There are three perplexities of life that I’ll never understand – women, long division and the reasoning of the Volusia County electorate.
Just when I think I’ve got any one of those enigmatic conundrums figured out – whammo – I realize just how galactically uniformed I truly am.
Such was the case on Tuesday evening as local election returns began to trickle in.
As usual, I spent a very anxious evening sitting in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, drinking heavily – ear to the radio – listening to Marc Bernier, Mike Scuidero and Pat Northey call the game.
The margins were, by and large, razor thin.
And, three days after the fact – in typical Florida fashion – we still don’t have a clear winner in key races, like the Governor’s office – or know with certainty who our new United States Senator may be. . .
Jesus – does this dysfunction ever end?
Regular readers of this forum know that I consider myself something of a dilettante editorialist and political critic – which means I’m essentially a self-righteous blowhard who snipes at those actually in the arena from the sidelines.
Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it might seem. . .
In order to form critical opinions on the issues of the day, it’s important to stay abreast of current affairs (in other words, ‘I read the paper’), occasionally have a cold beer with a few of our ‘movers & shakers’ for an inside peek at what may be happening behind the bureaucratic curtain, and put myself into a coma of boredom skimming consultant reports and studies to get at that kernel of truth our powers-that-be might not want us to know.
But, no matter how hard I try, I cannot predict the outcome of local political races.
For instance, in the Volusia County Council races – “Sleepy” Pat Patterson might be out on his narcoleptic ass (pending a recount) – while the always arrogant District 3 Councilwoman Deb Denys was returned to office. Handily.
It’s just one reason why Barker’s View stopped making political endorsements – not that most serious candidates for public office want to be associated with these screeds – but, more often than you might think, various candidates for high office confidentially reach out for my support and advise.
It’s incredibly flattering to be asked. Foolish and wrong-headed, but flattering. . .
I tell them, if you really want to get elected in Volusia County, you are far better served groveling at the expensively shod feet of billionaire insurance magnate J. Hyatt Brown – or kissing the sizeable backside of the All-Powerful High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini – than asking a shitheel like me to navigate your budding political career.
The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that candidates bankrolled by Hyatt, Mori and other “Rich & Powerful” Fun Coast insiders rise like fine cream – regardless of how impossibly compromised, incompetent or ethically challenged they may be – while truly good people, like Daytona Beach’s intrepid neighborhood activist, Amy Pyle, come up short despite their incredibly hard work and true commitment to improving their community.
Why is that?
Where is the inherent fairness in a system that allows oligarchs and the corporations and shell companies they control to funnel cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates and compromised incumbents – providing them the financial wherewithal to gain name recognition and regional exposure through incredibly expensive strategic advertising – while grassroots political newcomers (or those who refuse to toe the party line) invariably become also-rans?
I’m asking. . . because it has become incredibly frustrating to watch – and disheartening to those who have the courage to stand for elective office, face the fickle whims of an often-uninformed electorate, and put it all on the line for a chance to serve.
If you figure it out, let me know.
Regardless, here’s a hearty congratulations to those incumbents and newcomers who won on Tuesday – and my sincere appreciation to everyone who worked so hard, endured the slings-and-arrows of political rhetoric, walked hundreds of miles knocking on doors and spent their days and nights meeting with fellow citizens to explain their unique path forward.
It is those who actually participate – as candidates and voters – that make our democracy work.
Regardless of whether or not we agree on the issues – if you stood tall and said “send me” – I am incredibly thankful for your personal commitment to this important process – and for your willingness to serve a cause greater than your own self-interest.
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: Our Local Journalism Community
Although I write about the news and newsmakers here on Florida’s Fun Coast, I’m certainly not a journalist.
Far from it.
I lack any of those important attributes that separate opinionated hacks like me from those who report on the issues of the day – things like professionalism, integrity, fairness, objectivity and the communication skills to explain complex issues to an often-skeptical and wholly uninformed public.
We have more than our share of self-inflicted problems in Volusia County – but one of our most cherished blessings is the quality of the hard-working reporters and editorialists in our local print and electronic media.
During a long career in public service, I had the pleasure of serving with some incredibly talented reporters, journalists and photojournalists – true professionals who have dedicated themselves to bringing the stories that affect our lives and livelihoods into our homes, and, in the process, enrich our lives and educate our opinions through their work.
When you stand around crime scenes together at three o’ clock in the morning, drinking coffee and swapping stories, you develop working relationships with reporters.
In time, a sense of trust develops that creates a professional bond which allows those who make the news to discuss intimate details “off the record” with those who report it – safe in the knowledge that the integrity of the issue won’t be compromised – while allowing the working press the background knowledge they need to flesh out the story.
In time, if you’re fortunate like I was, lifelong friendships develop.
Last weekend, ‘the best of the best’ in local media joined together in Mt. Dora for the 68th annual Florida Press Club banquet. In total, The Daytona Beach News-Journal took home an incredible 25 awards for excellence in journalism – including the prestigious Lucy Morgan Award for In-depth Reporting.
News-Journal honorees include:
Suzanne Hirt, Seth Robbins, Tony Jarmusz, Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Dinah Voyles Pulver, Jim Abbott, Ken Willis, Mark Lane, Chris Bridges, Lola Gomez, Jim Tiller, David Tucker, and Tony Holt.
Other local winners include the talented Dan Ryan – Historian and Senior Writer for Bethune-Cookman University Athletics – who received First Place in the Class C-D Sports Column section!
In addition to being one of the best collegiate sports writers in the business, Dan is a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe who frequently contributes content ideas for this segment.
I am forever grateful for his spot-on analysis, tough criticism, and, most of all, for his consistent and passionate advocacy for the Wildcat Nation.
I also want to recognize the exceptional work of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s very talented young reporter, Dustin Wyatt – who brings life to the important issues of the day in the difficult arena of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand – a tough beat where openness, cooperation and transparency is almost non-existent.
A place where, more often than not, what passes for a “press release” is trotted out by professional mouthpieces – and more than once a senior administrator has been filmed skedaddling away from the glare of a news camera like a diseased rat. . .
And kudos to gifted journalists like Katie Kustura and Patricio Balona – who cover Wild West Volusia for the News-Journal – working reporters who are actually down in the trenches where the news happens, covering accident and crime scenes, working the phones, tracking down stories in the Halls of Power and living rooms of victims and witnesses – to bring us the stories that touch our lives.
Here’s a tip o’ the Barker’s View scally cap to all the reporters and photojournalists whose work is so vitally important to our republic, and our society, as they report the news and hold the powerful accountable.
So, if you’re a working journalist who wasn’t duly honored by your peers in the Florida Press Club last week – give yourself a Barker’s View Gold Star!
Asshole: The Baffling Bullshit of “Project Palm”
I wrote about this earlier in the week in a post entitled, “On Volusia: Keeping Secrets,” but it bears repeating:
Perhaps the most important contribution of this opinion blog in driving a larger discussion of the issues is my intimate familiarity with the inner-workings of municipal government.
I lived it my entire adult life. The good, the bad and the ugly.
I’m not talking about the mechanics of essential service delivery, budgets, or the benefits and challenges of the Council/Manager form of government – I’m talking about the crap that binds up the wheels, gears and pinions from time-to-time – the internecine wars, the personal vendettas, the backbiting, the political machinations, the petty power grabs and how some unscrupulous managers and elected officials use information rationing, fear and internal intimidation to control the political and legislative processes in the often cloistered environment of a City Hall.
I lived through some truly strange times during my career – and I’ve come within a hair’s breadth of being sacrificed on the altar of small-town, and small-minded, politics.
That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when I read of the intrigues that lead to the ham-handed coup d’état in the City of Edgewater last week.
The unceremonious firing of City Manager Tracy Barlow had everything a good political thriller should have, a surprise attack at a seemingly innocuous public meeting – a bold move either orchestrated in advance or the result of mob mentality – the “blood in the water” syndrome that drives the sharks on the dais of power into a frenzy.
Before you know it – the voice of the people is silenced or ignored, angry motions are made, votes are taken, and the professional lifecycle of the City Manager comes full circle.
Then, like the song says, it’s all over but the crying.
Nothing left to do but write the massive severance check that normally stands as a deterrent to these knee-jerk reactions. . .
What followed was a hyper-dramatic threat by now lame duck Mayor Mike Ignasiak to step-down – claiming that he would refuse to serve even if the citizens of Edgewater return him to office during the general election.
Turns out Hizzoner didn’t need to worry about it. The voters sent him packing on Tuesday. . .
What made the Edgewater bloodletting unique is that it exposed something truly disturbing – the all too frequent practice of a local government negotiating public/private partnerships in utter secrecy.
Using the cloak of “non-disclosure agreements” to thwart transparency, and the notion of “open government,” elected and appointed officials hammer out lucrative incentive packages to feather the nests of corporations who blow into town with the promise of “jobs” and leave with wheelbarrows full of tax abatements, infrastructure and financial subsidies.
Clearly, this spurious strategy is alive and well in the City of Edgewater.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Now, some leaders say the mystery project known only as “Project Palm” — which people close to the project say would be “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” to the local economy — seems to be in peril because of the recent upheaval at City Hall. Meanwhile, others say there is still hope for the deal that could bring more than 500 jobs to the city.”
From the little we can glean; the project involves a massive automated distribution center for an unnamed retailer which would be built on 300-acres owned by the Miami Corporation just west of Interstate 95 off State Road 442.
According to Ignasiak, following the council’s tumultuous meeting, he received a message from the Memphis-based site selection firm who has been helping the mysterious company evaluate the Edgewater location – and others – announcing that the deal was off and that the distribution center would be moving “outside of Gainesville.”
Oddly, when the News-Journal reached the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys for comment – she contradicted Mayor Ignasiak – claiming “we are still in play, the deal is still very much alive.”
“We think this is just a political posturing thing by the site selector to get into a better position,” Denys said. “We don’t want to say it’s dead because it’s not.”
Whoever “We” is apparently includes our own Camera Stellata, known colloquially as the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, who is elbow deep in yet another burgeoning fiasco.
Speaking in the News-Journal, president of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples (who’s “leadership” has brought us the American Music Festival debacle and assisted in the unraveling of Bethune-Cookman University) told reporters Casmira Harrison and Clayton Park:
“Tracey Barlow was instrumental as a member of our collaborative team,” said Sharples, adding that the team includes the city, county, Team Volusia, CEO Business Alliance and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. “Taking him out of the equation on Friday didn’t help but Mayor Ignasiak (in a conference call on Saturday) agreed to stay the course. We were able to reassure the client (Project Palm) that the city would fulfill its obligations,” Sharples said.
And herein lies the problem – it seems everyone who is anyone in the Fun Coast Economic Development apparatus is “on the team” – except the long-suffering taxpayers of Edgewater and Volusia County?
Why is it that only those who stand to make a quick buck through the liberal application of public funds to underwrite a for-profit private project are privy to watching the sausage being made?
What about us? The hapless rubes who pay the bills?
Well, we’re apparently prohibited from participating in the super-secret negotiations – or even being made aware of the existence of this surreptitious $300 million game changer until some small-town political shit show exposed it – under the guise of compromising some competitive advantage.
Exactly what “obligations” are We, the People required to fulfill?
How will Volusia County ultimately sweeten the deal?
How many tax dollars is a warehouse job worth?
And who the hell is Kent Sharples to speak for the City of Edgewater?
Now, Denise Mott, vice president of the Tennessee-based site selection firm J. M. Mullis, Inc., is claiming that Councilwoman Denys’ comments to the News-Journal on the status of the deal were “completely false.”
According to Mott, Ms. Denys’ reckless yammering about things she knows nothing about “. . .caused our Firm to make the decision to remove any other potential sites in Volusia County which could have been considered for this project.”
(That’s why we can’t have nice things. . .)
Apparently, Deb was using the “Royal We” – the majestic plural – when she was spouting off in the newspaper about political posturing, because, come to find out, she didn’t have a damn thing to do with the direct negotiations of this deal at all – now modestly describing her role as more “behind the scenes.”
Which, given the way our Volusia County Council members are historically kept in the dark and fed on horseshit by senior administrators – Deb probably read about “Project Palm” in the newspaper just like the rest of us. . .
At the end of the day, Mike Mullis, president of the site selection firm, advised that it was Miami Corporations refusal to budge on the price that killed the deal – and assured us they were not posturing and maneuvering to leverage incentives.
(Sorry, I just shot coffee out of my nose. . .)
In my view, this is another prime example why local governments have no business insinuating themselves into the private marketplace – picking winners and losers and skewing the playing field by negotiating bullshit “job growing” subsidies and incentives behind the backs of their constituents in secretive bartering sessions – then writing checks that you and I will ultimately be forced to cash.
Asshole: Daytona Beach City Commission
To his credit, when it came right down to it – Daytona Beach City Commissioner Rob “Gilligan” Gilliland had a crisis of conscience and did the right thing.
On Wednesday evening in a 6-1 vote, with Mr. Gilliland casting the lone “No,” the Daytona Beach City Commission approved a contract with APM Construction Corporation of New Smyrna Beach to build the languishing First Step Shelter on public land west of I-95 for an estimated $4.3 million.
Three years ago when publicly funded solutions to the “homeless problem” were still being debated ad nauseum (back before the Volusia County Council simply threw $2.5 million of our money at the very complex issue and walked away, leaving Daytona Beach holding the bag) I made the prescient prediction that the long-suffering citizens of the Halifax area would get a homeless assistance center the exact minute our ‘movers & shakers’ decided who gets a slice of the pie.
Just as I foretold, a weird ‘cart before the horse’ strategy was set in motion which saw the site prep, foundation and footers being completed before a general contractor was even identified.
In turn, this debacle degenerated into a convoluted scheme that allows P&S Paving – a member in good standing of the camarilla of uber-wealthy insiders over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – to extract and sell lucrative fill dirt from the massive 626-acre site – essentially setting the market during perhaps the biggest development surge in Volusia County history.
What 20-acre lakes and fill dirt mining on public property have to do with getting the First Step shelter out of the ground is beyond me – but this confounding arrangement with P&S Paving stands to benefit the prolific government contractor to the tune of an estimated $14 million – over three-times the contracted construction costs for the completed facility. . .
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, citizen activist Anne Ruby all but begged commissioners to abandon the current plan in favor of a less expensive tensile fabric option, “We need a homeless shelter, but this escalating cost requires a review.”
I agree with Anne.
Unfortunately, the only ones that seem to matter – the Daytona Beach City Commission – have committed themselves (and our tax dollars) to the rigid view that we’re too far down the trail to turn around now.
According to Mayor Derrick Henry, “I don’t like the price, but we’ve already paid the price as a community,” Henry said. “I’m not prepared to take a road that takes us backwards.”
I have a hobby-job in the flight training industry where mitigating risk is all we do.
We teach fledgling pilots who get themselves into trouble by inadvertently flying into instrument conditions – where the risk of spatial disorientation is incredibly high – to recognize their predicament quickly and initiate a standard rate 180-degree turn, essentially go back the way they came, until they get themselves out of danger.
Because blundering further into the storm is guaranteed to have catastrophic results.
Here endeth the lesson. . .
Quote of the Week:
“This is one of the most divisive races I have ever seen in Ormond Beach,” Kent said. “I look forward to mending fences and bringing our community back together.”
–Ormond Beach City Commissioner and Craven Developer’s Shill Troy Kent, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal following the Grand Slam by the Good ol’ Boy’s Club, “Ormond incumbents fend off growth critics,” Wednesday, November 7, 2018
In a very telling photograph – obviously taken at the victory soiree for the horribly compromised clique of unanimously re-elected incumbents on the Ormond Beach City Commission – Commissioner Troy Kent apparently started “mending fences” with his hopelessly divided community by posing with his back-slappin’ buddies on the dais of power in a goofy cowboy costume – complete with ten-gallon hat and boots – looking for all the world like some self-important “Boss Hogg” cartoon character – brandishing a filthy broom to signify their ‘clean sweep.’
Yep. Looked like a regular Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch. . .
In order to sooth the still raw emotions of many of his constituents who value quality of life over the wealth-building strategies of the privileged few, Mr. Kent’s supporters placed a massive electronic highway sign near the right-of-way on Granada Boulevard – near the scene of the environmental abattoir known as “Granada Pointe” – blazing away with a crude swipe at those dedicated civic activists known as Citizens and Neighbors Devoted to Ormond:
“THANKS ORMOND – NO CANDO”
So much for the old “magnanimous in victory, gracious in defeat” thing, eh?
Great way to start the healing, Commissioner. . .
You know what I found interesting?
Following Tuesday’s election – just for grins – I contacted Ormond Beach City Clerk Lisa Dahme to ask for a copy of the permit for the massive digital sign that also flashed the names of Ormond’s anointed incumbent politicians for days before the election.
I mean, if you or I want to establish temporary advertising or political signage in Ormond Beach – we would expect to submit an application for review, pay the required fee, then receive a formal permit from the Chief Building Official before erecting a lighted industrial sign on the shoulder of a State Road.
That’s why I found Ms. Dhame’s concise response to my inquiry so odd:
“There are no records associated with this request. There was not a sign permit applied for or issued.”
I guess the rules are different for ol’ Troy and the Boys, eh?
Now, before you wild-eyed members of the new “Ormond In-Crowd” get your ass on your shoulders and start screaming – “We didn’t need a permit, asshole!”
- Yes, you did.
- I don’t care.
At the end of the day, Ormond Beach residents got a good look at what passes for the democratic process in our beautiful community – and even if your particular candidate won the day – most will admit it wasn’t pretty.
I’m afraid the rancor and political acrimony from both camps has dramatically frayed the fabric of Ormond Beach – and the cost is still being tabulated. In addition to seeing our once-respected elected officials sell their very souls to speculative developers and others who make their living churning greenspace into strip malls – we watched as the Ormond Beach Observer imploded in a foul gray fog of political favoritism after getting so deliriously involved with the re-election of incumbent candidates that the community broadsheet took on the appearance of a cheap political propaganda machine.
Now, the Observer’s publisher, John Walsh, stands before us like some half-repentant Jimmy Swaggart, begging forgiveness for his transgressions: “Allow me to be straight-forward and brutally honest: We did give the Ormond Proud PAC a discount on our full-page rate. That was wrong, and I take responsibility.”
Mr. Walsh is apologizing to anyone who will listen for the blatant political partisanship that relegated his paper to the driveway litter category – the birdcage liner of hometown news – after having lost the only thing that matters in his business: Credibility.
In the aftermath of this shit show that pitted uber-wealthy insiders against their environmentally concerned neighbors – good people who simply want common sense growth management and a modicum of impartiality by those who are elected to represent our interests – we are left with the sobering realization that as much as we try and deny it – money and greed remain the controlling factors at City Hall – and the rest of us are a mere nuisance to their twisted idea of “progress.”
I hope it was worth it.
And Another Thing!
There is absolutely nothing more important to me than the safety and security of our precious children and grandchildren.
The tragic events in Tallahassee have turned a very bright light on the hiring practices of the Volusia County School District.
I have some experience with the Districts pre-employment process – because earlier this year I answered a call to service from Sheriff Michael Chitwood to stand as an armed “School Guardian” in the aftermath of the Parkland atrocity.
With over 31-years of law enforcement and military training, I felt my unique qualifications and skill set would be a perfect complement to the Guardian program – after all, the management of critical incidents and response to life-threatening emergencies is all I know.
Apparently, I didn’t cut the mustard. . .
For reasons known only to administrators, after a series of very active communications with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – when my application and qualifications were sent to the School District – I never received so much as a call back.
I was shocked and disappointed (although not surprised) that I wasn’t afforded so much as an interview. After all, who wants a politically active blogger on the payroll?
I get it. I don’t agree with it. But I get it.
What I don’t understand is how Deltona coward, Scott Paul Beierle – the scumbag with an incredibly checkered past – who shot and killed two innocent people and wounded five others in a Tallahassee yoga studio last week, was hired as a full-time teacher at Hinson Middle School before being terminated less than three-weeks later.
Then, inexplicably, he was apparently re-hired and allowed to serve as a substitute in various elementary, middle and high school classrooms some 187 times before again being fired earlier this year after inappropriately touching a female student.
But here’s where things really get disturbing:
According to a report by WFTV, “The year before going to the Volusia County School District, officials with Leon County Schools said Beierle was fired from his substitute teaching job in Leon County after looking at porn during class.”
Now, as Beierle rots in hell, School Board member Carl Persis and area media outlets are rightly asking the difficult question – Why wasn’t this information obtained and evaluated before Beierle was allowed unfettered access to vulnerable children in the ostensibly safe environment of the Volusia County School System?
The Channel 9 report claims, “The district says Beierle passed a federal and state criminal background check. Police reports show Beierle was arrested and charged with battery after allegedly groping women at least twice. The charges were later dropped, so there were no convictions to show up on the background checks.”
Perhaps most disturbing – had Volusia human resources and safety managers bothered to ask – they would have learned that when Beierle applied for a substitute teaching position in Leon County, employees reported that he was acting “extremely nervous, was rude, and had a scary and angry look on his face.”
In fact, they were so frightened of this creepy bastard that administrators locked the doors when he left and suggested that he not be hired after learning his on-line application password was “carnifex” – which translates to “executioner.” Chilling.
The district hired him anyway.
As often happens after-the-fact, within hours of the tragic events in Tallahassee, details of Beierle’s fucked-up life began to emerge – including the fact he had been banned from the Florida State University campus and accused of “grabbing” women.
Clearly, had someone at Volusia County Schools put in the effort they might have learned these minor details about the applicant – like, as a substitute teacher, he likes to pass the time watching porn in the classroom – and sitting around with his hand down his pants – but that would require a genuine dedication to vetting those who have contact with children beyond a simple criminal history check.
Legitimate investigators call it GOYAKOD – “Get off your ass and knock on doors.”
In my view, the professional competency and hiring practices of Superintendent Tom Russell and his “Cabinet” need an immediate top-to-bottom review – including the purge of any senior administrator who failed to have the foresight and good judgement to recognize that this monster was unfit to be in the same room with our children and grandchildren.
To the extent humanly possible, when parents pack their children off to the care of Volusia County Schools, they should be able to do so with a modicum of confidence that administrators have acted in their best interest – rather than just going through the motions – and it is becoming increasingly obvious that they did not.
Thanks to a petty move by our current Volusia County School Board designed to stick a thumb in the eye of the teacher’s union – we’re stuck with Mr. Russell’s unique brand of “leadership” for another two-years. . .
That’s all for me – have a great weekend my friends. . .