information, and demonstrate such a complete disregard for citizen concerns and input.

It is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately request the resignation of City Manager Jane Shang, and order an independent investigation into the improprieties and unethical practices detailed by a man whose character could no longer tolerate his association with them.

 

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for August 18, 2017

Hi, Kids!

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:             Journalist Dinah Pulver and Opinion Writer Scott Kent

When I began reading Dinah Pulver’s outstanding reportage of the political intrigue that would become known as “The Debacle in DeBary” in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, I knew right away that this was something different – something special.

Clearly, I’m no expert, but as a voracious, life-long reader, I know good writing when I see it.

She’s the real deal.

At the time, I wrote that Dinah’s in-depth coverage of the murky relationship between Orlando-based Bio-Tech, an environmental consultancy owned by John Miklos, chairman of the powerful St. Johns River Water Management District, and the City of DeBary, was nothing short of Pulitzer worthy.

Last week, Dinah Pulver was awarded the prestigious University of South Florida’s Waldo Proffitt Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism at the Florida State Newspaper Editor’s conference.

Incredibly well deserved.

We are extremely fortunate to have Dinah Pulver reporting the news here on the Fun Coast.  Her innate ability to get important points across – to flesh-out those fine details that make her stories so deep and rich – is worthy of this special recognition, and our appreciation.

In addition, News-Journal Opinion Editor Scott Kent – my first read every morning – received the FSNE first place award for editorial writing.

Much of what I write is a riff on Mr. Kent’s hard work.

His excellent writing sparks our interest in a topic, educates our views and allows us to form a more well-rounded opinion.  While I don’t always agree with his point-of-view, I truly enjoy the clear-headed reason Mr. Kent brings to the important issues of the day.

As a goofy opinion blogger, my heroes are obscure authors and exceptional editorialists – smart people that I can learn from, steal from and emulate – Scott Kent and Pat Rice are among the very best.

We are all smarter for having read their unique take on the news and newsmakers of the day.

Congratulations to all News-Journal writers and staffers who received special recognition for your fine efforts on our behalf!

Angel:             City of Holly Hill, Florida

It’s no secret – a big part of my heart resides in Holly Hill – “The Hill” – that beautifully quirky, eclectic place on the west bank of the Halifax River that is home to some of the most wonderfully eccentric, caring and compassionate people on earth.

That’s why I fit in so well there for over three-decades.  The Hill accepts the oddball, the idiosyncratic, the original – and it embraces diversity unlike anyplace I’ve ever known.

I have often said that when a community’s luminaries are named “Big John,” “Crazy Eddie,” and “Snake” – you know it’s going to be an incredibly interesting place to be.

The citizens of Holly Hill embrace the genuine and reject the contrived, and they don’t suffer fools for long.

I love its people – and its spirit – and for over 31-years, they loved me back.  Unconditionally.

On Monday, the City of Holly Hill did themselves proud by pulling out the stops and hosting an exceptionally enthusiastic “Welcome Back!” celebration for students returning to Holly Hill School.

City officials, School Board members and senior management, police officers, parents and community members all gathered at the threshold – rolled out the red carpet – waved signs, blew party horns, “high-fived” and shouted words of encouragement to the arriving students.

What a wonderful show of support for a school still struggling to find its footing after the consolidation of the former Holly Hill Elementary and Middle School into a unique K-8 format several years ago.

Recently, Mayor John Penny issued a heartfelt letter to the Volusia County School Board urging more permanent leadership for the school that has suffered from a lack of “ownership” and stability, due in part to the near-constant turnover of senior administrators.

This year, Holly Hill School starts the new year under the fresh direction of Principal Jason Watson and Assistant Principal Derrick Henry – both talented educators and proven administrators who have pledged their support for increased resources and a renewed focus on raising academic standards.

The City of Holly Hill has many challenges; however, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and a strong sense of community aren’t among them.

There is a lot of love in that little town, and on Monday, all of Volusia County got to see it.

If you’re looking to relocate your residence – or business – please give The City with a Heart a second look.

Be part of the renaissance of one of America’s great small towns.  You’ll be glad you did.

Angel:             City of DeLand – Community Redevelopment Agency

Because I spend an inordinate amount of time writing often scathing essays on the “dark side” of Volusia County politics, decrying the abject squalor in the Daytona Beach Resort Area and whining about the myriad internal and external challenges facing us here on the Fun Coast, sometimes people mistake me for an expert on the issues.

I’m not.

In fact, I’m just as mystified by the machinations and mini-moves of our elected and appointed officials as you are.

Most days, I feel like a misfit child wandering precariously deeper into the woods.

But I know what I like, what feels right and good to me, and I get that sense in places like DeLand – communities with a true sense of time and place that are working extremely hard to “get it right.”

I happen to believe that enthusiasm and creativity are just as contagious as blight and dilapidation, and the true renaissance of America’s best downtown proves that theory.  The hard work and persistence of community members, visionary entrepreneurs and forward-thinking city officials has created something very special.

Trust me – it wasn’t a new courthouse, a weird outlet mall or a mega-auto dealership that spurred success in DeLand.  It was old-fashioned hard work.

Earlier this month, I travelled to DeLand for a haircut at the amazingly cool Rusty Razor – an old school barbershop with an incredibly hip feel that is redefining the experience.

My visit included a late breakfast at Doug & Lil’s Potato Patch, followed by a wonderfully unhurried stroll among the quaint shops and eateries of Downtown DeLand.

I’m not sure, but I think you’ve officially become “a destination” when folks travel 33-miles for a haircut and a cheese omelet.

One of my favorite places in Central Florida is the diverse block of Georgia Avenue between South Woodland Boulevard and Florida Avenue – which includes Persimmon Hollow Brewery, Trilogy Coffee Roasting Company, Café De Vinci and Artisan Alley.  In many ways, this small, eclectic enclave embodies the great vibe and atmosphere that is making DeLand among the most attractive locations in the state.

Kudos to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency for recently funding improvements to Georgia Avenue, striking upgrades which include a fashionable new street-scape complete with brick pavers and unique overhead lighting, amenities that bring a festive feel to the area.

Asshole:          County Manager Jim Dinneen

There is an old maxim that veteran salespeople have lived by for decades:  Don’t sell past the close.

According to the business blog Compile, “This chestnut is supposed to encourage you to listen intently to your customer for the signal that they are ready to buy and then stop blathering from that point on.” 

Apparently, County Manager Jim Dinneen is unfamiliar with that sage advise.

At yesterday’s Volusia County Council meeting, the fact that you and I are getting a brand-new $260+-million-dollar courthouse and office complex in Downtown Daytona – whether we want it or not – was a foregone conclusion.  Done deal.

Why?

Well, Volusia County paid an Orlando-based consultant – you know, the proverbial out-of-town expert with a briefcase – a quarter-million-dollars to “study” the issue of our aging judicial facilities – then report that the only possible solution is total obliteration of existing space and building a monstrous, five-story consolidated complex near the current S. James Foxman Justice Center on Beach Street.

Our consultant’s presentation to the County Council (during which he telegraphed his institutional knowledge of our area by referring to Ridgewood as “Rockwood”) was repeatedly interrupted by County Manager Jim Dinneen.  It was a compulsive regurgitation of facts already on the record – and a well-rehearsed (and totally contrived) explanation for his ambush-style July announcement.

(If I have to listen to Jimmy explain away one more of his “grand reveals” as the result of an “ethical obligation” I’m going to literally regurgitate.) 

Frankly, the presentation was hard to follow given Little Jimmy’s near-constant grandstanding (at one point he actually congratulated his own question).

Regardless, after the gentleman from Dewberry reported that their study found Volusia takes pretty good care of its buildings and facilities – well, I kind of called bullshit on everything that came after.

Doesn’t matter.  It was clear from the beginning that this project is happening.  The only thing left to cipher is exactly how you and I are going to pay for it all – but don’t worry – that’s coming.

We heard more flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories about safety and security concerns, the patience of staff, and listened to all the reasons why Volusia County resident’s living south of New Smyrna don’t need convenient access to judicial services.

Nothing to see here, you stupid rubes.

Your input is not needed.  Shut the fuck up and pay for it.

Remember – there is only one “preferred option” – because Jimmy said so –  and if it takes $260+-million of our hard-earned tax dollars to ensure the needs, wants and creature comforts of Volusia County bureaucrats are met for years to come – so be it.

Angel:             Commissioner Aaron Delgado

 Innovation is the key to success in business – and government.

According to Daytona Beach Commissioner Aaron Delgado, he recently read an article about Copper Bottom Distillery – Volusia County’s first craft distiller who produces a unique line of rum, vodka and specialty spirits from a renovated laundromat in Holly Hill.

When Mr. Delgado stopped to see the operation, and speak with the owners, he was told that the business originally wanted to open in Daytona Beach, but learned many entrepreneurs believe the process is simply too onerous to open an enterprise there.

In his inimitable style, Commissioner Delgado is once again thinking globally, while acting locally, to promote economic development and put locally produced products back on the map.

The plan will have a distinctive decal or logo – which will readily identify goods and services originating in Daytona Beach – a “Made in Daytona” label that will return pride of craftsmanship and sense of ownership back to our area.

Light manufacturers in Volusia County produce thousands of specialty products – from medical supplies to aftermarket electronics and sunscreen.  In my view, Commissioner Delgado’s idea to promote the Daytona Beach “brand” to global consumers while recognizing small businesses locally is something every company – and government – in Volusia County should get behind.

Simple ideas can change the world.

In my view, it’s this kind of original thinking and creativity that is going to take Commissioner Aaron Delgado to greater political heights.  His no-nonsense approach to public service and community improvement is refreshing and he deserves a bigger stage.

Quote of the Week:

“Now is the chance for the McDermott’s of the world to weigh in. No doubt the plan will ultimately prevail, but let’s have a discussion and let everyone weigh in.”

Chief Judge Raul Zambrano, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, after Retired Judge Michael McDermott had the temerity to question the mega-courthouse deal – suggesting that there must be a simpler, cheaper way to address facility shortcomings without the complete removal of judicial services from New Smyrna residents.

I know Judge Zambrano means well – and I am certain that he truly wants what’s best for everyone concerned – but I’m not sure confirming our worst fears that public input is but an inconvenient formality in the process of ramrodding the most expensive project ever undertaken in Volusia County instills confidence.

Have a great weekend everyone.

 

 

 

On Volusia: Disorder in the Court!

Most regular readers of this forum understand it for what it is – my wacky opinions on the news and newsmakers of the day.  One man’s undiluted views on the issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast.

Some like it – some hate it.  It is what it is.

Look, I read the paper.  I’m not some wise sage spouting prophecy and waxing philosophic – and I am damn sure not a tenacious news reporter down in the trenches ferreting out the truth.

When you tune-in to Barker’s View, expect the frustrated rants of an uneducated oaf who sits around in his boxer shorts, pours three-fingers of bourbon in his morning brew, and broods heavily on the machinations of our elected and appointed officials.

No more, no less.

I rarely opine on international affairs, or delve into national politics, because, frankly, I don’t understand most of it and there is little I could do to change it if I did.

Besides, Volusia County is fertile ground for petty political intrigue – the good, the bad and the ugly of what passes for local governance.

(And I’m nothing if not petty.)

Hell, I’m convinced an independent investigative journalist could make a cottage industry out of Daytona Beach alone.

I have a working theory that the reason “things” are so messy here is due in large part to the strange, multi-layered oligarchical system that is Volusia County government.  While some will disagree, even those with a passing interest in local politics are coming to the realization that the point-of-the-spear – our elected officials – simply go where unseen forces take them.

And it has nothing to do with the needs, wants and concerns of their constituents.

As a result, it appears some of our representatives have just stopped trying.  By design, or necessity, they simply do what they are told, when they are told to do it.

For instance, last week in this space I spoke of my total astonishment at a late-night social media post by our doddering fool of a County Council Chair, Ed Kelley, when he exposed himself as a naïve asshole on the terms of the massive bond proposed for County Manager Jim Dinneen’s colossal courthouse/county office facility in Downtown Daytona.

In an unbelievably addle-brained outburst, Mr. Kelley raved, “Not sure who keeps making up this $200,000,000 number!!!!”

For the record – the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported (on the front page) that the cost of the courthouse development – the most expensive public project in the history of Volusia County – was expected to cost taxpayers between $165-million and $260-million over 30 to 40 years.

Also – for the record – it was Jim Dinneen who provided these figures to the newspaper.

Then, things just got weird.

This morning I read a piece written by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in the News-Journal, which explained that for months before Mr. Dinneen launched his ‘Grand Reveal’ of the courthouse project, there were a series of “behind-the-scenes” meetings, far removed from the public eye, involving “Attorneys, judges, law enforcement officials, and architects” – even Councilwoman Heather Post attended one of the backroom discussions in her role on something called the Public Safety Coordinating Council.

 But when Reporter Wyatt asked the one person who should be “in the know” on the largest expenditure of public funds in the history of his jurisdiction – Chairman Ed Kelley – if he attended any of the lead-up meetings, he “demonstrated how far removed the public, and even some of the top elected officials, were from the process.”

 “What meetings?”  Kelley exclaimed – exuding all the confidence and leadership of a botched pre-frontal lobotomy victim.

“Not sure of any meetings.”

Minutes of these “stakeholder” meetings – confabs that were apparently so secretive even the Chairman of the Volusia County Council was kept in the dark – are part of a quarter-million-dollar report which began life as a nondescript judicial facilities study on the council’s consent agenda last fall.

I guess Ed’s not a stakeholder.  Neither are you or me.

He’s not very perceptive either.

One month ago, Jim Dinneen – in his patented “public policy by ambush” strategy – made the surprise announcement describing the “preferred option” of bureaucrats for our new office and courthouse facility before the Volusia County Council.

I say “surprise” because the proposed $260-million-dollar issue wasn’t listed on the printed agenda – and neither the elected officials, or their constituents – were wise to it in advance.

Whenever Mr. Dinneen is involved in capital improvement projects or facilities planning – the patented strategy will always be to allow years of neglect, and an expensive external “needs study,” to precede an ambuscade announcement that “we” – the taxpayers – are building a Taj Mahal replacement complex that will better serve the convenience of government over the needs of the public it serves.

At the end-of-the-day, Mr. Dinneen’s near-constant attempts to keep certain segments in-the-loop – and others completely in-the-dark – during the planning stage of any project invariably results in a Circus atmosphere that always overshadows the important issues under consideration – and gives clowns a bad name.

Don’t take my word for it – let’s take a walk through the dusty Big Top of recent history (careful, mind the horseshit and elephant dung):

From Jimmy’s proposed multi-million-dollar consolidated public works complex, to the “shocking” off-the-agenda announcement that the languishing Desert Inn/Westin project was transmogrifying into a “Hard Rock” something-or-other – complete with retroactive legislation to preserve the removal of beach driving provision that We, The People were promised would go away if certain very specific performance provisions weren’t met – to the still mysterious rumblings of a “boardwalk extension” that is actively being budgeted, but not talked about, to the blight and dilapidation of county-owned properties, and a surprise parking lot purchase in the heart of the Main Street redevelopment area, etc., etc.

Add to that the suspicious “economic development” giveaways, the sale of public property to private interests for half its just value, our High Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s continuous warning to anyone who will listen that Jim Dinneen is a “lying sack of shit,” the massive pay and benefit increases for inept senior management, and the lack of substantive citizen input in incredibly expensive and controversial issues – and you get the idea that things are happening in Volusia County despite our elected representatives – not because of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Fire Jim Dinneen? It’s a good start

The ability to agreeably disagree, to engage in the peaceful competition of ideas, and passionately debate the issues of the day in a thoughtful way are the hallmarks of our freedom of speech and self-expression – those inalienable rights that so many have fought and died to protect.

I write an opinion blog – one that is often hyper-critical of those who are elected and appointed to wield the massive powers of government in the public interest.  I consider this forum part of the checks-and-balances that protect our democratic values and processes, although the reality is I am merely an ant fighting an elephant – and while the battle may be fun to watch – I realize that I am no match for the powers that be.

And I never forget that my point of view is but one facet of any issue.

For instance, in his recent editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, my friend Greg Gimbert wrote, It’s all over social media: Fire Jim Dinneen. People have been copying and sharing it.  But that isn’t how local government is supposed to work.”

 I agree with him on one point:  Nothing about our system of governance in Volusia County is the way local government is “supposed to work.”

In my view, he’s wrong about the rest.

According to Mr. Gimbert, the only metric which determines whether Volusia’s county manager position is operating as intended is the alignment of council member votes and their apparent agreement on every issue coming before them.

“There is consensus on every issue; thus, the county manager is doing a good job in the eyes of his employers, our County Council.”

His argument holds that those who are actively calling for the termination of County Manager Jim Dinneen are acting out of frustration – blaming the tool instead of the hands on it – and that the true problem facing Volusia County residents are the “policy-makers” – our elected officials who ostensibly give an obedient county manager his marching orders.

The argument proposed by Mr. Gimbert assumes two very important points – the first accepts that we are living in a representative democracy, the second presupposes a council/manager form of government in Volusia County.

It also presumes that Mr. Dinneen gives a Tinker’s damn about the “policies” and directives of our horribly neutered and wholly out-of-touch elected officials.

Even a casual observer of local politics quickly understands that we are living in a bastardized oligarchy – a system controlled by a few outside influence brokers, distinguished by wealth – who insinuate large sums of cash (personally and through various business entities they control) into local political campaigns while insulating Mr. Dinneen from the normal oversight and control of the elected body.

As I’ve said before, the infusion of Big Money into individual local races by a few exclusive insiders who have proven time-and-time again that their motivations are purely self-serving, doesn’t make Volusia County unique – but it certainly establishes the political pecking order and directs the ebb and flow of public resources.

It also tips the balance in favor of a select few individuals and corporate interests in an environment where the average per capita income is approximately $24,000.

The net-net of these large investments to artificially control the outcome of local races is the very foundation of this oligarchical system we’ve come to collectively accept.

Smart people like J. Hyatt Brown, Lesa France-Kennedy, and Mori Hosseini are highly successful for one reason only – they don’t spend a dollar without knowing exactly what the return on that investment will be.

You don’t last long in business throwing good money after bad.

I don’t know about you, but when I spend money, I expect something in return.  In this case, the local ruling class – those few the Daytona Beach News-Journal has dubbed our Rich & Powerful – make these strategic campaign contributions with the understanding that their personal, civic and professional interests will outweigh those of the average citizen every time.

You want to see consensus?  Hide and watch the next time Mr. Brown, Mr. Hossieni or Ms. France-Kennedy enter the council chambers to support an issue.

The fact is, the policy-makers change – but the policy never does – and it never will, until the outsized influence of a few uber-wealthy power brokers is removed from the equation.

Otherwise, the result will always be a co-opted system which serves its masters on-demand, invariable directs public funds to private interests and protects the key facilitator from internal and external political threats.

When you add to that Mr. Dinneen’s patented “public policy by ambush” strategy – where controversial issues are sprung on “surprised” members of the county council and their long-suffering constituents – totally off the advertised public agenda – and one cannot help but come to the realization that our elected officials are mere handmaidens to their outside handlers who don’t extend them so much as the courtesy of a briefing.

All they know, or need to know, is how to vote.

The fact is, our elected officials in DeLand haven’t had an original thought in years.

Innovation and inventiveness was tactically removed from the system in favor of a “go along and get along” process that rewards homogenized conformity and punishes creativity.

The myriad problems, missteps, open mismanagement and gross ineptitude repeatedly exhibited by Mr. Dinneen and his senior staff – political and operational pratfalls that have left our elected officials looking like out-of-touch hayseeds with a cognitive disorder – with no accountability, confirms the idea that this “system” of ours bears no resemblance to quality governance.

I agree with Mr. Gimbert’s assertion that the solution to the problem is upstream of Jim Dinneen – but the headwaters of the problem remain outside what passes for democratic governance in Volusia County.

Make no mistake, We, The People, are right to call for Jim Dinneen’s termination – and to vote for candidates who understand the importance of political independence and value citizen input in the process.

We have a responsibility to restore civic accountability and ultimately change the nature and focus of a system that continues to benefit an influential few while ignoring the needs and unique heritage of Volusia County residents.

 

Photo Credit:  Daytona Beach News-Journal

Angels & Assholes for August 11, 2017

Hi, Kids!

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

Angel:             City of Flagler Beach

Last week I took Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom to the woodshed for his near-constant job hunt that, in my jaded view, sent the wrong message to the city council, his worried employees and an increasingly confused public.

Mr. Newsom needs access to the Florida Retirement System to make improvements to a pension plan he entered during his service in Escambia County.  Flagler Beach does not currently participate in the state system.

In lieu of Newsom leaving simply for pension enhancements, I suggested that the City of Flagler Beach consider joining FRS – or paying Mr. Newsom what he’s worth.  I realize some of you will disagree, but I happen to believe City Manager Newsom is deserving of a regionally competitive wage.

In my view, he has done outstanding work stewarding the quaint beachside community through some rocky financial times – and his efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew are admirable.

Besides, under Mr. Newsom’s leadership the community has kept that Old Florida feel that simply cannot be artificially recreated.

Once lost, it’s gone – and the well-planned Latitudes at Margaritaville won’t come close.

During a budget workshop earlier this week, Flagler Beach city commissioners agreed to offer Mr. Newsom a 30% pay increase – appropriate for a proven hand with the institutional knowledge and vision required for success in a small town – and more in line with his peers.

Like the proven leader that he is, Mr. Newsom’s first concern was for his staff, noting that his team deserved a raise as well.  I admire that.

Look, I don’t presume to believe that anything I wrote in this forum made a difference with Flagler Beach decision-makers – but I hope it helped bring awareness.  Ultimately, the city’s tax rate will determine the extent of Mr. Newsom’s pay and benefit increases, but suffice it to say, things are trending in the right direction.

Now, let’s hope Mr. Newsom will give up on his almost compulsive pursuit of outside job offers.  Setting other communities up, just so he can turn them down – while causing instability in Flagler Beach – seems like a big waste of time.

Asshole:          Jack Aberman & GEA Seaside Investments, Inc.

Here we go again.  Same old shit again.

Earlier this week, slum lord Jack Aberman was given extra time by the City of Daytona Beach to correct the myriad problems and negligence that have fingered him as a key vector for the abject blight and dilapidation on the beachside and beyond.

On Tuesday, Special Magistrate David Vukelja heard testimony from city officials that confirmed Aberman is actively working toward compliance.  In turn, Mr. Vukelja demonstrated the patience of Job and extended the deadline for the institution of $1,000 per day fines by one month.

That ruling didn’t sit well with some residents, who have lived with Mr. Aberman’s stall tactics and continuing exploitation for years.

According to Iris Oswald, another unfortunate victim of Aberman’s GEA Seaside Investments, she has been living in virtual squalor at 311 North Hollywood Avenue – along with termites, faulty wiring, no hot water – and no air conditioning.

Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Nothing’s been done,” Oswald told Vukelja. “I don’t know what’s so special about this man. I don’t know why he’s allowed to do this for years.”

 I don’t either, Iris – and that is the question that continues to haunt beachside residents, even as the same redevelopment officials occupy the same city offices – accepting public funds for what should be service in the public interest.

I happen to know that Mr. Vukelja is a man of his word – and he is serious about the revitalization of our long-suffering beachside.  But he cannot do it alone.

The fact is, he can only adjudicate that which is legally brought before him.

Developing viable cases is the job of code enforcement officials and the city attorney.

Look for Mr. Vukelja to take definitive action to expedite compliance on cases pending before him to bring relief to Mr. Aberman’s victims – and restore hope in the good citizens who have suffered the continuing consequences of this company’s strategic neglect.

Angel:             City of Palm Coast

 In keeping with the wishes of 71% of Florida’s electorate – the City of Palm Coast is actively moving to welcome medicinal marijuana dispensaries to their community.

Recently, city leaders extended a short moratorium on the shops to give planners more time to construct and approve new zoning regulations to govern the facilities.

I find that refreshing, especially considering efforts by the City of Daytona Beach, and other struggling municipalities, that have taken the short-sighted view that banning dispensaries – and rejecting the tax dollars, jobs, and convenience for citizens suffering debilitating illnesses – is somehow appropriate and in keeping with the needs of their constituents.

Like it or not, medicinal marijuana is in our future – and I suspect that will be followed by recreational use in the next decade.

In my view, Palm Coast’s acceptance of dispensaries represents a common-sense approach to meeting the needs of people with diseases like ALS, cancer, Parkinson’s, PTSD, seizure disorders and chronic debilitating pain – and acknowledges the changing views of voters, taxpayers and patients.

I urge all law enforcement administrators and city officials in Volusia County to rethink their staunch opposition to what is rapidly becoming reality.

After 31-years in law enforcement, serving on the losing end of the ‘drug war,’ I can tell you from experience that doing the same thing over-and-over again, while expecting a different result, truly is the textbook definition of insanity – and government waste.

Let’s face it – focusing on interdiction and supply reduction continues to be an abysmal, and expensive, failure.

It’s not legalization of pot – it’s common human compassion.

Why not accept the will of the voters – develop reasonable taxation to cover regulatory efforts – and permit those with critical illnesses to benefit from the therapeutic effects of cannabis?

In the City of Daytona Beach, 76% to 90% of voters overwhelmingly support medical marijuana, yet most of their elected officials still arrogantly believe they know better.

(Note to Mayor Henry and the Daytona Beach City Commission:  On issues large and small, simply look to Commissioner Aaron Delgado and follow his lead – he consistently gets it right.)   

It is anticipated that medicinal marijuana will be a billion-dollar industry in Florida by 2020.  Why some cities – especially those facing the corrosive effects of economic stagnation – continue to openly reject the opportunity these shops represent is beyond my comprehension.

In short, stop raising taxes while rejecting viable commercial enterprises that at least 7 out of every 10 residents have unequivocally stated they want.

Asshole:          Flagler County Mosquito Control District

When the executive leadership of a government entity makes a colossal blunder – invariably the purge begins at the low end of the totem pole.

Entry-level employees, some part-time, who can least afford it are summarily chopped from the books, laid off and forced to suffer a crushing family financial disaster – while those who are wholly responsible for the five-alarm fuck-up remain firmly in control – and on the public payroll.

If you haven’t heard, the Flagler County Mosquito Control District recently built a brand new $2.1 million state-of-the-art facility.  The ribbon-cutting ceremony was in all the papers.

Unfortunately, Rachel Knapp – the district’s chief financial officer – seems to have forgotten a slight tidbit of information when preparing last year’s budget:

She failed to add construction costs for the building.

Really.

A flagrant, calamitous accounting flub which was either ignored or missed by the executive director – and the board of commissioners.

Fortunately, it didn’t get past the district’s outside auditor.

This ruinous “critical budget oversight” resulted in a massive deficit due to the new facility’s construction costs and “overspending in almost all line items.”

According to Joseph Cash, the district’s executive director, “The fund balance was incorrectly stated and by the time the error was discovered the budget was overspent by $1.1-million.”

The “error” wasn’t discovered until July.

July.

With $1.1-million over the transom. . .

Now, Cash states he is implementing Draconian measures to regain control of the agency’s fiscal death spiral.

These include terminating six part-time employees and two full-time employees, limiting employee pay increases to a 3% cost of living raise while increasing employee contributions for health insurance by $250 per month, eliminating Mr. Cash’s health insurance coverage and limiting Ms. Knapp’s coverage to dependents only, along with other severe spending cuts and liquidation of public property.

Most disturbing, Mr. Cash suggests eliminating training for the helicopter pilot who flies spraying missions over both rural areas and suburban population centers. That represents a safety concern for all Flagler County residents.

In the aftermath, Cash sent emails to District Commissioners and, in his panic, apparently made a ham-handed attempt to call an emergency meeting which had all the suspicious earmarks of a violation of Florida’s Sunshine law.

That meeting has now been postponed until proper notification requirements can be met.

This catastrophic ineptitude is far more than a simple “oversight.”

In my view, it represents a Titanic failure at multiple levels of the organization, and cannot help but have a detrimental impact on service delivery – something Flagler County residents pay for and expect.

In my view, the district commissioners – you know, the people’s representatives – should act immediately to restore public confidence in this important operation by formally escorting Cash and Knapp out the brand-new front door – then begin planning for their own exit.

Time to clean house.

Angel:             Daytona Beach City Commission

I have a tattoo.

In 1979, during U.S. Army Basic Training at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, my best friend and I sat down in the dirty kitchen of an old biker dude early one Sunday morning and got “inked.”  It’s a neat beach-scene on our right bicep that reminded us of home.

Memorably, one lens of our “artists” eyeglasses was shattered – and his personal hygiene, and the sterility of his antiquated equipment, were equally questionable.

Fortunately, we didn’t get Hep C as well. . .

I’ve been kicking around the idea of getting another one, a police-related “half sleeve” to commemorate my career and honor those I served with.  We’ll see.

Times have changed in the last 38-years, and public acceptance of what is now called “body art” has evolved dramatically.  In fact, it’s hard to find a “millennial,” urban “hipster,” or even a soccer mom that doesn’t sport a tattoo or two.

And there is no doubt that many “tattoo parlors” – once the dens of drunken sailors and outlaw bikers – have evolved into upscale studios with antiseptic practices and gifted practitioners who take great pride in the quality of their artistry.

As a champion of self-expression – I admire a professionally done tattoo.

Hey, do what ‘cha wanna, right?

I was glad to see that the City of Daytona Beach recently allowed tattoo establishments in all five community redevelopment areas.  Now, a long-time artist is planning to open a shop on Beach Street in Downtown Daytona.

Slowly but surely, the Daytona Beach City Commission is awaking to the fact that business as usual only results in more of the same – and there is precious little time to waste in turning this “Ship of the Damned” around before the entire Halifax area hits the rocks.

I’m not saying tattoo parlors are the final answer – but the flexibility and foresight exhibited by Daytona Beach’s elected officials is a good sign.

Quote of the Week:

 “I am appalled that our Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen makes more than the vice president of the United States, and each Volusia County Council member makes more than $42,000, yet they are offering a “take it or leave it” 3 percent raise for our already underpaid deputies.”

James Martin, Ormond Beach, Letter to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, August 8, 2017

Think about it.

And have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

On Daytona Beach: Do you know who I am?

Sometimes I wonder why otherwise bright, extremely well-educated, and politically influential people find it necessary to act-out in ways they must know will bring discredit to themselves, their family, their employer and their community.

People expect boorish behavior from uneducated louts like me – not highly esteemed university professors – or the First Lady of Daytona Beach.

I recently read a disturbing social media post regarding Dr. Stephanie Henry – the Acting Dean of Bethune-Cookman University’s College of Education and wife of Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry.

The post contained a copy of an official complaint affidavit completed by the Daytona Beach Police Department which detailed a June 2017 confrontation between Dr. Henry and the owner of the Beauty Bazaar, a small shop on North Nova Road.

Apparently, Dr. Henry entered the store, took some items off the shelf, then attempted to return an open and partially used beauty product.  The return was refused by the owner – who directed Henry to the store’s posted policy.

During the ensuing argument, the report states that Dr. Henry repeatedly mentioned that she was “the mayor’s wife” – and then became threatening: “I’m the mayor’s wife.  I’ll get you.”

Disturbing.

Especially considering she is, in fact, Mayor Henry’s spouse.

According to the report, Dr. Henry made things worse when she walked out of the store with about $4.75 worth of merchandise that she failed to pay for.  The ugly spat continued into the public parking lot.

Ultimately, Dr. Henry came back to the store, returned the items, and offered to pay for them.

Too late.  The store owner wasn’t hearing it.

I guess open political threats tend to have that effect on people.

In turn, a sworn statement was obtained from witnesses, and a complaint affidavit charging Dr. Henry with one count of misdemeanor Petit Theft was, I assume, sent to the State Attorney’s Office for review.

That’s generally how these things go – and perhaps the criminal charges have already been dismissed – I don’t really know.

What bothers me – and I’m sure many of you – is the “Don’t you know who I am?” arrogance that Dr. Henry’s statements conjure in the minds of her husband’s constituents.

Apparently, Dr. Henry believes that her husband’s political status can solve problems – and her cringeworthy announcement clearly indicates that she believes her status is more important than ours.

Perhaps it is, but given the rumor and intrigue surrounding Mayor Henry’s assumed return to Volusia County School’s following since-dropped felony charges alleging voter fraud – and his subsequent fall from grace at Mainland High School – one would think everyone involved would be on their best behavior.

Guess not.

So, Dr. Henry takes the prize this week.

In my view, threats and intimidation of small business owners is just bad optics – especially for the wife of a high-profile politician with a history many are trying very hard to get beyond.

People can forgive what they see themselves doing – and this behavior is, well, over-the-top – even for an uneducated lout like me.

Word to the wise:  Dr. Henry, you are in fact the Mayor’s wife – and an incredibly talented educator with a very bright future – everyone knows that.  I’m just not sure your husband’s lofty position needs repeating for leverage during petty arguments with Daytona Beach shopkeepers.

(UPDATE:  I have learned from a senior member of the judiciary that the misdemeanor charges against Dr. Henry were dismissed on June 23, 2017.)

 

On Volusia: You’ll always be King Rat to me

This weekend, like many of you, I read Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s piece in My Coast magazine entitled, “These 30 people make it happen.” 

Of course, it was one of those inane “most influential” lists, primarily consisting of what the News-Journal has dubbed our Rich & Powerful, with a few politicians and chamber of commerce-types mixed in for good will and ego massage.

Those of us still tethered to reality here on the Fun Coast know that our area’s true “movers and shakers” consist of five people who pass the same nickel around and effectively control what passes for our artificial local economy.

It appears Pat simply threw in twenty-five also-rans to avoid exposing the obvious.

My immediate thought was, “Make what happen?”

Followed immediately by, “Why in the hell would anyone want their good name associated with the convoluted shit-storm that is Volusia County? 

It’s like being named Boss Clown of the Theater of the Absurd.

Was Mr. Rice attempting to publicly shame those privileged few who have had repeated opportunities (and countless trips to the public trough) to make fundamental change to the blight, dilapidation, abject squalor, poverty, crime and economic suppression that permeates wide swaths of Volusia County like a suppurating ulcer?

No, Pat is far too nice for that.

I’ll let those who were named decide who is the meat and who is filler.

Far be it from me to winnow down this exalted list of local luminaries to those few High Panjandrums who truly impact our lives and livelihoods.

Look, don’t get me wrong, some of those listed deserve special recognition – people like Pat Northey and Gale Lemerand – who have worked extremely hard behind-the-scenes, and given generously of their time and personal resources to improve our lives, preserve our environment, and ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected.

Why these good folks were mixed in with some others who don’t is beyond me.

This year, John Albright, President and CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, was named the most influential person in all Volusia County.

In my view, Mr. Albright’s most important achievement this year was slipping the corporate noose and keeping his job after the company’s largest investor sought to “maximize shareholder value” by selling the company, or liquidating its assets, which would have effectively shut down the traditional good-old-boy investor club that owns some 8,100 prime acres of undeveloped real estate – much of it near the ever-popular LPGA/I-95 corridor.

For instance, it has been reported that J. Hyatt Brown and his wife, Cici – both of whom were prominent on the “30-most influential” list – own some 10,000 shares of Consolidated-Tomoka stock.  And I’ll just bet they’re not the only ones on Mr. Rice’s roll with high stakes in Mr. Albright’s continued viability – so long as he remembers which side his bread is buttered on.

Of course, County Manager Jim Dinneen was listed among this year’s Camarilla of VIP’s – right next to his handlers – for his continued deft manipulation of the all-important nexus of public funds and private interests.

That position truly is influential.

I suppose what sent me fleeing to the restroom with cramping peristalses was Mr. Dinneen’s “Advise to others” message – which amounted to an over-the-top, subliminal mirror image of reality:

“Exercise honesty and integrity in your interactions with others.  If you are honest and have integrity, you are influencing others.”    

 (Excuse me for a moment.  I’ll be right back…)

There now.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have serious concerns about the direction of Volusia County government and the outsized influence of certain power brokers who use our bastardized campaign finance system to hand-select, and ultimately control, what passes for our elected representatives.

Recent events – such as Mr. Dinneen’s surprise announcement that he was purchasing a parking lot in the City of Daytona Beach for above its appraised value (totally unbeknownst to City Manager Jim Chisholm) – to his surprise announcement regarding the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock beach driving debacle (totally unbeknownst to citizens) – to his surprise announcement that he has personally decided to lash some $200,000,000 in debt to Volusia taxpayers, our children, and grandchildren over the next 30 to 40 years (totally unbeknownst to our elected officials) – tend to indicate that our council members are mere pawns in a shadow government that is wholly controlled by Mr. Dinneen and his wealthy handlers.

As I’ve said before, when you consider the complete mismanagement, mistakes, gaffes, howlers, fuck-ups and good old-fashioned open manipulation of information and misinformation under Mr. Dinneen’s administration – blunders that would have resulted in his immediate termination from any company controlled or managed by anyone on Mr. Rice’s list – it becomes immediately clear that he is politically protected by those who benefit from his direct control of the public tit – the endless supply of tax dollars that invariable flow into private projects and bolster our non-natural economy.

Is there another reasonable explanation?

In the continuing fall-out over Mr. Dinneen’s “grand reveal” of his five-story courthouse mega-facility in downtown Daytona, Vice Chair Deb Denys recently announced on the front page of the newspaper that she is uncomfortable with a process that resulted in just 38-minutes of discussion by decision-makers on the most expensive project in the history of Volusia County.

Now, I don’t believe for a nanosecond that Deb is really concerned – but she’s standing for reelection next year and optics are important right now.  Especially given the fact that people are beginning to question the astronomical cost and rapidity with which this dubious project is being shoved down our collective throat.

Then, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, exposed himself in a late-night social media post which left little doubt that he was completely out-of-the-loop on Little Jimmy’s plans – and effectively numb to the concerns and questions of his long-suffering constituents.

This institutional indifference to Mr. Dinneen’s behind-the-scenes machinations represents an almost strategic ignorance by those who are sworn to represent our best interests.

Trust me.  I hold firm to the belief that this lack of even superficial knowledge of key events simply must be a well-orchestrated ruse.  Because – if our elected officials truly are that out-of-touch – the future for everyone other than those well-connected few is grim.

Perhaps Mr. Rice and his excellent investigative journalists at the News-Journal should go back and examine their “30-most” list – connect the dots, follow the money – and begin the important process of developing an accurate picture of the oligarchical system that has hampered legitimate economic development efforts for decades.

Regardless, I hope Jim Dinneen doesn’t take his loss to Mr. Albright too hard.  There’s always next year, eh?

Besides, you’ll always be King Rat to me.