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: Minto Communities
I’m not a fan of contrived “lifestyle” communities, but I completely understand the draw.
Clearly, Minto Communities – the Canadian developer who partnered with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings to create the Latitudes at Margaritaville development – has hit it out of the park.
Earlier this week, hundreds of Parrotheads camped in the scrub off LPGA Boulevard to be among the first to put a down payment on new lots – and they are selling like hotcakes.
Look, I’m no real estate marketing maven, but when you’ve got the 55-and-over set sleeping in queue under the stars just to hand over their cash, well, Jimmy’s about to make bank.
Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Minto’s Vice President, the always overexuberant Wild Bill Bullock, said, “This first day of sales at Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach has been a record setting day for Minto in number of sales in one day.”
Hey, good on them, right?
Us locals might as well don our grass skirts and coconut bras and cheer them on from the cheap seats.
As regular readers of this forum know, I happen to believe that building an 8,000+ unit mixed-use development on top of sensitive wetlands, wildlife habitat and recharge areas is shortsighted – I also think infusing 40,000+ additional motorists on our current surface streets and roadways is the epitome of mismanaged growth.
That’s not Minto’s fault. They are simply doing what developers do.
But trust me – you and I aren’t off the hook.
In coming weeks, we will begin to see the hand-wringing and horror stories coming out of County Manager Jim Dinneen’s office threatening Gridlock Armageddon if We, The People, fail to vote for a one-cent sales tax increase ostensibly earmarked for transportation infrastructure.
They put the cart before the horse. Now, long-suffering taxpayers are forced to live with the results of their greed and gross ineptitude – and pay dearly to fund the solution.
The fact is, our local gas tax in Volusia County – you know, the cash burden we currently pay at the pump to fund countywide road projects – has been maxed out.
As I understand it, our powers-that-be borrowed against the fuel tax in 2004, now transportation impact fees on new development have been shifted to help repay those bonds – even as Latitudes at Margaritaville – and sprawling new developments from Flagler to Brevard put even more pressure on our already overburdened infrastructure.
With millions of our hard-earned tax dollars being pissed away – or simply handed over to billionaire insurance companies and speculative developers – in my view, a sales tax increase is going to be a hard sell to an already struggling constituency.
Our new neighbors out on Boomtown Boulevard are about to learn that Volusia County is so much more than sipping a Peach Blow Fizz in a cabana on a private beach paid for by your homeowners association fees.
These aging Parrotheads from throughout the United States will soon find out that they are uprooting and moving into one of the most wholly dysfunctional systems of governance ever perpetrated on a tax-strapped population.
They are entering an oligarchical quagmire, totally controlled by a cabal of wealthy political insiders – facilitated by an overpaid, bumbling asshole – and represented by hapless, hand-picked elected officials who are intentionally kept out of the loop by strategic design.
My hope is that this influx of new residents allows us to grow out of this weird system.
Eventually, the population will expand to the point where the right last names no longer have the leverage to control the nexus of public funds and private interests – and we will have a larger pool of potential candidates for public office who are no longer beholden to the few – or bound by our tradition of institutional mediocrity.
Hey, a guy can dream, right?
Angel: Beachside Redevelopment Committee
We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty.
Earlier this year the brightest minds of the Halifax area were brought together by the Volusia County Council with a mandate to develop workable solutions to the malignant blight and abject squalor that is our core tourist area.
The impressive members of this blue-ribbon panel represent the very best we have to offer – all the right last names and alliances are present – and the board even has a few intrepid souls who have spent years of their lives advocating for beach access and management issues.
This is a serious group.
And they have a lot of people depending upon them.
The sober fact is – if these incredibly smart people fail to deliver – the rest of us are doomed.
As regular readers of this forum know, I wasn’t a big fan of the concept when the redevelopment committee was hatched. After all, the burnished oak credenzas and bookcases in the executive suites of every government agency in Volusia County are groaning with expensive “studies,” “master plans,” and bullshit “tourism and marketing” reports that continue to collect dust.
As our beachside brain trust works toward developing a comprehensive list of solutions – they have now begun the all-important discussion of how to pay for them.
Look, I’ve been out of the game for a few years – but I can tell you that state and federal grant funds are scarce as hen’s teeth – and should not be considered as part of a long-term solution.
In my experience, it is simply unrealistic – and disingenuous – to insinuate that highly competitive community development block grants and loan programs can be considered a viable funding source.
Frankly, the mere suggestion undermines the credibility of the committee – and the process.
Besides, even if grant funding was readily available, asking for more public dollars to encourage “economic development” and tourism – then allowing the same bumbling dullards in local government to manage the projects is simply begging for more of the same.
My sincere hope is that our “movers & shakers” can find innovative ways to get government out of the marketplace and encourage private investment and entrepreneurship on the beachside and elsewhere.
In my view, the committee should closely analyze the myriad roadblocks, mindless regulations and paralytic bureaucracy that actively obstructs new business starts and perpetuates stagnation in our “redevelopment” areas.
In recent days, I have heard horror stories from two Daytona Beach entrepreneurs at opposite ends of the spectrum. One, a small start-up – the other a long-established local business that employs many people, pays substantial wages, and strongly contributes to the city’s tax base.
The small business owner was forced to endure an eight-month process – which included an ordinance change, multiple meetings with city officials, thousands of dollars in legal and permitting fees – essentially one nonsensical obstacle after another – just to do business in a strip center on Beville Road.
Somehow, this young man persevered.
Now he is building a vibrant enterprise, hiring employees, and working hard to expand his rented storefront to accommodate a rapidly growing customer base.
He is also actively paying taxes, became a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and serves as a wonderful ambassador for Daytona Beach.
My other friend purchased a large, long-neglected eyesore of a commercial property literally in the heart of Daytona Beach with the goal of expanding his already highly successful business.
He has now been waiting over one-year for municipal permits that will allow renovations and new construction to begin.
These stories are not unique.
Throughout Volusia County we have highly paid “economic development” departments, all suckling at the public teat, and collectively beating their chests about all the wonderful new businesses and innovative jobs they are bringing to town.
But the word on the street is something completely different.
Perhaps the powerful members of the Beachside Redevelopment Committee should use their considerable influence to request the removal of these onerous hurdles – and clean out the dead-wood from tax-funded redevelopment offices – then foster progressive public policies that will return fairness and equal opportunities to the marketplace and encourage private investment in our beleaguered beachside and beyond.
In my view, if we want to revitalize the beachside, and other struggling areas of our community, it is high time we begin the process of building a legitimate economy and limit the artificial infusion of public funds in select private endeavors that continue to create an unfair advantage for some – while skewing the playing field for everyone.
But what do I know. . .
Angel: Deltona City Commissioner Heidi Herzberg
Let’s face it, the City of Deltona is struggling – and recent headlines announcing bizarre crimes, violent deaths, and the antics of a colossally dysfunctional city government do little to quell the fears of residents – or improve the reputation of the community.
Last week, a friend and I took a long drive through Deltona.
We spent time in the neighborhoods and checked out the city’s shopping, dining and commercial areas.
Unfortunately, our largest community is facing the same issues that much of Volusia County is experiencing – spreading blight and dilapidation, rundown properties in open disrepair bringing down once vibrant neighborhoods, an obvious lack of focused code enforcement, and an increasing number of residents and businesses who are struggling financially.
Trust me – it’s the same from Ormond-by-the-Sea to Oak Hill – and Seville to Osteen.
This week, Deltona Commissioner Heidi Herzberg hosted a town hall meeting with residents to discuss crime and blight. Ms. Herzberg was joined by Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the deputy city manager.
Seeking public input and participation in finding workable solutions is important.
In my view, it is equally important that the Deltona City Commission begin working collaboratively to provide responsive governance and efficient municipal services to their long-suffering constituents.
That process should begin by replacing the current chief executive with someone who can bring organizational cohesion – and effective management – to a community in crisis before it’s too late.
Asshole: St. John’s River Water Management District
Clearly, Long John Miklos has a lot of friends.
On Tuesday, the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board returned Mr. Miklos to yet another one-year term as chairman of the powerful agency.
For those of you who have been living on the dark side of the moon, John Miklos is our reptilian Governor Rick Scott’s hand-selected appointee to the SJRWMD board – who just happens to own an Orlando-based environmental consultancy that actively lobbies on behalf of public and private clients before the very state regulatory agency he oversees.
You read that right.
For instance, last year, the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dinah Pulver discovered that Mr. Miklos’ Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. had been hired by the City of DeBary in a despicable attempt to backdoor the development of some 102-acres of environmentally sensitive lands owned by the district near the SunRail station.
DeBary officials personally paid Long John $155 per hour for his “help.”
You read that right, too.
Once this sleazy deal was exposed, literally everyone recognized it for what it was – quid pro quo corruption by a tin pot state regulatory official – except, of course, the Florida Ethics Commission or the Attorney General.
In a wink-wink/nudge-nudge attempt to deodorize his slimy activities, Mr. Miklos routinely declares a “conflict” before board votes involving his clients. As though We, The People should simply ignore the strong and continuing influence he commands over the district’s staff and management as chairman of the board.
Now, rather than rid itself of the stench of a continuing conflict of interest, the governing board has re-elected Chairman Miklos to an unprecedented fifth term.
What a sick joke.
But don’t look for anything to change.
The Florida Ethics Commission has proven, time and again, that they are a group of do-nothing political enablers who routinely ignore the findings of their own independent investigators and render some of the most idiotic findings ever written into a public record.
This worthless excuse for a public integrity apparatus is just one reason the State of Florida routinely ranks among the most corrupt in the nation.
From the randy romps of our skeezy elected representatives and their tawdry sex-for-votes schemes – to a regulatory agency that repeatedly elects an active lobbyist to regulate development on sensitive wetlands – the rules truly are different here.
Trust me. We are just beginning to see the terrible distillate of our “ethics” commission’s gross complicity ooze into public view.
Remember this the next time Rick Scott asks for your vote.
Angel: Steve & Ryan Ridder – The First Family of Daytona Beach Basketball
Let’s face it, college basketball hasn’t had a very good week.
High-profile petty thieves masquerading as student-athletes creating international incidents, burgeoning recruiting scandals, kickback conspiracies and bribery allegations that have tarnished the sport, sketchy moves that have brought discredit to once venerated programs and created an “anything goes” atmosphere on and off the court.
In my view, the only thing that can fundamentally change the course of college basketball – and organized athletics generally – is men and women of strong moral character who set a clear ethical example for young players and assistants who are the future of the sport.
Coaches at all levels have incredible influence over the lives of their players. How they use that interpersonal and organizational power is critical to changing the culture and developing a solid moral foundation for their teams.
And that goes far beyond the tenets of good sportsmanship.
The Barker’s View Sports Department sends all best wishes to Coach Steve Ridder – who has elevated Embry-Riddle Basketball into the NCAA ranks – and his impressive son, Coach Ryan Ridder, who recently took the helm of the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.
In my view, the Ridders represent all that is positive about college sports – and we are very fortunate to have them in Daytona Beach.
In a recent interview with B-CU’s extraordinary scribe, Dan Ryan, Steve said, “During the season, there are a lot of highs and a lot of lows, but it’s the greatest profession to be a part of, especially if you’re in it for the right reason”
“Ryan will build the right culture here at Bethune-Cookman. He will care about his players and they will play hard because they know he loves them and will hold them accountable to become better players and people.”
We need more coaches – and community leaders – like Steve and Ryan Ridder.
Quote of the Week:
“That’s a little steep. I think it’s kind of high to spend $10 to come down to the beach anyway, so yeah, $20 would be tough, I might search out other beaches and look for other places to go.”
–Cathy Timm, a visitor to Central Florida from Denver, as quoted by WKMG, speaking on the Volusia County Council’s asinine vote to raise beach access fees to $20 per day.
Ms. Timm has hit the proverbial nail on the head – and her sentiments echo the thoughts of potential tourists everywhere.
The fact is, our elected representatives have discovered that pricing a day at the beach out of the financial reach of many Central Florida families has the same effect as driving bans – and without the pesky political exposure.
I encourage everyone reading this to take a few minutes and envision yourself as a tourist might, then drive SR A-1-A from Ormond Beach to Ponce Inlet.
Take-in the hand-painted signs on fleabag motels, the grime and blight, omnipresent homeless, vacant store fronts and abandoned strip centers. Drive by the weed strewn, county-owned properties set aside for “off beach” parking, and experience the pervasive feeling of despair – then tell me your honest reaction.
If you suddenly landed in the Halifax area’s core tourist area with your family, would you stick around to drop a double-sawbuck to cruise the beach?
With a high-profile committee struggling mightily to come to grips with the future of our festering beachside – the natural economic engine of our region – please consider the long-term impact on tourism that raising the daily beach access fee to a prohibitive $20 will have.
Then ask yourself if those we have elected to represent our interests in DeLand are really working for us?
That’s it for me.
Tis’ the season for wonderful arts and crafts festivals throughout the region – none better than the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts.
The show was recently voted “Best Florida Fine Art Festival” by Florida Trend magazine, and this year marks the festival’s 25th Anniversary, with some 175 juried artists from throughout the country lining beautiful Woodland Boulevard.
It’s a great way to spend the day!
From Barker’s View to you – here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!