I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!
For good or for ill, ghosts and goblins don’t scare me – I was a Holly Hill cop for over 30-years, and have been a life-long resident of Volusia County – so I’m comfortable with the macabre. Suffice it to say, it takes more than a haunted house to raise the hair on the back of my neck.
Anyone who has witnessed the wild machinations of a Volusia County election season knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, this year’s carnival of the absurd in no different – with the exception that it appears area residents are beginning to pay attention – and are increasingly screaming for justice when they see what Daytona Beach civic activist Ken Strickland accurately refers to as “corruption in plain sight.”
As a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe, I naturally assume you are a ‘high-information’ voter – regardless of your political persuasion.
Well, this is where the rubber meets the road.
I don’t care if you’re a tree-hugging dirt worshiper, a flaming liberal or a meat-eating, knuckle-dragging uber-conservative – in this space we can all agree to disagree and remain supportive friends and neighbors.
The only thing I ask to secure your membership in this special salon of alternative opinion is this: VOTE.
I’m not going to tell you who or what to vote for or against – regular readers of this forum know my thoughts – all I am going to ask is that you take the time to participate in the most meaningful part of this process – do your ‘civic duty,’ as they say – and VOTE!
Take advantage of early voting while it lasts – or stand proud on election day and vote like your quality of life depends upon it. Because it does.
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
I recently jotted down my thoughts on the importance of creating a sense of ownership and buy-in to building strong communities.
My naive thought was that, following the upcoming election, our politicians – new and old – could work toward a goal of “whole community” decision-making and develop a process that engages the needs, wants and dreams of all stakeholders – not just those of our “Rich & Powerful.”
My head must be getting soft.
In Volusia County, elections are little more than annoying formalities – a legally mandated hurdle that our oligarchical ‘movers & shakers’ see as a hindrance – knowing well that the political process is nothing the right application of large sums of money can’t fix.
You and I – the voting public – are merely something to be manipulated with glossy mailers, ads and fancy signage, most of it paid for by special interests who lavish their hand-select candidates with massive campaign contributions in a perfectly legal quid pro quo scheme that results in a lucrative return on investment for those who can pay to play.
In the extremely rare event that a true outsider is elected to the Volusia County Council, our ‘powers that be’ have a patented process in place that molds newly elected and appointed “leaders” into lock-step marionettes – pounding square pegs into the round hole of legislative and administrative conformity to ensure the survival of the “system” at all costs.
It seems most of our dull-witted politicians, who are selected for high office by the Donor Class due to their malleability – the plasticity of their loyalties, ethics and moral justification when acting contrary to the needs of their constituents – understand up-front where their loyalties lay when they accept tens-of-thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from influential individuals and corporations under their control.
They don’t have to be told.
Most recipients of enormous campaign contributions instinctively understand that the financial advantage granted by their political benefactors comes with certain strings and expectations attached.
Fortunately, a precious few try and live up to the letter and spirit of their oath of office.
A prime example of just how ugly things can get when the super-majority of our wholly compromised Volusia County Council encounters a “colleague” who won’t join them at the hip in service to uber-wealthy insiders and ingrained bureaucrats who use our elected officials like dull farm implements is the case of District Four Councilwoman Heather Post.
Since taking office last January, Post has been beaten like a borrowed mule by her fellow council members; repeatedly marginalized, laughed at, maligned and discredited – and now denied a senior leadership role in a statewide organization.
Because she had the temerity to buck an entrenched power structure that provides political insulation and protection to those who get along and go along in favor of serving her constituents with a refreshing sense of independence rarely seen in DeLand – that’s why.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, earlier this month when the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys made the announcement that she would be serving as chairwoman of the Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization, the result was a foregone conclusion.
Deb Denys didn’t ask – she announced.
It wasn’t a request – it was Deb’s right as a member of the club in good standing.
Conversely, when Ms. Post sought a letter of support for an appointment to the Florida Association of Counties executive board, her “colleagues” first voted to spend $62,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars to “stay engaged” with the association – then, flat-out denied Post’s respectful request to assume a leadership role with the same organization.
It seems our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, “doesn’t trust” Ms. Post and – even though she was duly elected by the people to represent their interests – would never support her for a statewide role representing Volusia County citizens because she all too often eschews groupthink in favor of standing for the best interests of her constituents.
Did anyone expect anything different?
History tells us that independent thought and working to expose institutionalized ineptitude are cardinal sins at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – punishable by personal and professional destruction.
Look, I’m the first to admit – I haven’t always been kind to Ms. Post on the pages of this blog site.
In my view, it took her a long time to find her own voice – and some of Ms. Post’s early stumbles and foibles were truly cringe-worthy.
But, in time, Councilwoman Post rose to her calling and demonstrated true statesmanship during several controversial issues that most of her “colleagues” would have preferred to sweep under the political rug.
Specifically, her courageous challenge to former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s farcical reign was truly impressive – and she valiantly championed the citizens right to know – exposing serious issues with essential county services and facilities.
In my view, she demonstrated the ability to give as good as she got – and had the fortitude and perseverance to keep up the pressure in the face of withering apathy in a room full of insouciant assholes who just knew their well-protected facilitator had nothing to worry about – until he did.
And it ultimately cost Ms. Post the ability to serve her constituents on a larger stage, all because a demonstrably mendacious churl like Old Ed Kelley doesn’t “trust” her.
How typical. . .
Angel: State Attorney R. J. Larizza
Kudos to State Attorney R. J. Larizza and his incredibly talented staff for having the wisdom to see Deltona City Manager Jane Shang’s misuse of law enforcement for what it was – a mean-spirited, spurious and clearly retaliatory attack designed to suppress lawful citizen dissent.
Earlier this year, Shang ordered the city’s finance director, Tracy Hooper, to sign a formal affidavit charging Brandy White, a concerned citizen and civic activist who has worked tirelessly to expose the abject dysfunction and ineptitude of the Shang administration, with a serious felony crime.
According to reports, in April, Ms. White went to City Hall to obtain the results of a public records request regarding the city’s controversial civic center. To document the encounter with public officials, White used her cellular phone to record her interaction with Hooper in a public area of the building.
In turn, Shang – apparently with the full knowledge and acquiescence of Deltona’s horribly broken City Commission – directed Hooper to provide a sworn complaint to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office alleging intentional interception of oral communications.
When this serious charge had the desired effect of silencing Ms. White – in May, Shang used the same appalling tactic against another critic – Patricia Gibson – when she rightfully pointed out state licensing issues with a caterer hired by the City of Deltona.
According to the intrepid Katie Kustura, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In a memo issued late last week, Assistant State Attorney Christopher Indelicato wrote that the state wouldn’t be able to prove even a “prima facie” case against Brandy White on a charge of intentional interception of oral communication.”
In typical fashion, the City of Deltona failed to respond to Reporter Kustura’s request for comment earlier this week.
Of course, they didn’t. Responding to the questions of the working press would show a modicum of respect for the normal checks and balances of civic accountability by people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest.
In Deltona, the Shang administration does what it wants – when it wants – and if that takes the form of a bull in a china shop – using the full might of government to suppress citizen dissent – then so be it.
As I have previously written on this disgusting matter, if you’re not moved to seething rage – perhaps you need to rethink what’s at stake here.
I write this blog to bring attention to shit like this – a wholly dysfunctional and completely compromised pseudo-government run amok – public officials (in the loosest sense of the term) who set upon outspoken critics like a pack of rabid wolves and crush opposition under the iron boot of an incestuous system intent on preserving the status quo regardless of who or what they have to destroy in the process.
Now that Ms. White has been spared the personal terror and life altering mutilation of her character and good name that the threat of a felony charge brings, it’s time for Governor Rick Scott, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney to turn their focus to the likes of Jane Shang and those elected officials who have repeatedly abused their constituents, flagrantly violated both the letter and spirit of our sacred open records law and blatantly misused the omnipotent power of the law to secure an advantage over the citizens they ostensibly exist to serve.
If he hasn’t already done so, I hope Sheriff Mike Chitwood will clearly explain to Jane Shang that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office isn’t her personal Tonton Macoute.
It’s wrong, dammit – and this gross intimidation cannot stand.
Angel: Robert Baumer, Ormond Beach
Several weeks ago, while doing the monthly Barker’s View appearance on the GovStuff Live radio forum with Big John, the host and I were lamenting the fact that the weekly driveway litter known as the Ormond Beach Observer has become an organ of incumbent City Commission candidates and the darling of the big money developers who are underwriting them.
Our prescient discussion was validated this week with an excellent piece by T. S. Jarmusz, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, who exposed the intricacies of a complaint recently filed with the Florida Elections Commission by Ormond Beach resident Robert Baumer.
According to reports, Mr. Baumer alleges that Ormond Proud, a political action committee apparently formed to support incumbent candidates, violated state spending laws.
The situation doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of the political bent and business practices of the Ormond Beach Observer. . .
Earlier this year, a grassroots advocacy known as Citizens and Neighbors Dedicated to Ormond II, sprung from the environmental atrocity on Granada Boulevard where some 2,061 trees, including old-growth hardwoods, were churned into an ugly black muck to make way for what we would later learn was a WaWa convenience store and a third-tier discount grocery.
The sight of wildlife fleeing the scene of this ecological insult shocked our collective conscience – and set in motion a larger discussion about how much our quality of life is worth – compared to the profit potential of wealthy developers who are intent on building something, anything, on every square inch of natural space.
It became a Tale of Two Cities – a population divided by the simple belief that planned, sustainable growth that respects the quality of life for all residents is preferable to slash and burn land clearing operations and suburban sprawl.
In time, CANDO II came to the realization that the only way to truly protect the rights and vision of citizens was to become actively involved in the city’s political process – which has become so stagnant that a few incumbent politicians have held office for years – and they formed a PAC to support smart growth alternative candidates.
Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the entrenched power structure of speculative developers and the hangers-on who get rich transforming greenspace into half-empty strip centers.
The battle lines were drawn.
In my view, the Ormond Beach Observer became little more than the propaganda arm of the Ormond Proud camp – printing a series of full-page advertisements touting incumbent commissioners, and new comer Susan Persis, a Big Money shill – and running a slew of lop-sided editorials virtually deifying Granada Pointe developer Paul Holub.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a few counter-arguments on the Op/Ed page, but it became readily apparent, even to a dunce like me, which side of the political fence the Observer fell on.
As I understand it, the problem came when Ormond Proud – the PAC who ostensibly took out those massive advertisements – failed to report the cost associated with Observer ads until mid-October when reports show a $5,000 expenditure on October 11 for “September 2018 ads.”
The expenditure entry came after The News-Journal began questioning five Ormond Proud ads published in September.
Current state election laws require that candidates book expenditures for political advertisements before they run – and strictly prohibits a newspaper or media outlet from charging one candidate more for ads than they do another.
According to the News-Journal, “Ormond Proud Treasurer Sheriff Guindi (a commercial and residential real estate agent) said he didn’t pay for the ads until then because the Observer had not yet invoiced the PAC for them and that he had to call the paper to request an invoice.”
“Guindi said Ormond Proud had the funds by the time they were billed to pay for the Observer ads, but “I just don’t know how you pay a bill before you receive it.”
I don’t know either – but I do know the treasurer of a political action committee should have a working understanding of the already lax rules and regulations governing campaign finance reporting – especially in an environment where literally anything goes.
“Apparently, the $5,000 the Observer charged Ormond Proud for the PAC’s five September ads differs from the advertising rates the Observer quoted CANDO2 organizers.”
However, Ormond Beach Observer Publisher John Walsh flatly denied that Ormond Proud was given any special consideration.
Mr. Walsh’s assurances aside – CANDO II organizer Julie Sipes said her PAC was quoted substantially higher rates for ads they ran – costs which would run some $775.00 more than that paid by Ormond Proud, with an additional 20% for a back-page spread.
Sipes also said CANDO II paid for advertising in advance – which is common practice with The Daytona Beach News-Journal and other reputable media organizations.
Interestingly, the prices quoted by CANDO II matched those received by a News-Journal staffer who contacted the Observer to obtain weekly fees for political ads.
“In either case, at that rate the Ormond Proud ads would have cost $9,230.”
To make matters worse, in recent correspondence, Ormond Proud Chairman Scott Edwards claimed that Volusia County Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis “cleared” Ormond Proud of the allegations.
Because Ms. Lewis, speaking in the News-Journal, “. . .said that while she didn’t discuss laws or statutes, she couldn’t fathom how Edwards could’ve left the call thinking what he was doing was OK.”
In my view, this is a perfect example of how low one is forced to stoop in order to hold office in Ormond Beach. It’s dirty tricks – and when the unscrupulous practices of a widely distributed community newspaper benefit one political candidate or issue over another it skews the playing field and bleeds hard-won donations.
Now, the Florida Elections Commission will sort the wheat from the chaff in this case – but I want to send a tip ‘o the Barker’s View scally cap to Robert Baumer for standing firm to the principles of fair play and exposing this potential violation to the proper authorities.
It’s heartening to know that concerned citizens are engaging in the process and holding political action committees, candidates and their financial supporters accountable for the false manipulation of the political process – a scourge that has plagued Volusia County for decades.
Quote of the Week:
“We the elected council represent you and your will,” Kelley said. “We’re the ones that determine where your money is spent.”
–Volusia County Council Chair and Poster Boy for Convenient Memory Disorder Ed Kelley, as quoted in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Amendment 10: Sheriff in favor, Volusia County Council Chair says vote no.”
Wow. Anyone else with two-synapses still firing shocked by that statement?
Okay. How about Old Ed’s even more disturbing comment marginalizing Councilwoman Heather Post’s concerns in the News-Journal this week when he gushed, “Six of us are not going to make a decision that is detrimental to the people. Everything we have done is in the best interest of the public.”?
(Sorry. I just upchucked in my mouth a little. . .)
When I first read these whoppers, I paused (quite literally stunned), “He can’t possibly be serious?”
Then, I read it again – thinking it was one of those weird Zen koans – some paradoxical riddle, an enigmatic and seemingly unsolvable word puzzle that is so abstract – so inherently opposite to our known base of knowledge and grasp on reality that it challenges our inner-most rational mind and causes us to push past ordinary logic into the realm of the metaphysical.
Then I thought, “Is Chairman Kelley really that delusional?”
Look, like all of us, I’m getting older – and I find myself falling victim to the many mental frailties of age – including the curse (and blessing) of a convenient memory. That means I pay intense attention to the hedonistic pleasures of the semi-retired life – while completely ignoring the list of boring housekeeping chores and errands orchestrated by my long-suffering wife.
But I never intentionally deceive myself into thinking that I am incapable of making poor choices – the evidence suggests I’ve been doing that quite successfully for the past 58-years. In fact, in the unlikely event someone erects a monument to my life and times, the simple phrase “Whiskey and Bad Decisions” will be indelibly engraved upon it. . .
As an observer of Volusia County politics, I am consistently amazed by the stratospheric level of hubris – the unmitigated arrogance – that pervades the halls of power in DeLand – never better exemplified than by Chairman Kelley’s fallacious belief in his own infallibility.
In my view, this unique ability of our elected officials to create a false reality in their own cloudy minds is most glaring in nonsensical statements like Mr. Kelley’s “will of the people” gibberish (which I have no doubt was completely heartfelt and uttered with that slack-jawed, slightly vacant visage Mr. Kelley is widely known for.)
Over time, we’ve simply come to expect that politicians will blatantly lie to us when it serves their purpose.
But I’ve always felt it dangerous when powerful public officials engage in the self-indulgent pursuit of lying to themselves.
That’s a slippery slope.
And Another Thing!
In Volusia County, residents know that no bad idea ever really goes away.
In fact, the timing of plans for spending huge sums of money to replace existing county facilities that have been allowed to strategically rot due to a lack of care and maintenance are so consistent you can set your watch by them.
In March 2016, I was asked to write a piece for the News-Journal’s Community Voices column detailing the efforts of former County Manager Jim Dinneen to frighten taxpayers into footing the bill on a Taj Mahal-like $19 million consolidated public works facility near Samsula.
Given the public outcry over this flawed plan to merge and centralize essential services in a county the size of Rhode Island – even our elected dullards on the Volusia County Council had the good sense to call bullshit.
Then, in December 2017, Dinneen’s ham-handed attempt to repackage the purchase of 132 acres off State Road 44 – for more than twice its appraised value – somehow got put on the Council’s agenda “by accident.”
Yeah, right. . .
Now, just like clockwork, the idea has been resurrected by county road and bridge director Judy Grim, who’s telling anyone who’ll listen scary stories about flooding and other issues at the county’s Holly Hill facility – which has been serving the needs of area residents in one form or another for over 30-years.
In the latest iteration of the Grand Plan, Grim wants to build a brand-new facility on Indian Lake Road, so, naturally, this week the Council was asked to approve a $285,000 land purchase to make way for a structure with an estimated cost of $9 million.
Anyone familiar with the Holly Hill Road & Bridge facility knows that, for years, the compound was allowed to rot under Mr. Dinneen’s practice of “strategic neglect” – where county-owned buildings and facilities were allowed to become blighted, overgrown shitholes so he could later claim a pseudo-emergency and demonstrate the need for yet another luxury facility.
For most of my adult life I worked for a small municipal government in Volusia County. Our core services were housed in a City Hall that is now some 75-years old and going strong.
How, you may ask, could a government building possibly remain serviceable for three-quarters of a century? It’s called ‘preventive maintenance’ – much like your own home may require – and when spread over time is an economical way of ensuring public assets remain efficient and effective.
It’s also called taking pride in public service.
This was a bad idea in 2016 – and, even though its been pared down a bit, it’s still a bad idea today.
Perhaps entrenched senior bureaucrats like Judy Grim should spend more time focused on providing quality services to residents in the most effective and efficient means possible with the plentiful resources available – rather than constantly wringing their hands and lamenting all the things they don’t have (like a luxurious new $9 million facility on even more acreage that’s now off the tax rolls).
In my view, it’s the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement in Volusia County government – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials – that allows this atrocious cycle to continue.
Our elected officials never seem to understand that the money these facilities are purchased with represent the very real sacrifices of their constituents – young families, business owners, elderly residents living on fixed incomes – and I couldn’t care less if County bureaucrats are inconvenienced by being asked to make do with the ample facilities and resources already allocated.
That’s all for me, folks!
Have a great fall weekend, kids!