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:
Earlier this week, someone on social media opined that reading Barker’s View is like watching Fox News – “Angry, twisted versions of facts that are always spun negative.”
Guilty as charged.
To show that I’m not a complete Debbie Downer, I thought we would start this week’s segment with a little game I like to call, “Guess Where?”
The rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the thing depicted is in Kabul, Port-au-Prince, Juarez or the Daytona Beach Resort Area?
Come on. Play along.
Our friends at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Beachside Redevelopment Committee and the Regional Chamber of Commerce are welcome to join in!
It’ll be Wide. Open. Fun!
Asshole: City of Deltona
It’s clear to anyone paying attention – Florida has its issues.
But something the beleaguered residents of the Sunshine State have going for us is a robust public records law – one that ensures the people’s right to know what our government is doing with our money, and why.
In fact, under the law, public officials are required to interpret record requests in the broadest possible way – that means not quibbling over non-existent technical exemptions.
Last week, we learned that the City of Deltona’s event manager, Chris O’Donnell, resigned his post just one month after the city’s $9 million community center opened.
It’s important, because Mr. O’Donnell was a major salesman for the tax funded project – including providing decision-makers with dubious projections that the center would bring in some $970,700 annually – a figure significantly higher than what similar public facilities realize.
With a few weddings, a birthday party and a smattering of civic events under its belt, is it possible that Mr. O’Donnell came to the sobering realization that Deltona’s highly touted new center wouldn’t come close to his initial earning predictions?
Or, are there internal or political conditions inside City Hall that made it impossible for him to continue?
The suspense was exacerbated by Mr. O’Donnell’s cryptic comment in the newspaper that he would never work in city government again. That’s strange, because wild horses couldn’t pull most bureaucrats out of their cushy offices – highly sought-after jobs with important titles, regular pay and awesome benefits (I know, I was one of them. . .)
Unfortunately, the details of exactly why Mr. O’Donnell left the public service remain open to speculation – but when it comes to Deltona government – it seems conjecture and guesswork are typically all we have to go on.
Why is that?
As I understand it – Deltona’s uber-weird City Manager, Jane Shang, has unilaterally exempted O’Donnell’s letter of resignation under the terms of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – a federal law designed to protect the privacy of medical records and healthcare information.
I also find it interesting that O’Donnell recently told the Daytona Beach News-Journal he is prohibited from discussing the terms of his departure due to a “non-disclosure” agreement he signed with Deltona.
Why would a local events manager be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement?
I mean, literally everything about the facility – from the budget to fees to bookings – are open for public scrutiny.
Once again, the City of Deltona has succeeded in turning some routine human resources matter into a Hardy Boy’s mystery – and it is completely unnecessary.
In my view, Jane Shang and other senior administrators have worked overtime to keep the public’s prying eyes out of city business. This includes the imposition of onerous fees and other hoops designed to frost the windows at City Hall and hide the machinations of this wholly dysfunctional government.
I sincerely hope that the Daytona Beach News-Journal doesn’t take this bullshit lying down.
In my opinion, any news organization worth its salt owes it to their consumers to dig deep and challenge pseudo-exemptions to our cherished open records law by government pencil pushers with a paranoia disorder – even on issues that don’t seem that important on their face.
Angel: Commissioner Rob Littleton, Ormond Beach
In an open letter to the editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ormond Beach District 4 City Commissioner Rob Littleton put into words what many of us have been thinking.
As our elected officials in both municipal and county government are ramping-up an intensive “re-education” campaign designed to sell We, The People on their latest money grab – a one-half cent sales tax increase, ostensibly to fund transportation infrastructure improvements in Volusia County – Mr. Littleton is a voice of reason.
In his letter, Commissioner Littleton explained that he has a real problem with three aspects of the plan that is being foisted on us by the powerbrokers. These include the potential for using tax dollars generated by the increase for other than transportation needs, disparities in funding distributions, and the use of public money (and staff time) to sell the tax hike with this “vaguely defined” education campaign.
Mr. Littleton asked, “Do they (constituents) want their property tax dollars used to sell this to the voters?”
According to a dubious private study, bought and paid for by that Star Chamber of uber-wealthy elitists over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, voters will most likely support the half-cent measure – but it will require a “disciplined, well-funded, and well-executed campaign plus strong and nearly universal support from the local governments through the county.”
Well, it appears Mr. Littleton is one servant-leader who is not in lock-step with the crowd.
It takes political courage for a lone public official to stand up, speak the truth, and ask the hard questions – especially when certain last names are involved.
The fact is, given the abysmal track record of Volusia County’s current administration – and the very real fear that any tax increase will ultimately be hijacked and diverted for things other than the original selling point – Mr. Littleton is right to be skeptical of the motivations of those who stand to benefit most.
In my view, we need more like Rob Littleton in public office.
He has demonstrated the strength of character and fortitude to stand against a very strong flow and logically consider the best interests of his constituents – rather than blindly push the self-serving notions of a few political insiders with a profit motive.
Angel: City of Daytona Beach & First Step Shelter Board
There is a memorable quote from a long-forgotten movie starring Danny Devito – “All I know is, the choices we make dictate the life we lead.”
I’m a strong believer in personal responsibility, and the importance of good decision-making to a happy and healthy life. My father taught me that.
My life experience proved to me that sometimes things conspire against the best of us – and when you’re living on the ragged edge of sanity, addiction, or complete financial ruin, it doesn’t take much to end up in a living hell.
Sometimes people slip through the societal cracks. In the Halifax area, we drive past them every day, tourists walk around them at beachside parks and they live and die in the shadows.
And we shake our heads in pity – or cuss them for what they represent in a resort area already struggling with blight.
But the question remains, do we, as a society, have a moral obligation to provide for those who cannot adequately care for themselves? That small, but very visible, segment of our local population who – for myriad reasons – can no longer meet what Maslow described as the basic physiological needs of food, water, clothing or shelter.
Well, that is the age-old conundrum – and I certainly don’t have the answer.
What I do know is that the City of Daytona Beach – and those who dutifully serve on the First Step Shelter Board – continue to work tirelessly to find a compassionate solution to the problem of chronic homelessness and the deleterious economic and social impact it is having on the Halifax area.
Even when they don’t agree – they never stop trying.
I admire that.
This week, city officials took their case to the First Step Board, explaining that conditions at the “safe zone” near Clyde Morris Boulevard and Bellevue Avenue are becoming untenable.
The solution proposed by Daytona Beach was relocating the encampment to a patch of scrub near Derbyshire Road – a location which would put the safe zone near the “Boomtown Boulevard” of the LPGA corridor.
For good reason, the board rejected that idea – but allowing a growing tent city in the middle of a major commercial corridor, literally on the doorstep of Embry-Riddle, isn’t the best option either.
It’s a tough problem, but that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about alternative solutions.
The City of Daytona Beach has borne more than their fair share of this difficult burden, now it is time for Volusia County and other area municipalities to step up to the plate.
In my view, the Volusia County Council has – like always – simply thrown money at the problem without taking a whit of responsibility for finding workable answers.
Unless someone with the strength of personality and political clout of Mrs. Forough Hossieni takes the lead and ramrods a project (like Hope Place) to fruition, our county officials are seemingly blind to the catastrophe unfolding on our streets.
Chronic homelessness is a countywide problem that will ultimately require a countywide solution.
And with the First Step Shelter still over a year out – we desperately need workable options to the current safe zone – solutions that will require strong leadership and creativity.
Unfortunately, as usual, the Volusia County Council is out-to-lunch when it comes time for the heavy lifting.
In my view, it is high time for Ed Kelley and those dullards sitting on the dais of power in DeLand to stop sitting on their laurels – smugly content that throwing around copious amounts of our money is the sole extent of their obligation – and begin working collaboratively with Daytona Beach to develop alternatives.
Look, I take a lot of cheap shots at Daytona Beach city officials – but I have been incredibly impressed with their efforts to find a compassionate answer to an incredibly difficult problem.
Clearly, the City of Daytona Beach should not be expected to bear the full impact of this growing humanitarian crisis alone.
Trust me – with “Speed Weeks” just days away, I suspect we will see some movement on this issue very soon. I only hope the very real needs of those we are trying to serve aren’t forgotten in the shuffle.
Asshole: B-CU Board of Trustees
Just before this forum published last week we learned the grim facts of Bethune-Cookman University’s involvement in a weird luxury apartment development in Daytona’s struggling Midtown neighborhood – a project that was so secret apparently not one of the university’s trustees – or anyone in city government – was aware of it.
Now, Canadian developer Heron Group has been left holding the bag after B-CU abruptly backed out of the deal – and there will be hell to pay.
It is apparent that the Heron Group, unlike the B-CU board of trustees, does not hesitate to protect its interests.
A blistering lawsuit recently filed by the Heron Group’s able attorney charges – among other sins – that Bethune-Cookman engaged in fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment and breach of contract.
The suit is seeking calamitous damages against the university totaling in the tens-of-millions.
As the ramparts built by the university’s disgraced former president Dr. Edison O. Jackson continue to crumble, we are left with a very bleak picture of a terribly compromised institution – one with absolutely no substantive oversight and an immoral lack of accountability by senior administrators and trustees.
Look, I’m just a smartass with a thesaurus – but these are truly smart people – and it defies logic to say that board members and senior staff with extremely close ties to the university, and the community, simply didn’t know what was going on.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first-time intelligent people ignored their best instincts – or their responsibilities.
For instance, Bethune-Cookman University’s At Large Trustees include luminaries such as the Halifax areas own Dr. Kent Sharples. Excuse me?
I mean, how many more local institutions of higher learning are we going to allow ol’ Kent to involve himself with?
I’m just asking.
Only in Volusia County can you go from the American Music Festival disaster to the boardroom of the CEO Business Alliance and Bethune-Cookman University. . .
In most industries, senior administrators are given one bite at that apple before they are exposed as jacklegs and cashiered out of the service – but not in academia – or economic development organizations, I suppose.
Is it possible everyone was too busy accepting honorary doctorates, bickering over commencement speakers and bullying whistleblowers to notice that Dr. Bethune’s beloved institution was being looted by some of the very administrators charged with protecting and promoting it – or was something even more nefarious afoot?
I mean, how could the Board of Trustee’s not have known?
The answers to these increasingly difficult questions will ultimately be revealed – and this sordid mess won’t end well for those who feebly attempt to sweep things under the rug and clean up the evils of the past.
This growing scandal is too big to contain now – and the very fate of a once great university hangs in the balance. It is time for those with direct personal involvement to step aside and allow professionals to investigate, formulate the appropriate charges and begin the process of bringing those responsible to justice.
It is going to be expensive – and it is going to take time.
I say again – in my view, this difficult period should rightfully begin with the immediate resignation of the Board of Trustees.
It is time for complete transparency, and anything less is counter to the goal of exposing the truth and rehabilitating the reputation of this important institution.
Quote of the Week:
“Do residents believe government employees should take time and effort away from serving the citizens in order to promote this new sales tax? Do they want their property tax dollars being used to sell this to the voters? Of course they don’t, and neither do I.”
–Ormond Beach City Commissioner Rob Littleton, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, regarding the proposed half-cent sales tax increase.
News & Notes:
Near the end of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the title character reckons it’s time to light out for the territory, lest Aunt Sally “sivilize” him – “I can’t stand it.” Huck said, “I been there before. . .”
I know how he felt.
Now and then you must throw off the yoke, spit the bit and go a little crazy. It is the only effective preventative I know for the curse of complete insanity – a condition I stagger closer to everyday.
It’s time to recharge and relax.
This week, the Ancient and Honorable secret order known as “The Fun Pigs” will launch on another great adventure, seeking wanton fun and shameless debauchery in a place that holds great significance for my wife Patti and I (more on that later).
Yep! We’ve iced down some cold beer in the Yeti, laid in a supply of fine spirits, and fueled up with a full tank of freedom as we set out on another infamous road trip.
During this brief hiatus from the roil and churn of local political shenanigans, I’ll be posting a few “Best of Barker’s View” segments – and adding some goofy quips and commentary describing our escapades on social media as well. (If you’re not already following BV on Facebook and Twitter, now would be a great time to get off your arse and join the fun!)
As always, thanks so much for reading.
I am proud to report that January 2018 was one of the best months in the history of this experiment in alternative opinion blogging – and I sincerely appreciate your continued interest.
Please know that I’ll be back tilting at the windmills of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast on Monday, February 12th, when Barker’s View will join Big John on “the fastest two-hours in radio” – GovStuff Live! – beginning at 4:00pm.
Find us at 1380am or online at www.govstuff.org (listen live button)!
We are also in the planning stage for a possible “Barker’s View Readers Party” – a good, old-fashioned kegger – sometime this spring, with all donations going to support those intrepid souls at Sons of the Beach in their fight to protect our heritage of beach driving and access!
Have great weekend, y’all!