Angels & Assholes of 2018

Happy New Year, kids!

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 year that was:

Wow.  It’s hard to believe we’ve made another trip around the sun together!

As the ball drops on another year, I want you to know how much I’ve enjoyed the ride – pointing out the winners and losers – pontificating on the good, the bad and the ugly of our weird life and times here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I really wish I had something deep and profound to pass on as we reach the end of 2018, some kernel of wisdom or pearl of insight shucked from my weary mind that would shine a bright light on our path as we walk collectively toward whatever challenges and opportunities lay ahead.

But I don’t.

Frankly, I’m just as dumb, perplexed and frustrated as I was this time last year. . .

The curmudgeon in me says nothing much has changed – and that if I called in all the wagers I’ve made through the past year with those infernal optimists and wide-eyed rubes who were firmly convinced that the Halifax area is/was poised on the very precipice of “great things” based exclusively on the unchecked growth raging in the pine scrub to our west – well, I’d be a rich man.

Don’t take my word for it – look around.

Do you notice any measurable difference in the deplorable condition of much of the East ISB “gateway” – or any positive change to that dystopian wasteland that is the Daytona Beach Boardwalk?

Do you notice one damn thing that was accomplished by the infamous Beachside Redevelopment Committee?  That political insulation consortium of our “best and brightest” formed in the direct aftermath of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on our beachside which lost some $677  million is assessed value since 2008?

I don’t.  But it doesn’t stop with the blight, dilapidation and rot which is consuming many of our core tourist areas from Ormond-by-the-Sea south.

For instance, can anyone remember way back in December 2017, when anyone and everyone who passes for Volusia County “Dignitaries” gathered in their finery on a barren parcel of public land off U.S. 92 and patted each other on the back for breaking years of jurisdictional in-fighting and gross stagnation on the corrosive problem of chronic homelessness as they “broke ground” on the First Step Shelter?

It was hailed as a “Historic Day” in Volusia County.

It was the pageantry of politics in all its swaggering splendor – something so positive – yet so far off – that every elected official in the region could take credit for it without actually having done anything substantive in the process.

There was high praise for what was billed as a “Herculean endeavor” to bring our homeless assistance center to life – along with hubristic talk of political “legacies” – as our ‘powers that be’ preened for pictures wielding goofy golden shovels to turn the earth in a symbolic “groundbreaking” ceremony.

Now, over one-year later, that same parcel sits equally barren – except for what we are told is the “site prep” work – ostensibly completed (for dubious reasons) by someone other than the actual contractor. . .

And what was once the greatest social achievement of our time – is now an orphan of failure and skyrocketing costs – maligned as a bottomless money pit, even as hordes of homeless mendicants beg on all four quadrants of virtually every major intersection from Ormond Beach to Edgewater and doze under the Main Street Pier.

Oh, I forgot,  we may not have gotten the First Step shelter out of the ground – but our “leaders” were able to cobble together a cozy insider deal that will allow a prolific private contractor to make a fortune selling public dirt to speculative developers that are busy turning what’s left of our wetlands into tony “theme” subdivisions of wood frame cracker boxes along the spine of east Volusia from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Yet, we are still no closer to providing actual services to the throngs homeless than we were this time last year – and I would venture to guess that not one mile of new transportation infrastructure has been laid outside the immediate needs of Mosaic or Margaritaville. . .

Here’s some more “strategic vision” to look forward to in 2019:

Earlier this year, the shit show that was former County Manager Jim Dinneen’s reign of abject incompetence ended when he fled the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building with a sack full of severance cash – unfortunately, the “system” remains firmly entrenched – with the same uber-wealthy political insiders deftly wielding almost omnipotent influence over our elected and appointed officials.

Then, when there is any reasonable attempt to change the status quo, they trot out their weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, who has built a cottage industry suing his own constituents with their tax dollars. . .

Now, with our “new” Volusia County Council set to take the helm in early January – and a nationwide search for a professional County Manager ongoing – long-suffering residents of this salty piece of land we call home were looking forward to the “fresh starts and new beginnings” that a new year, and new administration, promises.

Unfortunately, our hopes were dashed earlier this week as we collectively opened The Daytona Beach News-Journal and gazed forlornly on reporter Dustin Wyatt’s front page/above the fold essay entitled “Volusia faces 2019 transitions” and we came to the sobering realization that we can expect more of the same in the long year ahead. . .

In keeping with their patented strategy of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, certain sitting members of the Volusia County Council let all of us (and any prospective candidate) know that they have no interest in bringing a fresh set of eyes (or an outsiders perspective) to bear on the entrenched problems and influential parasites that have stalked the halls of Volusia County government like malevolent lycanthropes for years.

According to the article, “The majority of the returning council members said in recent interviews that they’ve encouraged interim Manager George Recktenwald to put his name in for the position.

“I’m hoping that he (Recktenwald) will be in the running,” Councilwoman Billie Wheeler said. “His leadership has been a breath of fresh air. He’s been so open, and employees feel like they are being heard.”

Wheeler said the search process needs to run its course as planned, but “at the end of the road, I’d love nothing more than to have George as our manager.”

Look, I don’t have anything against George Recktenwald.  In the aftermath of the Dinneen debacle – he’s been as close to a “breath of fresh air” as anyone who clawed their way to middle-management in local government and held on with their fingernails can bring. . .

However, in my view, Mr. Recktenwald does not represent the radical cure for the metastatic disease that continues to consume tax dollars like a jet-fueled incinerator while steadily chipping away at our public amenities and natural places to sate the greed of speculative developers and others who make their living at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

This became painfully obvious to me just weeks ago when we saw Mr. Recktenwald trot out the tried-and-true Volusia County strategy of sidestepping responsibility by laying the blame on the municipalities.

Following a dispute with the City of Daytona Beach over a very real public safety concern at the scene of a massive hotel and convention center currently under construction by Russian developer Alexey Lysich’s Protogroup – an issue that has blocked public beach access for months – Mr. Recktenwald told a whopper when he snowed-over the concerns of the now cooing Councilwoman Billie Wheeler.

Unlike the highly polished Jim Dinneen – who long-ago mastered the fine art of lying blatantly, with extreme confidence, when answering the inconvenient questions of the people’s representatives – George handled Billie’s softball questions with all the finesse of a punch-drunk Mountain McClintock. . .

According to Recktenwald, “The city, which we have partnered on for many projects, I don’t think has been much of a partner in this case here.  This is the first time in my 21 years (with the county) I’ve ever encountered that another government didn’t support us or work with us.”

Bullshit.

Volusia County has been at war with the municipalities for over a decade – in fact, I cannot recall one “partnership” – from the issue of homelessness, to shitting on the citizens of Ormond Beach by allowing a haunted shopping center to literally rot in the center of their core tourist area, to the expensive debacle in Daytona Beach Shores – that didn’t dissolve into a quagmire of lawsuits, angry rhetoric and open political bullying.

Can you?

According to our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley,“…keeping Recktenwald on as leader makes sense because the county is already in the midst of a major transition that could be difficult for a new manager unfamiliar with the county’s unique government structure.”

 (And by “unique government structure” I assume Old Ed means a bastardized oligarchy where elected officials are bought and sold like chattel at a livestock auction and quid pro quo corruption is openly practiced by anyone with the financial wherewithal to pay-to-play?)

In typical fashion, after spending thousands in taxpayer money on a headhunting firm to scour the countryside for the best and brightest chief executive we can afford to oversee this monstrous bureaucracy – with its bloated $770 million budget – and thousands of ineffectual moving parts – the Three Stooges comprised of Ed Kelley, Billie Wheeler and the always arrogant Deb Denys – decide it’s somehow wise to tip their hand and discourage any legitimate candidate from participating in a now compromised process that already appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Jesus.  Does it ever end?

The only thing I can promise you in the New Year is that I’ll be here – watching and waiting – providing you, the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe, with my jaded perspective and skewed perspective on the news and newsmakers of the day.

As always, I appreciate your taking the time to read – and your friendship.

That’s all for me – here’s wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

2018 Asshole of the Year:

For all the obvious and perennial reasons, the Volusia County Council have been named Asshole of the Year for 2018 by the author, editor, chief cook and bottle-washer of Barker’s View!

I recently had a good conversation with Volusia County Councilman-elect Ben Johnson – a long-time law enforcement colleague who skillfully won the at-large seat earlier this year.  During the call, I explained my continuing concerns about the “business as usual” strategy that has resulted in a lack of transparency and the loss of public trust in county government.

We also discussed the sense of possibility that presents whenever the players change – and I have promised others that I will keep an open mind.

Mr. Johnson assured me that he will serve with honor and integrity, and make funding and policy decisions in the best interests of all citizens.  Given his years of service to the citizens of Volusia County, I have no reason to doubt his sincerity – and I have every confidence he will do just that.

Don’t expect Ben Johnson, or incoming District 1 Councilwoman Barbara Girtman, to be change agents.  However, in my view, they will bring a much-needed sense of stability, character and respect to a body that desperately needs it.

Time will tell.

2018 Archangel of the Year:

After careful consideration, and several rounds of fine Tennessee sipping whiskey, I have selected those intrepid souls from Florida’s premiere beach access advocacy – Sons of the Beach – as our Barker’s View Archangel for 2018!

Since 1984, Sons of the Beach has been fighting hard to preserve our tradition of beach driving and the unique access it provides Volusia County residents and visitors.

Trust me – it’s not easy to challenge a well-established power structure with the ability to influence public policy through massive campaign donations and financial relationships with hand-picked political candidates.

But there is strength in numbers – especially when it comes to effecting political change – and I encourage everyone to join Sons of the Beach in 2019.  We need these courageous civic activists now, more than ever.

Learn more at www.sonsofthebeach.org

To everyone who appeared in Angels and Assholes this year, wear it with pride!

Your presence on these pages means that, regardless of status, you are relevant and important to the larger conversation on the issues and opportunities facing all of us.

Thanks for being in the arena.

Retrospectives can give us unique insight on the important issues.

Let’s take a look back at who tried to save us – and who tried to screw us – during the year that was:

January 2018

Assholes

Chairman Ed Kelley and the Volusia County Council

Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees

Lake Helen City Council

Rep. Randy Fine & Sen. Jeff Brandes

Volusia County Elected Officials Round Table

Angels

Former Volusia County Medical Examiner, Dr. Marie Herrmann

Tim Curtis & L. Gale Lemerand

Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett

Jeff Feasel, CEO, Halifax Health

Fran Gordon, Mid-Florida Housing Partnership

Political Consultant Mike Scudiero

Deland Citizens for Conservation & Responsible Growth

Root Family Foundation

Concerned Constituents Committee of Bethune-Cookman University

Big John

Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

February 2018

 Assholes

Volusia County Council

Brown & Brown

Angels

Jim Purdy, Public Defender

Paul Zimmerman

Kevin Lowe

Chief Craig Capri & Daytona Beach Police Department

Sons of the Beach

First Step Shelter Board

Bethune-Cookman University Athletics

March 2018

Assholes

County of Volusia

Geosam Capital

Volusia County Council

Hard Rock International

Daytona Beach City Commission

Volusia County Attorney’s Office

Angels

Former Senate President Don Gaetz

Volusia County Collegiate Women’s Basketball Teams

City of Daytona Beach

Sons of the Beach

Palm Coast Councilwoman Heidi Shipley

Volusia Bureau of Investigation

April 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Daytona Beach City Commission

Flagler County School Board

Bethune-Cookman Board of Trustees

Angels

Daytona Blues Festival Organizers

Flagler Sheriff Rick Staley

Bellaire Community Group

Chris Noe

Governor Rick Scott

Chief Gerald Monahan, Jr.

Gus Massfeller

Daytona Beach Police Department

Jantzen Bathing Beauty

May 2018

Assholes

Former Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen

Former DeBary City Manager Dan Parrott

Former Palm Coast City Manager Richard Kelton

County of Volusia

Volusia County Beach Safety Department

NASCAR

Summit Hospitality Group

New Smyrna Beach City Commission

Angels

Peggy Belflower

Brownie the Town Dog

Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte

Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza

Dr. Sara Zydowicz

Bethune-Cookman Athletics

Chief Stephan Dembinsky

City of Holly Hill & Second Harvest Food Bank

June 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Volusia County School Board

Maryam Ghyabi

John Albright

Former Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen

Daytona Beach Leisure Services

Angels

Bellaire Community Group

Pat Northey

Lyndsey Edwards

Sons of the Beach

July 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Hard Rock Daytona

Volusia County School Board

Deltona City Manager Jane Shang

City of Daytona Beach Shores

Angels

Votran Driver Paul Okumu

Judge Belle B. Schumann

Hyatt & CiCi Brown

Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood

WNDB’s Marc Bernier

August 2018

Assholes

Former Volusia County Councilman Art Giles

Former Volusia County Councilman Frank Bruno

Former Volusia County Councilman Josh Wagner

Former Volusia County Councilwoman Joie Alexander

Governor Rick Scott

Volusia County School Board

Former Bethune-Cookman Trustee Joe Petrock

Bethune-Cookman University Board of Trustees

City of Ormond Beach

Volusia County Council

Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France

Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert

Angels

Bethune-Cookman Marching Wildcats

Taxpayers of Volusia County

Holly Hill Mayor John Penny

Holly Hill Police & Fire Departments

Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis

Citizens of Deltona

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

September 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Volusia County School Board

Former Lake Helen City Manager Jason Yarborough

First Step Money Pit

“Fun Coast” Gonorrhea

Defrocked Judge Scott Dupont

Republican Chairman-for-Life Tony Ledbetter

Angels

Civic Activist Amy Pyle

First Step Shelter Board

Dr. Kelly Long, Tomoka Pines Veterinary Clinic

Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post

Bethune-Cookman University’s Lee Rhyant

Gloria Max, Jewish Federation of Volusia & Flagler Counties

Director Lynn Thompson, B-CU

Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

October 2018

Assholes

Volusia County School Board

Volusia County Councilman Pat Patterson

Daytona Beach “International” Airport

Daytona Beach City Commission

Angels

Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

Krys Fluker, Daytona Beach News-Journal

CiCi Brown

Eddie Hennessy

November 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Volusia County School Board

City of Edgewater

Baffling Bullshit of “Project Palm”

Daytona Beach City Commission

Angels

Daytona Beach Police Officer Kevin Hird

Teresa Rand, Volusia-Flagler YMCA

Local Journalists

December 2018

Assholes

Volusia County Council

Angels

The Barker’s View Tribe

Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas from Barker’s View

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

–Luke 2:4-14

May peace be with you and those you hold dear.

From the Barker family to yours, Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a happy, healthy and most prosperous 2019!

Mark & Patti

Angels & Assholes for December 21, 2018

Hi, kids!

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.

They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever experienced anything like the monstrous virus that swept through Barker’s View HQ last week.

I’m convinced it was some genetically modified mutant version of the 1918 H1N1 – a tubercular Mega-Bug – that has left my long-suffering wife, Patti, battling pneumonia and me flat on my back for many days.  Ugh.

Despite massive doses of over-the-counter medication, unguents, ointments, a trip to a Florida Health Care clinic and bombardment by the best modern pharmaceuticals my health plan can afford, this virulent organism has romped around my respiratory tract unfazed.

In fact, it has now hung around so long I’m going to claim it as a dependent.

Sometimes, I find the old ways are the best, and my long-standing tonic for the treatment of all illnesses – physical and mental – seems to have beaten the bugger back.  I’d be happy to share the patented Barker Cure-All with you (for medicinal purposes only):

Pour three-fingers of Wild Turkey 101-proof Kentucky bourbon into a sturdy earthen mug to ensure proper heat retention.

Add a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon and a dollop of good honey (the darker the better – I use a limited edition 17-year wild oak honey – a delicious multi-floral that had been aging deep inside the trunk of a century-old oak tree in Holly Hill.  It was only discovered during a freak overnight lightning storm which cleaved the tree in half, revealing the sweet treasure inside.  All the bees were saved, thanks to the wonderful work of a dedicated third-generation apiarist, and they continue to produce incredibly delicious honey to this day.  If you would like some truly fine locally produced honey, please contact my friend Michael Blauberg at Tomoka River Basin Honey, 386-451-8782).

Top this off with strong hot black tea (preferably a Bai Lin Gong Fu or properly steeped Darjeeling) – then take liberally, as needed.

It might not help, but it can’t hurt.

Fortunately, I’m feeling stronger every day, and Patti has returned to work, so she can keep me in the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed as a semi-retired Gentleman of Leisure.  After doing hand-to-hand combat with the bastard for over a week, I’m happy to report the Barker’s appear on the road to recovery.

Tradition dictates that I devote the last Angels & Assholes column before Christmas to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

It’s true – the Great Scorer has bestowed many good things on this salty piece of land we call home – including a wealth of philanthropic people and organizations who work hard in the best interest of the many less-fortunate individuals and families in our area who truly deserve a hand up.

Unfortunately, the good work of these unsung angels is too often overshadowed by the steady drumbeat of political rhetoric and virulent criticism.

The “good news” is drowned out by the plaintive cries of those of us who feel powerless to stop the slow erosion of those traditions and amenities that make the Halifax area such a beautiful and unique place to live, work and play – as we remain trapped in a cycle of low paying service jobs and an artificial economy totally controlled by the same five people passing the same nickel around.

Clearly, I’m guilty of focusing on the problems – rather than the many good people in both the public and private sector who are working hard to find solutions.

But I simply refuse to remain silent.  And I know you won’t either.

So, as the Christmas Spirit fills what’s left of my broken and battered old heart – I want to dedicate this edition to YOU – the loyal readers and ardent warriors of the Barker’s View tribe – Angels all – who have made this experiment in alternative opinion blogging such a rich and rewarding experience.

Since those early fits and starts in January 2016 – little more than written outbursts borne of a growing frustration over the deteriorating condition of our hometown that ultimately evolved into Barker’s View – these bitter diatribes and tales from the dark side have been viewed some 271,058 times and have attracted thousands of followers who regularly receive these blog posts by social media and email – including readers from 118 countries around the globe.

It is incredibly humbling – and the kindheartedness of readers continues to be a source of great happiness and personal pride.

Your continued engagement and active participation in the debate of competing ideas has returned a much-needed sense of purpose to my life, a desperately important part of my soul that I lost upon retirement from public service.

Earlier this week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal described Barker’s View as  “a must-read for locals interested in county politics” in a cogent editorial on growing local political dissent – and a dedicated reader recently shared in a good note, “I (we), many people are so fortunate you found your calling of sharing your writing and critical thinking with us.”

Wow.  I’m not an emotional guy, but that one got me. . .

Look, I get it.  These often-maniacal ravings aren’t for everyone – and not all of the messages I receive from readers and leaders are as kind as the ones I shared above – but that comes with the territory.

A wise prophet once said that a man with a greed for the Truth should expect no mercy, and give none. . .

I often sound like a broken record – a serial grumbler – a contrarian with a chip on his shoulder and no workable remedies to contribute.  Some call that the textbook definition of “whining” and perhaps they’re right, but the alternative is to suffer in silence, and in my jaded view, that only perpetuates the problem(s).

At the end of the day, please know that these rambling jeremiads are the product of a frustrated “every man” – neither always right, nor always wrong – but the important wisdom I receive from the smart observations of my readers tells me that I am not alone in my basic belief that the citizens of Volusia County deserve better.

So, if you keep reading and driving a larger discussion of the issues that affect us all – I promise to keep adding fuel to the fire – and maybe, just maybe, we can foster the fundamental change in our sacred system of governance that levels the playing field for everyone, returns a sense of fair play that benefits all citizens, honors our natural places, helps those less fortunate, supports entrepreneurial investment, ensures unfettered access to the most beautiful beach in the world and restores the sense of fun and possibility that made our region a premiere destination for millions of visitors.

Here’s wishing all of you – family, friends and political foes alike – a very Merry Christmas and all best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Much love,

Mark

(Please join Barker’s View for a very special Christmas Eve appearance on GovStuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.  We’ll be discussing the important issues of the day – and I would love to take your calls and learn about what’s important to you as we face the challenges and opportunities of 2019.  Locally, please find us at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org Listen Live button!) 

On Volusia: The Political Personality

Most loyal readers of this alternative opinion forum know that I have a rather jaded view of local politics and those who practice it.

In reality, I have a great deal of respect for those who give of their time and talents to serve the highest and best interests of their neighbors – to hold themselves out for elective office and courageously participate in the knife fight that is modern politics.

It’s not for the weak at heart.  I get it.

But the process of governance sure seems to attract some interesting characters. . .

In over three decades serving and observing local government, I’ve seen every variety and subgenus of politician imaginable:

The “Glad-Hander”:  Tries desperately to be everything to everyone (all the time), seeking approval by flip-flopping positions depending upon their audience.  The backslapping ‘good ol’ boy’ who is always endearing, totally ineffectual and rarely on the wrong side of a controversial issue or majority vote.

Quick to compromise – or co-opt themselves – the glad-hander tends to enjoy the social aspect of elective service and can always be found front-and-center at those ubiquitous rubber-chicken banquets and award ceremonies where politicians go to congratulate their own performance.

The “Angry Warrior”:  Entered politics to settle a score or right a perceived wrong.  Incendiary by nature, focused on a single-issue and usually painfully ignorant of the larger processes, departments and services they are making funding and policy decisions about.

The warrior is often a one term wonder who quickly tires of the time-consuming ancillary duties expected of elected officials after becoming totally disillusioned by the effort required to advance even minor issues in the bureaucratic labyrinth they find themselves in.

The “Powermonger”:  Intent on building a political machine by using their domineering personality to seize control of external civic groups and unofficial power centers (social clubs, service organizations, local political party infrastructure, etc.) and aligning themselves with the ‘Rich & Powerful’ who set the backroom agenda.

These narcissistic shitheels could care less about the needs and wants of their constituency, and enjoy driving decisions behind-the-scenes by coercion and fear, usually developing a close personal relationship with the appointed chief executive and wealthy political insiders who control the campaign purse strings of their “colleagues” on the dais of power.

In Volusia County, we have an inordinate number of these power-hungry politicos who serve as perfect counterparts to our “Kingmakers” – uber-wealthy insiders who use their considerable influence to control political succession and further their own personal and professional agendas at the local, state and national levels.

The “Rookie”:  The newly minted council member or commissioner who is always dangerously close to meddling in operational issues because they are everywhere, all the time.

The bane of city and county managers everywhere.

These well-meaning greenhorns are always underfoot – like a rambunctious puppy seeking attention – wandering the halls of administrative offices and popping in on department heads just to “say hello,” normally drawn like a magnet to any Emergency Operations Center.

Often found sitting at a vacant desk in a dusty corner of City Hall pouring over budget reports, nodding contemplatively and acting like they actually understand the figures and analysis.  (Might as well be staring at War and Peace written in ancient Chinese characters. . .)

Can be easily identified by their long-winded soliloquies during the “commissioner comments” section of the agenda – regaling everyone with how much they learned this week about the nuances of the wastewater treatment process as their colleagues roll their eyes and stare at their wristwatches – before asking the police chief if they can have a “badge” to identify themselves to officers (who never seem to recognize them) whenever they suddenly appear at crime scenes. . .

The rookie will eventually transition into some combination of the other types mentioned.

The “Sellout”:  Typically, a second-year politician who started out as an angry warrior-type – or campaigned as a change agent – only to become a cog in the wheel once elected.

The sellout is usually wholly dependent on big money donors making them extremely susceptible to compromise by big money interests.  This dynamic makes the sellout a prime candidate for the all-too-frequent Faustian bargain that quickly removes any semblance of political independence.

Generally, the elective office may be the sellout’s only identifiable source of income – or their interests are heavily reliant on their political benefactors for success – and they become completely enamored by the symbols of wealth and the gilded trappings of office.

The sellout is easily swooned by wealthy special interests who lavish faux-praise and massage their fragile ego while providing access to a social circle they have never been part of – and will never be again.

The sellout quickly becomes everything he or she hated when they entered the political arena as they are slowly used like cheap tools, then casually discarded by the powerful interests who control them when they are no longer relevant.

The “Servant Leader”:  Increasingly rare in local politics – this is the individual who seeks elective office for all the right reasons.

Usually a local business owner, professional or long-time resident with a simple desire to build a better community.  The servant-leader can be counted on to do the homework, study the material, come prepared and make fact-based decisions.

These community leaders make themselves available to their constituents – return telephone calls and emails – and frequently meet informally with citizens and civic groups to gain a better understanding of the issues facing those they serve.

The servant-leader deliberates with an open mind and considers diverse opinions – men and women of vision who humble themselves to the role and wield political power in the public interest, never for personal gain.

This type is far from perfect, but when they make an honest mistake – personally or professionally – they speak the truth, admit the error and work hard to set things right.  They never quibble the facts or engage in cheap cover-ups that destroy organizational credibility – and understand the essential importance of honor, integrity and governmental ethics to maintaining the public’s trust in the system.

They take a holistic approach to governance, rather than focusing exclusively on meeting the needs of special interests, and they do not succumb to the cancer of political cowardice – relying on inane and incredibly expensive “studies” and “consultant reports” before making difficult decisions – unless absolutely necessary to developing a comprehensive view of complex issues.

Perhaps most important, the servant-leader fundamentally understands the role of local government and stewards tax dollars and public assets in a way that ensures a return on investment for all citizens

Not averse to controversy when its required to affect positive change, these leaders refrain from unnecessarily “stirring the pot” and work hard to bring a sense of stability and professionalism by setting a positive example, following the rules, and instinctively working to further the highest and best interest of their constituents.

As we enter the “out with the old, in with the new” period that marks the peaceful transition of power in our democratic system, where term-limited and defeated politicians ceremoniously exit the public stage and make way for newly elected officials, let’s demand that those who stand for elective office remain true to the promises they made during the long, hot summer that was.

Let’s demand accountability for the dismal state of our beach management, our emergency medical transport service, the revelatory exposures of whistle-blowers on everything from the “filtering” of information and withholding publicly-funded studies from decision-makers altogether – to the paralytic dysfunction that has hampered significant progress on the most intractable regional problems of our time.

With the new year upon us, let’s all vow to attend more public meetings, make yourself – and your opinion – known to those for whom you have cast your sacred vote, and let us collectively demand a return of “Servant-Leaders” to the halls of power throughout Volusia County while there is still something left to worry about.

If we truly deserve better – now is the time to demand it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for December 14, 2018

Hey, kids!

Your rambling scribe has returned to Barker’s View HQ following a brief sojourn!

It’s good to be back.

I’m here to report that despite the many political, social and economic woes that plague the Sunshine State like a golem – if you are lucky enough to live in Florida, then you are lucky enough.

During the recent visit to my ancestral home in Southern Appalachia, we experienced the heavily flogged “Snowpocalypse 2018” – the largest snowstorm to impact the Southeastern United States in over 20-years!

Trust me.  It lived up to the hype.

Some 15-inches of the white stuff fell in huge flakes for many hours – a beautiful sight while it flies – not so much when it quickly turns to a hellish slush that fills your Clark’s Desert Boot like a gray Margarita whenever you step off a curb. . .

I also learned the importance of not only clearing one’s car of the accumulated snow cornice before attempting to drive (not recommended – this Florida Fool looked like I was piloting an out-of-control Zamboni on sheet ice, but, the plus being I found the actual purpose of the “defrost” button on the Lone Eagle’s dashboard.)

(For the first time since I’ve owned the car, the heated seat function was nice too. . .)   

After dutifully scraping the windshield of snow and ice – I set off down the hill – only to have the remaining 500 pounds of rooftop snow come sliding down – completely obscuring my forward view and causing the wiper blades to stand straight up in mock exasperation at my abject winter-weather ignorance.

This was followed the next day by a meteorological phenomena known as “freezing fog” – a white cloud that descends on the countryside when the ambient temperature reaches 17-degrees or so – coating everything it touches in a shimmering, but potentially dangerous, patina of rime ice.  Ugh.

Don’t get me started on “black ice” – you don’t want to know. . .

As a result, I was “snowed in” for two-days – whiling away the hours sipping from a bottle of Japanese whisky that I wisely stocked before the storm – while local and state authorities did an excellent job of clearing clogged roadways and getting things moving again.

We may live in the most corrupt state in the union – but, By God, we don’t suffer the same fate as those poor saps who live in an icebox for six-months of the year.

There is victory in that.  I think.

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:             Sheriff Mike Chitwood

Once again, Volusia County is circling the wagons – and all the usual patsies are in play.

Whenever the status quo is threatened in a serious way, our ‘powers that be’ immediately unite in defense of their common interests and protect the “system” at all costs.  Unfortunately, well-meaning people often get caught in the fray, instinctively calling for calm and a mending of fences, even when fundamental change would serve us all better.

I’ve read a lot about the need for ‘civility’ lately.

Headlines scream “Sheriff Chitwood and the nuclear option,” “Sheriff Chitwood, reel it in,” and “Rift pushes Volusia into dangerous waters,” with learned men like Stetson University’s Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, and former Volusia County Manager Larry Arrington, wringing their hands about a return to the bad old days when Volusia County was a festering pit of open public corruption (rather than today’s thinly camouflaged version) should our sacrosanct county charter be amended to provide elected officials with a level of autonomy commensurate with their political accountability.

(I mean, the utter gall of Volusia County residents to seek the right to elect a Constitutional sheriff, rather than a department head wholly controlled by an appointed County Manager, as set in the Omnipotent Charter drafted by a bunch of rich old men with a chip in the game.  Yep.  A recipe for anarchy. . . )

According to Dr. Bailey and Mr. Arrington, once elected officials are released from the yoke of a godlike manager, our very system of governance will quickly dissolve into “Us vs. Them” warfare.

“The principles and values of democracy — civitas — are abandoned to tribalism. It’s not long before professional autonomy of public servants succumbs to cronyism.”

The problem is, that statement assumes that the high principles and values of democracy were ever taken seriously by this illegitimate oligarchy that passes for governance in the first place – or that cronyism isn’t the current controlling factor in everything Volusia County government does. . .

In fact, Sheriff Chitwood was one of the first elected officials in recent memory to break Volusia County’s long-standing  Code of Omerta and expose the “Good Ol’ Boy” shenanigans in DeLand when he said, “One of the first greetings I got when I was elected as your sheriff was a warning from our County Manager Jim Dinneen. The message was play nice or my time as sheriff would be brief.”

That’s frightening.

Make no mistake – while Mr. Dinneen may have fled the building with a sack full of severance cash – the “system” remains firmly entrenched – and if you think the big money interests who control our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast are simply going to acquiesce to the deconsolidation of power brought by the passage of Amendment 10, think again.

After all, people who have the chutzpah to spend $75 million dollars of other people’s money to erect a massive monument to their own self-grandeur at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – or accept public funds to underwrite infrastructure and construction costs for a new glass and steel headquarters building for their billion-dollar insurance intermediary (in a place with some 28% of the population listed as Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed – and thousands more at or below the poverty line) – aren’t going to give up their hard-bought spot at the public teat anytime soon.

In my view, perhaps it’s time that smart men like T. Wayne Bailey and Larry Arrington stop contemplating the theory of good governance in wing-back leather chairs and get in the game – down here in the trenches where citizens eke out a living in an artificial economy based upon the same five players passing the same nickel around.

Where blight, squalor and stagnation abound while “economic development” dollars are funneled to all the right last names and anyone who dares to stand up and expose the cyclical sham is marginalized and destroyed – personally and professionally – by elected marionettes who have been co-opted by an out-of-control campaign finance system tailor-made to legitimize quid pro quo corruption.

Here’s a legitimate question for those eggheads over at The Civitas Project: Is it better if someone sneaks up under cover of darkness and steals from you – or if they rob you while smiling, shaking your hand and slapping you on the back?

Frankly, of the two larcenous forms, I’d rather defend against the sneak thief – at least I know from the outset what I’m dealing with. . .

And make no mistake, the majority of our elected officials on the Volusia County Council are doing everything in their power to reverse the will of the people and ensure that the lucrative interests of their political benefactors are protected by using County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – and our hard-earned tax dollars – to challenge Amendment 10.

“Screw your “Democratic principles and values” – We will respect your vote right up to the point it impacts our pocketbook – then we will sue your fucking eyeballs out to reverse it.”

I also find it interesting that these compromised assholes can act like unconscionable schoolyard bullies – bashing and minimalizing anyone or anything that dares to point out the myriad issues that have plagued our area for decades – then whimper like whipped pups whenever someone their own size stands up for themselves and their long-suffering constituents.

You know what I like about Sheriff Mike Chitwood?

He speaks his mind in an environment where candor has proven harmful to more than one dedicated public servant’s career track.

In my view, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County need Sheriff Chitwood’s courage in the face of larger, more darker forces who are intent on maintaining the status quo regardless of cost.

When the will of the people is threatened – when those we have elected ostensibly to serve our highest and best interests attempt to subvert the majority vote with protracted and incredibly expensive legal maneuvering funded with our own tax dollars simply to maintain the patency of the cash funnel to special interests – it is time for boldness and audacity.

Civility be damned.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

During the December 4, 2018, Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post attempted to move a substantive discussion of objectively evaluating the performance and professionalism of the County Manager and County Attorney, two of the most highly paid and professionally responsible positions on the public payroll.

As typically happens when Ms. Post seeks to advance an important issue of public concern – her “colleagues” on the dais immediately dismissed her suggestions in favor of the “let’s keep doing it the way we’ve always done it” strategies which all but ensure that history will repeat itself.

In fact, during what passed for public discussion on the matter, outgoing Councilwoman Joyce Cusack revealed that she had never completed a written evaluation of either position in her eight years in elective office.

Not once.

In my view, the County Council’s demonstrable political cowardice and complete abdication of their civic and fiduciary responsibility for ensuring the performance and professionalism of the only two public employees it is chartered to oversee speaks volumes about the age-old problem of the political protections afforded to those who stand at the lucrative nexus of public funds and private, for-profit projects.

As I’ve written before, regardless of the pursuit, a leader or elected body – political or otherwise – simply must have the ability to maintain sound situational awareness at all times – even in the fog and confusion of stressful or rapidly changing conditions.

Good leaders must constantly know and evaluate Context, Circumstance and Consequence.

What is happening.  What has happened.  What could happen.

You either have it, or you don’t – and once lost, like the public trust, it is extremely difficult to recover.

Nothing is more noticeable, or destructive to morale and public confidence, than a “leader” who has lost command of a situation or organization.

Initially, this phase is marked by the element of surprise – things “pop-up” out of nowhere, misperceptions drive the solution, established processes are manipulated to accommodate situations, and cracks begin to appear in the carefully constructed façade.

Often, people in the upper-echelons who should be “in the know” are caught unaware, resulting in a lack of faith in management and a growing sense of organizational confusion – and subordinates and constituents are left flummoxed by the actions and omissions of those in positions of great responsibility.

Sound familiar DeBary?  Deltona?

How about Volusia County government?

Unfortunately, once this damaging process begins, it is often unrecoverable – resulting in systemic failures, corresponding “cover-ups,” misplaced blame on people and failed technology, and an atmosphere of suspicion and animosity.

When those in positions of high responsibility know that those to whom they are responsible are actively monitoring their performance and professionalism – not meddling, but monitoring, evaluating and analyzing objective metrics – it builds transparency and trust, both in the organization, and with the constituency it serves.

Regular readers of these jeremiads know that I have little confidence in our entrenched appointed “leadership” in the halls of power in DeLand – or those we have elected to represent and protect our interests on the County Council.

Perhaps this latest missed opportunity can be corrected by the incoming council members when they take office in January.

In a social media post, Ms. Post noted, “I have yet to find another county in Florida that does not provide written evaluations for those positions. If not solely for common sense & professional business standards, I think that the turmoil surrounding the exit of our previous County Manager in June is plenty of reasoning to expect identified deliverables and goals.”

With a search firm actively scouring the countryside for a new County Manager who will command a six-figure salary and incredibly lucrative benefits package that the average Volusia County resident will never see – if this collective dereliction of a sworn duty doesn’t scare the hell out of you – it should.

Quote of the Week:

“Scientific facts prove that the ice caps are not melting due to global warming or climate change. If that statement is false how can you believe anything else that is included in the report?”

Volusia County Council Chair and Forth Stooge Ed Kelley, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia leader disputes climate report,” Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A recent federal report mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 paints a grim picture of the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels on coastal communities like ours.

Prior to publication, the Fourth National Climate Assessment was peer reviewed by a committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States.

According to Old Ed Kelley – it’s all bullshit propaganda of the dirt-worshiping tree-huggers who oppose the wholesale development and wall-to-wall pavement of the Florida peninsula.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

Despite the work of more than 300 preeminent government and private-sector scientists and climatologists – including experts from federal, state, and local governments, tribes and indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities and the private sector – our doddering fool of a County Chair is convinced its all hokum by “alarmist who want to stop, control development.”

In fact, Old Ed is so sure he’s right, and the rest of the world’s scientific community is wrong, that during a recent meeting on the impact of sea level rise at Stetson University, it was reported that he mockingly shook his head and openly laughed as an expert discussed regional impacts.

Jesus.

The fact is, Old Ed hasn’t had an original thought since he took his first campaign contribution – and he could give two-shits about the sustainability of this salty piece of land we call home – so long as it serves the insatiable greed of his political cronies.

This congenitally corrupt churl openly encourages the legislative weakening of environmental protections and turns a blind eye to the repetitive ecological atrocities committed by his buddies and benefactors in the real estate development community because that’s what slimy politicians do when they sell their very soul for a seat at the dais of power.

The Chairman’s dimwitted ignorance aside, read between the lines and you get a glimpse at what happens when the hubris and arrogance of power overcomes a public official’s natural instinct to listen, learn and seek solutions.

Once seduced by the trappings of office and the faux-praise of the suckfish who surround them, the Ed Kelley’s of the world come to believe they know what’s best, despite expert evidence to the contrary, and make a fool of themselves in the process.

Here’s another quote I’m openly fond of:

“Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

–Proverbs 17:28

Hey, Eddie – Word to the wise: Shutteth thy lips. . .

And Another Thing!

Being the opinionated putz that I am, I want to join the growing chorus of concerned citizens who are calling for hard answers in the latest ethical debacle to rock the City of Deltona.

Why?

Although I don’t live in that community, I firmly believe that if you care about good governance in your own hometown – then you should care about good government everywhere – and given recent history, I happen to believe that the good citizens of Deltona deserve better.

Last week, the intrepid News-Journal reporter Katie Kustura broke an important story that City Manager Jane Shang – who has been under siege for numerous and frequent gaffs, howlers, lapses of judgement and general mismanagement of the sprawling West Volusia community literally since taking office – may have intentionally and illegally listed her residential address as Deltona City Hall, rather than her actual address on Mountain Ash Way, when completing an official voter registration form.

An oversight?  Maybe.

But if so, why didn’t Ms. Shang immediately correct the mistake when she found a permanent residence?

And more ominous – has Shang been intentionally voting outside her district?

I began to take notice of the Shang regime when she took to using the full might of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to silence political criticism and intimidate anyone who dared question the political shit storm that has permeated every operational area of City Hall for years.

In fact, at Shang’s direction, and the former City Commission’s negligent acquiescence, at least two Deltona residents faced the life-changing horror of defending themselves against potential felony charges.  In my view, it was the most aggressive campaign to eradicate opposition and quash dissent since Mao Zedong’s Double Ten Directive. . .

Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

According to reports, Shang’s erroneous entry on a voter form may have violated Florida statutes prohibiting submitting false information – a 3rd degree felony – punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or 5-years in prison.

Wow.

In my view, it is imperative that the Deltona City Commission immediately terminate Shang’s reign of intimidation and order an independent investigation into this and other improprieties and unethical practices detailed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting – or at the very least – suspend her from office until this serious potential felony crime can be formally investigated by law enforcement.

Like I said, anyone who cares about good governance in their own hometown should care about good governance everywhere, and this necrotic situation in the Shang administration – a wholly dysfunctional and terribly expensive Carnival of the Absurd that has destroyed the public’s faith in their government – simply cannot continue.

If the “new” City Commission truly wants a fresh start and deliverance from the sins of the past – I believe that process begins in the City Manager’s office.

That’s all for me!

Have a great weekend, folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowmaggedon 2018!

Your faithful scribe is “snowed in” in East Tennessee – but while other fools were buying bread and milk – I laid in a supply of fine Japanese whisky.  Let it snow!

So much going on in Volusia County – I’ll be back in the fray when the thaw comes!

On Volusia: Once More, With Enthusiasm

Political cowardice, in all its ugly forms, has been a dominating factor in Volusia County governance for years – it is endemic in the “system” – and its metastatic spread affects many municipalities as well.

At best, this phenomenon is marked by a lack of backbone which prevents our elected officials from doing the right thing, for the right reasons, for fear of alienating their political benefactors – at worst, it is an avoidance mechanism that dodges accountability to their constituents through the use of intermediaries and mouthpieces who deliver a carefully crafted, if tough to hear, message.

In Volusia County, We, The People are a necessary nuisance.

Politicians need our vote to remain in the game – and the system needs our tax dollars to bankroll the private projects of insiders, cover exorbitant salaries and benefits packages of the senior executive class and perpetuate the ‘tax and spend’ cycle – beyond that, we don’t have any real influence on the process.

This scourge of cowardice was never more evident than last spring when, after years of massage and preparation, something called the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a weird consortium of political leaders who apparently take their marching orders from the millionaires of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – announced that the much-ballyhooed half-cent sales tax referendum would be pulled from the ballot.

After whipping their constituents into a lather of fear with scary stories about the self-created problem of allowing unchecked growth without adequate transportation infrastructure (and no way to pay for it) – we learned that Volusia County hadn’t raised transportation impact fees in 15-years.

In fact, local real estate developers – who donate heavily to local political campaigns – have been grossly underpaying impact fees, while receiving credits for  infrastructure improvements supporting a particular project in today’s dollars for years!

Initially, those dullards we elected to ostensibly represent our interests in DeLand wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of raising impact fees, preferring to “let sleeping dogs lie” – or insulting our intelligence by telling us we’re too stupid to understand the complex nature of impact fee calculations.

Then, we discovered the existence of a “secret study” – paid for with our tax dollars – that recommended raising impact fees in some categories by 300%.

In a poorly acted scene, South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough – who emerged as the very visible voice of the sales tax initiative – exclaimed in his patented Tennessee cornpone, “Well, I’ll be gosh-darned.”

“If the report had been addressed sooner, maybe “we wouldn’t have gotten so side-tracked with the sales tax,” he said. “I wonder why it never surfaced.”

Really, Joe?  You really wondered why the study never surfaced?

My ass.

Then – We, The People got pissed.

The intentional suppression of a publicly funded study calling for impact fee increases spoke to everything we suspected – the greed of developers, shady backroom deals, the complete lack of transparency in County government, the lies and miscues by elected officials bent on protecting their benefactors at our expense, fake astonishment by the mouthpiece when the lie was exposed – it was a clear and continuing conspiracy to pull the wool over our eyes, and everyone who is anyone was in on the joke but us.

So, that Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance directed their chattel on the dais of power to pull the plug, and just like that, the half-cent sales tax initiative faded into the ether.

In the meantime, the architect of this and so many other ethical debacles, former County Manager Jim Dinneen, fled the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building with a sack full of severance money, the election has come and gone, and Joe Yarbrough has announced his retirement from the City of South Daytona.

So, this afternoon the Volusia County Council will set about reanimating the corpse of the half-cent sales tax debacle – and all the former cast members are returning for the encore performance.

Of course, Mr. Yarbrough is staying on to serve as the now totally unaccountable flack for the renewed effort – after all, Joe has secured his extremely lucrative pension (he’s no longer accountable to anything but his own conscience) and he’s obtained a part-time gig shilling for a tax increase while remaining on the citizens of South Daytona’s dime.

Our powers-that-be have given Old Ed Kelley the simple, but effective, role of repeating – like a faulty phonograph – the silly phrase, “Our needs will not be met by impact fees alone – Our needs will not be met by impact fees alone – Our needs will not be met by impact fees alone. . .” 

And just like that, these cowards on the dais of power will permit their political benefactors more time to ramrod even more cracker box homes through in places like ICI Homes new “lifestyle” community, Mosaic – or Jimmy Buffett’s faux-beach playground in the pine scrub, Latitudes at Margaritaville. . . 

Under the plan – which completely ignores the urgent recommendations of their highly paid consultant and constituents to execute the increase immediately – the County Council will vote to implement 75% of the suggested impact fee increase within 90-days of adoption – and the remaining 25% in 2020.

It’s a compromised “phased” solution that, in my view, shows just how low our craven elected officials will stoop to please their puppet masters while attempting to lash a sales tax increase to the back of every man, woman and child in Volusia County.

It’s beyond cowardly – it is patently wrong.

In my view, the taxpayers of Volusia County are trapped in a pernicious system they neither understand nor can escape.

It revolves around money – big money – from those who stand at the incredibly lucrative nexus of private interests and public funds, and today’s Kabuki theater in DeLand will best illustrate just how far removed those of us who foot the bill are from those we have elected to serve our highest and best interests.

 

(Barker’s View will be on hiatus this week.  Angels & Assholes will return on December 14, 2018!)