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!)