Angels & Assholes for October 6, 2017

Hey, kids!

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.

God’s work.

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.

Sound familiar?

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.”   

Interesting.

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!

 

On Volusia: Givers and Takers

The famous entertainer Danny Thomas was fond of saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world: Givers and takers.  The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.” 

I agree.

But I’m not sure anyone is finding sleep easy to come by these days.

Last month, before an invitation-only crowd of Halifax area “movers & shakers,” J. Hyatt Brown announced that his mega-insurance company, Brown & Brown – a Daytona Beach institution for over 80-years – would build a massive, 10-story headquarters complex in Downtown Daytona.

According to Mr. Brown, the plan includes the creation of 600 new jobs.

The over-enthusiastic applause and forced laughter of J. Hyatt’s boot-licking sycophants had barely quieted before the project was hailed as yet another “game changer” by senior Daytona Beach officials – another panacea solution just dripping with possibility – and the habitual promise that a mere brick and mortar edifice can cure years of blight, neglect, abject corruption and dilapidation citywide.

At the time of the announcement, Dr. Kent Sharples – a second-chance toady with a dubious professional history and the financial management skills of a broke-back snake, who serves as president of the CEO Business Alliance, a local star chamber of the “rich & powerful” (which includes J. Hyatt Brown) – said in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “It’s the biggest and best thing that’s happened since General Electric in terms of the number of jobs created, salary and impact on our community.”

Shameless assholes.

As evidence of how civically bankrupt the Halifax area has become, everyone who is anyone was absolutely giddy over the prospect of a new office building – openly soiling themselves over more pie-in-the-sky promises from another local billionaire who has made a cottage industry out of reducing our local political campaigns to a cheap livestock auction – while carrying massive government insurance premiums out of Deland in wheelbarrows.

The announcement, and subsequent media coverage, was a virtual orgy of positivity.

In typical fashion, our local “leadership” once again wallowed in all their onanistic, self-congratulatory glory – while the rest of us (those who ultimately pay the bills) immediately recognized that J. Hyatt would soon be seeking a return on his political investments.

At the time, like some demented Swami, I presciently explained to anyone who would listen:

“. . .whenever the right last names propose a local project – be it an Embry-Riddle money grab with the promise of “high paying” research and 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 pay for critical infrastructure, provide tax abatements, 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.”

Damn if I wasn’t right.

This morning, the hapless taxpayers in the City of Daytona Beach, Volusia County and the State of Florida awoke to the frontpage news that in exchange for “600 jobs” and a new building on Beach Street – we will be on the hook for some $15.5 million dollars – representing over half of the estimated construction and overhead costs for the proposed Brown & Brown headquarters.

Tonight, Daytona Beach city commissioners will put serious looks on their faces and pretend to have thoughtful discussions about whether their constituents should provide a company – which reported $1.76 billion in revenues last year – with nearly $6-million in tax abatement incentives and infrastructure improvements.

Then, on Thursday, our elected marionettes on the Volusia County Council will, once again, insult our collective intelligence and convincingly act as though their decision isn’t a foregone conclusion – as they yammer about whether they will provide their campaign benefactor and political overseer with an obscene $4.5-million for infrastructure – and $900,000 to ensure that the company qualifies for state tax credits worth another $4.5 million.

What do you think our elected representatives will do?

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, that doddering fool – the clueless asshole with the ethical instincts of a tree-stump that we call a County Chairman, Ed Kelley – clearly telegraphed, “I can’t think of a better use for economic development funds at this point.  At first blush, I’d say I’ll be very supportive of it.  It couldn’t have hit at a better time since it will also help the beachside (?)” 

Really?

With every man, woman and child in the Halifax area attending standing room only town hall meetings, speaking out at committee meetings, and talking neighbor-to-neighbor over the back fence about how in the hell we are ever going to turn the tide of blight and neglect that has strangled huge swaths of our beachside – and left our core tourist areas looking like a Third World shit-hole – our County Chairman can’t think of a better use of millions in public economic development funds than handing them to a local billionaire for an office complex?

Add to that County Manager Jim Dinneen’s frothing bullshit that somehow Brown & Brown would uproot eight decades of continuous operations in Daytona Beach and move to Atlanta if we refuse this gross corporate welfare grab, and you get the idea that the deal is sealed.

Screw public input.

Screw our true economic and redevelopment needs.

Screw an open and honest discussion of the wholesale giveaway of public funds to an uber-wealthy private interest.

Mr. Brown has come a-callin’ – and he wants a return on his investment.  All $15.5-million of it.  Now.

And his ethically challenged chattel sitting smugly on the dais of power know exactly what they must do.

Like I previously said, given the shameful fact that our elected and appointed officials piss our money away on billionaire bailouts and corporate welfare while Volusia County perennially falls below the state average in virtually every substantive category – wages, household income, poverty, schools, infrastructure, etc. – add to that the fact that we are among the highest taxed counties in the State of Florida – coupled with the deplorable conditions of many residential and commercial areas that serve as festering crime and blight incubators – and I seriously wonder how these assholes sleep at night.

The fix is in.  And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

Givers and takers, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: The Mushroom Effect – Kept in the Dark, Fed on Manure. . .

Call it a gift or call it a curse, but my one “Superpower” is the ability to smell political bullshit from a mile away.

And, boy howdy, did I ever get a whiff of the “Deland Doodychute” this week.

It’s like a weird, highly developed sixth sense that allows me to read a news article, or listen to the prattle of a pompous politician or conniving appointed official – analyze a quote or the turn of a phrase – and know immediately when we’re being lied to.

I’m like one of those precognitive Cassadega soothsayers when it comes to visioning the machinations of self-serving assholes who manipulate our system of governance for personal or professional gain.

Earlier this week, Dustin Wyatt penned an excellent piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal which cast a brief light on the shadowy backroom maneuvers surrounding a mysterious plan concocted by County Manager Jim Dinneen to expand the Boardwalk nearly a mile north.

Ultimately, the Boardwalk extension would push what currently passes as our down-at-the-heels “entertainment area” all the way to University Boulevard – which conveniently makes it another publicly funded amenity for the languishing Desert Inn/Weston/Hard Rock project that you and I have already invested so heavily in.

What I find interesting is that no one – including the County Council – has heard peep about the project in over a year.

At least that’s what we’re being told.

Last October, our outgoing council approved the expenditure of $94,506 of our hard-earned tax dollars for a “feasibility study” – essentially a very expensive custom-tailored political insulation report that will justify what comes next – and help limber up the estimated $12 to $23-million dollars required to build the extension.

According to Little Jimmy, the first phase of the study will be presented to those animated marionettes we elected to public office, “soon.”   That means not one damn minute before Mr. Dinneen is good and ready.

Trust me.  You can double those figures and still won’t come close to what this project will ultimately cost us.

Even though Volusia County is quietly socking away millions of our dollars – to include earmarking an estimated $14-million in ECHO funds (you know, those “grant funds” we approved for environmental restoration and outdoor recreation projects?) – to pay for Mr. Dinneen’s folly, something he claims to have envisioned during a “lightbulb moment that opened up the window of opportunity.”

Bullshit.

Unfortunately for us, that “lightbulb” was so dim it didn’t begin to cast light on this sketchy deal – and that’s the way our powers-that-be like it.

In my view, Jim Dinneen hasn’t had an original thought in a decade – he does what he is told to do, when he is told to do it – and our elected officials simply follow his lead.  That’s the way our “system” works, and you can bet the uber-wealthy insiders and string pullers who control this bastardized oligarchy already have our money divvied and spent.

Why am I convinced this Boardwalk expansion will be a reality?

Because all the right people are saying it won’t happen.

“Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along.”

According to Donna de Peyster, Volusia’s chief financial officer, “We haven’t even birthed the baby yet.”

Our doddering fool of a Council Chair Ed Kelley poo-pooed the whole idea as just too darn hard, (I think?) “Personally, I think it could be a great addition, but I feel there are probably too many moving parts to become a reality.  My time will be dedicated to accomplishing what is already in the works.”

 And Vice Chair Deb Denys is openly admitting she’s completely clueless, “Genuinely, no one is talking about it.  Whatever is happening, if it’s happening, is not being communicated.”

Clearly, Ms. Denys multi-use non-statement could be superimposed on just about any plan or project undertaken by Volusia County government in recent memory – from the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock debacle, to the $200+ million-dollar courthouse proposal – no one “communicates” anything.

No one talks, explains or debates.

There is no open competition of ideas – no public input or honest discussion of alternatives.

Our policymaker’s requests for information are ignored or significantly delayed, journalists are routed by a platoon of quibbling “spokespersons,” and the County Manager’s Office continues to operate like some civic “Skunk Works” where public policy is crafted and implemented in utter secrecy.

We learn of important projects – horribly expensive, over-the-top expenditures or plans to pile on crippling debt – and plots to whittle away our heritage of beach driving as an “economic incentive” for speculative developers – during over-scripted, off the agenda surprise announcements deftly delivered by Jim Dinneen.

Apparently, our elected officials were unaware that when they recently approved a combined $854,360,692 budget – some $2,386,111 of our hard-earned tax dollars were earmarked for something labeled, “Boardwalk Development.”

Either that, or they are just openly lying to us – which isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

In my view, that capital projects line item simply must be a set-aside for the proposed extension – because I can assure you, there hasn’t been any substantive improvement, “development” or investment in the Daytona Beach Boardwalk in decades.

Don’t take my word for it.  Go down there and take a walk around.

Regardless, Mr. Dinneen will tell you – and our elected officials – what he wants you to know, when he wants you to know it.  Perhaps the “Grand Reveal” will be strategically timed to coincide with the findings of the “Beachside Redevelopment Committee” in January?

Perhaps it won’t.

Until then, get comfortable with the darkness – and a steady diet of bullshit.