Never underestimate the extraordinary stupidity and dysfunction inherent to large bureaucracies in the absence of effective leadership and outside oversight.
What started out as a simple – but incredibly controversial – directive from County Manager Jim Dinneen to his toadies in the Coastal Division to close 410 linear feet of the beach to vehicular traffic behind the Hard Luck Hotel quickly escalated into the damnedest Keystone Kops farce ever foisted on a flabbergasted constituency.
Under the direct supervision of two highly paid senior department heads, a county contractor haphazardly stuck over $4,000 worth of horrendous, chemically-treated wooden utility poles in the sand.
God knows what you and I ultimately paid in installation costs.
Then, a vigilant citizen actually bothered to measure the distance and discovered that the slapdash blockade had been erected 20’ too far apart!
When it appeared on the front page of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, it was clear our dimwitted county council members were once again caught with their proverbial knickers around their knees – sputtering about another of “staffs” colossal howlers (careful not to mention the culpability of the Boss Clown) and gushingly assured us all that Summit Hospitality’s money would make it right again.
So, this week a new crew arrived (I’m sure with the required environmental permits in hand?) and replaced the round wooden poles with, well, square wooden poles.
To add insult, the county added EIGHT MORE POSTS to differentiate an emergency traffic lane cut right through the middle of where beachgoers would normally enjoy their beach.
According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – the pillars will be “wrapped” in “something decorative like sea life, sea turtles, or shells, or fish.”
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
You read it right. The Enchanted Forest of wooden poles that are ruining the natural beauty and ambiance of our beach are about to be festooned with some artificial “decorative wrap.”
(I promised a local pastor last week I would try my best to refrain from dropping the “F-word,” thus allowing him to share my posts with his flock without being publicly defrocked – but feel free to shoehorn that expletive in wherever you feel appropriate.)
In my mind’s eye I can almost see Old Ed leading that troop of dunces he heads, pounding their fists and stomping their feet on the dais, gibbering repeatedly, “Square Good! Round Bad! Square Good! Round Bad!” as bewildered citizens looking on from the gallery bury their faces in their hands. . .
Want to bet our friends at Summit Hospitality are beginning to wonder what in the hell they were thinking when they got in bed with these unctuous morons in Volusia County government?
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: Bellaire Community Group
There are many things I don’t understand. That’s obvious.
Among those are Japanese poetry, the mysteries of long division and the byzantine process of reporting Federal Income Tax.
When I was a young man, I dropped off my W-2 at the local H&R Block office, signed a 1040EZ, then cashed a small check a few weeks later. Now, Patti handles our finances exclusively – God bless her – because I don’t know the difference between an itemized deduction and a hole in the ground.
With “assets” consisting of a high-interest mortgage on a wood frame cracker box and two used cars that we’re upside down on – trust me, we don’t have much to report – yet it now takes two accountants and a tax attorney to figure out what the high-rolling Barker’s owe the gov’ment?
Oh, well. Like my mom used to say when I couldn’t throw a baseball very far, “You’re good at other things.”
During a long professional life in municipal government, I came to appreciate the inherent benefit in listening to the needs, wants and concerns of those I served.
I also learned about the power of committed citizens who mobilize in a noble cause – everyday people who band together and work cooperatively to bring about positive change in their neighborhood – or simply right a wrong – often against strong forces who seek to protect the status quo.
Last evening, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to the Bellaire Community Group – a caucus of civically-conscious neighbors working for the betterment of our lives and livelihoods in the Halifax area.
It was exciting – there was true enthusiasm in the room and a vested interest in the important issues.
In other words, it was completely unlike when I attend any local government meeting, which is like sitting in the wheelhouse of a sinking ghost ship on the Voyage of the Damned.
These aren’t loose cannons like me. These are solid citizens with a unified interest in building a sense of community and improving our quality of life on the beleaguered beachside and beyond.
After a brisk Q&A covering a wide range of local topics moderated by the very astute Steve Koenig, the group gifted me with a special certificate – which, as promised, will occupy a place of honor here at Barker’s View HQ.
I enjoy being around smart people with good intentions in their heart – that’s how I learn – and I sincerely thank the intrepid members of the Bellaire Community Group for your incredible kindness and hospitality.
Asshole: Flagler County School Board
In the tragic aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, the Florida legislature did what politicians always do, they had an immediate knee-jerk reaction without considering the means of implementation – or ultimate cost – of their always politically motivated “solution.”
It’s called an “unfunded mandate” – edicts that have long-term consequences for local governments.
In their mind, it is far better to do something – anything – quickly, even sloppily, then face the withering criticism that often comes when taking the time to get it right.
If that means trampling a few privacy rights and moving closer to an Orwellian dystopia with omnipresent government surveillance – where our collective “security” is decided by the powerful at secret meetings held behind locked doors – so be it.
Earlier this week, the Flagler County School Board met in closed session to approve a measure to pay a Vermont company, Social Sentinel, $18,500 annually to monitor social media and online postings for various words, emojis, keywords and hashtags that the security program’s “Artificial Intelligence” deems to be threatening or criminal in nature.
According to the news outlet FlaglerLive.com, last month when district panjandrums first met in secret session to hear a sales pitch from the company, not even Sheriff Rick Staley – the county’s chief law enforcement officer – was permitted to attend.
I find that confusing – and disturbing.
Then, in perhaps the worst case of contradictory political double-speak on record, school board member Andy Dance explained in the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the public was kept in the dark because, “Too much public information could reduce the effectiveness of security measures.”
He then countered with, “…the district will have to “ensure to the public that this program is transparent and that we are not digging for information that’s not pertinent to school security.”
Wow. I don’t make this shit up, folks.
I know many will say, “look, Barker – if I have to submit to 24/7 electronic surveillance of my online activity to keep our kids safe, so be it.”
The fact is, if I thought for one nanosecond that using a computer program to interpret the meaning of words and phrases on social media would provide a whit of protection I would agree.
But I don’t.
The fact is, law enforcement and security professionals know well what is required to physically secure a school – and they know the harsh reality of what it takes to neutralize an active threat.
Unfortunately, Flagler County school administrators would rather hire an out-of-state Big Brother to monitor the online communications of tens-of-thousands of well-adjusted, law-abiding citizens rather than make the uncomfortable decisions necessary to truly keep our children safe.
The reality is that many in academia – who have no idea what the term “security” means – are adamantly opposed to having trained personnel, outfitted with the life-saving tools to defend life, anywhere near a campus.
Effective physical security protocols are “scary” and “distasteful,” often deliberately inconvenient, so they throw the concept of liberty – and what’s left of “privacy” in 2018 – out the window in favor of technological invigilators that they believe can detect what amounts to thoughtcrimes – or as a Social Sentinel representative phrases it, “the language of harm” – and identify anyone suspected of harboring ideas or opinions which the government finds threatening.
In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland atrocity – everyone associated with that campus – students, parents, teachers and administrators alike – knew the exact identity of the shooter, with many saying within minutes of the bloodshed that they were convinced this homicidal maniac was a ticking time bomb years before his horrific act of violence.
In fact, local, state and federal law enforcement authorities were repeatedly made aware of the growing threat posed by this sick bastard, yet either ignored the warnings, or were hamstrung by a system that coddles juvenile criminals and has no effective mechanism for treating children (or adults, for that matter) who suffer from serious mental illness.
Trust me – over-medicating and desensitizing children with violent video games isn’t working out – and all the social media watchdogs in the world won’t change that.
And don’t get me started on the lack of effective action to curtail bullying in schools – an unchecked malignancy on our educational system that contributes to thousands of aggressive encounters, suicides and increased student dropout rates each year.
Perhaps it’s time we come to the difficult realization that academic policy wonks and eggheads with Ph.D.’s (and no life experience) aren’t necessarily subject matter experts on the physical security of high-population dynamic environments.
Just maybe it’s time school administrators begin listening to the suggestions of law enforcement and private security professionals, even though these effective strategies make sensitive educators queasy.
I think it was old Ben Franklin who said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Let that one sink in.
Whoever still believes that our Founding Fathers couldn’t have envisioned the physical and intellectual treats to our fundamental rights and freedoms in 2018 are sadly mistaken.
Welcome to 1984, Flagler County.
Asshole: Volusia County Government
I wrote about this topic earlier in the week, but it bears repeating.
Regular readers of this forum know that there are two recurring issues near to my heart – beach access and government accountability.
Here on Florida’s Fun Coast, so long as public officials continue to haggle away our beach as an “inducement” to private developers, these two subjects will remain interconnected at the molecular level.
I also have a problem with our county government’s insatiable appetite for tax dollars – and the depths to which our elected officials will stoop to squeeze more of them from our wallet – all while allowing political insiders to get snout-deep in the public trough.
In an explosive exposé in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Dustin Wyatt gave specific examples of how We, The People are being openly lied to by our mendacious County Manager Jim Dinneen and his brainwashed tools on the Volusia County Council.
While the municipalities prepare to pay fealty to their masters on the Dais of Power in DeLand – promenading before our elected royalty in a gutless demonstration of their lock-step support of Volusia County’s proposed half-cent money grab – smart people are beginning to question why every man, woman and child is being asked to contribute to transportation infrastructure, while those who stand to benefit most – the developers of these mega-communities – refuse to pay their fair share in impact fees.
And our elected officials refuse to even discuss it – using the insulting excuse that you and I are too damn stupid to understand the concept of making unchecked growth pay for itself.
In Sunday’s piece, our own elected somnambulist, Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, had the stones to lecture taxpayers on just how “complicated” this bait-and-switch scam really is, “In politics, you make a one-minute statement that requires a one-hour response that would put people to sleep. And in this case, it’s several inches of print in the newspaper that really takes many, many inches to really get all the facts out. … It’s a lot more complicated than just saying ‘Raise the impact fee.’”
While Sleepy Pat is merely a washed-up political hack repeating the party line – the uber-arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys is either pitifully ignorant of the mechanics of this important issue – or she’s a compulsive liar.
According to the obviously ill-informed Ms. Denys, “We have existing impact fees, but developers are paying proportionate share fees on top of impact fees. This strategy is brilliant. It really is.”
Yep, it’s a brilliant sham, alright.
The problem is – it’s total bullshit.
In Dumb Deb’s defense, she is only parroting what County Manager Jim Dinneen told her and the rest of those dullards we elected to represent our interests – and trust me, that group isn’t known for doing its own independent research.
The fact is, developers that enter into proportional share agreements – a process designed to ensure that developments have the necessary infrastructure to move forward on schedule – do not pay “prop share” fees on top of impact fees.
Developers who pay into a proportionate share agreement save on the impact fees they owe Volusia County – fees which haven’t been increased in the past 15-years – or they receive “credits” which they can then sell to other developers who can then also save money on impact fees.
In my view, Professor Arthur Nelson of the University of Arizona – who literally authored the book on impact fees – best simplified Volusia’s lopsided deal with speculative developers, “Since 2003, road construction costs have risen 74% or roughly twice the 36% increase in the cost of living. Road impact fees should be adjusted regularly to account for increases in costs. If they aren’t? It may fall further behind because (proportionate share) is based on current (construction) costs, while impact fees are based on older, lower costs.”
There now – that wasn’t so hard to understand, was it?
In most civilized areas of the free world, when sitting politicians and appointed officials get caught in bald-faced lies – especially while trying to force their grubby fingers deeper into the pockets of their overburdened constituents – they do the right thing, resign their lofty positions, and slink off to that dark and slimy place where those who violate the public trust go to hide from the scornful gaze of their neighbors.
But this is Volusia County – the rules are different here.
Quote of the Week:
“He (Dinneen) told me he was going to under-calculate and make it 408 feet instead, we don’t want to rush on how this is going to look. We want to make sure we do it right.”
–Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, speaking in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, regarding the replacement of the beach blockade after the original poles were placed too far apart.
Don’t want to rush? Really?
After all the embarrassing slapstick and non-stop gaffes behind this shameless beach grab, a stupid move that has forever embarrassed our elected officials, confounded anyone with the smarts to read a tape measure and shattered the public’s trust in their county government – now this godawful debacle has exposed the fact our $300,000+ autocratic County Manager is intellectually and operationally incapable of simply putting the Tinker Toys in the right place.
Come on! It’s not rocket surgery, Jim!
Jesus, the ordinance specified 410’ feet – not 408’ – why is that distance so hard to measure?
And since when does Jim Dinneen have the authority to violate the letter of the law by arbitrarily deciding for the rest of us that the blockade will now be two-feet shorter than required?
Questions, questions. . . always with the questions, Barker. . .
And Another Thing!
Here’s a reminder that your Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – will hold a fund raiser this Sunday, April 22nd from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at Oasis Tiki Bar & Grill, 313 South Atlantic Avenue (oceanside of The Fountain Beach Resort).
Enjoy lunch and a cool beverage while listening to the live sounds of Tom Redmond, Buddy Kays and Paul Hart – and don’t forget to support the cause by joining in the 50/50 raffles – and pick up some cool SOB t-shirts, koozies and much more!
All proceeds go to help protect OUR right to beach driving and access.
If you aren’t already a member of SOB – joining is simple: Just go to www.sonsofthebeach.org and sign up – then print your membership card!
Best of all, it’s free! However, donations are accepted on the site.
It’s a great opportunity to get educated on the latest legal updates from the hard-working SOB legal team, and our dedicated Head Honcho – Paul Zimmerman – will have information on the planned peaceful protest of Volusia County’s wholesale giveaway of our century-old tradition of beach driving behind the Hard Rock Daytona.
Hope to see you there!
Have a great weekend, kids!