Wow. What a week, eh?
So sorry we’re a day early AGAIN, but BV is on the road.
Today, Barker’s View comes to you from the beautiful Tri-Cities area of upper East Tennessee!
As many regular readers know, I was born a Hillbilly, among the mountains and deep river valleys of this gorgeous part of the country – an area that is both culturally and geographically a part of Appalachia.
Let’s face it, for years this area has desperately needed a better Public Relations firm.
Invariably, books, movies and media coverage of these hills involve tales of moonshiners, isolated barefoot ridge-runners and banjo pickin’ nephson’s with peak hats and flintlocks – always depicted as something between the Beverly Hillbillies and the director’s cut of ‘Deliverance’ – an intemperate, even violent people who don’t readily accept outsiders.
Look, Ned Beatty’s unfortunate experience aside, we get a bad rap up here, but trust me when I say that many communities in the region are doing things right – and it is quickly becoming a haven for Florida ex-pats fleeing the heat, humidity and abject corruption of the Sunshine State for a new start in the fresh mountain air.
We moved to Florida when I was about three-years old – but I spent summers here with my maternal grandparents and these mountains will always be very much a part of who I am.
My distant family moved over the mountain into Lee County, Virginia in the 1800’s following a protracted clan feud in Harlan, Kentucky that resulted in several deaths and lingering hostilities between the Smith and Cawood families.
I’m told partisan politics was at the root of it (of course it was.)
My family lineage is right out of Dogpatch.
In Virginia, my great-great-grandparents established a tobacco farm and homestead in the White Shoals area of the Powell River Valley near present day Rose Hill.
The family farm was located on rich bottomland at the end of a very rough wagon trail, still not a road really, constructed primarily of smooth grey flat river rocks. The rutted path wound through the dense woods past the entrance to a system of karsts and caverns which were used to hide troops, provisions and cattle during the Civil War.
The land they settled was so inaccessible, so hidden away, that if it had not been for the advent of the Tennessee Valley Authority, I’m not sure my people would have ever been found.
I’m convinced that wars could have been fought, presidential administrations could change, depressions and recessions come and go, and my great grandparents would never have known until they hauled their barn-cured Burley tobacco to market and heard the news from other farmers at the auction.
I have a small, well-worn leather pouch that belonged to my great-grandfather, Creed Smith.
Inside is a crumbling quarter-sized dried fish scale – perhaps a good luck piece – a few coins, and a paper ledger. The old man and his mule would plow neighboring fields and he would record the cash transactions in the journal – sometimes he traded labor for eggs.
He always charged more for the mule than he did for himself.
Eventually, my grandparents packed up their young daughter – my mom – and carried her out of an old wooden cabin in the Southwest Virginia backwoods for work helping build the great hydroelectric dams at Norris and Fontana.
(My maternal great-grandfather died of tuberculosis in 1938 – and he and my great-grandmother were buried behind that old cabin. A modern house has been built there now, and they rest under a green apple tree in the side yard. Guess they don’t bother anybody, but it seems weird by today’s standards. . .)
When my grandmother got tired of traveling with the TVA, they ultimately settled in Kingsport, Tennessee, where I was born.
My grandparents are long-since gone, but we kept their small 1920’s mill worker house on a quiet street near the heart of one of the first professionally planned communities in the nation – a neighborhood that is quickly being “gentrified” by young professionals who are buying these older homes, modernizing them, then actually living there – all while keeping the very best qualities of the wonderful, maple-lined streetscapes.
The economic engine of the area is a large concentration of heavy industry, to include the headquarters of Eastman Chemical – a massive plant manufacturing advanced materials that covers well over 4-square miles and employees tens of thousands of people working around-the-clock.
Rarely will you go a day in modern life without coming in contact with something that contains a chemical or polymer made in Kingsport.
Other regional employers include BAE Systems/Holston Army Ammunition plant, a main supplier of explosive compounds to the Department of Defense, and Domtar, which produces specialty and technical paper for the printing and publishing industry.
I realize living in an area with a paper mill in your backyard isn’t for everyone – but the economic benefits cannot be denied. I admit, there is a pervasive odor in the air from the various processes at work – but it smells like money to area residents.
The result is low taxes, high-paying jobs and many public parks and amenities provided almost exclusively by the parent companies of regional manufacturers – along with a plethora of shopping and entertainment venues, excellent healthcare and ample professional services.
It’s good to get away – and there is something about the mountains that allows us a different perspective and an opportunity to clear the head. I hope you find the time to vacation with your families and friends this summer.
I’ll be back hip-deep in the fray next week – yapping at the heels of our ‘powers that be’ and trying hard to bring you a legitimate alternative opinion that, I hope, inspires you to explore the issues that effect our lives and livelihoods on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Until then, pack some Burley tobacco in my corncob pipe and pass the moonshine. . .
Well, 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: Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen
I’ve been thinking about County Manager Jim Dinneen’s recent announcement that he plans to retire in January.
Who gives their notice six-months in advance?
What chief executive willingly becomes an overnight lame duck – then holds up progress by warming a seat until January?
Reports say the formal letter of intent will come later today.
Look, I won’t kick a man when he’s down, but something doesn’t smell right here.
While we wait for the other shoe to drop, let’s have a look back at this weeks Tom-n-Jerry routine that shocked the conscience of many in Volusia County.
I spent most of my life working in a small police department, and by necessity, every officer wore a variety of hats.
One of mine was Public Information Officer – the liaison between the news we made and those who reported it.
I had no formal training on “information management” until much later in my career, but I learned early the importance of transparency and assisting hard working reporters get the information they needed to perform their vital work, often under difficult deadlines.
I had the pleasure of working with the incomparable veteran anchor and reporter Claire Metz, and soon-to-be-stars of tomorrow, like Fox News’ own Shepard Smith, Chicagoland’s Anita Padilla and the very talented Blaine Tolison – who now anchors the morning news for WSOC in Charlotte.
To my good fortune, I also had the opportunity to work with many of the News-Journal greats, like Kathy Kelly, Barry Gear and many other “old school” beat reporters who not only led and inspired future journalists, but excelled at their own desk as well.
I learned from former News-Journal reporter and current Daytona Beach Police PIO, Lyda Longa, that it was possible to develop a deep sense of trust with reporters – a relationship which allowed me to fill in the gaps on the who, what, when and why of a story in complete confidence – knowing that sensitive information would be held until the appropriate time.
And when I was wrong, or we screwed-up, they took me to task – like professionals should – because ensuring accountability, seeking the truth and exposing important community issues is the critical service the press performs in the public interest.
Many of these wonderful professionals have remained life-long friends – along with the intrepid photojournalists who capture the very essence of a story in film and photographs – and I will forever remain in their debt for teaching me the right way to perform this important role.
Perhaps that’s why I was so sickened by the disturbing footage of County Manager Jim Dinneen, Volusia’s chief executive who commands over $300,000 annually in public salary and benefits – as he slithered – like a broke-back snake – away from WFTV reporter Mike Springer earlier this week.
Mr. Dinneen has been gutlessly avoiding Springer’s probative questions on the debacle at the District 7 Medical Examiner’s Officer for well-over a month – and when finally cornered at the haughty Knights of the Roundtable of Elected Officials meeting at Daytona “International” Airport on Tuesday – he turned-tail and skedaddled like a greasy roach caught in the light.
It was embarrassing – not a “good look” as they say in the business.
It amounted to cowardice under fire by our top public official and a stark reminder of all that’s wrong with Volusia County government.
The worm is beginning to turn, Dinneen is bailing (apparently) but his coterie of do-nothing middle-managers, and those elected officials who have done everything in their power to protect the status quo remain.
In a recent article entitled, “New ME eager to end ‘bad luck,’ The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently reported on Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s concerns regarding Dinneen’s “shady” process for hiring Dr. Jon Thogmartin to serve as interim medical examiner after Dr. Sara Zydowicz blew the whistle on years of budgetary neglect, overcrowding and substandard facilities which compromised the integrity of this vital public service.
Just as they did for Dr. Z – now, it appears our ‘powers that be’ have set their sights on discrediting Sheriff Chitwood and marginalizing his efforts to shine a very bright light on the machinations of a county government run wild – a clearly concerted effort to protect the one who facilitates access to the public spigot at all costs.
No one disputes the fact that Dr. Thogmartin is a highly qualified pathologist with a positive track record of correcting administrative and operational issues in offices statewide.
But neither can anyone deny that the manner in which Thogmartin was brought onboard – immediately after his out-of-hand dismissal of the issues brought by Dr. Zydowicz and complete exoneration of Jim Dinneen – followed by his near instantaneous confirmation by the Volusia County Council without so much as a written contract in place – smells a lot like payback.
It also may have violated the spirit of established purchasing and procurement policies, among other things.
But who cares, right? The rules are different here. . .
When Sheriff Chitwood publicly questioned the timing of Dr. Thogmartin’s hiring – and provided documentary evidence showing the chronology was different than what Dinneen described to the County Council – he was set upon by Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the Florida Medical Examiner’s Association, who called the Sheriff’s criticism “counter-productive.”
“Nobody is going to want to come to an office that is in constant turmoil, that has stakeholders throwing constant barbs on social media,” said Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the commission. “This is not part of what a search should be for a professional. We are not talking about a dog catcher; we are talking about a pathologist and there’s only about 400 in the country.”
Look, I don’t care if pathologists are scarce as hen’s teeth – with $780,000 of the people’s money at stake – we have a right to expect a proper vetting, to include unfettered questioning by our elected representatives – before a rush to hire.
We also have a right to know how we arrived at this goat rodeo in the first place – and who dropped the ball.
Call me skittish, but this isn’t the first time Jim Dinneen has created a pseudo-emergency to facilitate a very expensive solution – a point that seemed evident by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, near pathological stonewalling of Councilwoman Heather Post’s sincere efforts to get at the truth – and hold Dinneen publicly accountable for this debacle.
Another thing that raised more questions than answers was Dr. Nelson’s interminable defense of Mr. Dinneen, “There’s nothing nefarious here,” Nelson said. “He (Thogmartin) spent all day at the morgue, watched people conduct autopsies and was looking at policies at the morgue and procedures. On the way out of the door, he talks to the county manager and told him that this isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.”
All day? Really?
If I understand this, Dr. Thogmartin was able to determine that Dr. Z’s allegations – and those of the National Association of Medical Examiners who yanked the office’s professional accreditation in 2015, issues which were confirmed in correspondence from former ME Dr. Marie Herrmann, or the horror story brought by the grieving family of a dead child whose misidentified body lay in the morgue for days – are all complete falsehoods or the maniacal ravings of an inexperienced chief – in just one day?
Then, in lock step support of the one common denominator in all of these fiascos – Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson – sounding for all the world like Rip Van Winkle in an Ambien stupor – piled on Dr. Zydowicz, further minimizing her very real concerns with the asinine remark, “A lot of this has been ginned up that I think is undeserved.”
Why would a professional – a trained physician in perhaps the most in-demand segment of her field – jeopardize a hard-earned professional reputation by “ginning up” serious allegations of administrative negligence and mismanagement at the morgue she was responsible for?
Why would Sheriff Chitwood – a politically accountable elected official and highly respected law enforcement professional with a pristine reputation – suddenly transform into the Boy Who Cried Wolf?
And why would Dr. Stephen Nelson viciously turn on his colleague, Dr. Z – then question the motives of Volusia County’s chief law enforcement officer as he openly calls bullshit on a clearly compromised process – one that reeks of remuneration for a favorable evaluation?
(Even if that isn’t the case – one simply cannot dismiss the appearance of it.)
Why would Mr. Dinneen lope like a scalded ape away from the glare of a news camera – doing his level best to dodge questions on this issue from the working press if he has nothing to hide – then announce his retirement six-months in advance?
In my view, the cowardly method of self-preservation used to openly destroy the good reputation of Dr. Zydowicz is certainly more prohibitive to attracting quality candidates than a duly elected sheriff attempting to protect, serve and educate his long-suffering constituents.
After all, what professional in his or her right mind would take a job knowing that if they bring serious concerns regarding this essential medicolegal service to the attention of elected officials – or the state’s regulatory commission – they face the very real possibility of personal and professional destruction?
I’m asking, dammit. Because none of this makes sense.
Given all that has occurred – and the stench of lies and corruption that continues to ooze out of the impenetrable information lock-down in DeLand – perhaps it is time for State Attorney R. J. Larizza to join Sheriff Chitwood, District 1 candidate Jeff Brower and the chorus of other concerned citizens calling for an independent investigation of these serious issues by an outside law enforcement authority.
What we are witnessing is not normal.
It is not legitimate.
It bears no semblance to good governance.
It is wrong.
Mr. Dinneen is a big part of the problem – but others bear responsibility as well – and it is time for answers.
Asshole: City of Daytona Beach Leisure Services
Like many of you, I recently saw a disturbing report – also produced by the intrepid Mike Springer of WFTV’s Daytona Bureau – who reported that picnic tables, pavilions and fishing piers at various public parks in the city have been literally chained off – and some benches removed all together – ostensibly to keep them “clean” for those with the $300.00+ required to rent the tax funded amenities.
Clearly, the measure is designed to keep homeless out of the parks – something city officials won’t say publicly.
City officials should understand that there is a swirling undercurrent of distrust surrounding the publicly subsidized Brown & Brown headquarters which will soon be built on Beach Street – a project that includes gifting the nearby park and public amenities east of the campus to Mr. Brown – something we are told will allow J. Hyatt to make “improvements” for his employees and the general public.
In my view, the idea of cordoning off public recreation facilities as a stop-gap measure to control the homeless population in Downtrodden Downtown ultimately penalizes the long-suffering residents of Daytona Beach – the very people who paid for these features in the first place.
In keeping with the old-timey Fun Coast tradition of piss poor public communications, the City of Daytona Beach takes draconian action to control concentrations of vagrants in recreation areas – yet fails to educate the general public on why these measures are necessary – and when they will be repealed.
Nobody is saying it isn’t necessary – just give us the lowdown!
When you couple that with the fact the Daytona Beach City Commission has done everything humanly possible to discourage participation in public meetings short of barbed wire – one gets the idea that city government marches to the beat of its own drummer – and citizen input is limited to paying exorbitant taxes and staying out of sight and out of mind.
Unfortunately, this tactic only perpetuates the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that many see at City Hall.
I’m not sure current sitting officials understand just how dire this pervasive feeling of disenfranchisement and exclusion is in the neighborhoods. In fact, this shocking lack of substantive information exchange, and public policy by ambush that seems all the rage in local government, ranks at the top of reader complaints I receive here at Barker’s View HQ.
Something tells me we are going to see a distinct change in the composition of the Daytona Beach City Commission – an infusion of accessible and responsive new blood who understand the importance of listening to the needs, wants and suggestions of a constituency concerned about their dwindling quality of life and lack of sway in matters important to the health and future of Daytona Beach.
It’s a simple fix – city officials should tell the unvarnished truth as they know it – and We the People will respect that.
Angel: Sons of the Beach
One of the things I enjoy most about moderating this political opinion forum is the opportunity to interact with smart, civic-minded people on topics that are important to the life of our community.
On Saturday morning I had the immense pleasure of standing tall with the grassroots activists of Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – as we peacefully protested the wholesale theft of our century-old heritage of beach driving behind the Hard Rock Hotel.
With Old Glory waving proudly on our beachhead, I thought to myself how typically, and unapologetically American this gathering truly was.
It was invigorating – joining with patriotic citizens who are mad as hell and clearly aren’t going to take it anymore – and the experience left me with a lingering sense of community pride through participation in a cause of great consequence to the social and economic viability of our hometown.
And, we had some laughs along the way, enjoying the fun and relaxation that only a day at the beach with friends can bring.
According to our inspired president, Paul Zimmerman, additional SOB protests are planned behind the Hard Rock in weeks to come. I encourage everyone who cares about our tradition of beach driving – and those amenities that make the Halifax area a unique tourist and entertainment destination – to join us in this worthwhile cause.
It is time the much-maligned taxpaying residents of Volusia County stand up to this aggressive attack on our right to beach access. Let’s let our elected and appointed officials know we will not stand idle as they turn the strand into a cheap bartering chip for here-today-gone-tomorrow speculative developers.
Folks, this is important.
If you haven’t already, I encourage everyone to become a member of Sons of the Beach and join the fight today.
Simply log-on to www.sonsofthebeach.org and sign-up – it’s free – however, donations are welcome through the website, or at any of the frequent fundraisers held at fun local venues throughout the year.
Remember: Beach driving IS beach access – and its high time our elected representatives in DeLand know that there is some shit we won’t eat!
Asshole: Volusia County Council
In my view, the County Attorney’s Office has become an exclusive law firm with one very finicky client and an unlimited supply of cash.
And trust me – the customer served isn’t you and me.
Regardless of the issue, when County Manager Jim Dinneen perceives a threat to the status quo – from an initiative to give citizens a vote on beach management issues – to a measure which would return constitutional sovereignty to our elected sheriff – he draws County Attorney Dan Eckert like a weapon.
If you don’t believe me – just ask the beleaguered residents of Daytona Beach Shores about what awaits anyone who dares raise their head and defy Mr. Dinneen’s omnipotent monarchy in DeLand.
Now, with the usual acquiescence of the Volusia County Council, “Cujo” Eckert and his team of rabid jackals have filed a lawsuit challenging a November ballot measure that would permit elected county officials – like the sheriff, property appraiser and clerk of the court – to serve as politically accountable constitutional officers, you know, like the people intended when they cast their vote.
Under Volusia County’s gilded home rule charter – these duly elected representatives are relegated to little more than department heads – because that’s how the “system” controls them – and if it costs you and I thousands of dollars to fight every infinitesimal aspect of this legislation – so be it.
Last week, Mr. Eckert told the County Council, “The question is, is it fairly presented to the voters? I don’t think it is. I think the rights of county voters are being affected without them being fairly informed.”
Hey, Dan – is this anything like the time Volusia County unleashed the dogs of war to challenge the grassroots efforts of Let Volusia Vote – who, despite gathering the signatures required to lawfully place an amendment before voters that would empower citizens in matters of beach access – was met with a crushing lawsuit that you initiated to block the right of county voters to be heard?
Or, perhaps its similar to the time you spent untold thousands in taxpayer funds to contest the standing of Sons of the Beach as they worked to protect the rights of citizens and prevent further giveaways of our heritage of beach driving to speculative shitheels with a profit motive?
Maybe it’s like when Sheriff Chitwood respectfully asked that the county attorney assigned to his agency be moved to new office space to increase efficiency and his request was denied out-of-hand?
Trust me – this lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with the rights of county voters and everything to do with protecting the existing miserable state of affairs – and preserving the enormous power currently wielded by Mr. Dinneen – from any outside threat.
In addition to this recent lawsuit – now county officials are telling flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories that any modification of our current charter will result in a $10-million cost to taxpayers.
We haven’t had so much as a superficial accounting as to how returning autonomy to Sheriff Mike Chitwood will cost us millions – but that’s their story, and By God, they’re sticking to it.
Since taking office, Sheriff Chitwood has spoken vehemently against the internal sluggishness and inherent dishonesty of an entrenched system that places too much control of essential government services in the hands of one ethically compromised little man – an appointed manager, completely immune from political accountability, and subject to even less oversight from those we elect to provide balance.
In fact, as recent events have shown, the tail has been wagging the dog in DeLand for so long, our elected representatives have forgotten that the manager serves at their pleasure – not the other way around.
Frankly, when Old Ed Kelley and his “colleagues” sat with a thumb wedged in their collective ass like slack-jawed milksops while Mr. Dinneen openly barked and snarled at Councilwoman Heather Post as she attempted to hold him accountable for the raging debacle at what’s left of our medical examiners office – perhaps the most embarrassing display of insubordination to oversight authority I’ve ever witnessed – I knew immediately who was running the show.
And more important, so did the County Council.
One simply does not strike the King and his Court without serious ramifications.
Never in the history of Volusia County government has an appointed official been permitted to lord this level of unchecked power over the elected body – and that’s a dangerous proposition, given the massive political influence exerted by a few uber-wealthy insiders who remain in total control of Mr. Dinneen – and what passes for governance.
It is also why Sheriff Chitwood deserves the sovereignty to perform his vital service to the citizens of Volusia County with complete independence from this bastardized oligarchy, an absolutely compromised system that places the “what’s in it for me” question over the needs of the people every time.
What have we learned from all this drama?:
Never have so many paid so dearly to protect one wee man with a raging Napoleon complex.
Quote of the Week:
“I don’t think what other counties necessarily do would be something that would set the tone for Volusia County to follow. I don’t think the state should be handing out unfunded mandates and then expecting the counties to try to find a way to fund it, especially this late.”
–County Council Chairman and Brain-Addled Meatball Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia County an outlier by not splitting costs for school resource deputies,” June 11, 2018
The problem is, Ed Kelley doesn’t “think” at all.
He’s a rubber-stamp in a JC Penny sport coat.
Best practices in governance be damned.
Responsible cost-sharing? Fuhgeddaboudit. . .
Tried and true solutions don’t “set the tone for Volusia County” – indeed, they never have – its why we find ourselves trapped in this festering outhouse of blight, dilapidation and ravenous spending.
In fact, the mere thought of developing an educated opinion – or a vision for taking us from where we are to where we need to be – is anathema to this greedy plunderbund that values lock-step conformity over ingenuity and free-thought – or, God forbid – the honest and open debate of public policy.
With the Volusia County School Board trying desperately to scratch together funding to adequately protect our children and grandchildren from the escalating threat of school violence – and comply with the requirements of state law – our doddering fool of a County Chair would rather make empty gestures to show his displeasure with unfunded mandates – rather than get down to the important business of securing our schools.
I find that repugnant – and indicative of the way serious issues are turned into political footballs by these spineless assholes.
In the interest of transparency, based upon my past training, experience and sense of duty, I have answered Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s call to service and have asked to be considered for the recently approved ‘School Guardian’ program, an initiative that will place armed protectors in elementary schools throughout Volusia County.
I have questions – everyone does – after all, this is like walking on mars, no one has ever done it before.
However, cooperative funding and responsible cost-sharing between Volusia County and the School Board is, in my view, just common sense.
Anyone want to bet a donut how long it would take J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini or any member of the France family to wheedle a paltry $2 million out of county coffers to offset overhead on a private project?
For once, do the job we hired you for, Mr. Kelley – with millions in reserve funds – you and those other dullards on the dais of power could easily find a way to fund this incredibly important public safety initiative for years and still be able to grease the palms of your campaign contributors.
My God. Get your head out of your wrinkled ass – lives are in the balance.
Mr. Kelley, I’ve learned not to depend on you for anything – but vulnerable children are – and the consequences of grandstanding and inaction are far too great for your cheap brand of political gamesmanship right now.
And Another Thing!
I hope you will join with Sons of the Beach for a fundraiser this Sunday, June 17th, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, at Sunsetters Riverfront Bar & Grill, 115 Main Street, Daytona Beach!
In addition to fun raffles and live music, you can get all your SOB swag – t-shirts, signs, koozies and more – just in time for trips to the beach this summer!
The Sons of the Beach legal team will be on hand with up-dates on pending lawsuits designed to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable (what a novel idea?) and preserve our heritage of beach access for generations to come.
It’s a great afternoon – a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends and get involved in the life of your community. I encourage every member of the Barker’s View tribe to join with fellow civic-minded friends and neighbors this Sunday!
You’ll be glad you did.
Thanks for reading, y’all!
Have a great weekend!