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: Chairman Ed Kelley & the Volusia County Council
On Monday, the annual political bacchanalia known as the “State of the County Address” was held at the languishing Ocean Center – a beautiful county-owned facility with a 42,000-square foot arena, and seating for over 9,000, that has been reduced from staging Elton John and Bob Dylan concerts to hosting quilting bees.
Everyone (who is anyone) dutifully gathered for this spectacle of vanity run amok – an orchestrated opportunity for our elected officials to showcase dubious “accomplishments and achievements” – slap some backs, and take credit for the work of others during the past year.
According to News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, (who relegated their coverage of the soiree to page C-1), the theme of the event was “Accelerating to new heights.”
It beats “Going to hell in a handbasket,” I suppose.
This year, just like every year, our delusional elected officials in DeLand aptly took credit for their true role in the Dinneen regime – facilitating “local financial support” (read: corporate welfare) for all the right last names – to include gifting millions of dollars in public funds to Brown & Brown, the billionaire international insurance intermediary, for a new headquarters building.
Oh, Old Ed threw in a few zingers – like claiming responsibility for a couple of public parks and nature trails – and grabbed the glory for “opening” beach ramps that were arbitrarily and inexplicably closed years ago.
(I’m not sure giving back something we already had can be considered an “accomplishment” – but here in the Twilight Zone, anything is possible.)
Of course, our High Panjandrums of Political Power took time to grovel for their handlers, and gush appreciation for their “sponsors” – comprised almost exclusively of county contractors or political insiders – who ponied-up the estimated $30,000 so our movers & shakers could enjoy a “free lunch.”
Free lunch. Yeah, right. . .
I noticed Mr. Kelley didn’t take credit for the strategic neglect that has left county-owned facilities throughout Volusia County in a state of utter dilapidation – to include prime real estate held off municipal tax roles as potential “off beach parking” – deplorable conditions that contribute to blight in Ormond Beach and elsewhere – or the recurring gaffs and mistakes, open theft of our heritage of beach driving, off-the-agenda sleight-of-hand, tax addiction, lack of infrastructure planning, astronomical fee increases, or the pathological secrecy that shrouds everything this administration does or says.
And I’m sure Ed didn’t mention the bizarre “public policy by ambush” strategy that has become Mr. Dinneen’s modus operandi, a Machiavellian scheme that continues to seriously undermine public trust in Volusia County government.
Perhaps most mindboggling was Mr. Kelley’s warm embrace of recent hard-won homeless initiatives as a county “achievement.”
For years, Volusia County fought tooth-and-nail to obstruct any reasonable solution to the homeless problem; that is until the City of Daytona Beach, Mrs. Forough Hossieni and other local leaders took the reins and developed workable solutions to this pervasive countywide problem, one that continues to hamper real “economic development” and adds to the overall sense of hopelessness that pervades many areas of east Volusia.
When this snoozefest was resurrected last year, I wrote:
“Note to Chairman Kelley: The benefits of a lavish State of the County address are lost on us uncultivated rubes who gaze in amazement at the cringe-worthy state of affairs in DeLand – where our Sheriff has rightfully and openly exposed our County Manager as a “lying sack of shit” on the front page of the newspaper – and we keep rehashing corporate welfare projects and an increasingly artificial economy as “progress.” Frankly, given our current imbroglios – it really is poor optics – either pure arrogance or utter denial.
Asshole: Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees
Now, it is undeniable.
The disturbing pattern of corruption, intrigue and outright ineptitude is threatening the very future of Bethune-Cookman University – and it happened right under the nose of those charged with protecting and promoting the institution.
From the ugliness of last year’s dormitory debacle – a still brewing scandal which may ultimately expose the university to $306 million in crippling debt – to the latest revelation of the Heron Group’s super-secret partnership with former B-CU executives in an unrealized development known as the “MLK Lofts” – a weird project that was initially billed as luxurious high-end apartments positioned in Daytona’s horribly blighted Midtown.
(I wrote about it here: https://barkersview.org/2017/02/08/volusia-politics-smarter-than-the-average-bear/ )
As often happens when our worst fears are realized, the layers of this tragic disaster are being revealed slowly – like peeling a rotten onion – and now those responsible are being exposed as well.
With each new revelation, we see with greater clarity what happens when the frantic cries of the whistleblower are ignored – and unbridled arrogance and power form a malignant cancer on an institution – a hubristic disease which is allowed to metastasize by the complicity, and acquiescence, of those charged with providing oversight and accountability.
Like you, I’m still digesting things, but there is enough blame to go around.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, too.
Like, who knew what – and when.
Like, did Daytona Beach Redevelopment Director Reed Berger – or anyone else – perform even cursory due diligence before the city authorized some $3.6 million in tax abatement for the MLK Lofts project?
(I’m no expert, but even a rube like me knows there is a huge difference between a college dormitory and a posh, upmarket apartment complex.)
And why didn’t Deputy City Manager Jim Morris bring his insider knowledge of the deal to the attention of his boss, City Manager Jim Chisholm, when he became a public servant?
I’m not making accusations – I’m asking.
These are serious questions, that deserve serious answers.
I know Hubert Grimes to be an exceptional man of high integrity and great intellect, and I have every confidence in his ability to right a ship that is in grave danger of foundering – but that correction will require complete transparency, even when it gets uncomfortable.
In my view, the ultimate blame resides where it always does – at the top – squarely on the shoulders of the one individual who accepted the high mantle of responsibility as Chairman of the Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees – Mr. Joe Petrock.
Chairman Petrock – you didn’t know?
As B-CU alum and current Daytona Beach City Commissioner Paula Reed so eloquently stated in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “This could bankrupt us,” said Reed, the only city commissioner who voted against the MLK Lofts project. “Where were the gatekeepers, the Board of Trustees, when this was taking place? To say you didn’t know is a poor excuse. The Board of Trustees are the supervisor of the president.”
Indeed. Where in hell were the gatekeepers?
(Inexplicably, Mr. Petrock appears to have been out-to-lunch when the university he oversaw was being looted from within – yet, he still found time to accept the J. Saxon Lloyd Lifetime Achievement Award from the Halifax Civic League last week. Talk about shameless. . .)
I suspect that when all is said-and-done, someone is going to jail – at least they should – and many others will be exposed as the frauds they are.
Now, Bethune-Cookman University is in real jeopardy – and we are left with the knowledge that those who were personally, ethically and morally responsible for protecting the institution – and Dr. Bethune’s esteemed legacy of “faith, scholarship and service” – failed in their sacred duties.
That is inexcusable.
In my view, it is past the time for former Chairman Petrock to resign – and for Interim President Grimes to request a federal investigation into the increasingly obvious financial crimes that have brought this venerated and historic university to its knees.
Angel: Dr. Marie Herrmann, Volusia Medical Examiner
Barker’s View extends hearty congratulations and a sincere “thank you” for a job well done to Dr. Marie Herrmann, who recently announced her well-deserved retirement after over ten-years at the helm of the Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office.
I don’t want to cloud Dr. Herrmann’s good work with the stench of politics – so I’ll just say that she did more, with less, than perhaps any other senior executive in Volusia County.
In all my professional dealings with Dr. Herrmann, I found her to be a quiet professional – intently focused on “getting it right.” She served her various constituencies, to include law enforcement, the judicial system and bereaved families, extremely well.
Best wishes for all future endeavors, Dr. Herrmann.
Thank you for your outstanding service and dedication to the citizens of Volusia County.
We’re glad you came our way.
Asshole: Lake Helen City Commission
There’s an old Chinese proverb the starstruck elected and appointed officials of Lake Helen who recently approved the I-4 Auto Mall development should become familiar with:
“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.”
Angel: Tim Curtis & L. Gale Lemerand
In the transient environment of the Halifax area – things come, and they go.
There is very little feeling of permanency – those places where we can come together, have common experiences and build a sense of community.
The original Houligan’s in Ormond Beach is one of those venues.
It was recently announced that area restaurateurs Tim Curtis and Gale Lemerand are bringing “our” Houligan’s back to life later this month after the building sustained extensive damage during Hurricane Matthew.
As a long-time area resident, I was a regular at Houligan’s predecessor – Scooters – a small sports bar in the South Forty Shopping Center where I passed many long nights playing shuffleboard, shooting pool and having copious libations with friends.
When Tim and his late father, Wally, opened Houligan’s in 1990, it was a natural sync – and a huge success. It became the place we celebrated family events, enjoyed an after-work beer and met friends to catch up on the local gossip.
I’ve often said that Tim Curtis and Gale Lemerand do more for our community behind-the-scenes than any two people I know. Their brand of discreet philanthropy, always focusing on real needs while remaining out of the limelight, sets the example for community-based problem solving and personal generosity.
Congratulations to Mr. Curtis and Mr. Lemerand for investing their incredible talents in finding a way to return this iconic Ormond Beach eatery to those of us who love it – who need it.
Angel: Volusia Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett
Kudos to Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett for doing what his predecessor wouldn’t and putting some much-needed teeth in local code enforcement efforts.
Look, I know this idea isn’t popular with everyone – nor should it be. But, in my view, the time has come to try something new.
Just before I retired from municipal service in 2014, the City of Holly Hill threatened a lawsuit against former Property Appraiser Morgan Gilreath, when he refused the city’s request to place code liens as a non-ad valorem assessment on tax bills.
When I took up the rocking chair, I lost track of how things ultimately shook out.
I thought it was a good idea then, and I still do.
Let’s face facts – we continue to suffer the long-term consequences of lax or non-existent code enforcement in municipalities throughout Volusia County – and some unincorporated areas are in worse shape yet.
In some cases, it is the result of political cowardice – many elected officials simply can’t fade the political heat that comes with holding constituents accountable – and sometimes it’s just good old-timey incompetence.
In cities where decades of blight and dilapidation have become the norm, there is a real sense by enforcement officials that the task at hand is simply too great to accomplish.
They feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the beast.
When you couple that frustration with the fact code enforcement efforts historically haven’t been supported by administrators and elected officials (“complaint-driven” response, limitations on proactive enforcement, political meddling, etc.) and literally nothing is accomplished – and no one really cares.
When this cycle repeats itself for years – communities end up where we find ourselves today.
Is there a potential for abuse? Sure. But most modern code compliance ordinances have ample due process requirements, rules of evidence, and the opportunity for an outside, unbiased review by a special magistrate or the judicial system.
For example, one need look no further than the outstanding work of Daytona Beach Special Master David Vukelja for reassurance.
Under Mr. Bartlett’s plan, long-term violators – those who simply will not comply with traditional compliance efforts – face the very real possibility of financial sanctions that cannot be ignored or deferred.
It’s a good start.
Let’s try something different for a change.
Now, I hope Bartlett will “crackdown” on phony agricultural exemptions by large corporate landowners in Volusia County. In my view, if our elected officials keep planning these perennial tax increases – its high time everyone pays their fair share.
Angel: Jeff Feasel, CEO, Halifax Health
The Halifax Health Board of Commissioners took some heat on the street this week after authorizing a compensation and benefits increase for Chief Executive Officer Jeff Feasel.
According to reports, the move brought Mr. Feasel’s base salary to $586,500 – which (believe it or not) still places him among the lowest paid administrators in the industry.
Look, regular readers of my twaddle know that I’m the first to call bullshit on the over-the-top salaries commanded by a few of our do-nothing anointed ones – but I happen to have a personal connection to Mr. Feasel’s leadership.
Several years ago, two incredibly talented surgeons – Dr. Joel Sebastien and Dr. Harry Black – removed my sigmoid colon in a six-hour operation at Halifax Hospital. The procedure required a few days stay in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and nearly a week recuperating in the France Tower.
The experience gave me a broad overview of the staff and services provided by Halifax Health.
From the moment I walked in the front door until my discharge, the quality and consistency of customer service rivaled that of Disney World.
Perhaps most important, the professionalism of the nursing and medical staff was second-to-none.
The nurses and technicians who treated me provided a quality of care that transcend what one would expect from a public hospital – or a private setting, for that matter. These men and women were true angels of mercy, and their healing skills were based upon real human compassion and the highest standards of modern medicine.
Kindhearted, attentive, sympathetic, caring and technically proficient. These caregivers remain my personal heroes.
Whenever I have the opportunity, I tell people about my wonderful, life-changing experience at Halifax Health. We are truly blessed to have this incredible, technologically advanced facility in service to our community.
I don’t know Mr. Feasel personally, but I recognize talent and leadership when I experience it.
In my view, if his management style and personal commitment to excellence in healthcare have contributed to this outstanding culture of care and professionalism – then he deserves ample compensation for his incredible contribution to our community.
Quote of the Week:
“The main purpose of One Daytona is to supplement the Speedway.”
–Jeff Boerger, ISC Vice President for Corporate Development, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
And that, in a nutshell, explains why our local elected officials handed over $40 million of our hard-earned tax dollars to subsidize a little family enterprise located just across the street.
A place where shoppers are required to pay a one-percent “Enhanced Amenity Fee” on retail purchases at the publicly underwritten One Daytona complex.
In 2015, the France Family was listed at #53 on Forbes magazine’s list of the Richest Families in America with an estimated net worth over time of $5.7 Billion dollars.
News & Notes: Our friend Anne Ruby – a tireless civic activist who has worked diligently to foster positive change and improve our quality of life in Volusia County – is launching a refreshing new public affairs blog, bringing her unique insight to the often-thorny issues facing us here on the Fun Coast. It’s good stuff.
Find it here: www.annotations4today.com
Have a great weekend, y’all.