Angels & Assholes for September 22, 2017

Hi, Kids!

Because I scribble a political opinion blog, well-meaning people naturally assume I have a Grand Plan to run for high office.

I don’t.

I like to remind people that my hypocrisy knows no bounds – and suggest that, if elected, who’s to say I wouldn’t be worse than those who represent us now?

Hell, I like spending other folk’s money, being fawned over by the Rich & Powerful, having nice things and treated like inbred royalty by speculative property developers and their lawyers.

Who doesn’t?

Unfortunately, I’ve got more skeletons in my closet than a haunted house – and at my core, I’m a complainer, not a ‘doer.’  This inherent laziness limits my political involvement to petty sniping at those in power from my obscure little corner of the interwebz.

Yet, well-meaning people continue to ask, “What are your political ambitions, Barker?

Nothing cemented my commitment to the old Shermanesque pledge “If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve” like the events of last week.  Catastrophes like Irma expose both the incredible efficiency – and base limitations – of our government, and We, The People, have every right to point out those public faults to our elected officials.

And demand answers.

After all, we pretty much let those we elect to represent our interests do whatever they want the rest of the time, but when the shit hits the fan (literally) – we want our government officials to do that voodoo that they do so well – things we cannot do for ourselves –  like ensuring clean water, managing public shelter operations, holding public utilities accountable, informative mass communications and providing effective emergency services.

Given the fact that some 80% of Duke Energy customers on the west side were without electrical service after the storm – along with tens of thousands of FP&L consumers on the east side – I’ll just bet the telephones and email accounts of our elected officials at all levels of government got quite a workout this week.  As well they should.

This is 2017 – not 1817 – and its high time ‘we’ begin the process of hardening our state’s public utilities.

Every time our residential power fails because of a compromised patchwork system consisting of aging creosote poles and exposed lines – or we receive yet another boil water alert – one gets the impression we are living in some backwater Banana Republic.  Err, wait a minute. . .

In my view, these are the important issues our elected representatives have an ethical responsibility to address.

Hoping for the best” ain’t working anymore.

Our patience has limitations – and the grim knowledge that we will all be living like Pedro Menendez and his band of trembling St. Augustine settlers after every strong blow – without power, potable water or mosquito control – cannot continue.

But even a congenital cretin like me knows there are boundaries.

I understood that there would be plenty of time to spew my discontent with all-things government when people were reasonably whole and back on their proverbial feet again.

It was in that spirit that I decided it best to hold-off on publishing Angels & Assholes last week.

To me, the “too soon” factor was heavy on my mind (given the fact my daughter and son-in-law were still bivouacked in my living room last Friday, waiting on the power trucks to arrive at their Ormond Beach home.)

As I waited until a more ‘appropriate’ time, I was surprised by how many loyal readers reached out to ask when A&A would make its return to Barker’s View.

I was also encouraged that so many people messaged their personal suggestions for the column.

I like that.

While reading your good notes, I came to the realization that in times of crisis people need normalcy and a sense of stability – and for some – Angels & Assholes provides that continuity, the idea that if Barker is still bitching, we’re going to be ‘okay’ – and perhaps a goofy opinion blog can provide a brief diversion from our all too difficult reality.

So, if it’s important to you – it’s important to me.

If you have a gripe you need to get off your chest – or just want to extend an ‘atta-boy/girl’ to a worthy person or organization – please drop me a note.  I’ll take a critical look and do my best to get it out there.

Might be fun.

At any rate – I hope you and your family fared well.  Mine did – and for that I feel eternally blessed.

Well, 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 long week that was:

Asshole:           Mayor Harry Jennings and the Daytona Beach Shores City Council

Just when I was juggling my popcorn and beer, finding a seat, and getting settled in for the much-ballyhooed Battle Royale – ready to root for the small community of Daytona Beach Shores in their David & Goliath cage match with Volusia County, a nasty heel who has forced its will on the municipalities for the past decade – Shores Mayor Harry Jennings takes the weird tack of throwing in the towel before the fight even starts.

What gives?

Last month, I took Shores Commissioner Richard Bryan to task for playing the politics of appeasement. He was the lone dissenting vote against an ordinance which strengthened the City’s comprehensive plan by blocking construction of parking lots east of State Road A-1-A.

According to reports, Mr. Bryan thought it was possible to “work something out” with Volusia County and find a “win-win.”

Bullshit.

Now, Mayor Harry “No Comment” Jennings has reached out to Volusia in a letter to our doddering Council Chairman Ed Kelley, suggesting public negotiations in lieu of a legal fight.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know exactly what Mayor Jennings is thinking – because he makes a habit of putting off inquisitive reporters whenever the heat is on.

Normally, I would agree that attempting to work things out and avoiding expensive legal wrangling is in the best interest of all concerned.  After all, I’ve always subscribed to the hoary maxim, “He who goes to the law takes a wolf by the ears” – a dark arena where no one really “wins” – except, of course, the attorneys involved.

Apparently, some members of the Shores City Council have a weird view of what it means to “negotiate” with Volusia County.

Their current convoluted position for solving the issues include the municipality taking over maintenance of Frank Rendon Park, putting up parking meters to further discourage beachgoers, and – perhaps most frightening – the complete removal of beach driving in Daytona Beach Shores.

You read that right.

Now, maybe Harry’s letter is just some slick lawyering by the Shores – correspondence that can later be displayed as evidence of the city’s willingness to compromise. Either that, or Mayor Jennings is telegraphing to Chairman Kelley that the two sides aren’t that far apart – especially when it comes to snuffing out our heritage of beach driving once and for all.

In a stunning bait-and-switch, Chairman Kelley recently announced that Volusia County should make it “standard operating procedure” to remove beach driving from the strand once any county-owned off-beach lot is opened.  Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Eddie explained, “Where you have beachfront lots, I think that driving should be eliminated from those areas.”

“I think that should be standard operating procedure. If you provide parking, then you make them traffic-free zones. Otherwise, the 200 or 300 people are going to have no beach to use.”

Wow.

So much for Ed’s firm campaign promise to preserve beach driving – and to support provisions of the County Charter which protect beach access and use as a “public trust.”

Remember?

Ed ran on a platform of maintaining a balance between beach driving and “off beach parking” to “accommodate all who enjoy our beaches.”

Considering that Mr. Kelley crowed, ad nauseum, about his efforts to keep “beach ramps” open (you know, those things cars use to access the beach?) – many of us rubes were left with the unmistakable impression that Ed supported our signature tradition of beach driving while augmenting access with off-beach parking to accommodate times of closure or overcrowding.

No.  It’s now clear he wants it engraved in stone that our beaches will be closed to driving – forever – once a few parking spaces are opened on A-1-A.

Since when did Volusia County ever function under anything remotely resembling a “standard operating procedure”?

In my view, it looks like some in Daytona Beach Shores are angling for a private beach for denizens of the Condo Canyon – something I’m sure they will find Volusia County more than willing to accommodate.

Angel:              Governor Rick Scott

Look, I almost never do this. You know, confer “Angel” status on Governor Rick Scott.

But let’s face it – he almost never objects to payouts and inflated bonuses for Florida’s over-funded tourism and “economic development” agencies either.

In what I suspect is capitulation for getting the budget he wanted – earlier this month, Governor Scott made a big deal out of rejecting the perennial bonuses and “rewards” paid to employees of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida – those twin bleeding hemorrhoids representing the worst of government waste and corporate welfare.

Of course, members of Enterprise Florida’s executive committee began wringing their fat little hands and openly worrying that, without bonuses – which amounted to some $448,662 split 57 ways last October – that the agency may experience an “exodus of experience.”

My ass.

Trust me.  If you’re fortunate enough to land a make-work job at either Enterprise Florida or Visit Florida – you aren’t going anywhere.

You couldn’t pull these ticks off the hog with a D-9 dozer.

It’s high-time Governor Scott took a strong stand against the waste and exorbitant spending by these grossly over-funded and under scrutinized agencies – and reign in the perks and bonuses we generously hand the political insiders and hangers-on that populate them.

I also thought Governor Scott did a wonderful job communicating to the people of Florida in the lead-up to Hurricane Irma.

He never wavered from the important message of personal safety over personal property – and worked extremely hard to organize and stage all available resources to ensure what has, overall, been an effective and efficient response.

Good job, sir.

Angel:              Flagler Sheriff Rick Staley & State Attorney R. J. Larizza  

 Family members are beating and murdering each other at record rates here on the Fun Coast – in fact, domestic violence has become an epidemic in Volusia and Flagler Counties.

Earlier this year, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staley formed a task force to examine the myriad issues behind this growing trend and form actionable recommendations for reducing the social toll.

In addition, State Attorney R. J. Larizza is taking an active role in saving lives through aggressive prosecution, effective intervention and public education.

I have a working theory.  It’s not too popular with the ruling class, but I think it has validity:

Most residents of Volusia and Flagler Counties live in a pressure cooker – low-paying service jobs, a lack of access to higher education or technical training, an artificial economy with many living below the poverty line in rental hell – caught in the Catch 22 marked by the inability to come up with first, last and security deposit – and, most of all, no real hope that things are going to improve.

Nothing good comes from instability and fear – and we have our fair share of both.

At the other end of the spectrum, those who have savings and what passes for a “good” job, are feeling the same sense of hopelessness.

After all, everything is relative.  Someone making $250,000 a year can overextend and find themselves living paycheck-to-paycheck, just like someone making $250 a week.

The “rich” see adult children boomerang, suffer the effects of alcoholism, drug addiction and untreated mental illness, and then there is the ever-present need to meet a sizable monthly nut.

But it’s not all economic.

Some people are just mean-spirited control freaks – assholes who resort to their fists and bluster to maintain a sense of dominance.

Regardless of the root cause, domestic violence and its widespread fallout are out-of-control.

Unfortunately, for years Volusia County has also experienced a disproportional per capita suicide rate – something no one seems to want to talk about.

Perhaps there are similar contributing factors present in both issues?

Kudos to Sheriff Staley and State Attorney R. J. Larizza for taking the lead on finding workable solutions to stop the bloodshed and bring this deadly problem under control.

Asshole:           Inconsiderate Post-Storm “Disaster Tourists”

 It’s true.  Catastrophes bring out the best – and the worst – in all of us.

Hurricane Irma brought unprecedented storm surge to low-lying areas throughout Volusia and Flagler Counties resulting in massive flooding and wind damage to homes and businesses.

Inexplicably, almost immediately upon cessation of the storm’s high winds, some people found it necessary to fire-up their toys and race four-wheelers, large trucks and other “fun” vehicles – some pulling surfboards and other personal watercraft – through flooded roadways, pushing the foul water even deeper into already inundated properties.

It serves no logical purpose, other than providing a momentary diversion for the inconsiderate pricks who enjoy frolicking in fetid sewerage, fertilizer runoff, animal waste and filth – you know, those who never stop to think how their wake will affect others.

A loyal Barker’s View reader said it best:

“May I suggest as assholes the ones who came to my neighborhood (Orange Island by the Main Street Bridge) to take selfies/Instagram/FB posts on Monday who saw my wife and I dragging waterlogged stuff out of our house and NOT 1 OF THEM offered to help, worst were the assholes in pickup trucks who plowed over the cones so they could race up our streets swamping our houses again after drying out.  There’s a special place in hell for them. . .”

 My own post-Irma brush with stupidity came when I happened to get behind a large pickup truck pulling an even larger camper through waterlogged streets in Ormond Beach.

When it was clear the driver was unable to negotiate the large piles of vegetation, standing water and debris partially blocking the street, I overheard him explain to an exasperated resident that he was “sightseeing.”

Who does that?

I suspect if he would have pulled down a sagging wire, or caused additional stress to area homeowners – that rubbernecking shitheel might have seen more than he bargained for. . . at least when the swelling went down.

In my view, there truly is a special place in hell for people who take advantage of bad situations and exploit calamities for their own enjoyment or financial advantage.

We, the long-suffering citizens of Florida, have been through a few of these things now.

The unwritten rules of negotiating the physical and psychological aftermath of a strong hurricane should be formalized in everyone’s mind.

If you don’t need to be there – don’t go.

Keep your hands to yourself.

Digging through someone else’s water-damaged worldly belongings at the curb, then hauling off their precious possessions in the name of “scrapping” is disrespectful – and wrong.  It’s worse if you leave a mess.

Respect the limited privacy of others.  (Who wants a picture of a friggin’ debris pile, anyway? “Oh, remember this?  That was the maple that went down in the Johnson’s front yard during Fay.  Ahh, memories. . .”)    

Cleaning up your neighbor’s lawn is considered good karma.

Walking through downed power lines is instant karma.

If you have electrical power and your neighbor doesn’t – offer them a cool place to relax, do laundry, recharge their devices and store perishables – it’s the right thing to do.

Remember:  Help ever, hurt never.

Angel:              Pickleballer Seeks Global Dominance – One Court at a Time

 I don’t even know which category to put this one in.

Increasingly, members of the Barker’s View tribe are sending in suggestions for Angels & Assholes.

I dig that idea.

Here’s one from a smart reader regarding Daytona’s Great Pickleball Controversy of 2017:

“This could be a first – an angel being an asshole.” 

 “Cathy Stansbury does a wonderful job promoting a sport called pickleball, which is growing as a participatory sport nationwide.  The area has several nice courts to play and many tournaments have been hosted there. 

 Nice stuff, but the pickleballers went a bit too far by wanting to take over the City Island Tennis Center for what she thinks would make the area a pickleball magnet, which doesn’t sound too tasty. 

She claims the courts aren’t utilized fully by the tennis folk.  Okay, here’s the deal – the courts are home to the tennis teams at Bethune-Cookman University.  I reached out to their media contact and here’s some of the spiel.  Back in the day, Bethune-Cookman used to have courts on campus – once the Wimbledon champion Althea Gibson played a tournament there, but those are long gone.

 When the program was relaunched a few years ago, the best option has been to use City Island, and since then, students from literally around the world have played a high level of tennis against top-notch competition (Iowa State, George Washington, Charleston and Fordham are on this year’s schedule) who do utilize our hotels, restaurants and bus to our outlet malls when they come to play the Wildcats. 

 Now, I could go into a whole bunch of inside tennis stuff about courts being NCAA compliant, but since I like to make things as simple as possible: The pickleballers already have enough places to play and they want to kick Bethune-Cookman out of their home court so they can have ANOTHER one?  Sorry, Cathy, that’s not a good – wait for it – dill.  You’d be putting Bethune-Cookman in a – wait for it – pickle.  There’s room for everybody.”

 Now, stop gherkin us around, you court-grabbing pickleballers. . .

 Asshole:           County of Volusia

 Like many of you, I’m still digesting the dynamics of the recent shit-storm between Councilwoman Heather Post and County Manager Jim Dinneen over internal information sharing during Hurricane Irma.  But it clearly goes deeper than that – and there are aspects to this story that deserve to be analyzed and compared.

I’ll have more in coming days.

 In my view, for an organization that has more “spokespersons” than any government entity twice its size – once again, Volusia County came up short in effectively communicating with its constituents before, during and after the storm.

Trust me.  This is not the fault of the Media Relations and Public Affairs Division.

There are times when we want – when we need – to hear from our elected leaders.

You know, like in the direct aftermath of a natural disaster?

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t hear peep from County Chair Ed Kelley – or any of our other illustrious elected officials who occupy the big chairs in Deland – except for District Four Councilwoman Heather Post.

To her credit, Ms. Post was active and involved during the response and recovery – something that has apparently upset the status quo – and she continues to push timely information to her constituents via social media.

The one consistent criticism I have heard from locals and businesses (even long-time county employees) was the distinct lack of substantive information coming from county officials – which resulted in unchecked rumors and wild speculation that added to the confusion.

A good example is the growing outrage over the decision to segregate homeless persons at county-run emergency shelters.

Look, I agree that we need to do a better job of serving this vulnerable community – and the proposed First Step shelter is a good way forward.

However, I also think that law enforcement was right to consolidate those without proper identification, obvious substance abuse issues, intravenous drug users, predatory criminals and worse at a common location where they could remain safe – but not bunked-down next to families with young children and the defenseless elderly.

You may disagree – but I’m not sure its good public policy to turn a neighborhood shelter into a Mad Max Thunderdome simply to soothe the delicate sensibilities of a few ambulatory street drunks.

I’m not making light of this.

Some people we lump into the “homeless” category have special needs – issues made worse by stress and uncertainty – and busing them from pillar-to-post doesn’t help.

Frankly, if dealing with this difficult issue isn’t clearly spelled out in Volusia County’s emergency management protocol – it should be.

Now, there’s a Standard Operating Procedure Ed Kelley should take a good look at.

Also, while I realize county government has little control over this, I’m also interested to find out why Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light could pinpoint outages to the exact house number – yet, we couldn’t get more than vague guesses from them as to when service would be restored?

Long-term decisions are impossible when your power may pop on anytime in the next 20-minutes or the next two-weeks.

These miscommunications were exacerbated by a mid-week mass boil water alert that was, apparently, erroneously transmitted by some anonymous state bureaucrat.

The announcement resulted in head-shaking by local public utilities officials who were caught completely flatfooted – and a collective (Aw, “insert preferred expletive”) from already stressed-out water customers.

It was the last thing anyone needed.

Quote of the Week:

 “We will put together a committee and it will be from the Westside.  That’s a commitment.”

 New Smyrna Mayor Jim Hathaway, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, trotting out the tried-and-true “form a committee” time-buying non-response to the serious concerns of residents and faith-based organizations in the wake of City Manager Pam Brangaccio’s abhorrent personal and professional behavior in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The over-the-top apology by the News-Journal aside, what Ms. Brangaccio did was patently wrong – and would have resulted in the immediate termination of a lower-level employee who engaged in similar conduct.

Anywhere but government, Brangaccio would have been launched like a Saturn 5 for her gross insolence toward taxpayers and the less fortunate, and everyone knows it.

Rather than stepping up to the plate and leading the charge to discipline a haughty chief executive with a rogue ego and a sensitivity to mental exhaustion – Mayor Hathaway wants to form a do-nothing committee – something called a “neighborhood commission.”

Oh, and a “community barbeque” to salve things over. . .  You know, to show the populace that their City Manager isn’t really the supercilious crone they saw on the video when she’s had her rest.

(I don’t make this shit up, folks.)

In other words, Brangaccio isn’t going anywhere.

It’s called leadership, Mr. Hathaway.

Look it up in your ICMA Mayor’s Handbook.

Mayor Hathaway should understand that the problem is not on the Westside.  It’s inside City Hall – an insidious arrogance of power that is rapidly alienating his constituents – and the solution is clear.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

And remember – Shop Downtown Daytona!  They need our help.  Desperately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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