On Volusia: A Failure to Communicate

One of my favorite movies is the cinema classic, Cool Hand Luke.

In an iconic scene, after shackling Luke the road captain says to the gathered inmates, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Wow.  Does that ring true for the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County, or what?

I naturally assume Barker’s View readers are what political scientists call “high-information” voters – individuals who take the time to read 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 getting increasingly difficult to stay well-informed in the “low transparency” environment of Volusia County government.

In a Sunday piece by Dustin Wyatt writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that our ‘powers that be’ failed to consider a very expensive unintended consequence of their recent 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.”

 Let that soak in a minute.

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, unchecked growth, etcetera, etcetera – one might think that pissing away $1 million dollars on a special election is a damnable waste of already scarce assets.

Because it is.

Rather than consider options, attempt to rebuild trust and confidence then honestly 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 a herd of turtles – stuck on stupid – publicly discussing bringing the sale tax initiative before voters next year before they have had the first discussion of impact fees – or taken step one to ensure mega-developers (read: campaign contributors) pay their fair share.

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “If we have to wait until 2020, I think we will get further behind the eight-ball” on infrastructure needs.”

I swear – we’re so lucky to have his vision and insight at the helm. . .

Look, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but 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.

My God.  They just don’t get it.

Trust me – with $45 million in annual revenue at stake, we’re having a special election next year whether we want one or not.

Why is it so hard for our elected and appointed officials to understand – We, The People want a meaningful dialog with our government on these extremely important – and expensive – issues?

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 startling frequency in county government.

In my view, communication between elected officials and their constituents is the single most important role those who hold high elective office play in our system of governance.  They serve as a liaison of sorts, our advocate, an intermediary between a cloistered, seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy and the citizens it ostensibly exists to serve.

At least they should.

In this technologically advanced age, what passes for “government communication” is increasingly a one-way monologue – not a dialog.

Every politician from the President of the United States to the Mayor of Lick Skillet, Arkansas bangs out “Tweets,” “Snaps” and other electronic snippets like ‘tweens on a social media binge as they attempt to address the issues of the day in 140 characters or less.

But when it comes to local government transparency, truth in spending, or the development of public policies that affect our lives and livelihoods and how those priorities were arrived at, we want to hear those explanations right from the horse’s mouth, preferably in an open forum that allows us to question assertions and address the issues in an open discussion.

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.

Sometimes this takes the form of claiming that anyone without a political honorific is simply too stupid to grasp the intricacies of a given issue – never more apparent than during what passed for the council’s “discussion” of impact fees in Volusia County.

The reasons for this lack of candor are relatively easy to discern.

Sitting politicians never want to be embarrassed by hacks like me; opinionated assholes who lay in wait for the slightest miscue, then bash them over their collective head with it – but in Volusia County it 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.

Needless to say, this leaves little room for independent thought – or, God forbid – honesty, clarity and openness from county officials.

Take the curious case of the uber-weird first-year District 4 County Council member Heather Post.

From the minute Ms. Post took her seat, any attempt to exhibit independence, or speak objectively on behalf of her constituency, was met with a thundering rebuke from veteran “colleagues” who publicly beat her like a borrowed mule – ultimately forcing Post into the lock-step conformity required in this bastardized oligarchy that passes for governance in Volusia County.

As a result, Councilwoman Post no longer speaks to local media outlets – communicating almost exclusively through a canned Facebook page where she can control all aspects of her message without challenge.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how any of this is supposed to work.

So, the cycle continues to perpetuate itself – destroying innovation, marginalizing independent thought and discouraging citizen engagement at all levels of government.

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece regarding the clear attempt by some local governments to stymie constituent participation by inexplicably moving public comment to a predetermined time either before the meeting starts, or after the people’s business has been concluded, then placing subjective limitations on what residents can or cannot discuss during their 2.5 to 3.0 minutes of constitutionally guaranteed participation in their government.

As a result, most citizens I have spoken with feel that their elected representatives no longer care what they have to say.

They’re right.

Clearly, our elected and appointed officials could give two-shits what we have to say.

Yet, our haughty Roundtable of Elected Officials still don’t understand why their constituents don’t trust them – especially when it comes to increasing the sales tax for every man, woman, child and visitor.

With the 2018 election cycle beginning to heat up, the long-suffering sheeple of Volusia County will begin hearing – ad nauseum – all the wonderful things those standing for high office will do for us in exchange for our sacred vote.

That’s why it is so vitally important for voters to watch the differences between what incumbent politicians say during their campaign – and what they do once in office.

For instance, if a politician tells you they support beach driving and crow that they would never vote to remove cars from the beach – then they vote to remove cars from the beach – well, you can brand that person a damnable liar and learn a valuable lesson.

It’s the easiest way I know to become a “High Information” voter.

In my view, until we change the composition and mindset of the Volusia County Council – nothing, and I mean nothing – is going to change.

It can’t.

The underlying system that controls our current crop of elected officials, deflects accountability, cloaks the backroom machinations and churns public funds into private profits for all the right last names remains firmly entrenched in the form of our enormously overpaid County Manager Jim Dinneen.

That simply must change.

Frankly, this never-ending shit-train of political missteps, mistakes, and bloopers is getting old, and terribly expensive for those of us who pay the bills – and our elected officials seem completely incapable of communicating why they continue to allow it to happen with honesty, clarity and candor.

I hope you remember this at the polls.  I know I will.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 11, 2018

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          NASCAR

When Reuters reported earlier this week on an unfortunate leak from investment bank Goldman Sachs that the France family is exploring the sale of NASCAR, it sent shockwaves through the industry – and the company’s headquarters on ISB.

But it didn’t amount to a fart in a whirlwind here at Barker’s View HQ.

I just don’t care.

NASCAR lost me a few years ago – just like it lost thousands of other fans and lucrative sponsors – thanks to continuing mismanagement, a string of weird rule changes like “stage racing” or the goofy “playoff” format and cartoon-like television color commentators who make the “sport” unwatchable.

Add to that the loss of any driver with a real personality and, frankly, its become boring.

A monotonous drone – punctuated with the occasional staged fistfight between 20-something no-names in a feeble attempt to link today’s showbiz dreck with yesterday’s bare-knuckle motor sport.

Hell, a few weeks ago at Bristol the drama centered on some kid who inadvertently locked himself in the bathroom of his luxury motor home (?).  Rather than focus on the technical aspects of the sport during a lengthy rain delay, the telecast dissolved into a bad sitcom skit.

Boogity, boogity, boogity. . .

What I do care about are those who work for NASCAR and its various subsidiaries here in Daytona Beach, friends and neighbors who rely on both the France family’s stewardship – and the viability of the sport – for their livelihood.

In my view, the company’s response to the Goldman Sachs premature revelation was a ham-handed mess.

What should have been a seamless, focused and personal internal communication presented by Lesa France Kennedy to salve the concerns of employees, sponsors, contractors and teams – a unified message explaining the family’s intentions – dissolved into nervous speculation, both in the racing world and the halls of the International Motorsports Center.

A recent memorandum to employees from NASCAR President Brent Dewar obtained by the Associated Press said little more than the France family, “…remains dedicated to the long-term growth of our sport.”

Say what?  I like ice cream too, but what about the hundreds of local jobs if the place sells?

In turn, the front page of Wednesday’s News-Journal announced, “NASCAR speculation rampant.”

Not good.  Trust me.

Conjecture, instability and gossip is never positive for an organization – especially businesses as dependent on the whims of one quirky family as NASCAR and ISC are.

Let’s face facts – like most family-businesses – stock car racing was never the same after the first and second generations passed.

The wheel came off the cart, so to speak, and now once solid sponsorship’s and loyal fans are fleeing like rats leaving a burning ship.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the France family was, “. . .being criticized by drivers and team owners, who fear the Frances are incapable of reversing the fade in fan interest and retreat by sponsors.” 

This is coming from inside the tent, folks.

While siblings Brian and Lesa France Kennedy won’t disclose ownership details, sources told the WSJ that NASCAR chair and CEO Brian France “sold his entire stake in the company more than a decade ago.”

However, France claimed he “still holds equity in the family-owned company.”

Perhaps that’s part of the problem?

This murky power division – and even weirder behavior by Brian France (to include his bizarre performance at last years NASCAR Champions Banquet when he handed a box containing the 2017 Cup Series ring to Martin Truex, Jr. – then turned and walked away, without a handshake or even eye contact with the champion) garnered wild disapproval from both inside and outside the sport.

Fans and industry media referred to Mr. France’s conduct as “classless, awkward and rude.”

Much like his management of the sport.

I happen to agree with a recent editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal – which has been a long-time, staunch supporter of the France Dynasty – entitled “Winds of change at NASCAR,” which opined that “NASCAR is going to have to change, regardless of who owns it.”

Spot on.

This rumored sale may well be the end of an era – but it could also mark the renaissance of a rejuvenated international sports and entertainment business – real energy that returns asses to seats, sponsors to teams, and stability to Halifax area families who rely on a vibrant and successful brand.

Asshole:          Summit Hospitality Group & Volusia County Politicos

I wrote about this last week, but it bears repeating.

Last Tuesday, we – the little people – stood at the gilded barrier like grubby Dickensian urchins, looking on as our political elite rubbed elbows, enjoyed cocktails, slapped backs and were lavishly entertained by a private firework spectacular and staged concert (on the first evening of sea turtle nesting season) at an “invitation only” VIP soiree as Summit Hospitality celebrated the grand opening of its Hard Rock Daytona with the politicians who made it happen.

Screw you sea turtles and nesting shorebirds.  It’s not all about you.

When are those selfish little bastards going to understand – this is no longer a wildlife habitat – it’s a marketing tool?

On the very day our elected officials fumbled their highly touted half-cent sales tax increase – a day which even casual observers marked as a low point in Volusia County government ineptitude – these dirty jokes that pass themselves off as “county leaders” boogied down with their campaign donors, political benefactors and very important handlers.

The tacky theme hotel was born of a murky financial sleight-of-hand between Volusia County government and Summit, which ultimately resulted in a three-card-monte public parking arrangement and the cheap giveaway of 410’ of beach driving and convenient access for residents and visitors.

There was a weird “smashing of the guitars” ceremony to christen the new franchise, and a daylong party with what passes for “dignitaries” seeing and being seen – festooned with goofy “VIP laminates” just like real rock stars.

(Apparently there weren’t any “real rock stars” in attendance at the celebration – I guess they all had to wash their hair – but a former waitress from Hard Rock London was flown in to give our wide-eyed political panjandrums a celebrity to swoon over. . .)

On Friday, our reptilian Governor Rick Scott showed up on the red carpet to cut the grand ribbon, press the flesh and no doubt hustle up some campaign support for his senate run this fall.

During his remarks before an array of tourism industry “leaders,” slack jawed politicians and executives from Daytona International Speedway (another recipient of millions in public funds), Slick Rick took the time to congratulate Summit Hospitality – I assume for all the “high-paying jobs” the hotel created – by praising scullery workers for “making the place look spotless (?)”

Once again, our starry eyed ‘movers and shakers’ dissolved into a mutual admiration society – polishing Abbas’s apple, and heaping glowing tributes on one another like the self-absorbed shitheels they are – openly worshiping the latest “developer du jour” for bringing us rubes what everyone who is anyone is convinced will be a panacea for decades of squalor and economic hopelessness.

We even got another fawning puff piece from the News-Journal’s Clayton Park (his umpteenth Hard Rock tribute for the week) with the usual quotes from tourism mavens and other community big shots – all of whom apparently fail to see the pitfalls of building multiple “four star” resorts that will stand as islands in a shitty cesspool of blight – with their only draw an increasingly walled-off beach.

You know, that whole cart before the horse thing?

Marketing a place with no attractions beyond a down-at-the-heels boardwalk – a grubby ghetto of trash-strewn lots, rusting midway rides, omnipresent homeless – and a haunting physical appearance so depressing most people go out of their way to avoid it.

No tourism infrastructure, quality restaurants or upscale shopping on the beachside.

No collective vision or local “identity.”

No civic pride – and no money to buy any with.

Look, I’m no expert – but I’ve lived in the Halifax area for over a half century – so, suffice it to say – I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go.  However, I don’t think anyone has ever seen this level of base arrogance (or ignorance) by our elected officials in failing to recognize the sacrifice of their constituents.

Not one of them said ‘Thank You’ to us.

You know, the strapped taxpayers of Volusia County – thousands of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to feed their families on service industry wages far below the poverty line – who were stripped of our century-old heritage of beach driving to “incentivize” the Hard Luck Hotel and create a semi-private beach for Hard Rock guests while inconveniencing, well, every one of us who pays the bills in the form of exorbitant taxes.

No extravagant “invitation only” parties.

No fireworks.

No over-the-top, guitar smashing tributes to the public’s sacrifice to ensure their success.

Nothing.

Well, for what it’s worth – I, your cantankerous scribe, would like to send out a great big “Thank You!” to all my fellow residents for your incredible contribution to yet another private project that we all just know will be the cure-all for the utter economic stagnation that has plagued the Halifax area like a golem.

Thank you, my friends and neighbors, for giving up the convenience of beach driving and ready access to our most precious natural amenity so Abbas Abdulhussein – Volusia’s newest mega-campaign donor – can host a semi-private beach for the pretty people.

Thank you, my fellow denizens of Volusia County, for not rioting as our power brokers ensured every whim of the developer during the years this project languished – even when it meant thumbing their nose at both the letter and spirit of county ordinances designed to ensure performance and provide oversight.

Thank you for taking it in stride when County Manager Jim Dinneen – who commands over $300,000 annually in public funds and benefits – failed in his modest task to ensure that the ugly, arsenic-laced wooden poles that were driven into the sand as a horrific barricade to beach driving behind the hotel were the proper distance apart.

I sincerely applaud each of you for our collective sacrifice in service to corporate greed – and for giving up so much, for the benefit of so few.

Angel:             Bethune-Cookman University

 To say that B-CU needs some good news is an understatement.

However, the resiliency and determination of Bethune-Cookman students to succeed despite obstacles simply cannot be overstated.

Last week, the university announced that the student-run label, HBCU Records, is releasing B-CU’s first album in more than 20-years.

“Hold Fast to Dreams” features Bethune-Cookman’s incomparable Concert Chorale.

The recording was produced in cooperation with the university’s Mike Curb Music Business, Entertainment & Sports Institute, pairing students with gifted music industry professionals in all aspects of the recording, mastering and promotion of the album.

Proceeds will go to help cover travel expenses for the Concert Chorale.

The album featuring eleven songs can be downloaded for $15.00 at iTunes or Spotify.

In addition, Bethune-Cookman is hosting this years MEAC baseball and softball tournaments.

In an incredible turn of events, Mrs. Clara Graham, widow of B-CU alum and former Negro League player Doc Graham, who played with baseball great Jackie Robinson, will present each player in both tournaments with a copy of Robinson’s biography.

The softball tournament runs through tomorrow at the Ormond Beach Sports Complex, with baseball starting Wednesday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Sliwa Stadium.

Good news indeed.

Asshole:          New Smyrna Beach City Commission

The iconic Sunshine State columnist Carl Hiaasen said on the topic of out-of-control growth, “Construction for the sake of construction.  That’s basically the same mechanism as a cancer cell. . .”

Never truer than during this abominable growth spurt that is threatening our very way of life in Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line.  But when is enough, enough?

When will We, The People finally have a voice in our collective destiny?

In my experience, there comes a time in everyone’s life when they must decide what is worth defending.  When it becomes necessary to take a firm stand – sometimes on principle alone – to stop an injustice or protect our freedoms and those things we hold dear?

Earlier this week, the New Smyrna Beach City Commission once again ignored the serious concerns of their constituents and approved yet another round of massive development west of Interstate 95.

The 4-1 vote gave the go-ahead for an additional 475 residential lots and retail space to be built on 543 acres – the “cramming 10-pounds of manure into a 5-pound sack” urban planning strategy that Mayor Jim Hathaway describes as “smart growth.”

To add insult, the Commission also approved a 253 unit apartment complex near SR-44 on a 3-2 vote.

WTF?

It’s like they’re working from the book, “Murdering the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg: How to kill a quaint beach community in three easy steps.”

During the meeting, the only voice for the people was Commissioner Jason McGuirk, who wisely recommended a four-month moratorium on growth and development near State Road 44.

His suggestion fell on deaf ears. . .

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mayor Hathaway explained that – while he supports “slowing growth long-term” (he has a funny way of showing it) – “But those (developments) that are already in the pipeline, those that are already approved.  Those that have already gone through every site review, planning board, recommendation to come to the City Commission, now at the 11th hour, we say, ‘Let’s pull the plug on this project?’

That’s exactly what you say, Mr. Mayor.

Better in the 11th hour than never – after all, massive growth is like toothpaste, you can’t put it back in the tube.

Rather than showing solidarity with his constituents, Hizzoner stooped to spinning scary yarns –raising the specter of lawsuits and higher taxes – sounding exactly like developer’s advocate attorney Glenn Storch.

Instead of listening to the input of outraged residents who are trying their best to say, ‘enough is enough’ – voicing their growing fears of flooding, wetlands encroachment, school capacity, gridlock, infrastructure inadequacies, etc. –  cowardly New Smyrna officials refuse to stand in solidarity with their constituents and announce with a strong voice:

“Our quality of life is worth defending.  What makes us unique is worth defending.  The will of our citizens and taxpayers is worth defending.”  

No.  They acquiesce.

They give in.

They flippantly disregard the recommendations of their own advisory boards.

In an August 2016 blog entitled “You’re a victim, get used to it” – one of the most important and widely read pieces in the history of Barker’s View  – I wrote, “Maybe when this entire godforsaken state becomes an uninhabitable shithole – completely devoid of potable water, greenspace or wildlife; when all the natural resources are exploited, hauled off and sold, and every last dime has been looted – someone will wake up.”

Sound familiar, New Smyrna?

It should – because it is quickly becoming your reality.

Angel:             City of Holly Hill & Second Harvest Food Bank

Look, I realize that this is the second week in a row I’ve acknowledged my favorite place in the whole world with Angel status – but, once again, it’s well-deserved.

Last week, community volunteers distributed some 31,000 pounds of food to 248 less fortunate families at Holly Hill School.

248 families.

Volunteers from the Holly Hill Police Department and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – working shoulder-to-shoulder with various faith-based organizations, schools and businesses – helped direct traffic, organize “Provision Packs” and load them into recipient’s cars.

During my long career at the City of Holly Hill, one of the things I took the most pride in was how our close-knit community came together in times of need – it was an ‘all for one, one for all’ feeling that, without fail, supported those in crisis, fed the hungry and ensured everyone’s collective well-being.

For instance, the self-described “Redneck Chainsaw Crew” – a group of long-time local tradesmen who go out into neighborhoods following hurricanes to assist fellow residents with heavy debris clean-up, clearing trees and doing the heavy lifting to support anyone who needs an extra hand.

Now, I can almost guarantee you none of these angels with dirty hands will ever win the Herbert M. Davidson Award for Outstanding Community Service – but they damn well should.

I count these beautiful souls among my personal heroes.

When our code enforcement officers discover homes occupied by the elderly or infirm in disrepair, police officers – to include Chief Stephen Aldrich – bring their mowers in and cut grass, repair trim and provide a much-needed coat of paint on their own time to bring the property into compliance.

They aren’t ordered to do it – it’s certainly not in their “job description” – they simply see a need and step up to help.

Tell me another city that does that with regularity?

I hope others do – but I see that commitment to service above self in action on The Hill.

In addition, for many years City of Holly Hill employees were recognized for collecting the most food for Second Harvest Food Bank of any governmental entity in Volusia County.

I’ve seen police officers, firefighters, mechanics, city yards workers, clerks, administrators, planers and other dedicated civil servants give till it hurt – and then some – to nourish our community.

God Bless Second Harvest Food Bank – and all the volunteers who gathered together to help those in real need.

Your efforts epitomize the very spirit of the “City with a Heart.”

Angel:             Chief Stephan Dembinsky

Hearty congratulations to Chief Stephan Dembinsky for providing outstanding leadership to the City of Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety – and the greater law enforcement community – for the past twenty-years!

A wonderful milestone in a career full of high achievement!

Serving in a role so vitally important to the safety and welfare of a community for two-decades is no small feat – and Chief Dembinsky has proven his commitment, diplomacy and dedication to the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores in exemplary fashion.

In addition to his service to the community – “Ski” as he is affectionately known to his friends and colleagues – has done remarkable work in the larger arena of the Volusia/Flagler Police Chief’s Association and the Florida Police Chief’s Association – promoting values-based policing and fostering professionalism in all he does.

Thank you for the outstanding leadership you have shown these many years – and for the personal help, good advice and unwavering support you extended during my career.

We’re glad you passed our way.

Here’s to many more years serving, protecting and ensuring the welfare of Daytona Beach Shores and beyond!

Quote of the Week:

 “I did listen to what the people were saying.  I went out there and did some investigation and I don’t see the concerns that they were having.”

–New Smyrna City Commissioner and amateur Paranormal Sleuth Charles “Randy” Hartman, attempting to salve resident’s fears of increased traffic, crime, storm water retention and other adverse impacts from the recently approved Beacon Luxury Apartment complex with his clairvoyant power to see into the future.

You want to hear something else Commissioner Hartman told his constituents during the last election cycle?

“I will do everything I can as a city commissioner to support, encourage and sustain the charm and beauty of New Smyrna Beach.”

I didn’t make that shit up – it’s still on Mr. Hartman’s website.

 Now, I’m just spit-balling here, Commish – but I think what the citizens of your fair city are concerned about is the impact of traffic, crime and flooding on their quality of life after the 253 unit complex has been built and occupied.

While I, and everyone concerned about unchecked development in Volusia County, appreciate the fact that Detective Hartman donned his deerstalker, lit the calabash pipe, and took a drive down 44 with Scooby in the Mystery Machine to investigate his citizen’s concerns – the point he apparently missed is that his constituents want to preserve the “charm and beauty” of New Smyrna Beach now – not learn to live with the godforsaken mess after-the-fact.

You see, despite what that soothsaying development attorney tells you – it is impossible to foresee the impact a specific development will have on the surrounding area (and the greater community) until it is built and occupied – then, its too late.

You can guess, but I assure you neither Inv. Hartman – nor Glenn Storch – have a crystal ball.

Planners can use complicated density formulas to determine a development’s intensity and influence on the surrounding area, zoning attorney’s can use fancy-footwork and an engaging smile to convince you of all the benefits of a given project and traffic engineers can factor volume counts and analyze historical data to form a recommendation – but until the land is leveled, concrete and steel erected and area residents come nose-to-nose with over 500 new Walmart shoppers and their vehicles on already clogged area roadways – no one knows for sure.

When you consider the cumulative impact of the massive residential and commercial projects currently under construction – We, The People are concerned that our quality of life countywide is being destroyed to satiate the abject greed of speculative developers and a few real estate interests.

Why is it so difficult for our elected officials to understand that we want this Wild West atmosphere of unbridled growth and sprawl brought under control?

Here’s something you should investigate, Mr. Hartman:  The re-election prospects for mealy-mouth politicians who tell their constituents one thing during the campaign – then vote differently once they assume office.

And Another Thing!

When I count the many blessings in my life, the one constant “Angel” above all the rest remains my long-suffering wife, Patti.

This week I want to end on a personal note by wishing her a most Happy Birthday – and sincerely thanking her for the many ways she enhances my life every day.

I am a terribly flawed human being – but she is not.

She cares when I don’t.

She provides the center of stability for our family.

And – by her example – she inspires me to try my best to be a better man today than I was yesterday.

There is a line from a long-forgotten poem that says:

“She stands always at my side,

No matter what comes our way.

She comforts me with steadfast love

Each and every day.”

Happy Birthday, honey.  I love you.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there – both human and fur baby!  Enjoy your special day!

 

 

 

On Volusia: An Issue of Trust

The results of a recent nationwide study found that more than half of all American’s no longer trust their government.

Interestingly, this widespread suspicion that those we elect to high office no longer have our best interests at heart spans all political ideologies and demographics.

If you live anywhere near Volusia County, I realize this doesn’t come as a surprise – after all, our confidence in governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast has scored just south of whale turds on the “faith and hope” scale for over a decade.

As government at all levels does everything in its considerable power to disenfranchise citizens – from discouraging public participation to the very real perception that special interests and campaign contributors receive the full attention of our elected officials while ignoring the needs of constituents – the more those of us who pay the bills simply disengage from the process.

Recently, the City of Daytona Beach changed its format for hearing public comment – limiting citizen participation to a half-hour period after the city commission meeting.  Following a short break at the close of business, residents are given just 2.5 minutes to speak on “any topic of concern,” so long as those remarks don’t include “personal attacks” on the “City Commission, City Staff or members of the public.”

The Volusia County Council “welcomes” public input thirty-minutes before their meeting even starts – and maybe our elected officials are present – or maybe they aren’t.

As a result, most citizens I’ve spoken to feel that their elected representatives no longer care what they have to say.

They’re right.

These overly formal processes that stifle open communication and make it increasingly difficult to present our grievances to those in a position of power further alienate us from our representatives – slowly eroding the public’s fragile trust.

In turn, we stand by and watch while our local ‘Rich & Powerful’ influence public policy simply by their mere presence in council chambers and it becomes crystal clear where We, The People stand in the political pecking order.

Somewhere along the way, our local political system in Volusia County has changed from a government of the people, by the people and for the people to a bastardized oligarchy – a shadowy means to an end wherein a few wealthy political insiders are given near carte blanche access to our elected and appointed officials who have become totally beholden to every whim of their campaign sugar daddies.

Unfortunately, as the election season begins to simmer, this greasy process of “pay to play” is ramping up with all the right last names pouring thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of their hand-select candidates.

In a recent article by Mark Harper, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Place Your Bets – Donations give insights into Volusia/Flagler campaigns,” we learned that former Sheriff Ben Johnson has amassed a war chest totaling over $171,700 (through March 1st).

 “Johnson, elected to four consecutive terms as sheriff before retiring after 2016, has a list of more than 400 donors, with 83 percent of his donations from Volusia. Insurance magnates Hyatt Brown, Powell Brown, their wives and nine Brown & Brown Insurance Co. affiliates each contributed the max $1,000, for a total of $13,000 to Johnson’s campaign. Developer Mori Hosseini has also gone in big supporting Johnson, using 16 of his ICI Homes’ subsidiaries to make $8,000 worth of contributions.”

By contrast, Johnson’s opponent – Rev. L. Ron Durham – has garnered just $14K over the same period.

 Look, I happen to like Ben Johnson.

We were colleagues for many years, and I always found him to be extremely generous with his time and agency assets, tirelessly supporting the municipalities and working hard to serve the needs of his constituents with an easy-going, very personable and approachable style.

Incumbent District 1 Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, has collected some $29,440 – more than double his nearest competitor.  According to the report, “$5,000 of that came from Mori Hosseini affiliates,” with another $2,500 from entities associated with Daytona business owner Theresa Doan.

Interestingly, only about one-quarter of Sleepy Pat’s contributions originated in West Volusia – his area of representation.

Even more disturbing is the curious campaign of The Very Reverend Dr. Fred Lowery – West Volusia’s District 5 incumbent – who reports just 9% of his $20,700 in campaign contributions coming from his district.

According to the News-Journal, “By contrast, Daytona Beach-based Brown & Brown Insurance and related entities gave him $7,000 and Hosseini’s companies donated $5,500 to the Enterprise pastor.”

Look, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that the Big Money Machine is kicking on all cylinders early in this election season.

But is that necessarily a good thing for those benefiting from our High Panjandrums of Political Power?

In my view, how Ben Johnson and the others rationalize the obvious to concerned voters is going to be a very difficult task this fall.

I have a suspicion that the worm is beginning to turn.

Smart people are beginning to question how much longer a system that seemingly exists to turn public funds into private profits is sustainable.

Most recently, even those who stood to benefit the most came to the sobering realization that Jane and John Q. Public are concerned about the basic fairness of asking every man, woman, child and visitor to pay for unchecked growth while prolific campaign donors in the real estate development community continue to cash checks.

And the questions don’t stop there.

I’ve said it before – what we are seeing is the time-honored principle of Return on Investment at work.

Let’s face facts:  The local donor class make massive campaign contributions with the full knowledge that their personal, civic and professional interests will outweigh those of the “Average Joe” every time.

In the end, that is what they consider an appropriate return on their investment – and given the astronomical “economic incentives” that our elected officials have showered on this exclusive group in recent years – I would say they have done extremely well on the risk/reward scale.

Is what we experience in Volusia County a form of quid pro quo corruption – campaign dollars for political favors?

I don’t know.  But it has a whiff of the shit about it.

What I do know is that this open financial manipulation of the system – which scares off some candidates altogether and ensures that a select few have the wherewithal to get elected and defend the status quo – is destroying the public’s trust in their government.

In my view, we are beginning to see the very real manifestations of this genuine lack of confidence in things like the recent sales tax referendum debacle, and the growing gulf between those who pay the bills – and those who reap the benefits of our hard-earned tax dollars.

Stay tuned.

I think this is going to be a very interesting part of the political equation come this fall.

On Volusia: Hey Hard Rock, You’re Welcome. . .

We have a weird tradition here in the Halifax area.

Whenever a speculative developer completes a project which invariably involves some government handout, such as a massive influx of tax dollars in the form of “economic incentives” or “public/private partnerships” –  schemes which use public funds to increase private profits – our elected and appointed officials piss all over themselves in a fit of excited incontinence, our newspaper of record fawns to the point of nausea for days on end, and the rest of us – the long-suffering taxpayers who either footed the bill or gave up a public amenity – are left feeling like chopped liver.

Happens every time the latest “game changer” comes to town.

Remember when J. Hyatt and company took millions of dollars in public incentives for the new Brown & Brown HQ – then thanked every sitting politician in the region while ignoring you and me – the ones who actually footed the bill?

I do.  I’m petty like that.

This week, we – the little people – stood at the gilded barrier like grubby Dickensian urchins, looking on as our political elite rubbed elbows, enjoyed cocktails, slapped backs and were lavishly entertained by a private firework spectacular and staged concert (on the first evening of sea turtle nesting season) at an “invitation only” VIP soiree as Summit Hospitality celebrated the grand opening of its Hard Rock Daytona with the politicians who made it happen.

Screw the sea turtles and nesting shorebirds.  It’s not all about them.

It’s time to celebrate Abbas’ accomplishment – and, goddammit, the ‘Rich & Powerful’ are going to party!

On the very day our elected officials were caught with their pants around their ankles on their doomed half-cent sales tax increase – a debacle which even casual observers marked as a low point in Volusia County government ineptitude – rather than hide their heads in shame, these dirty jokes that pass themselves off as “county leaders” boogied down with their campaign donors and political benefactors.

The tacky theme hotel was born of a murky financial sleight-of-hand between Volusia County government and Summit, which ultimately resulted in a three-card-monte public parking arrangement and the cheap giveaway of 410’ of beach driving and convenient access for residents and visitors.

There was a “smashing of the guitars” to christen the new franchise, and a daylong party with what passes for “dignitaries” seeing and being seen – festooned with goofy “VIP laminates” just like real rock stars.

(Apparently there weren’t any “real rock stars” in attendance at the celebration – I guess they all had to wash their hair – but a former waitress from Hard Rock London was flown in to give our wide-eyed political panjandrums a celebrity to swoon over. . .)

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, went all gaga, crowing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I’m excited personally, and as a resident of Volusia County, that they (Hard Rock) are here,” Kelley said. “They will be part of the catalyst for what’s going to make a difference in the Daytona Beach area.”

Heck yeah!  Excited!  Catalyst!  Difference!

Whoop-Whoop!

On Friday, our illustrious Governor Rick Scott showed up on the red carpet to cut the grand ribbon, press the flesh and no doubt hustle up some campaign support for his senate run this fall.

During his remarks before an array of tourism industry “leaders,” slack jawed politicians and executives from Daytona International Speedway (another recipient of millions in public funds), Slick Rick took the time to congratulate Summit Hospitality and praise hotel scullery workers for “making the place look spotless (?)”

In turn, Efrain Silva, vice president of Summit Hospitality, brown-nosed the assembled politicos, recognized the chamber of commerce set for their support and reminded everyone what a “great day” it is in Daytona Beach.

Yep.  Our ‘movers and shakers’ dissolved into a mutual admiration society – heaping glowing tributes on one another like the self-absorbed shitheels they are – and openly worshiping the latest “developer du jour” for bringing us rubes what everyone who is anyone is convinced will be a panacea for decades of squalor, dilapidation and economic hopelessness.

You know what our elected and appointed officials – or their new “business partners” at Summit Hospitality – failed to do?

Not one of them said ‘Thank You’ to us.

You know, the strapped taxpayers of Volusia County – thousands of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to feed their families on service industry wages far below the poverty line – who were stripped of our century-old heritage of beach driving to “incentivize” the Hard Luck Hotel and create a semi-private beach for hotel guests while inconveniencing, well, every one of us who pays the bills in the form of exorbitant taxes.

No extravagant “invitation only” parties.

No fireworks.

No over-the-top, guitar smashing tributes to the public’s sacrifice to ensure their success.

Nothing.

Well, for what it’s worth – I, your cantankerous scribe, would like to send out a great big “Thank You!” to all my fellow residents for your incredible contribution to yet another private project that we all just know will be the cure-all for the utter economic stagnation that has plagued the Halifax area like a golem.

The project, built on the skeleton of the Desert Inn, America’s dirtiest hotel, will either be a huge success, or – if history repeats – the place will close, change hands or drop the “luxury franchise” brand in about two-years.  (Anyone remember Bray & Gillespie and other speculative pirates that blew through town over the years?  I do.)

Thank you, my friends and neighbors, for giving up the convenience of beach driving and ready access to our most precious natural amenity so Abbas Abdulhussein – Volusia’s newest mega-campaign donor – can use our beach as a marketing tool.

Thank you, my fellow denizens of Volusia County, for not collectively vomiting during any of the myriad examples of how our power brokers ensured every whim of the developer during the years this project languished – even when it meant ignoring both the letter and spirit of county ordinances designed to ensure performance and provide oversight.

Thank you for taking it in stride when County Manager Jim Dinneen – who commands over $300,000 annually in public funds and benefits – failed in his modest task to ensure that the ugly, arsenic-laced wooden poles that were driven into the sand as a horrific barricade to beach driving behind the hotel were the proper distance apart.

Thank you for tolerating the abject dysfunction and ineptitude that has seized what passes for county government like some hellish Vampire Squid – squeezing the life out of our sense of place and civic pride – while enriching a few uber-wealthy political insiders who believe a “Four Star” luxury resort in a Hooterville market is the answer to our problems.

I sincerely applaud each of you for our collective sacrifice in service to corporate greed – and for giving up so much, for the benefit of so few.

Your welcome, Hard Rock.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 4, 2018

Hi, kids!

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?

or

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?

Pyro

(Cue the Jeopardy theme. . .)

Times up!

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.

Wow.

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.

Sound familiar?

It should.

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.

WTF?

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.

A wrinkle? 

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!

 

 

On Volusia: We’re Screwed. . . Again.

They say the more things change, the more they stay the same.

You may remember several weeks ago when a large brush fire originated from the site of Geosam Capital’s Coastal Woods mega-development in New Smyrna.  The blaze spread from a pile of burning debris from clear-cut land clearing operations, closing traffic and commerce on Interstate 95 for nearly 18-hours.

In total, the 844-acre Coastal Woods development will include some 1,400 homes and commercial areas situated along State Road 44.

According to the News-Journal, St. John’s River Water Management District documents show that nearly half the site was wetlands.

In recent days, citizens living in the area have reported billowing clouds of dust rising from the moonscape where environmentally sensitive pine scrub and wildlife habitat once stood.  The powdery dirt is carried on the breeze to surrounding residential areas and has covered everything in its path – cars, pools, homes and people – in a fine patina of filth.

Now, we have learned that the clearing and other work in three separate sections of the Coastal Woods subdivision was conducted without proper environmental permits.

You read that right.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver – whose work on the Debacle in Debary should have won her the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting – the St. John’s River Water Management District (the regulatory agency that protects and preserves our drinking water supply) has been begging Geosam since February to file conservation easements for wetland impacts on two already completed sections of the project.

According to the News-Journal, during a site inspection in March, district officials determined that another parcel had also been “entirely cleared and grubbed, and was being graded” with the required permit application still incomplete.

At that time, the SJRWMD compliance coordinator, William Charlie, “recommended” that Geosam cease construction operations on that site.

Jesus – let’s not go crazy here.  I mean, the district went so far as to “recommend” work should be stopped until permits are issues?

Wow.  Our environmental watchdogs don’t mess around when speculative developers rape the land, destroy wetlands and uplands, then leave a dusty gash in the earth, do they?

What a sick joke. . .

Then, inexplicably, the SJRWMD issued Geosam Capital a permit for Coastal Woods Unit C just last week?

What gives?

You have open and on-going permitting violations and incomplete applications, a strong “recommendation” that the company stop work, flagrant disregard for state environmental regulations and those charged with ensuring compliance – yet, the SJRWMD issues a permit for work to continue at the site?

I mean, one would think our old friend Long John Miklos was involved.

You would be right.

Records indicate that Geosam Capital employs Bio-Tech Consulting – an Orlando-based environmental consultancy whose president just happens to be John Miklos – who just happens to serve as the powerful, multi-term chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.

Yes, that St. John’s River Water Management District.

The same state agency responsible for regulating Chairman Miklos’ private clients – and protecting our environment.

According to the News-Journal, “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.

Miklos fish
Chairman John Miklos

It seemed like a no-brainer.

After all, you don’t have to be Elliott Ness to deduce that Bio-Tech Consulting is paid to lobby and influence the official decisions of the very regulatory agency Mr. Miklos oversees – a classic Fox in the Hen-house scenario.

In my view, a blatant conflict of interest that Miklos attempts to sidestep by simply recusing himself from key votes involving his company’s clients.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

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.

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. 

I’ve said this before, in my jaded opinion we live in the most corrupt county in the most corrupt state in the union, where the cockamamie decisions of the very ethics tribunal charged with protecting us from politicians and political appointees with a profit motive reverse the conclusions of professional investigators and thwart the process for an independent finding of fact.

In my view, it is prima facie evidence that We, The People are screwed.

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 collective middle-finger to the regulatory agencies they control – all while openly destroying the environment, churning wetlands and wildlife habitat into muck, and turning our 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.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal