Angels & Assholes for February 23, 2018

Hi, Kids!

It’s been an incredibly productive few weeks here at Barker’s View HQ!

In the past few days, we have garnered over 13,000 views, largely on two recent blog posts – one discussing the horrific scene of utter environmental devastation in the heart of the Granada Boulevard commercial corridor in Ormond Beach, (where the requirements for destroying majestic historic trees are obviously different for city government than they are for you and I) – and another screed explaining my frustration over Volusia County’s plan to “pull the trigger” on beach driving behind the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock project on March 1st.

It appears area residents are paying very close attention to the maddening intrigues and petty maneuvering of what passes for local governance here on the Fun Coast – and they are clearly thirsty for an alternative opinion.

And that, my friends, makes our powers-that-be very nervous.

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

 We, The People have a real problem.

Duh.

What happens when our duly elected officials – at all levels of government – become so co-opted by unbridled greed and an insatiable lust for political control that they no longer remotely consider the wants, needs and opinions of those they are sworn to represent?

In Volusia County, we long ago abdicated a representative form of governance and exchanged it for some weird oligarchy, where a small group of incredibly wealthy political insiders have absolute power over our elected officials, our economy and our quality of life.

Like everything else – the root cause is money.

By using multiple LLC’s, dubious corporate entities and “political action committees” to inject enormous amounts of cash into local political campaigns, the “Rich & Powerful” have insinuated themselves into positions that allow them to manipulate our democratic systems and processes.

Some believe that our local Donor Class – by virtue of their business success, strong personalities or standing in the Halifax area’s weird economic and social caste system – are somehow more intelligent than the rest of us – that they intuitively know what’s best for the rest of us.

That’s not true.

Look, these insufferable “Big Shots” are no different than you or me – they simply have the financial means to buy direct access to the halls of power.

They control their environment by taking unfair advantage of the vanity, simplicity and hubris of spineless politicians who desperately need hard cash to fuel their egocentric compulsion to run for high office – or to remain entrenched once elected.

It’s no secret that J. Hyatt Brown – the prominent chairman of the billionaire international insurance intermediary Brown & Brown – sits at the top of the current list of those who have spread enough hard cash around to directly influence public policy by manipulating the votes of his elected chattel on the dais of power.

(Sorry, Mori – don’t get your knickers in a twist.  I know you’re still a Very Important Person, too.  It’s just that this truly is J. Hyatt’s year to shine – what with his $15.5-million in public subsidies for the new corporate headquarters and all. . .  Keep your chin up, big guy.) 

It is also clear that J. Hyatt wants our heritage and tradition of beach driving eliminated once and for all.

In my view, Mr. Brown sees vehicles on the beach as an impediment to entrepreneurial investment and development – and he has given his highly paid facilitator, County Manager Jim Dinneen – strict instructions to dangle the carrot of a traffic-free beach as a lucrative incentive for any speculative developer who comes down the sandy pike.

In 2015, after passing the initial ordinances that will ultimately remove beach driving from the strand behind the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock property, Mr. Brown stood before his hired hands in DeLand, patted their pointy heads, and said, “It is a positive step. It is one that we will never regret, and it is a step that in the future we will look back and say, ‘Good job you all.’”

I happen to believe that in keeping with J. Hyatt’s royal edict, our elected officials – through the backroom machinations of the bag man, Jim Dinneen – enlisted Summit Hospitality Group, the developer of the Hard Rock and several other area hotels – to serve as an effective tool for county government to remove beach driving from yet another strand of our beach.

Could they do it without them?  Sure.  But this method is cleaner come election time.

The problem came when Summit drug their heels on the renovation – now there is a very real possibility that they will fail to meet the exacting performance standards set by ordinance – and Hard Rock International – by February 28th.

We recently learned through a public information request by the News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt that senior Volusia County officials and attorneys met behind closed doors with Summit Hospitality to discuss “what needs to be done to bring the Hard Rock Hotel into compliance.” 

Yet – just days ago – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, was quoted in the News-Journal, yammering in his inimitably clueless style, “It’s not up to us to keep up with a construction project.”

Really?

Then why in the hell are senior county officials meeting privately with Hard Rock staff for what a county spokeswoman told us was an “update on construction?”

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Old Ed Kelley really is that dumb – and he lies like a frigging rug when the truth would serve him (and us) better.

But since when has shoddy past performance been even a passing consideration when our elected officials award additional incentives to speculative developers in Volusia County?

Earlier this week, the Volusia County Council sat in open session and once again tossed reason to the wind when they unanimously approved yet another “deal” with Summit.

This time, we (you and I) will “vacate” (read: effectively giveaway) another public beach approach (which the City of Daytona Beach handed over to another developer 40-years ago) at Summit’s La Playa resort – in exchange for a cheap walkover and $300,000 cash.

There was one glimmer of hope when Councilwoman Billie Wheeler momentarily questioned whether giving publicly owned beachfront property to a private entity for peanuts was a “fair trade” – then, just moments later, she voted in lock-step with her fellow co-conspirators on the dais.

Nice work, Billie.

Even Councilwoman Heather Post, who constantly tries to convince us that she’s a maverick – yet always seems to vote as she is told – concurred with the majority.

(I guess the uber-weird Mrs. Post is desperate for the acceptance and political affection of Deb Denys and Old Ed Kelley, who make sport of regularly kicking her around on the pages of the News-Journal. . .)

In my view, the only solution to this growing problem of political treachery and mistrust is to closely follow the campaign finance reports of those who are running for public office this year – then vote in direct opposition to any candidate who accepts massive sums of cash from these oligarchs who are so desperate to retain total control.

Angel:             Public Defender Jim Purdy

Although we haven’t had much professional contact since my retirement from law enforcement, I consider Seventh Circuit Public Defender Jim Purdy a friend.

We worked together on some incredibly interesting cases during his time with the State Attorney’s Office, and I came to know him as one of the hardest working, well prepared and dedicated public servants I ever knew.

Jim Purdy cares.

He probably doesn’t know this, but I once watched him pacing contemplatively along the banks of the Halifax river – sporting his fedora – obviously in deep thought, quietly considering strategy before heading into the courtroom.

I admired that, as many prosecutors back in the day would do little more than review the facts of the case with the arresting officer in the hallway outside the courtroom minutes before the trial started.

He brought that same drive, persistence and enduring sense of fairness and professional competency to the Public Defender’s Office.  Earlier this week, Mr. Purdy announced his retirement effective at the end of his current term in 2020, completing an impressive sixteen years in public office – and decades more practicing law.

Our system of justice – and our community – is well-served by Jim Purdy, and his contributions will be sorely missed.

As you hang-up your spurs, I offer hearty congratulations, my friend.

All the best for a healthy, happy and productive retirement.

Angel:             Paul Zimmerman

Someone much wiser than I once said that you can tell you’re close to exposing something important when they start trying to marginalize you.

Recently, Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, expressed serious concerns regarding the structural integrity of the languishing Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock.

Mr. Zimmerman – a former licensed building contractor – took the time to examine the hotel’s external seawall and observed concrete spalling and gaping fractures compromising the barrier, which were apparently being covered-and-painted, rather than properly repaired.

The deficiencies reported by Zimmerman were confirmed by the Volusia Waterman’s Association, a public employee union representing members of the Volusia County Beach Safety Department, who issued a strongly worded press release this week entitled, “Hard Rock Hotel Risks Collapse While County Ignores Evidence.”  

I find that compelling, considering it comes from law enforcement officers and lifeguards who spend 24-hours a day on the beach.

In turn, Mr. Zimmerman dug deeper and obtained photographic evidence of rotting support beams which were being supplemented by screw-jacks – along with signs of flooding, crumbling concrete post supports and evidence of water intrusion – in the Hard Rock’s subterranean parking garage (which is located directly under the swimming pool deck).

When he failed to get the attention of officials charged with inspecting the construction and ensuring the public safety – Mr. Zimmerman posted the shocking pictures on social media and let the court of public opinion decide if the effort represents the quality one expects of a “4-Star” resort hotel.

Other than a select few star-crossed local realtors – who invariably lock arms with the Chamber set, put the blinders on and take personal umbrage anytime someone questions the “newest, biggest and bestest” marketing shtick here on the Fun Coast – most people were horrified by what they saw.

As I’ve previously said, I’m not handy – in fact, I intentionally avoid any attempt at home repair, and shy away from anything remotely mechanical – because I simply don’t have the aptitude for it.  (I don’t have the tools either.  I recently looked in a small tool chest in my garage and found it contains ice tongs and a Tupperware lid. . . seriously.)

However, I can look at a photograph of corrosion on a structural member and tell if it adequately supports something I want to stand under.

When questioned by the Daytona Beach News-Journal – things took a dramatic tone when Summit’s Abbas Abdulhussein began waving a letter around, claiming that the building’s “chief structural engineer” determined that the corrosion on the columns is “superficial,” and that the structure has been declared safe and sound.

Interesting.  Because it sure looked like the deterioration of the support posts went deeper than surface rust to me – and hundred of others who examined Mr. Zimmerman’s photos.

Another thing I find intriguing is that inspections on the property are being conducted by Universal Engineering Sciences of South Daytona – a company hired and paid by Summit Hospitality Group.

The prestigious engineering firm has been serving all the right last names in the Halifax area for over 30-years – to include its recent work on the “$400-million” (?) renovation of the Daytona International Speedway.

The City of Daytona Beach’s own mouthpiece, spokeswoman Susan Cerbone, assured us that the company has “conducted hundreds of inspections on the property.”

Look, I’m not doubting Ms. Cerbone’s veracity – or Universal’s findings – but how in the hell would she know what a private company may or may not have done?

I’m not making accusations – I’m asking.

You may remember that way back in those heady days when the City of Daytona Beach spent $1.4 million to gain control of the then dilapidated Main Street pier, in 2009, Universal Engineering was hired by the city to conduct an inspection of the pier’s building.

I can assure you Paul Zimmerman does.  He sat on the committee that advised the Daytona Beach city commission on the pier’s overhaul.

According to Universal’s inspection report, “It is the opinion of Universal Engineering Sciences that the main building and accessory structures are structurally sound,” the report concluded.

“The plumbing, electrical, mechanical and fire sprinkler systems are in good condition.”

Ultimately, the firm recommended about $1-million in upgrades, to include decking, plumbing and paint.

According to reports, just two-years later – city officials discovered that conditions were worse than originally thought, and the renovation turned into a money pit that ultimately cost the citizens of Daytona Beach some $4-million to complete.

At that time, Mr. Zimmerman believed his committee received bad information regarding the project, and he expressed his frustration in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Now it’s just a never-ending mountain of millions. It’s unreal,” Zimmerman said. “This has been a scandalous boondoggle from its inception.”

Now, Universal Engineering took the unusual step of attempting to publicly discredit Mr. Zimmerman in the newspaper.

According to Universal’s Volusia/Flagler branch manager, Brian Pohl (who, according to the Universal website, holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UCF) said:

“Everything has been inspected and is at or above code,” Pohl said. “The items in these pictures, they’re not even structural items. Those pedestals are being replaced, as we speak. At the same time Mr. Zimmerman was on the property illegally looking at this, those crews were on the other side of the basement replacing them. I have a photo of these being replaced.”

“My advice to Mr. Zimmerman would be to go to school for about five to seven years, then do four more years of internship and then, maybe, he could get on the project legally,” Pohl said.”

“Everything here meets and is above code. We’re confident about every bit of work that has been performed on that site.”

Wow.

With so much at stake, my hope is that an independent government agency charged with inspecting construction and renovations will ultimately determine who’s right and who’s wrong.

Regardless, I’m afraid that when it comes to questions of public safety, the tired old argument – “Who are you going to believe, me, or those pictures?” – just doesn’t work.

Look, I’m not second-guessing anyone here (God knows, the hardest three years of my life was the fourth grade) but, perhaps a learned civil engineer like Mr. Pohl should know that perception is equally important to scientific interpretation when it comes to winning the public’s confidence.

In my view, arrogantly dismissing the concerns of a long-time civic leader on the pages of the News-Journal does not serve the best interests of Summit Hospitality, Hard Rock International or the citizens of Daytona Beach.

Angel:             Kevin Lowe

 In 2003, my friend Kevin Lowe was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

He was 17-years old.

Unfortunately, complications of the highly invasive surgical procedure to remove the mass resulted in total blindness.   In a few short hours, Kevin went from a precocious teenage kid – hanging at the beach, motocross racing and 4-wheeling – to utter, life-altering darkness.

Last evening, I had the extraordinary pleasure of attending the debut of a recently produced documentary entitled, “Kevin’s Story” which was screened at the historic Anderson-Price House in Ormond Beach.

The film chronicles this extraordinary young man’s indomitable spirit and exceptional transformation as he embraces both faith and family to overcome all obstacles and ultimately find a purpose-driven life.

This powerful work was produced by the amazingly talented young filmmaker, Wilson Kowaleski – a true artist and passionate advocate for positive social change – who captured the very essence of the transformative power of positivity and perseverance in Kevin’s inspirational story.

Following the film, the standing room only audience was treated to a remarkable presentation by Kevin himself – perhaps one of the most deeply motivating and personally inspiring speakers I’ve ever known.

During his emotional speech, Kevin literally captured the room with his eloquent explanation of the omnipotence of persistence – never giving up – in our individual quest to overcome adversity and find our sense of happiness and purpose.

I encourage everyone to visit www.ncuyd.com – and learn more about the Nothing Changes Until You Do movement.

Kevin, last evening reminded once again, in the most remarkable way, why you will always be such an incredibly important and motivating force in the lives of so many.

Love you, buddy.  Thanks for being you.

Quote of the Week:

“I don’t think it’s an adequate exchange for what we are giving up.”

 –Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, speaking moments before voting with the remainder of the council to handover publicly owned beachfront property to Summit Hospitality Group, on the promise of a walkover and $300k toward an off-beach parking lot (the prerequisite for total removal of beach driving in Volusia County.)

Unbelievable.  Thanks for nothing, Billie.

Have a great weekend, kids.

 

 

 

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