Earlier this week I wrote a ditty about Brown & Brown – a self-described “Meritocracy” and one of the most influential and profitable leaders in the insurance industry – and their plans to build a $25-million dollar, 10-story office building on the ruins of two former automobile dealerships in Downtown Daytona.
Oh, and they promised to create hundreds of jobs, paying – on average – about $41 grand a year.
In exchange, the Brown’s have asked their neighbors – all of us – to pony up a combined $15.5 million of our hard-earned tax dollars to cover their infrastructure and construction overhead while abating certain taxes and qualifying them for even more in state economic incentive money.
It was hailed by anyone who is anyone in the Halifax area as another panacea – “a game-changer on steroids” as our doddering fool of a County Chairman Ed Kelley clumsily put it.
“We believe this is a partnership. We believe it’s a great long-term impact to our community,” Powell Brown, president and CEO of Brown & Brown Inc., recently said.
I get it – and I’m not knocking an American success story.
J. Hyatt Brown is an insurance man – a numbers guy – he knows the bottom line, and how to gain the financial advantage, and his company has been highly successful for over 80-years. Most of all, he knows how to work and polish our bastardized system of local government like a fine chamois cloth.
Then, to ensure his interests, he trades in political candidates like a commodities broker.
In short, it’s why Mr. Brown has a gazillion-dollar art collection and I’m late on my car payment.
But we’ve all seen this story before.
In Volusia County, whenever the uber-wealthy come calling at the public trough, the carrot is always the promise of “jobs” – and the opportunity to “partner” with one of three stratospherically successful local company’s – or a speculative developer of dubious origin and resources.
Then, once our elected marionettes make good on their obligation to feather the nest of their campaign benefactors – our “partnership” seems to dissolve into thin air, and nothing – and I mean nothing – changes.
It’s back to the same-old/same-old – blighted neighborhoods, dilapidated commercial areas, atrocious gateways, exorbitant taxes, poverty-level wages, etc., etc.
Our partners are better than whole – and We, The People, are left holding the bag.
Am I cynical? You bet your ass I am.
Prove me wrong.
Look, this project may be the best thing to happen on the Fun Coast in decades – and smart friends who are “in the know” have assured me it will be.
I sincerely hope they’re right.
But, in my jaded view, the optics of a publicly traded company – the seventh largest insurance intermediary in the world, with a reported income of some $1.76 BILLION DOLLARS last year – putting the arm on already strapped local taxpayers – many of whom are living week-to-week – and asking that they invest even more public funds in another private project – is going to take some time to absorb.
If politics is the art of controlling your environment – then J. Hyatt Brown is about to paint his masterpiece.
Just my two-cents. . .
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 week that was:
Angel: Glenn & Connie Ritchey
You know, we have many difficult issues facing us here in the Halifax area – but one thing we are blessed with is a few highly successful and very smart people who give generously from the heart to see that the needs of our most vulnerable are met.
Among those are great citizens like Glenn & Connie Ritchey.
Recently, the former Daytona Beach mayor and his wife announced that they would personally match donations to the Council on Aging up to $100,000 during the month of October to ensure that important services to our seniors continue uninterrupted in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
I have seen firsthand the good work of the Council on Aging – Volusia County’s only provider of in-home services – through their Neighborhood Dining Site in Holly Hill.
In addition, the COA provides our elderly population with personal care, light housekeeping, handyman services and a respite program designed to give caregivers for early dementia patients an all-important break.
From dances, to book clubs and other opportunities to combat loneliness and isolation – the COA coordinates important community services that also protect our seniors from neglect, abuse and exploitation.
When those who can reach out and give generously of their time, talent and resources to help those who truly need it – that investment pays dividends for all of us – and strengthens the very fabric of our community.
Here’s a huge thank you to Glenn & Connie Ritchey for your leadership and generosity in assisting the Council on Aging when they need it most.
Donations can be made online at www.coavolusia.org or by check made payable to Council on Aging, or by phone at 386-253-4700, ext. 215.
Checks should be mailed to COA at Post Office Box 671, Daytona Beach, Florida 32115.
Asshole: AshBritt Environmental
In my view, any shameless opportunist who takes personal or professional advantage of calamitous situations are among the lowest forms of life.
The storm-tossed residents of Volusia County recently learned that our debris removal contractor – AshBritt Environmental – is actively reneging on their obligations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, claiming it’s sub-contractors were stretched thin by back-to-back incidents in Florida and Texas.
Last week, Deputy County Manager George Recktenwald let the Volusia County Council in on the rest of the story:
Rather than make efforts to do right by their customers, bring in haulers from other states, and subcontract with local companies to meet demand, AshBritt has chosen to engage in open extortion and gross price gouging – offering to move communities that are willing to pay more than the contracted amount up on the priority list.
I find it interesting that while both Slick Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have “condemned the practice” – neither has moved a finger to indict AshBritt executives for conduct that is more akin to a Sopranos episode than a disaster assistance service.
It’s time to stop this usurious and abusive practice. Now.
The multimillionaire owner of AshBritt Environmental, Randal Perkins, is no stranger to controversy.
According to the Treasure Coast News and other media outlets, Perkins has been the focus of accusations that AshBritt has overcharged the federal government, “stiffed a consultant and subcontractors,” made false statements against competitors to gain advantage and used personal and corporate campaign donations to influence politicians to give him no-bid government contracts.
Reports indicate that Perkins, AshBritt Environmental and his employees have contributed at least $2-million to political candidates since 2001.
During Mr. Perkins’ 2016 Congressional campaign for the Palm Beach District 18 seat – a race he lost to Republican Brian Mast – the National Republican Congressional Committee ran a prescient television spot that said, “Randy Perkins doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as he gets paid.”
Now, it’s time for local governments to stand together and demand that state and federal authorities hold AshBritt – and any other scumbag who advantageously abandons their responsibilities and withholds services to squeeze additional dollars out of already strapped jurisdictions – legally accountable for their scam.
Angel: Tom Petty
As the actor/director Cameron Crowe so eloquently said earlier this week:
“No words. Just thanks.”
Asshole: Gov. Rick Scott & Attorney General Pam Bondi
After years of open collusion and wink-wink-nudge-nudge strategic ignorance of Florida’s contribution to the devastating nationwide problem of opioid addiction, now Governor Slick Rick Scott, Attorney General Barbie and those dullards we elected to the state legislature are engaging in the worst form of political posturing – posing as advocates for solutions to problems they helped create.
In 2010, just before his million-dollar inaugural gala, Governor-elect Scott moved quickly to shutdown Florida’s Office of Drug Control – a four-person effort that, among other things, secured early grant funding and donations to assist the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program – a database which later proved to be a highly-effective tool in the state’s fight against opioid diversion and abuse.
Claiming his closure of the office was in keeping with a campaign promise to cut “government waste” – Scott’s ill-fated move saved taxpayers a paltry $500K – or a fraction of what he would piss away in “economic incentives” to friends and campaign contributors.
Then, after taking office, Scott still fought hard against the drug monitoring program, calling it an “invasion of privacy,” even as our state was literally awash in the scourge of pill mills – making the Sunshine State “Ground Zero” for what would become a deadly national problem.
The fact is, Governor Scott has been heavily invested in various aspects of Florida’s highly lucrative “pain management” industry and big pharma for years, representing a clear conflict of interest that anywhere else would have resulted in serious ethics sanctions.
Now, almost 20-years after the horse left the barn, Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi – arguably the most ineffective tool ever foisted upon the citizens of this state (she lost all credibility with me after the summary political execution of former FDLE director Gerald Bailey) – are taking political credit for spooling-up efforts to combat an epidemic that has taken or destroyed the lives of countless Floridians.
The Governor’s plan includes provisions that permit goofy politicians to “play doctor” and set arbitrary time limits on how legitimate doctors prescribe opioid pain medications.
Injecting “feel good/look what we did” politics at the practitioner level always works out well, right?
Look, don’t take my word for it – research the history of Scott’s involvement with Solantic and beyond. You might be surprised what you find.
Here’s a good primer on the subject: www.thefix.com/content/what-it-florida’s-governor-rick-scott
As Dirk Hanson and Walter Armstrong wrote in their fascinating 2011 exposé in The Fix, “Perhaps Governor Rick Scott is nothing more than a “cartoon villain fraudster,” as the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins suggests. Maybe he’s a libertarian zealot, who has allowed his puritan ideology to trump the grim realities that are helping to destroy his home state. Regardless of his motives, he seems unlikely to be stopped by anything short of prosecution—or the next election.”
We all know how that worked out, eh?
Now, Mr. Scott wants to go to Washington. . .
Angel: Ben Johnson
Last week, I used a portion of this space to tout the fact that the intrepid Amy Pyle has announced her candidacy for the Daytona Beach District 3 seat – that’s good news.
On Thursday, former Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson officially tossed his hat in the ring for the County Council at-large seat being vacated by the term limited Joyce Cusack.
I had the opportunity to work with Sheriff Johnson for many years, and I was always taken by his complete willingness to help the municipalities with all resources necessary – without question.
I suspect Ben will carry that same sense of cooperation and collegiality to the dais of power.
He is also one of the most ethical and honest people I know, and his record as a dedicated public servant speaks for itself.
In addition, Ben Johnson brings decades of experience working in the mysterious system created by our County Charter, and he has a proven reputation for diplomacy and working effectively with all county departments and personnel.
Although Ben and I may disagree on the merits of County Manager Jim Dinneen – I happen to think Sheriff Johnson will bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and good, old-fashion common sense back to an elected body in desperate need of those qualities.
Again, it’s refreshing to see good, qualified people of proven character who have the best interests of their constituents at heart standing for high office – and Ben Johnson certainly fits that bill.
Quote of the Week:
“I am thrilled; this is a huge deal for us, I like being a teammate with Brown & Brown.”
Volusia County Councilmember Billie Wheeler, speaking in support of the county council’s decision to hand J. Hyatt Brown $5.4 million in public funds.
Ms. Wheeler is on the “team” alright.
Now, you and I are too.
That’s all for me – have a great weekend!