There was a time in this country when a person’s worth was measured by their ability to stand on his or her own two feet – to pay their own way in the world. In another era, successful men and women took personal pride in the fact that with wealth came independence – the American tradition of self-reliance.
My father taught me that these were admirable traits, and that with hard work came self-sufficiency, and a sense of contribution to the collective good.
In some places, successful corporations generously give back to the community where they do business, often in the form of parks, recreational facilities, public swimming pools, greenspace, ballparks and other common amenities.
This sharing and corporate giving costs billionaire businesses and industry relatively little, but demonstrates in a most profound way a tangible appreciation for their employees and neighbors.
Then, there’s Volusia County – a place where nothing is as it seems.
Here, those self-reliant people and generous businesses are called “suckers.”
This weekend, I opened the Daytona Beach News-Journal and was immediately struck by a gigantic front page headline announcing, “INSURANCE GIANT PLANS 10-STORY DOWNTOWN HQ.”
I’m sure you must have seen it – the entire Sunday edition of the paper was devoted to it.
You know the drill, “Daytona finally lands the “Big One!” Whoop-Whoop!
Happy Days are here again. Again.
My immediate reaction was absolute delight – kudos to Brown & Brown, I thought – what a perfect addition to Daytona’s constantly struggling downtown. A place so strapped that a criminal courts complex is viewed as an “up-scale” improvement.
Finally, something substantial to replace those horrific, weed-strewn car lot foundations that have sat like an open wound on the landscape for years.
Then, in small letters at the top of the page, I read the dubious, but obligatory, assurance “600 new jobs coming to Daytona Beach.”
That’s when my heart sank. (Or maybe it was just agita, I don’t really know.)
In typical fashion, whenever the right last names propose a local project – be it an Embry-Riddle money grab with the promise of “high paying” research & development jobs – or the promise of part-time retail work at a cheap outlet mall on the frontage road – We, the People, will invariably be asked to slop the government trough with our hard-earned tax dollars and pay for critical infrastructure, provide tax abatement’s, cash handouts and other “economic incentives” to see the private development to fruition.
And the return on our collective investment is always touted as the ambiguous – and never adequately verified – promise of “jobs.”
You know, “. . .for our kids.”
I shook my weary head, chuckled to myself, and thought – I’ll just bet this is another “Game Changer.”
‘Cause it has all the earmarks of a good, old-fashioned Volusia County “Game Changer.”
Then, it virtually jumped off the page at me:
“It’s absolutely one of the biggest things that’s happened to downtown Daytona Beach in the 13 years I’ve been here, and probably longer than that,” said City Manager Jim Chisholm.
“It’s a game changer for the downtown area.”
(Wait. I thought the $260-million-dollar Taj Mahal that will be our next courthouse was the game changer? Or was that a “huge deal”? Oh, screw it – who can keep track. . .)
Of course, J. Hyatt weighed in while holding court in front of an exclusive “invite-only” crowd and quipped, “. . .when companies and their leaders achieve some success they reflexively think they have to go where “people are cool and suave.” We think the people of Daytona Beach and Volusia County are cool and suave,” he said to laughter and more applause.”
No, he doesn’t.
Mr. Brown thinks the people of Daytona Beach and Volusia County are hapless dupes and rubes.
Because we are.
(What, no laughter and applause?)
He also knows that he has a sizable majority of sitting Volusia County politicians, at all levels of government, comfortably ensconced in his hip pocket.
Why? Because he bought and paid for them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, that’s why.
(I wonder if this is why so much cash was injected in local races during the 2016 campaign? Hummm. . .)
That’s the reason Mr. Brown’s perverse joke is so devilishly funny – and frightening – all at the same time.
Even our “High Panjandrum of Political Power” King Mori Hosseini weighed in, noting that Volusia County is “a loser county,” but he assures us that we’ll all be considered “progressive” when J. Hyatt’s riverfront edifice is complete.
I found Mr. Hosseini’s quote interesting, given the fact that no one – and I mean no one – has wielded more personal or political power in Volusia County.
No individual or entity has been granted more unfettered trips to the public tit – for roads, infrastructure, the half-price sale of public land to his private university, etc. – or commanded the allegiance of influential politicians and appointed officials – real players who could have changed the economic face and direction of Volusia County on a mere nod from the King at any time he saw fit.
We’re losers, alright.
According to the brass tacks of the News-Journal’s gushing announcement – while there has been no “specific ask” yet – it is increasingly clear that Brown & Brown will be putting the arm on you, me and our neighbors for “help” with costs associated with the buildings “new water, sewer and storm water systems.”
I’ll just bet that’s not all.
Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm also confirmed that, “more than $1-million in property tax abatement over 10-years has been in discussion.” And unlike you or me, Brown & Brown may be given “a pass” on paying taxes on any increased value their building would create.
“. . .talks with the county have included ideas involving impact fees, tax abatement and ECHO funds, which are targeted for environmental, cultural, historic and outdoors projects.”
Our ECHO funds are in play? For a private development?
Unfortunately, County Manager Jim Dinneen said “tax abatement” is “off the table.”
I say “unfortunately,” because Jim Dinneen is a congenital liar with an almost physical aversion to the truth. That means Brown & Brown is virtually assured to receive tax abatement’s – and anything else they damn well want.
That’s in addition to the massive money dump Brown & Brown receives on the regular in the form of Volusia County employee insurance premiums. . .
“We’ve been working with them behind the scenes on an incentive package,” he said. Dinneen said county financial help could prove to be a great investment for taxpayers.
I’ll bet you have.
Too bad Mr. Dinneen’s “confidentiality agreement” – you know, something he pulled out of his ass to avoid those pesky public records laws – prohibits him from answering the hard questions about the proposed transfer of public funds and services to a private entity.
And, as usual, our doddering County Chair Ed Kelley is enjoying nawny-nawny time, comfortably asleep at the wheel – while our other elected officials on the County Council receive their collective marching orders.
Time to give back to a man who has given them so much. Literally.
Given the ugly fact Volusia County perennially falls below the state average in virtually every substantive category – wages, household income, poverty, schools, infrastructure, etc. – everything, it seems, except blight and crime – (We lead the way in those important categories) along with the deplorable physical condition of wide swaths of the community that serve as blight and crime incubators – and I seriously wonder how these people sleep at night?
Look, it’s a nice new building, situated in an area that could really use a nice new building.
But everyone who is anyone in this suffering dump should understand that you lost all credibility with the “game changers” and “catalyst” projects years ago.
Pouring hundreds-of-millions of tax dollars into Big Fish sporting goods stores, panacea hotels, goofy mega-gas stations and outlet stores isn’t going to substantially change our quality of life in the Halifax area – or stimulate our decomposing economy – and they goddamned well know it.
And I assure you that no one will even mention – let alone confirm – what became of the promised “600 high-paying jobs” when J. Hyatt’s monument is ultimately complete.
When our self-serving ‘movers & shakers’ get serious about fundamentally changing our artificial economy, one based upon massive injections of public funds, private looting and giveaway “economic development incentives,” and begin cleaning up the abject blight, corruption and dilapidation that prohibits real economic development – and the real jobs that come with it – then I’ll join our “rich and powerful” in their wild celebration of the next big thing.
As Mr. Brown said, “Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
I’ll just bet he’s right.