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.
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.