It’s been something of a roller-coaster ride of emotions here at Barker’s View HQ this week – and sometimes in life, all we can do is strap in, buckle up and hang-on tight.
On Tuesday, after a valiant struggle with aggressive breast cancer, our loyal and loving pet of 15 years went to wherever good dogs go.
Her name was Diamond, and she came into our family as a puppy when our then teenage daughter, as kids will often do, snuck her into the house knowing that once Patti and I laid eyes on her the answer to that age-old question “Can we keep her?” would be a foregone conclusion.
As she suffered the indignities of advanced age – losing her eyesight, hip pain and an aggressive tumor – we steeled ourselves for the inevitable.
I wrote on social media this week that in over 30-years as a cop, I saw a lot of really bad things – the worst of man’s inhumanity to man, as they say – and I never cried. Not once.
I think those in the emergency services develop a coping mechanism that allows us to absorb and compartmentalize pain and suffering, otherwise the frequency and horrific nature of human tragedy would simply be too much to take.
But the cranny of my brain where those damnable memories and emotions are stored must be full – because I’m not embarrassed to admit that I openly wept, and I’ve remained an emotional mess – a true and overwhelming sense of loss more akin to a close family member than a pet.
But in the Barker household – our pets have always been a very big part of our family.
It’s strange. When my father died in the Spring of ’93 at just 63-years old – only five years older than I am now – I didn’t shed a tear – and I began to worry that perhaps my heart had become calloused, no longer capable of expressing extremes of emotion like “normal” people.
Given how close my dad and I were, it bothered me terribly.
Then, out of nowhere, nearly two-years after his passing, I sat bolt upright in bed at three o’clock in the morning overcome by a crushing wave of grief the likes of which I had never known. I buried my head in the pillow, and wept until daylight – a wonderful sense of release and acceptance flowed from those tears.
The incomparable songwriter, Guy Clark, once wrote in an ode to his father entitled, “The Randall Knife”:
I’d cried for every lesser thing
Whiskey, pain and beauty
But he deserved a better tear
And I was not quite ready
I understand what he was trying to say. . .
Our old gal was most assuredly a constant in our lives – and her passing has left an immense void in our house – and in our hearts. But with her passing, Diamond reassured me once again that I still have the capacity to feel.
Our Nola – just 4-years old – has never known a day without Diamond’s comforting presence in her life, and it is heartbreaking to watch as she waits in vain for her to return – laying on Diamond’s day bed, sniffing frequently at her now empty collar and searching every room of the house for her missing sister.
When the time came this week, Dr. Long and the incredible staff at Tomoka Pines lit candles, created a comforting environment and helped our dear girl slip from this world to the next as Patti held her close and told her how much she was loved.
We will collect her cremated remains in a few days – and her urn will join those of our other “fur babies” who crossed before her.
The great nature columnist Gene Hill once wrote, “Nobody can fully understand the meaning of love unless he’s owned a dog. A dog can show you more honest affection with a flick of his tail than a man can gather through a lifetime of handshakes.”
Then, from the depths of sadness comes pure joy!
As Diamond was preparing to cross the Rainbow Bridge, a true blessing came to our family in the form of a 7-pound 2-ounce baby girl named Bee.
Our new niece was born!
As Bob Dylan once wrote, “Who is not busy dying is busy being born.”
Isn’t it the truth…
So, on Tuesday evening, Patti and I opened a good bottle of wine and raised a toast to a life that brought so much joy – and one that will perpetuate that pure and unequaled emotion.
Welcome to the world, Bee – here’s to a long life of all the best this fragile but beautiful existence brings.
Your aunt and uncle love you more than you know…
You know, some days you write the blog, and some days the blog writes you. Many times, these screeds of mine are very personal, and very cathartic – a therapeutic purgative during trying times that helps me cleanse my mind by getting it on the page.
Thanks for indulging me.
It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Angel: Dr. Kelly Long and Tomoka Pines Veterinary Hospital
In my view, anyone who provides care for sick and defenseless animals is the textbook definition of an “Angel” – and I sincerely and forever appreciate the love and compassion Dr. Kelly Long and Dr. Nick Avis, along with their exceptional staff of veterinary professionals, have shown my four-legged family members through the years.
Those in the medical field – be it human or veterinary – are doing God’s work, and it takes a special person to dedicate their lives to caring for the health and welfare of others.
Thank you for making a very difficult time such a beautiful and meaningful experience for those left to grieve. By your kindness, you brought comfort to those who desperately needed it.
God’s work, indeed.
Asshole: Former Lake Helen CM Jason Yarborough
Only in government do we perpetuate bad behavior and poor performance by rewarding it at every opportunity.
From paying massive legal fees to defend gross sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims, to lavishing perpetual salary and benefit increases without any legitimate performance metrics – rather than hold senior administrators accountable for their actions and ensure a commitment to the highest ideals of the public service – in Volusia County governments, large and small, our elected officials inexplicably reward appointed officials regardless of their abhorrent personal or professional conduct.
This incredibly expensive process usually begins during periods of transition – when a tumultuous period ends with a community selecting a new manager – someone who promises to return peace and stability to City Hall.
As a result, in desperately seeking equilibrium, elected officials invariably enter into lopsided employment contracts, with hefty compensation packages, often including multiple retirement options, investment plans, vehicle and housing allowances, paid health and life insurance – and incredibly lucrative severance packages should they flee or be terminated.
Clearly, these ‘Golden Parachutes’ are designed to protect the manager from political instability – often by requiring a super majority vote to terminate their employment and other shields that are unheard of in the private sector.
Unfortunately, these contractual obligations often hamstring the elected body from taking action to eliminate the cancerous effects of bad management.
When elected officials fail to provide necessary oversight – or are limited from doing their jobs by external political pressure – the enormous power and influence held by city and county managers can lead to horrific abuses and expensive mistakes that often leave We, The People holding the bag.
Last week, the tiny hamlet of Lake Helen agreed to a ridiculous financial settlement with its former City Manager, Jason Yarborough, which essentially calls for taxpayers to shove $40,000 of their hard-earned dollars in a brown paper bag and hand it to Yarborough as he escapes the building.
As I understand it, from September 2016 to March 2018, a technical glitch in the city’s utility billing software resulted in residents of the Lake Helen Villa – a 55-and-over mobile home park – being under-billed for water service.
When Yarborough was made aware of the problem earlier this year, city staff corrected the anomaly by manually uploading meter readings to the city’s system.
No big deal, right?
The real problem began when – rather than owning up to the billing error and reporting the issue to the Lake Helen City Commission – Yarborough and other senior officials kept quiet.
As a result, a simple technical malfunction was allowed to deteriorate into a major cover-up.
Then, to add insult to injury, Yarborough offered to resign his $118, 570 per year job if the City Commission agreed to a generous 16-weeks of severance pay.
That comes to approximately $48,000 before taxes.
According to Yarborough’s employment agreement, he would be entitled to the 16-weeks of pay if he was terminated absent official misconduct as defined in Florida statutes. The City also agreed to provide him 30-days’ pay – along with a buyout of accrued leave time – if he resigned the position with 30-days’ notice.
What bothers me is that in July – while he was actively hiding the billing snafu from elected officials – the City Commission generously gave Yarborough a $6,300 pay increase – and raised his “travel budget” from $6,000 to $7,000 annually.
This isn’t the first time Yarborough has had trouble with a water utility.
In 2014, he resigned as public works director for the City of Port Orange after an internal investigation found his department had spent some $411,000 without commission authorization for water meters.
In a syrupy press release following his latest five alarm fuck-up, Yarborough said:
“I am proud of what we have accomplished in the last four years, and I look forward to seeing the results of the plans that we have started,” he said. “I wish the city and the organization all the best in the future.”
And, just like that, Mr. Yarborough walks away from this steaming mess. . . $40,000 richer for the effort.
In the public sector, when senior managers attempt to cover-up errors and omissions – or withhold critical information from decision-makers – they are summarily fired and escorted off the property, never to work in that particular pursuit or profession again.
Not in government.
It seems no matter how egregious the foul-up, government administrators invariably land on their feet with a lucrative severance package and suddenly transform into ‘managers in transition’ – laying in wait for the next unsuspecting burg to ignore their past faux pas and give them one more bite at the apple.
Over a long career in municipal government, I’ve been blessed to serve with some of the best managers in the business – and cursed to work under the yoke of some of the most unethical, double-dealing, quasi-criminal assholes to ever hold that lofty position.
In my view, its time local governments begin holding disgraced public managers accountable by defending their citizens from these astronomical severance payouts in the wake of scandals and acts of gross mismanagement that continue to undermine our faith and confidence in government.
Asshole: County of Volusia
Volusia County residents are still digesting the bombshell dropped by James Pericola, a federal lobbyist whose Seward Square Group currently represents our interests in Washington D.C. under a $90,000 annual contract.
In his correspondence to the Volusia County Council, Mr. Pericola courageously exposed the tragic consequences of an organization that “. . .promotes a lack of transparency which leads to a dysfunctional and ineffective process that largely leaves the (county) Council out of the loop.”
In perfectly describing the truly frightening process at play where critical information was “filtered” by then County Manager Jim Dinneen and his senior staff – and publicly-funded studies were purposely withheld from policymakers altogether – Mr. Pericola wrote:
“As a result, countless opportunities are missed, and mistakes are constantly repeated because there is no oversight from the Council other than the hiring and firing of firms. This process is also filtered, as the Council relies heavily on the Manager’s recommendation. Remaining in the good graces of the Manager has been prioritized over establishing an open and collaborative process. Once the Council hires a firm, staff actively works to limit contact or are ordered to filter information and opportunities to the Council. Thus, the Council does not see actions, recommendations and proposals the staff choose not to act or report on either because they don’t want additional work, or because they do not understand the issue, or possibly have another agenda.”
Rather than act upon the intelligence provided by Mr. Pericola – and launch an independent inquiry to determine the depth of the problem and identify the possible impact of ‘filtered’ or deliberately withheld information on past and future public policy decisions – certain Volusia County politicians immediately unleashed their patented “Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations.” damage control strategy that has allowed this pernicious system to perpetuate itself for years.
Our clueless County Chair, Ed Kelley, joined Councilman “Sleepy” Pat Patterson in calling Pericola’s revelations “sour grapes” – accusing the lobbyist of disparaging Volusia County after the council slashed funding for federal lobbying and hired a former congressional bureaucrat, John Booker, to handle governmental relations.
The problem is – like any number of whistle-blowers who have come before him – Mr. Pericola has absolutely nothing to gain by exposing the internal dysfunction and organizational corruption that has cost Volusia County residents untold millions in federal dollars that could have been used to address serious issues ranging from the opioid crisis to water quality.
Now, former Assistant County Manager Mary Anne Connors has joined the fray.
In a recent Letter to the Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ms. Connors opined:
“Jamie Pericola’s self-serving and petulant attack on Volusia County staff and the former manager is a sorry excuse for his firm’s inability to deliver a product of continued value to the county. He describes federal funds that are prospective and “might have been” as an actual loss, and The News-Journal panders to his claims as credible. Shame on both for the superficial understanding and treatment of important issues.”
Self-serving? To what end?
And her claim that Pericola’s descriptor of “prospective and “might have been” federal funds as a loss is incredibly disingenuous. The fact is, federal competitive and programmatic grant funding is like the lottery – you can’t win if you don’t play – and accusing the newspaper of having a “superficial understanding” of important issues is eerily similar to Volusia County’s admonition that We, The People are too stupid to understand impact fees and other initiatives that always seem to benefit all the right last names.
According to Ms. Connors, “Neither Pericola nor The News-Journal scratch the surface to understand or communicate why a long-term problem is acknowledged and actually difficult to resolve. It’s easier to point fingers and claim a lack of transparency, a subjective term commonly defined in retrospect.”
Is literally everyone out of step but Volusia County government?
Are all of us out here in the hinterlands who see a serious problem with transparency in County government completely nuts?
Anyone else see a distinct pattern emerging here?
I have never seen an institution so oblivious to the fact that the sham has been exposed – the cronyism, the gross manipulation of public information, the constant stream of tax dollars to underwrite the private for-profit projects of wealthy insiders and campaign donors, the giveaway of public assets and the complete lack of oversight that has allowed senior managers to operate what is in essence a shadow government – totally devoid of political accountability.
They’re like a mendacious toddler, hands and face covered in chocolate, repeatedly denying any connection to the pudding.
Whenever anyone with inside knowledge of the problem breaks with the lock-step conformity that has resulted in the paralytic dysfunction that has hampered any substantive progress on the serious issues we face – the immediate response is to attack, marginalize and destroy the messenger – then disparage the message itself as an effective means of protecting the Oligarchical system at all costs.
Don’t take my word for it – ask former Volusia County Medial Examiner Dr. Sara Zydowicz, current District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, or Sheriff Mike Chitwood – how going against the grain and attempting to expose the internal machinations of a government gone haywire worked out for them.
Now, add the name Jamie Pericola to the growing list of whistle-blowers who – as recipients of public funds – tried valiantly to do the right thing by Volusia County residents in keeping with their high sense of personal and professional ethics.
Trust me. There is nothing self-serving about doing the right thing – risking everything to expose corruption and abject dysfunction – and I believe that Mr. Pericola’s revelatory letter is perhaps the most important thing written about Volusia County government since the Charter.
I suspect we’ve just seen the tip of this iceberg.
Asshole: The First Step Money Pit
The out-of-control shit-show that is the First Step Shelter project took another weird turn this week when the Daytona Beach City Commission decided to ignore reason and press on – full-steam ahead – with the massively expensive homeless “shelter” that has languished interminably.
In my view, it’s never too late to right a wrong – or take a step back and consider if there is a better way forward. Inexplicably, the collective wisdom of City officials has been to simply accept a $6 million price tag, to the exclusion of any reasonable alternative, simply because they are “committed to the road and need to stay the course.”
I don’t know about you, but when it’s my hard-earned money at stake, I have never found it difficult to change course and consider options before a major purchase when I could save a buck.
Perhaps therein lies the problem.
Contrary to what some in government have come to believe – this isn’t Monopoly money at play here.
In light of all the looming issues surrounding this project – not the least of which is how the First Step Shelter Board will now convince leery donors to contribute cash and in-kind services to cover recurrent operational expenses – it is becoming evident that many in our community have lost faith.
And given the prevalence of chronic homelessness and vagrancy that are now “in your face” problems for every resident of east Volusia County – the cost of a failure of leadership at this juncture is serious cause for concern.
I could be wrong – but from here in the cheap seats – the entire process has taken on the appearance of a rudderless ship.
Originally, we were told that the Rev. L. Ron Durham, in his role as Community Relations Director for the City of Daytona Beach, was the head ramrod – now, City Manager Jim Chisholm is defending everyone from the architect to City staff from legitimate criticism – and We, The People still don’t have answers as to how construction costs skyrocketed to an estimated $6 million – for a building that has yet to come out of the ground?
Is what we’re witnessing just good old-fashioned bureaucratic ineptitude?
Is it possible that no one at City Hall could have foreseen this financial quagmire before the project reached this point of no return?
Why don’t senior government officials speak to reporters anymore? Has the whole idea of effectively communicating with taxpayers on difficult issues of community concern been relegated to a paid mouthpiece with nice hair and a canned news release?
Or is what we’re seeing evidence of something far more sinister?
And, perhaps most important, when are we going to get answers?
You be the judge – because at this late date – I’ll be dipped if I can understand it. . .
As a recent editorial in The Daytona Beach News-Journal said:
“Daytona Beach, with the most visible homeless problem, has the most to gain. But city officials — most notably, City Manager Jim Chisholm — have been bafflingly non-communicative about the shelter’s progress and realistic cost estimates. If, as they claim, city officials expected the final price tag to go up, why didn’t they say so as the $2.5 million price tag was cited again and again? Why wasn’t it at least communicated to members of the shelter’s governing board? South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall, a former police chief and First Step board secretary charged with keeping the board’s minutes, says he’s sure nobody ever mentioned that the price tag was a few million bucks higher. We believe him.”
I do too.
Bill Hall is one of the most honorable men I know.
It’s just one reason why I won’t be surprised if the next thing we see are members of the First Step Shelter Board jumping ship before this maelstrom of suspicion and unanswered questions really gets out-of-hand – and who could blame them?
I mean, since when did volunteering your time and talents to do good work on behalf of those less fortunate require having your good name associated with something like this?
Quote of the Week:
“We continue to try and purchase prosperity by giving away beach ramps or taking cars off the beach. We would appreciate if you stop giving away our public assets for the benefit of people who come here from somewhere else.”
–Beach Driving Advocate and Citizen-Activist Ken Strickland, speaking to the Volusia County Council just before they gave away another 20-feet of publicly owned beach access to the developer dujour, Orlando-based Avista Properties, Inc.
Well said, Ken. And infinitely true.
And Another Thing!
Here’s something fun and civic minded to do this weekend – straight from the Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy:
“Come on out and have some fun and Help Save Beach Driving!
Luke and the Crabby Joe’s crew on the Sunglow Pier are hosting another party for the SOBs. We have a Court Date on October 3rd and proceeds from the event will go to our legal fund.
David Vukelja, the SOB attorney, is committed to challenging Volusia County’s continuous attempts to privatize our beach. YOU can help! Buy a delicious Crabby Joe’s lunch ticket and you will be eligible for door prizes. We will have NEW very cool T-shirts, raffles, and a 50/50 drawing (our last one was over $150.00 to the winner). See you Sunday…Help us Save Beach Driving!”
I encourage the entire Barker’s View tribe to come out this Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm and support a great cause!
Crabby Joe’s is located right over the ocean on the Sunglow Pier – 3701 South Atlantic Avenue – Daytona Beach Shores.
Also, Barker’s View joins all Volusia County residents in wishing our County Council Chair, Ed Kelley, a complete and rapid recovery after he felt under-the-weather earlier in the week.
Look, I realize I give Old Ed a lot of crap – most of it deserved – but that’s politics, not personal.
Here’s hoping you’re back in the fray real soon, Mr. Chairman!
That’s all for me!
Have a great weekend, kids!