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.

 

 

 

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