Welcome to the weekend!
I’m Barker – your hyper-opinionated scribe – bringing you my inane thoughts on the important issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!
Regular readers of this weekly grab-bag of political bloviations know that what you see, is what you get.
I don’t sugarcoat it, folks.
There’s no hard-candy shell on my viewpoints – and they are best taken with a stiff cocktail – an open mind – and an evolved sense of humor.
In addition to this blog site – on the second Monday of each month, Barker’s View is proud to co-host GovStuff Live! with Big John – Central Florida’s premiere educational, informational and inspirational local forum broadcast daily from 4:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. on 1380 AM “The Cat.”
Those of you familiar with the program know that Big John provides a wealth of information – “Snippets” of news and information important to residents of the Halifax area – and his in-depth knowledge of the players – and behind-the-scenes machinations of government – provides his listeners with a great overview of the issues during the “fastest two-hours in radio.”
For as long as I can remember, every Friday afternoon, a smart friend and I gather for what we call “Beer and Big” – a listening party of sorts – where we take in GovStuff Live! over a few cold brews, contemplate the week that was and solve the problems of the world.
My role as Big’s once-a-month slack-jawed sidekick is to add an alternative opinion – and while we don’t always see eye-to-eye – those who listen tell me they enjoy hearing our distinctly different points of view and often irreverent take on current events that drives a larger discussion in the community.
But, not everyone agrees. . .
Earlier this week, the radio station received a terse note from a dissatisfied listener who commented, “Barker is a person who is totally opinionated. Too much for me. Please do not allow him to be on your show anymore.”
Well, he’s nothing if not observant. . .
Look, I get it. But that’s kind of my schtick.
These screeds aren’t for everyone – and sometimes they rub the right people the wrong way.
In today’s hyper-partisan, incredibly divisive environment, we are increasingly limited where and when we can voice differing opinions in a setting that values diversity of thought, considers innovative ideas and encourages the old-fashioned notion that we can still “agree to disagree.”
In my view, the thought of disallowing (or “dis-inviting” in the parlance of our times) those who have strong opinions that differ from ours is ignorance personified.
Because it stifles the free exchange of information and opinions – and perpetuates the “I’m always right, thus, you’re always wrong” mentality that has crushed the competition of ideas in this country.
Frankly, I wear these barbs from close-minded churls who seek to “ban” those whose views they disagree with from the public discourse (because it’s easier than actually forming and debating an original thought) like a badge of honor.
The feedback I receive from readers and listeners – even those who vehemently disagree with my positions – adds to my knowledge base and helps me learn more about what my friends and neighbors think is important to our future.
In fact, those who disagree with me and point out the folly of my thoughts on a given issue through rational dialog, or even heated debate, are helping build a sense of community – whether they realize it or not.
When people who make their lives together in neighborhoods and communities – especially in the mosaic of unique cities in Volusia County – come together to engage in meaningful discussions and seek alternative solutions – we begin to build a shared vision for our future.
The beauty of talk radio – or political blog spots – is that when we disagree, or find something personally offensive in the content, we can simply turn them off with the click of a button.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to flip the switch on the myriad problems we face on this salty piece of land we call home – but that shouldn’t keep us from reaching for the stars.
I recently read an interesting piece by Tallahassee-based writer Rob Rushin discussing the concept of “tactical urbanism” – a concept that stresses low cost, temporary changes in the built environment to improve local neighborhoods and community gathering places.
Mr. Rushin cited the work of innovative town planners, like Dover, Khol & Partners, whose clients include some of my favorite places – like Charleston, Arlington, Virginia, Thomasville, Georgia, Winter Park and Port Royal, South Carolina.
In sum, my takeaway from this important study of grassroots efforts and neighborhood-based ideas for community improvement was summed up in the quote, “Get people talking to each other and things start to happen.”
I encourage everyone to keep talking. Keep arguing. Keep lending your voice to help people understand and discover that there truly is a better way – we don’t have to settle for this strategic stagnation that benefits all the right last names while tens-of-thousands of Volusia County residents continue to live beneath the poverty line.
Accept the challenge and frustrations that come from being active and engaged citizens who are seeking permanent solutions in an inclusive environment that values everyone’s thoughts.
Remember that nothing in life worth having comes easy.
If you aren’t already involved, I encourage you to join a grassroots advocacy or community service organization in the coming new year. It’s a great way to meet other civic-minded people – and there is a special satisfaction that comes from spending yourself in a cause greater than your own self-interests.
Work toward the lofty goal of “whole community” local decision-making and demand that your elected and appointed officials on the dais of power actually listen to your concerns – then hold them politically accountable for considering the needs, wants and dreams of all residents – not just those of the special interests who can afford to pay-to-play.
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 haven’t always agreed with former Volusia County administrator Mary Anne Connors, but when she’s right, she’s right.
In my view, when it came down to it – after more than a decade of kicking the can down the road on impact fees – those cowardly shitheels on the Volusia County Council couldn’t muster the personal or political courage to stand with their long-suffering constituents when they voted to “phase in” an increase – the first since 2003 (?) – once again kowtowing to the greed of their uber-wealthy handlers in the real estate development industry.
In Volusia County, an elected official simply does not bite the hand that feeds him or her.
It’s a well-accepted fact that a key prerequisite to elective office here on the Fun Coast involves the time-honored ritual of kissing the sizeable backside of the High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini, president of ICI Homes – a prolific and highly-successful developer of massive “lifestyle” communities and incestuous commercial projects.
Look, most of these compromised rubes on the dais of power in DeLand don’t have much in the way of personal pride (or self-respect) to start with – so brown nosing our “Rich & Powerful” is simply the cost of cloaking themselves with the coveted public perception of power in this bastardized oligarchy.
This week, the Volusia County Council voted to increase impact fees on new development over a protracted two-year period – 75% of the consultant’s recommendations next year – with an additional 25% added in 2020.
When you add the requisite 90-days before implementation, you see that developers have more than enough time to ram, oh, thousands of new building permits through the system. . .
Interestingly, this extended arrangement wasn’t the recommendation of our highly paid consultant, or that of concerned residents who spoke out at time-buying “town hall” meetings and again during Tuesday’s Council meeting – and it wasn’t the recommendation of former Volusia County Deputy County Manager Mary Anne Conners – who said, “Anything less than full implementation of this study moves the (cost) burden (for road fixes) to someone else.”
“It’s been 15 years, this is the time when government is supposed to do government business and catch up and fund the infrastructure needs of the community. This is time to catch up and correct where we need to be for the future.”
At the end of the day, the prolonged plan adopted by our elected officials mirrored that of their political benefactors in the Volusia Building Association and those developer’s shills over at the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (really, that’s what they call it. . .).
In addition to her very cogent remarks on the urgency of increasing impact fees ahead of crippling traffic gridlock, increased service demands and the very real possibility we’ll all be drinking our own effluent in a few short years – Ms. Connors poked holes in our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, scary stories about pricing new homes out of the range of some buyers when she explained that if affordable housing is truly a Council concern – then real estate developers should pay the impact fees instead of lashing them to the backs of home buyers.
Don’t hold your breath. . .
Angel: Teresa Rand, CEO Volusia-Flagler YMCA
I had the pleasure of working with Teresa Rand, the long-serving doyenne of the Volusia-Flagler YMCA, when she expertly assumed command of recreational programs for the City of Holly Hill.
Regardless of the challenge, I was always impressed by Ms. Rand’s infectious enthusiasm and ‘can-do’ spirit that permeates everything she does.
In addition to the beautiful Holly Hill gymnasium, the Volusia-Flagler YMCA has locations in DeLand, Deltona, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, Edgewater and Camp Winona in DeLeon Springs.
During her highly successful 28-year tenure, Ms. Rand served the needs of a diverse constituency – providing innovative fitness and recreation programs for all ages – often in the face of diminishing funding from United Way and other sources.
Regardless of the challenge, Teresa Rand never shied from a difficult task, and always found collaborative partnerships to continue much-needed services to challenged communities.
In addition to her service with the Volusia-Flagler YMCA, Ms. Rand is past president of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce, and was the 2016 recipient of the Marvin Samuel Memorial Leadership Award for exceptional community service.
In addition, in 2015, Teresa was named Most Influential Business Women in Volusia and Flagler by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
I understand that Ms. Rand is entering a new phase of her career as she launches Rand Consulting – bringing her three-decades of management and leadership experience to “helping anyone wanting to excel in their career or begin their own entrepreneurial journey.”
Here’s a hearty congratulations and a tip o’ the Barker’s View scally cap to Teresa Rand on her well-deserved retirement – and all best wishes for great success in future endeavors.
We’re glad you passed our way!
Asshole: City of Edgewater
They say a little civic revolution from time-to-time is a good thing – it aerates the stuffy bureaucratic confines of City Hall, settles political grudges, deflates hubristic egos and helps level the playing field – but I doubt the good citizens of Edgewater consider this the best of times.
Like chain nuclear fission, when small-minded politicians let things get away from them in a pique of anger and arrogance – it’s difficult to stop the process before real damage is done – and it appears Edgewater is experiencing the full China Syndrome.
Trust me – I’m a veteran of small-town political wars – and as a career civil servant, it’s never fun.
Sometimes all you can do when the shit flies from on high is hunker down, do your job to the best of your ability and hope for better days. But if you are a career public servant who has been playing politics and stirring the shit – shame on you – that’s not how the system works.
There will be better days, but it’s going to be ugly in the short-term – and when the cutting is done, alliances will be broken – and not everyone who holds official and unofficial influence in the halls of power will still be standing.
One thing I know with the assurance of hard-earned experience is that – unless someone with the leadership skills to stop the madness steps in (and I mean fast) – this municipal meltdown has the potential to result in a civic catastrophe that will take years to correct.
Three weeks ago, City Manager Tracey Barlow was taken out in a cheap coup d’etat, painfully orchestrated by Commissioners Gary Conroy, Amy Vogt and Megan O’Keefe.
Was it necessary?
Or was it petty politics?
I don’t know enough about the internal strife at the City of Edgewater to make that call – but to say it was a bloodbath is an understatement.
Apparently, everyone in town (except Barlow) knew in advance it was going to happen – and when it did – the troika’s wet work on the dais set in motion a rapid chain-of-events that has seen the community passed over for a $300 million/500 job distribution center (yeah, right), a torch-lit march on City Hall by pitchfork wielding villagers, and now, the professional destruction of Public Safety Director Dave Arcieri.
All on the heels of a mayoral change.
Whew. That’s quite a week. . .
To his enduring credit, former City Manager Barlow was able to get down and wallow in the mud hole with his publicly elected antagonist during his backhanded curtain call when he said:
“Get involved. Make a difference in your community. Edgewater’s too good to fail. I pray, and I pray that after tonight we can continue to heal as a community where there’s a lot of opportunities. I continue to pray that Gary can balance his medication, so he can be productive up there.”
Now, that’s a farewell I can get behind. . .
The good citizens of Edgewater deserve better from their elected and appointed officials.
Quote of the Week:
“After seeing beach driving data for the past year, Councilwoman Deb Denys said she’d be interested in charging out-of-town beach-goers (out-of-county only, she stressed) even more next year for daily passes.”
–Reporter Dustin Wyatt of The Daytona Beach News-Journal tweeting from the Volusia County Council chambers, November 13, 2018
And Another Thing!
Back this summer, just as the U.S. Senate race was heating up, I wrote about Floriduh’s weird “fox in the hen house” phenomena when Governor Slick Rick Scott reappointed Long John Miklos to yet another four-year term on the powerful St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.
This week Chairman for Life Miklos was re-elected by his peers to an unprecedented sixth term as board chairman.
In my view, it was one of the Sunshine State’s typical “WTF?” moments.
For years, Miklos has openly represented public and private clients of his Bio-Tech Consulting, an Orlando-based environmental consultancy, in wetland permitting cases which come before the very state regulatory agency he oversees.
For instance, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “In one recent example, a client of Bio-Tech, GeoSam Capital, illegally cleared wetlands at its Coastal Woods development in New Smyrna Beach. In September, the developer agreed to pay the district a $75,000 penalty and restore wetlands on eight acres at its sight off State Road 44.”
(You can read my take on that environmental atrocity here: https://tinyurl.com/yb8n7ap7 )
In fact, the perennial conflict of interest between Mr. Miklos’ advocacy for his paying clients – and his moral and ethical responsibilities to the citizens of Central Florida as board chairman – have been reported in dozens of newspaper stories after being initially exposed by the incomparable Dinah Voyles-Pulver while reporting on the now infamous Debacle in DeBary in The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
In that case, Miklos was hired by a few greedheads that then inhabited DeBary City Hall to ramrod the acquisition of sensitive conservation land at Gemini Springs Annex for the development of a massive mixed-use development near the SunRail station.
The contract called for the citizens of DeBary to pay John Miklos $155 an hour for his personal attention to the matter.
That shitstorm resulted in an ill-fated ethics complaint against Miklos which initially concluded there was probable cause he violated state ethics laws; however, our neutered ethics apparatus – also appointees of Governor Scott and other state politicians – cleared Miklos of all charges by voting not to pursue the inquiry.
Thanks to Mr. Miklos’ incredibly influential appointment – coupled with his twisted situational ethics that apparently allow him to leverage his public position against his private profit motives – his business is booming.
And why wouldn’t it be?
There’s a Gold Rush in the pine scrub – and everyone in the real estate development industry is making hay while the sun shines. After all, whitetail deer, gopher tortoises and black bears don’t buy houses – and they damn sure don’t make massive campaign contributions. . .
As that tormented pervert, the Marquis de Sade said, “In an age that is utterly corrupt, it is best to do as others do.”
According to the News-Journal, “District records show Miklos’ business boomed after he was appointed chairman of the water district in 2013. Although state laws allow district board members to have knowledge of the kinds of issues that come before the district, no other St. Johns board member has declared as many conflicts as Miklos. Several previous water district board members have raised concerns in the past that Miklos uses his position on the board to solicit business or has too much influence in permit decisions.”
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
In most places, promoting the interests of personal customers coming before the very same regulatory board that you chair would be considered a colossal conflict of interest – if not a criminal misuse of public office.
In most places, a person that engaged in that level of influence peddling would be slapped in irons and publicly humiliated for public corruption and high crimes against the environment.
But this is Florida – the rules truly are different here. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, kids!