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

 

2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for December 15, 2017

  1. I think the tag line is bad too. They should focus on family with a tag line like “Fun and Sun for the Whole Family.”
    However, I will agree with Geist on one thing. Our local paper thinks news is some idiot shooting some other idiot. That happens so often in this town it’s not news. A gas station going up maybe news but not major news. Our paper should present more good news, while also taking our leaders to task for giving away $15 million to companies that don’t need it, while our beachside does. But that insanity has been going on so long I’ve almost given up completely on our local paper.

    Like

  2. What a wonderful article Mr Barker. Thanks for making Mr Thomas an “Angel” this week. Being in the Christmas spirit I have three Christmas wishes…which I know none of which will come true….
    1 – you run for an elected office. You could be the local swamp drainer which we desperately need
    2- Mr Thomas would come back to serve the citizens at the VCSO
    3- The two biggest swamp creatures at the County level (the lying Dinneen and the Uber-weird Heather Post) would resign and go somewhere else.

    Like

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