Before we start this bumpy Friday hayride – I want to take a minute to sincerely thank you, the loyal readers of Barker’s View, for another record-breaking month in the history of this little experiment in alternative opinion blogging.
In April, Barker’s View hosted over 20,000 views of this site – and we are on track to surpass that figure this month!
Thanks to each of you, things are really taking off!
I realize this is certainly no reflection on the quality of my writing – or the content – and has everything to do with your intelligent desire to explore diverse views and consider all sides of the issues that are important to our lives and livelihoods.
Thanks to the growing popularity of this site, in addition to our monthly radio program on GovStuff Live with Big John, Barker’s View is now a contributing opinion columnist to the outstanding regional newspaper The West Volusia Beacon!
Thank you for your loyalty, incredible support and encouragement – you’ve made this baffled old man very proud.
Well, it’s time once again to end our busy week with a recap of the good, the bad and the ugly that impacted all of us – the long-suffering denizens of Florida’s Fun Coast!
Just for giggles, I thought we might play another hand of our favorite pastime here at Barker’s View HQ – a game I like to call, “What the Hell?”
I cordially invite our friends at the Marine Science Center, the Volusia/Flagler Turtle Patrol and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to play along!
Come on – it’ll be Wide. Open. Fun!
The rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the scene depicted is:
A. Mortar emplacements at a fortified Syrian rebel camp outside Damascus?
B. Commercial fireworks on the beach behind the Hard Rock Daytona – on the first day of sea turtle nesting season – to entertain our VIP’s during an “invitation only” soiree earlier this week?
(Cue the Jeopardy theme. . .)
If you selected “B” – the scene of a fireworks spectacular held exclusively for the Halifax areas political and social elite to celebrate the grand opening of the new Hard Luck Hotel – including the removal of convenient beach access and driving from 410’ (give or take) of our beach behind the hotel – give yourself a Gold Star!
In Volusia County, the protection of sea turtles, shorebirds and their nesting habitat is a big damn deal.
In fact, it’s why we no longer drive on the beach after 7:00pm – and artificial lighting emanating from oceanfront homes or commercial establishments is strictly prohibited by county ordinance during turtle nesting season, which runs from May 1 to October 1 each year.
Even ancillary light is frowned upon under our habitat protection plan which warns residents and visitors, “Avoid flash photography on the beach at night, and never discharge fireworks, which are prohibited on the beach.”
Exception to the Rule: “If you are a Platinum Level campaign contributor to sitting politicians, a speculative developer or someone our powers-that-be find beneficial to their political careers and social status – the rules do not apply.”
If you meet that criteria, the county will issue a permit and you can blast away!
Yep. A special event permit was issued by county officials for the pyrotechnics show – even though the authorization specifically stated, “The Protected Species Specialist has determined that this special event is not in the spirit of the Habitat Conservation Plan.”
No worries! If certain conditions were met – the show could proceed.
My question is, if a nanosecond camera flash is enough to disorient a nesting loggerhead – what did the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air for the private enjoyment of the Hard Rock’s “invited guests” do for the sensitive little critters?
Who knows? And who cares?
Certainly no one in Volusia County government.
So long as their name is spelled correctly on the goofy “VIP Concert Laminate” issued by Summit Hospitality, eh?
Talk about assholes. . .
Now, let’s turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Asshole: Volusia County Government
In George Orwell’s allegorical novella, Animal Farm, the tyrannical pigs who rose to power and ultimately ran the farm under a dictatorial regime – all while enriching themselves on the labor of the other animals – made an eerie amendment to their founding principles to excuse the open gluttony, excess and elitism of those in control.
As the pigs began to walk upright and wear clothes – slowly taking on the trappings of the humans they abhorred – the canons of Animalism that were written on the barn wall for all to see began to change to fit their narrative – and by the end of the story, there was only one commandment left:
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
It is generally considered to be the best analogy for the hypocrisy of government when it is corrupted to become a servant of the rich and powerful – catering exclusively to the whims of the few – while ignoring the needs of the people it was originally formed to serve.
In Volusia County, our representative democracy has transmogrified into a bastardized oligarchy – a hijacked system totally controlled by what our newspaper of record has described as the “Rich & Powerful” – uber-wealthy insiders who have turned our elections into bizarre livestock auctions and reduced our elected officials to dull implements that exist for the sole purpose of churning public funds into private profits.
Earlier this week, something called the Volusia Roundtable of Elected Officials – a political insulation committee of area mayors which promotes groupthink and provides strength in numbers against public criticism – met in “special session” to discuss whether you and I will be permitted to vote on a half-cent sales tax initiative this fall.
Make no mistake, the marching orders to pull the referendum didn’t come from the mayors, but from the Royal House of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – a Star Chamber of millionaires who, apparently, drive public policy and decide what’s best for us slavish vassals here on Florida’s beleaguered Fun Coast.
During the meeting, our panjandrums sitting at the roundtable dutifully, but convincingly, vacillated on the sales tax initiative – a measure that was repeatedly billed as the only thing standing between us and transportation Armageddon – ultimately coming to the disingenuous conclusion that the November ballot was simply too crowded to give such an important measure it’s just consideration.
I suppose no one who is paid to care noticed that this “special” meeting was not reasonably noticed in advance as required by state statute whenever elected officials from the same body meet to discuss matters of public concern coming before them?
In my view, it flew in the face of Florida’s open meetings law as at least two of our elected county council members openly communicated with each other regarding a matter of grave public interest that was set for action on their agenda the very next day.
Oh, well – so much for Government in the Sunshine.
The rules don’t apply to the Ruling Class.
Besides, those in power will tell us what they want us to know – when they want us to know it.
Then, in the eleventh hour, when the Volusia County Council finally came together in open session to discuss what had already been decided the day before – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, all but refused to allow his fellow elected representatives to even whisper about the possibility of considering an increase in impact fees.
That old mushwit really earned his campaign contributions on Tuesday, eh?
It was cringeworthy.
Even those arrogant dullards sitting next to him on the Dais of Power in DeLand were openly stunned by the brazenness of Old Ed’s defense of the indefensible: Every man, woman, child and visitor is being asked to pony up to pay for out-of-control growth – while mega-developers haul cash to the bank in dump trucks?
In my opinion, the only one who understood the gravity of this missed opportunity to grab a gazillion dollars in additional tax revenue was Councilwoman Joyce Cusack – a veteran politician who consistently stands out as the voice of reason on that rudderless ship of fools.
During an incredibly uncomfortable discussion of the issue, Ms. Cusack reminded her colleagues that this time in history may have passed forever. With the almost biblical coming together of all 16 cities in lock-step support now in jeopardy and an election looming on the horizon – she mused that another bite at this shameless money grab may be impossible for many moons.
And just like that, the much-ballyhooed half-cent sales tax panacea evaporated into the ether – at least until “next year” – or the year after that. . .
Now, we can all stand back and watch as this weird arranged marriage between Volusia County and the municipalities dissolves into a shitstorm of finger pointing, counter-accusations and dictatorial edicts.
This Pageant of the Absurd will feature Little Jimmy Dinneen sidestepping any responsibility for his gross lack of leadership as he pouts like a schoolyard tattletale to anyone who’ll listen – “The cities have impact fees that need raisin’ too!” – and Chairman Kelley will assume a pugilistic stance anytime someone questions a campaign donor’s profit motive – or broaches the topic of fairness and equity in funding infrastructure improvements.
After Tuesdays meeting, Old Ed curtly told Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt that he doesn’t want a consultant involved in the council’s impact fee discussions – I suppose he feels plausible ignorance is better than having the truth plastered in your face like a rotten meringue pie.
Hell, even Ed has described Volusia’s current impact fee structure as so complicated the average mortal couldn’t possibly understand its enigmatic intricacies.
“I don’t need a consultant to tell me what we should charge,” he said.
This from a guy who needs help matching his frigging socks. . .
I’ll bet anyone reading this screed an Ormond Brewery Breakfast Brown Ale that it will be a long, long time before the cities ever get in bed with the Volusia County Council again – on anything.
In recent days, some have declared a hollow victory now that the specter of a sales tax increase has been driven back into its ratty coffin, at least temporarily.
Frankly, I take no joy in it.
In fact, I have never been more embarrassed to call myself a citizen of Volusia County.
The Brennan Center at NYU School of Law, a policy institute that works to reform and defend our systems of democracy and justice, said on the matter of government dysfunction:
“Government dysfunction, in every dimension, has created a system that has failed to find pragmatic solutions or respond to fundamental public needs. Our broken politics now stands as a principal obstacle to economic progress. Further environmental and social challenges loom. To meet them, no task is more urgent than to fix broken government, restore trust, and rebuild the promise of American democracy.”
At the end of the day, this entire ugly fiasco has once again exposed the abject ineptitude and incompetence in our county government – and shined a very bright light on those powerful political insiders who manipulate public policy outside the transparency and oversight of government processes.
Now, it is time for We, The People, to fix this broken mess and restore public trust in Volusia County government.
We can begin that important process at the ballot box this November.
Angel: City of Holly Hill
It’s no secret – I love “The Hill.”
Throughout my long career serving the wonderful citizens of the “City with a Heart” I witnessed good times and bad – even desperate.
But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, my favorite place in all the world has an indomitable spirit and sense of civic pride that makes it incredibly resilient – and poised for great things.
Recently, city officials employed a Florida Department of Transportation grant to improve landscaping along the Ridgewood Avenue commercial corridor.
In addition, the undergrounding of utilities – a massive undertaking for a small community – will add to the aggressive beautification efforts, improving the overall appearance of Ridgewood Avenue and hardening the power grid as well.
That’s a good thing.
I am very proud of City Manager Joe Forte and the Holly Hill City Commission for their consistent efforts to put the city’s best foot forward, improve the quality of life for citizens and build a vibrant local economy.
Beautiful people. Beautiful place.
As I tell everyone I meet, if you’re looking to relocate a business – or start a new life in the sun – I encourage you to consider this quaint river city. You won’t be disappointed.
Asshole: SJRWMD Chairman John Miklos & Geosam Capital
President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No man who is corrupt, no man who condones corruption in others, can possibly do his duty by the community.”
Ol’ Teddy was right. We need that wisdom now more than ever.
I took some flack this week for proclaiming that Florida is the most corrupt state in the union – but on balance – I stand by that assessment.
In fact, I believe the Sunshine State has become the biggest whorehouse in the world.
Need another example?
This week we learned that our friends at Geosam Capital – a Canadian developer who is responsible for a series of ugly missteps at their Coastal Woods mega-subdivision currently under construction near State Road 44, bloopers that include a raging wildfire that closed I-95 and frequent dust storms wafting from the site that rival 1930’s Oklahoma – have been operating without required environmental authorizations.
Now, the good people of New Smyrna are demanding oversight – and change.
According to reports, the St. John’s River Water Management District – the toothless state watchdog that “protects” our sensitive environment and drinking water supply – identified three project areas of the development which were completed sans permit.
Not to worry – the districts compliance coordinator took the draconian step of “recommending” work be halted until the pesky permitting issues can be resolved – at virtually the same time the SJRWMD was issuing a permit to Geosam for work on another phase of the project with their other hand.
Enter our old friend Long John Miklos, president of Bio-Tech Consultants – an Orlando-based environmental consultancy – and the powerful, multi-term chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management Districts governing board.
You read that right.
He wears both hats simultaneously.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s incredibly talented environmental reporter, Dinah Voyles Pulver, “This case is the third time on record in five months that a company using Bio-Tech Consulting has run into trouble with the water district for doing work without the required permits.”
Last December, the Good Old Boy’s Investment Club over at Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company – also a Bio-Tech customer – was caught red-handed churning up wetlands without a permit.
And why wouldn’t they?
As that tormented pervert, the Marquis de Sade said, “In an age that is utterly corrupt, it is best to do as others do.”
In 2016, the Florida Commission on Ethics investigated a citizen’s compelling allegation that Miklos was using his gubernatorial appointment as chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District for personal gain.
It seemed like a no-brainer.
After all, you don’t have be Elliott Ness to deduce that Bio-Tech Consulting is paid to influence the official decisions of the very regulatory agency Mr. Miklos oversees – a classic Fox in the Henhouse scenario – and a blatant conflict of interest that Miklos attempts to sidestep by simply recusing himself from key votes involving his company’s clients.
Ultimately, the ethics commission’s independent investigation found probable cause that Chairman Miklos violated state ethics regulations while receiving public funds from the City of Debary to help those greedy bastards in City Hall secretly ramrod a Transportation Oriented Development on sensitive wetlands near the Gemini Springs Annex.
In December 2016, the Commission on Ethics – meeting behind closed doors – ignored the findings of their own investigators, blocked an administrative hearing regarding the allegations, and acquitted John Miklos on all charges against him.
One would think that with Governor Rick Scott in a tight race for the United States Senate, Slick Rick would have grown tired of the near-constant embarrassment of his hand-picked chairman’s greed-crazed shenanigans – but this is Florida – the rules are different here.
As I wrote earlier this week, I believe John Miklos and the shameless developers he serves epitomize the worst-of-the-worst – leeches that thrive in a system where cheap enablers and appointed fixers are permitted to subvert the rules and give their middle-finger to the regulatory agencies they control – all while destroying our environment, grinding wetlands and wildlife habitat into muck and turning the few remaining natural places into moonscapes in their brazen pursuit of the almighty dollar in a place where the ends will always justify the means.
Quote of the Week:
“I think we could do better on perception. We have a wrinkle that needs to be addressed (impact fees), and we hope this body will do that.”
–South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough, chair of the Volusia City Managers Association and unfortunate face of the half-cent sales tax failure, speaking to the Volusia County Council regarding why the best laid plans of mice-like men collapsed under the public’s perception of the money-grab.
I know this is some hard cheese for Mr. Yarborough and others like him to swallow – but Jane and John Q. Public understand Volusia’s infrastructure needs – and the enormous pressures of unchecked development on their quality of life – perfectly.
And contrary to the bullshit Old Ed and Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson spew, we even comprehend the mysterious complexities of impact fee assessments and allocations.
The haughty Volusia Roundtable of Elected Officials should realize that the key element missing from this misguided marketing effort wasn’t our perception of the basic unfairness of the tax – it was a matter of trust.
Our elected and appointed officials remain oblivious to the fact they have lost basic credibility with their constituency.
As I’ve previously said, Jim Dinneen’s mismanagement of this and other important policy issues best exemplifies all that’s wrong with government.
Our elected officials want higher taxes because they need higher taxes.
They put the cart before the horse in approving massive growth – now they have been caught with their knickers around their knees – and our dystopian campaign finance system prohibits elected officials from asking their sugar daddies in the real estate development community to pay one more nickel toward a fair and equitable distribution of the cost of growth. That’s off the table.
Public confidence in county government has been slowly eroded by the steady flow of missteps, howlers, bullying, giveaways and political sleight-of-hand that invariably benefits a privileged few while laying the financial burden squarely on the backs of tax-strapped residents.
It appears some animals truly are more equal than others.
As a result, We, The People no longer assume our elected officials have our best interests at heart – and we damn well know the Volusia CEO Business Alliance shouldn’t be within a hundred miles of public policy decisions coming before our elected representatives.
So, we instinctively ask ourselves the chilling question, “Who benefits?”
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
There is no third time.
And Another Thing!
Late word has been received from Paul Zimmerman, the intrepid president of Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach access and driving advocacy – announcing the peaceful community protest of the open theft of 410’ of beach driving behind Hard Rock Daytona.
If you think this will be the last time our elected officials and their uber-wealthy handlers will barter away our century-old heritage of beach driving to “incentivize” speculative developers – think again.
I encourage everyone to come down to the semi-private beach behind the Hard Rock on Sunday, May 20, from 9:00am to 4:00pm and make your voices heard.
Bring a friend or two with you!
Children are welcome – after all, it’s their future we are fighting for!
As SOB President Zimmerman said, “It will be a respectful protest, even though Hard Rock and Volusia County have been totally disrespectful to us.”
Hope to see you there!
Have a great weekend, kids!