Angels & Assholes for August 10, 2018

Hi, kids!

Wow!  I want to thank every member of the loyal Barker’s View tribe who took the time from your busy lives to send so many good notes and best wishes on my birthday this week!

It does my busted old heart good – and I was sincerely touched by your thoughtfulness.

Like most guys, I like to celebrate birthdays in high-style – after all, it damn sure beats the alternative – and it gives us over-the-hill types a good excuse to prove to ourselves we can still party like Rock Stars (until about 9:30pm, anyway) – as we commemorate another successful trip around the sun.

Now, in my 58th year, you – the incredibly faithful readers of this goofy alternative opinion blog – have given a renewed purpose to my life that I never thought possible.  Whether we agree on the important issues of the day or not – please know that you are never far from my thoughts – and I am genuinely grateful for your friendship, insight and support.

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 Council

 Strap in, kids.  This one’s going to be a bumpy ride. . .

There are two things that give those of us standing on the outside looking in a brief peek through the greasy peephole of government – the budget, and those all-to-infrequent “goal setting” and “visioning” sessions – which are usually anything but.

Tuesday’s County Council “workshop” was no exception.

 In the aftermath of former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s murky machinations, physical neglect of public assets, backroom ‘deals’ that always seemed to benefit all the right last names and his abrupt departure, it took our elected representatives just two-hours to establish our collective priorities – this from a group that took the better part of a long day to discuss how many chickens may occupy a residential lot – which direction doors on beachfront portable toilets should face – and authorize an internal study to get to the bottom of perhaps the most perplexing problem of our era: Overfed seagulls fouling the pool decks of Daytona Beach Shores condominiums. . .

My ass.

If we learned anything from Tuesday’s lukewarm “workshop” it is that our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, would rather take an ice water enema than submit to a forensic audit of Volusia County finances.

Seriously.  Old Ed really doesn’t want anyone from the outside looking in.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, rather than do the right thing and live up to his fiduciary responsibility to ensure accountability and increase public confidence in their government – our duly elected Council Chairman crowed, “Transparency, my foot!” he said, arguing that there’s plenty of that already in county government without throwing away money on an audit. “There’s nothing to hide.”

Wow.  I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Ed Kelley really is that dumb – or that compromised. . .

In addition, our County Council decided that Jim Dinneen’s mysterious plan to extend the Daytona Beach Boardwalk – which included looting $2.5 million in ECHO funds each year and stashing cash for a publicly funded boondoggle that was never fully explained or understood (just as Little Jimmy intended) – will never come to fruition.

But what about the $100,000 in public funds that were allegedly spent on a shadowy “boardwalk study” that was authorized in October 2016 – which produced a few pretty sketches and spreadsheets – but has never been released for public consumption?

According to the uber-arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys,  “The boardwalk took a long walk off a short deck and it’s gone.” 

Unfortunately, it was holding hands with $100K of our hard-earned tax dollars when it took the plunge. . .

But who gives a shit? 

Easy come, easy go, right Deb?

During what passed as a “visioning” session, the much-ballyhooed Taj Mahal five-story Beach Street courthouse – which is planned to replace the upgradeable City Island courthouse, and has already resulted in the closure of the New Smyrna Beach facility – was listed as a “priority,” at least by the lame duck Councilwoman Joyce Cusack.

Remember when Old Ed Kelley – you know, our chief elected official – exposed his abject ignorance of the “behind-the-scenes” meetings by county staff when plans for the new and improved $260-million-dollar courthouse were discussed (“Meetings?  What meetings?”)

I do.

Well, now Councilwoman Deb Denys – who is locked in the political fight of her career – would have us believe that nothing has been finalized (except shuttering the New Smyrna courthouse and the Volusia County Administration building on Beach Street) and that the Council needs an “agenda item with all the information.” 

Say what?

Apparently, Deb is just as clueless as the rest of us hapless dupes.

“We haven’t agreed to anything,” Denys said, noting that the original concept never appeared on a council meeting agenda (since when was that a prerequisite for action by this council?)

“We need an agenda item with all the information.”

Am I the only one who remembers when Volusia County paid an Orlando-based consultant – you know, the proverbial out-of-town expert with a briefcase – a quarter-million-dollars to “study” the issue of our aging judicial facilities – then reported on six options with a nod to the total obliteration of existing space on City Island in favor of building a monstrous, five-story consolidated complex near the current S. James Foxman Justice Center on Beach Street?

(Which, as it happens, fit neatly with Old Ed and Little Jimmy’s plan to turn City Island over to their developer friends for condominiums. . .)

At that time, our highly-paid consultant’s presentation to the County Council (during which he telegraphed his institutional knowledge of our area by referring to Ridgewood as “Rockwood”) was repeatedly interrupted by then County Manager Jim Dinneen during a well-rehearsed (and totally contrived) explanation for his ambush-style July 2017 announcement of his Grand Courthouse Plan.

My point being – what became of the Dewberry study?

Probably mildewing in that dank depository of astronomically expensive consultant reports in DeLand where good ideas are sent to die.

I’ve got an idea, Ms. Denys?

How about you – as our duly elected representative – demand that county staff produce the results of the $248,000 courthouse study before the next iteration of the County Council forgets about it and commissions yet another consultant?

Yeah, right. . .

During the workshop we were also treated to another Dog-and-Pony Show by the Martha Stewart of Medical Examiners, Dr. Jon Thogmartin – the best marketing huckster for contract forensic pathology to ever storm a public podium – who reiterated that former Volusia County Medical Examiner and whistleblower, Dr. Sara Zydowicz, was full of ca-ca when she called foul on substandard facilities, a backlog of some 240 cases and dangerous working conditions at the morgue.

“All of the problems with the office were self-inflicted,” he (Dr. Thogmartin) said, adding that it took two weeks to catch up on the backlog and resolve cooler space issues.”

Two-weeks?

Now, you and I will just have to take the Good Doctor’s word for it – because Old Ed and the Funky Bunch on the dais of power aren’t really into transparency and independent verification of facts as a matter of public policy – not when it’s sooooo much more convenient to accept a highly compensated “expert” opinion, anyway.

According to Thogmartin, it won’t be easy finding a new chief medical examiner – what with all the negative chatter on the Interwebz and whatnot.  But I’ll just bet Dr. Jon “Have Skull Saw, Will Travel” Thogmartin could help us out for the right price?

I almost forgot – during the regular meeting of the minds – councilmembers approved yet another study (this time it only cost us $54,000) for an unnamed “third-party company” to set priorities for transportation infrastructure improvements.

You read that right.

According to Jon Cheney, Volusia County’s traffic engineer, “What we are wanting to do is (address) all of this tremendous growth.  The question we have asked is which project do we do next? We are looking at a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios.”

 I’ve got a ‘what-if’ for you – what if we summarily terminate the employment of every bureaucrat clogging the Volusia County Traffic Engineering Department who can’t immediately and definitively determine, based upon their institutional knowledge and expertise, how to prioritize transportation infrastructure projects?

There now.  That didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. . .

Angel:              The Long-Suffering Citizens of Deltona

What part of “we want her gone” doesn’t the Deltona City Commission understand?

Here, let Big Daddy help:

For months, residents of Volusia County’s largest municipality have begged, pleaded – and now demanded – the removal of Deltona City Manager Jane Shang.  In my view, the very real concerns of area residents are infinitely well-founded.

As I’ve written before, two ardent critics of the current administration recently found themselves reduced to outlaws when Shang – apparently with the full acquiesce of the elected officials – misused the full force and might of government to silence criticism with dubious criminal charges and the trespass law.

Folks, I can’t think of anything more anti-democratic – or detrimental to the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people – than the reckless use of a law enforcement agency to bring a politically active citizenry to heel.

During a highly contentious public meeting earlier this week, residents all but hurled rotten tomatoes at the dais as their fervent calls for Shang’s ouster – or at the very least her suspension from office until an independent investigation of her despicable actions by the Florida Department of Law enforcement could be initiated – fell on deaf ears.

In fact, beleaguered Mayor John Masiarczyk had the stones to menace his constituents into compliance with the not so veiled threat, “Don’t force us into doing things that are just going to be ugly.”

You mean there is something uglier in your arsenal than falsely accusing critics of a felony crime?

Just asking.  Because in over 31-years in municipal government, I never saw a sitting mayor – or any other politically accountable official – openly bully taxpayers in that grotesque manner.

To her great credit, Commissioner Anita Bradford made a motion to suspend Shang until an inquiry could be launched into her blatant misuse of law enforcement, dubious code enforcement practices and the flagrant violations of Florida’s public records law.

Commissioner Bradford also pleaded for definitive action by the elected body to ensure that the terror experienced by citizens persecuted by Jane Shang’s vindictive rule never happens again.

Her motion to protect residents was openly ignored by Shang’s toadies on the dais.

Thanks for nothing Commissioner (and current mayoral candidate) Heidi Herzberg.

My sincere hope is that someone – anyone – in a position to do something about the open thuggery being perpetrated by these stool stacks that have the temerity to call themselves ‘public servants’ – will find the courage to flash a badge and launch an in-depth investigation into the myriad issues that have pitted the citizens of Deltona against their own government.

Asshole           Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert

 Look, there is enough blame to go around on this one – but something about the termination and subsequent financial settlement with former Volusia County Sheriff’s Deputy John Szabo – stinks.

I was a police officer for a long time – over thirty-years – and one of the things you learn early in your career is that cops complain.

It’s too hot, it’s too cold.

We bitch when we get promoted – and we bitch louder when we don’t.

There’s either too much overtime, or not enough.

Your pants are always too tight, and you cuss every new burrito stain on your uniform shirt – then whine about the convoluted call you caught five minutes before the end of a 12-hour shift.

The citizens you protect don’t appreciate your service and the boss is a major league asshole (usually uttered with a few choice expletives while inadvertently sitting on your radio microphone – transmitting to everyone on the channel – including the chief).

It’s what we do.

As a police executive – you understand that its when cop’s stop complaining that you have a real problem on your hands.

Back in September, Deputy Szabo took to a union social media site (if you can’t bitch there, where can you?) to criticize Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s decision to commission an internal affairs investigation into the actions of two deputies who failed to have their body cameras activated during a pursuit on Interstate 95.

During the incident, somehow the tires of the wrong vehicle were deflated by Stop Sticks deployed by the deputies.

According to a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Szabo wrote to his coworkers, “No wonder so many people are leaving. Funny how anyone who legitimately tried to do the right thing gets (expletive) in the (expletive).  Just wondering if Chitwood had his body camera on. Wonder if the deputies didn’t have their (body cameras) on because they were pulled off the highway looking for the suspect vehicle and more concerned with not getting run over.”

 Trust me.  I’ve been called worse by people who worked for me – in retrospect, probably well-deserved – and we’re still friends. . .  Because I did the same damn thing to my boss when I was at their age and stage.

After learning of Szabo’s tirade on social media, Sheriff Chitwood apparently sought the advice of County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – in my view a mean-spirited asshole who has no qualms about suing his own constituents, with their own money, if it means protecting “the system” – who reportedly recommended that Deputy Szabo’s six-year career with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office be terminated.

Wow.

According to the News-Journal, Chitwood explained, “That decision was based on county legal telling me that his actions by posting on Facebook were a violation of county merit rules and was a terminable offense,” Chitwood said. “And based on the information I received from county legal, is what I went on and made my decision.”

 “I have quote, unquote labor attorneys that are supposed to be specialists in this field,” Chitwood said. “They tell me somebody violated the policies and the penalty is dismissal.”

 For bitching about the boss?  Really?

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

And therein lies the rub.

Many are wondering how Sheriff Chitwood – an extremely charismatic, outspoken elected official who has made some pretty wild public statements about his own former boss, Jim Dinneen, (lying sack of shit, etc.) and recently made a weird remark about Councilwoman Deb Denys’ knowledge of law enforcement being limited to the “fur-lined handcuffs on her headboard” – can find the moral authority to end a man’s career for speaking out in frustration on what amounts to a union bulletin board?

Sheriff Chitwood would have to be pretty thin-skinned to ruin a good cop’s career just because he spouted off to his coworkers in the locker room – or on Facebook, for that matter.

Look, from past experience watching Mr. Eckert in operation – I’m going to give Sheriff Chitwood the benefit of the doubt and trust that he based a difficult personnel decision in the Szabo case on bullshit legal advice from the County Attorney’s Office.

It wouldn’t be the first time Old Dan fucked up – or wasted our hard-earned tax dollars, for that matter.

So, at the end of the day, who do We, The People, ultimately hold responsible for the irreparable harm to former Deputy Szabo’s personal and professional reputation – not to mention the $42,000 in public funds required to settle the matter?

In my view, it’s time Dan Eckert was shown the same door that hit Jim Dinneen in the ass a few months back.

When is enough, enough?

I sincerely hope that John Szabo goes on to a full life of service in the industry of his choice, and that the indignity of this sorry blemish does not hinder his obvious contribution potential to law enforcement and public service.

Terribly sad.

Asshole:          NASCAR Chairman Brian France

On Sunday, police in the Village of Sag Harbor – a tony summer playground for the rich and famous in The Hampton’s – stopped a Lexus operated by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, 56, after he reportedly ran a stop sign.

Preliminary reports say that France was shitfaced – driving with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit.  Following his arrest, France was “found to be in possession of five pills, yellow in color, that were identified as Oxycodone.”

 Unfortunately, this wasn’t Mr. France’s first go-round.

He was charged with reckless driving in Seminole County in 2005, and the following year, the awkward grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France made the papers when he ping-ponged his Lexus down Beach Street before coming to rest at his Marina Point condo.

 Damn.  Even a no-account boozer like me can pronounced the word: UBER. . .

I took some heat earlier this year when I opined on an unfortunate leak from investment bank Goldman Sachs that the France family was exploring the sale of NASCAR.  Naturally, the news sent shockwaves through the industry – and the company’s headquarters on ISB.

Look, I don’t have a financial or emotional investment here – but our community does.

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

Add to that the loss of any driver with a real personality not crafted by some marketing department’s image group, and, frankly, it’s become a snoozefest – a  monotonous drone of cookie cutter cars – 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.

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

For decades, the Daytona Beach Resort Area has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with DIS and NASCAR.

It was good while it lasted, but clearly our ‘powers that be’ haven’t actively planned for “what comes next” (come to think of it, they haven’t planned for anything, really.)  Instead, our elected and appointed officials throw millions in public funds at the problem (anyone remember the $40-million Daytona Beach and Volusia County gifted to ISC for their One Daytona project?) then hope things work out for the best. . .

Let’s face facts, like most family-businesses, stock car racing was never the same after the founders passed – and history shows that generational wealth is both a blessing and a curse – but I will never understand why the quirky France family, and those they pay to advise them, stood idle as the product slowly died?

Don’t take my word for it, watch any televised race – the grandstands look like a ghost town.

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.

In my view, the oddball behavior routinely exhibited by Brian France (to include his bizarre performance at last year’s 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 Champ) has contributed to diminished fan and industry confidence in the ‘brand.’

Look, if Brian France – or any other millionaire with the smarts to know better – wants to publicly immolate himself with booze and recreational pharmaceuticals, who am I to judge?  Just have the common decency to leave the helm of a business that thousands of people rely on to feed their families.

In my view, the time has come for Mr. France to finally gain that elusive sense of personal and professional responsibility that has evaded him for 56-years and step aside.  Permanently.

NASCAR is the foundation of a sport that desperately needs resuscitation – a CEO with a fresh set of eyes, hardworking hands and a renewed focus on returning the excitement of high-speed competition – before uniformity and ludicrous rules made it impossible to tell a Ford from a Chevrolet – and the charismatic, hard-scrabble drivers who appealed to the sports fanbase were replaced with cosmetic models.

You know, a true leader who will actually be at the track on race day – like Brian’s father and grandfather before him – not ripped to the tits on some suburban street in Long Island.

In my view, Brian France – and those who have allowed him to keep his hands on the wheel this far into the crash – are irresponsible assholes who have jeopardized a major source of jobs and revenue for our struggling area.

That’s unconscionable.

After all, the citizens of Volusia County have invested heavily to ensure the success of the France family – and their various subsidiaries.

We deserve better.

Angel:             The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Kudos to The Daytona Beach News-Journal staff writers and photojournalists who recently captured nine awards – including four first-place honors – during last weekend’s Society of Professional Journalists’ State Awards banquet.

The intrepid Dinah Voyles Pulver – who I believe is one of the finest journalists in the business today – took first place in environmental writing for her outstanding “Rising Seas” series.

In addition, chief photographer Jim Tiller was a finalist for photojournalist of the year, and honored in the breaking news category for his memorable image of a teenager who just learned she had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Sports columnist Ken Willis also took first place in feature writing for his piece about a man who was struck by lightning while fishing on the Ponce Inlet jetty.

The outstanding investigative reporter Seth Robbins received a second-place award in the same category for a series on Puerto Rico’s response to Hurricane Maria – with Lola Gomez taking third place in photography story for her work on the same piece.

In the crime and courts reporting category, staff writer Suzanne Hirt was honored for a series of stories about how underage girls become victims of human trafficking.

One of my favorite columnists – the incredibly insightful Mark Lane – was recognized in the general commentary and criticism catagory for his excellent “Footnote” column.

Well done!

And well deserved.

Quote of the Week:

“Ormond Beach can rejoice yet again if we adopt this rate because the city leaders have made Ormond Beach’s budget yet again our priority.  We run a lean, mean, machine in Ormond Beach.”

 –Ormond Beach Vice Mayor Troy Kent, the face of unchecked development, rejoicing in a proposed tax “decrease” from $4.28 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $4.17 – which remains 2.85% higher than the rolled-back rate of $4.05 so is technically considered a tax increase.

My God.  How do these people sleep at night?

The only lean, mean machine Mr. Kent champions in the City of Ormond Beach is another industrial woodchipper turning acres of old growth forests into cheap commercial development.

And Another Thing!

Well, summer’s over for Volusia County school students who head back to the grindstone on Monday morning.

I’ve been hypercritical of our district administrators for their handling of the new state mandated School Guardian program – a first-of-its-kind security measure that will place armed civilians in elementary schools throughout Volusia County.

My problem isn’t with those brave souls who answered the call, stood proud, and said “send me.”

I have nothing but pride and admiration for their willingness to serve in this important role.

However, I have a serious concern about the Volusia County School Board’s decision to place people, who in my view, are wholly unqualified to provide effective leadership and oversight of this sensitive program.

As many of you know, the results of a recent public records request revealed that our new School Security Specialist is a former band director and assistant principal whose lack of law enforcement or military experience would prohibit him from qualifying for the position he is charged with overseeing.

In another head-shaker, I was told directly by a senior school administrator – apparently in some weird attempt to lend credibility to a program that desperately needs it – that an associate security specialist had “FBI experience.”

I later found out that the individual’s federal law enforcement experience was limited to her time as a secretary in the FBI’s New York field office.

Now, I understand that there are serious doubts if our new school guardians will be adequately trained and equipped to provide their vital service to our precious children beginning Monday morning.

Myriad questions remain – and I, for one, am demanding answers from those who have been elected and appointed to serve the needs of Volusia County children and classroom teachers.

In my view, with a budget approaching $900 million dollars – it’s time we find out why our highly compensated superintendent and school board members failed to conduct a search for the best and brightest school security expert we could afford – rather than simply appointing a senior staffer who happens to be married to the district’s personnel director.

That’s all for me.

Have a great weekend, folks!

 

 

4 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for August 10, 2018

  1. You got hosed completely on the school guardian program. There needs to be some serious investigation into this whole fiasco. And my personal opinion is that Chitwood should be sharing a seat with Eckert. If Chitwood was no so thin skinned in this case…and more like you when you described how similar things happened to you as a chief…then it would never get to Eckert. And when the firing of Szabo initially happened Chitwood did not mention any explanation of Eckert stating it was okay. Chitwood was all over news with no mention of Eckert. Only after Szabo won did Chitwood use Eckert as an excuse.

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  2. On point and Thank You Mr. Baker. People need to understand that the people in city, county or any form of goverment are here to serve The People. We are not there guests they are ours.

    Like

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