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:
Asshole: John Miklos & Governor Rick Scott
Earlier this month, the St. John’s River Water Management District – Florida’s powerful regulatory agency charged with protecting our aquifer (read: drinking water) – levied a $200,000 fine on an Orlando parking lot operator.
Seems the owner of the lot cleared two-acres of land without proper permits (sound familiar Debary?), and paved over an environmentally sensitive area.
It took some 12-years of litigation to get it done, but the SJRWMD persevered and held the offending business to account.
Finally, a Central Florida environmental offender brought to “justice.”
Not so fast.
Now, the same parking lot operator is back before the SJRWMD requesting permission to destroy 30-additional acres of wetlands – and by all accounts, the district is ready to permit it.
I mean, what changed?
The land is either environmentally sensitive and in need of conservation or it isn’t?
Well, it appears the business has finally come to its senses and hired Orlando-based Bio-Tech Consulting – which happens to be owned by Governor Rick Scott’s hand-selected chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board – Long John Miklos.
The Chairman of the SJRWMD is still making money off private interests coming before the very public regulatory agency he oversees.
As the Orlando Sentinel recently opined, “I think that, in a state with more than 20 million people, we should be able to find someone to run the agency who doesn’t make money dealing with it.”
Now, there’s something the Constitution Revision Commission should consider. . .
This is Florida. The rules are different here.
Angel: David Vukelja, Esq.
Thank you, sir.
This week, I watched the intrepid David Vukelja’s outstanding oral argument before the 5th District Court of Appeal in the matters of Sons of the Beach and International Beach Club vs. County of Volusia.
The proceedings might as well have been titled “Us vs. Them” – because that is exactly what it is.
Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach advocacy, and the International Beach Club have fought valiantly to protect our heritage of beach driving – even as our appointed and elected officials continue to barter away large swaths of the strand to private developers – and use the power and resources of the County Attorney’s Office to batter and bash We, The People into submission.
Mr. Vukelja’s very cogent argument, supported by well-researched case law, was artfully presented – and he provided persuasive answers to the staccato of legal questions posed by the three-judge panel.
Again, our highly compensated County Attorney, Dan Eckert, stammered and hawed through his presentation like Jed Clampett trying to order soup in a French restaurant.
In my view, Dan’s not a very good presenter – however, he has no problem using the full might and treasury of county government to legally crush the will of his own constituents – and that is exactly what our elected officials have directed.
Apparently, Mr. Eckert’s ability to ignore political motivations and follow superior orders more than makes up for his abysmal courtroom skills.
Look, the judges of the 5th District have a difficult task before them, and they must work within the confines of the law.
Unfortunately, laws are made by politicians who don’t always represent the best interests of their constituents – and sometimes they construct legislation outside the limits of the charter, or the constitution, as a means of protecting power.
There are many legal questions surrounding these important issues – and the way this case was abruptly dismissed by the courts – that demand answers.
I hope the 5th District allows this matter to proceed.
Regardless of the appellate court’s ruling – the fight to preserve the people’s right to beach access and limit government overreach must continue.
Aside from the artificial infusion of cash by wealthy political insiders, we still have the essential framework of a democratic process that allows one person, one vote.
I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical and visionary members of our community to high public office, we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness and the spirit of fair play in Volusia County government.
Asshole: County of Volusia
Much of what I go on about in this space is done tongue in cheek – a goofy attempt to embroider my cockeyed opinions on the important issues of the day with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
This piece isn’t one of those.
Last week, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company agreed to pay Volusia County some $85,000 in replacement costs for a dump truck that was destroyed in a 2014 crash that took the life of a young mother and her newborn baby.
The family of those lost also received compensation from both Volusia County and Goodyear – small comfort for a tragedy of such magnitude.
The investigation of this unspeakable tragedy by the Florida Highway Patrol and independent traffic accident reconstruction experts were typically contradictory.
Some investigators found that Volusia County violated safety protocols – something county officials denied – then county attorneys deflected blame on a defective tire and the whole ugly mess dissolved into civil litigation.
Whatever. Nothing can bring back that precious mother and baby.
In my view, now that this heartbreaking affair has been legally settled by all parties, perhaps our elected officials should demand an outside, independent audit of all county maintenance and repair operations?
An internal review and a policy change or two just won’t cut it.
It is common for progressive, transparent public and private organizations to conduct an impartial safety review of both administrative and operational practices following an unthinkable tragedy.
It just makes sense.
And it should not stop there.
Given the very public and on-going interpersonal and professional conflicts between County Manager Jim Dinneen and Sheriff Chitwood, and Councilwoman Heather Post, and the councils constituents, and the municipalities, and . . . (you get the picture), perhaps those we have elected to represent our interests should commission a thorough independent management audit of the entire senior administration?
It will never happen, but it’s past time for a top-to-bottom review of the County Manager’s office.
Every resident of Volusia County is intimately familiar with Volusia County’s obscenely lax approach to preventive maintenance, or even basic upkeep, of publicly owned facilities – and the non-stop series of bloopers, missteps, political gaffes and “public policy by ambush” that has left our elected officials looking like out-of-touch buffoons – is corrosive and erodes the public’s trust in county government.
If you want a prime example of what passes for property management in county government, take a pass by the “proposed” off-beach parking lot at the west corner of Cardinal Drive and SR A-1-A in Ormond Beach.
It is deplorable.
A boarded up, weed-strewn eyesore that is actively contributing to the proliferation of blight in the center of the city’s main tourist corridor – and immediately adjacent to a long-suffering residential area.
Or, how about the deplorable condition of the former Hurst Elementary School?
A property previously owned by Volusia County that was recently sold/transferred/given (I dunno) to Halifax Urban Ministries for development of the Hope Place homeless shelter?
My God. Have you driven by that mess recently?
I have. And it appears the worst fears of area residents are already coming true.
Roofing material blowing in the wind, twisted chain-link fencing, unsecured doors and a general appearance of dilapidation, etc.
Did the county just wash its hands of the former school once it was transferred to HUM?
Is the soul-crushing blight that area residents said would bring down property values and destroy their neighborhood coming true before Hope Place has even opened its doors?
For that matter, are renovations to Mrs. Forough Hosseini’s signature assistance center for homeless families and children being completed by two guys on weekends?
In my view, it’s gross negligence.
As usual, more questions than answers.
Look, nothing takes the wind out of blowhards like me quite like an independent management audit.
Perhaps the study will find that Mr. Dinneen is the best thing since sliced bread – or perhaps it will expose a dysfunctional autocracy which actively subverts the will and needs of its constituents as it consolidates power in a small cabal of wealthy political insiders?
I think we deserve answers.
Angel: Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly
I’ve said this before – Sheriff Rick Staly is a breath of fresh air in Flagler County.
Through innovative programs and a personal commitment to strong law enforcement and community improvement initiatives, Sheriff Staly is setting the example for modern problem-oriented policing.
Last week, we learned that judges in Flagler County will now have the option of ordering domestic violence offenders to attend in-county battery intervention courses.
This important new resource is a direct result of suggestions brought by Sheriff Staly’s Domestic Violence Task Force – good ideas which include adding a domestic violence investigator and seeking more effective ways to serve the vulnerable victims of this deadly epidemic.
The 29-week program will be offered at the Flagler County Emergency Operations Center – and will be paid for by the offender.
In addition, Flagler Undersheriff Jack Bisland – one of the singularly finest law enforcement officers I’ve ever known – has suggested a unique monitoring program for repeat and violent offenders.
Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Undersheriff Bisland said, “Offenders get power from the anonymity of these offenses. It happens behind closed doors and they hide behind the secrecy – one persona publicly, and behind closed doors they act differently. The more people know about that behavior, the more power it takes from that offender.”
Kudos to Sheriff Staly and his outstanding team of caring professionals who are working hard to open the right doors and develop inventive solutions to this difficult problem.
Asshole: Brown & Brown
“On behalf of our teammates across the country and around the world, those of us that work every day out of 220 South Ridgewood Ave. and call Daytona Beach home want to express our sincere thanks and appreciation to the city of Daytona Beach and Volusia County for their votes in support of the future.”
–J. Powell Brown, CEO of Brown & Brown, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column last week.
What are we, chopped liver?
In perhaps the most self-serving, backhanded “thank you” note ever inflicted upon a still sore community, Powell Brown (and, I assume, his corporate communications division) openly snubbed taxpayers while fawning over his paid minions – our elected officials – in Daytona Beach and Volusia County who bestowed a collective $15-million in publicly funded incentives for construction of the company’s new corporate headquarters.
I’m not sure that Mr. Brown fully understands (or cares) how angry and bitter a large segment of the local population remains over this carefully orchestrated giveaway.
The problem with being “Rich & Powerful” is that no one wants to tell you the truth.
Trust me, Mr. Brown, you are not doing your hired chattel on the dais of power any favors by openly praising this reverse Robin Hood maneuver – a scheme that culminated in a vote that made it rain public funds on your privately held billion-dollar insurance conglomerate in an environment where a sizeable segment of the population is really suffering.
I thought you should know.
Something else you should know – in my view, if your company fails to make good on its trusted promise of a $237-million-dollar annual economic impact to the Halifax area, your family name will be mud in this town – and your hand-selected elected officials who facilitated this cash-grab will have a very difficult time returning to the halls of power come election time.
We are counting on you.
Quote of the Week:
“It’s not that we aren’t trying, you just can’t snap your fingers and make it happen.”
—Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, speaking condescendingly to his long-suffering constituents who simply questioned the length of time required for repairs to existing beach walkovers over one-year after Hurricane Matthew
Geez. Why so defensive, Ed?
Whenever We, The People, have the temerity to question the machinations of County Manager Jim Dinneen and our elected marionettes on the dais of power, they get their knickers in a twist.
“You have to get permits. You can’t just go in and rebuild the walkovers,” County Chair Ed Kelley said. “We had to get reassured from FEMA that we’d get reimbursed. I know everyone wants everything done at once, but we can’t just put it back up the next day.”
Whoa. Easy, man.
Look, we understand that rebuilding public amenities is infinitely more difficult and time-consuming than, say, giving away millions in public funds to a billionaire insurance conglomerate (an extraordinary feat that took just 35-working days from the date of the public announcement) but should it take a year to replace some walkovers?
And why three contractors? You’re saying FEMA’s on-board with that?
Just asking. . .
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being lectured by these doddering, out-of-the-loop meatballs we elected; these sycophantic lumps who parrot only what they are told by Little Jimmy Dinneen.
Because that’s all they know.
In my view, the defensiveness and open condescension by those who ostensibly work in the public interest is a mere smokescreen for their bizarre move to hire multiple contractors at a cost of $1.3 million taxpayer dollars – something county officials claim will speed-up the repairs.
Something doesn’t smell right.
For instance, when questioned by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Coastal Divisions Director Jessica Winterwerp, “. . .said she didn’t know how the cost of hiring one contractor to fix the remaining 21 walkovers would compare with the coast of three. (?) “But I can tell you it definitely would have taken longer,” she said.”
Wait a minute.
The Coastal Divisions Director – the highly-compensated senior administration official responsible for all beach-related operations – cannot tell us the simple net difference in price between hiring one contractor or three?
Is it possible that the entire senior staff, and our elected officials, are completely out of the loop?
You bet it is.
But don’t take my word for it.
The next time our cantankerous County Chair, Ed Kelley – or any of those other arrogant gasbags in DeLand – spout off regarding things they haven’t a clue about – call them on it.
For instance, ask Old Ed to explain the permitting process. Ask him to discuss his direct understanding of the “complexities” of an issue that has resulted in beach access disruptions for over a year.
Trust me. You’ll be sadly surprised.
That’s all for me – but before I go, I want to tell you about a cool event this weekend:
The First Annual Mid-Town Barbecue Championship hosted by the City of Daytona Beach!
The event will be held at Daisy Stocking Park, 550 3rd Avenue, from 10:00am to 2:00pm.
Best of all – Admission is free! Sounds like fun!
Have a great weekend!