This week, Barker’s View traveled to the beautiful City of Thomasville – a town of 18,000 people in rural Southwest Georgia that could serve as a civic template for “how to get it right.”
The quaint City of Roses is home to over 100 former plantations, old-fashioned brick streets, a bustling downtown and picturesque Victorian homes. The town is surrounded by miles of cotton waiting to be harvested, leaving the early fall landscape looking like fields of snow.
Last year, Thomasville was recognized as the second best historic small town in the nation.
This incredibly beautiful region is known as the Wingshooting capital of the world, where each fall hunters in expensive tweed jackets and Orvis khakis hunt wild Bobwhite quail the way it has been done for a hundred years – with mule-drawn carts and frisky birddogs in the serenity of centuries-old wiregrass and pine scrub.
I traveled with three lifelong friends – all brothers (them literally, me figuratively) – that have been my best friends for over 50-years. We stayed at the historic Alexander House, a beautiful old home built in 1930 and carefully restored with modern amenities.
The elegant home – which has one of the best contemporary libraries I’ve ever encountered (I spent evenings with good whiskey and a great posthumous Pat Conroy collection, “A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life”) – was incredibly relaxing and inviting, with the antiquated charm only a wonderfully creaky hardwood floor can bring.
It was a quintessential guys getaway, full of locker-room talk and inappropriate jokes.
After the wonderful week I’ve had, I didn’t want to revisit this revulsion – you know, the disgusting story of a multi-billion-dollar international insurance conglomerate putting the arm on an economically and socially depressed community – but the story is so compelling, so disturbing to so many, that it just won’t go away.
On Wednesday, the very day the Daytona Beach City Commission was set to approve $5.5 million in publicly funded incentives for construction of Brown & Brown’s 10-story headquarters, the News-Journal seemed to rub salt in the wound of every taxpayer in Volusia County when they announced that third-quarter profits show the company on track to surpass last year’s record setting $1.76-billion in revenue.
Turn the page, and we learned from Daytona Beach City Commissioner Rob Gilliland, and our doddering fool of a County Council Chair, Ed Kelley, that folks should stop worrying about the $15-million dollars of public funds and incentives being funneled to a private interest because, “We were going to improve the infrastructure next year anyway.”
How dumb do they think we are?
Interestingly, even as the News-Journal’s published Letters to the Editor swayed overwhelmingly negative on the Brown & Brown giveaway – not one sitting politician (City or County) raised so much as an eyebrow – let alone question the notion of a county with 16% of the population living in poverty giving billionaires millions of our hard-earned tax dollars for a new corporate office building.
Trust me – public sentiment is no better on the street.
But, in the end, it didn’t matter to those who matter – the ones we elect to represent our interests on the dais of power. Late this week both Daytona Beach, and the County of Volusia, gave Brown & Brown exactly what they asked for. Unanimously.
The people I talk to – many lifelong residents of the Halifax area, homeowners with long-established families and business interests who have watched the slow deterioration – are telling me this latest corporate money grab may be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
And the pendulum is beginning to swing.
It appears that We, The People, are beginning to realize that these gross displays of political power by a clique of white-haired old rich guys who are used to gorging themselves at the public tit whenever it serves their personal and professional pursuits, don’t necessarily benefit our larger civic interests.
In my view, the recent surprise announcement that we are strapping every man, woman and child in Volusia County with bonds totaling $260+ million-dollars to fund a Taj Mahal courthouse/county office building, followed quickly by the Grand Reveal of the Brown & Brown giveaway and the opportune closing of the County Administration building, are all strategically related.
I also happen to believe the City Island library has a life expectancy of a few short months.
Why? Because County staff says the opposite.
Add to that the mysterious rumblings of an ECHO funded “Boardwalk Extension” – a dubious project proposed by County Manager Jim Dinneen – that is actively being budgeted, but not openly discussed, and you get the idea decisions are being made behind our back.
It is becoming increasingly clear to the masses that those the News-Journal refers to as the “Rich & Powerful” are secretly planning a future that continues to benefit a few uber-wealthy insiders and to hell with the needs and wants of those who pay the bills.
I hope I’m wrong. But I’m not.
The common denominator in these hyper-expensive projects is that public input – you know, the thoughts and opinions of the taxpayers who pay for them – are neither solicited nor wanted.
The very thought that piss ants like you or I could add something substantive to the discussion is anathema to this bastardized system that isn’t subject to any external force beyond the whims of the donor class.
Trust me, these seemingly symbiotic public/private ventures that appear to pop out of nowhere have been carefully orchestrated well in advance by people with all the right last names and a chip in the game.
If the rumblings of my readers and neighbors are correct, things are about to get increasingly interesting for incumbent politicians in local government offices.
I hope city and county political candidates are taking notes.
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: Jen & Bobby Ellis – Victory Tattoos
Increasingly, loyal readers of Barker’s View are submitting suggestions for Angels & Assholes each week – and I appreciate both the interest and the thoughtful submissions.
That was the case this week when a reader suggested Jen and Bobby Ellis for Angel status.
The Ellis’ are the intrepid entrepreneurs who have been attempting to do what well-meaning citizens and gasbag politicians have been yammering about for months: Actually open a new, up-scale, year-round business on Main Street.
I have followed the very expensive and time-consuming battle the Ellis’ have fought at City Hall to get their proposed Victory Tattoo shop and museum before the City Commission.
Even after watching the hordes of catatonic homeless shuffle by their proposed venue – and considering the personal financial implications of turning a long-neglected storefront built in 1920 into a vibrant business – the Ellis’ bravely pushed forward and began the onerous process of starting a new business in the City of Daytona Beach.
They paid the $2,700.00 entry fee to play the game – attended required meetings with bureaucrats – and championed their desire to bring life to the festering hole that is much of Main Street before the city’s Beachside Redevelopment Board, Planning Board, etc., etc.
On Wednesday evening, the Daytona Beach City Commission gave final approval (finally) for Victory Tattoo to open on Main Street.
In June, The Nines Parlor – a beautiful new shop owned and operated by the award-winning tattoo artist Jeff Henry – opened in a bustling strip center on Beville Road. The shop represents the first “tattoo parlor” in Daytona Beach in decades – and appointments with this incredibly talented young artist are booked weeks in advance.
That shows how strong the market is.
I have no doubt that Victory Tattoo will have similar success – and bring a breath of fresh air to the decaying confines of Main Street.
When entrepreneurs with the guts and wherewithal to open pioneering businesses among the blight and dilapidation of the beachside step up to the plate – one would expect city officials to bend over backwards and work cooperatively to make it happen.
Look, I understand that small business owners don’t carry the clout to demand $15-million-dollars in public funds from multiple government sources – and see the check written within two-weeks – but It shouldn’t take over six-months for a new enterprise to open its doors, especially in a foundering community redevelopment area.
City and County officials should be working hard to keep existing businesses as well.
The ugly story behind the departure of SCCY Industries LLC – one of the fastest growing firearms manufacturers in the United States – from a 21,000-square foot facility in Daytona Beach is something that seemed to fall through the cracks.
I guess nobody cared.
Earlier this year, SCCY began the process of pulling up stakes and moving lock, stock and barrel (literally) to Blount County in East Tennessee, where the former Daytona Beach company plans to construct a $22.5-million, 150,000 square foot campus which will ultimately employ some 350 people in high-tech manufacturing and administrative jobs.
That could/should have been us, y’all.
As an incentive for moving to Tennessee, SCCY was offered a relatively paltry $1.7-million rebate on the purchase of the land to cover the cost of utilities and transportation infrastructure.
Other options included a two-year tax abatement – that would begin only when a certificate of occupancy was issued – or a training grant that would provide $1,600 per new employee, capped at $400,000.
Oh, well. Easy come, easy go.
After all, we’ve got high-paying light industrial and manufacturing jobs just beating down our door to relocate here in Volusia County, right?
(Barker, you ungrateful bastard. Can’t you find warehouse work at Trader Joe’s, and shut the hell up. . .?)
Since it appears no one at City Hall is interested in replacing the city’s tired, fusty and ineffective redevelopment apparatus, perhaps substantive changes to the myriad hoops and hurdles that impede new business starts in our festering core tourist area is something our rescuers on the Beachside Redevelopment Committee could suggest come January?
Don’t hold out hope. I certainly won’t.
Asshole: County of Volusia
If I hear one more time how our elected officials – under the tutelage and direction of Little Jimmy Dinneen and his handlers – are increasing fees, taxes and exploiting any other source of revenue to “improve my life” – I’m going to vomit.
Recently, the Volusia County Council raised the daily beach access fee for out-of-town guests (Read: tourists) from $10 to $20 per day – the second 100% increase in two-years.
This exorbitant daily charge will generate even more revenue to feed the bloated, completely inefficient and irretrievably broken bureaucratic contrivance that claims to “manage” Volusia’s shoreline.
Apparently, our resident “Clairvoyant of Rubbish,” County Manager Jim Dinneen, has figured out a way to determine where beach trash originates (I’m not sure if he smells it, or holds it to his forehead like Carnac the Magnificent, but somehow, he makes the determination that this Solo cup came from Orlando and this used napkin from South Daytona. Weird.)
“The trash is different now, and I’ll be honest with you, we do not believe we are getting it locally. It’s from people coming from out of town.”
What a stiff-necked dipshit!
Honestly – where does he come up with this crap?
With a huge communications staff on the payroll, that’s the best artifice they can come up with to sell a rate increase?
So, per Mr. Dinneen’s preternatural talent for sorting the geographical origin of garbage – he’s determined that putting the arm on Central Florida families to cover the cost of clean-up is only right and fair.
As anyone who’s paying attention can tell – this is simply another Volusia County money grab – more pelf to squander – more power over the people who have no choice.
And, for the record, I’m getting a little tired of the News-Journal headlines screaming, “Volusia County sets records for beach driving permits!”
What the hell else are we going to do?
Is there some hidden alternative to not paying for the privilege if a resident or tourist wants to drive on the beach?
I know! How about we start by refusing to vote for any incumbent politician on the Volusia County Council!
Or any other bald face liar who refuses to honestly and fairly state his or her unequivocal commitment to the preservation of our heritage of beach driving – or their support for fundamental changes to this monstrously incompetent system masquerading as beach management?
Just a thought.
Angel: Sheriff Mike Chitwood & Chief Craig Capri
Earlier this week, Barker’s View was taken to task by “someone” on social media (using a pseudonym) who anonymously questioned why I hadn’t included the three local scumbags posing as law enforcement officers who tarnished the good reputations of hundreds of hardworking cops by soliciting sexual favors from criminal suspects and drug court participants.
He’s right. Local law enforcement didn’t have a very good week.
The person who criticized me was later (apparently) exposed on social media as a prominent local politician – a gentleman whose anonymity I will respect.
I respect everyone’s opinion equally, because I invariably learn something new – and even if I “don’t know who you are” I can still enjoy your take on the issues.
That’s the beauty of this forum.
It is a salon for the open debate and discussion of topical issues facing us on the Fun Coast.
No holds barred.
But when you jump into the fray – expect to scrap.
Truth be told – having served over thirty-years in law enforcement, the very idea of those in a position of public trust conducting themselves in this abhorrent manner is repugnant to every good cop I know.
What I am most proud of is the fact that our profession proved once again that, unlike many other public and private vocations, we are still capable of holding each other accountable and ensuring that those who maliciously break the rules and sully the public trust are held responsible for their actions.
Anyone see that happening among our local elected officials?
I didn’t think so.
Trust me – these scumbags with a badge were exposed for what they are, then decisively and publicly drummed out of our sacred corps in the most expedient manner possible.
I suspect criminal charges are coming soon.
It is with incredible pride that I commend both Sheriff Chitwood and Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri for acting in the highest and best traditions of the police service in their decisive handling of these difficult cases – and their efforts to restore public trust.
Now, if our elected “powers that be” had that same level of commitment in ferreting out abject corruption and mismanagement in local government, eh?
How about they start by abolishing the quid pro quo campaign finance system that has seen millions in public funds conveyed to private interests, or simply diverted as “economic development” incentives (Read: Daytona Beach News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series)?
Or by strengthening ethics rules to limit second-chances for politicians charged with detestable personal behavior?
How about they collectively demand an end to the historic lack of personal accountability by Volusia County’s stratospherically paid administrators?
Again, just a thought.
Angel: County of Volusia – Tag and Title/Property Appraiser’s Office
Just one week after Barker’s View whined about the closure of the County Administration Building at 250 North Beach Street – a move that threatened to inconvenience the entire Halifax area – and questioned whether the Dinneen administration had the strategic foresight to establish a continuity of operation plan to ensure essential services in the wake of a disaster – the county has restored two important offices in East Volusia.
On Monday, the Tag and Title branch will open a service center in a concourse at the Ocean Center – and the Property Appraiser’s Office has established a beachhead in the Florida Department of Health building on Holsonback Drive.
(I wonder if our own elected Nancy Drew – Councilwoman Heather Post – took up the “Strange Case of the Missing Services”? I dunno. But something got them off their ass in DeLand. . .)
Regardless – thank you, Mr. Dinneen, for taking pity on us long-suffering, but infinitely appreciative, naïfs.
Angel: Central Florida Firefighters
Last Saturday, firefighters from throughout Central Florida gathered in Daytona Beach Shores to honor first responders lost during the September 11th attacks.
The firefighters – all wearing full bunker gear, boots and heavy breathing apparatus – participated in a stair climb at the Sherwin Condominiums.
Their somber climb began at the exact hour the first plane struck the north World Trade Center.
In keeping with the brotherhood and sisterhood of the Fire Service, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department was on hand to pay his respects as the firefighters began their ascent – and each carried a photograph of a firefighter who was lost.
It is important that we, as Americans, never forget the bravery and sacrifice of those first responders who lost their lives on that fateful day – and those who continue to suffer and die due to illness and injuries directly linked to their service on 9/11.
More than 150 FDNY personnel who served at the site have died in the years since 9/11 – many of which are still not classified as line-of-duty deaths.
That must change.
The heroes of 9/11 deserve our respect and admiration – and I applaud the efforts of Central Florida firefighters to honor their brethren in such a touching and meaningful way.
Quote of the Week:
“If it were up to me, I would have made it $25.”
Volusia County Council Chairman Ed Kelley, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, touting the second massive beach toll hike in as many years, which takes daily access fees for out-of-county visitors from $10 to $20 PER DAY.
In my view, Ed Kelley is a doddering fool who has proven, time and again, that he is an out of touch dullard with very little grasp of current issues – and zero compassion or understanding for his struggling constituents.
And that is unfortunate.
But he takes marching orders from his “Rich & Powerful” handlers with military precision.
In my cynical view, Old Ed knows which side his bread is buttered on – and as a perennial politician with a jones for campaign funds – he long-ago sold his very soul, and his sacred vote, to interests intent on removing our heritage of beach driving.
If that process begins with pricing a day at the beach out of the range of strapped Central Florida families – so be it.
Ed Kelley should be ashamed of himself.
That’s all for me!
Have a great Biketoberfest Weekend – and please drive carefully!