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?
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!)