On Volusia: Just Another Screw Up?

The debacle that is Summit Hospitality Group’s weird relationship with Volusia County government has baffled beach advocates for months – now, the mismanagement and bureaucratic ineptitude surrounding the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock project can no longer be ignored as it plays out, front page-above the fold, in our newspaper.

For those joining this slapstick comedy already in progress, here’s a chronology of the goofy errors and omissions that have plagued this godforsaken project for years.

From its inception, this poisoned partnership – solely designed to remove beach driving from another 410 linear feet of the shoreline as an “inducement” for Summit to develop an “internationally recognized brand resort” on the skeleton of the spooky Desert Inn – has been like watching a shit-train careen off its tracks in super-slow motion.

Many of us found this “public/private” conspiracy strange from the beginning.

Two organizations with completely different strategic missions – one a local government with a legal responsibility to protect and defend the public’s right to beach access – the other a speculative developer with a profit motive – confederating to restrict access to the people’s most precious natural amenity as an economic incentive?

Didn’t seem right.  Still doesn’t.

Then, with the “encouragement” of campaign sugar daddy and master political puppeteer J. Hyatt Brown – those cheap marionettes we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power in DeLand unanimously agreed to surrender our century-old tradition of beach driving as a bastardized enticement for what we were assured would be two job-producing luxury hotels built of glass, steel and sex appeal.

Originally, the ordinances provided traffic-free areas to accommodate both the “original” Hard Rock project that Canadian developer Henry Wolfond was set to build, as well as the “Four Star” Westin that Summit Hospitality promised us was coming.

In a bold move to protect the interests of Volusia County residents, Florida’s premiere beach advocacy – Sons of the Beach – attempted a strong legal challenge, lawsuits with clear merit which were ultimately squashed by a weaponized county attorney who used our own money to ensure a private entity received a semi-private beach at our expense.

Within months, Wolfond packed up his troubles in his old kit bag and hauled ass back to Canada, but not before calling us all a bunch of obstructionist assholes for challenging his elegant plan which, in addition to the removal of beach driving, called for Palm Beach prices in a Hooterville market.

Then – nothing.

Crickets.

The “Westin” renovation stagnated to the point it looked like the project was being completed by two one-armed handymen working weekends.

Months turned into years as the development languished and it became clear Summit would never meet the ordinance-imposed deadline for completion.

Then, in a clumsy surprise party last year, County Manager Jim Dinneen orchestrated a bizarre off-the-agenda switcheroo at a public meeting, wherein Summit announced it was dumping the Westin brand and acquiring the Hard Rock franchise.

The ambush-style revelation that we were getting a “Hard Rock” resulted in wild applause and fainting swoons from our elected officials who immediately melted into a spineless goo of overacted adulation to appease their masters who were looking on from the gallery.

Just one hiccup – in exchange for planting the Hard Rock flag on Daytona Beach, Summit Hospitality would need more time.

With a completely straight face, Summit’s representatives cited hurricanes and other unavoidable delays – never once mentioning that the development hadn’t seen substantive progress in months.

Of course, the developer was almost immediately granted an extension, pushing the drop-dead completion date to February 28, 2018.

In my view, at that very moment, it became crystal clear our elected officials were once again selling us out to push the horribly failed strategy of political insiders who still believe a single panacea project will serve as an anchor for area-wide revitalization – all while turning their backs on the squalor, blight and economic stagnation that has metastasized across the remainder of the beachside like a malignant tumor.

As the months rolled on – the Hard Rock project continued to sit virtually idle – even as the performance deadline loomed.

Opening dates were announced, then awkwardly called back, again-and-again.

After assuring us that they had no more than a casual interest in the hotel’s progress, it became clear that our ‘powers that be’ in DeLand began to get nervous.

A mysterious closed-door meeting was held between Summit representatives and senior Volusia County officials to discuss, what needs to be done to bring the Hard Rock Hotel into compliance.”

It then became clear to anyone paying attention that the Hard Rock would meet “brand standards” whether it was completed by February 28th or not.

To that end, county attorney Dan Eckert began subverting the narrative, while our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, started repeating “It’s gonna be great, It’s gonna be great, It’s gonna be great” like some demented robot.

In coming days, it was apparent construction on the building and external seawall was being rushed using slapdash workmanship and relaxed building standards.

Patch-and-paint camouflage was applied to spalling concrete, the pool deck remained unfinished and Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, obtained photographic evidence that load-bearing structures in the subterranean parking garage appeared to be compromised with the roof supported by a forest of floor jacks.

All of this photographic and anecdotal evidence was provided to government officials – which resulted in sweeping denials and personal attacks on Zimmerman by the private engineering firm hired by the developer.

Then, just days before the deadline – with construction crews still hurrying things to a premature conclusion – Hard Rock International pencil whipped a quibbling certification that “upon opening” the hotel “will meet” brand standards set in the ordinance-imposed performance guarantee.

Like clockwork, days before the busy Easter holiday weekend – Mr. Dinneen gave orders to Beach Safety Chief Ray Manchester to ‘pull the trigger’ on beach driving behind the still-under-construction hotel.

In turn, with Manchester and our bumbling Coastal Division director Jessica Winterwerp looking on – a county contractor began jetting massive, chemically-treated utility poles into the sand – using diverted apparatus from the Volusia County Fire Department to assist in the operation.

The phalanx of ugly poles looked more appropriate to a Russian gulag than a public beach and were described by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler as “ten-foot tall monstrosities.”  She vowed to hold “staff” accountable for this abomination.

Who knows how that exercise in futility worked out for her. . .

Amidst the outcry of horrified residents – the county contractor quickly returned to the sand and in the most blatant violation of safety regulations ever caught on film – a worker balanced precariously in an elevated Bobcat bucket holding a running chainsaw with no personal protective equipment lopped a few feet off the top of the poles.   

And, just like that, the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock debacle came to an unceremonious conclusion.

Not so fast.

To ensure honesty in our demonstrably dishonest county government – the intrepid Paul Zimmerman measured the distance between the county’s crude beach blockade.

Low and behold, he found the distance to be nearly twenty-feet over the 410 linear feet specified by law.

When the measurements were confirmed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the faux-outrage by our perpetually embarrassed elected officials began.

“It’s unacceptable” crowed the addle-brained Ed Kelley – a pitiful rube who hasn’t had an original thought since he squirmed his way into office on a tidal wave of insider cash.  “If you build your house 20 feet over the property line, they will make you tear it down.”

 No shit, Ed.

What an astute observation by our senior elected official whose manager has once again been exposed as a bumbling farce when he screwed the pooch on yet another highly controversial issue.

Demonstrating the kind of leadership he’s famous for, Jim Dinneen was apparently dry-heaving in the fetal position under his desk high atop the ivory tower – refusing to take telephone calls from media outlets – and forcing a county mouthpiece to assure the incredulous public that Summit Hospitality will make it all right again.

Sure.

At the end of the day, Hard Rock still has a semi-private beach, and We, The People who pay the bills are stuck with a $4,180 – not counting labor – invoice for yet another of Mr. Dinneen’s colossal fuck ups.

But don’t expect anyone to held accountable.  Not gonna happen.

As I’ve written before, when you consider the continuing pattern of gross mismanagement, mistakes, gaffes, howlers and good old fashioned bloopers under Mr. Dinneen’s administration – blunders that would result in his immediate termination from any legitimate private enterprise – it becomes immediately clear that he is politically insulated from any accountability by those who directly benefit from his control of the public tit – the endless supply of tax dollars that invariably flow into private projects and bolster our artificial economy here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Is there another explanation?

More important – how long are we, the long-suffering residents of Volusia County, expected to accept it?

 

 

Angels & Assholes for April 6, 2018

Hi, kids!

It’s Friday once again!  Time to play our favorite Halifax Area pastime: What the Hell?

I would like to cordially invite those dapper gents on the Ormond Beach City Commission to join the fun!

Come on, fellas – play along with us!

As always, the rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is: A. A palm oil plantation in Equatorial Guinea? B. Commercial mining operations on an English peat moor? or C. The next round of clear-cut deforestation on Granada Boulevard?

granada north

If you picked developer Paul Holub’s multi-part affront to the environmental sensibilities of virtually every resident of Ormond Beach as he fells massive old growth oak trees and historic hardwoods, then grinds them into a muddy brown pulp, to make way for a new WaWa and a chicken wing drive-thru give yourself a Gold Star!

To avoid the hue and cry of anyone with a working conscience, this time they tried desperately to fool us – hiding their ghastly ecological insult behind a screen of trees strategically left standing along Granada Boulevard.

Remember when our illustrious Deputy Mayor Troy Kent told us that this abomination against nature “does not change the beautiful character of Ormond Beach”?

Well, guess what?  He lied.

Don’t take my word for it, drive by and see for yourself.

As I’ve previously written (yet can’t seem to get out of my mind), maybe when this entire godforsaken state becomes an uninhabitable quagmire – with our sole source of drinking water fouled by our own sewerage to accommodate the insatiable appetite of real estate developers, our greenspace plowed under and filled for another half-empty strip center and our wildlife habitats ground into splinters to make way for the ten-zillionth convenience store – maybe someone will wake up and vote these goddamn greed-crazed assholes out of office and replace them with someone – anyone – who has a modicum of respect for themselves and our natural places.

What a travesty.

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.

Sorry guys, I hate to be a Debbie Downer – but there are no “Angels” in my world this week.

However, the list of flaming assholes is growing exponentially. . .

Asshole:          Former BC-U President Edison Jackson

The super-strange tenure of former Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson continues to peel like a rotten onion, and each layer unveils increasingly weird aspects of his administration – and the role of the Board of Trustees – who were essentially blind to it, or complicit in it, depending upon who you talk with.

With massive lawsuits multiplying like randy rabbits – claims and counter-claims that B-CU was essentially reduced to a private piggy bank for a privileged few – we now learn of a very serious charge levied by former Bethune-Cookman Vice President Michelle Thompson, the ex-wife of athletic director and later vice president of athletics, Lynn Thompson.

According to a suit filed in Circuit Court at Daytona Beach, Ms. Thompson has claimed the university committed serious violations of the Florida Civil Rights Act after her career unraveled simultaneous to her marriage.

The complaint alleges that when Michelle Thompson served as dean of freshmen, and later vice president of student development and academic integration, her career trajectory arced like a lawn dart when she separated from her husband in January 2015.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Thompson met with Jackson in July, the suit states.  Jackson allegedly told her “that she needed to consider her future with the university, and . . .to reconcile with her husband.” 

 Apparently, in direct defiance of Dr. Jackson’s marital diktat (normally seen only in the lawless tribal areas of Zomia) – Ms. Jackson filed for divorce in October 2015.

Then, the suit describes a wholly bizarre episode more akin to the final days of the Jonestown compound than a prestigious university, when Ms. Thompson claims she attempted to obtain tickets to an athletic event for herself and a friend, then “was informed by the university that they were not yet ready for (her) to begin dating.”  

Say what? 

Subsequently, the suit claims that Dr. Jackson demoted Ms. Thompson to professor – a position that paid “a mere fraction of her former salary” and ordered her to take an extended sabbatical.

Eleven months later she was summarily fired from the university – by email.

In her suit, Michelle Thompson is asking for a jury trial and damages in excess of $15,000 from the cash-strapped university still reeling from a byzantine series of financial moves that has threatened the continued viability of this historic institution.

All while the same Board of Trustees – people who knew or should have known – stood painfully idle while the school was fiscally exsanguinated by forces under their direct oversight and control.

In my view, the students, faculty and staff of B-CU deserve better.

Asshole:          The Florida Legislature

In another nod to allowing real estate developers carte blanche to pave over every available inch of the Sunshine State, during the 2018 legislative session lawmakers passed what is being called the ‘toilet to tap’ bill which – if signed by Governor Rick Scott – will have Floridian’s drinking their own sewerage in a few short years.

Essentially, this latest relaxation of the state’s environmental regulations allows developers whose projects stress our extremely limited water supply to build even more houses, condominiums and half-empty strip centers by permitting wastewater utilities to simply pump partially treated “gray water” back into our sensitive underground aquifer.

Then – we’ll all wish for the best – hoping against hope we don’t poison our sole source of drinking water for generations to come.

It is the textbook definition of “shitting in our own nest.”

According to Dr. Ron Saff of Physicians for Social Responsibility, writing in the Tallahassee Democrat:

“Much of what we flush down our toilets flows down our sewer lines and into sewage treatment plants. This bill would encourage pumping of the sewage effluent – the technical term for partially treated sewage – back into the drinking water aquifer. Then the partially treated effluent would flow from the aquifer into your drinking water glass when you turn on the tap.” 

In addition to our own shit – the effluent contains pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics, psychotropic drugs and other medications – along with viruses, heavy metals, biological pathogens and nutrients that could further destroy our springs, waterways and fisheries.

While the water is technically “treated” to federal drinking water standards, experts claim those regulations are completely outdated and far too flexible to ensure consumer safety – and no one knows the long-term effects of defecating in our own drinking water supply, literally at its source.

My God – where does it end?

The abject greed of these speculative pirates knows no reasonable bounds – yet our compromised politicians at all levels of government continue to blindly accept their massive campaign contributions and do their bidding – even to the extreme of forcing every man, woman and child in this unsustainable paradise to drink their own excrement.

Welcome to Margaritaville, folks.  Just another Third-World shithole where you brush your teeth with bottled water and avoid the ice.

Asshole:          Irresponsible Public Officials  

Earlier this week, the Daytona Beach News-Journal published an article detailing Mayor Derrick Henry’s skin-of-the-teeth escape from foreclosure on a Derbyshire-area home he owns by apparently using bankruptcy protections to avoid the sale of the property on the steps of the Volusia County courthouse.

Look, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

God knows that at various times in my life I have lived beyond my meager means – got upside down on one financial obligation or another – resulting in a drastic curtailment of my Little Lord Fauntleroy lifestyle until the bills were settled and I once again had a few chips to stack.

Without my wife Patti, a penny-pinching tightwad who keeps a miserly lock on our personal finances and curtails my impulse spending with a swift slap to the back of my head when necessary, I may well be calling Mayor Henry for strategic bankruptcy advice.

So, I’m not going to use this space to take a cheap shot at Hizzoner.

What I will do is use the News-Journal’s embarrassing article to remind all sitting politicians and public officials the importance of personal character and public perception in maintaining the people’s trust in their government.

This isn’t a finger-wagging lecture – it’s a solid piece of hard-earned advice from a fellow sinner who’s just a little further down the trail.

As a law enforcement officer of over three-decades, I was governed by a strict code of professional ethics which required that I keep my “public and private life unsullied as an example to all.”

Is that lofty standard even possible in an era where privacy and discretion have become antiquated parts of our past – and everything we do, say and eat ends up on social media at the speed of the internet?

I don’t know.

But I can honestly say that, although I fell short time-and-time again, every day I served my community I tried hard to live up to that high and noble responsibility.

Fortunately, I had good mentors along my journey who stressed the importance of honor and personal integrity.

Earlier this week, a friend and former colleague of many years abruptly resigned from his role as chief of police for a local municipal agency while under the dark cloud of a criminal investigation.

He had 30-years of unblemished service with the department and remains one of the kindest most sincere gentlemen I know.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, I am angry and heartbroken that an otherwise stellar career ended this way.

Now, I don’t know the details beyond scuttlebutt from the local “retired cop” network – but, in my experience, there is nearly always an identifiable sequence of events that lead to these personal or career catastrophes – a disaster that can usually be avoided by breaking any link in the chain of errors.

What I’m trying to say is – if you serve in a position of high responsibility where your conduct and professionalism reflect on a group, organization or government – or even your own family – pay attention to the small things – the everyday ethical conundrums and seemingly inconsequential moral forks in the road.

Strive to overcome our basic human frailties and be honest in thought and deed – even when the outcome is unpleasant.

Take the high road, and help develop a transparent organizational culture that encourages strong leadership and inspires subordinates to ‘do the right thing’ for the right reasonsalways using the difficult template: Is it moral?  Is it ethical?  Is it lawful?  Will my action inspire trust? 

Most important, if the answer to those important questions is ever in doubt – change tack and remember that in matters of public trust, once lost, it is near impossible to regain.

With persistence and example, values-based public service becomes instinctual – it permeates the organization – and allows elected and appointed officials to make ethical decisions, even in the stressful heat of the moment.

Character is how we conduct ourselves when no one is looking.

I realize this concept has gone out of style – especially in the furnace of politics – but those who stand for high office have an obligation to represent the best interests of those they are sworn to serve.

We count on these intrepid souls with a willingness to serve to lead our communities with honor, selflessness and integrity.

That commitment to service above self-interest deserves our respect and admiration – until it doesn’t.

The price public officials pay for maintaining the consent of the governed – from which their moral authority to lead originates – requires keeping their personal lives in good order, staying above the fray, paying attention to civic obligations and responsibilities and always remaining faithful to a sense of fair play.

Most important, the price of service requires that those who take a sacred oath to represent the interests of their fellow citizens have the moral values and strength of character to carry out their duties with honor – and never use their lofty position for private advantage.

Asshole:          Volusia County School Board

The latest gross absurdity in Florida’s never-ending war on common sense is playing out right here in Volusia County.

Go figure.

In Edgewater, a beautiful seven-year old child named Zoe is slowly dying of a rare condition known as Sanfilippo Syndrome, a condition similar to childhood Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctor’s confirm that her life is more than half over.

At the urging of a friend, the child’s parents administered hemp oil as a means of controlling Zoe’s frequent, debilitating seizures to help her rest – a treatment that was almost immediately effective.

In addition, the substance – which is perfectly legal everywhere in the United States as it contains zero THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana – has improved Zoe’s sleep, increased her appetite and ability to speak.

Doctor’s confirm that the oil is improving a very sick little girl’s quality of life.

Now, Zoe’s parents want her to receive the medicinal oil during school hours – just like other children who are administered prescription medication during the day.

Naturally, rather than assist in a dying child’s palliative care, Volusia County won’t allow it.

An asinine statement issued by the School Board claims the district follows federal law – not state law.

Say what?

 “CBD hemp oil falls under the definition of “marijuana extract” … and remains listed as a schedule one controlled substance under federal law. The request to bring cannabis oil onto our campuses or the involvement of our staff is prohibited by federal law.”

 So, in its infinite stupidity, the Volusia County School Board is denying Zoe access to this life-enhancing substance – preferring instead to watch her suffer painful seizures – rather than take a bold stand for the rights of seriously disabled students to alternative medications with proven efficacy.

Although not applicable in this case, some 71% of Florida voters approved the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of catastrophic conditions such as Zoe’s – a measure that our legislators and local elected officials have fought tooth-and-nail by blocking dispensaries and enacting other silly roadblocks and edicts.

This is a new low, even by Volusia County standards.

These fucking people should be ashamed of themselves. 

I hope voters will remember young Zoe when you enter the voting booth this November.  I will.

Quote of the Week:

“Governments, and even businesses, can break out their thesauruses and call them whatever they want: taxes, user fees, levies, assessments.  But it doesn’t change the fact that they all accomplish the same thing — they take money out of the public’s pockets.  And no semantical sweetener makes that hard truth any easier to swallow.”

 –The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial, “Getting taxed at both ends,” Thursday, April 5, 2018

Kudos to reporter Seth Robbins for his outstanding exposé, “Fee Frenzy” which examined the weird practice of developers who seek lucrative public incentives – then screw us to the wall with privately imposed “enhanced amenity fees,” “public user fees” and other sales-based levies – each of which is clearly a tax dressed up with a catchy marketing hook.

Greedy bastards.

Most of us know when we receive an email from a Nigerian Prince looking for help moving money that we’re being scammed – at least I hope you do.

Unfortunately, many shoppers at places like Tanger Outlets and One Daytona – both of which took millions of dollars in public funds, tax abatement’s and infrastructure subsidies – are unaware of these bogus fees until they reach the point-of-sale.

Clearly, the Daytona Beach News-Journal feels the same way most of us do when we suddenly realize we are being taken advantage of by cheap grifters.  I, for one, am proud of the work they have done in educating the public to this increasingly prevalent money grab.

And Another Thing!

 “In February, Volusia County’s 76 percent occupancy was less than the statewide average of 81.1 percent, according to STR, a data and analytics specialist. Likewise, Volusia’s $154.29 average daily rate was less than the statewide average of $171.88; and the county’s revenue per available room of $117.01 was less than the statewide average of $139.40.”

–Statewide comparison of Volusia County hotel occupancy and room rates showing a slight 6% increase in February year-over-year

Response by Evelyn Fine – who has been telling the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau what they want to hear for years – as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“I’m encouraged by the fact that we had more visitors,” said Evelyn Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research in Ormond Beach. “That’s great news.” The increase in occupancy enabled hoteliers to make more money per available room, despite the decline in average daily rates, Fine said. “The big question in my mind is, ‘Why did the rates go down?’ and I wish I had an answer for that. I’m thinking that maybe because we had some slow months before that (February), that everybody was kind of nervous and let the rates slip a bit.”

 Less than the statewide average by all metrics?  Encouraged?  Great news?

Wait?  What?  Up-is-down, Down-is-up? It’s all so confusing, Evelyn.

Whatever. . .

Have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

On Volusia: Am I wrong?

As the tortured scribe of an alternative opinion blog, I often receive angry calls and messages from sitting politicians, and others in positions of high power and influence, who take me to task for having come down on the wrong side of one issue or the other – and I admit – I’m certainly not infallible.

But when I’m right – I’m right.

For instance, I harbor a sneaking suspicion that our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County government have dissolved into a weird clown alley of ill-informed lockstep conformists who do exactly what they are told to do – when they are told to do it.

And when they don’t get their way on an issue important to their uber-wealthy campaign donors – or in matters where their ineptitude may be exposed – they lash out like recalcitrant children, using the county attorney’s office as an offensive weapon, or simply becoming obstructionist assholes (a la “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, clenching his little hands, puffing up like a toad, and vowing to vote “no” on every issue coming before the SunRail Commission until his issues get resolved).

The fact is, evidence continues to mount that these dolts we have elected to represent our interests have the situational and political awareness of wallpaper paste.

Unless they are told exactly how to think, and what to do, by County Manager Jim Dinneen or some courtier from the camarilla of “Rich & Powerful” insiders who actually control our lives and livelihoods – our council members sits there like slack-jawed dementia victims fascinated by specks of dust floating in the air.

Clueless doesn’t come close to describing this level of blunted detachment.

For almost two-years, the laser focus of Volusia County government – when they weren’t busy approving “incentives” for speculative developers, closing off beach access or funneling massive amounts of public funds to private interests – has been set on developing a strategy to place a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Why?

Like any parasitic worm that burrows itself deep into the public tit – government needs increasing sources of tax revenue to keep the cycle of government spending, insane compensation and benefits packages for senior managers and corporate welfare projects – spinning along without interruption.

Now it appears our ‘powers that be’ became so distracted by the dollar signs dancing in their pointy little heads that they failed to keep an eye on happenings in Tallahassee – or maybe they truly are just a troop of ill-informed buffoons – regardless, they missed some important legislation that just may derail their sleazy money grab.

Back in February, State Representative Matt Caldwell, a Republican from North Fort Meyers, began formulating a plan to block a local option sales tax proposed by the Lee County School Board – a levy Rep. Caldwell vehemently disagreed with.

According to Caldwell, imposing a tax on every man, woman and child in Lee County was “avoidable and unwise,” and he linked the school boards financial difficulties to irresponsible spending and poor strategic planning.

Sound familiar?

So, during the waning days of the 2018 legislative session, Rep. Caldwell filed an amendment requiring county governments and school districts seeking to place a local option sales tax before voters to submit to an outside performance audit, which must be completed and posted for public inspection sixty days before the election.

Governor Rick Scott signed the measure into law on March 23rd.

Clearly the terms “outside” and “audit” brought peristaltic tremors to our elected and appointed officials in DeLand.

Frankly, I couldn’t be more tickled if I had a feather in my shorts.

Among other provisions, the Caldwell amendment requires that the audit explore alternative methods for providing county services and products, ensures the accuracy of public documents, examines the “structure or design” of the county government to accomplish its objectives and requires compliance with appropriate policies, rules and laws.

In short, the legislation ensures that government has explored all possible alternatives before siphoning even more cash from their tax-strapped constituents by imposing or increasing duties on goods and services.

It’s called basic accountability – and that is anathema to our current administration.

Now do you see why this important legislation – which is clearly designed to protect the public interest – has sent convulsing shivers down the spine of Volusia County government? 

I thought you might.

Clearly, our elected and appointed officials were once again caught totally flatfooted – completely unaware of the Caldwell amendment and its potential ramifications – and now those on the dais of power are falling all over themselves to affix blame to anyone but themselves.

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – who suffers from a rare form of selective memory which makes him oblivious to anything other than the personal whims of his wealthy campaign donors – blames Volusia County’s lobbying firm, GrayRobinson, Tallahassee insiders who receive $50,000 of our money annually to, well, keep our council members apprised of legislative happenings.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Old Ed said, “I thought our (lobbyist) would have let us know.  My guess is that the lobbyist should have told us that,” he said.  “Someone should have told us before today that that was there.  I’m a little miffed that I wasn’t made aware of this.”

Miffed?

Get your head out of your ass, Ed.

How many times can our senior elected official feign cognitive ignorance?

Anyone remember back in May 2017, when Chairman Kelley and the others we elected to represent our interests got caught with their heads on the desk, snoozing in a pile of their own drool, when the state moved to limit local government’s ability to pass ordinances that impact private property rights, specifically as it relates to customary use of public beaches?

I do.

But in typical fashion – no one is ever held accountable in the Dinneen administration.

Not GrayRobinson, and especially not Mr. Dinneen.

I mean, where exactly does the buck stop in this shitstorm of abject mismanagement and ineptitude?

Certainly not with the hyper-arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

In her typical haughty delivery, Denys deflected any responsibility, fuming with indignant criticism, “It’s bad law (?), bad legislation.  We are regulating empty.  There’s nothing there.” 

You mean, except exposing out-of-control government spending, the open giveaway of public assets and the mysteriously opaque planning and spending policies coming out of the county manager’s office?

My God.

Folks, I may not get it right all the time – but I’m right when I opine that we are being “governed” by the most grossly out-of-touch gaggle of half-bright dimwits in the history of Volusia County.

And given our dismal history, that’s saying something. . .

In my view, there truly is no one awake in the wheelhouse – and this ship of fools is hopelessly adrift.

Based on the evidence at hand – am I wrong?

 

 

On Volusia: One Daytona – The ‘New Normal’

In January, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe and an astute observer of the political landscape in Volusia County sent me a photograph of a placard posted at One Daytona announcing the implementation of an “Enhanced Amenity Fee.”

The fee represents a one-percent before sales tax levy on all goods and services purchased at the “symbiotic” entertainment and shopping complex developed by the Forbes listed France family’s International Speedway Corporation – and subsidized by you and me.

Like many of you, this tax by any other name struck me as usurious – given that taxpayers in Volusia County, and the City of Daytona Beach, collectively bankrolled the project to the tune of $40 million in public funds.

The fee isn’t limited to One Daytona – you will experience similar money grabs at the Port Orange Pavilion – and the tax-supported Tanger Outlets.  As I understand it, the fees could remain in place for the next 100 years.

Apparently, it’s the ‘new normal.’   Get used to being screwed to the wall.

In an essay entitled, “Does it ever end?” – I posed the question, “When does a “public/private partnership” turn into a victimization – a parasitic exsanguination of the very people who were previously tapped to fund a private project with hard-earned tax dollars?”  

While I have a sideways opinion on just about everything, I’m the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Not by a long shot.

In fact, I’m a guy with a solid 8th grade education (while I graduated from Seabreeze High School, my formative years are a blur of malted hops and barleycorn) – not to mention the fact that I am, at my core, an East Tennessee hillbilly – born in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains – which means I am too stupid to take money, and too prideful to shut up when getting along and going along would serve me better.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Seth Robbins’ outstanding exposé, “Fee Frenzy – Customers pay the price as private fees pop up at 3 Volusia shopping complexes,” frontpage news today in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.    

In my view, Seth is one of the finest young reporters in the business – bright, instinctive and bulldog tenacious in the spirit of Old School investigative journalists.  He’s the real deal.

In this enlightening piece, Robbins has gotten to the kernel of an incredibly intricate issue, and crafted an important story into an informative vehicle even I can understand.

I only ask that you read the article critically, then form your own educated conclusions as to the true motivations of the players involved – especially the quibbling “I know no-thing!” Sergeant Shultz-like explanation of our factually challenged County Manager Jim Dinneen.

Look, I don’t take issue with the extremely skillful attorneys who work hard in the best interest of their clients.  I understand the need of publicly traded companies to use available legislation to craft these weird hybrids, euphemistically known as “P-3’s,” and facilitate other quasi-public financing schemes – measures which can salve the concerns of stockholders by ensuring high returns with low risk.

I get it. That’s the job a good lawyer is paid well to accomplish.

However, I still believe that just because something is legal, doesn’t necessarily make it right.

In fact, under Rick Scott’s administration, most of the environmental and pro-development “regulations” and incentives coming out of Tallahassee would curl your hair. . .

My problem remains with the issue of local government’s continued meddling in what should be a free, open and fair marketplace – time-after-time providing millions in public funds to underwrite the private endeavors of those uber-wealthy members of the Donor Class seeking a return on investment for massive campaign contributions to the avaricious politicians who ultimately approve these lucrative subsidies.

I was proud to contribute my thoughts to the News-Journal as they expose this increasingly prevalent scheme – often without the knowledge of shoppers who patronize these venues.

I still believe that commercial, for-profit developments that are underwritten by massive infusions of public funds, tax breaks and infrastructure subsidies create a lopsided playing field in a very tight market – providing an unfair advantage that most small businesses and entrepreneurs who form the backbone of an economy do not have equal access to.

In my view, that’s wrong.

As the Canadian comic and politician Greg Malone put it, P3’s should be called “P-12’s” – “Public-Private Partnerships to Plunder the Public Purse to Pursue Policies of Peril to People and the Planet for all Posterity.”

 Please find Seth Robbins’ excellent piece here:

http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/20180331/customers-pay-price-as-private-fees-pop-up-at-3-volusia-shopping-complexes

 My full interview can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtJ4C1VZG54&feature=youtu.be

Here’s wishing all members of the loyal and intrepid Barker’s View tribe a very joyous Easter and Passover.

May God bless your home and family with peace and happiness, today and always.