Angels & Assholes of 2017

Hi, kids!

Wow.  Time really does fly.

This weekend we welcome a new year – “full of things that have never been” as Rilke waxed – a clear demarcation between what has been, and what will be.

A time for sullen retrospection, and for celebrating the excitement of new opportunities.

If the events of the past year have proven anything, it is how desperately uninspired and insular our bastardized system of local governance has become.

The needs, wants and concerns of We, The People no longer matter.

In Volusia County, we are hopelessly entrapped in an inherently corrupt cycle – one which begins when wealthy powerbrokers infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign war chests of malleable political candidates – and ends with the predictable certainty of a hefty salary increase for the pimp who facilitates access for these transactional donors.

It’s all perfectly legal under our campaign finance system – yet fundamentally wrong – and, in my view, systemically toxic to the public interest.

The massive giveaways which benefit the self-interests of these mega-donors – always cloaked as “economic development” with an accompanying promise of “jobs” – have resulted in tens of millions of our hard-earned tax dollars used to pay for infrastructure, tax abatements, cash handouts and other incentives to guarantee the private projects of local billionaires.

All while critical public infrastructure needs go unmet – and they wear us down with near-constant scaremongering designed to wring even more tax dollars from a weary constituency.

Recently, I enjoyed a thoughtful conversation with a very influential person in our community, a smart guy who happens to be a regular reader of this blog.

During our discussion of the issues of the day, he half-joked that I have become the most “hated man in Volusia County” for my goofy opinions (and penchant for piercing inflated egos) in this increasingly popular public forum.

Guilty as charged.

Fortunately, I’m not alone.

Since its inception last year, Barker’s View has received an incredible 132,842 views – with 82,647 of those coming in 2017 – to include a growing international following which (oddly) includes readers in over 95 foreign countries.

(Why someone in Somalia, Nepal or Mongolia would care about Volusia County politics escapes me – but I appreciate the interest!  I laugh when I picture some nomadic yak herder crouched in a mountain pass high in the Himalayas, cussing a Fifth District Court of Appeal beach driving ruling – or bemoaning the latest “Game Changer” out of DeLand. . .)  

Not everyone agrees with these screeds, nor should they.  But, perhaps it provides a different perspective – an inspiration to seek deeper answers.

Clearly, many area residents are increasingly interested in sharing ideas and opinions (recent Daytona Beach New-Journal town hall meetings prove that) and a growing number are becoming active in civic affairs – to include the incredibly selfless act of standing for public office.

They deserve our support and encouragement.

Well, kids, 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 year that was:

Angel of the Year:      The Citizens of Volusia County

This year, Angel Status goes to everyone who has staked their claim on this sandy piece of land on Florida’s beleaguered “Fun Coast.”

Those who have formed coalitions of community activists, neighborhood watch and improvement organizations, our valiant beach advocates, environmentalists and all who support grassroots efforts to encourage responsible development, renewal and revitalization.

While blowhards like me sit back and spew hot air – these intrepid citizens are down in the trenches, working hard to fundamentally change our quality of life.

Add those increasingly few elected and appointed officials who have proven their commitment to the betterment of local communities – and our heroic first responders who courageously put their lives on the line to protect and serve – along with the unheralded civil servants in local, county and state government who contribute so much for little recognition or compensation.

Let’s also recognize the weirdos among us – the gadflies, the eccentrics, the fruitcakes – and their offbeat, but passionate, ideas.

Perhaps most important, this special recognition goes to the unsung heroes of our local economy – those brave souls imbued with an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit who risk it all to open businesses, provide essential goods and professional services, work in the hospitality industry, teach our children, report the news, manufacture products, serve our justice system, and treat the sick; the attorneys, engineers, counselors, tradesmen, restaurateurs, retail clerks, sales professionals, volunteers and philanthropists – everyone who works hard to make a life in an incredibly difficult economy – a place where asinine regulations seemingly exist to hamstring innovative private investment in an area that desperately needs it.

You stayed when others left.

You kept the faith.

You believe that with vision and hard work we can be better than before.

To all Barker’s View Angels who fight the noble fight and struggle mightily to build a better community for all of us – I salute you!

Asshole of the Year:   Jim Dinneen and the Volusia County Council  

After a nanosecond of contemplation – the hands-down, unequivocal winner of this dubious distinction goes to County Manager Jim Dinneen and those hapless marionettes he deftly manipulates on the dais of power in DeLand: The Volusia County Council.

The events of this year – such as Mr. Dinneen’s surprise announcement that he was purchasing a parking lot in the City of Daytona Beach for more than its appraised value (totally unbeknownst to City Manager Jim Chisholm) – to his astonishing revelation (and retroactive legislation) regarding the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock beach driving debacle (totally unbeknownst to area residents) – or his shocking decree that he has personally decided to lash over $200-million in debt to Volusia taxpayers, our children and grandchildren, over the next 30 to 40 years for a crushingly expensive courthouse complex (totally unbeknownst to our elected officials) – tend to indicate that our council members are mere pawns, wholly controlled by forces outside the control of voters.

Am I wrong?

Look at the dilapidated condition of key county facilities and property, the renewed push to close public amenities on City Island and hand it over to speculative developers, or the wholesale approval of massive development and westward sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line with absolutely no consideration of its future impact on public infrastructure.

When you consider the complete mismanagement, mistakes, gaffes, howlers, fuck-ups and Old-Fashioned off-the-agenda manipulation of information and misinformation under Mr. Dinneen’s administration – blunders that would have resulted in his immediate termination from any company controlled by a sitting member of the Volusia County CEO Business Alliance – and it becomes immediately clear that he is politically protected by those who benefit from his direct control of the public spigot – tax dollars that invariably flow into private projects and bolster our artificial economy.

Add to that the laughable political ignorance of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, the uber-weird self-promotion of Heather Post, the bizarre gullibility of Billie Wheeler, the abject arrogance of Deb Denys and the complete social detachment of the Right Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry and “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – and you have a real witches brew of dysfunction in the halls of power in DeLand.

A place where astonishing incompetence is handsomely rewarded – even encouraged – with stratospheric salaries, exorbitant benefits and clockwork pay increases.

Absurd.

Look, warts and all, the Halifax area is my home – I spent the bulk of my life working in local government – and I built a small house and family here, like my parents before me.

Like many of you, I feel a gut-level compulsion to speak out, to call attention, to defend a way of life I have come to know and love.

And anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss my ass.

As a citizen of Volusia County, I still believe it is a fundamental duty of citizenship to remain vigilant – even fiercely skeptical – of outsized political power and murky economic forces that seem intent on shaping our future based on some mysterious plan which doesn’t need or want our input – only our money.

A self-serving blueprint shaped by wealthy insiders, and foisted on the tax-strapped masses in periodic “Grand Reveals” – always with a pre-determined outcome.

Thank you for reading – and for contemplating our shared experience.

As we close out this strange year, I want to take this opportunity to send a sincere thank you to the loyal tribe who follow this alternative opinion forum.

I am deep in debt to you for indulging my views and rants.

Your curiosity about the news and newsmakers that affect our lives and livelihoods lets our “powers that be” know someone is watching – and that oversight is a fundamental element of accountability.

But that is wisdom for another day.

Now is the time to hoist our glass and celebrate new possibilities.

Here’s hoping that 2018 brings good health, happiness and the prosperity each of you so richly deserve.

Quote of the Year:

“(Jim Dinneen) is a lying sack of shit.  I don’t want to be in the same room with that liar.”

–Hon. Michael J. Chitwood, Sheriff of Volusia County

That inspired quotation should be inscribed in bronze and prominently affixed to the main entrance of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center.

Happy New Year, my friends.

Merry Christmas from Barker’s View

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

–Luke 2:4-14

May peace be with you and those you hold dear.

From the Barker family to yours, Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a happy, healthy and most prosperous 2018!

Mark & Patti

Best of Barker’s View: The Cost of Incompetence

(In Volusia County, no demonstrably bad idea ever really goes away – like sales tax increases and exorbitant executive pay raises. 

In March 2016, County Manager Jim Dinneen floated the notion that we need a consolidated, Taj Mahal-like Public Works facility – you know, to replace the structures and facilities that Mr. Dinneen’s administration has strategically allowed to rot into the ground.

It’s called creating demand and limiting options.  

When the former Volusia County Council denied the $2.5 million purchase of property off SR-44 as too expensive, most of us thought the matter was dead and buried.  

Not so fast.  

In yet another classic administrative blunder/blame-shift – last week the re-packaged land purchase (now priced at $1.9 million) was “mistakenly” flashed on the County Council agenda – ostensibly before Little Jimmy could orchestrate a “Grand Reveal” and surprise all of us with his slight-of-hand.

Enjoy this piece from March 2016 – a version of which was published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices page.  Unfortunately, it’s this kind of “vision” that earns a 3% pay increase in Volusia County government. . .)

March 21, 2016

Once again County Manager Jim Dinneen has found the one issue over all others that is, “as serious as anything we’ve faced.”  Volusia County government wants to spend your money – a lot of it – and they need a really good ‘emergency du jour’ to sell it.

Sound the claxon, Jim!

Bolstered by the public hand-wringing of Volusia County Public Works Director John Anguilli and Road and Bridge Supervisor Judy Grim, Mr. Dinneen reports that our County facilities are in such utter disrepair that the structures can longer adequately serve the public’s needs.  Naturally, this has led our intrepid leaders to the foregone conclusion that a new $19-million consolidated Public Works campus is the best answer.

Really?

Sometime, somewhere in our history, someone thought it might be a good idea to strategically distribute Public Works facilities throughout the width and breadth of Volusia County.  Given the diversity of our infrastructure, our geographical susceptibility to catastrophic weather, wildfires, and other natural disasters combined with a service area of over 1,400 square miles, one might think that the decentralization of equipment and personnel makes sense.

Apparently not.

But more to the point, was anyone aware just how serious this situation has become?

In a recent article by Daytona Beach News-Journal Reporter Tony Holt, I learned for the first time that our dilapidated Public Works facilities have reached critical disrepair.

It appears the Volusia County Council was caught flat-footed by the news as well, given the fact that members recently rejected a $2.5 million staff request to purchase some 231-acres along State Road 44 for the centralized Public Works compound.

In the News-Journal report, Councilman Doug Daniels did his best to give the appearance of cognizance when he expressed concern that we might need more information than the Public Works Director’s gut instinct that consolidation is the way to go.

According to Daniels, “The public works buildings we have now may need to be replaced, but we don’t have anything that shows there would be any particular value in having a centralized location.”

Indeed.

In my view, this situation is classic Volusia County government.

Under Mr. Dinneen’s management, we allow public infrastructure to literally crumble into the ground as a means of demonstrating the need for another County-owned Taj Mahal.  Then, in this weird Twilight Zone where nothing is as it seems, we allow the very public officials responsible for creating the problem to tell us how best to correct their own gross mismanagement.

In Mr. Holt’s report, Road and Bridge Director Judy Grim reassures us that County employees continue to soldier-on despite their Third World work environment, “We don’t have anyone complain about the conditions.  We’re doers.”

Doers?  Right.  That’s the descriptor that first came to my mind. . .

Whatever it is Judy’s troops are responsible for, it obviously has nothing to do with facilities maintenance, strategic budgeting for critical infrastructure repair and replacement, or the development of governmental best practices for the distribution of Public Works assets for maximum efficiency in coastal Florida.

For most of my adult life I worked for a small municipal government in Volusia County.  Our core services were housed in a City Hall that is now some 75-years old and going strong.  How, you may ask, could a government building possibly remain serviceable for three-quarters of a century?  It’s called ‘preventive maintenance’ – much like your own home may require – and when spread over time is an economical way of ensuring your assets remain efficient and effective.

It’s also called taking pride in public service.

Once again a situation erupts that exposes the depth of dysfunction in County government and begs the obvious question: “When is it appropriate to hold public officials accountable”?

In the Dinneen administration the answer is never.

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to oversight.

This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, expenditures, and the performance of their subordinate staff.  A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications.

Despite overwhelming evidence that Mr. Dinneen is incapable of holding his senior staff responsible for their continuing pattern of gross mismanagement – a serious problem that has been the hallmark of his tenure – rather than demand accountability, our elected officials continue to praise Dinneen’s performance, and reinforce his behavior in the form of salary and benefit increases that have reached the point of ridiculousness.

Now, in some insane twist of reality, Mr. Dinneen would have us believe that his staff’s inability to properly manage and maintain their department’s facilities constitutes an emergency requiring a $19 million solution?

Perhaps more preposterous, we should expect that these same bumbling officials will somehow ensure that the new facilities are properly maintained?  Really?  REALLY!?

The only bright spot in this latest farce is that Council members took a positive step in rejecting a dubious multi-million dollar expenditure proposed by Mr. Dinneen and his incompetent toady’s in the Public Works Department.

I guess some things are just too blatant to ignore.

You want to know what’s truly the most serious issue Volusia County residents face?

It’s the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement during Mr. Dinneen’s administration – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious course of conduct to continue.

That’s a problem that needs our attention this election season.

(Note:  What’s changed?  The above photograph was taken on county-owned property near Cardinal Drive and A-1-A in Ormond Beach this summer. . .)

Best of Barker’s View – On Volusia: You be the Judge

(With County Manager Jim Dinneen and County Attorney Dan Eckert set to receive four-figure raises for Christmas, I thought it might be fun to take another look at this ditty from earlier this year.  Read it and weep…)

May 3, 2017

Leadership is a complicated, multi-faceted and perishable skill that requires years to acquire and near constant training, focus and practice to maintain.

It is rarely, if ever, perfected – especially by those who lack the self-discipline to continuously hone their skills, or fall victim to the arrogance of power and permit themselves the luxury of hubris.

And it can never be achieved to any effective degree by a titular head who is controlled like a marionette by powerful forces in the shadows.

The ability to lead is not magically imparted on an individual simply because they are elected or appointed to a prominent position – and organizations without inspired direction rarely meet their full potential.

In government, strong leadership maintains sound discipline, controls the awesome power inherent to public entities, identifies objectives, communicates effectively, exercises judgment, builds esprit de corps, trusts the ability of subordinates and congratulates their performance, instills confidence in constituents, and directs personnel and resources under their command – efficiently and effectively – to accomplish difficult goals important to our collective welfare.

What I know of it, I learned from others – or simply mimicked the actions and mannerisms of those who inspired me.  As a leader, I failed perhaps more times than I accomplished – but I never stopped trying – and I never abused the trust placed in me by others.

Because leadership and management positions come with great responsibility – and in most cases, an equal level of accountability – we tend to reward those in positions of high authority based upon their individual performance and the overall success of the organization.

For instance, in Volusia County, we pay our county manager over $300,000 annually in salary and benefits.

The role is never static – it is fluid, constantly in flux – and it requires the ability to ‘multi-task,’ evaluate, consider variables, adjust to changing conditions – and most important – anticipate future challenges in time to adapt.

Regardless of the pursuit, a leader – political or otherwise – simply must have the ability to maintain sound situational awareness at all times – even in the fog and confusion of stressful or rapidly changing conditions.

A good leader must constantly know and evaluate Context, Circumstance and Consequence.

What is happening.  What has happened.  What could happen.

You either have it, or you don’t – and once lost, it is extremely difficult to recover.

Nothing is more noticeable, or destructive to morale and public confidence, than a “leader” who has lost command of a situation or organization.

Initially, this phase is marked by the element of surprise – things “pop-up” out of nowhere, misperceptions drive the solution, established processes are manipulated to accommodate situations, and cracks begin to appear in the carefully constructed façade.

Often, people in the upper-echelons who should be “in the know” are caught unaware, resulting in a lack of faith in management and a growing sense of organizational confusion – and subordinates and constituents are left flummoxed by the actions and omissions of those in positions of great responsibility.

Sound familiar DeBary?  Deltona?

How about Volusia County government?

Unfortunately, once this damaging process begins, it is often unrecoverable – resulting in systemic failures, corresponding “cover-ups,” misplaced blame on people and failed technology, and an atmosphere of suspicion and animosity.

Regular readers of these jeremiads know that I have little confidence in County Manager Jim Dinneen – or those we have elected to represent and protect our interests on the county council.

But, this is something different.

This morning, residents of the Halifax area awoke to the news that a proposed land use law, currently in the final legislative stages in Tallahassee, has the very real potential to threaten our heritage of beach driving by limiting the ability of local government to pass ordinances that impact private property rights – specifically as it relates to customary use.

In Volusia County, cars have been on the beach since Ransom Olds and Henry Ford began producing automobiles for the masses.  As I understand it, Volusia County has held that beach driving and access has been a customary public use for over one-hundred years now, and that tradition has prohibited beachfront property owners from blocking general access to areas above the mean high-tide line.

Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems that our elected and appointed officials – both in Tallahassee and Deland – should have been following this potential threat to general beach access from its inception.

During most County Council meetings, I listen as Councilwoman Deb Denys recites, damn near verbatim, the context and intent of any pending legislation that may adversely impact Volusia’s property tax revenues – and I audibly groan as that insufferable blow-hard, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, drones on about his extensive insider knowledge of anything and everything developing in Tallahassee that may remotely impact life on the Fun Coast.

In addition, the county’s lobbying firm, GrayRobinson – Tallahassee insiders who receive some $50,000 of our tax dollars annually apparently without going through a competitive selection process – were caught snoozing as well.

Or is something else afoot?

According to Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona), We, The People, have nothing to fear by this proposed legislation – citing the fact that 118 Florida House members voted in favor of the Bill.

Why am I not convinced?

Well, in my view, Mr. Santiago is not smart enough to understand the long-term ramifications of this legislation on his own – and he has a proven track record of following the orders and political directives of his uber-wealthy campaign contributors to exacting specifications.

And we all know how our High Panjandrums of Political Influence feel about beach driving.

What I find most troubling is the timing of this mess.

Six days after the amendment to the Bill was added, and just three days before the vote, County Attorney Dan Eckert – who has made a cottage industry out of hampering the public’s right to have input in beach issues – finally gets around to sending an email to county council members expressing his concerns?

And all we have heard is the monotonous chirp of crickets from Jim Dinneen’s office.

To add to the growing sense of panic – freshman Councilwoman Billie Wheeler openly announced that she was physically frightened by the proposed law’s potential impact on beach access in Volusia County.

In the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s informative piece, “ACCESS DENIED,” reporter Dustin Wyatt quoted:

“This scares me,” said County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler. “From what I understand, it would almost privatize areas of the beach and I’m totally against that. Any time you threaten the rights of citizens to the beach, that’s a problem.”

 Right, Billie.

(Note to Ms. Wheeler: Seeing your elected leaders openly cower and shiver in their boots is rarely inspirational.)

I think we can all agree that – just months into her term – Billie has virtually mastered the political art of talking out of both sides of her mouth.  Given her recent vote to extend concessions to the miserably failed Desert Inn/Westin project – which all but assures the removal of beach driving from the strand behind the hotel – it’s patently obvious where her loyalties reside.

And don’t expect reassurance – or even a trace of leadership – from our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley.

No, Big Ed is working off the foregone conclusion that beach driving is doomed – at least if he has his way – and we should all applaud the county for their, “aggressive thinking ahead of the curve for if it happens.”

I think what he is trying to say is, “See, you stupid assholes, this is why we have been spending your hard-earned tax dollars on overpriced parking lots – now, say thank you – and shut the hell up.”

My ass.

Volusia County officials haven’t had an original thought in years – it was beaten out of them by a ‘go along and get along’ system that rewards homogenized conformity and punishes creativity.

They do what they are told by shadowy string-pullers – and follow the dark and slippery path lit for them by Little Jimmy – lest their campaign funding gets turned off like a rusty spigot.

Folks, one of two things have happened here – and neither option instills confidence in what passes for “leadership” in Volusia County.

Either our elected and appointed officials were caught flatfooted – totally unaware of pending legislation that could fundamentally change our way-of-life in Volusia County – and drastically impact our tourist-based economy.

Or, the powers-that-be knew full well that this law could theoretically open the door to privatization of our beaches and, once and for all, eliminate our heritage of beach driving – which has been the obvious goal of the Dinneen administration (read: J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini, Lesa France-Kennedy, etc.) for the past decade – and they used strategic inaction to allow that shit-train to move as far down the track as possible before foisting it on an unsuspecting constituency.

I’ll let you be the judge.

 

 

Best of Barker’s View – On Daytona: The more things change, the more they stay the same…

You know, since this piece was published this summer, I’ve warmed up to the “Grippa Group” – at least I came to recognize this impressive brain trust as our last/best hope of recovering from the tailspin that has left the Halifax area in blighted tatters. 

I think it’s clear that they have worked diligently – and I applaud their efforts. 

I’ve also come to learn this committee may not have been another beach driving grab.

This morning, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that the Beachside Redevelopment Committee needs more time. 

It seems they caught Volusia County bureaucrats doing what government bureaucrats do – obfuscating, avoiding specifics that one could be held to account for, and trying hard to keep the final report to our elected officials arbitrary and completely devoid of substance.

Didn’t they know that’s exactly how government works?

Of course, Clay Ervin, the county’s director of Growth and Resource Management, who “coordinated” the committee’s meetings, told the group he planned to add “detail” – which I assume means colorful pictures, a corresponding puppet show and an educational cartoon featuring “Crusty the down-at-the-heels Pelican” – to help our elected officials understand the committee’s suggestions once they are adopted. 

You know, pretty things up for those hapless rubes on the County Council.

So, it’s going to be at least March before we hear the Grippa committee’s recommendations – and that’s okay. 

Hell, take all the time you need.  What’s the rush?

However, if this impressive group of “community leaders” exposes itself as just another well-managed shill for County Manager Jim Dinneen’s push for a one-cent sales tax for transportation infrastructure, well, no one – and I mean no one – will ever trust anything proposed by this craven administration again. 

Nor should we.

August 26, 2017

I’m often asked by regular readers of this forum, “Hey Mark, why is it that nothing ever changes in the Halifax area?” 

Since I have an opinion on literally everything, I do my best to camouflage the fact that I don’t have a flipping clue when it comes to active solutions to the myriad issues we face here on Florida’s fabled “Fun Coast.”

As I’ve reported before, I’m more of a complainer than a doer.

But I don’t want my blatant ignorance to show either.  That’s considered poor form for an opinion blogger.

 So, in my practiced way, I lean back and pensively massage my beard like some wise old sage contemplating the meaning of life, tap the eraser of my Blackwing Palomino on the desk, stare contemplatively into space, then lean in close, like I am about to impart some ancient secret, before offering my best Yogi Berra-like answer sotto voce:

“Things never change here, because they always stay the same.”

Invariably, smart people call me a fool and storm off in a huff, like some country rube who just got fleeced at a backwoods carnival – as I chase after them screaming, (in my best Jack Nicholson impression), “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

 It’s true, you know, nothing changes here because our core machinery – the system – and those with direct control of the money that fuels it – has remained effectively locked-down and stagnant for decades.

The internal structure of this long-term scheme is easy to discern, because their time-tested strategic ignorance of the obvious as an effective modus operandi is evident in everything they do or say – regardless of the issue or circumstance.

In the aftermath of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé, “Tarnished Jewel,” which pointed out years of waste, blight and abject corruption on Daytona’s beachside, our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County formed the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, an ad hoc group charged with developing workable solutions to the festering shithole that is our core tourist area.

As is their way, members of the County Council ham-handedly selected and appointed all the right last names – and even (begrudgingly, right Ms. Post?) gave long-time beach advocates, Paul Zimmerman and Dave LaMotte a seat at the big-people’s table.

Then, at the first introductory meeting, former insurance executive and current Committee Chairman, Tony Grippa, immediately put Zimmerman and LaMotte in their place by admonishing that the group’s mandate required they “steer away from beach issues.”

As the News-Journal described the exchange, “Part of the discussion Monday night got into a tug-of-war between those on the committee who thought beach access needs to be part of their discussions, and those who reminded them that their marching orders from the County Council were to steer away from beach issues.”

Specifically, Grippa announced, “Beach management is not within the purview of the committee.  Certain issues have kept the community from developing.  Let’s start with things that can bring the community together.” 

So there.  Sit down and shut the hell up, you beach-bums.

You’re among Very Important People here – so, act the part, get along and go along, okay?  (Grippa didn’t say that, I just thought it summed up my opinion of the exchange – and because I’m a hyper-cynical asshole.)

Any rational person (if there is such a thing anymore) was left with the unmistakable impression that the committee’s focus was on blight and dilapidation in that no-mans-land west of State Road A-1-A.

And while the group is comprised of movers-and-shakers from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores, everyone knows the concentration is “redevelopment” of the fetid squalor that encompasses many areas between Atlantic Avenue and the Halifax river.

And, for a while anyway, it appeared things were moving along smoothly for Mr. Grippa’s blue-ribbon committee.

All the right people were heard from – even Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm appeared before them and sketched out an overview of previous efforts, although I’m not sure he ever fully explained how $120-million in redevelopment funds seemingly evaporated with little, if anything, to show for it.

Then – at the August 21st meeting – “The System” injected its will and telegraphed the true ulterior motivation of our politically influential power brokers into the mix.

And just like that, the Beachside Redevelopment Committee lost all credibility.

During the meeting, the committee heard a report from Evelyn Fine – owner of Fine Research and Marketing – AKA Mid-Florida Marketing – the company that has been telling the Halifax Area Advertising Authority what it wants to hear for decades.

For $54,000.00 annually.

In what we all knew in our hearts was coming, Ms. Fine started by explaining the reason folks don’t want to vacation here is because of some “lingering stigma” associated with Spring Break – an event that has been dead and buried since the early 1990’s.

Then, Evelyn dropped the inevitable on the committee:

“There’s this big disconnect between people who come here and are very satisfied, and are comfortable with the cars on the beach because they’ve learned to accommodate it and learned to live with it, versus those people that have no vision of how their children and cars can coexist on a beach,” Fine said. “And that’s very real — same thing with spring break.”

Well, there you have it.  Ta-Da!

The HAAA, the Daytona Regional Chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau – and any other entity wholly influenced by county politics – and those who control it – interjected their goals into the process by condemning beach driving as the boogeyman who has thwarted progress and redevelopment for the past 100-years.

Bullshit.

In my view, Evelyn Fine is a shill – an overpaid mouthpiece for the outmoded and wholly ineffective groups that pass for “tourist” and “visitors” efforts in Volusia County.  Their collective order is to blame beach driving for anything and everything – while ignoring the festering neglect and filth that is eating Daytona Beach like a malignant cancer.

Why?  Because that’s what our “Rich & Powerful” want.  That’s why.

Frankly, Mr. Grippa should have shut that sideshow down, asked Ms. Fine to leave the building, and reiterated the committee’s mandate to “steer away” from beach issues.

But he didn’t.

You may remember that way back in 2011, the Volusia County Council commissioned a $100,000 tourism study conducted by the Strategic Advisory Group of Duluth, Georgia.  The net-net of that expensive report found that the current condition of the “tourism product,” notably the beachside of Daytona Beach, was a serious impediment to attracting visitors.

That includes the condition of hotels, storefronts in high-volume areas, a lack of attractive streetscapes in key locations – and widespread concern from stakeholders that “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.” 

“Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline.  An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”

Unfortunately, little, if any, of the recommendations made in the SAG study were implemented, a waste of effort – and money – that no doubt collects dust on County Manager Jim Dinneen’s credenza.

In a nutshell, despite the machinations of Ms. Fine and her programmers, members of Mr. Grippa’s committee should embrace the notion that no one wants to vacation in filth, crime and shabbiness – and our heritage of beach driving is the only thing that makes us unique in the marketplace.

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Barker – Up Yours!

In the fall of 1996, I had the honor of being selected to attend the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.

This week marked the 21st anniversary of my graduation from this prestigious program.

The “NA” is housed at the FBI’s sprawling training facility on a secluded area of Marine Corps Base Quantico.  In addition to training new agents, the highly-secure compound hosts the FBI’s state-of-the-art forensic laboratories, research sections and the famous “Hogan’s Alley” – an incredibly realistic small town built with the help of Hollywood set designers where actors turn routine events into life-and-death scenarios that teach real-time tactical decision-making skills.

Less than one percent of law enforcement officers in the world are nominated to attend this invitation-only course of study, and I had the unique fortune to work with some incredibly smart people, many of whom held executive-level positions in specialized law enforcement agencies around-the-globe.

This wonderful opportunity was a true highlight of my career.

At the time, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s basic agent training program was co-located at the FBI Academy.  That changed in 1999, when the DEA moved to its own technologically advanced training facility nearby, but during my session, DEA, FBI and National Academy students all shared the same circuitous “gerbil tube” hallways, dining hall, gymnasium and training facilities.

The only things that differentiated us was our age – and the color of our shirts.  As I recall, the DEA trainees wore black polo shirts, the FBI new agents wore navy blue and NA attendees wore hunter green.

There was another unique difference I quickly noticed.

The DEA’s new agents were required to make eye contact and exchange a pleasant greeting with everyone they encountered.

I don’t know if this is still a requirement – but I sure hope it is.

This exercise may at first appear to be a meaningless practice designed to instill cohesion and discipline in trainees, but in truth – the routine act of making basic human contact and exchanging pleasantries with everyone you meet develops important social skills, builds confidence and teaches new investigators to listen attentively, observe those around them and develop a positive rapport.

It also helps cultivate a professional image regardless of your career or endeavors.

Of all the valuable lessons I learned at the FBI National Academy, this simple act of acknowledging others stayed with me the longest – and paid incredibly important personal and professional dividends throughout my working life.

If you are new to the workforce, showing sincere respect for everyone from the janitor to the CEO of your company will quickly set you apart as someone with a high-level of emotional intelligence.

Trust me.  The world is full of self-absorbed assholes – we don’t need anymore of those.

Anyone who holds a leadership position in any public or private organization quickly recognizes the value of making everyone feel welcome and included – even those with whom you have conflict.

There will be plenty of opportunities to argue, debate and negotiate the issues of the day – but a friendly nod in the hallway, or saying ‘hello’ in the break room, shows you understand the important difference between “business matters” and healthy professional relationships.

In other words, this simple act demonstrates the capacity to transcend passionate disagreement and embrace the idea that everyone is on the same team – colleagues working toward the same goal.

I still believe that we can debate the issues of the day, vehemently disagree with one another, yet still end the day as friends and neighbors with a common experience.

During my long career, I worked for some great managers.  I also worked for a few highly-educated people whose ultimate failure was directly attributable to their inability to show even a modicum of respect for their subordinates and constituents.

For instance, one city manager I served under set the tone at the beginning of every meeting by openly belittling at least one employee present – as though sacrificing the dignity of someone at the table was necessary to establish dominance and set an example for anyone who might dare cross the boss.

As often happens, this manager’s lack of self-awareness and emotional incompetence resulted in high turnover, low morale and a loss of public confidence.

The damage is still being repaired.

Naturally, this person is now a self-employed “management consultant” preying on local governments in crisis.

Go figure.

On Sunday mornings, Patti and I have a long-standing routine that involves straightening-up Barker’s View HQ before I go to the grocery and stock the larder for the coming week.

Now that I’m retired, this weekly food shopping expedition is perhaps my most important personal contribution – and a much-anticipated outing where I get to interact with sentient beings other than my dogs.

Even if that interaction is limited to “paper or plastic?”  

Maybe I got caught up in the whole Spirit of the Season thing – the ring-a-ding-ding of a Salvation Army kettle attendant has that effect on me – but yesterday, as I walked through the crowded parking lot (it was just after high noon, and the “church crowd” was shuffling in), I made a point to make eye contact, smile, and say ‘hello’ – or the PC ‘Happy Holidays!’ – to everyone I encountered in my path.

Shockingly – not one person responded in kind.

Perhaps given our current situation in this country, ignoring each other has become part of the culture – or conceivably people are just too damn busy for superficial pleasantries these days?

Or maybe in this tech-obsessed era – where people literally walk into holes in the earth while staring at their phone – we are rapidly losing those esoteric “people skills – attributes that are hard to define, but easy to recognize.  Besides, they haven’t developed an app to say ‘Hi.’

It’s also possible people recognize me as the neighborhood curmudgeon and simply give me a wide berth.

Look, I realize with my unkempt beard and what’s left of my out-of-control hair blowing wildly in the breeze, I must have looked like a down-at-the-heels homeless person soliciting a handout (I was on the beachside, after all) – but I couldn’t even coax a disapproving nod.

Nothing.

Young and old, rich and poor – everyone from “church folk” in nice suits to beach-going vacationers – all equally ignored my friendly salutation, quickly cutting their eyes, or simply plowing right past me, gaze fixed firmly on the horizon.

At one point, an attractive young woman dressed cap-a-pie in painted-on spandex, boldly invaded my personal space as I searched the spice rack for ground nutmeg – quickly reaching over my right shoulder to grab a tin of poultry seasoning about eight-inches from my nose.

I instinctively recoiled, issued a friendly, “excuse me,” then stepped to the side – a seemingly natural maneuver which resulted in a brief, but odd, blank stare. I’m not certain, but I could have sworn she muttered an angry, “up yours, asshole” as she put distance between her buggy and mine.

(The elderly lady who boldly and unashamedly farted in the egg aisle is another story, for another time. . .)

Hey, I realize that in the Halifax area, most people quickly develop self-defense mechanisms.

After all, you need some hard bark here.  If you show any form of weakness, one of our beach-town grifters or predatory miscreants will think you need help and take immediate advantage.

I get it.

But during this season of giving – the most “Wonderful Time of the Year” – in addition to the obligatory gifts, remember that we could all use more authentic friendliness and good wishes in our lives.

I think it helps build community by restoring faith in the inherent goodness of our neighbors.

Maybe not – but it still seems the right thing to do.

So, if you see a disheveled has-been with a scraggly white beard wearing ratty cargo shorts, worn-out Top Siders and a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt shambling down the vodka section of any local ABC store – take a second to say ‘howdy’ – and I’ll remember to do the same.

Let’s all forget local politics for a little while, set aside our disagreements and enjoy this beautiful place we call home during this most joyous season.

Who knows what a renewed sense of sociability and neighborliness might do for our collective experience here on the beleaguered Fun Coast?

Now, here’s my Christmas gift to all the “Movers & Shakers” I take to the woodshed all year:  Please print out the photo at the top and stick it on your dartboard!

Your welcome!

From the Barker family to yours – Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

 

(Barker’s View will be on hiatus through next week as we enjoy friends and family.  During my travels, I’ll be posting a few “Best of Barker’s View” pieces from the past year – some good, and not-so-good – ramblings on the myriad issues affecting our lives and livelihoods here in Volusia County.  As always, thanks so much for reading!)    

 

Angels & Assholes for December 15, 2017

Hi, kids!

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:          Florida Ethics Commission

If there is anything I loathe more than Florida’s ineffectual joke of an ethics apparatus, it’s assholes that abuse this weird quasi-judicial system and bare false witness against sitting politicians and public officials as a means of achieving a high-profile political smear.

In my view, both are equally reprehensible and have weakened the public’s trust in our system of governance.

By any measure, in 2015, Flagler County politics was a shit show of epic proportions.

Allegations of official misconduct were rampant; the County’s supervisor of elections was indicted on multiple felony counts and partisan factions were filing frivolous ethics complaints at an alarming rate.

Ultimately, the bulk of those complaints were dismissed, and last week that ugly epoch ended when the Florida Ethics Commission voted to hold those who brought the claims – embattled former Flagler Elections Supervisor Kim Weeks and two others – responsible for repaying Flagler County some $300,000 in legal fees.

Look, I don’t have an issue punishing those who misuse the process – but when you have a scheme that limits actual punitive fines against dirty politicians found guilty of ethics violations to just $10,000 and restitution – what affect does the imposition of astronomical cost reimbursements have on potential whistle-blowers with legitimate allegations?

In this case, Flagler County agreed to compensate Tallahassee ethics attorney Mark Herron to defend the accused at an hourly rate which was far above what the county’s insurance company was paying him.

Then, an administrative law judge upped that hourly legal fee to $350 per hour after ruling that the complaints were “malicious” and filed with a “reckless disregard” for the facts.

Does this whole sordid affair stink of revenge politics from its inception?

You bet.

And this is not the first time the ethics commission has issued peculiar rulings.

Don’t take my word for it, just look at the curious case of John Miklos, the powerful, multi-term chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District, who just happens to operate an environmental consultancy that lobbies for private clients before, well, the St. John’s River Water Management District.

It is high time that our legislature brings sanity to Florida’s ethics system and develops an effective means of winnowing frivolous complaints early in the process (just like our criminal justice system does every day) and ensuring that only allegations with demonstrable merit are adjudicated in a fair, equitable and legitimate manner.

Or, just abolish the Commission altogether and turn these sensitive matters over to the judicial system.  (I’m sure there’s some cockamamie reason that can’t happen.  There always is.)

In my view, perhaps by design, these punitive reimbursement orders for massive legal fees – amounts which may be uncollectable when they result in the financial ruin of those bringing allegations to light – will ultimately have a chilling effect on legitimate complaints of official misconduct – and further compromise our long-suffering system of governance here in the Sunshine State.

Angel:             Mr. Jody Thomas, Evidence Manager VCSO (Ret.)

 This week, a loyal Barker’s View reader aptly nominated one of the most dedicated public servants I know for ‘Angel’ status as he retires from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

For the past 11-years, Mr. Jody Thomas served the citizens of Volusia County in perhaps the most sensitive position imaginable.

As the Sheriff’s Evidence Manager, Jody was personally responsible for thousands of items of physical evidence, dangerous drugs, weapons and valuables – elements of crimes that tell a story – and require expert handling and processing to retain their all-important evidentiary value.

And he did it under incredibly difficult circumstances.

When Jody first assumed this important function, it had been scandalously mismanaged for years.

His hard work and dedication to the agency turned that around.

For many years, Jody worked in a 1930’s era building that once housed Volusia County’s prison farm.  The deplorable conditions at the facility were brought to light in a 2015 news article which quoted Jody describing the snakes, cockroaches and mold that permeated the dilapidated structure.

Yet, Jody adapted – curating the evidence facility with great personal pride and professional competence.

Prior to joining the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, Mr. Thomas served with the Daytona Beach Police Department for over 27-years – including as Deputy Chief of Police.

Among those he served with, Mr. Thomas will most be remembered for his guidance and mentorship of young law enforcement officers – taking them under his experienced wing to assist their careers and impart those intrinsic personal values and traditions that are so important to success in the public service.

Thank you for your service, sir.

Here’s wishing Jody Thomas all the best life has to offer in his well-deserved retirement.

His important contributions to public safety in Volusia County will be sorely missed.

Asshole:          County of Volusia

 In my view, County Manager Jim Dinneen does his best work at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

In the past decade, he has been responsible for shepherding tens-of-millions in “economic development” incentives to virtually everyone who is anyone in Volusia County.

From projects pushed by the France family – to the recent subsidies for billionaire insurance intermediary Brown & Brown – Mr. Dinneen has ensured a consistent return on investment for our uber-wealthy donor class.

A prime example is the incredibly expensive 2005 decision to extend Williamson Boulevard south to facilitate influential developer Mori Hosseini’s mega-subdivision, Woodhaven.

Under the funding scheme, Mr. Hosseini’s ICI Homes received $480,000 in road impact fee credits – while you and I chipped in $9.8 million dollars, and the Florida Department of Transportation contributed $5.5 million more – with the City of Port Orange giving some $500,000 in wetland mitigation credits.

In total, the 2.6-mile extension cost us nearly $16 million dollars.

Of course, the important thing is that Mr. Hosseini got what he wanted.

Let’s face it, strategic planning has never been Little Jimmy’s strong suit – he’s more of a crisis worker with a knack for greasing the right political wheels – and in that leadership vacuum, chaos ensues.

But Mr. Hosseini is a brilliant tactician – he thinks long-term.

This week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal published an excellent piece on the utter dysfunction and lack of governmental coordination in determining where Williamson Boulevard will meander next.

With thousands of new homes planned in the area – development that equates to tens-of-thousands of new Walmart shoppers clogging existing streets and roadways – Volusia County hasn’t even considered the thoroughfare in its five-year plan – or given any substantive thought as to where the nearly $15 million cost of the extension will come from.

After all, Mori got his – to hell with the rest of us, right?

Under Mr. Dinneen’s administration, Volusia County could give two-shits where the road goes – just so it ultimately terminates in the vicinity of New Smyrna Beach.

According to a county engineer’s assessment, so long as Williamson Boulevard “starts where it is and ends where its supposed to.  How it gets there through your property, we’ll work with you.” 

How’s that for effective urban planning and financial stewardship?

Did I mention that Mr. Dinneen commands over $300,000 of our money annually in salary and benefits?

Because he does.

Asshole:          Chicago-area North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau

 Hey, North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau – guess what?

We don’t give a damn how you do it up North.

Look, residents of the Halifax area don’t come to the Windy City and tell you how to encourage visitors to your bullet-riddled, homeless encrusted hell-hole – and we would appreciate the same courtesy.

Last Sunday, Gina Speckman, executive director of the Chicago-area North Shore CVB, had the brass to take News-Journal editor Pat Rice to task for questioning the Halifax Area Advertising Authority’s decision to approve over $200,000 – plus a $44,000 per month retainer – to an out-of-state ad agency for the ill-advised marketing tag, “Wide Open Fun.” 

According to Ms. Speckman’s pompous rant:

“As the media are being attacked as fake, I am sure you take umbrage as a professional journalist. Why are destination marketing professionals not afforded the same respect?

It is insulting that you picture us as clueless public money spenders.

The hotels remit hotel tax from visitors, and although it is public money it is levied in cooperation with the hotels to bring more overnight stays to the area. We know what we are doing and to be blithely second-guessed is to diminish our profession.

 Want me to edit your articles?

Decide what stories you should publish?

If I gave you a butter knife, do you think you could fancy yourself a surgeon?

If your paper cares about Daytona Beach, you should reach out to the CVB with your “concerns” and help, not tear down.”

Apparently, Ms. Speakman’s self-promoting screed was picked up by “Bill Geist’s Zeitgeist,” a sycophantic blogger in the “destination marketing” fraternity, who called her base abuse of the News-Journal the “best take down of the year.”

Really?

In keeping with the tourism marketing industry’s current push to keep you and I from reading the unvarnished truth in our morning newspaper, Mr. Geist also wrote:

I continue to be baffled at how, in an age where the shit that reporters write goes worldwide within 24 hours (oh, yeah…I see all of the Destination Marketing Organization stories) that editors and publishers don’t have a moment in which they say:

  • Advertising revenues are in decline 
  • We need new businesses to invest in our community
  • Our negative coverage of life in this town probably discourages said investment
  • Maybe we should paint a more positive picture of our town (for no other reason than it might help our bottom line)
  • Oh…and maybe it’s the right thing to do for our readers. Rather than scare the hell out of them with sensationalized stories about crime that will never creep into their neighborhoods, maybe we should celebrate life in this town.

Baffled, indeed.

For no other reason than it might help our bottom line?

My God.  How do these people sleep at night? 

These feckless assholes who would sugarcoat local news reporting merely to sell a motel room truly have no soul.

Their loyalty is to the transient dollar – always gauged by dubious revenue metrics – and if they need to suppress the facts, or pressure media outlets to soften reality, so be it.

Listen up, Ms. Speckman – you clueless, public money spending gasbag – we don’t need your two-cents.

Down here, we can fight among ourselves, but nobody else better get involved.

The fact is, our newspaper of record was right to seek answers following the massive outcry over the patently stupid expenditure of public funds on a three-word advertising catchphrase which is completely counter to rebuilding our areas soiled reputation as a no-holds-barred party town.

Frankly, most of us were ready to let the issue die – just accept it for what it is – and hope for the best.

I was even beginning to forget the fact that Lori Campbell-Baker, the executive director of the Daytona Beach CVB, trotted out asinine counter-allegations (eerily similar to Mr. Geist’s inane ideas of strategic censorship) that the News-Journal’s reporting on the news of the day somehow hamstrings tourist marketing efforts by painting the Halifax area in a “negative” light.

Why won’t they let it go?

Why are these recipients of public funds fighting like rabid badgers to defend a goofy ad slogan while ruining their reputation in the very community that employs them?

Why does the Daytona Beach CVB continue denouncing legitimate criticism – even unleashing some weird out-of-town attack dog on the News-Journal?

Perhaps its time the Daytona Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau – and its many supporters in the “destination marketing” racket – get back to the business at hand.

And as far as Gina Speckman is concerned – how about keeping your nose where it belongs and concern yourself with the monumental chore of marketing Skokie in the winter?

Frankly, in my view, the Daytona Beach CVB – and the myriad other parasitic “tourism and marketing” agencies that duplicate efforts while feeding on bed taxes in Volusia County – could go away tomorrow and no one would miss them.

As Ms. Speckman less-than-eloquently stated, “a big open beach” is enticing to most – in fact, it speaks for itself.

Angel:             Commissioner Jacqui Thrulow-Lippisch

One positive to come out of Florida’s politically charged Constitution Revision Commission is a renewed focus on protecting our beleaguered environment.

Commission member Jacqui Thrulow-Lippisch has sponsored five ecologically beneficial proposals – to include a constitutionally enforceable right to a clean and healthy environment.

In most civilized places, supporting a healthy environment is like saying, “I like ice cream” – but in Florida’s permissive atmosphere, a place where developers and big agriculture are generally free to rape the land carte blanche – our sensitive wild places need all the help they can get.

Last week, the incredibly smart Clay Henderson, a co-author of the proposal and executive director of Stetson University’s Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, stated in the News-Journal, “We’re in an era where government agencies just really aren’t in a mode of enforcing environmental laws.  Establishing a right to a clean environment as a fundamental right gives private citizens who are affected by that the ability to file a lawsuit.”

 Naturally, our basic right to a clean and healthy environment is be being challenged by heavy industry and the Florida Chamber – now our own newspaper is dissing the proposal as too ambiguous.

In a recent editorial, the Daytona Beach News-Journal opined, “There are better ways for Floridians to put teeth into environmental laws and serve the public interest.” 

 Really?  How?

Another Thurlow-Lippisch proposal suggests the creation of a Cabinet level position for a commissioner of Environmental Protection.

In a place where the Governor has permitted an environmental lobbyist – a walking conflict of interest – to serve multiple terms as Chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board, one can only imagine what we could expect in an “environmental czar.” 

In one of the most popular blog posts in Barker’s View history, a ditty entitled, “You’re a victim.  Get used to it.” – I wrote:

“Maybe when this entire godforsaken state becomes an uninhabitable shithole – completely devoid of potable water, greenspace, or wildlife; when all the natural resources are exploited, hauled-off and sold, and every last dime has been looted – someone will wake up.”

I doubt it.

Quote of the Week:

Disengaged Industry and Community:  . . .A very real current threat is the consistent indication of being uniformed and having no understanding of the effectiveness of current tourism initiatives.  An aggressive and effective communication plan featuring understandable, measurable results is critical for the long-term support and success of tourism.  An additional theme in SAG’s meetings was the sense that it is going to be difficult to instill broad based confidence that is vital toward improved collaboration.”

“Product Deterioration: . . .Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline.  An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”

–“An analysis of Volusia County tourism marketing,” Strategic Advisory Group, (Final Report to the Volusia County Council), April 8, 2013.

Anything changed?

Wide open fun, y’all.

Have a great weekend, friends.

MDB

 

On Volusia: The CVB’s Attack Continues – But Why?

Hey, North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau – mind your own friggin’ business.

Look, residents of the Halifax area don’t come to the Windy City and tell you how to encourage visitors to your bullet-riddled, homeless encrusted hell-hole – and we would appreciate the same courtesy.

On Sunday, Gina Speckman, executive director of Chicago’s North Shore CVB, had the brass to take the Daytona Beach News-Journal to task for having the temerity to seek answers for why the Daytona Beach CVB handed over $200,000 – plus a $44,000 per month retainer – to an out-of-state ad agency for the asinine marketing tag, “Wide Open Fun.” 

According to Ms. Speckman’s blathering diatribe:

“As the media are being attacked as fake, I am sure you take umbrage as a professional journalist. Why are destination marketing professionals not afforded the same respect?

It is insulting that you picture us as clueless public money spenders.

The hotels remit hotel tax from visitors, and although it is public money it is levied in cooperation with the hotels to bring more overnight stays to the area. We know what we are doing and to be blithely second-guessed is to diminish our profession.

Want me to edit your articles?

Decide what stories you should publish?

If I gave you a butter knife, do you think you could fancy yourself a surgeon?

If your paper cares about Daytona Beach, you should reach out to the CVB with your “concerns” and help, not tear down.”

Listen up – you clueless, public money spending gasbag – we don’t need your two-cents.

Our newspaper of record was right to investigate the massive outcry over the patently stupid expenditure of public funds on a goofy three-word advertising label which is completely counter to rebuilding our areas soiled reputation as a no-holds-barred party town.

Rarely have I seen this level of sustained ass-covering by the various and redundant tax supported tourist and visitors bureaus in Volusia County – and now by something called the North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Frankly, I was ready to let the issue die – just accept it for what it is – and hope for the best.

I was even beginning to forget the fact that Lori Campbell-Baker, the executive director of the Daytona Beach CVB, trotted out unfortunate counter-allegations that the News-Journal’s reporting on the news of the day somehow hamstrings tourist marketing efforts by painting the Halifax area in a “negative” light.

Why won’t they let it go?

Why does the Daytona Beach CVB continue reinforcing the parapets and attacking the legitimate criticism of this tax-funded waste of time and money?

As I’ve previously stated, in my view, even suggesting that a local news organization ignore the myriad issues facing us here on the Fun Coast is the height of self-deception.

And it seriously insults our intelligence.

In my view, suggesting that our newspaper of record simply ignore – or worse, purposely conceal by omission – the challenges we face as a means of building a false narrative to lure potential visitors or sell real estate borders on fraud.

Then, I read Ms. Speakman’s colossally condescending letter to the editor – and learned on social media that our highly-paid South Carolina-based advertising agency hadn’t even bothered to secure the website domain names associated with “wide open fun.” 

I mean, $200,000 and we don’t even have a basic, semi-related online presence for this astronomically expensive campaign?

Are you shitting me? 

Perhaps its time the Daytona Beach Visitors and Convention Bureau – and its many supporters in the tourism marketing fraternity – get back to the business at hand.

The public may not be advertising experts – but we can smell a fresh turd when we step in it.

These whiners would do well to remember that when it comes to redundant, tax-supported “visitors bureaus” – sometimes its best to listen to the thoughts and concerns of those you serve – even when your arrogance won’t permit you to hear it.

And as far as Ms. Speckman is concerned – how about you concern yourself with marketing the attributes of Skokie in the winter and leave us the hell alone?

Join Barker’s View on GovStuff Live with Big John this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm.

We’ll be discussing this issue – and other fiasco’s which affect our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast.

Listen live at 1380am – or on the web at GovStuff.org (Listen Live button).

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for December 8, 2017

Hi, kids!

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:          Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company

Looks like the “Good Ol’ Boys Investment Club” d/b/a Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company, has a problem in the expensive pine scrub off LPGA Boulevard.

Or do they?

For months, I’ve screamed like a scalded banshee about the ultimate environmental impact of building an 8,000-unit faux beach community on sensitive wetlands and recharge areas near tributaries of the Tomoka River – a watershed that is incredibly important to the life of the Halifax area.

If you haven’t noticed, those little fenced-in compounds you see along LPGA Boulevard just outside the main gate of Jimmy Buffett’s under-construction utopia are the City of Holly Hill’s potable water wells – and the City of Daytona Beach’s wellfields aren’t too far away.

These pumps tap into the Floridan Aquifer and represent our sole source of drinking water.

According to a report this week by the intrepid Dinah Voyles Pulver in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, our friends at Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company illegally dredged, filled and destroyed 163-acres of wetlands on land that is now being developed by Minto Communities as Latitudes at Margaritaville.   

 In turn, the United States Environmental Protection Agency fined Consolidated-Tomoka $187,500 – and ordered them to mitigate the ecological damage by restoring or “creating” some 132-acres of wetlands.

In keeping with the “we do as we want” arrogance that pervades the high perch of certain Volusia County elites – Consolidated-Tomoka began work on the EPA ordered palliation effort without the required permission of the St. John’s River Water Management District.

No problem.

Remember – the rules are different here.

Naturally – and despite the slimy controversies and unanswered ethical questions – Consolidated-Tomoka hired Orlando-based Bio-Tech Consulting to manage the mitigation project.  You may remember that Bio-Tech’s president, Long John Miklos, just happens to be the chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District.

You know, the very government regulatory agency responsible for protecting our drinking water?

When the permitting snafu was discovered by the SJRWMD, the agency notified Minto Communities – who also uses Bio-Tech as its “environmental consultant.”

Apparently, on November 8, Consolidated-Tomoka applied for permission to complete the work as ordered by the EPA.

According to the News-Journal, “When Consolidated-Tomoka agreed to the EPA’s settlement, the federal agency also stated the company couldn’t get mitigation credit for restoring and creating the wetlands. However, the application to the water management district from Consolidated-Tomoka and Bio-Tech asks the district for state mitigation credit for the work. The application seeks 46.72 credits for the work, which Consolidated- Tomoka could use in exchange for wetland impacts to other properties.”

Again – no problem.

 The bureau chief of the SJRWMD’s regulatory program, Michelle Reiber, said the state doesn’t have the same restrictions as the federal government when claiming mitigation credit for the work.

Wait a minute? 

Consolidated-Tomoka is seeking approximately $6-million in credits for a $2-million-dollar mitigation project and $187,500 fine, after being specifically prohibited from receiving those credits by the federal government?

I guess that’s how environmental crimes are prosecuted here in the Sunshine State. . .

And since when does an asinine “help here, hurt there” state mitigation “credit” strategy trump federal environmental protection regulations and decrees?

Wanna hear the kicker?

Consolidated-Tomoka recently announced that it plans to get into the lucrative mitigation banking business!

Yep.

The environmental miscreant-turned-conservationist stated it plans to seek permits for a “mitigation bank” by placing 2,500 acres it owns adjacent to Tiger Bay State Forest into conservation through a mitigation bank.

According to reports, the current price for environmental mitigation credits in the region ranges between $100,000 and $150,000 per credit.

Per credit.

Wow.  You do the math. . .

Did I mention the rules are different here?

Because they are.

The Tomoka River has been designated an Outstanding Florida Water by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection as “worthy of special protection because of their natural attributes.” 

Studies have found that these waterways require special restrictions on development and other activities that may degrade water quality or disturb the waterway.

In a 1995 report by the University of Florida’s Center for Wetlands to the St. Johns River Water Management District regarding the importance of habitat protections zones on the Tomoka River and Spruce Creek, research indicated that further development of the area would be detrimental:

“Both the Tomoka and Spruce Creek rivers exhibit some undisturbed stretches along their water courses, intermingled with development. Yet, because of increasing urban growth pressures within the region, continued development, loss of habitat, and decline of aquatic resources may be expected.” 

 “Data collected by the Volusia-Flagler Sierra Club (1989a, 1989b) in support of Outstanding Florida Water designations for the Tomoka River and Spruce Creek, point to two rivers with fair to good water quality and relatively intact faunal populations.  Data developed in the course of this study show increasing development pressure, which can only mean further declines in habitat value and water quality.”

Yet, the Margaritaville development and others were approved anyway.

And don’t give me any bullshit about buffer zones and set asides.

I find it interesting that the Tomoka River – which naturally drains some 119 square miles from Port Orange to Ormond Beach over its nearly 20-mile flow – is also designated a federal manatee sanctuary, something Jimmy Buffett has worked hard to establish and support over his long musical career.

I guess when it comes down to it – Mr. Buffett is no different than any other speculative developer.

Screw the manatees – they don’t buy lots.

Angel:             City of Daytona Beach

 Kudos for the City of Daytona Beach’s efforts to build a fire under the architectural firm – and many others – who are responsible for planning and permitting efforts for the long-awaited First Step homeless shelter.

The city-hired architect’s timeline put the shelter’s opening off until late 2019.

Earlier this week, the News-Journal called for an end to the procrastination, impediments and bureaucratic stagnation that is jeopardizing sustainable funding and compromising citizen confidence in the process.

Now, it appears City Manager Jim Chisholm has put his sizable wingtip in the ass of those foot-draggers.

On Monday, a meeting was held at City Hall with city-hired architect John Hall and other officials responsible for ramrodding this important project.

According to Mr. Chisholm, “We made some headway on things.” 

 I’ll bet we did.

Let’s face it – Daytona Beach has become the very visible epicenter of the problem – but the municipality has also emerged as the recognized leader in pushing for shelter operations and workable homeless eradication strategies.

I would also like to commend Chief Craig Capri for his compassionate efforts to police the designated “safe zone” – a city-owned vacant lot off Clyde Morris Boulevard – where homeless people can congregate (but not camp) during overnight hours.

Now, Chief Capri has agreed to relax restrictions and allow the homeless to erect temporary shelters for protection from the elements.

In my view, that shows a true willingness to compromise – and a commitment to help those less fortunate.

We are truly fortunate to have caring professionals with the flexibility exhibited by Chief Capri – it is the very essence of community-based problem solving.

Asshole:          Volusia County Chairman Ed Kelley

 The not so subtle sales pitch for the proposed one-cent sales tax hike to fund transportation infrastructure has officially begun.

On Wednesday, our doddering fool of a county chair, Ed Kelley – who ran on a campaign promise of repairing Volusia County’s fractured relationship with the municipalities – approached the River-to-Sea Transportation Planning Organization to push for a massive increase in matching funds paid by the cities for TPO subsidized transportation upgrades.

In short, the TPO receives some $5-million from the federal government each year to assist Volusia County and its municipalities with community transportation needs, such as sidewalk improvements, roadway upgrades, trails, traffic lights, etc.

Volusia County’s TPO is one of only two in the state that requires matching funds – currently 10% of the project cost – from the local government seeking funding.

It’s not clear why this mysterious requirement exists.

When asked by the News-Journal why the River-to-Sea TPO makes matching funds a prerequisite when others do not, the board’s chairwoman – the scary smart County Councilwoman Deb Denys – all but mumbled, “Duhhhh, I dunno.  It’s always been that way?”

Now, Chairman Kelley wants the TPO to increase the match requirement to an incredibly prohibitive 25%.

In an interview with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Old Ed jabbered, “I felt this would make better utilization of the funds that are available and it will make people really consider: ‘Is the project worthwhile?’” Kelley said. “If it’s not worth (a city) putting more money into it, why is it worth taking money from the (federal government) to do your project?”

Say what?

(I don’t make this shit up, folks – but I hope Ed repeats this statement to himself the next time a private corporation approaches the County Council for yet another multi-million-dollar government handout. . .) 

Now, its not clear exactly who Eddie was speaking for – himself, or the Volusia County Council – but the purpose of his visit to the TPO was immediately apparent to anyone paying attention.

While Mr. Kelley has no earthly idea what he’s talking about, County Manager Jim Dinneen understands the strategic importance of using veiled threats – such as pricing local transportation infrastructure assistance out of the reach of small cities – as a means of ramrodding the proposed one-cent sales tax increase.

Regrettably, our addlebrained County Chairman is a mere political sock puppet – a hapless dupe whose lips are deftly manipulated by Mr. Dinneen like some demented ventriloquist.

Look for more of the same going into 2018 as Little Jimmy and his handlers begin staging another production of their tired Kabuki – dramatically performed with equal parts apocalyptic prophecy and open threats against the municipalities – all designed to wring additional dollars from a tax-weary constituency.

Just. Vote. No.

Angel:             Joe Giddens

The Barker’s View Sports Page is proud to welcome Coach Joe Giddens back to Mainland High School in 2018!

In 1995, Coach Giddens played alongside the legendary Vince Carter to win the state 5-A Championship – now, he’s returning to the school after coaching the past 15-years at Spruce Creek.

What a wonderful homecoming for Coach Giddens – and a great opportunity for the Buccaneers basketball program!

Quote of the Week:

 “I didn’t take the statement by the architect as definitive, but more as tentative.”

 –L. Ron Durham, Daytona Beach community relations manager, candidate for the Volusia County Council and unfortunate “point person” for the languishing First Step homeless shelter, speaking in the News-Journal after the city-hired architect let it be known the shelter will not open until fall of 2019.

Unfortunately, there was nothing tentative about architect John Hall’s timeline, and members of the First Step board – and the community – were collectively shocked when they heard it.

Trust me.  Everyone from County Chair Ed Kelley to South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall took the schedule as definitive.

We all understand that there are a lot of moving parts at play – but a two-year delay is profoundly unacceptable as our increasingly visible “homeless problem” continues to fester.

My hope is that Rev. Durham will see the detrimental impact this growing debacle will ultimately have on his burgeoning political aspirations, stop attempting to explain these ludicrous delays, demonstrate strong leadership and get on with the business at hand.

We’ll see.

Well, dudes and dudettes – that’s it for me.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas Season!

 

 

 

On Volusia: The CVB vs. Reality

One of the first things I learned as a new law enforcement officer is that everyone – and I mean everyone – can do the job better, and with far more speed and professionalism than I ever could.

How do I know this?

They told me so.

If I stopped someone for speeding – I was immediately asked why I hadn’t pulled over the “other guy” he was pacing – or, if I had only been more vigilant, the thief wouldn’t have “broken in” to the unfortunate victim’s unlocked car.

In the aftermath of a traumatic and hyper-dynamic incident, everyone becomes an amateur tactician, “Why didn’t he just shoot him in the leg?”“I would have used a Taser” – and it doesn’t help that most television dramas take high-profile homicide cases from crime scene to courtroom in a one-hour episode.

In law enforcement, mistakes are not permitted – and it remains one of the few professions that requires practitioners to remain stone-faced while being publicly ridiculed, assaulted, cussed and belittled.

But the police are not alone when it comes to being viciously second-guessed.

Last week, Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice wrote an excellent piece regarding the role and responsibilities of reporting the news in a tourist-based economy.

When the newspaper’s editorial board met with representatives of Volusia County’s various and redundant convention and visitors bureaus to seek answers as to how a group of reasonably bright people could have paid $200,000+ for the three-word tag – “Wide Open Fun” – as a marketing slogan for a beach community trying desperately to shed its Beer Bong and Stripper Thong image – the paper was taken to task for, well, reporting the news.

According to Mr. Rice, during the meeting Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lori Campbell Baker suggested that the News-Journal isn’t exactly helping draw tourists to the area when reporting on “topics and activities that she perceives as negative.”

In response, I thought Publisher Bill Offill defined the News-Journal’s role rather well – “We’re not the chamber of commerce or the CVB; we’re the newspaper.  Our job is to cover news.”

I realize that no one is more critical of the News-Journal than I am.  But more often than not, they get it right, and I happen to believe their in-depth investigative reporting is second-to-none.

Regular readers of this forum know that I routinely admonish those who seek to soften the news as a means of creating an artificial atmosphere that is conducive to real estate sales and tourism marketing.

That said, I completely understand Ms. Campbell-Baker’s motivation – and she remains a great ambassador for our region.

I also understand that selling the “Daytona Beach Resort Area” is an increasingly hard dollar – but ignoring reality and encouraging organizational cowardice in our newspaper of record won’t help solve the problems.

Psychiatrists call it the Pollyanna Syndrome – a tendency for people in power to focus on pleasant items more accurately than unpleasant ones.  They take the worry out of serious problems – make them smoother and rounder – by simply refusing to admit they exist at all.

In my view, even suggesting that a news organization ignore the myriad issues facing us here on the Fun Coast is the height of self-deception.

And it disrespects our intelligence.

The fact is, many areas of Volusia County are quickly reaching rock bottom – and to simply ignore – or worse, purposely conceal by omission – the cancerous effects of blight, violent crime, homelessness, dilapidation and the resulting despair as a means of building a false narrative to lure potential visitor’s boarders on fraud.

In a 1974 address to the Dirks Newspaper Financial Forum, the legendary Washington Post editor Bill Bradlee explained:

“Unique among manufactured products, the newspaper is completely different every 24 hours and it can’t be recalled for mistakes of fact or judgment.  It is produced in an adversary environment where the goals of the reported inherently conflict with the goals of the reporter and its reader.  It is this daily conflict that gives concrete importance and meaning to the First Amendment, to freedom of the press.  Without that freedom, there is no conflict, and without that conflict there is no truth.” 

I congratulate Pat Rice and the Daytona Beach News-Journal for having the courage to stand in support of the highest traditions of journalism in refusing to bend to these ridiculous calls to moderate their reporting on the important issues and incidents of the day.