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.


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