This week, a public records request by The Daytona Beach News-Journal confirmed what many have suspected for months:
Our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County government are planning to close the beach to vehicular traffic whether their lackeys at Summit Hospitality Group meet the performance standards set by ordinance or not.
In addition, we learned the odious truth that in the recent past, “county officials, attorneys and the hotel developers” met privately to discuss “what needs to be done to bring the Hard Rock Hotel into compliance.”
However, when News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt attempted to obtain meetings notes, he was brushed aside and simply told that none exist.
That’s a big deal.
Why would recipients of public funds, senior government officials who are paid handsomely to work in the public interest, spend duty hours in a backroom meeting – held completely off the public record, with no attendees being identified, or even making notes during the clandestine confab – to discuss how to bring the Hard Rock Hotel into compliance before the February 28th council-imposed deadline?
Yet, with no notes, minutes or agenda available, a county mouthpiece can suddenly report with absolute certainty that the meeting was merely to provide officials with an “update on construction” and for the developer to assure everyone involved that they would have formal confirmation from Hard Rock corporate by the drop-dead date.
I mean, is County Spokesperson Joanne Magley clairvoyant?
How can she report to us – her employer, the citizens of Volusia County – the content of a meeting where no notes were taken?
To add to the intrigue, let’s review the county’s official response to a series of photographs depicting the deplorable conditions at the Hard Rock construction site – to include critical concerns regarding the very structural integrity of the underground parking garage – that were provided to all county council members by Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach.
On February 14, 2018, Volusia County’s Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin, sent the following email to salve the concerns of Councilwoman Heather Post – the only sitting council member who bothered to respond to Mr. Zimmerman’s questions:
Mr. Dinneen requested that I contact you to clarify that the City of Daytona Beach is the permitting jurisdiction and will be responsible for the inspection of the building.
Marja (Kolomyski) sent the concerns raised by Mr. Zimmerman to the City of Daytona Beach. I followed-up with Jim Morris to confirm his receipt of the complaints and to confirm that they are addressing the concerns as part of their inspection process.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
So, if the City of Daytona Beach is the permitting agency – totally responsible for the compliance inspection and certification of the building – then why are Volusia County officials meeting off-the-record with the developer to discuss ways to bring the languishing project into conformity?
I mean, what business is it of ours?
Why would we would expend the incredibly expensive time of senior county staff members providing advise and counsel on the internal operational issues of Summit Hospitality?
In my view, the Volusia County Council got caught flatfooted by their new business partner – Summit Hospitality – who, even after being granted a lengthy extension in April 2017 – continued to drag their heels and waste valuable time during the construction phase.
That wasn’t the deal. Summit was supposed to pull a quarterback sneak and give our elected officials the legal means to close yet another section of the strand to driving.
They dropped the ball.
As the clock ticked, early this month the site turned into a virtual beehive, with workers frantically rushing everything from signage, to landscaping, to critical repairs of the compromised seawall and even the swimming pool to completion in a last-ditch effort to meet the deadline – all while assuring anyone who is anyone that they will have brand certification from Hard Rock International by February 28th.
In turn, County Attorney Dan Eckert – with the full support of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – openly ran interference for the developer, trying in vain to convince all of us that the date certain for completion, as clearly established by ordinance, doesn’t mean squat.
Then, in perhaps the most poorly worded communication ever issued by a sitting public official, Ray Manchester, director of Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue, wrote in a January 30, 2018 email to several county employees, “We’ve been asked to pull the trigger on this closure on March 1st. Once cars come off, they will not come back so I believe telephone poles would be the best option.”
Looks like ol’ Ray spilled the beans.
Then, in subsequent emails, we learned that our highly paid county beach officials dicked around like the entrenched government employees they are, frittering the time away deciding whether they should erect the horrendous eyesore of more telephone poles to block beach traffic from encroaching on the Hard Rock’s private beach – or if equally ugly short posts driven in the sand will do the job.
(I’m just surprised they made a decision on their own – rather than call for a $100K study by an out-of-state consultant to solve the weighty poles or posts conundrum. . .)
The difference being, the poles require a permit to install – while those atrocious short posts can be erected anywhere on the beach at Volusia County’s whim.
“I don’t think any of us want to be in the position of installing something on the beach that requires a permit and not getting one,” said Rob Walsh, the activity manager over Volusia Forever, a voter-approved initiative to conserve, maintain and restore the natural environment for the “enjoyment and education of the public.
Being the cynical shit that I am – the fact Mr. Walsh found it necessary to remind his fellow bureaucrats to do the right thing – because those pesky beach driving advocates are watching – tells me that absent the outside oversight of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach access and advocacy group, county officials would have done whatever they damn well pleased – rules and permits be damned.
Kudos to Dustin Wyatt and the Daytona Beach News-Journal for obtaining these important internal communications and dragging them into the light of day.
In my view, this peek behind the scenes gives We, The People a horrifying glimpse at how the Dinneen administration – with the complete acquiescence of those dullards we elected to represent our interest on the dais of power – blatantly ignores their own rules and ordinances, then does whatever they want to advance the needs of their tool – a speculative developer who was clearly enlisted to assist in ramrodding their ultimate goal of removing our heritage of beach driving – permanently.