I’m back – as Charlie Daniels said, “hungover, red-eyed – dog tired, but satisfied” – from a wild week in New Orleans, where we became part of the problem in the lead up to Mardi Gras last week.
Even at my advanced age, I can still party all day at places like Boondock Saint and Circle Bar, then catch beads and throws all night – Sazerac in hand – on the uptown parade route.
But now it takes me a week to recover.
My love affair with New Orleans began over 30-years ago, and after all this time, whenever we visit, I am reminded in the most wonderful ways why she stole my heart. For me, it remains the most unique city in the nation – 300-years of incredible beauty, rich traditions and intractable civic and social problems.
Sadly, you’re more likely to be killed by a 16-year old street thug with a gun there than perhaps anywhere else in the world – I know, my wife and friend were standing less than 100-yards from a shooting incident last Thursday night – and at least four people have been murdered in street violence since Lundi Gras.
Politicians in Louisiana have taken graft, kick-backs and corruption to a whole different level – something locals have come to accept as just another ingredient in the gumbo of life in the “Big Easy.”
As one friend of mine who owns a bar on St. Charles Avenue rhetorically put it, “What’cha gonna do, I guess?”
Yet, ‘The City that Care Forgot’ endures.
You can travel down a beautifully canopied, but trash-strewn and potholed street, reeling from the the heavy odor of decay from collapsed structures that still haven’t been cleared since the levy broke – then cross an intersection and immediately smell the fragrance of fresh cut lumber at a construction site, where an old shotgun house – or some centuries-old commercial building – is being lovingly renovated, restored and resurrected.
And it gives hope that anything is possible.
Alright, folks – 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: Volusia County Council
I want to commend a recent editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Stacked deck on impact fees,” which provided a thoughtful analysis of our County Council’s recent dismissal of any reasonable attempt to raise impact fees to help cover the cost of increasing infrastructure demands.
A week or so back, Councilwoman Deb Denys feigned interest in the idea – if just so she can say “See, I tried to get them to do something” – during her reelection attempt. (And I sincerely hope there is a contest. To-date, no one has stepped up to challenge her.)
If this empty exercise did anything, it exposed the depth to which our elected officials will publicly wallow and squirm to protect the interests of their campaign contributors who pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into local races as an effective means of controlling direct access to the public teat.
In most places, when obscure LLC’s, “political action committees,” and dubious corporate entities funnel hard cash into the campaign coffers of political candidates – then the people who control those contributions receive millions of dollars in “economic incentives” as return on investment – it is investigated as quid pro quo corruption.
In Volusia County, it’s called the cost of doing business – and you don’t have to be Elliott Ness to connect the dots from certain donors to certain lucrative “incentives.”
Yet, here on the Fun Coast, it’s all perfectly legal under our bastardized campaign finance system – yet, morally and ethically dishonest to its rotten core.
I wish the News-Journal would have explored that important aspect of this equation – something everyone recognizes, but no one wants to talk about.
In my view, it is patently wrong for our elected officials to make asinine excuses and insult the intelligence of their constituents. Clearly, they desperately want the proposed half-cent sales tax increase, because Volusia County government needs ever increasing sources of revenue like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host.
To say that impact fees should not be part of a comprehensive discussion of how we respond to the inevitable environmental and infrastructure pressures brought by massive growth and development is not just shortsighted – it is a well-choreographed sham to transfer the cost to the citizens of Volusia County, while protecting the self-interests of those uber-wealthy few who stand to benefit.
Despite the snobbish claims of our elected and appointed officials that We, The People are too stupid to understand the process, in my view, this dismal refusal by the county council to use all available existing sources to build and maintain infrastructure is a game changer.
Let’s send a strong message to these political whores who befoul their high office with this continuing swindle that we’re not as dumb as they think we are.
How, you ask?
Just say NO to their money-grubbing half-cent sales tax increase. That’s how.
Asshole: Brown & Brown
Look, my take on this may sound petty – but I’m going to say it anyway – because I’m nothing if not a trifling asshole with a sideways opinion:
Now that you and I are strategic investors in the Daytona Beach-based international insurance intermediary, Brown & Brown – I feel a fiduciary responsibility to you, my fellow unofficial board members, to keep a close eye on our new business partner – and ensure that J. Hyatt keeps his lofty promises.
You know – trust but verify.
As you may recall, residents of Daytona Beach and Volusia County recently went in our collective pocket for a $15.5 million incentive package (to “assist” a company which reported $1.88 billion in revenue last year) for construction of a new 10-story corporate headquarters complex on Beach Street.
One of the high promises made to us by Chairman J. Hyatt Brown was that, in exchange for tax dollars and other breaks, Brown & Brown would create at least 600 “new” jobs paying an average of $41,300 – a handsome improvement over our current abysmal local wage.
While you and I may have thought the promised “new” jobs would originate where the incentive money did – you know, here in Volusia County – we later learned that the required positions need only be “new to Florida.”
I guess I should have listened closer when J. Hyatt did his best Bachman-Turner Overdrive impression, screaming “B-b-b-baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet!” to the thunderous applause of his fawning sycophants last September.
I guess the devil truly is in the details.
With 16% of Volusia County residents living at or below the poverty line, I think everyone viewed J. Hyatt’s job creation promise as a real silver lining – an alternative to the scullery work and tragic “affordable housing” cycle that has kept thousands of our neighbors living hand-to-mouth.
Last week, at the annual soiree of that oxymoron known as the “Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (?),” (which, I think, exists to throw cocktail parties that place “consultants” elbow-to-elbow with elected and appointed decision makers) J. Hyatt told a roomful of our local ‘movers & shakers’ that he plans to meet his promise of 600 new jobs well before the 2022 deadline.
However, locals shouldn’t break out the resume just yet.
Apparently – rather than organically creating 600 “new” local jobs – Brown & Brown will simply uproot two existing “profit centers,” one currently located in Detroit, the other in Boston, and transfer these 700 employees to the “new” Daytona Beach campus when its completed in 2020.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “He (Brown) declined to specify what kind of jobs the company was creating locally, but said they aren’t entry-level positions. “They’re highly complex jobs dealing with specialty lines of insurance,” he said.
“Brown said the new trainees the company has added recently in Daytona Beach are part of the 700 jobs that are expected to be created by the relocation of the two profit centers.”
So, why the rush to move current B&B employees to the Fun Coast?
I mean, why not take the opportunity to establish new jobs for existing area residents – you know, in keeping with the spirit of the subsidies that will be paid by existing area residents?
Well, as I understand it, if Brown & Brown meets the job/wage requirements, it stands to receive $4.5 million in performance-based “incentives” – $900,000 of that coming directly from our hard-earned local tax dollars.
Oh, and the company will also be eligible for additional giveaways to off-set construction overhead and infrastructure totaling $4.5 million from Volusia County residents – and $4.5 million from the City of Daytona Beach taxpayers.
According to our addle-brained County Chairman Ed Kelley, “Fantastic is the only word that comes to my mind. It’s going to make us a destination for employment,” beyond service jobs, he said.”
(Really? Because ‘bait-and-switch’ is the first thing that came to my mind. . .)
“A destination for employment?”
What in God’s name is he yammering about?
I’m guessing Old Ed dozed-off, face-first, in his balsamic-drenched arugula at the VCARD gala and missed the part about “relocating” existing jobs, rather than creating “new” ones for Volusia County residents.
Because I sure as hell missed it.
Sorry Detroit. Sorry Boston. Your loss is our gain.
So, let’s welcome our new high-income neighbors!
You’re going to love your new digs!
My suggestion: Buy a loft downtown, close to work, because once Margaritaville, Mosaic, Woodhaven, etc., etc. are built out, the resulting traffic congestion is going to make Boston area gridlock look like some idyllic country road. . .
And for us yokels left to underwrite the whole shebang – well, try not to be too sore over the fact we were kind of led to believe one thing – but ended up with something completely different.
Welcome to “Corporate America,” kids – The Art of the Deal.
Angel: Chief Craig Capri & the Daytona Beach Police Department
Kudos to Chief Spike Capri who stood his ground and supported the bold actions of his officers in seizing 23 at-risk dogs – including a four-month old puppy, and seven newborns – from a Reva Street home last year.
During an unrelated investigation into a stolen car found on the property, officers discovered the animals being held in deplorable conditions, confined in small cages with contaminated water and floors covered in waste.
Several of the malnourished dogs were suffering from open, untreated puncture wounds.
Investigators also found physical evidence of dog fighting and forced breeding, to include what one veterinarian described as a “rape stand.”
Earlier this month, Judge Angela Dempsey ordered these vulnerable animals be returned to the abusive son-of-a-bitch who made their lives a living hell – ruling that officers violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights and should have obtained a warrant to search the property.
Look, I understand the exclusionary rule – God knows I’ve lost my share of evidentiary hearings – but what about the inevitable discovery exception? I’ve been out of the business a few years, but weren’t the officers conducting a lawful investigation when the 23 dogs were observed?
I’m not second-guessing Judge Dempsey – I’m asking.
Speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Chief Capri was quick to point out that, under the circumstances, he would do the same thing again “in a heartbeat.”
I admire that.
In my view, Chief Capri and his officers acted in the highest traditions of the police service when they saved these tortured animals from an abusive, filthy and life-threatening situation.
When officers discovered animals in immediate danger, they conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion – and acted decisively to intervene and alleviate their acute suffering.
I find it unfortunate that, under the circumstances, there was no other legal alternative available to Judge Dempsey.
Considering there is an active investigation on-going, was there no room for continued judicial oversight – or some other means that would allow Judge Dempsey to monitor these helpless animals and protect them from continued abuse?
I mean, under current city ordinances, can a person possibly be permitted to keep 23 dogs in a single-family home?
Again, I’m asking.
In my view, the Daytona Beach Police Department continues to impress – and I want to recognize the outstanding kindness and compassion of Officer Kera Cantrell, who went above and beyond the call of duty in adopting and providing a safe and loving home to “River” the weeks-old puppy who was heartlessly abandoned to the elements and certain death under the Seabreeze Bridge one cold day last month.
Kera’s a great lady – and an exceptional law enforcement officer.
We’re fortunate to have incredibly compassionate people like Officer Cantrell, under the extraordinary leadership of Chief Capri, in service to the citizens of Daytona Beach.
Thank you for your commitment, both to our community – and to those helpless creatures who cannot speak for themselves.
Angel: First Step Shelter Board
Members of the First Step Shelter Board are publicly asking what the rest of us have been thinking for months: “What the hell’s taking so long?”
I mean, it’s a homeless shelter – not a Summit Hospitality hotel renovation, for Christ sake.
On Tuesday evening, the First Step Shelter Board met to discuss their frustrations and examine what can be done – if anything – to put some fire under the various professionals and bureaucrats whose expertise and sign-off will ultimately be necessary to break ground.
Two months ago, everyone who is anyone in Volusia County gathered in front of a staged bulldozer while golden shovels turned ceremonial dirt. Once the flowery speeches, gushing accolades and political backslapping at the barren site were over – nothing.
Now, members of the First Step Shelter Board – that diverse group of dedicated citizens and public servants who took perhaps the most intractable local problem of our age by the reins and spearheaded a viable effort to build a permanent shelter to provide temporary housing for area homeless – have legitimate concerns about the shelter’s design and construction schedule.
As I’ve said before, the timeline proposed by the architectural firm hired by the City of Daytona Beach is outlandishly drawn-out. Under the current protracted calendar, the shelter’s doors won’t open until sometime in late 2019 – that’s two-years beyond what many involved in the process predicted.
And that’s unacceptable.
Board members are rightly concerned that, as more time passes, would-be benefactors and corporate donors will simply lose interest – or rightfully question the project’s management and oversight.
Other well-informed citizens doubt the shelter will happen at all.
One thing that truly concerned me was an uninformed comment by Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, who also serves as president of the First Step Shelter Board. According to Mayor Henry’s take on the foot-dragging, “Short of city commissioners putting pressure on staff, there’s not much more we can do.”
First, that’s not the way it works.
Second, that’s City Manager Jim Chisholm’s job – and Mayor Henry should know that.
If the City of Daytona Beach plans to continue supervising construction of the First Step Shelter, perhaps it’s time that Mr. Chisholm turn his legendary temper and logistical skills toward those in his charge who are hamstringing this important progress – and that includes contractors who are pretending a simple homeless shelter requires the architectural and engineering design of the Shanghai Tower.
Angel: Paul Zimmerman & Sons of the Beach
No one has done more to educate us on the on-going shitstorm that is the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock debacle than the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Florida’s premiere beach access and advocacy group, Sons of the Beach.
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest that everyone examine Paul’s recent photographic expose (available on Facebook at FREE Daytona Beach) depicting the horrific conditions at our new “4-Star” Hard Rock resort hotel – the never-ending fiasco which is still actively under construction on the bones of the haunted Desert Inn on Atlantic Avenue.
As you must know, last April our elected corporate shills on the Volusia County Council orchestrated amended legislation which gave the developer of this languishing “resort” – Summit Hospitality Group – a firm date of February 28th to finish things up, or lose the generous giveaway removing beach driving from the strand behind the hotel.
As a former licensed contractor, Paul knows exactly what he’s talking about.
Look, I don’t have a clue which end of a hammer you blow in – but I can look at a picture of spalling concrete, rusted and fractured support posts, the effects of flooding and saltwater intrusion, the copious use of floor-jacks to prevent catastrophic collapse and the slapdash use of grout and plaster to cover obvious problems – and come to the opinion that, in a rush to finish, patched-over eyewash has replaced the complex structural repair and replacement one expects of a quality renovation.
My hope is that an independent regulatory agency will inspect this project – preferably before its ramrodded to completion using bubblegum and bailing wire – and take decisive steps to ensure the safety of workers and the public.
At the very least, Hard Rock International has got to be wondering exactly what they stepped in here on the sandy shores of the Fun Coast. . .
In my view, if they put the corporate brand on this very visible disaster at this stage of completion, Hard Rock stands to lose far more credibility in the global market than Summit Hospitality ever will.
Angel: Bethune-Cookman University Athletics
The Barker’s View sports department sends hearty congratulations to B-CU Women’s Basketball on being ranked 25th in the nation on the College Insider.com Mid-Major Top 25!
Bethune-Cookman – 19-4 overall, and undefeated in Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference play – received their first-ever Division 1 national ranking after their big win over North Carolina Central Monday night.
The Lady Wildcats are now one victory away from their first 20-win regular season in over three decades.
In addition, the school announced on Tuesday that guard Angel Golden was named the MEAC Conference Player of the Week, while forward Lyndsey Edwards received special recognition as Co-Defensive Player.
Well done, ladies.
Did I mention that all these accomplishments came as B-CU’s incomparable head coach, Vanessa Blair-Lewis, is nearly 9-months pregnant?
Congratulations Coach Blair-Lewis – on all fronts.
Incidentally, her husband, Eric, is a 14-season veteran of the NBA, who officiated the Cleveland/Boston match up which was nationally televised on ABC Sports last Sunday.
There is a lot of good things going on at B-CU Sports, and we’ll have more on their continuing success later.
Suffice it to say, both the school – and our community – are very proud of these young athletes!
Quote of the Week:
“It’s nice to have the information. I think that’s good enough for me. I think letting a sleeping dog lie in this case might be the best situation.”
–District 5 Volusia County Council member, The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry, shillyshallying his weary constituents as to why the burden of funding transportation infrastructure improvements in the face of massive, unchecked growth should be placed squarely on the taxpayer – rather than the wealthy developers who stand to benefit most.
What’cha gonna do, I guess. . .
Have a great weekend, kids.