Angels & Assholes for October 5, 2018

Hi, kids!

That wise old sage Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”

We cannot predict where our life’s path will lead – or begin to know what tragic circumstance – or wonderful opportunities – lay ahead of us.  It’s that mystery and anticipatory sense of ‘what will be’ that makes the trajectory of our lives such a rich and beautiful experience.

Without that element of the unknown, there would be no risk, no excitement – no sense of adventure.

For instance, when I began this little experiment in alternative opinion blogging, I could not have imagined the many wonderful people I would meet – civically active citizens who work hard to improve our lives here on Florida’s Fun Coast.  The insiders and outsides who care deeply about our future and take the time to read and analyze all aspects of the important issues of the day.

Nor could I have imagined the places Barker’s View would take me.

On Tuesday, I had the distinct honor of serving as a guest speaker at the prestigious Stetson University in DeLand, where I spoke to journalism students on the topic of opinion writing.

Wow.  What an incredible experience!

Regular readers of this forum know that I have no formal education.  When I was a young man I just never had the smarts or perseverance for it.  Perhaps that’s why I was so touched to have been invited to this esteemed campus to impart some hard-earned wisdom to Professor Mike Lafferty’s incredibly gifted students.

I like to say that I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks – and experiential learning is the most expensive education you will ever earn.  As a result, through the many years and trials of my life, I have become a good mimic, with a finely tuned ability to recognize quality traits and skills I admire in others, then attempt to emulate them in my own life.

It’s how I learn.

That’s why it was so special just to be in the presence of Mr. Lafferty (an accomplished veteran journalist and opinion writer with the Orlando Sentinel) and his inquisitive students, as they explored this segment of the art of journalism – a pursuit vitally important to the health of our Republic and society.

For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in historic Elizabeth Hall – described as Stetson’s “signature building” – named for founder John B. Stetson’s wife.

It is exactly what I think of whenever I envision what a college classroom should look like.

I arrived for the 8:30am class early, admired the impressive Holler Fountain and Palm Court, before exploring the inside of Elizabeth Hall.  After I climbed the grand staircase, a very kind lady from the University’s History Department rose from her desk and warmly greeted me, then unlocked the old wooden door with an antique transom window from the days before air conditioning and escorted me into room 313.

As we made small talk, she explained a little about the history of the building, then asked, “Are you a guest lecturer this morning?”

Confident that my long white beard was enough to camouflage my inherent ignorance and present at least the appearance of the professorial wisdom one expects of an esteemed academic “lecturer,” I confidently puffed out my chest, casually slid my Saddleback satchel onto the floor, and proudly explained that I was to be interviewed by Mr. Lafferty’s journalism students.

She immediately responded, “Oh, have you done something worthy of being interviewed?”

 I was dumbstruck.

It felt like a scene out of “Shemp Goes to College” – the forgotten Stooge lost on a renowned university campus – crippled by acute onset Imposter Syndrome – a fish out of water.

I was a yammering, stammering mess.  A soup sandwich.

Desperately sputtering and searching my feeble mind for the right answer (“What in the hell have I done with my life that would warrant being interviewed by these smart people?”)

Think, Barker! 

I furiously struggled for any intelligent response that might explain why a schlub like me would be standing in this hallowed hall – and nothing came to mind.

My chance had come – and I drew a blank. . .

My utter lack of academic preparation had been exposed.

That’s when I came to the stark realization that I had just failed my first and only college exam. . .

Oh, well – as a wise friend of mine likes to say – “We can’t all be astronauts.”

I guess not.

But for one brief moment, I had the distinct privilege of spending quality time in a beautiful setting discussing issues important to me with a wonderful group of bright and intuitive young people – each of whom were incredibly kind, intellectually challenging, and made this old man feel most welcome in that special place.

Thanks for making this uneducated bumkin feel like I had something to contribute.

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:

There was a whole lot of Volusia County in the news this week, so let’s dig in, shall we?

Angel:             Former Holly Hill City Manager Russell Smith

It was 1985 and I was a young patrol officer with the Holly Hill Police Department.

At that time, I was so far down the totem pole that I was essentially subordinate to everyone in the building.  While I didn’t know who he was, or quite what he did, I knew that the City Manager carried a lot of weight.

When I was hired two-years before, I had been briefly introduced to then City Manager Charles McCool, who shook my hand and welcomed me to the community.

Beyond that, all I knew was the CM was my bosses, bosses, boss – and something best avoided if at all possible.

Russell Smith was appointed City Manager in 1985 – one of many who would hold the job during my long career in the often-volatile atmosphere of small-town politics.

Needless to say, I was shocked, and more than a little frightened, when one day I was called in off the road and told by Chief Pat Finn to report to the City Manager’s office.

I was equally surprised that Mr. Smith was so incredibly warm and welcoming to this young nobody.

During our short meeting, he explained that I had been selected to receive an award for some long-forgotten deed that someone, somewhere thought worthy of recognizing, and asked if I would mind if he and his wife joined me at the banquet?

Wow.  For a 24-year old flatfoot cop, that was more of an honor than any plaque or accolade I could ever hang on the wall.

It may have been just another rubber-chicken dinner for a veteran city administrator – but it stands out as a very special memory in a career full of special memories.

By taking the time to break bread and learn about me as a person – not just an employee – he humanized the role, and, through his example, showed me that the person at the very top of the organization truly cared about the person at the very bottom of it.

I never forgot that.

Last week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal featured Mr. Smith – also a decorated World War II veteran who is now in Hospice care – in a wonderful piece written by Jim Abbott detailing what he considered his life’s most meaningful accomplishment.

The establishment of Holly Hill’s beautiful Sunrise Park.

As a career civil servant I was far removed from the politics of the day, but I vividly recall the turmoil that surrounded a sandy spit of land near the intersection of what is now LPGA Boulevard and Riverside Drive – at the time known only as “Sandy Point” – where a high-powered developer planned to build riverfront luxury housing and rope off this very special area for the privileged few.

With the help of then City Attorney Butch Simpson – who, in my view, epitomizes the character, values and calm sense of contemplative patience that made him one of the best municipal lawyers, and men, I ever knew – Mr. Smith battled the developer for control of the property and ultimately secured it for public recreation.

Today, Sunrise Park provides generations of Halifax area residents direct access to the river for fishing, exercise, family celebrations, picnicking and community festivals.  In my view, it is a very special place, with one of the most beautiful views of the Halifax River anywhere.

It also stands as a fitting tribute to Mr. Smith’s dedication to improving the quality of life of his constituents.

In a lifetime of memories from The City with a Heart – a very special community that had such an indelible impact on my life – Russell Smith’s innate kindness, vision and willingness to hold firm to his principles in the best interests of those he served taught me a lot about what public service should be.

Godspeed, Mr. Smith.  We need more like you.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

Even when they are given the opportunity – and political insulation – to do the right thing, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch prove once again they are physically incapable of doing right by their long-suffering constituents.

After multiple publicly-funded studies proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that current impact fees – which have remained relatively constant since 2003 – should be more than doubled in certain categories, this week we heard from the usual suspects why asking developers to assist with critical infrastructure improvements is verboten in this bastardized oligarchy.

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “When you look at some of those costs, when you look at what they are proposing us to charge, why would developers pay that much?” he said. “I’m totally opposed to impact fees (being so high) that they prevent the job growth that we need or raise the price of homes out of the affordability to some people.”

Instead, Old Ed would have you and I sit in gridlock traffic – sipping our own recycled sewerage – rather than even suggest that this upside-down strategy of suppressing impact fees to 2003 levels while permitting developers lucrative “credits” for certain transportation infrastructure improvements benefitting their projects in 2018 dollars –  credits they can turn around and use to “pay” impact fees – has left you and I, the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County, holding the bag.

At Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, our elected officials once again prostrated themselves before their masters and proved, once and for all, exactly who they work for.

Earlier this year, for the first time in a long time, every municipality agreed with Volusia County in collectively pushing for a half-cent sales tax increase for long-overdue transportation infrastructure improvements.

For some reason, every elected and appointed official in the county (with one or two notable exceptions) believed that it was essential to increase the sales tax burden on every man, woman and child to pay for transportation enhancements – yet, the mere suggestion that impact fees should be substantially increased has resulted in absolute paralysis in DeLand.

During the meeting, those cowardly assholes on the dais of power didn’t have the political acumen to even feign interest and ask questions of the consultant we paid handsomely to tell us the obvious.

Really?  

To add insult to injury, at the same meeting, an attorney for Minto Communities – the Canadian developer who has partnered with gazillionaire entertainer Jimmy Buffett to plop a faux beach community directly on top of our aquifer recharge area adjacent to municipal potable water wells off LPGA Boulevard (even as a true beach community just a few miles east on A-1-A is allowed to wither and die from civic neglect) cried the blues to the County Council about how their flip-flop shod residents (who are scooping up those $200,000 – $400,000 cracker boxes in the pine scrub west of town at an alarming rate) deserve a break on impact fees because they are an older population.

Excuse me?

You don’t think an additional 12,000 to 16,000 Parrotheads unleashed on area roadways isn’t going to have a massive impact on our already overcrowded transportation infrastructure, water usage and other essential services?

Whatever.

In turn, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch did what they do best: Absolutely nothing.

Stall.  Delay.  Complicate.

Now, in the most poorly executed prevarication in the history of local politics, the Volusia County Council would have us believe that they want our “help” with this growing debacle.

According to Dustin Wyatt’s excellent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ed Kelley said, “Here it is,” referring to the latest 44-page study. “We want you to see it. We want you to weigh in. We are asking for your help.”

He added: “It’s very important that we get as much information to the public as we possibly can.”

 Yeah, right.

Remember last spring when Old Ed crowed, “I don’t need a consultant to tell me what we should charge,” braying that he didn’t want a consultant involved in the process at all?

I do.

And guess what?  He doesn’t want our “help” now either.

So, now our elected dullards in DeLand want to hold a “series” of Town Hall circle jerks across the width and breadth of Volusia County – dog and pony shows where they can trot out a few shills for the real estate development industry and try and convince We, The People that good folks like King Mori Hosseini and other uber-rich tycoons shouldn’t pay their fair share for the growth that’s making them even wealthier – but you and I should.

Even as more and more building permits are issued under the current wholly inadequate impact fee structure. . .

My ass.

What more is there to talk about?

Folks – make no mistake – in my view, Chairman Kelley, the always arrogant Deb Denys, the Right Reverend Dr. Fred Lowry and his sidekick, the Rip Van Winkle of county politics, “Sleepy” Pat Patterson, have, once and for all, exposed themselves as manipulative strawmen – totally beholden to their political benefactors and steadfast in their collective resolve that you and I should pay – not those who stand to profit most.

“I think we need to take as much time as required to have these community conversations and with the organizations and get as much input as we can and discussion,” Councilwoman Denys said. “We need to do this well and thorough and be as transparent as we possibly can.”

Bullshit.

The very concept of honesty and openness in government is anathema in Volusia County government – a dark place that values secrecy, subterfuge and cover-up to protect the status quo at all costs.

One bright spot during an otherwise dismal meeting was when the intrepid civic activist, Ken Strickland, spoke bold truth to power:

“If you think you’re going to get that sales tax passed without a serious increase in impact fees, you will be sadly mistaken.”

Damn straight.

If you think this problem is going to resolve by reelecting these cowardly sell-outs who have no problem hawking our best interests to the highest bidder, you are sadly mistaken.

It is what it is.

In my view, it smells a whole lot like quid pro quo corruption.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council – Deuxième Partie

“Killing the messenger” is a metaphorical phrase used to describe the act of blaming the bearer of bad news.

Unfortunately, it has also become active public policy in the halls of power in Volusia County government.

The Volusia County Council has sent a stark message to any public employee or contractor that anyone who dares expose evidence of fraud, corruption, dysfunction or mismanagement does so at great peril to their job and professional reputation.

The latest casualty of this War on Truth is James Pericola, who, until last Tuesday, served as Volusia County’s federal lobbyist in Washington D.C.

In August, Mr. Pericola did what any ethical recipient of public funds would when he wrote a scathing letter to the county council and staff alerting them to the abject dysfunction, a ‘filtering’ of information by jackleg bureaucrats before it was provided to policymakers and the complete “lack of transparency” that pervades literally every function of county government.

He also had the courage to notify our ‘powers that be’ that overpaid county staffers are too damn lazy to get off their ass and actually engage with federal authorities who hold the purse strings on millions in federal grant funds.

In my view, it was one of the most revelatory and important pieces ever written about the machinations of Volusia County government.

In typical fashion, rather than immediately investigate Mr. Pericola’s credible claims of a highjacked system that seemingly serves itself, rather than its constituents who pay the freight, our elected dullards circled the wagons and launched a vicious attack on Pericola – and anyone else who would dare move to challenge the status quo.

Old Ed claimed the allegations were no more than ‘sour grapes’ after the county made a $90,000 ‘make-work’ job for a former Congressional staffer to handle “government relations” – then opted to go out to bid on the federal lobbying contract at less than half of what Mr. Pericola’s firm was being paid.

The coup de grace came this week when the county council voted 5-2 (with Council members Post and Joyce Cusack on the side of right) to terminate Mr. Pericola’s firm  with just two short months remaining on his contract.

Talk about petty.

Talk about ‘sour grapes.’

Talk about a chilling atmosphere for anyone who seeks to expose the truth.

Now that he is free from the iron shackles of a shadow government bent on secrecy and behind-the-scene intrigues, I sincerely hope Mr. Pericola will speak out and tell long-suffering Volusia County taxpayers ‘the rest of the story.’

We deserve to know the truth.

Quote of the Week:

 “Are you going to take your information from some EMTs or some firefighters?” Kelley said. “Or are you going to take your information from the people that administer the system?”

–Volusia County Council Chair and Congenital Fraudster Ed Kelley, speaking on Councilwoman Heather Post’s attempt to shed light on our mismanaged and overburdened emergency medical transport system in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley talks EMS after using it himself,” Monday, September 24, 2018

While driving across the Palmetto Curtain on his way to what passes for a public meeting of the Volusia County Council, Chairman Kelley rightly sensed he was having a cardiac episode.

Once he arrived at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration building, Chairman Kelley was attended by Volusia EMS Medical Director Dr. Peter Springer, who was there to address growing constituent concerns about response times and the availability of ambulances in the wake of revelations by EMT’s and firefighters that there are periods when no emergency transport service is available due to understaffing and system mismanagement.

Those concerns have been repeatedly echoed by municipal fire chiefs and public safety unions – including the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association.

According to Old Ed, at the time he was taken ill, Dr. Springer apparently gave his patient in the throws of a cardiac event (which ultimately resulted in the placement of a stent) the option of having the EVAC unit respond, “hot and fast,” which I assume means a Code 3 response with lights and siren?

The alternative response being, I suppose, “cold and slow” like you and I can expect. . .

(It’s funny, but my doctor never gives me those options.  You know, like, “Hey, Mark, do you want to take those blood pressure pills I prescribed – or would you rather have a stroke?  Your call, old buddy.”  No.  He pretty much tells me what’s best and I do as I’m told – after all, he’s a learned doctor and I’m a hypertensive time bomb. . . them’s the rules in the real world.)

Oh, well.

We’re told Chairman Kelley bravely refused the “hot and fast” treatment apparently reserved for the political elite – then twiddled his nibs for some 18-minutes while the lone available ambulance trundled its way back from Sanford.

Add to that the time it took to actually transport Chairman Kelley to the hospital and you get some idea what local first responders are concerned about.

District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post – demonstrably the only sitting elected official on the Volusia County Council who is dedicated to representing her constituents rather than the all-powerful special interests – recently met with County fire and EMS officials to discuss the issue and came away with the view that Volusia EMS staffing levels are “scary.”

(Imagine that.  A sitting County Council member sitting down with those who actually provide services to get their first-hand take on the issues?)

Almost immediately, Old Ed went on the attack – calling Ms. Post’s educated opinion “reckless” and, as usual, completely dismissed any reasonable calls for oversight and accountability of this critical service.

When Post gave repeat examples of EVAC runs that showed response times of 30-minutes or more during a one-week period – including a case on August 8th where it took an ambulance some 36-minutes to reach a stroke victim – her credibility was immediately assailed by Dr. Springer and those arrogant dolts on the dais of power.

Incredibly, our Emergency Medical Services Director had the chutzpah to challenge Ms. Post with the inane query,  “Do we know if there were any bad outcomes from that?”

My God.

No worries.  It’s become great sport for Post’s “colleagues” to snicker and watch as staff, senior administrators and contractors approach the podium and verbally abuse, challenge and marginalize her – or anyone else who attempts to expose gross mismanagement or abject corruption in County government.

Look, don’t take my word for it – or even Councilwoman Post’s.

Call your Fire Chief – or speak with those brave men and women who are actually in the field providing this critical services to our community – and ask them if everything is hunky-dory with Volusia County EMS.

You might be surprised what you hear. . .

And Another Thing!

More dismal news out of DeLand this week.

Here, take it straight from the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, who, along with those dedicated grassroots advocates at Sons of the Beach – Florida’s premier beach driving and access advocacy – is actually in the arena, fighting hard to protect and preserve our most precious natural and economic resource:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018 – 8:25pm:

“Judge Randal Rowe ruled in favor of Volusia County today granting their motion for dismissal of the Sons of the Beach case challenging the Hard Rock Hotel developer’s compliance with ordinance 2015-07.

Judge Rowe granted the SOBs the opportunity to file an amended complaint within 20 days. The Sons of the Beach will sit down with our attorney, David Vukelja, and discuss our options moving forward.

Judge Rowe recognized the distinction between the basis of this case and the previous SOB cases.

Judge Rowe ruled in favor of the county based on his interpretation of case law regarding the issue of “STANDING.” To have “standing” in a case, one must prove that they are damaged in a unique and specific way. If the county government passes a bad law that damages ALL of the residents in the county equally, there is no recourse through the court system.  If everybody is equally damaged no one has “standing” – this is the law in Florida.

The county council, as elected representatives, are supposed to be the WatchGuard in such matters, not the courts. So, for all intent and purposes, it is the responsibility of the voters to elect – or vote out of office – those representatives that pass bad laws.  This is how our current system operates – the citizens are at the mercy of those they elect.

Stay tuned for a list of candidates that will be endorsed by the Sons of the Beach and Friends for this November’s election. The Sons of the Beach will never give up and we will continue to fight to Save Beach Driving.

Damn right.

If you believe, as I do, that beach driving and unfettered access to our public beach is paramount to our unique social and economic heritage as a world-class destination, please join us on Sunday afternoon for a Sons of the Beach and Friends Fundraiser from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at Lost Lagoon, 2004 North Dixie Freeway (US-1), New Smyrna Beach (located at the beautiful New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport).

A great lunch buffet will be available – and you can purchase some cool SOB swag, including T-shirts and other logo merch.  While you’re there, please participate in fun 50/50 raffles and enter to win some neat door prizes.

I encourage all members of the Barker’s View Tribe to come by for a cold beverage and good times with some of the coolest, most civically engaged people I know!

Your totally uncool scribe hopes to be there as well.

I always enjoy meeting those who support this blog and talk about the issues that are important to you.

If you are new to the Halifax area – or just care about our collective future here on the beleaguered Fun Coast – come out and meet some new like-minded friends – or catch up with old friends who are actively fighting the good fight against government overreach and corporate thievery of our beach.

Trust me – you’ll be glad you did.

All proceeds go to local political candidates who support YOUR RIGHT to beach driving and returning sanity to beach management and access for everyone.

Beach Driving IS Beach Access! 

Up next week:  The dirty business of selling dirt at the languishing First Step Shelter.  Open and transparent bid process?  Fair market value for a public asset paid for with public funds?  Skyrocketing costs?  And whose getting rich warehousing the homeless?  You be the judge. . .

That’s all for me – have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for October 5, 2018

  1. Good read Mark. I would suggest that most people that are sane and learned, especially when faced with a health scare involving their heart, recognize that emergency treatment needs to be delivered ASAP. As a heart nurse, I can tell you that in the words of one of my great heart surgeon teachers, we know that minutes are myocardium. If I understood this correctly, and whether his condition had him unhinged or he was making a point, his and Dr. Springer’s actions appear to have been reckless and could have had a serious outcome. So, Dr. Springer, ‘Whew, no bad outcomes this time.’ Things that make us go hmmm!

    Like

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