Angels & Assholes for May 18, 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:

Angel:             Brownie the Town Dog & The City of Daytona Beach

During a period of my career on ‘The Hill,’ we had a community mascot of sorts – his name was “Sludge” – a medium-sized black dog of undetermined breed or origin – who lived his life quite comfortably inside the Public Works compound on Alta Drive.

He had run of the place.

City employees would take up a collection for food and veterinary care, give Sludge a scratch behind the ear from time-to-time, and everyone generally looked out for his happiness and welfare.

Sludge lived to a ripe old age and is buried near the Water Treatment plant.

But a municipal canine companion even more famous than Sludge was “Brownie the Town Dog of Daytona Beach” – who is described as “Florida’s most historic – and beloved – dog.”

Brownie

According to local legend, Brownie was a stray who called downtown Beach Street home until his death in 1954.

He lived in a custom dog house, dined on steak and ice cream – and even had his own account at Florida Bank & Trust.

Although he had no owner, Brownie was loved by the entire community.

According to his obituary in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Brownie was an estimated 20 years old when he peacefully “died in his sleep at Dr. Benjamin Rawls animal hospital.”

According to the newspaper, the owner of a local package store looked after Brownie during World War II – and drivers from Daytona Cab Company took care of him in his later years – building his dog house, and, when the time came, his custom casket.

Believe it or not, Brownie’s grave – which is located in downtown Daytona’s Riverfront Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Beach Street – is listed as one of the most visited dog memorials in the world.

On Wednesday, May 30th at 6:00pm, the City of Daytona Beach will hold a ceremony to formally dedicate the beautiful new statuary and memorial plaza at Brownie’s gravesite.  Refreshments will be served and souvenir bottled water (featuring a picture of the Brownie statue) will be available.

Best of all – dogs are welcome to attend.  In fact, there will be a doggie parade from the site to nearby Jackie Robinson Ballpark led by McGruff the Crime Dog!

I must admit – I love quirky stuff like this.  It builds a sense of community and brings us together as neighbors as we remember and celebrate times-gone-by.

I encourage everyone to come out for this wonderful event.

Please find more information at www.browniethetowndog.org

Asshole:          Volusia County Government

As a Barker’s View reader, I naturally assume you are what political scientists call a “high-information” voter – an individual who takes the time to examine alternative opinions, analyze all available information, then form your own independent views on the issues of the day.

Trust me when I say, it is increasingly difficult to stay well-informed in the “low transparency” environment of Volusia County government.

In a recent piece by the Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that our ‘powers that be’ failed to consider a very expensive unintended consequence of their hasty decision:

“The last-minute decision to delay putting a sales tax increase on the ballot this year could cost Volusia County voters as much as $1 million.”

Then, just days later, election officials walked back the “one-million” number and we were told the proposed special election will “only” cost us $791,297 – or $550,000 for a mail-out ballot option.

Why in hell are we discussing a special election before the core issues that brought us to this point have even been discussed – let alone settled?    

The unfortunate face of this debacle, South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough, is quoted as saying, “The plan is to put this back on the ballot next year.  Nobody wants to (lose) the money, but I think the importance of the issue justifies the cost.”

What plan?  There’s a plan? 

Where are these “plans” being discussed – and who’s making the decisions for the rest of us?

I’m asking.

Because insinuating that a plan exists would tend to indicate a “collective vision” – and let’s just say, Volusia County isn’t exactly known for the whole “vision thing. . .”

Rather than consider options, attempt to rebuild trust and confidence or communicate with those of us who will ultimately foot the bill, our elected officials on the Dais of Power in Deland march boldly forward like the Frankensteinian lummoxes they are – stuck on stupid – publicly discussing bringing the sales tax initiative before voters next year before addressing impact fees or taking the first step to ensure mega-developers pay their fair share.

What gives?

If Old Ed and the Funky Bunch think we’re going to accept a superficial increase in impact fees glossed over with some cheap sleight-of-hand by real estate developers – they need to think again.

Hell, they need to think period.

They just don’t get it.

People are pissed – they are beyond tired of being lied to and having their hard-earned tax dollars frittered away by craven politicians bent on protecting the bottom line of their benefactors in the real estate development community.

Long-time Daytona Beach resident and community activist, Linda Smiley, spoke truth to power when she told the haughty Roundtable of Elected Officials, “To hear you want to spend extra money to have a special election really sticks in the craw with residents.”

You bet it does, Linda.  Like a bone in the throat.

In addition, astute Port Orange resident Michael Arminio – who serves as a member of that community’s Planning Board – said in the News-Journal, “Asking us to pay for a special election is not only fiscally irresponsible, but a slap in the face.”

I would add that watching the abject incompetence of highly paid public officials as they screw the pooch and repeatedly bungle one of the most important public policy decisions of our time feels less like a slap to the face and more like a left hook to the noggin.  It’s painful.

Everyone knows the pitfalls of making decisions in a vacuum – forming conclusions or making judgement calls with little outside information, or worse, in the isolation of a system convinced of its own infallibility – yet it happens with astonishing frequency in county government.

The fact is, Volusia County Council meetings have dissolved into little more than staged theater – a weird Kabuki scripted well in advance by our scheming county manager – with each elected and appointed official playing his or her role to the letter, never wavering from the well-orchestrated libretto.

In my view, this is a manifestation of a government that considers citizen input and oversight anathema to the closet manipulation of public policy to benefit a special interest while avoiding public outcry and controversy.

In short – and in truth – our elected officials simply do not have the balls to ask their mega-campaign donors to pay their fair share for unchecked growth.

Yet, they have no problem asking every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to pay through the nose in increased sales tax?

If that sounds like a double-standard – one for the “Rich & Powerful” and one for us slugs who pay the bills – that’s because it is.

Needless to say, this base political cowardice leaves little room for independent thought – or, God forbid – honesty, clarity and openness from our elected officials.

So, the cycle continues to perpetuate itself – using public funds to ensure massive private profits, providing political insulation for inside facilitators, ensuring that campaign contributors have unfettered access to the public tit and discouraging citizen engagement in their government.

Frankly, this never-ending shitstorm of political foul-ups is getting old, and terribly expensive – and our elected officials seem completely incapable of explaining why they allow it to happen.

With so many pressing matters threatening our quality of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast – crumbling infrastructure, blight, dilapidation, homelessness, hopelessness, low wages, underpaid and underappreciated teachers, school security costs, a dwindling water supply, unchecked western sprawl, etcetera, etcetera – pissing away $800,000 on a special election is a damnable waste of already scarce assets.

Frankly, it’s an abomination.

In my view, even mentioning the topic of a special election before addressing the central issues of impact fees and public trust in government is another colossal gaffe – a complete lack of message management and strategic focus by out-of-touch county officials ambling around in a toxic environment that continues to plague progress and has (fortunately) doomed this shameless money grab once and for all.

They have no one to blame but themselves.

Angel:             Candidate Peggy Belflower, NSB Zone 1

I want to thank Peggy Belflower, candidate for the New Smyrna Beach Zone 1 City Commission seat, for linking Barker’s View on her campaign website.

Belflower (2)

Clearly, the lady has good taste.

Now, I don’t know Ms. Belflower personally, but it is apparent she has the best interests of the citizens of New Smyrna Beach at heart when it comes to the rampant development and westward sprawl that is threatening the character and quality of life for residents of one of Florida’s last beach communities.

So, she found the courage to stand for high office and challenge the status quo.

Her platform is simple:

“…As a private citizen, I also have a deep understanding of government through decades of activism, serving on governmental agencies and working with citizens, environmental groups and business.  I stay actively engaged with the City Commission and City Government and I, like many in NSB, do not personally feel represented by the majority that dominate the City Commission.  Truly, “enough is enough” with politics as usual and the good old boy system it represents.  We can do better.”

I like that.

Anyone who can say they have an “understanding of government” stands head-and-shoulders above the current crop of politicians – who clearly don’t have a flippin’ clue what governance of the people, by the people and for the people even looks like.

Please see more of what Ms. Belflower has to say at www.peggybelflower.com

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

Way back in January 2017, Barker’s View formally welcomed the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores to the not-so-exclusive club of municipalities who have had their lunch money stolen by our elected and appointed representatives in Volusia County government.

Since 2013, county officials have spent a whopping $12.1 million of our money on seven beachside properties ostensibly for “off-beach” parking – the precursor to the complete removal of our century-old heritage of beach driving.

During this wild spending spree, County Manager Jim Dinneen slithered into Daytona Beach Shores, and without so much as a phone call to city officials, purchased two premier oceanfront lots for $2.95 million and $1.4 million respectively.

As one would expect, officials in the Shores were banking on using their limited supply of beachfront property for additional vertical growth to support the communities tax base – in fact, that strategy was memorialized in their comprehensive plan.

The forced removal of this valuable land from the tax rolls will ultimately cost citizens in the landlocked community some $200,000 in annual revenue.

As I’ve said, the quaint notion of municipalities controlling their own destiny through self-determination and local governance might work elsewhere, but not in Volusia County.

Don’t like it?  Tough shit.

When Daytona Beach Shores balked at this aggressive form of buggery, Mr. Dinneen unleashed his weaponized county attorney’s office like a rabid Doberman – with orders to do whatever it takes to exert Volusia County’s omnipotence – and crush the small municipality’s will by exsanguinating them with legal bills until they scream, “No Mas!” 

If you haven’t noticed, this intimidating strategy of putting County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert’s iron boot on the throat of anyone, including grassroots citizen advocates, who dare question the supremacy of the Monarchy – then suing citizens collective eyeballs out with their own money – is Jim Dinneen’s modus operandi when it comes to settling “disputes” with recalcitrant municipalities.

After months of back-and-forth, Shores officials sat down with Volusia County during a court ordered confab in March and hammered out a reluctant deal that would allow Volusia County to build a parking lot east of A-1-A.

Or so they thought.

Inexplicably, during the May 1 Volusia County Council meeting, our elected officials voted 6-1 – with former Shores commissioner and current County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler dissenting – to bring in an outside mediator to referee the apparently still simmering dispute.

Say what?

In typical fashion – just like when the property was surreptitiously acquired in the first place – no one in Volusia County government bothered to notify the City of Daytona Beach Shores of its intentions before the vote, something Eckert termed “an oversight on his part.”

My ass.

The very incisive Shores City Manager, Michael Booker, explained to his City Commission, “This is a powerplay by the county against the city that has nothing to do with these two properties.  It’s about (the county) doing what they want to do come hell or high water against every city in Volusia County.”

Spot on, sir.

And that, gentle readers, is the most perceptive summation of Volusia County government’s dysfunctional relationship with the mosaic of municipalities ever uttered.

Following the county’s arbitration vote, Shores Attorney Lonnie Groot exclaimed, “This is the first time I’ve (heard) this and I’m astounded.  It’s almost like they are looking for a fight instead of getting together and resolving this.”

That’s because when it comes to Volusia County asserting its sense of absolute dominance over duly incorporated municipalities, its belligerence knows no bounds.

While the Shores is clearly concerned about spending scarce tax dollars to defend its interests against the leviathan – the Dinneen administration is not incumbered by that same sense of ethical and fiscal responsibility.

Frankly, Little Jimmy and those dupes on the county council don’t give two-shits what these hostile lawsuits ultimately cost you and me – so long as the Devine Right of the Realm – which is apparently subject to no earthly authority beyond the whims of a few uber-wealthy campaign contributors – reigns supreme in the Kingdom of Volusia County.

Asshole:          Volusia County Beach Safety Department

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported on the growing concerns of the Volusia Waterman’s Association – a union representing Volusia County Beach Safety Officers – regarding why the county has apparently failed to address credible claims that a current officer sent “sexually explicit photographs” of himself to a female coworker – then made crude comments about the LBGTQ community which also resulted in official complaints to county administrators.

According to a press release issued by the union on May 8th, in August 2015, a female beach safety specialist reported to her supervisor that a male employee sent “unsolicited photographs of his genitals” to her cell phone.

Apparently, these allegations were sent up the chain of command nearly three years ago.

The News-Journal reports that, more recently, there have been additional complaints about the same employee’s conduct – including a formal claim to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he has made homophobic comments in the workplace.

Reports indicate that when the employee discovered that a fellow officer was displaying a “gay pride” flag outside his home – he made disparaging remarks about that person’s sexual orientation to other officers and coworkers.

Worse, the victim reports he was told by his tormentor if he complained to anyone about the ugly slurs, he wouldn’t back him up on calls.

That’s dangerous – and possibly criminal.

Chilling.

Based on the fact that an EEOC complaint has been filed – and recent media coverage – obviously county administrators are all well aware of these allegations.

So, what is county leadership doing to investigate these serious accusations of gross misconduct, or protect their subordinates – and our tax dollars – from further exposure and harassment?

Apparently not much.

Given the fact Volusia County government has failed to respond to lawful public records requests by the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Volusia Waterman’s Association – it looks like the county’s tried and true “duck and cover” strategy of avoiding outside oversight and public scrutiny has been fully activated.

To say that the Volusia County Beach Safety Department has had its share of sexually-charged scandals is an understatement – for a while, the place looked like Caligula’s lair – culminating in the arrest and conviction of Robert “Beautiful Bobby” Tameris on charges he had sex with two 16-year old girls – along with rampant allegations of similar despicable conduct by other employees.

At the time, a federal lawsuit was filed against Volusia County for condoning a culture of sexual abuse and depravity;” however, the suit was ultimately dismissed in the county’s favor.

Now, the union contends that “…due to the sensitive nature of sexual harassment complaints, and due to the Beach Safety division’s touted “new image” as an agency transformed since the Robert Tameris scandal, with new leadership, a new name, new uniforms, and new vehicles, that the county wished to avoid making this incident a matter of public record.  Thus, the incident was apparently never investigated by Internal Affairs.” 

Look, I’ve reviewed a few of the documents related to this matter, and in my opinion, this has all the earmarks of a serious problem for county administrators.

It also serves to confirm the suspicions of many who believe Volusia County’s lack of candor and transparency has become institutionalized, an ingrained policy of deception to limit public awareness of serious internal problems, dodge responsibility and protect unsound methods.

Fortunately, that pattern is not universal to all Volusia County agencies – especially those under the command of elected department heads.

For instance, the News-Journal reported this week on the results of an internal investigation conducted by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office which sustained a pattern of gross sexual harassment and hostile workplace allegations brought by female employees against a former supervisor in the agency’s evidence section.

Perhaps that level of operational and administrative candidness is a result of Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s effective efforts to publicly expose County Manager Jim Dinneen as a ‘lying sack of shit’ and extricate himself – and his department – from Mr. Dinneen’s pathological political manipulation and micromanagement.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that any smart leader in the public or private sector should embrace the tried and true maxim:

The cover-up is always worse than the crime. 

The ash heap of history is littered with ostensibly intelligent people who turned manageable problems into outrageous scandals in a terribly misguided attempt to save face or protect themselves and their organization from public embarrassment.

Look, I’m an incendiary and highly emotional asshole, I recognize that – but in this case, I’m going to do something I almost never do and reserve judgement until all the facts are known.

Why?

Because the gravity of this situation and its potential fallout will have long-term career ramifications for any sitting county administrator who failed to act in the best interests of their department, and their constituents, up to and including the one with ultimate responsibility – County Manager Jim Dinneen.

To coin a line from Hill Street Blues, perhaps the greatest, most accurate police procedural ever filmed:

If the union’s suspicions are remotely true, senior administrators in every county department who failed to take swift action to protect their employees from this repulsive behavior should look at their watches – because it’s not everyone who knows the exact second their career ended.

Quote of the Week:

“Poor fiscal management was the reason one elected and one former elected county official told me off record last week, it is time for the Manager to go. “The level of incompetence has become stratospheric.”

–Marc Bernier, host of The Marc Bernier Show on WNDB, in a May 13th Twitter post regarding apparent chinks in County Manager Jim Dinneen’s seemingly impenetrable political armor.

Stratospheric.  Good word.

Could it be that Little Jimmy is finally losing his vice-like grip on Volusia County government?

In my experience, you don’t screw-up a potential $45-million annual revenue source in the form of a local option sales tax initiative without career ramifications – and if Mr. Dinneen thinks those elected dolts on the dais of power are going to fade the political heat alone – well, he’s sadly mistaken.

The Volusia County Council doesn’t control much – but they have absolute power over the fate of the County Manager.  Perhaps a few of our elected officials are getting tired of being publicly humiliated by this overcompensated foul ball?

As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

 Perhaps Mr. Dinneen should print this quote and tape it to his rear-view mirror.

And Another Thing!

 Sons of the Beach president Paul Zimmerman has announced that a rain date has been established for the peaceful protest of the theft of beach driving behind the Hard Rock Hotel set for this Sunday, May 20th, from 9am to 4pm.

According to Paul, the protest will be held this Sunday, weather permitting – but if it is raining, please plan to come next Saturday instead.

Also, tomorrow the Daytona Beach Police Department will host the Second Annual Fishing Derby for youth 16 years of age and under.

The tournament will be held from 10am to 1pm on the bank of beautiful Lake Valor at the Daytona Beach Police Department, 129 Valor Boulevard.

Please bring your own pole and tackle – bait and refreshments will be provided.

For more information and to RSVP, please call 386-671-5102.

What a fun community event bringing cops and kids together!

Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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