On Volusia: The Price of Trust

Earlier today, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, posted a quote from Albert Einstein on his social media page:

“Stay away from negative people they have a problem for every solution” So True.”

Mr. Kelley, you’re no Einstein – trust me.

Two-years ago, when Barker’s View was in its infancy, I wrote one of my patently “negative” pieces entitled “The Cost of Incompetence,” a little ditty about Volusia County government’s complete lack of preventive maintenance on county-owned properties on both sides of the Palmetto Curtain – even when a parcel becomes a “blight generator” for surrounding areas.

“Under Mr. Dinneen’s management, we allow public infrastructure to literally crumble into the ground as a means of demonstrating the need for another county-owned Taj Mahal.  Then, in this weird Twilight Zone where nothing is as it seems, we allow the very public officials responsible for creating the problem to tell us how best to correct their own mismanagement.”

I’m not alone in that assessment.

Last week, the esteemed Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist Mark Lane wrote an excellent opinion piece highlighting the recent Pockmarked Paradise series, a comprehensive overview of glaring blight and vacancies on A-1-A.

In his insightful article, Mr. Lane observed, “. . .It’s just down the road from the dead shopping center that Volusia County says it will turn into off-beach parking. The county bought it three years ago and has been letting it sit around ever since.”

“You’d think the county would at least spring for a sign that said, “coming soon!” But no. It hasn’t even summoned the initiative to lie to us. It’s content to be the bad neighbor who doesn’t care what his property looks like.”

As usual, the News-Journal’s harsh critique was met by cricket chirps from Mr. Dinneen’s office – with highly paid county mouthpieces robotically repeating the in-house spin: “Big Things – Soon Come.”

After all, Mr. Dinneen is not required to respond to the reasonable questions of a free press – or anyone else.

So long as J. Hyatt Brown and others control the campaign purse strings, then Mr. Dinneen will remain unburdened by any reasonable oversight, accountability or administrative controls – and if he believes that expediting the removal of beach driving requires turning the most important commercial intersection in the core tourist area of the City of Ormond Beach into an off-the-tax-roll parking lot – so be it.

That shit-hole former shopping center will sit just as it is until Little Jimmy is damn good and ready to pave it over – not a minute sooner – and there is nothing you, me or the Daytona Beach News-Journal can do about it.

Where I part company with Mr. Lane’s view is, in my opinion, Mr. Dinneen is perfectly willing and able to lie like a cheap rug to his constituents – and our elected officials – whenever a blatant falsehood serves his purpose or those of our uber-wealthy political insiders.

Don’t take my word for it.

Sheriff Chitwood was right.  He’s a “lying sack of shit.”

In fact, I believe Mr. Dinneen is a pathological liar with a compulsion to fabricate situational responses on the fly – a strategy that has ultimately cost our county government the people’s trust.

For instance, in 2016, the City of DeLand – perhaps the most progressive, well-managed community in the region – entered talks with Volusia County to swap city-owned property currently being rented by the county, in exchange for the “Old Jail” – a vacant eyesore taking up prime real estate on West New York Avenue near the heart of America’s best downtown.

At the time, DeLand’s hometown newspaper, The Beacon, approached county officials and inquired about a tour of the shuttered building to assist in their reporting on the proposed swap.

The newspaper’s request was rejected out-of-hand by our omnipotent County Manager, who claimed the jail facility was “unsafe.”

In a May 2016 editorial, The Beacon expressed concern about Dinneen’s autonomous denial:

“Unsafe?” we wondered. Myriad questions abounded. We knew it was ugly, we suspected there might be some rogue birds and spiders, but unsafe to walk through?” 

“Once we got past asking ourselves what could be unsafe enough about the building to disallow a reporter — fully covered under The Beacon’s workers’ comp insurance — from taking a quick peek inside, we began to question why this public asset would be allowed to atrophy for long enough to pose such a hazard.”

The paper’s editor went on to rightfully explain that the building, and everything inside it, is owned by the taxpayers of Volusia County – and they deserved a look at how the space is being maintained.

Some seven-months later, in December 2016, the building suddenly became “safe” again, when DeLand city officials and surrounding property owners were finally permitted access to the interior of the building and their observations were grim.

In fact, I’m told by those “in the know” that the building looks exactly as one would expect after a decade under Mr. Dinneen’s “preventive maintenance” schedule.

Make no mistake – Volusia County government does what it wants, when it wants.

If that means allowing a former jail facility to become a weeping chancre on DeLand’s efforts to revitalize their downtown – or completely ignoring a county-owned former shopping center as it physically rots in plain view, destroying surrounding property values and dragging down an entire community – then that is exactly what will happen.

And the growing laundry list of examples is far too long to recite on this glorious Sunday morning.

As I’ve written before, it is this staggering level of ineptitude, government waste and lack of resource management under the Dinneen administration – and the continued political shelter by big money political insiders with a permanent post at the public trough – that has created an almost institutionalized lack of oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious course of conduct to continue.

Another quote by Albert Einstein that I’m particularly fond of states, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

In my view, Mr. Kelley and his fellow elected marionettes on the Dais of Power in DeLand should understand: Losing the public’s trust is the true cost of incompetence.

Angels & Assholes for March 9, 2018

Hi, Kids!

It’s Friday – how about a bit of fun to end our week?

Let’s play a little game I like to call, “What the Hell?”

As always, our friends at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Beachside Redevelopment Committee and Regional Chamber of Commerce are welcome to join in the Wide. Open. Fun!

For those who haven’t played with us before, the rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is in: A. The Lagos slums  B. The bowels of Kolkata or C. The Daytona Beach Resort Area?

midway 1

If you picked the Daytona Beach Boardwalk give yourself a pat on the head!

That’s right!  The same code compliance folks that pencil-whipped a Certificate of Occupancy for a still under construction hotel have apparently given tacit approval for this mish-mash of exposed wiring and grime located smack-dab on Ocean Avenue in our core tourist area!

Thanks for playing along!

We’ll do it again soon – I’ve got hundreds of them!

Well, 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:

Angel:             Dr. Sandford Kinne

I’m what doctor’s call a “high-miler.”

Like ol’ ETC said, now that “I’m out of my prime and out of my mind,” it’s important that I have a support system around that cares enough to look after my general health and welfare – even when I don’t.

For the past 20-years, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Sandford Kinne on my team.

In an era where medical care is dictated by mega-HMO’s and faceless “insurance” conglomerates, Dr. Kinne is a physician in the classic sense – he truly cares about his patient’s wellness and provides an unsurpassed quality of care and true compassion.

He does more than poke, prod and test – he truly listens.

Over time, Sandford and I have developed a level of trust and friendship that transcends the modern homogenized provider/patient relationship.  Trust me, if you don’t enjoy a similar rapport with your family doctor – you should.

Although we are close in age, Dr. Kinne sets a positive example of life well lived – running, bicycling and swimming while training for triathlons and such, then relaxing with his wife yachting on the Intercoastal – all while I slowly dry cure my aging innards with blended whiskey and Marlboros.

Despite his desperate attempts to change my horrific life choices, Dr. Kinne possesses the incredible skill, reasoning and patience to keep me in fighting trim – and that’s no easy task – even for a modern medicine man.

He has a warm, generous spirit and a wonderful sense of humor and irony – good traits that keep him reading these nonsensical screeds of mine.  I enjoy his thoughtful insights whenever we have time together.

Through the years, we’ve been through everything from head colds to life-changing colon surgery – and, most recently, a pitched battle with my hateful prostate – which is now the size of a ripe cantaloupe (TMI? Whatever.  We’re friends here. . .) – and through it all, he has expertly treated whatever ails me with his always kind demeanor.

I’m glad to have Sandford Kinne in my life.

If you’re looking for an old school physician that truly cares about your family’s holistic health and quality of life, please take time to partner with Dr. Kinne – now seeing patients through Azalea Health in Daytona Beach.

Angel:             Daytona Beach Police Department

Kudos to Chief Craig Capri and the Daytona Beach Police Department for their highly effective Roadway Safety Program, an initiative targeting pedestrian safety at intersections.

We’ve needed this for some time now.

While Chief Capri is careful to explain that the program does not specifically target panhandlers – let’s just say an unintended benefit of the effort is helping keep aggressive beggars out of busy traffic lanes.

In the past month, I’ve traveled through several major metropolitan areas, and nowhere did I see the heavy concentration of panhandlers like we experience here on the Fun Coast.

In the interest of full disclosure – I damn near hit an ambulatory drunk square-on while maneuvering the Lone Eagle east on ISB from Nova Road earlier this week.

It was scary close.

Let’s face it, wandering mendicants weaving their way through stopped traffic has become a ubiquitous sight at intersections from Ormond Beach south.

The activity not only contributes to the seedy appearance of blight – it also inhibits the natural flow of traffic and places both the solicitor, and the distracted motorist handing over the gratuity, at risk of serious injury.

Those who argue that these programs are discriminatory or serve to “criminalize homelessness” are off the mark on this one.

This practice simply cannot be allowed to continue.  There are infinitely better ways to help.

In my view, itinerant street people occupying all four quadrants of every major intersection in east Volusia is counter to our collective goal of improving the aesthetics, economic viability and quality of life in our community.

While vagrants may have a right to solicit handouts on a public sidewalk – residents also have an expectation of clean, safe streets and open thoroughfares – free from the omnipresent hobo with a “Why Lie?  I Need A Beer” sign scrawled on a dirty piece of cardboard.

I hope you will join me in supporting Chief Capri and his hardworking officers and staff as they continue to develop innovative safety and enforcement programs.

These dedicated public servants are working hard to solve the problems of crime and victimization in Daytona Beach, which lays the groundwork for community revitalization, and they need our help and cooperation.

Good work, Chief.

Angel:             City of Holly Hill

 It’s no secret, ‘The Hill’ occupies a very big part of my heart – and it always will.

We’re the underdog.  A wonderfully eclectic mix of eccentric characters with an incredible sense of hometown pride.

It seems our little city is always unfairly maligned by those who have never lived or done business there – and while we recognize our blemishes, we have never let them define our community – or diminish our willingness to overcome challenges.

Next week, the Holly Hill City Commission will take up several innovative ordinances which, in my view, will go a long way toward ending the cycle of stagnation that has hampered economic development efforts citywide.

One ordinance will authorize tattoo parlors, and several other commercial designations, by special exception in the redevelopment overlay district – essentially the commercial corridor along Ridgewood Avenue.

Another seeks to eliminate the pervasive problem of “zombie houses” by requiring that mortgage holders maintain their vacant foreclosed properties to the same community standards as occupied residences.

Nothing brings down property values, destroys a neighborhood or contributes to shabbiness and dilapidation like an overgrown haunted house – owned by some disinterested out-of-state bank – which is simply allowed to rot in plain sight.

I’ve said this before – modern tattoo parlors are not the dens of iniquity they were once portrayed to be.  In fact, many local artists have established beautifully appointed spaces, many revitalizing long-vacant commercial centers, which improve the surrounding area while contributing to the tax base.

And many have a weeks-long waiting list for an appointment.

In the recent past, many of these highly regulated establishments have been forced to jump through onerous and expensive hoops – or denied a business tax receipt altogether – whenever they asked to set up shop in communities throughout the Halifax area.

Fortunately, times and perceptions are changing.

I applaud the City of Holly Hill’s inclusive “can do” approach to economic development – and the political courage and foresight of elected officials in developing a permanent solution to the last remnants of the foreclosure crisis – abandoned properties which continue to have a debilitating effect on the city’s charming residential areas.

If you’re considering opening or relocating a business – or looking for a quaint small town to call home – I encourage you to consider the “City with a Heart.”

You’ll be glad you did.

Asshole:          State of Florida

The word Extinction is a stark descriptor, defined as the complete elimination of an organism or group of organisms, with the moment of extinction marked by the death of the last individual of the species.

Once that occurs, an entire genus is lost forever.

This week, the Miami Herald reported that a rare prairie bird, the Grasshopper sparrow, found only in the rapidly disappearing marshes and grasslands of southern Central Florida, will vanish from the face of the earth later this year.

The reason:  Out-of-control development.

To meet the insatiable appetite of real estate speculators and developers – and to fuel Central Florida’s ravenous desire for even more “theme” communities, strip centers, convenience stores and upscale “boutique” grocery stores – we have once again sacrificed an entire species of wildlife by churning their natural habitat into muck – then filling it for flood control and covering it with “decorative pavers.”

We starved these small creatures out – then placed so much environmental stress on the remaining population that disease and predators are taking care of the rest.

If you think the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – or the State of Florida – are coming to the rescue, think again.

As always, money is the predominant factor and “budget uncertainties” have all but assured this tiny sparrow’s fate.

I find it incomprehensible that our local governments can funnel $15.5-million dollars in public funds to subsidize an office complex for a billionaire insurance company – on top of $40-million to underwrite a goofy shopping and “entertainment” complex next to the speedway – yet regional conservationists can’t squeeze $150,000 from the federal government to protect an entire species from vanishing from the planet?

Forever.

When did our basic priorities get so fouled up?

When did greed dominate everything in our lives here in the Sunshine State?

With the Volusia County Council approving massive developments from Farmton to the Flagler County Line – perhaps its time we take a step back and consider the unintended consequences to our fragile environment and ecosystems before we pave over even more sensitive habitats and water sources in the name of “progress.”

Yeah, right.

Fuck the sparrows – they don’t buy houses.

Angel:             CANDO II

The late cultural anthropologist Margret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In Ormond Beach, a growing group of committed citizens have formed a grassroots civic organization known as CANDO 2 – which hopes to bridge the communication chasm between residents and their elected officials in matters of quality development.

CANDO 2 is spearheaded by Ormond Beach residents Ken and Julie Sipes, and the intrepid community activist and former city commissioner, Jeff Boyle (who, as it happens, was my high school civics teacher. . .)

Clearly, this important effort was born from the utter outrage many felt over the clear-cutting of majestic oaks and greenspace near Tomoka Avenue and Granada Boulevard, all to make way for a new WaWa.

The organization has vowed to remain apolitical – neither endorsing candidates nor financing campaigns – however, it does encourage rigorous public participation in the functions of government.

I’m told that last evening’s CANDO 2 meeting at the Ormond Beach Library was standing room only.

That’s a good thing.

For more information on how you can get involved, please contact Ken and Julie at jules0524@gmail.com or Mr. Boyle at jeffboyle79@yahoo.com – I hope you will consider taking part.

Trust me, this one’s important.

Angel:             Daytona Landshark Bar & Grill

Look, I’m not going to subject you to a long-winded puff piece on the attributes of our new Daytona Landshark – you can read all about it in the News-Journal’s Business section.

What I will say is:  We could use 213 more just like it on the beachside.

Last week, I had the pleasure of passing a warm afternoon at Daytona Landshark’s outside bar – sipping a cold beer just off the beach and dining al fresco.

A spinach dip appetizer, chicken Caesar salad and four beers = about $44 before tip.

Politics and density variances aside – this is the kind of casual, yet upscale, option we’ve been seeking for years.

You know, most people instinctively hate me (I understand that, because I hate me too), so I tend to give folks a wide berth whenever I’m out.  But I must admit, I met some truly nice people at Landshark – mostly tourists idling away the afternoon – each of whom remarked what a great addition this is to Daytona’s tired landscape.

In my view, it is clean, bright and professionally operated establishments like Landshark – places that expertly complement the beleaguered beachside’s natural attributes – that will ultimately save the Daytona Beach Resort Area from its current path, which appears hell-bent for self-destruction.

Asshole:          Jim Dinneen & the Volusia County Council

This week, Daytona Beach Shores sat down with Volusia County officials in a court-ordered mediation to settle a long dispute over the county’s aggressive acquisition of prime beachfront real estate for “off-beach parking” – property Daytona Beach Shores rightfully wanted to vertically develop to support their geographically limited tax base.

The tit-for-tat started in 2015, when Volusia County – in typical fashion – slithered into the small municipality, and without so much as a phone call to City Hall, used $4.5 million in public funds to purchase two parcels of premier oceanfront real estate less than one mile apart.

That represents a potential loss of some $200,000 in annual tax revenue for the small community.

In turn, the Shores attempted to exert its independence.

In self-defense against the county’s belligerent intrusion, the city commission passed an ordinance prohibiting the construction of parking lots east of A-1-A.

Yeah, right.

As they are inclined to do – Volusia County quickly used our money to file three lawsuits against the small town, asserting its Absolute Right to Rule – signifying to its subjects that the county is subordinate to no earthly authority – and reminding us lowly vassals that nothing can restrict its Divine Right.   “A Deo rex, a rege lex.”

In short, our Moronic Monarch, Jim Dinneen, will do whatever he damn well pleases, wherever he chooses to do it (so long as J. Hyatt Brown is in total control of our elected marionettes, anyway) or County Attorney Dan Eckert will be directed by royal edict to sue the citizen’s collective eyeballs out with their own money.

During the meeting, Daytona Beach Shores Mayor Harry Jennings reminded his superiors across the table that, “the city is not a colony, and the county is not the English Parliament.”  Which, I’m sure, was met by maniacal howls and snorts of laughter from our self-anointed aristocracy on the county council.

At the end of the day, Volusia County is going to do exactly what it set out to do when it used our funds to purchase the property in the Shores.  After all, the prerequisite to the complete removal of beach driving is “off-beach” lots – and make no mistake – that is their goal.

During the mediation – like some demented quidnunc spewing unwelcome advice – County Manager Jim Dinneen suggested the Shores consider building a “hotel over the parking lot” (?) or install parking meters to generate revenue and double-screw residents who want to use their beach.

Say what?

Even our pathologically mendacious County Chair, Ed “That’s what I said, not what I meant” Kelley, chimed in, saying he’s willing to consider any suggestions the Shores may have – so long as they involve putting parking lots on the county-owned parcels.

Say what? 

Which option do you think will happen?

In my view, when Volusia County took control of our beaches in the late 80’s to form a “unified policy,” it marked the death knell for the Daytona Beach Resort Area.

Like everything else the county has control of – our beach policy has slowly transformed into a shitshow, one convoluted and highly expensive screw-up after another – all brazenly designed to monetize the strand, “incentivize” the developer du jour and restrict access for long-suffering residents who pay the bills.

Perhaps its time We, The People look at a different approach to beach management – before its too late.

Angel:             B-CU Women’s Basketball

 A great story from the Barker’s View Sports Desk:  Today, just 96-hours after giving birth to her second child, Bethune-Cookman Head Coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis will lead the Lady Wildcats in the MEAC Tournament 2018 semifinals against Virginia’s Hampton University!

Congratulations, Coach!  Go Wildcats!

Quote of the Week:

 “It hasn’t even summoned the initiative to lie to us.  It’s content to be the bad neighbor who doesn’t care what his property looks like.”

 –Columnist Mark Lane, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s “Footnotes,” describing the County of Volusia’s refusal to clean-up – or even acknowledge – its appallingly blighted property at Cardinal Drive and A-1-A in the heart of the Ormond Beach tourist district, Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Have a great weekend, kids.

Enjoy Bike Week, and please be careful out there!

 

On Volusia: Neutered Leadership – The Crisis on the Beachside

As I wrote earlier this week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s two-part Pockmarked Paradise series was an exceptional look at perhaps the most intractable issue of our generation:  The complete economic and social stagnation of our once vibrant beachside. 

But did it go far enough?

Our local newspaper of record has many internal and external challenges – but there is no denying that the crew over on Sixth Street excels at in-depth investigative reporting.

Anchored by the remarkable journalistic talents of Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, the News-Journal’s Tarnished Jewel series was benchmark reporting and served to expose the waste and perpetual ineffectiveness inherent in redevelopment efforts on our beleaguered beachside.

That outstanding exposé was the impetus for several SRO town hall meetings and other public awareness efforts which ultimately resulted in the Beachside Redevelopment Committee.

The piece moved us.  It angered us.  And it stirred many to grassroots action and political involvement.

Unfortunately, what it didn’t do is jettison those bureaucratic lumps with direct responsibility for fostering and managing desperately needed revitalization efforts – people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest –  yet continue to fail miserably in this important role.

We keep the same senior redevelopment staff, perennial politicians and administrative hacks and blowholes – all while expecting a different result.

Now, Ms. Zaffiro-Kean has hit it out of the park with the hard-hitting series, Pockmarked Paradise – a grim look at the economic and social impact of hundreds of vacant and dilapidated properties along the spine of our core tourist areas from Ormond Beach to the Shores.

These deep dives into the continuous cycle of blight on the beachside have left many of us wondering how the same people can remain at the controls of a rudderless redevelopment apparatus – a process designed exclusively to funnel huge sums of public funds to political insiders – while our main draw in a tourist economy continues to openly rot.

After reading the first installment, I took a swipe at our ‘movers & shakers’ who contributed their comments and opinions on “what to do” about the situation we find ourselves in.

My frustration results from the fact that many of these individuals have been in positions of public and private power for years – literally sitting in ivory towers looking down as this steaming squalor permeated once vibrant neighborhoods – and looked away as over $100-million in redevelopment funds was squandered or evaporated.

In reading Pockmarked Paradise, we saw terms like, “First and foremost,” “We need to,” “Got to be a solution,” “We’re trying to make it a family-oriented place,” “You’ve got to get it going,” “I think that things are turning around,” “Some people are scared to come,” etc. – phrases that were followed by general suggestions and observations with no cohesive plan for progress.

Add to that the complete disconnect between area politicians – each with near identical problems, but obviously no collaborative effort to address these common issues – and you begin to see the core issue more clearly.

In short, I thought it was a great two-part series, and I sincerely hope it serves as an ignition point for positive change.

However, in my view, Pockmarked Paradise still missed the mark on what I believe is the ultimate contributing factor for the obstructionism and lack of vision on our afflicted beachside.

 A recent editorial in the News-Journal, “Stop spinning wheels on A-1-A,” served as Cliffs Notes on the Pockmarked Paradise series for our powers-that-be who still cannot read critically, form an independent opinion, or think for themselves:

What’s needed now is “Leadership.”

In my view, there can be no strong political leadership in our oligarchical system, where a few uber-wealthy insiders consolidate incredible power through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates for public office, then use that influence as leverage to control everything from redevelopment to infrastructure projects to the local marketplace – even the elimination of our heritage of beach driving.

I believe this represents the crux of the issue that no one – especially not the Daytona Beach News-Journal – wants to talk about.

So long as our government processes are openly manipulated by a handful of powerful political insiders – whose common trait is a voracious appetite for public funds to fuel private projects – nothing, and I mean nothing, will substantively change on the Fun Coast.

 

 

On Volusia: Pockmarked Paradise – An important look at a difficult problem

If you haven’t perused Eileen Zaffiro-Kean’s outstanding exposé in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Pockmarked Paradise” – then put down the pudding pop, go somewhere quiet, and read it.  Now.

(Find it here: http://gatehousenews.com/a1a/home/site/news-journalonline.com )

It’s important.

In my view, this high-level investigative reporting is what the New-Journal does best.

I only wish they would do more of it.

Frankly, we’ve all had our fill of the incessant marketing of the still incomplete Desert Inn/Hard Rock Hotel – or glittery hype surrounding those zero-lot-line cookie cutters out at Margaritaville that we finally got a disappointing look at last week.

Like peeling the layers from a rotten onion, journalistic inquiries like Pockmarked Paradise and Tarnished Jewel, ask important questions that beget another, and eventually the pieces of a very difficult jigsaw puzzle begin to fall into place, allowing us a clear picture of the intractable issues facing the Halifax area and beyond.

And, in my weird view, these articles are beginning to point the finger at the usual suspects.

Look, I’m not some weird clairvoyant – some mystical soothsayer with the power to anticipate the future on this sandy spit of land we call home.

My vision is no better or worse than yours, and I certainly don’t have the answers to the enigma that is the decaying remnants of our beachside.

Like many of you, I’ve lived in the Halifax area all my life, and I’ve experienced first-hand the “good times” that made the Daytona Beach Resort Area a premiere tourist destination – and the slow death spiral that has brought us to this dismal place the Chamber of Commerce set would rather we not talk about in polite company.

In their informative depiction, the News-Journal accurately described our daily sights and sounds, “Empty buildings bleed out rust and rotting wood. Vacant storefront windows are haphazardly covered with crumpled brown paper, plywood and faded bed sheets with tacky prints.”

In addition, the online version of the article includes an interactive map showing a phalanx of red dots stretching from Ormond Beach to the Shores, each denoting a vacant or dilapidated property.  These spots give the appearance of malignant tumors spreading along the spine of the beachside.

In fact, that’s what they are.

According to the News-Journal, there are some 213 blighted or empty commercial and residential properties on the beachside – the majority along A-1-A – the state road which borders the Atlantic Ocean and comprises our core tourist area.

Not surprisingly, that number has increased over a similarly grim inventory taken by News-Journal staff six-years ago.

Why wouldn’t things have gotten worse? 

I mean, have our powers-that-be done anything substantive to slow the progress of the underlying disease – or do they repeatedly revert to the same disastrous strategy of hoping-against-hope that the developer du jour (with enough economic incentives) will build a panacea hotel – a great cure all that will salve the crushing economic and social problems that have dogged the Halifax area for decades?

When smart people ask me why the Daytona Beach area seems physically incapable of progress on what should be the most desirable stretch of real estate in Florida, I do my best Yogi Berra impression and respond:

“Things never change here, because they always stay the same.”

I’m not being sarcastic – it’s the truth.

One thing I readily noticed in Pockmarked Paradise is that the same people, with the same consistent lack of vision, ideas, or workable solutions, still occupy the same “leadership” positions in our community.

The same questionable characters, still lining their pockets and spewing bullshit, pontificating on things they don’t have a clue about.  (Don’t believe me?  Take a gander at a transcript of any Volusia County Council Meeting. . .) 

Because if they had a shred of collective vision, we wouldn’t be in this abominable quagmire.

These same real estate “experts” and perennial politicians provide the same tired answers when asked pointed questions about what we’re going to do about this economic free fall that has turned much of our beachside into a fetid hole of abject squalor and dilapidation.

The first installment of the series gave us a few tepid responses and opinions from everyone who is anyone, except Reed Berger – the City of Daytona Beach’s economic development director – the one person who is paid to give a shit but doesn’t – who couldn’t be bothered to respond to the News-Journal’s request for an interview.

(When, oh lord, is City Manager Jim Chisholm going to recognize this ineffectual non-starter for what he is and fire his ass before more time and money passes over the transom?)

I find it interesting (and infinitely depressing) that during the recent “awards season” – that time of the year when the same “Rich & Powerful” political insiders whose ravenous greed is, in my view, ultimately responsible for our regional stagnation – throw lavish galas and give each other accolades commemorating their ability to take credit for the work of others – or, in some cases, just because it’s their turn for undeserved recognition.

For instance, last week the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce gave local insurance executive J. Hyatt Brown the “highly coveted” (?) “Enterprise Award” – I assume for his ability to strong-arm $15.5-million in public funds from his hand-selected and generously financed chattel on the dais of power.

And don’t get me started on our ‘movers and shakers’ outrageous self-congratulations for the “tremendous progress” they’ve made in efforts to “revitalize” the East ISB “gateway” – which is still the same blighted shithole it was last year.  And the year before that.

(I’ll bet you a doughnut it is in the same deplorable condition next year, when the annual round of awards are handed out to all the right last names. . .)

Whatever.

I encourage everyone to carefully study this important series in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and develop your own conclusions.

After all, as a resident of Volusia County, your views and opinions are just as valid as the pseudo-experts, especially when it comes to the who, what, when, where and why of the crippling economic paralysis and sense of hopelessness that – despite the glowing rah-rah speeches and cheery outlook of self-serving real estate marketing types – continues to threaten our quality of life here on the “Fun Coast.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 2, 2018

Hi, Kids!

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:          City of Deltona

Last April, Deltona City Commissioner Brian Soukup abruptly resigned his post citing, among other issues, the “continued unprofessional actions of City Manager Jane Shang.”  His specific allegations included frequent misrepresentations and the manipulation of information critical to the decision-making process.

In February, Chris O’Donnell, the city’s events manager, bolted out the door just ahead of a complete mental breakdown.  He also named tensions with Shang, and the wholly dysfunctional atmosphere she has created in City Hall, along with “hostile conditions” generated by elected officials seeking his termination.

Now, the exodus continues as Commissioner Christopher Alcantara has announced he plans to leave municipal service as well.

According to reports, Alcantara cited family issues, a new job – and some obscure biblical reference to building his house on rock (?) – for his decision to leave before the end of his first term in elective office.

Look, I’m not sure what any of that means, but I think the issues go far deeper than that.

Of course, Alcantara’s deliberations regarding his departure were met with the usual divisive jibs and jabs from Mayor John Masiarczyk, a petulant crank who has shown the leadership skills of a dry turd while his painfully inept City Manager runs roughshod over citizens, employees and processes.

It can’t get much worse.

As a result, Mr. Masiarczyk now officially presides over the most disastrously ineffectual local government in Volusia County.

Earlier this week, Deltona resident and intrepid civic activist, Dana McCool – after weeks of attempting to beg help from Deltona Water, her elected officials and city management to resolve a simple billing dispute that left her with a nearly $500.00 water bill – took the unusual step of paying the city in pennies.

She toted them right through the front door in a wagon.

I admire that.  It takes chutzpah to fight City Hall.

Ms. McCool’s peaceful – yet highly effective – protest caught the attention of media outlets, leaving the City of Deltona with yet another embarrassing blackeye.

For months, Deltona residents have consistently asked pointed questions of their elected representatives, seeking answers on everything from the city’s often murky financial practices to the repetitive instances of gross mismanagement by Jane Shang – only to be met with silence, or ridiculous measures designed to quash dissent and limit public involvement.

As an example of how far afield things have gotten, in 2016, the city even proposed an ill-fated “civility ordinance” – an asinine suppressive measure designed to stifle free speech and neuter certain elected officials who were critical of staff – not seen since Mao Zedong’s Double Ten Directive.

My God.  When does this utter dysfunction end?

In my view, it is past time for Jane Shang to resign and peddle her unique brand of disruptive incompetence, and almost pathological internal secrecy, somewhere that enjoys perpetual drama, dysphoria and administrative turmoil.

It is patently obvious that the conflict-ridden Deltona City Commission – under the abysmal “leadership” of Mayor Masiarczyk – lacks the political courage to terminate Ms. Shang’s reign and return stability and transparency to a community that desperately needs both.

Given the gross political cowardice of their mayor and elected officials, perhaps it’s time concerned Deltona residents begin organizing a strong grassroots effort to fundamentally change the way they are governed.

That process begins by electing representatives with the courage, vision and perseverance to stand up for what is right – then remain in the trenches and fight for the best interests of their constituents – and the future of Deltona.

Best of luck in future endeavors, Mr. Alcantara.  We hardly knew ye. . .

Angel:             Flagler Sheriff Rick Staley

Look, it’s no secret – I’m a big fan of Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staley.

In an age where Florida’s elected sheriffs engage in a good-natured, if not slightly annoying, competition vying for the dubious title of “Toughest Lawman in the Land,” a contest where not even our own tough-talking Sheriff Mike Chitwood can’t hold a candle to Polk County’s inimitable Grady Judd – who looks like a bespectacled CPA with the swagger of John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn – Sheriff Staley stands above the fray as a committed law enforcement professional.

In my view, Rick Staley does a good job avoiding the grandstanding while using his unique high-profile position to bring awareness to the important work of his agency – and the problems that he is clearly committed to solving.

For instance, his recent visionary work to curb the epidemic of domestic violence in Flagler County was an outstanding example of community leadership in action.

Now, Sheriff Staley and his talented deputies and staff have launched an innovative new initiative to stop the revolving door of victimization – arrest – incarceration – repeat.

The project is called STRIDE – Skills, Transitional Support, Respect, Integrity, Direction and Employment – which provides life-skills training for non-violent inmates of the Flagler County Jail who are scheduled for release into the community.

As I understand it, STRIDE focuses on the most predominant issues which lead to recidivism – addiction, homelessness and unemployment.

What I like most about the program is how Sheriff Staley has enlisted existing community resources – such as the Volusia Literacy Council and the Volusia/Flagler Coalition for the Homeless – to bring their extraordinary talents and experience to bear on one of the most perplexing problems facing our justice system.

Kudos to Sheriff Rick Staley and his staff for this ground-breaking effort to help inmates help themselves.

Asshole:          Ormond Beach City Commission

This week, I used a powerful line from the controversial poet, E. E. Cummings, work, “i sing of Olaf glad and big” – a poem about a principled man, a conscientious objector, who gives up his life and good name for his belief’s:

“There’s some shit we won’t eat.”

The vulgarity resonated with many readers still reeling from the City of Ormond Beach’s acquiescence to an even worse obscenity – the complete destruction of majestic old-growth trees and the natural environmental buffer near the intersection of Tomoka Avenue and Granada Boulevard in exchange for a WaWa.

You read that right – another “convenience” store.

Frankly, I think Cumming’s line should become a rallying cry for the long-suffering residents of Volusia County who are forced to stand by and bear silent witness as our elected officials approve the wholesale destruction of natural places from Farmton to the Flagler County line, making way for massive “theme” subdivisions, and accompanying strip centers, all built atop our fragile recharge areas and wetlands.

With feelings still raw, on Wednesday, Granada Pointe developer Mr. Paul Holub, Jr., added insult to injury by lecturing us in the News-Journal’s Community Voices column.

With impeccable timing, Holub’s screed was backed up by a syrupy letter to the editor from Charles Lichtigman, chairman and CEO of mega-developer Charles Wayne Properties, who played the role of the sagacious voice of reason.

As those caught on the wrong side of public opinion often do, Holub reminded us ungrateful rubes that he is doing us a favor – while Lichtigman pulled a pincer move, urging us hotheaded yokels to consider “reasoned debate,” you know, now that the property has been clear-cut and ground into a muddy void.

I mean, God forbid we should be discourteous to our government, or those who give us “decorative pavers” in trade for century-old oaks, “decorative street lights” for wildlife habitat.

Apparently, Deputy Mayor Kent is of the goofy opinion that commercial developers should be able to do whatever the hell they want on property they purchase without question – regardless of the detrimental impact to our environment – or residents who must suffer the perpetual consequences.

But what happens when mercenary politicians use their legislative power to change reasonable planning and zoning regulations to accommodate the appetites of developers?

In my view, that is exactly what happened in the case of Granada Pointe, as there is no way to justify dropping a 24-hour gas station/convenience store/grocery/fast food drive thru on the periphery of a long-established residential area.

It simply defies reason.

In fact, it is inconceivable that ostensibly smart public officials could not have envisioned the clamor and din their constituents will be forced to endure to accommodate this perverted example of “progress.”

Look, I may be an uneducated dunce, but even I understand the gravitational physics of raising the earth under the commercial development some 4-feet above the current grade of surrounding residential properties.

I hope I’m wrong.

As previously said, I’ve seen sitting politicians literally sit up and beg like cur dogs when big-name developers and their high-price mouthpieces start weaving yarns about all the benefits of bringing intrusive developments to quiet neighborhoods, so excuse me if I don’t trust the judgement of unprincipled elected officials to look out for our “highest and best” interests.

Notwithstanding Mr. Holub’s self-serving assurance that we’ll all “get used to it” – in my view, this project is simply wrong for the location – an area predominantly comprised of quiet office space.

But what do I know?

I sound like a broken record, but I believe the only way to return sanity to this out-of-control system is to begin electing representatives who have a modicum of respect for our natural places – and the will of the people – when considering future development.

Asshole:          County Manager Jim Dinneen

After accepting the premature “certification” from Hard Rock International – a document which clearly served to pencil-whip the very specific performance standards set by county ordinance so that the ultimate amenity of a pseudo-private beach would be granted for the strand behind the hotel – our craven County Manager, Jim Dinneen, warned that he alone would determine the time and date our customary tradition of beach driving would be shutdown.  Forever.

Then, crickets.

I suppose – like everything else he does – Mr. Dinneen will launch his unilateral decree in a surprise ambush.  Most likely, being the compromised coward that he is, Dinneen will order the closure be implemented under cover of darkness, using the element of surprise to remove any possibility for peaceful protest or citizen dissent.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect we will simply awake one morning and find ugly wooden poles driven into the sand – and yet more sign pollution officiously telling us the beach is closed to vehicular traffic.

What a damnable shame.

In Volusia County We, The People, are looked upon by our ruling class – and the uber-wealthy political insiders who own their very souls – as a caste of subservient piss ants who exist to fill the menial service jobs created by an economy which consists of the same five people passing the same nickel around (Read: The current roster of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) and dutifully pay the exorbitant taxes that feed the machine.

Our needs, wants and traditions mean shit in an atmosphere where the likes of J. Hyatt Brown or Mori Hosseini can shape public policy by their mere physical presence in council chambers.

The debacle that is the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock project exemplifies how willingly our elected and appointed officials in county government will prostrate themselves, abandoning any sense of ethics, morals or common decency, to please their “Rich & Powerful” masters.

My hope is that, in the end, those horrific pilings blocking the strand will serve as a grim monument – a perpetual reminder – that in the Kingdom of Jim Dinneen, abject greed is the only ethic – and the end will always justify the means.

I’m told by those in the know that the Hard Rock officially “opened” at 3:00pm yesterday.

Great.

Good times are here again.  Again.

Quote of the Week:

“Beach-driving supporters howled at the Hard Rock’s future tense: the hotel “upon opening” “will” meet the standards. But did anyone really think corporate would allow its new Daytona Beach franchisee to fail inspection this close to completion?”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Editorial “Hard Rock is official,” Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The answer is, yes.

The long-suffering residents of Volusia County had an absolute right to expect that Hard Rock International – and our elected and appointed officials who ramrodded this project to effectively privatize more of the strand and eliminate our century-old heritage of beach driving – would act with honor, transparency and a basic respect for our system of laws and ordinances.

I mean, don’t We, The People have an honest expectation that those we elect to represent our interests will keep their word?

Yeah, right.

I hope our elected officials realize that the Hard Rock debacle came with a political cost.

In my view, the despicable way this theft of beach access was perpetrated has exposed Little Jimmy and the Volusia County Council as grimy cheese-stealing rats who returned to the wheel once too often.

Citizens from all walks of life – many who support beach driving, and many who don’t – have come to the shocking realization that our elected and appointed officials, people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest, are brazen corporate shills who turned a blind eye when this visibly incomplete project was “certified” as having met the high metrics of the “4-star” resort we were promised.

In the aftermath, many lost respect for the Hard Rock brand when they blatantly compromised their reputation by issuing a quasi-certification and quibbling the specific performance standards contained in the ordinance like mealy-mouthed screwworms.

Then, our newspaper of record has the sand to try and convince us that the end justifies these morally reprehensible means, The bottom line is that taking cars off a 400-foot stretch of sand is a worthwhile trade to get rid of the old Desert Inn.”

Bullshit.

We accept that the fix was in from the start – just please don’t tell us that any part of this shitstorm of political treachery and deceit is a worthwhile trade for the public’s trust in their government.

Have a great weekend, kids.