On Volusia: The Big Whammy

There’s an old adage, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” 

Quite simply, the expression means its bad manners to inspect the teeth of a horse someone has given you – better to just say ‘thank you’ and be grateful to have received the gift.  After all, only an inconsiderate asshole would rob someone of the joy giving, right?

Well, call me an inconsiderate asshole – because I’m not sure I buy that analogy.

Especially when you are the one responsible for the care, feeding and upkeep of that horse for the next 50 years. . .

You see, I’m the naturally suspicious type – always questioning the why of things.

I also happen to believe that gifts that come with strings attached aren’t gifts at all – they are contractual agreements – a narcissistic power-play which ultimately benefits the ‘gifter’ more than the hapless recipient.

As Rachelle Sanders, producer and host of the “Science for the People” podcast wrote, “Giving can be an altruistic act, sure. But it can also be a symbol of power, dominance, and economic disparity.”

In my view, it can also be a thinly camouflaged “give with one hand, take with the other” scenario. . .

Of course, I’m talking about the recent $15 million “gift” from our own philanthropic savior, J. Hyatt Brown, who has been working overtime just to give us ill-mannered muzhiks a really nice park, which is guaranteed to salve all the civic, social and economic issues that have haunted Downtrodden Downtown Daytona like a golem – and deliver us from the squalor and desperation that has (strategically?) suppressed real estate prices in the area over decades.

A “gift” that comes with a $40-$50 million commitment from struggling taxpayers – who are currently being asked to pony-up an additional half-cent sales tax to cover a burgeoning infrastructure and utilities emergency that threatens to have us all drinking our own recycled sewage if we don’t agree to throw even more money at the same local governments that got us into this crisis in the first place. . .

“What are you talking about, Barker?”

“What brand of paranoid lunatic turns down a $15 million gift – you inconsiderate, shitheel!”

“J. Hyatt and Cici are like the Halifax area’s benevolent grandparents – they just want what’s best for us!”

“Like a loyal supporter said, “Where we’re headed is a place few of us can even dream about.”

Maybe so.

Or, just maybe, the grand Brown Riverfront Esplanade is simply a piece of a much larger puzzle, one that remains too fragmented to see the end result, which has nothing to do with us – and everything to do with facilitating a self-serving plan that will ultimately allow developers with all the right last names to exploit even more public land for private profit?

Don’t take my weird skepticism at face value – read the newspaper.

Last week, the intrepid reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s excellent exposé, “Jewel for Sale? Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island,” broke the shocking news that city officials have been “quietly working behind the scenes to get state restrictions on downtown riverfront property removed so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”

In my warped view, I believe forces well outside of our political control have been preparing the battlefield for years – beginning with the strategic rot and lack of substantive code enforcement that allowed large swaths of downtown to fall victim to blight.

Just look at a smattering of the evidence, and decide for yourself:

In December 2017, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm sent a letter to the city’s current host for itinerant vendors during Bike Week, informing them that their contract would not be renewed after Biketoberfest that fall.

Then, in January 2018, the Daytona Beach City Commission voted to terminate the agreement, which sounded the death knell for biker-related festivities on Beach Street – killing several local small motorcycle businesses in the process.

Places like the Lynnhurst Hotel – which for much of its 121 years – stood as a dilapidated flophouse, advantageously lowering property values next to the perennially vacant overgrown lot that would become the $60 million glass and steel headquarters campus of J. Hyatt’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary.

Then, days after the city’s chief building official issued an emergency condemnation order – just as ground was being broken on the Brown & Brown edifice – the Lynnhurst was quickly demolished and hauled off.

Just like it never even existed. . .

And remember when an obscure option by a third-party consultant to raze the City Island Court House (which was billed as an uninhabitable shithole, so inherently “dangerous” it can’t possible serve as a public facility) suddenly transformed into an off-the-agenda plan to build a $260-million Taj Mahal courthouse/office complex on Beach Street without any public input?

I do.

Then, last month, we learned of plans by the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company for their mysterious Project Delta “. . .a five-story “Class A” apartment building on the corner of Bay and Palmetto as well as a multi-story parking garage at Ridgewood and Bay, with both structures connected by a covered pedestrian overpass. The buildings would include street-level retail shops.”

Now, the citizens of Daytona Beach are on the hook for $800,000 annually for maintenance and upkeep of the Brown’s Esplanade – the gift that keeps on giving – which will serve as the perfect natural buffer between the ghastly condominiums, commercial shopping and office space that will flood City Island – once that deathtrap courthouse has been demolished, our historic ballpark “The Jack” has been bulldozed and those pesky “public purposes forever” deed restrictions are legislatively removed.

Like they never even existed. . .

In my view, this secretive “Grand Plan” formulated by what the News-Journal has described as our “Rich & Powerful” is being aggressively executed in an environment where our elected officials – in some disgusting Faustian bargain with their wealthy political benefactors – stand idle while those with a profit motive are allowed to do what they wish – while We, The People underwrite it all.

After some members of the Daytona Beach City Commission had the temerity to ask questions on behalf of their constituents – for the appearance, if nothing else – Mr. Brown testily quipped, “This is the most difficult time we’ve ever had giving away $15 million.”

“We’re willing to put our ass on the line to bring back downtown Daytona Beach.”

In my view, it’s us who are putting our ass on the line – and the very future of the Halifax area hangs in the balance – yet public input in this incredibly murky plan has been nonexistent.

At the end of the day, it’s not about us.

Clearly, there is money to be made off the moldering remains of Downtown Daytona – and you can bet your ass those who stand to profit won’t let us hapless yokels stand in the way of “progress.”

So, be prepared to pay the bills and keep your pie-hole shut.  The Big Boys don’t need our participation – just our money. . .

Trust me.  The Big Whammy is coming – and the anchor will take the form of a privatized City Island and an obscenely expensive courthouse complex near J. Hyatt’s monument to his own self-importance on Beach Street.

And there’s not a damned thing you or I can do about it. . .

How long will it take the electorate of Volusia County to realize who ultimately benefits – and who pays the bills – in this oligarchical system where public input in the future of our area is neither solicited nor wanted?

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 22, 2019

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:

Asshole           Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley

Regardless of the topic, you can always count on our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to have a flaky take on the important issues of the day.

And by “flaky,” I mean Old Ed’s abject stupidity is as thick and dense as a buttermilk biscuit. . .

Whether he’s bashing Councilwoman Heather Post for challenging the status quo – or yammering incoherently like some demented ventriloquist’s dummy about things he doesn’t have a clue about – Old Ed’s wacky soundbites never fail to disappoint.

Normally, I find Mr. Kelley’s unique brand of political slapstick humorous – who doesn’t – but this time he crossed the line, and once again exposed himself as the meanspirited churl he’s always been.

There’s nothing funny about that.

Last November, Joel Price of Daytona Beach, a veteran of the United States Navy who describes himself as legally blind – filed suit against Volusia County, and other political jurisdictions around the state, under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, after his attempts to learn more about local government were hampered by the fact many documents available for review were incompatible with his screen reading software.

Most people who pay attention know that this has been a long-standing issue for the visually impaired as screen reader software cannot translate portable document format while many government websites use PDF to display content.

Since the ADA passed in 1990, the public and private sector have worked hard to ensure that buildings, parks and other public spaces are readily accessible to persons with disabilities – not because it’s the right thing to do – but because it’s the law.

Unfortunately, in many cases it took the force of law to ensure compliance – and I applaud Mr. Price’s efforts to make the services and information provided by government websites equally accessible to all citizens.

Many local communities have taken this movement seriously and are researching technology that will make their web content available to everyone.  For instance, to their credit, the City of Deltona has formed an ADA Compliance Committee that is studying ways to make the city’s online documents and media more accessible.

That’s a big step – especially for Deltona – a city government that isn’t exactly known for its openness and transparency. . .

Trust me – Mr. Price isn’t doing this for the money.

For instance, in a compromise agreement with Flagler County, Price will receive just a fraction of the $15,700 settlement, with the bulk going to pay legal fees.

Clearly, Mr. Price is fighting valiantly for accessibility and reasonable accommodation for all citizens attempting to interface with their government because, as his important lawsuit pointed out, “One must be informed to understand their peril. . .”   

Unfortunately, Chairman Kelley doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of ensuring that the visually impaired have the same right to meaningful participation in the political process as everyone else.

That’s not unusual.

There are a lot of things Mr. Kelley doesn’t understand – but that never stops his incessant slack-jawed jabbering – which always serves to expose just how far he missed the point.

Earlier this week, Chairman Kelley responded to Mr. Price’s legal action in The Daytona Beach News-Journal with his usual gracelessness, “This just makes the cost of conversion a lot more expensive,” Kelley said, adding that documents on Volusia’s website are rarely explored and that it’s unlikely Price has been truly interested in records from 137 jurisdictions. “It seems like a frivolous lawsuit.”

Jesus.  What a blathering dipshit. . .

According to experts, “In law, frivolous litigation is the practice of starting or carrying on lawsuits that, due to their lack of legal merit, have little to no chance of being won,”  and are usually filed with the intent to harass, annoy or disturb an opposing party.

In this case, Mr. Price attempted to make governments around the state aware of the accessibility issue – and gave them ample opportunity to correct the problem.

In most cases, they blatantly ignored him.

Only when his pleas for help in accessing these web-based community services, programs and public information afforded to those who are not sight impaired were disregarded did he use the Americans with Disabilities Act for its intended purpose.

I am convinced Mr. Price’s lawsuit was anything but frivolous.

In my opinion, Mr. Kelley’s crude comments and brazen indifference to the very real needs and motivations of the blind and visually impaired in their struggle for reasonable access and inclusion is a new low – even for this callous twit.

Angel              Deltona Strong

 One of my favorite quotes comes from the late cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 A sentiment embodied by those intrepid souls of Deltona Strong.

The community-based organization bills itself as a “…grassroots citizens action coalition located in Deltona, Florida.  As non-partisan non-profit, we strive to break down barriers to achieving an inclusive and engaged community. We research issues that have a negative impact to our community and strategize to identify solutions to challenges for Deltona residents.”

Formed over a year ago by a group of concerned residents, the group’s president, Dana McCool is famous for taking a courageous stand against the city’s grossly unfair and wildly fluctuating water billing policy by paying her utility bill with $500 in pennies – all while livestreaming her simple, but effective, protest on social media.

I loved it.

The effort is guided by McCool, the group’s president; Troy Shimkus, vice president; and Terri Ellis, the communications director. The group’s advisory board includes veteran civic activists Brandy White, Dayle Whitman and Christina Larsen.

Since its inception, Deltona Strong has demanded government accountability, remained focused on building a stronger, more cohesive community through outreach and ambassadorships, and partnered with elected and appointed officials to address lingering civic problems.

In my view, any community activist seeking to make a transformational change at the local level need look no further than the hardworking members of Deltona Strong for example and inspiration.

Through a core commitment to building a better community, Deltona Strong has become an important voice in the life of Volusia County’s largest city.

Tomorrow morning, beginning at 9:00am, Deltona Strong – in cooperation with Mayor Heidi Herzberg – will host a water, septic and sewer forum at City Hall Chambers, 2345 Providence Boulevard.

During the meeting, residents will be invited to participate in an in-depth discussion of public utilities issues, and Ms. McCool will provide an update on the audit of the Deltona Water Department.

Kudos to Deltona Strong for your quality efforts to make a positive difference.

Angel              The Daytona Beach News-Journal

This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I’m going to say it anyway.

In my view, the News-Journal has taken the lead on public education campaigns on every important civic and social issue facing Volusia County from beachside blight and dilapidation to this goofy half-cent sales tax money grab.

I’m glad they stepped up to the plate to provide a forum for a meaningful exchange of information – especially when those who should have, didn’t.

Where I take exception is the one-sided composition of the presenters – which appears to be limited to those lock-step cheerleaders for a higher sales tax – including our addled County Chair Ed Kelley, Volusia’s “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald and usually a few yokels from the respective city crying the poor-mouth blues.

To many, given the make-up of the dais, these forums appear to be little more than a propaganda organ of the pro-tax crowd – a cheap infomercial for all the wonderful things that will come our way if we just rollover and take it like good little taxpaying drones.

At a recent Town Hall forum sponsored by the News-Journal in West Volusia, citizen-activist Keith Chester – who is rapidly emerging as an important voice of opposition to the tax hike – stood before this “Phalanx of Positivity” (a performance expertly choreographed by Sales Tax Guru Steve Vancore of Clearview Research) and asked the hard questions.

According to reports, Old Ed patronized Mr. Chester, and the assembled citizens, with his ridiculous “trust me” promises and empty guarantees:

“County Chair Ed Kelley assured Chester that state law mandates the tax to sunset in 20 years. And while the money is coming in, it would be put to good use, Kelley said.

“I can guarantee you while I’m here we will not waste your money,” Kelley promised.”

“I can assure you the money will be used for these purposes and you can hold your local elected officials accountable,” Kelley said.”

Then, in perhaps the most bald-faced ruse in the short history of this clumsy shit-show, Old Ed tugged at the heartstrings of citizens desperate for hard answers by using the fallback “It’s for the kids” argument, “A lot of this half-cent sales tax is about tomorrow,” he said. “It’s for our children and grandchildren. A lot of its longer-term issues.”

Bullshit.

It’s about the children alright.

Many of us are working hard to spread the word that if these gluttonous bastards have their way, our children and grandchildren will be saddled with a crippling gas, property and sales tax burden that will make living in Volusia County all but impossible for many struggling families.

Then, Chairman Kelley attempted to convince the crowd that the much-ballyhooed Advisory Review Committee “will make sure each half-cent sales tax dollar is spent as pledged.”

The problem is – that’s not what the actual ordinance says – and Ed Kelley damn well knows it.

Carefully constructed language in the ordinance makes the oversight committee little more than a toothless watchdog – with “no decision-making authority” – whose members are merely “nominated” by the municipalities, but “appointed” by royal edict of the county council – and serve completely at the whim and “will of the county council?

So, how is this neutered “review board” supposed to “make sure each half-cent sales tax dollar is spent as pledged,” when the members can be terminated with extreme prejudice anytime they make an advisory recommendation contrary to the shady intrigues of county council members and their uber-wealthy handlers?

That’s not autonomous oversight.  That’s a rubber-stamp.

In my view, News-Journal Editor Pat Rice should consider reaching out to local dissidents – those who have a well-researched opinion on this shameless scam – such as Daytona Beach activists Ken Strickland and Greg Gimbert, former county council candidate Jeff Brower or the well-informed Keith Chester.

(Anyone but me – I have to wash my beard that night. . .)

By doing so, these important discussions would offer a point/counterpoint alternative to the carefully crafted pap, fluff and talking points – and help challenge the well-heeled power structure that is spending lavishly to see this sales tax increase become a reality for hard-working Volusia County families who can least afford it.

Asshole           Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler

When it came down to standing up for the fundamental principles of American democracy – Weak Billie Wheeler proved, once again, that she simply does not possess the backbone and strength of character to stand with her constituents against the entrenched oligarchy that passes for governance in Volusia County.

At Tuesday’s county council meeting, our dullards on the dais of power decided on a 4-3 split vote to continue the county’s expensive, and incredibly divisive, challenge to Amendment 10 – a measure passed by 53% of Volusia County voters which returns constitutional authority to the office of sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor.

Why?

Because when Volusia County’s power elite decide they don’t agree with a decision of the voters – they unleash the full might of County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert to overturn the majority decision of We, The People as they maintain a death grip on the status quo.

In my view, this is the antithesis of a functional democracy – one accountable to the supreme power of the people – and represents an insidious form of subjugation, where our vote only counts if it meets the approval and serves the needs of the ruling class.

It may be a benevolent form of tyranny – the direct oppression of the will of the people cloaked in the velvet glove of protecting our “Home Rule” – but it reeks with the stench of dictatorial rule.

When it came to the nut cutting hour, Weak Billie Wheeler changed her stated goal of dropping the suit to “get on with business,” and joined the always arrogant Deb Denys, the Very Reverend Fred Lowry and our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, in the majority vote to permit Cujo Eckert to continue this sinister push to overturn our sacred vote.

Apparently, Weak Billie was swayed by Councilman Lowry’s patented argument that you and I are too damn stupid to understand what we were voting for in the first place – which, you may recall – was the same spiteful reasoning the Old Guard used when they attempted to suppress transportation impact fees for their benefactors in the real estate development industry.

In his typically condescending  way, Rev. Lowry said, “Do you like babies, puppies and cats, and by the way, we are going to change your charter.  I found not one single person who understood we were changing the charter. That’s why I’m supportive of this. People just weren’t aware of what they were voting for with this measure.”

Bullshit.

Once again, the Vicar of Verbosity – the Bishop of Bullshit – proves that he will say anything to protect the status quo – even if it means trampling the rights of those he has sworn to serve. . .

Not to be outdone, Councilwoman Deb Denys once again lectured her long-suffering colleagues on her unique brand of “leadership” when she crowed, “We started this, and we need to finish this. That’s what leaders do.  We’ve come this far, so I think we need to see it all the way through to the Supreme Court and get a final determination.”

(Hey, Deb – you are not a leader – you’re a dull tool of special interests that are slowly exsanguinating Volusia County – you know it, and we know it – so stop the Dale Carnegie routine and stay in your lane. . .)

Just for the record, what true leaders do is understand and respect that all governmental power derives from the will of the people – as expressed through our sacred vote – in fact, it is what members of the United States Military have fought and died to preserve for 238 years – and anything less is an affront to all we hold dear in this country.

In fact, what we are witnessing here bears no resemblance to leadership.

As a smart friend said, “This fight isn’t about Home Rule.  It’s about who rules.”

In my view, council members Ben Johnson, Heather Post and Barbara Girtman demonstrated incredible statesmanship – and acted in the highest traditions of our system of representative democracy – when, despite their personal reservations, they stood tall in support of the will of the majority of Volusia County voters and voted to uphold our hallowed right to self-determination.

“This will rewrite our government and it will create a cost to us,” Councilman Johnson said. “And even though we can second guess and say this would not have passed if it wasn’t for the bundling…I’m going to have to go with 53 percent and it’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make.”

Folks, that’s what unselfish service to a cause greater than one’s own self-interest looks like.

That’s true leadership in action.

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse – the City of Ormond Beach goes and lowers the bar – completing its noxious transition from local government to cheap facilitator.

This week we learned the incredibly disturbing news that the Ormond Beach Police Department on West Granada Boulevard is apparently in grave danger of flooding in the event of a catastrophic hurricane – and the building, which was built just 18-years ago at a cost of $1.3 million, has been allowed to fall into such disastrous disrepair that our City Commission was recently forced to commission a $30,000 “feasibility study” which will list at least three alternatives to occupying this toxic site.

Bullshit.

I’ll bet you a Donnie’s Donut that whatever this “study” ultimately shows – it will result in the Ormond Beach Police Department being displaced – and it has absolutely nothing to do with hurricanes and roof repairs – and everything to do with ensuring that the incredibly desirable real estate it sits on becomes accessible to local developers.

There is nothing wrong with the building that cannot be repaired or mitigated – and the facility has never flooded.  Ever.

For over 30-years I served in a local government that was housed in a City Hall facility built in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration – and has now been in continuous service to the citizens of Holly Hill for some 77-years.

It proves what can be accomplished with an attention to preventive maintenance, by living within the community’s means – and building upon an indomitable spirit of civic pride and sense of tradition that has been lost in places like Ormond Beach that value political power and greed over quality of life.

Now, we live in an era where local governments routinely employ the malicious tactic of creating faux emergencies to facilitate the transfer of public assets to private interests with a profit motive.

These ploys usually begin by allowing publicly-owned facilities to strategically rot through lack of maintenance or repair – or a potentially “dangerous” condition is suddenly discovered, usually supported by the “expert” opinions of flexible professionals on the public payroll who go along to get along – which leaves taxpayers with few options beyond building a Taj Mahal replacement.

In this case, the Ormond Beach Main Street project has made wonderful changes to Granada Boulevard – and it is transforming our community’s downtown into something incredibly special.

Why not simply tell citizens of Ormond Beach that the Police Department is sitting on valuable land that could be used to enhance and expand the mixed-use streetscape?

Why ruin it with the stench of lies? 

This blatant deception speaks to how far removed our elected and appointed officials in Ormond Beach have become from the citizens they serve.

Rather than represent our best interests – the City Commission now perpetrates a gross fraud against their constituents – creating fantastic stories of how a relatively new public facility has become all but uninhabitable – as a cheap means of facilitating the transfer of the property to those who would develop it for private gain.

My God.

What have we become? 

Angel               Bethune-Cookman Lady Wildcats

The Bethune-Cookman Lady Wildcats are going to the Big Dance!

Last Saturday, Bethune-Cookman took Norfolk State 57-45 to claim the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) women’s basketball championship at Scope Arena.  This huge win represents the Wildcats second ever MEAC tournament title and earned the team an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

Here’s a special Barker’s View “Angel Status” to B-CU Senior Angel Golden, and the Lady Wildcat’s fantastic coach, Vanessa Blair-Lewis, who took home the Tournament’s Outstanding Player and Outstanding Coach honors respectively.

Tomorrow morning, B-CU will take on arguably the best team in woman’s college basketball when they face defending champion Notre Dame to kick off March Madness!

You can watch the action on ESPN-2 beginning at 11:00am.

I hope you’ll join me in cheering on our own Lady Wildcat’s on their fist ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament!

Way to go, lady’s!

Win or lose, you have made us incredibly proud!

 Quote of the Week

“Since companies supporting the PAC (Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water) are convinced that more funds are so critically needed, I will wait for the Speedway and Brown & Brown, as well as Tanger Outlets, to return public money given to them, and voluntarily rescind any future incentives. This would be done in the spirit of being good corporate citizens, and to lead by their example. In addition, all amenity fees, that fake tax-like charge added to all purchases at The Pavilion, One Daytona and Tanger Outlets, should now be remitted to local governments for infrastructure needs. I did not need government corporate welfare money in my 41 years in business in Volusia County, so why do these very successful private enterprises require it?”

–Bernard Baran, Port Orange, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Writers weigh in on sales tax hike,” Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Well said, sir.  But don’t hold your breath. . .

When it comes to the stream of public funds – that’s a one way spigot – with a built-in backflow preventer that ensures We, The People, whose sole role in the process is to feed an insatiable machine, rarely, if ever, see a return on the massive investments we make in the for-profit schemes of the ‘Rich & Powerful.’

But Mr. Baran makes an excellent point.

Thousands of local small businesses struggle to survive in this artificial economy, where our politicians pick winners and losers by skewing the playing field with an infusion of public funds whenever the right last names need us to cover their overhead and reduce risk with tax abatement ploys, infrastructure improvements and other quid pro quo corporate welfare scams.

All while the little guy never sees a dime. . .

When that isn’t enough – politicians permit developers to keep the flow going with “enhanced amenity fees” – a sales tax by any other name – on purchases we make at the very shopping centers we helped to underwrite in the first place.

Then, like the greed-crazed tax-suckers they are, these same “corporate citizens” have the impudence to demand that their elected intermediaries return to the well and demand even more of our hard-earned cash at the point-of-sale with a sales tax increase?

That takes balls. . .

And Another Thing!

 Next week, I will have been a member of the leisure class for five years.

Wow.  How time flies.

During my professional life, I had the opportunity to work on some of the most entrenched civic issues of our time – working with stakeholders in the public, private and faith communities to solve problems and bring about positive change.

I enjoyed that part of the job.

In my view, no issue was more important than juvenile justice reforms designed to protect vulnerable young people from being taken into the gaping maw of the criminal justice system – which invariably led to children leaving school and becoming part of what some refer to as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

One local organization has been at the forefront of the effort to institute a civil citation program in Volusia County

In an excellent editorial authored by the inspirational co-leaders of Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony (F.A.I.T.H.) – the Rev. Kathy Tew-Ricky of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ormond Beach and Pedro Dash of Tubman-King Community Church wrote:

“F.A.I.T.H. found evidence that Volusia County indeed tops not only Florida but our nation in out-of-school suspensions and juvenile arrests. A corresponding low graduation rate is not surprising. With this information, F.A.I.T.H. began to research solutions that would keep our communities and schools safer while also correcting misbehavior. The solutions proved to be civil citations in lieu of arrests and restorative practices in our schools. Each of these solutions assures accountability and restitution by juvenile offenders.”

I can assure you that – unless things have drastically changed in the five years since I retired – local law enforcement executives wholeheartedly support reasonable alternatives to arrest and incarceration for young, non-violent offenders – and many are long-term partners with F.A.I.T.H. in supporting the civil citation and other diversion programs in Volusia County.

Now, F.A.I.T.H. is taking on the difficult problem of student discipline.

The organization of 28 inter-faith congregations will hold its 2019 Action Assembly on Monday, April 8th at 6:30pm at Peabody Auditorium.  Last years meeting was attended by nearly 2,000 people who collectively asked for a commitment from our elected and appointed officials to help bring positive change to often broken systems.

This year, School Board members Ida Wright, Carl Persis and Ruben Colon will appear, along with Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood, Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri, Chief Probation Officer Dan Merrithew and Volusia County Council members Heather Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman.

I hope you will take the opportunity to join me for a wonderful evening as we join with “good people doing good work” to ensure a bright future for the youth of our communities.

That’s all for me!  Have a great weekend, kids!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Why?

“…when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

–Sherlock Holmes -The Blanched Soldier

Most of my life was spent bringing bad people to justice with fairness but firmness, without passion or prejudice.

Just the facts, Ma’am. . .

It was someone else’s job to present the evidence and passionately argue the facts of the case to a judge and jury.  I simply collected the who, what, when, where, why and how of the matter – and of these basic investigative questions – often the hardest to determine was the “why” of things. . .

Frankly, after more than three-decades in the business, I finally came to the conclusion that there is good and evil in the world – and outside of that simpleminded explanation – I have no idea why people do the things they do.

My job was to gather the facts.

After a lifetime of thinking analytically about how items of evidence proved or disproved the elements of a crime, that mindset naturally carries over as I bitch and brood over our myriad civic issues – like this shameless half-penny money grab we are all staring down here on Florida’s fable Fun Coast.

In my view, the what is clear – our elected officials demonstrated how compromised they truly are by artificially suppressing transportation impact fees for nearly two-decades as a favor to their political benefactors in the real estate development community – all while approving incredibly lucrative growth along the spine of Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Like the obsequious lapdogs they have become – our politicians and bureaucrats in both municipal and county government are working overtime on behalf of their handlers to convince your family and mine of the importance of self-inflicting a sales tax increase that will generate an estimated $45 million annually, ostensibly to fund transportation and utilities improvements in the wake of the unchecked sprawl they helped create.

Now, those same dullards who perpetuated this gross miscarriage of their fiduciary responsibilities are once again abandoning any semblance of political independence as they kowtow to the whims and orders of their uber-wealthy puppet masters at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance.

The how of this shameless money grab is equally apparent.

A few of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ who see the potential windfall that will result if We, The People agree to hand even more of our hard-earned money over to their elected intermediaries, have formed a goofy Political Action Committee known as Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water – a thinly veiled consortium of perennial insiders who long-ago cemented their place at the public titty and latched on like a suckfish.

In turn, the PAC has used private funds to hire a professional strategist in the form of Steve Vancore, President of Clearview Research, who has made a cottage industry out of ramrodding local option tax increases around the Sunshine State.

With Mr. Vancore’s necessarily simplistic coaching, our elected and appointed officials are busy making their way around the width and breadth of Volusia County parroting what they’ve been told to say, as they try and convince us of what our quality of life will look like if we fail to acquiesce to this thinly veiled pass-through which takes cash from our wallet at the point-of-sale and transfers it to theirs.

The who, what, when and where is pretty clear to anyone paying attention.

I’m most interested in the why of it all. . .

Why weren’t entrenched political insiders in the real estate development community – who contributed $1 of every $5 spent to the campaigns of their hand-select political candidates during the last election cycle – required to pay their fair share for the infrastructure stressors they created with mega-developments like Mosaic and Latitudes at Margaritaville?

Why?

Why are we being rushed into a weird, first-of-its-kind “mail in” referendum costing some $490,000 – a highly suspect process which now bears no resemblance to any election ever held in Volusia County – one that will allow voters to drop ballots in “secure” collection boxes at their local City Hall (?) – a slapdash referendum hurried to the polls while voters still wait for a comprehensive list of prioritized projects. . .

Why?

Why were the results of the statutorily required Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability audit (which must be posted at least 60-days in advance of any local option tax referendum) arbitrarily removed from the Volusia County website on Friday – then mysteriously re-posted on Monday afternoon?

According to our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald, the audit results were taken down to give the county council a “chance to review it.”

Say what?

Hey, Georgie – this performance audit wasn’t completed to satisfy the nervous curiosity of those compromised shysters on the dais of power – the audit was done to satisfy the well-earned suspicions of their long-suffering constituents.

It was a means of protecting our interests and provide some level of outside oversight to this crude process which has commingled public funds and staff time with cold hard cash from those private interests who stand to benefit most.

Why didn’t you conniving shitheels give everyone the opportunity to “review the results” simultaneously? 

Why was it necessary to screw up something as simple as posting the performance audit results with a modicum of transparency?

Why?

 Why did a plan to widen Howland Boulevard between Providence and Elkcam Boulevards in Deltona, which was previously identified as a “fully funded” project on a 2017 River-to-Sea Transportation Planning Organization priority list for gas tax and transportation bond funding, also appear on the current half-cent sales tax wish list?

Why can’t anyone in Volusia County government produce a credible accounting for the money already allocated for the Howland widening and other projects identified under our current $65 million transportation bond?

Why is our highly-paid County Manager now allowing county mouthpiece Joanne Magley to field sensitive questions regarding why already funded transportation projects are now showing up as sales tax priorities?

If funding was available for infrastructure considered critical in 2017 – why wasn’t the project put out to bid two years ago?  And if it wasn’t – how in the hell can anyone say with certainty that construction costs are “more expensive than originally envisioned?”

Why?

Why were We, The People promised that the much-ballyhooed advisory review committee would provide independent oversight and prevent the abject waste, fraud, reallocation and mismanagement inherent to any county-run project – yet, in reality, under the terms of the ordinance it’s a toothless watchdog – with “no decision making authority” – whose members are merely “nominated” by the municipalities, but “appointed” by royal edict of the county council – and serve completely at the whim and “will of the county council?   

So much for any semblance of autonomous outside review. . . 

Why?

Why didn’t our municipal and county governments establish, and adequately fund, a strategic plan for the repair and replacement of key transportation infrastructure and essential utilities?

And don’t try to pass off that goofy federal and state cash clearinghouse over at the Transportation Planning Organization – a hot air generator populated with many of the same elected dullards who got us mired in the mess in the first place – as being a legitimate intermodal transportation planning agency.

Why?

Why do our elected officials continue to funnel money to the private interests of uber-wealthy political insiders ($40 million to ISC for their “synergistic” One Daytona project, $4.5 million to Tanger Outlets, $15+ million to gazillionaire insurance intermediary Brown & Brown to underwrite construction of their corporate headquarters, a probable $1 million annual squeeze on the citizens of Daytona Beach for upkeep of the proposed J. Hyatt and Cici Brown Grande Esplanade, a potential $8.77 million to payoff state officials to drop century-old deed restrictions on City Island and make way for private development, etc., etc.) all while allowing a potential public infrastructure crisis to reach an estimated $1.4 billion countywide?

Why?

Why, with citizens being asked to go in their own pockets for a collective $45 million annually to avoid drinking their own recycled sewage, does the Volusia County Council still refuse to implement a fiscal integrity ordinance – or at least halt the long-standing, pernicious practice of allowing politically unaccountable senior staff to reallocate funds and amend the previous decisions of elected policymakers without their knowledge or approval?

Why would our elected officials ask that we hand even more of our hard-earned money over to these demonstrably inept bureaucrats who have proven, time-and-again, that they are patently incapable of effectively managing funds and projects that have been previously entrusted to them?

Why?

With just weeks until we are asked to vote on perhaps the most important civic decision of our time, these disturbing questions, turmoil and utter sense of confusion remain.

If there is any positive to come out of this incredibly expensive shit-show, it is that this creepy process has exposed just how grossly disorganized and horribly fractured Volusia County has become after years of mismanagement, oligarchical rule and strategic rot.

Trust me.  If this blundering attempt to pass a local sales tax increase represents the very best effort of our political elite – we’re doomed.

So, the next time your mayor, council member or commissioner comes before you groveling for your sacred vote that will return them to office for more of the same – or some politically unaccountable shill tries to convince you why your family should throw good money after bad to these same inept assholes who got us into the predicament in the first place – ask them the simple question:

Why? 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds of Awakening: Have our worst fears been realized?

Late last night, a smart friend read an online piece by the outstanding reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Jewel for Sale? Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island,” and remarked that, to the uninitiated, Barker’s View might appear to be the ramblings of a weird soothsayer.

The work of some prescient seer with the clairvoyant ability to tell the future – citing the fact that my bizarre opinions on the important issues of the day invariably prove true in time.

As an example, my friend quoted from a piece I wrote almost exactly one year ago entitled, The Grand Plan:

“Regular readers of this forum know that I harbor a conspiracy theory that, based upon mounting evidence, our ‘powers that be’ have secretly constructed a “Grand Plan” for the future of the Halifax area – something the rest of us, to include our current elected officials in municipal and county government, know nothing about.

In my warped mind, this well-orchestrated blueprint was hatched by Volusia’s powerful camarilla of political insiders – the uber-wealthy donor class who have gained near total control of our democratic processes through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates – and a willingness to groom and protect (now former) County Manager Jim Dinneen, despite his many glaring shortcomings.

I also believe that this scheme was clandestinely advanced under cover of darkness without any public input and outside any normal or reasonable budget, planning or oversight processes.

Why?

To ensure that all the right last names receive maximum return on their financial investment in developing and fostering this bastardized political process we call “local government” in Volusia County.

Payday is coming – and everyone who is anyone is already posted at the trough.

In fact, I believe we have been seeing the puzzle pieces drop into place for the past several years.”

Then – the Word According to Barkstradomus:

“And, if our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, verbal slip can be believed – we can kiss public facilities and amenities on City Island goodbye when they package and sell that sweet slice of the pie to some speculative developer.

(Trust me.  City Island is necessary to complete the “package” – and they will be coming for it.)

Then, last fall, the recognized High Panjandrum of Political Power, J. Hyatt Brown, demanded (by threatening to take his football and move to Atlanta) and immediately received, some $15.5-million tax dollars to develop a monolithic headquarters with his name at the top, also in Downtown Daytona.

(Interestingly, that figure almost exactly matches the $15.8-million in public funds Volusia County used to extend Williamson Boulevard to permit direct access to Political Potentate Mori Hosseini’s Woodhaven mega-residential development in Port Orange.)   

Now, our own Camera stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – a private consortium of quadrillionaires who, under the stewardship of the American Music Festival’s own Dr. Kent Sharples, figure out inventive ways to use our money to fund their projects – is spending freely to “educate” the great unwashed hoards who exist solely to fill scullery jobs and pay exorbitant fees and taxes – on why we should welcome yet another money grab in the form of a half-cent sales tax this fall.”

At the time, I was laughed at by our ‘powers that be’ – labeled a heretic and dismissed as a madman whose opinions were little more than maniacal ravings.

Now, the evidence has become too shocking to ignore. . .

According to the News-Journal, Daytona Beach officials have been mysteriously working “behind the scenes” to remove century-old deed restrictions on some 97-acres of public lands comprised of City Island, Manatee Island, Riverfront Park (soon to be known as the J. Hyatt Brown Grande Esplanade) and adjacent parcels “…so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”

Wow.

You see, over 100 years ago when these beautiful spoil islands were deeded to the City of Daytona Beach, the caveat was that the land had to be used exclusively for “public purposes forever,” and would return to the State of Florida if the city ever sold or leased it to a private entity for any private use.

Well, in this mercenary era where the rich get richer and those of us who pay the bills are expected to suffer in silence – the term “forever” means exactly jack shit.

You see, in December 2018, former Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet voted to lift all of the deed restrictions on the City Island property – so long as the citizens of Daytona Beach agreed to pay the state some $8.77 million.

Jesus.  That was bold even by Slick Rick’s fast and loose standards. . .

Now, freshman state Representative Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R-DeLand) has filed a bill to allow all of the restrictions to be dropped for free – apparently arguing that since the land is already owned by taxpayers, one government entity shouldn’t be forced to pay another for it.

Whatever.

This news sent a shock-wave through the Halifax area – with many coming to the sudden realization that their worst fears have finally been realized.

Rather than calm the fears of his anxious constituents, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm essentially called anyone who felt blindsided by this sneak thievery fools for not figuring this byzantine scheme out on their own:

“We had meetings with the City Commission when it was talked about,” Chisholm said. “It was not a secret. Everybody who was paying attention knew about it.”

Bullshit.

Even the ultimate insider, King J. Hyatt Brown, who is actively breaking ground on a $60 million glass and steel headquarters building for his billion-dollar insurance company just steps away from the property – and donating some $15 million to renovate Riverfront Park – told his subjects that he was also dumbstruck by Mr. Chisholm’s revelations.

I can assure you that no one pays closer attention to the machinations of government than J. Hyatt Brown – so, someone’s not telling us the whole truth – and Mr. Brown doesn’t strike me as someone who likes surprises. . .

Apparently, Mayor Henry was well aware of the intrigue – commenting that if Ms. Fetterhoff’s bill fails, he is prepared to scrounge the $8.77 million to pull the rug out from under his astonished constituents – even as he and his colleagues on the dais of power try and convince us to self-inflict a tax increase to pay for unchecked sprawl.

(Riddle me this: Why is it our elected officials can always find money to support the needs and whims of political insiders – yet cry the poor-mouth blues whenever it comes to providing essential infrastructure and public services?)

Look, I’m nothing special – a blind pig wandering the political wilderness of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – tilting at windmills and haranguing those elected and appointed officials who have hijacked our system of governance and turned it into a cheap vendue, where the needs and wants of those of us who pay the bills have become a distant second to those of the ‘Rich & Powerful’ who rule like unaccountable potentates through their elected intermediaries.

But this is something different – more sinister – and infinitely more disturbing than our run-of-the-mill political cronyism.

It speaks to something darker – something that works against the concept of unity and community – and confirms our fears that municipal and county government have dissolved into little more than cheap facilitators for real estate developers and builders who, during our last election cycle, donated $1 of every $5 in campaign contributions to their hand-select candidates.

Once lost, the public trust is almost impossible to restore.  But no one who should seems to care about that anymore.

I urge you to pay attention, my friends.

This one bears watching.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 15, 2019

Hi, kids!

The French philosopher, René Descartes’ liked to say “Cogito ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am.

Whatever that means. . .

Look, I’m the first to admit – I’m not the cerebral type – and my tendency toward guttural reaction, rather than thinking issues through to a logical conclusion, is the basis for what I’m sure will be my epitaph: ‘Whiskey and Bad Decisions.’

I like to say that the only thing that kept me out of college was high school.

Because it’s true.

I was a horrible student – and most of my academic life was spent trying to avoid the confines of places of higher learning.  For instance, during one grading cycle, I actually played hooky six-weeks out of a nine-week period.

Instead of boarding the bus and trundling off to Seabreeze Senior High School, I spent my days tramping the wild places, hunting and fishing the Tomoka Basin like some demented Huck Finn character.

Teachers would tell my long-suffering parents that I didn’t “apply” myself – and those high school aptitude tests repeatedly determined that, based upon my personality, skills and abilities, I was best suited for a career as a concrete garden gnome. . .

My SAT scores were so low that they skewed the national average downward for most of the late 1970’s – and I remember literally “Christmas-treeing” most of the Heart of Algebra section – with its weird hieroglyphics and linear equations mumbo-jumbo. . .

As a result, throughout my professional life I watched as those with a college education surged past me – invariably receiving jobs and promotional opportunities that my abysmal lack of education made me wholly unqualified for – and established a lifelong inferiority complex that left me feeling I never measured up to my peers who took the time to achieve academic degrees.

Because I didn’t.

As a result, I became the consummate experiential learner – a polished mimic who could perfectly emulate those qualities I admired in others – and, to make up for my educational deficit, I worked twice as hard at jobs most didn’t want as a way of proving my worth to the organization.

By the time I reached the pinnacle of my law enforcement career, I had served 26-years and learned every job in the agency – including sweeping the floor.

Trust me.  The School of Hard Knocks is the most expensive education imaginable.

Earlier this week, like most of the nation, I awoke to the news of a widespread college admissions scandal that shocked the conscience of anyone who ever worked their ass off to get accepted to a prestigious university – and exposed how wealth and privilege has compromised literally every social, civic and educational institution in America.

As I understand it, federal court records unsealed in Boston this week name 50 Hollywood celebrities, business leaders and uber-wealthy families who were indicted as part of a nationwide scheme to cheat on entrance exams, fake athletic recruitment and pay bribes to coaches and key administrators to get their children accepted to elite universities, such as Georgetown, Yale, USC and Stanford.

In my view, as tragic as this criminal scam is for those students who were denied entrance to make way for the undeserving offspring of the privileged few – closer to home, we are all victims of a similar pay-to-play system that allows the ‘Rich & Powerful’ near total control of our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

Now, we will collectively take perverse pleasure in this national moment of schadenfreude – watching smugly as a few B-list celebrities, pompous elites and greedy fixers slowly twist on the spit of what passes for public opinion in 2019 – while ignoring the fact our local Movers & Shakers are busy spending heavily to orchestrate a brazen money grab in concert with our elected officials, which, if successful, will take even more of our hard-earned money from our wallets and transfer it to theirs.

This is nothing new.

In coming weeks, I encourage everyone to pay close attention as these power brokers and their hired chattel do everything in their considerable sphere of influence to convince us that a sales tax increase is a “happy thing.”

Think – long and hard – about the ramifications of this tax grab, and consider the question of what ultimately happens if we continue to enable this ‘tax-and-spend’ mentality that has seen millions in public funds blatantly funneled to the private interests of many of the very same people and corporations who are now working overtime to convince us to give even more at the point-of-sale.

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole           Volusia County School District

The hits just keep on coming. . .

When I wrote about the abject failure of the School Board’s toothless dress code among high school students, it raised strong opinions on both sides of the standardization argument.

Some felt my criticism of Superintendent Tom Russell was unduly harsh – while others agreed that his failure to ensure a fair and consistent application of the rules is indicative of much more serious issues facing the district.

One reader, who noted she has children in two Volusia County high schools, felt my comment that some public schools “look more like a prison yard than a place of education and self-discovery” was insulting.

Perhaps it was.

While I meant no personal affront – I’m assuming the offended parent hasn’t seen the incredibly disturbing cellphone footage that emerged from Daytona Beach’s Seabreeze High School just weeks ago when hordes of warring students squared off – at least one armed with a box cutter – wilding, brawling and exchanging disgusting racial epithets.

Scenes that give prison yards a bad name. . .

Last weekend, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s outstanding education reporter Cassidy Alexander confirmed in a front page/above the fold article, “Poor grades for high school uniforms,” that the School Board’s lack of legislative clarity – and Mr. Russell’s sloppy enforcement of the rules – are having a detrimental impact on the learning environment for high school students and teachers.

According to the report, “Although elementary and middle school principals said they like it and don’t face any significant challenges enforcing it, high school principals said the policy is hard to enforce, cuts into instructional time, encourages students to dislike school even more and is creating rifts between teachers.”

Incredibly, “Of the district’s nine high schools, four principals said less than 50 percent of students are in compliance each day; four more said it’s less than 75 percent.”

Wow.

In keeping with Superintendent Russell’s modus operandi – which values mediocrity and protecting the status quo over the pursuit of excellence in education – once again, a relatively minor issue of policy implementation and enforcement was allowed to reach a crisis point and become front page news.

Then, on Sunday, Mr. Tony Barhoo, principal of Living Faith Academy in Daytona Beach,  reported in the News-Journal’s Community Voices column, “When it comes to schools, parents know best,” the grim statistic that black and Hispanic students in Volusia County are falling through the cracks at an alarming rate.

According to Mr. Barhoo,  “There remains a huge achievement gap between students of color and white students in Volusia County. Black and Hispanic students in Volusia also trail black and Hispanic students elsewhere, scoring behind their counterparts statewide in every single tested grade. It’s no wonder that the graduation rate for black and Hispanic students in Volusia is dead last among the state’s biggest districts.”

I find that unconscionable.

If parents of Volusia County high school students aren’t enraged by this appalling indicator – they should be.

The districts inability to implement a school uniform policy is one thing – the fact our graduation rate for students of color is rock bottom among the state’s largest districts is something far more disturbing.

In my view, this is just one more example of the abject ineptitude and gross lack of leadership by Mr. Russell and his goofy “Cabinet” of  sycophantic sluggards who have become little more than crisis workers in the absence of a strategic vision that continues to fail students, teachers and taxpayers.

In my view, with a budget topping $840 million – this continuing course of conduct and gross organizational incompetence borders on criminal negligence. . .

But when the people you serve stop expecting anything of substance from you – and your elected “leadership” embrace averageness and poor performance as public policy – then underachievement and shoddy standards become ingrained in the culture of the organization.

That’s a dangerous combination when the education of our most precious resource is at stake.

Asshole           Volusia Roundtable of Elected Officials

I wrote about this earlier in the week under the header, “They know we’re watching, right?” 

For those who missed it:

The Knights of the Roundtable met earlier this week to get their collective story together on the proposed half-cent money grab that has consumed our elected and appointed officials literally to the exclusion of anything else.

The bellows for this building political conflagration is Steve Vancore, a professional windbag who has ramrodded successful sales tax initiatives in more than a dozen Florida counties.  Now, Vancore’s Clearview Research has been engaged by the Star Chamber over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to prepare the battlefield here.

On Monday, Mr. Vancore met with municipal mayors, city managers and county officials to give them a quick course in how to act human as they polish the turd and avoid their “natural tendency” to be defensive when their long-suffering, overtaxed constituents call bullshit. . .

According to an excellent article by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I would encourage you to lead with the positives. There isn’t anything to be defensive about,” Vancore said at a round table meeting of Volusia officials at the Daytona Beach International Airport.  “This is a happy thing for our community.  Every dollar of it stays right here.”

A happy thing?  Wow.

It’s a damnable tragedy is what it is.

The abject failure of our elected and appointed officials to hold their political benefactors accountable for adequate transportation impact fees for nearly two-decades – all while facilitating untold profits for their cronies in the real estate development community by permitting unchecked sprawl along the spine of Volusia County – then frightening their constituents with scary stories about what will happen to their quality of life in they fail to self-inflict a sales tax increase on all goods and services they purchase is an abomination.

But those greed-crazed assholes over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who know well that this tax represents a pass-through from our wallet to theirs in the form of government contracts, road and infrastructure projects – aren’t taking any chances in this wretched race to relieve you and your family of even more of your hard-earned cash – and it’s painful to watch.

If this disgusting exercise has done anything, it has exposed the depth to which Volusia County politicians will sink with the right application of money.

The “referendum” that is being rushed to conclusion just ahead of state legislation which will shut the door on these nefarious money-grabs – appears to be taken directly from the playbook of Idi Amin – because it now bears no resemblance to a legitimate democratic election.

This week, we learned that Volusia County voters will be allowed the unprecedented option of dropping ballots off at “secure” boxes in City Halls – the latest twist in a weird first-of-its-kind “mail in” vote scheme – wholly orchestrated by the CEO Alliance and their consultant at Clearview Research to give this tax increase the best possible chance of passage.

My God.

Folks, this is what happens to our sacred systems of governance when We, The People are all that stand between political insiders who stand to benefit and an estimated $42-million in annual revenue.

We become a mere impediment that must be “reeducated” – and told that higher taxation at the point-of-sale is somehow a “happy thing” – even as those we have elected to represent our best interests prostrate themselves before those who purchased their very souls and now use them like cheap tools.

Angel              Bethune-Cookman University Athletics

 From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

It’s proving to be a banner year for the Wildcat Nation – with the multi-talented Quamecha Morrison finishing second in the nation in the high jump last weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championship in Birmingham, Alabama.

The senior from Beaufort, S.C., cleared six feet, one-half inch on her second try and was one of four to advance to 6′ 1 ½”.  Morrison cleared her first three jumps to earn the tie breaker over Loretta Blaut of Cincinnati and Sanna Barnes of Villanova.

According to reports, “She becomes the first B-CU female athlete to score at an NCAA national championship either indoor or outdoor and the first Wildcat to finish in the top eight since Joel Redhead and Ronnie Ash at the 2009 outdoors.”

In addition, last month, Bethune-Cookman Softball Head Coach Laura Watten registered her 700th career win!

The 2012 B-CU Hall of Famer spent nine seasons as Head Coach at the University of Maryland where she led the Terps to three straight NCAA Regionals.  Coach Watten first led the Wildcats from 1998 to 2005, taking B-CU to five MEAC titles, six regional appearances and a super-regional.

Watten returned to coach the Wildcats in 2014.

Kudos to these outstanding members of our community on their incredible success!

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Earlier this week, a Leon County judge rightfully denied Volusia County’s latest wrong-headed challenge to Amendment 10 – the voter approved initiative that will return constitutional authority to the office of sheriff, elections supervisor, clerk of court and property appraiser.

Now, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, is joining County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert in yet another push to appeal the ruling and perpetuate this incredibly expensive waste of time and effort.

Speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ol’ Ed yammered, “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy.  We hoped that we would have prevailed, but this is just one step. The ruling from the bench may not necessarily be the ruling that would come from the higher court.”

It’s actually the third step, Ed. . .

This latest fail makes it a hat trick for “Cujo” Eckert – whose efforts on behalf of the majority of our wholly compromised County Council to thwart the will of the people and overturn our sacred vote – have been rejected by the courts twice before.

But when the oligarchical “status quo” is threatened by a vote of We, The People – apparently, no expense is too great to force their will over ours.

This push to overturn our vote began during an off-the-agenda action – following the Volusia County Council’s practice of “public policy by ambush” – a move that resulted in Sheriff Mike Chitwood rightfully mocking these vengeful gatekeepers for the “Rich & Powerful” as “scumbags.”

He’s right.

And Sheriff Chitwood wasn’t alone in his staunch support of allowing Volusia County voters to decide their own system of governance.

According to News-Journal reports, “The county’s challenge against the amendment was met by opposition from the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Florida Association of Tax Collectors. Even before Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled against the county, the governor and secretary of state moved to dismiss Volusia’s complaint.”

The fact is, anyone paying attention knows that Volusia County trots out the Home Rule provisions of its charter whenever it suits its own selfish needs – and leaves it in the scabbard when allowing state law to override the will of the people serves the needs of the “system.”

Anyone remember the beach driving debate?

Way back in 2014, a group of intrepid residents formed a grassroots effort to amend Volusia County’s charter and impose a public referendum on every beach-driving restriction set by the Volusia County Council which would have put a quick end to the wholesale abuse and giveaway of our century-old heritage of beach access.

In turn, Cujo Eckert abandoned the Charter and rolled over like a neutered pup when he saw the detrimental impacts this would have on insider influence in the process, and he immediately proclaimed that the proposed amendment would be inconsistent with state statute.

What followed was a bloody battle fought all the way to the Fifth District Court of Appeals which saw Cujo suing his own constituents – with our own money – to protect the status quo.

Where was the hue and cry by our elected and appointed officials to protect Home Rule when citizens asked for a say in protecting Volusia County’s most important economic driver?    

It seems whenever the citizens of Volusia County seek to use their sacred vote to effect positive change – our ‘powers that be’ have no qualms about using our hard-earned tax dollars to fight us in the courts.

In the case of Amendment 10 – Volusia County insiders are scared shitless about losing control if voters are allowed to make decisions and balance power.

It was painfully evident during the beach driving debacle – and increasingly apparent during this shameless push for a half-cent sales tax – wherein the millionaires of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, with the complete acquiescence of their hired chattel on the dais of power – have manipulated a weird mail-in ballot scheme which bears no resemblance to any legitimate election we have seen before for the sole purpose of controlling the outcome.

You see, as a smart former Volusia County council member recently said to me, “The fuss isn’t about Home Rule.  No, it’s about who rules.”

Quote of the Week

“Commissioners need to stop dragging their feet and get this rolling. There are a lot of empty brick-and-mortar restaurants in Daytona Beach. We should encourage all small business, or more of it will leave.”

–John Santy, Port Orange, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor, “No reason to limit food trucks,” March 13, 2019

One of the most frequent complaints I receive from readers of my goofy screeds are the almost institutionalized impediments to entrepreneurial investment and small business starts in the City of Daytona Beach.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask anyone who has attempted to start a business – even in the moldering ruins of Main Street or Downtrodden Downtown – about the onerous hoops they were required to jump through by officious bureaucrats at City Hall before being granted the right to pursue their livelihood.

The process resembles a scene from some backwater Banana Republic – with a sleepy government official in a rancid uniform repeatedly inking the rubber-stamp that the hapless applicant needs before advancing to the next level of the byzantine bureaucracy.

Some would-be entrepreneurs I have spoken with simply gave up and moved their enterprise to surrounding communities who value investment, while others spent thousands in precious start-up funds to hire attorneys to guide them through the maze toward the illusive piece of cheese – a business tax receipt.

For months, owners of food trucks – which have coexisted with established restaurants in more sophisticated areas for decades – have been fighting an uphill battle against our elected and appointed officials at City Hall just to ply their wares in Daytona Beach.

The same is true in the Kingdom of Ormond Beach where the City Commission recently refused to allow food truck operators to earn a living outside of community-wide events and craft breweries. . .

Daytona Beach City Commissioners seem intent on using their petty legislative powers to skew the playing field – damning the idea of fair competition in a free and open marketplace where survival of the best might adversely impact existing brick-and-mortar restaurants.

That’s not the role of an elected body.

Look, by any metric the Halifax area has a grim reputation as a social, artistic and cultural wasteland – a place where anything other than a godforsaken chain restaurant has a life expectancy of about six-months, a Buc-ee’s gas station makes us feel all haughty and high-brow – and anyone with an idea that doesn’t fit neatly in the box of civic conformity is allowed to wither and die under the crushing weight of red tape, rules and formalities.

Sad.

In my view, it is this gross governmental manipulation of the free market that has resulted in this crushing artificial service economy – based upon the same five uber-wealthy insiders passing the same nickel around – that continues to allow elected officials to pick winners and losers by injecting millions of tax dollars into the private profit motives of all the right last names.

After all, when you stack the deck with bought-and-paid-for politicians – then demand tax abatement, infrastructure improvements and weird “public/private” partnerships which always seem to benefit the “private” side of the equation and eliminate any risk or overhead – it’s incredibly hard for outsiders to compete.

To those long-suffering food truck operators who can’t catch a break, I would suggest spending lavishly during the next election cycle – showering massive campaign contributions on those political puppets backed by our High Panjandrums of Political Power – then watch your fortunes begin to change for the better.

And Another Thing! 

Last summer, The Civitas Project, a private, non-profit corporation in strategic alliance with Stetson University, its Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience and its Center for Community Engagement, published an essay written by former Volusia County Manager Larry Arrington entitled, “Volusia County Government: A New Day Dawning.”

(Mr. Arrington’s excellent piece can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y45mzznn )

The article was written in the immediate aftermath of former County Manager Jim Dineen’s abrupt departure in June 2018, and expertly details the challenges and opportunities presented for our current Volusia County Council – along with sound suggestions for consideration by our elected representatives which, inexplicably, remain wholly ignored.

With county officials currently travelling the width and breadth of this salty piece of land with their weird medicine show designed to sell us on the “benefits” of self-inflicting a sales tax increase on all goods and services your family and mine spend our hard-earned money on – I thought it would be fun to take a look back at a few of Mr. Arrington’s prescient thoughts.

Many I speak with are concerned that – with little more than two-months before the countywide referendum, we still haven’t received a comprehensive list of projects for review – a situation smart people believe sets the stage for our demonstrably compromised politicians to essentially do what they want – when they want – in the absence of a prioritized strategy or any legitimate outside supervision.

I know we’ve been promised that a mysterious citizen oversight board will be appointed sometime after the vote – not before – but, we’ve been promised a lot of things.

If history repeats, we also know that any committee of political appointees will be comprised of all the right last names. . .

In my view, Mr. Arrington explained the basis for our concerns well when he wrote:

“Once the council allocates money, the funds should be earmarked and used for that purpose, absent a conscious council decision to change course.  Peculiar to Volusia County, the staff has the power to transfer or reallocate funds, changing council decisions in the process.  The allocated money is spent elsewhere, and no one—neither the citizens nor the council—need be the wiser. Council may ultimately approve such reallocations— after the fact. The county government needs greater fiscal integrity to ensure that its financial practices are consistent with the direction of the council and with sound financial management principles.”

For instance, in the early 2000’s, the county bonded some $65 million to address transportation infrastructure projects – what happened to it?

Given Volusia County’s propensity for pulling the “old switcheroo” – how do we know with certainty that transportation projects that were earmarked for road improvement bond funding won’t now appear on the sales tax wish list because the money was shuffled elsewhere?

Should we merely take their word for it?

My ass.

We are told that the results of an “audit” required by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability before the sales tax increase can proceed will be posted for our review later today.

Great.

Perhaps these nagging questions surrounding Volusia County’s pernicious three-card-monte scheme will be revealed?

Don’t bet on it. . .

Among the many entrenched challenges facing us, Mr. Arrington noted, “County government has abandoned its responsibility to lead on major regional issues, preferring instead a myopic “circle the wagons” and cost/responsibility-shifting approach to governance.”

 I agree.

Now, our ‘powers that be’ are once again attempting to shift the cost and responsibility for their abject failure to properly manage growth to We, The People in the form of this barefaced money grab that, we are led to believe, is the only thing standing between us and transportation Armageddon.

These inept assholes should be ashamed of themselves.

Friends, there are a lot of unanswered questions remaining – and time is growing short until we will be asked to participate in a sham “referendum” on this shameless tax increase – which, if it passes, will pour even more of our hard-earned money into the gaping maw of this insatiable, and wholly unaccountable, bureaucratic machine.

According to The Civitas Project, “Experience and scholarship also teach that a quality political institution offers: 1) a high respect for ethics and the rule of law; 2) a commitment to resourcing public services adequately, so agencies can perform their functions well; and 3) a strong ethic of accountability, transparency, and honesty in all government activities.

Unfortunately, Volusia County government has proven – through its opaqueness and actions – that it has none of these important attributes.

In fact, it abhors them.

That is why I hope you will join me in voting “No” on the proposed half-cent sales tax.

That’s all for me – have a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: They know we’re watching, right?

The Knights of the Roundtable met earlier this week to get their collective story together on the proposed half-cent money grab that has consumed our elected and appointed officials literally to the exclusion of anything else.

In my view, the bellows for this building political conflagration is Steve Vancore, a professional windbag who has ramrodded successful sales tax initiatives in more than a dozen Florida counties.  Now, Vancore’s Clearview Research has been engaged by the Star Chamber over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to prepare the battlefield here.

On Monday, Mr. Vancore met with municipal mayors, city managers and county officials to give them a quick course in how to act human and avoid their “natural tendency” to be defensive when their long-suffering, overtaxed constituents call bullshit. . .

According to an excellent article by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “I would encourage you to lead with the positives. There isn’t anything to be defensive about,” Vancore said at a round table meeting of Volusia officials at the Daytona Beach International Airport.  “This is a happy thing for our community.  Every dollar of it stays right here.”

A happy thing?  Wow.

Talk about polishing a turd. . .

It’s a damnable tragedy is what it is.

The abject failure of our elected and appointed officials to hold their political benefactors accountable for adequate transportation impact fees for nearly two-decades – all while facilitating untold profits for their cronies in the real estate development community by permitting unchecked sprawl along the spine of Volusia County – then frightening their constituents with scary stories about what will happen to their quality of life if they fail to self-inflict a sales tax increase on all goods and services they purchase is an abomination.

But those greed-crazed assholes over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who know well that this tax represents a pass-through from our wallet to theirs in the form of government contracts, road and infrastructure projects – aren’t taking any chances in this wretched race to relieve you and your family of even more of your hard-earned cash – and it’s painful to watch.

If this disgusting exercise has done anything, it has exposed the depth to which Volusia County politicians will sink with the right application of money.

The “referendum” that is being rushed to conclusion just ahead of state legislation which will shut the door on these nefarious money-grabs – appears to be taken directly from the playbook of Idi Amin – because it now bears no resemblance to a legitimate democratic election.

This week, we learned that Volusia County voters will be allowed the unprecedented option of dropping ballots off at “secure” boxes in City Halls – the latest twist in a weird first-of-its-kind “mail in” vote scheme – wholly orchestrated by the CEO Alliance and their consultant at Clearview Research to give this tax increase the best possible chance of passage.

My God.

Folks, this is what happens to our sacred systems of governance when We, The People are all that stand between uber-wealthy political insiders and an estimated $42-million in annual revenue.

We become a mere impediment that must be “reeducated,” lied to – and told that higher taxation at the point-of-sale is somehow a “happy thing” – even as those we have elected to represent our best interests prostrate themselves before those who purchased their very souls and now use them like cheap tools to reach their greed-fueled goal.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volusia County Schools: I hate to say I told you so. . .

A child’s primary education should be a time of infinite possibilities.

So why have Volusia County Schools become a place of impossibility?

I have some theories, but, invariably, they all boil down to the same lack of substantive leadership that has resulted in this embarrassing shit-show that continues to victimize students seeking a legitimate education – and hamstrings teachers who work hard to present a credible version of a flawed curriculum under incredibly demanding constraints.

Way back in 2016, when the issue of school uniforms was still a matter of hot debate, I wrote about my personal experiences – and sounded the alarm on what was to come. . .

I was educated in parochial schools, where uniforms are de rigueur, and help reinforce the homogeneous and conformist nature of private education.

In fact, I wore a uniform in elementary school (which included a tie) and was required to wear a blazer and necktie during my first year of high school.  (As a result, I can most often be found in a “preppy” pink oxford cloth shirt, shorts that look like they were constructed of upholstery fabric and the ubiquitous Sperry Top-Siders. . . tassel knots and white soles only, please.)

My strange “Kmart meets Murray’s Toggery Shop” style aside, I’m none the worse for the experience, and most of my classmates are now relatively successful and well-adjusted adults who don’t appear to have suffered from the lack of individuality and “self-expression” in dress that some feel is all-important to the academic and social development of elementary school students.

After much back-and-forth, two years ago, the School Board ultimately issued a toothless – and incredibly ambiguous – non-policy that required Volusia County students wear: “A white-knit polo-style or Oxford-style shirt; a principal may designate up to two additional colors.  A wide-range of bottoms. Navy blue, black or tan-colored pants, shorts, capris, skirts, skorts or jumpers, and blue or black denim.  If you’re an elementary or middle school student, you must wear closed-toe shoes. High school students can also wear sandals.  Fastened belt if there are belt loops.”

 Under this abstruse “policy,” teachers and school administrators were forced into the unenviable role of fashion police – a weird combination of Mr. Blackwell and Jaime Escalante – tasked with both forming impressionable young minds while determining if Johnny’s shirt meets the definition of “Oxford-style” (button down or loose collar points?) or if Sally’s ‘skorts’ are uniform tan or offending ocher?

Not to mention the fact that our intrepid “leaders” forgot to add a penalty provision to their sartorial statute, which never works out well, regardless of what’s being regulated.

For the record, Merriam-Webster defines “Uniform” as “Not varying or changing – staying the same at all times, in all places, or for all parts or members.”

At the time, I opined that if you are going to implement dress standardization then go all in or don’t go at all.

Now, our worst fears have been realized.

This morning, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s outstanding Cassidy Alexander confirmed in a front page/above the fold article, “Poor grades for high school uniforms,” that the School Board’s lack of legislative clarity – and sloppy enforcement of the rules – are having a detrimental impact on the learning environment for high school students and teachers.

I hate to say I told you so. . .

According to the report, “Although elementary and middle school principals said they like it and don’t face any significant challenges enforcing it, high school principals said the policy is hard to enforce, cuts into instructional time, encourages students to dislike school even more and is creating rifts between teachers.”

Incredibly, “Of the district’s nine high schools, four principals said less than 50 percent of students are in compliance each day; four more said it’s less than 75 percent.”

Wow.

In keeping with Superintendent Tom Russell’s modus operandi – which values mediocrity and protecting the status quo over the pursuit of excellence in education – once again, a relatively minor issue of policy implementation and enforcement is allowed to reach a crisis point and become front page news.

How long, Oh, Lord, are we expected to put up with this? 

There are many benefits to a uniform policy – just as there are many arguments why legislating personal dress is a bad idea.

Given the fact that many modern public schools look more like a prison yard than a place of education and self-discovery, perhaps a forced “sameness” would have been a step in the right direction, however; what has been allowed to happen in Volusia County Schools serves neither side of the argument.

In my view, this is just one more example of the abject ineptitude and gross lack of discernible leadership by Mr. Russell and his goofy “Cabinet” of  sycophantic sluggards who have become little more than crisis workers in the absence of a strategic vision and atmosphere of mediocrity that continues to fail students, teachers and taxpayers.

In my view, with a budget topping $840 million – this continuing course of conduct and gross organizational incompetence borders on criminal negligence. . .

But when the people you serve stop expecting anything of substance from you – and your elected “leadership” embrace averageness and poor performance as public policy – then underachievement and shoddy standards become ingrained in the culture of the organization.

That’s a dangerous combination when the very education of our precious children and grandchildren is at stake.

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 8, 2019

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:

Asshole           Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water

Hey, Barker!

How can you call hard-working Volusia County residents who want nothing more than better roads and clean water assholes? 

The fact is, I can’t.

Because that’s what we all want.

But I can damn sure call bullshit on a registered Political Action Committee by that dubious name  – formed and administered by uber-wealthy political insiders – many with direct ties to the mysterious Star Chamber over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who are investing thousands of dollars in flogging Volusia County’s proposed half-cent sales tax increase.

Take a moment and ask yourself the following:

Why do you think millionaires, who use massive campaign contributions to maintain their spot in the suckling order at the public tit, are working and spending to convince Volusia County residents that taking more money out of our pockets and putting it into government coffers is a good idea? 

Suddenly, many of our ‘movers & shakers’ – luminaries like J. Hyatt Brown, the Forbes listed France family, Sir John Albright at the good old boys investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company, mega-insider Glenn Ritchey (whose daughter-in-law, Cyndi Ritchey, has been tapped to run the PAC) and P$S Paving – have established a war chest of nearly $200K ostensibly to augment this weird public/private money grab.

According to the intrepid reporter Dustin Wyatt writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Of the $190,948 raised through Feb. 11, $24,660 has been spent, according to campaign finance records. Steve Vancore, president of Clearview Research, has been paid $12,026 to offer consulting during the education and marketing campaign. Records show that $10,000 has gone to Cyndi Ritchey for “administrative services” in her role as committee chair. A few hundred dollars has been spent on marketing supplies.”

($10,000?  For “administrative services”?  Jesus, these vultures even feed off each other. . .)

In my view, this full-court-press by members of the CEO Business Alliance has everything to do with the abject greed that has defined this process since it was revealed that our elected officials in DeLand refused to raise transportation impact fees on their cronies in the real estate development community for nearly two-decades – ensuring untold profits as they continued to approve massive development along the spine of east Volusia County from Farmton to the Flagler County line.

Then, when the stress on our inadequate infrastructure and utilities could no longer be ignored – many of those same bought-and-paid-for politicians created a faux emergency – which we are told can only be resolved when We, The People agree to self-inflict a higher sales tax in one of the already overtaxed county’s in the state.

Bullshit.

I believe that P&S Paving, and the other multi-million-dollar corporations who have been tapped for the secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, are banking that the $42 million generated annually by this piggish duty on goods and services will simply pass through – from our wallets to theirs – in terms of government contracts, infrastructure improvements for corporate projects and other shadowy “public/private partnerships” which use tax dollars to underwrite for-profit schemes.

Given the fact that each election cycle we are forced to watch while all the right last names populate local elected bodies with hand-select candidates by skewing the process with hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in campaign contributions as a means of recouping massive returns on investment – do you really think these corporate honchos have your families best interests at heart? 

According to our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald, Volusia County taxpayers will pick-up the $490,000 cost for a first-of-its-kind “mail-in” referendum – a tactic specifically orchestrated by our ‘powers that be’ and their privately funded political consultants to ensure maximum probability of passage – while the funds generated by the Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water PAC will be used to “handle the advertising.”

I find that murky confederation of government officials and political insiders who stand to benefit most incredibly disturbing.

Now, the mouthpiece for this shameless scam – the totally unaccountable former South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarbrough – wants us to believe that the PAC serves to symbolize that the “private sector is behind it.”

My ass.

Speaking in the News-Journal, Mr. Yarbrough said, “The PAC is essentially running this campaign by doing things the public sector can’t do.”

“The private sector can say, ‘You need to support this half-cent sales tax and let me tell you why.’ All we can do from the public sector is tell you where we intend to put the money.”

Really?

Because our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – and his whippy co-conspirators on the dais of power in DeLand – have done little more than gnash their teeth and rend their garments over the impending death of our very way of life if we fail to tax our own eyeballs out at the point-of-sale. . .

The nightmarish yarns and sense of utter doom – such as “There is nothing else!  This is it! – No Plan B . .” has become their rallying cry – and, trust me, its only going to get worse until these greedy bastards get their way.

Never mind the fact that all we’ve seen in terms of where our money will ultimately be spent is a hodgepodge of pie-in-the-sky vagaries – like “widen LPGA Boulevard” or “pave dirt roads at 80 sites” – with accompanying price tags clearly designed more for the shock value than actual repair and replacement costs.

Or the fact we can’t get a hard answer on the as yet to be identified oversight committee who, we are now told, will remain nameless until after the referendum passes. . .

Word to the wise:  Beware when uber-wealthy political insiders with demonstrably self-serving interests begin pooling their own money in a push to get more of yours.

The fact is, these people don’t give two-shits about our collective quality of life.

In my view, we stand at yet another crossroads here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

We can either listen to our inner-voice – the one that warns us when shiftless grifters in expensive suits attempt to convince us that paying more for goods and services is the only way to avoid an infrastructure Armageddon of their own creation – or stand firm to our core conviction that  elected and appointed officials have a moral and ethical obligation to work in the public interest – not use our hard-earned tax dollars to pad the pockets of their political benefactors.

Angel              Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce

Look, I admit it – I give the “Chamber of Commerce set” a hard time.

Most of it well-deserved. . .

But birthdays are special times, and it is my pleasure to bestow a very special Barker’s View “Angel Status” on the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce as they celebrate their 100th Anniversary serving the Halifax area’s business community!

From humble beginnings, ‘The Chamber’ has developed into an influential local powerhouse, a strong advocate for our community – resolute in good times and bad – always serving as the consummate cheerleader for the World’s Most Famous Beach.

God knows, we need one from time-to-time. . .

When I take the chamber to task, it’s normally because of their near-constant pap-and-fluff – always attempting to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear that continues to struggle with entrenched economic issues that add to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness for many – but, I never lose sight of the fact that is why the Chamber of Commerce exists.

If they don’t defend and promote our area – and work tirelessly to encourage entrepreneurial investment, promote sound economic development and create jobs – who will?

Trust me – I gave up a long time ago.

Nay-saying, hypercritical assholes like me are a dime-a-dozen, and it doesn’t take any special talent or innate intelligence to launch these fey rants or point out the faults and foibles of those actually in the arena.

I recently read an interesting piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal written by Nancy Keefer, President and CEO of the Regional Chamber, on how the group will position itself to promote economic prosperity in the next 100 years:

“The chamber of the future will continue to work towards bringing all sides of government towards the center.”

“We will do this boldly without apology as long as the end game is movement forward on very complex issues.”

“We will not be fearful of tough issues like homelessness, blight, the economic stratification of our community, or the needs of those who are working pay check to pay check.”

“We will, however, be the cheerleaders for all that’s right with our community while dealing with the less positive issues intentionally, often times behind the scenes, while providing solutions.”

“We believe that our image in the community with our stakeholders — our members, elected officials, future members and partners, is paramount to the success of the organization and our region, and will abide by our core values of advocacy, collaboration, engagement, leadership and professionalism.”

Well said, Ms. Keefer.

Now that’s something we can all get behind.

Asshole           Flagler County Interim Administrator Jerry Cameron

In professional sports, they say you’re only as good as your last game.

It’s also important to know when its time to retire from the field while you’re still on top.

That adage holds true for public administrators as well.

Earlier this week, newly minted Interim Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron – a governmental jack-of-all-trades who parlayed his extensive prior service as everything from Chief of Police to Chief Dog Catcher (and all points in between) into a retirement gig as a “community consultant” – learned the hard lesson that sometimes it’s better to stay on the sidelines. . .

Look, by all accounts, Mr. Cameron has an impressive resume – and he wowed the Flagler County Commission in February with his depth of knowledge of all thing’s government.

In fact, according to reports, Cameron wrote that during his service as assistant county administrator for community services in St. John’s County, “…he was responsible for the successful launch of the St. Augustine Amphitheater and planned, negotiated and implemented a $25 million public safety radio system.”

That’s quite an accomplishment.

As a result, the Flagler County Commission agreed to pay Mr. Cameron over $13,000 a month to steer the ship of government following the resignation of Craig Coffey in January.

During the interview and selection process, when asked his views on homelessness, Mr. Cameron gave all the right answers.

When Flagler County’s library director Holly Albanese – who is currently dealing with a massive dystopian homeless encampment in the scrub near the Flagler County Library in Palm Coast – asked Mr. Cameron how he planned to deal with the issue, his response cogently explained the realities of dealing with the homeless population in a country where we all have a right to exist, regardless of socio-economic status.

According to a report in FlaglerLive.com, Cameron advised:

“The homeless issue is an enigma,” Cameron said. “Unfortunately you are limited in the way of legislation on what you can do with those,” he continued, with other complications adding to the challenge when it comes to housing. With camps, “the only solution we really found that relieved the pressure was two-fold. We filtered the computers, so that cut down on the demand for computers, and we hired a security guard. That made things a lot more pleasant for people that worked at the library.” (The county library computers are filtered.)”

So, what made this ostensibly bright and experienced public administrator suddenly change tack and decide to round-up homeless people and involuntarily truck them to a rural internment camp?

Because that’s what he planned to do. . .

When county workers posted ‘Notice to Vacate’ signs around the homeless camp last weekend, it inflamed emotions on both sides of the issue, with people taking to social media to plan protests or applaud the measure (I assume, depending upon how close one lives to the Flagler County Library. . .)

On Tuesday, a Flagler County mouthpiece distributed a press release claiming the plan would, “. . .improve a difficult living situation for the homeless.”

Say what?

According to Cameron, the county issued the release after pesky media outlets began asking the hard questions. . .

Then, by Wednesday afternoon, a “new” plan was set in motion that will only uproot the camp temporarily, shifting things to the north end of the property while crews clean the underbrush of trash and omnipresent human excrement, you know, to tidy things up. . .

So, at the end of the day, a couple of things happened as a result of this ham-handed attempt to play a shell game with the hoards of homeless currently occupying the Flagler County Library property – rather than effectively deal with the incredibly expensive social, civic and legislative issues that surround the issue of suburban homelessness.

Now – Mr. Cameron and his bosses on the Flagler County Commission – are left looking like a troop of buffoons who couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel – and area residents are left to deal with the drugs, crime and human carnage inherent to an entrenched tent city that serves as the only viable alternative in the absence of a modern homeless shelter.

It was embarrassing and disturbing to watch as Cameron’s once-proud legacy took the form of a dotty old man who just dribbled his soup.

He sputtered and fumed in the newspaper, “Quite frankly, when the media called us — because my policy is total transparency — we were still in the planning phases,’ he said. ‘And the only information we had to give you was what we had identified as what was possible at the time. But that was always a solution of last resort.”

(A word of advice to senior public administrators:  There is a reason you employ public information specialists – use them. . .)

How terribly sad.

In my view, Mr. Cameron was right the first time – the “homeless problem” is an enigma.

It is also one of the most intractable humanitarian issues of our time – and one that isn’t going away anytime soon.  Perhaps Mr. Cameron should have spoken that truth to whichever power goaded him into this knee-jerk busing scheme?

Asshole           Volusia County Council

With Volusia County officials currently touring the countryside with their weird medicine show touting the benefits of a sales tax increase – they are finding that many of their constituents still have serious “trust issues.”

In fact, many say their confidence in county government is just south of whale shit. . .

Here in the Real World, residents are shocked at the stunning lack of self-awareness exhibited by sitting politicians who seem oblivious to the fact that – despite what their benefactors and sycophantic bureaucrats tell them – John and Jane Q. Public no longer believe a damn thing they say.

Nor should they.

At Tuesday’s County Council meeting, the impressive freshman Councilwoman Barbara Girtman mentioned the almost impossible process of rebuilding public trust during her closing remarks.

According to Ms. Girtman, following a recent infomercial to promote the proposed sales tax increase in DeLand, she met with several concerned citizens – described as “young people” – who expressed concerns about the citizen oversight committee that (we are told) will review project funding and prevent the gross fraud and cronyism that would naturally follow if Volusia County elected officials were left to their own devices. . .

According to Ms. Girtman, the residents wanted to know what “teeth” the regulators will have.

That’s a legitimate question.

“To have people that young not trusting local government, I think we have a little work to do,” Girtman said.

In turn, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, apparently acted unilaterally – literally off-the-cuff – when he single-handedly established the composition of the non-existent review committee by Royal Edict, announcing that the board will be made up of one person appointed by each municipality. . .

Really? 

So, we’re going to have a good, old-fashioned Thundercage Match consisting of 16 to 20 highly opinionated citizens all arguing the fine points of infrastructure improvement projects – a no-holds-barred “Eastside vs. Westside Battle Royale” every month? 

Sounds interesting. . .with that level of efficiency, we should see the group agree on the first utilities project around the return of the Comet Kouhoutek. . .

Then, like the cowardly shitheel he is, Old Ed insulted the collective intelligence of everyone who calls this salty piece of land home when he crowed that the County Council was only putting the half-cent sales tax initiative on the ballot at the request of all 16 municipalities.

“It’s not a County Council-driven initiative,” Kelley said.

My God.

Even when he is handed an A+ prime opportunity to demonstrate leadership and build consensus on perhaps the most pressing issue of our time – Chairman Kelley trips over his own bollocks and seeks political insulation over statesmanship with his “we’re just doing this because they asked us to” horseshit.

Congratulations, Chairman Kelley.

Once again, you cement your grim reputation for having the brightest yellow streak in a crowded field of base political cowards. . .

Not to be outdone, during the discussion, The Very Reverend Fred Lowry, also took the low road and used the discussion to belittle his frustrated constituents who seek understanding from any available source as an alternative to the lies and obfuscation that form the informational black hole of Volusia County government.

Despite all best evidence, the completely tone-deaf Rev. Lowry still finds it necessary to defend the “system” over the concerns of his long-suffering constituents when he says, “Trust is a two-way street.”

According to Councilman Lowry, residents can’t expect to get information from social media and possibly expect to grasp the nuances of county government.

“You can’t get your information off of Facebook and understand what’s going on,” he said. “People today need to look into things. There’s a little bit on the citizens to always look into things and not always look at social media.”

I agree.

Because when it comes to the utterly bizarre machinations at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building – reality is invariably stranger than fiction.

In other news, without much fanfare, on Tuesday we learned that it will cost us $215,000 annually (plus bennies) to take a ride on the “Georgie-Go-Round” as our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald – a stalwart veteran of what passes for governance in Volusia County – accepted a lucrative contract which includes the use of a publicly-owned vehicle and massively expensive Golden Parachute clause for when it comes time to flee the building. . .

Of course, the agreement was handcrafted by Mr. Recktenwald’s friend, County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – who has consistently proven his worth as the best lawyer this oligarchical shit-show ever had.

Call me old-fashioned – but I take these cushy employment agreements personally.

Why?  Because I help pay for them – that’s why.

At various times in over 31-years in public service, I was assigned a dedicated vehicle for my use at work.  As Chief of Police, I was permitted to use that vehicle for personal transportation between my home and office – and for certain ancillary travel within Volusia County.

I never drove the car home.   Not once.

I could never reconcile the fact that there were people in the community I served who couldn’t afford to adequately feed their families – let alone own and maintain a family car.

The thought of using a public asset for my private gain was abhorrent to me – and while I didn’t begrudge my colleagues the use of their assigned vehicle to respond to after-hours emergencies – I simply could not bring myself to do it.

So, I drove my own car to-and-from work each day.

Not a great sacrifice – most people do it every day – and it served as a reminder of the importance of humility and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

It was also the right thing to do.

I suppose those quaint notions of service to a cause greater than one’s own self-interests have become antiquated relics in an era where Volusia County executives command a quarter-million-dollars annually, plus all the trappings and perquisites normally reserved for private sector poohbahs who, unlike the County Manager position, are actually required to prove their worth to the organization periodically. . .

But who the hell am I to begrudge Mr. Recktenwald his just reward for putting up with this bad Hee Haw episode for 20-years? 

Just don’t expect Good ol’ George to be the effective change agent many of us were hoping for. . .

After all, take a look around Volusia County in 2019:

The critical transportation infrastructure “emergency” that is threatening our very quality of life – the out-of-control blight, dilapidation and sense of hopelessness – the intentional concealment of publicly-funded studies – the continuing giveaway of unique public amenities to speculative developers and political insiders – a County Council with all the stability and vision of a rudderless ship of fools – our wholly compromised beach management plan – unresolved questions from Sheriff Michael Chitwood’s 2018 mention of “Pay to Play” politics – the “public policy by ambush” tactics – the malignant sprawl – the open quid pro quo favoritism – a dangerous emergency medical service quagmire requiring an immediate $1.4 million in cash to patch – the nightmare of political intrigue and mismanagement recently exposed by former Volusia County lobbyist Jamie Pericola – and the complete lack of public confidence in their government – it’s going to be a tough gig.

But, I’m sure after being a cog in the wheel for over 20-years, Mr. Recktenwald is up to the task.

Right?

Right.

Quote of the Week

“Not so fast my friends in Latitude Margaritaville; that bridge on LGPA Boulevard has to get in line. The people that have lived here for a longer time have other plans before money is spent on the newcomers, on something that should have been taken care of before letting the subdivision even be built.”

–Charlie Thompson, Port Orange, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Many roads need fixing before LPGA,” Monday, March 4, 2019

And, so it begins. . .

As Volusia County politicians continue their headlong rush to relieve you and I of even more of our hard-earned money – the jockeying for “what comes first” has started, even before the tax initiative has come for a vote.

The “I’ll support the tax increase if my street is fixed first – but not if your road is ahead of mine” mindset is taking hold as frustrated residents become frightened and confused by the inflammatory rhetoric of their elected “leadership.”

Sad.

In many ways, the half-cent sales tax increase currently being ramrodded by greed-crazed millionaires and their hired chattel on the dais of power is a leap of faith.

By all accounts, even if the tax increase passes, any substantive improvement to our transportation infrastructure will take millions of dollars and “decades” to complete – which means those of us who comb grey hair won’t be around to see our contribution to the collective good become a reality.

That’s okay – everyone wants to leave the place better than they found it for future generations.

However, rather than rollover to the demands of an entrenched power base set on forcing this slimy cash grab at all costs – I believe it is better to teach future generations, by our example,  the inherent benefit of questioning power, demanding accountability and screaming “Hell No!” to the pernicious cycle of government gluttony that is destroying our quality of life quicker than traffic gridlock ever will.

And Another Thing!

 I’m fond of saying that if you care about good governance in your own hometown, you should care about good governance everywhere.

It’s just one reason I enjoy pointing out the myriad examples of the political egotism and the abject stupidity of some local and regional elected officials – many of whom no longer even pretend to serve in the public interest.

In my view, Ormond Beach City Commissioner Troy Kent sets the ne plus ultra example of the perennial politician who became everything he hated – a terribly conflicted, power-hungry churl – totally consumed by his own sense of self-importance and utterly compromised by the wealthy masters he now openly serves.

During a recent workshop to update the community’s strategic plan following the conclusion of the OB Life civic engagement project, the moderator, Marilyn Crotty, asked city officials how they ultimately faded the heat in the aftermath of the environmental atrocity (literally in the center of the city) when 2,061 specimen oaks and old-growth hardwoods were churned into a splintery black muck to make way for another godforsaken WaWa. . .

In typical fashion, Mr. Kent pissed away another opportunity to make good on his promise to rebuild unity in a community still galvanized by the suburban slash-and-burn deforestation when he scorched constituents still rightfully concerned about unchecked growth and the insidious influence of real estate developers on public policy.

According to a report by the Ormond Beach Observer, “Crotty asked the commission how it was dealing with “uproar” over the clear-cutting at Granada Pointe in regard to future development in the city.”

“City Commissioner Troy Kent answered her with a question — which uproar? Granada Pointe or Ormond Crossings where he said twice as many trees were cut.”

“Oh that’s right, there was no uproar for that one,” Kent said.”

For the uninitiated, Ormond Crossings is a long-planned residential and commercial development set in the pine scrub along I-95 south of US-1 that has been on the city’s drawing board for nearly two-decades.

Jesus.  What a mean-spirited shithead. . .

It should now be clear to my neighbors here in God’s Country that our elected public servant, Commissioner Kent – who squeaked back into office like a fat rat with less than 50% of the vote – has no intention of mending fences or demonstrating the common human decency to represent the interest of all Ormond Beach residents.

This abject arrogance is the earmark of the petty tyrant – and a trenchant reminder why any suggestion of extending the terms of elected officials in Ormond Beach should be ignored by anyone who cares about our democratic principles.

That’s all for me – have a great weekend, everyone!

 

 

 

On Volusia: Home Rule or protecting the status quo?

According to the Florida League of Cities, “The most precious powers a city in Florida has are its Home Rule powers. The ability to establish its form of government through its charter, and to then enact ordinances, codes, plans and resolutions without prior state approval is a tremendous authority.”

In its purest form, most would agree that the right to self-determination – the ability of citizens in counties and municipalities to govern themselves – free of outside interference from the state in the pursuit of their communities economic, social and civic development, is critical to representative forms of governance where supreme power is held by the people.

Unfortunately, in Volusia County, our ‘powers that be’ consistently use the self-governance provisions established by charter to protect the status quo and maintain the patency of the flow of public funds to private interests in this bastardized oligarchy – where control of our elected representatives and processes have been compromised by uber-wealthy special interests who inject astronomical amounts of cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates for local office – setting the stage for massive returns on their investment.

For instance, look no further than the recent hyper-dramatic and incredibly expensive legal challenge by Volusia County officials to the passage of Amendment 10 – which will return constitutional authority to the sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor – each of which currently serve as little more than elected department heads, firmly under the yoke of an unelected, unaccountable and almost supernaturally omnipotent county manager.

Although Sheriff Michael Chitwood was elected by the people to oversee law enforcement and public safety services, he is still forced to navigate a bloated bureaucracy and  grovel before our co-opted county council for approval of how he administrates his department’s budget, assets and resources.

One thing is certain, here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – any threat to the “system” will be met with a no-holds-barred challenge by our weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert – who has made a cottage industry out of suing his own constituents (with our own money) and rabidly defending the Sovereignty of the Monarchy in DeLand against all internal and external threats.

Preeminent insiders – who ferociously preserve and protect the sanctity of their charter by strategically populating the once per decade review commissions with many who stand to directly benefit – crow that Volusia County residents voted for home-rule and cite the fact it has worked well (for all the right last names, anyway) for nearly a half-century.

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley – a perennial politician who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution – is fond of telling scary stories about the Pandora’s Box that Amendment 10 represents for Volusia County if (God forbid) We, The People are actually given the ability to use our sacred vote to make decisions and balance power.

Now, Volusia County government, and those who stand to benefit from a proposed half-cent sales tax initiative, are circling the wagons and trotting out the “Home Rule” argument yet again as state legislators appear ready to protect Floridian’s from these predatory money grabs.

Bills currently moving through the legislature in Tallahassee just might derail the rushed half-cent sales tax referendum currently being ramrodded by a weird confederation of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, the County Council and their lap dogs in the municipalities – under the guise that taxing our own eyeballs out is the only thing standing between us and complete traffic gridlock and drinking our own recycled sewerage.

With the potential for an estimated $42 million annual windfall ostensibly earmarked for transportation infrastructure and utilities projects to bailout those same politicians who continue to approve massive sprawl in “New Daytona” west of I-95 – all while spinning yarns about what our lives and livelihoods will look like if we fail to take even more money out of our pockets and place in government coffers – expect this to be a Battle Royale.

According to reports, Florida lawmakers want to end special elections – like the highly choreographed, incredibly expensive, first-of-its-kind mail-in ballot scheme set just weeks from now – requiring that these questions be asked only during general elections when voter turnout is highest.

If approved by the legislature, the regulations would take effect immediately – jeopardizing Volusia’s shim-sham referendum this spring.

According to our “new/old” County Manager George Recktenwald, “We ought to be able to decide what our residents do.  We take any threat to our home rule seriously.”

Which was, perhaps, a Freudian slip – as what I think Mr. Recktenwald meant to say was “residents should be able to decide the issue for themselves” – instead, he may have unintentionally called it like it is.

Had he told the full truth, Mr. Recktenwald should have said, “We will decide what our residents will do, and what they will not do, and if anyone doesn’t like it, we will “re-educate them,” we will threaten their quality of life, or we will crush them under our iron boot – and use the full might and treasure of Volusia County government to preserve our vice-like grip on power, force our will, and preserve our supreme right to lord over our tax strapped constituents.”

The abject arrogance and haughty sense of superiority of these shitheels that pass for “public servants” should frighten every man, woman and child in Volusia County.

Here’s hoping against hope that our state representatives do what our local elected officials refuse to and protect long-suffering taxpayers from the machinations of millionaires, and their bought-and-paid-for minions on the dais of power, who have orchestrated an infrastructure emergency for the sole purpose of establishing yet another revenue stream to feed the insatiable appetite of Volusia County government and the special interests who feed greedily at the public trough.

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for March 1, 2019

Hi, kids!

Welcome to the weekend!

I think we can all agree – living on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast can be a downright strange experience – and everyday provides more of those “WTF?” moments that leave us shaking our heads.

This week, an excellent article by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean on the front page of The Daytona Beach News-Journal announced an uber-weird new program designed (I think) to make it easier for those wishing to donate to homeless assistance groups in east Volusia County by erecting parking meter-style stations that accept  charitable contributions by coin or credit card.

Call it philanthropy-on-the-go – or, as I refer to it, the “Silent Panhandler” – but at least ten of these kiosks will soon be gracing tourist and shopping areas throughout Daytona Beach.

Some have speculated the program is simply another facet of the city’s push to rid high-incidence areas of aggressive panhandlers by giving donors a way to “do good” without directly subsidizing the alcohol intake of ambulatory drunks.

Others say it’s a damnable waste of precious staff time and resources that should well be spent developing a laser-focused revitalization effort for our languishing beachside – a strategic vision that encourages entrepreneurial investment, streamlines a process for small business starts and reverses malignant blight in our core tourist area.

Regardless, according to reports, the idea is the apparent brainchild of Mike Stallworth, the city of Daytona Beach’s Business Enterprise Department manager (whatever that is), who advised that a California company, IPS Group, Inc., “donated” the devices and “has not asked for a cut of collections in return.”

I find that weird.

Because – I dunno – how ultimately does IPS Group, Inc. remain in business by giving its product away with no strings attached?

A check of the IPS Group’s informative website finds that that the company is an industry leader in the design and manufacture of parking meters, payment collection solutions and parking management software – holding various patents on single-space meters and multi-space pay stations. . .

Apparently, the City of Orlando wasn’t so lucky.

According to the News-Journal, Central Florida’s largest metropolitan area did it the old-fashioned way and actually purchased the homeless donation stations in their community.

So far, reports indicate Orlando collects around $10,000 annually, and after two-years, the city is just reaching the break-even point.

The Rev. L. Ron Durham, Daytona Beach’s community relations manager, said any proceeds derived from the donations will be split by some yet-to-be-determined formula between First Step Shelter, Halifax Urban Ministries and Hope Place.

If you haven’t heard about this automated charity before – that’s okay – those who stand to benefit from it are just as clueless as the rest of us. . .

“Buck James, executive director of Halifax Urban Ministries, said on Monday he hadn’t heard a word about the meters. But it was a pleasant surprise when the news was shared with him.”

Okay.  I give.  What’s up?

Apparently, the program has been in beta mode for the past two-months – and functional for about four-weeks – with the first ‘Silent Panhandler’ standing its post near Breakers Oceanfront Park.

City officials explained they “wanted to get comfortable using it before spreading the word to the public.”

Whatever.

The next time one of Daytona Beach’s ‘movers & shakers’ gets all morally indignant over accusations that their systems and processes – even ones designed to encourage compassionate giving –  are less than transparent to those they are designed to serve – please feel free to trot out this mysterious ‘donation station’ program as a prime example of why citizens have lost faith and trust in their government.

Now, with that debacle known as the First Step Shelter still languishing – with nothing but an astronomical external cashflow to show for itself – we learned that expenses have created a recurring deficit of $7,600.00 – each month.

According to Executive Director Mark Gaellis, the phantom shelter is currently hemorrhaging some $15,000 monthly – on donations totaling approximately $6,000 to $7,000.

Look, I don’t have a Harvard MBA – but that sounds unsustainable to me. . .

Apparently, some $7,500 of the shelter’s monthly nut is allocated to Catholic Charities of Central Florida, who, apparently, have done little more than sit on their ass and cash checks.

In my view, that’s unconscionable.

Who said there isn’t money to be made warehousing the homeless?

According to First Step Board member and South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall, he doesn’t want to go back to the well with Volusia County or the municipalities to make up the shortfall unless and until the shelter actually gets built, “I’ll feel better when I see the walls standing up, and even better when the roof is up.  There’s a whole lot of money going out, and all I see is pretty pictures.” 

I agree.

Perhaps the City of Daytona Beach should consider allocating every last nickel from their new “Silent Panhandler” program to feed the First Step money pit – hoping against hope that if we just throw more cash at it maybe everything will fall into place?

After all – by bizarre government standards – that strategy has worked well so far.

Just ask P&S Paving. . .

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:             Daytona Beach Housing Authority

 In government, good things often happen simply because good people who care are willing to think for themselves – to demonstrate personal leadership at all levels of the organization – and do whatever it takes to ensure essential services are delivered to the community in an effective, efficient and compassionate way despite bureaucratic barriers.

Many times during my three-decades of public service, I watched as colleagues went into their own pocket to meet an emergency – or went above and beyond what would normally be expected to ensure that the immediate needs of citizens were met by cutting through the bureaucratic red tape and the ‘not my job’ organizational stagnation that can have such a detrimental impact on operational efficiency.

Such was the case last fall when Terril Bates, the new executive director of the Daytona Beach Housing Authority, realized a program designed to provide subsidized housing for up to 50 homeless people every year had never been initiated.

Say what?

With just weeks to spare before a December 31 deadline, Ms. Bates determined that federal funding remained available for some 68 housing assistance vouchers which could be used to provide a roof over the heads of deserving homeless families and individuals in the Halifax area.

Most of these individuals are trapped in the vicious Halifax area Catch 22 – the muddy void between safe, affordable housing and low-wage service industry jobs – that continues to plague many hard-working families in Volusia County.

In the true spirit of community service, Ms. Bates mobilized the collective resources of the United Way, Salvation Army, Family Renew Community, Halifax Urban Ministries, Stewart-Marchman and the Neighborhood Center of West Volusia.

Within just six-weeks, some 72 homeless people – including 31 children – were placed in suitable homes.

We can debate the sustainability of housing assistance programs later – and why our First Step Shelter remains under preliminary construction in March 2019 – but thanks to the outstanding work, dedication and unselfish collaboration of Halifax area social service agencies there are less people living on the streets, in cars, or in those omnipresent predatory fleabag motels than there were last year.

Kudos to Executive Director Bates, and the extraordinary work of the various social service organizations, that saw a need, developed a solution, and worked ‘outside the box’ to provide vital housing and other services to deserving families.

Asshole:          Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Let’s just say that what started as a banner week in freshman Governor Ron DeSantis’ new term ended on a sour note.

Or, I could tell the truth and call it what it was – a raging shit-show of epic proportions the likes of which only the highest echelons of Sunshine State governance are capable of producing . .

At best, the Governor’s attempt to return public confidence to the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board – a regulatory agency that had become akin to a Turkish Bazaar for real estate developers and land rapists – turned into a ham-handed, bumbling embarrassment.

At worst, he knowingly returned the suspect to the scene of the crime.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Governor Ron DeSantis had finally put the kibosh on one of the longest running scams in our states history when he unceremoniously retracted the appointment of Long John Miklos, six-time Chairman of the powerful St. John’s River Water Management District and president of Bio-Tech Consulting, an environmental consultancy that advocates for private clients before the very regulatory agency he oversees. . .

You remember Long John’s little side gig?

Bio-Tech Consulting’s adventures in Volusia County include representing the interests of GeoSam Capital – which last year paid a $75,000 fine for wetlands violations at its Coastal Woods project in New Smyrna Beach – and Consolidated Tomoka Land Company – who paid a $187,500 fine to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to resolve allegations that the company illegally dredged and filled 163 acres of wetlands near what is now Jimmy Buffett’s faux beach community in the pine scrub off LPGA Boulevard several years ago. . .

Late in the week – with little explanation from the Governor’s office (or anyone else) – we learned that John Miklos, and two other cronies of Slick Rick Scott whose appointments were rescinded by DeSantis, aren’t going anywhere soon.

Apparently, Long John will remain snout-deep in the trough at least through the end of the current legislative session – and reports suggest he and the others may be allowed to “reapply” for their positions. . .

Say what?  

You’re telling us the bombshell announcement that perhaps the most controversial figure in modern Florida history was finally being forcibly detached from the public tit was premature?

Now, We, The People – the long-suffering citizens who cheered the Governor’s decision to protect our environment and restore trust in one of the state’s most important regulatory agencies – are left to speculate about what, or who, influenced his decision to reverse course?

Look, I’m not totally surprised.

Something smelled funny when then Governor-elect DeSantis appointed Long John to his transition team to advise him on “environmental issues, natural resources and the agriculture industry.” 

Why? 

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same in Tallahassee.

Last week, we learned that the second ethics complaint in three years was filed against Mr. Miklos alleging “a pattern of concealing ‘conflicts’ which appear to have been completed in a deliberate purposeful manner.”

Something News-Journal environmental reporter Dinah Voyles-Pulver has been courageously writing about since 2016 – with Miklos refusing to answer questions from the News-Journal in nearly three-years – and little explanation from former Governor Scott’s office on how this on-going conflict of interest could be allowed to continue.

It was institutionalized corruption in its base form – yet, no one who should seemed to care.

In my view, the tenure of John Miklos as the longest serving chairman of the St. John’s River Water Management District best exemplified just how dysfunctional Scott’s ‘Fox in the Henhouse’ strategy of allowing industry insiders to control state regulatory agencies – a system tailormade for quid pro quo corruption – had become.

I wholeheartedly agree with the summation of an editorial that appeared in The Daytona Beach News-Journal earlier this week, “It’s a good thing that DeSantis has shown Miklos the door — and once Miklos is out of public service, that door should slam shut and never open again.”

With Chairman Miklos poised to take another bite at the apple – and Florida’s neutered ethics apparatus going through the motions on yet another credible complaint – perhaps it’s time that the strange saga of Long John Miklos was properly investigated by federal law enforcement as a means of protecting the public trust – and exposing the true of extent potential conflicts at the SJRWMD.

In my view, its time for Governor DeSantis to call a meeting and instruct his senior staff to get their heads out of their ass and back in the game.

It’s far too early in his tenure for this level of buffoonery.

At the very least, Chairman Miklos should make good on his promise to step down as he said he would do in the immediate aftermath of Governor DeSantis’ bait-and-switch maneuver earlier in the week:

“As a few of you already know, my time with the Board was coming to an end regardless,” he wrote. “After 9 years I am ready to move on and try other challenges.  Miklos said he had not submitted his name for Senate confirmation and had intended only to serve until he was replaced or “it was necessary to resign.”

Trust me, John – it’s necessary.

Get the fuck out.

Your victims deserve better.

Angel              Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly

As many continue to demand answers in the tragic in-custody death of Anthony Fennick, a 23-year old inmate of the Flagler County Jail, Sheriff Rick Staly took the bold move this week to terminate his agency’s association with Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services.

According to increasingly disturbing reports, Armor employees were “inattentive and dismissive” as Fennick’s health seriously deteriorated over the course of five agonizing days in early February.

Unfortunately, other inmates who witnessed the interaction – and rendered rudimentary aid in the absence of professional intervention – also report that some of the Sheriff’s own correctional staff may have made light of the situation, somehow convinced the inmate was “faking” a high fever and delirium(?)

Something went horribly wrong.

Unfortunately, it appears the Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues to avoid its responsibility to independently investigate in-custody deaths – claiming that since Mr. Fennick died at AdventHealth, the precipitating events at Flagler’s “Green Roof Inn” apparently don’t factor in.

I find that odd.

Given the wide disparity in the accounts offered by Fennick’s fellow inmates – and those of Armor executives and correctional personnel – in my view, an independent investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident is paramount to maintaining the public’s trust in our judicial system.

In my view, Sheriff Staly took quick and appropriate action in both requesting an independent review – and terminating the county’s reliance on Armor Correctional Health Services.

By acknowledging the gravity of the problem – and taking definitive steps to ensure this horror never repeats – it cements his reputation for transparency, accountability and fair dealing.

I respect that.

Those responsible for the operation and administration of correctional facilities have an awesome personal and professional responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for staff and those remanded to their custody – and anyone who shirks that high responsibility rightly risks ending up behind bars themselves.

Now, the State of Florida should determine how a short stint in the Flagler County Jail for a relatively minor probation violation became a death sentence for Anthony Fennick.

Quote of the Week

“I believe for every action there is a reaction, and in this case the reaction of increased impact fees and a half-cent sales tax increase will only be a provisional aid; there will be far more impact down the road that equations and studies did not predict.”

–Barry du Moulin, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Studies vs. the real impact of growth,” Thursday, February 28, 2019

As unchecked expansion continues in “New Daytona” west of I-95 – so will the demand on transportation infrastructure, utilities, public safety, emergency medical and other essential services – even as the blight and dilapidation of “Old Daytona” continues its corrosive crawl – with no apparent way to buy our way clear of it, or ask those responsible to help.

As the valiant Halifax area civic activist Ann Ruby recently said,  “If we’re going to change our zoning to allow private sector developers to develop for their profit, there needs to be a real benefit that accrues to the public beyond the mere existence of their developments.” 

Unfortunately, you can bet your bippy that so long as Sir John Albright and the good old boys investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company have acreage in inventory – the sprawl will continue unabated. . .

(Get back to me when those conceptual panacea projects Consolidate Tomoka hypothetically mentioned last week for Downtrodden Downtown and what remains of our core tourist area firm up beyond the lukewarm Jell-O stage. . .)

Last week, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post gave a very informative presentation on transportation needs along “Boomtown Boulevard” in the LPGA corridor.  There was discussion of widening Williamson Boulevard, extending Tymber Creek and Dunn Avenues, broadening LPGA and replacing the narrow pinch point at the Tomoka River bridge.

In total, Ms. Post detailed a “multi-phased” process that will take some $90 million dollars and decades to complete.

I briefly listened to Ms. Post’s presentation online, but had to turn it off.

Not because Ms. Post isn’t an engaging speaker – she is – but due to the fact I have a visceral reaction to these things that drives me to strong drink and maniacal raving.

From my previous life in local government, I developed a raging case of what I call PPMTS – Post Public Meeting Trauma Syndrome – an affliction that causes horrific flashbacks of all the hours of my life I will never get back spent listening to politicians and “experts” drone-on about the nuances of sewage treatment plant upgrades, permeable vs. non-permeable pavers, pie-in-the-sky infrastructure projects and the always riveting nuances of overlay districts. . .

My only criticism is that Ms. Post seemed to cover the “what” of the myriad issues surrounding congestion and gridlock – but I’m more interested in the “why.”

Nobody who is anybody in government seems to want to have the unpleasant “why” discussion. . .

For instance – with a referendum pending on the half-cent sales tax money grab that has mesmerized our elected officials like demented children in a candy store – a massive revenue stream we are told will fund the almost overwhelming process of correcting the sins of the past, this tsunami of unchecked growth that was allowed to outpace infrastructure and utilities while impact fees were purposely kept at historic lows to ensure maximum profits for all the right last names – I want to know “why” this was allowed to happen in the first place?

I want to know why our elected and appointed officials in county and municipal governments allowed this desperate situation to befall their long-suffering constituents – even as they blindly approved massive residential and commercial development from Farmton to the Flagler County line?

I want to know why there is absolutely no personal, professional or political accountability for those officials who stand at the nexus of public funds and for-profit projects and sell taxpayers out every time – those pencil-necks with the massive authority to influence the allocation of tax dollars – but without a commensurate level of accountability and responsibility – the checks-and-balances that ensure all constituencies are represented.

(Hell, our “new/old” County Manager George Recktenwald is about to assume the permanent preeminent leadership role in Volusia County and our elected officials still can’t agree on an objective mechanism to evaluate his performance?)

Why?

Look, I’ll make a deal with the Volusia County Council:

I will support saddling our children and grandchildren with a half-cent sales tax for whatever you want to spend it on (because that’s what you’re going to do anyway) if you agree to summarily terminate any senior manager currently on-staff who failed to maintain an adequate repair and replacement program for public utilities, refused to sound the klaxon on this escalating infrastructure emergency, hid publicly-funded impact fee studies from policymakers, failed to recognize that putting thousands of homes and large commercial centers west of an inadequate two-lane bridge was potentially disastrous and stood idle while developers exploited and impacted our aquifer recharge area for the sole purpose of hauling untold profits out of the pine scrub.

After all, why would We, The People consider handing these same bungling shrubs even more of our hard-earned tax dollars when they have proven so woefully incompetent with the hundreds-of-millions already entrusted to them?

Whatever.

And Another Thing!

In a pivotal scene of the 2015 motion picture Sicario, a shadowy intelligence operative exquisitely played by Benicio Del Toro threatens the protagonist, an idealistic FBI agent, then tells her – “You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.” 

I understand the dramatic and contextual significance of what the screenwriter was trying to impart in that scene – I also found a not-so-subtle relevance to the murky machinations of these bastardized oligarchy’s that pass for local governance.

In my view, We, The People, are hopelessly trapped in a situation we can neither escape or comprehend – where hand-select candidates for high office are groomed and financed by a handful of incredibly wealthy individuals and the corporations they control – who seek a lucrative return on their investment in local political campaigns and enjoy unprecedented influence on the decisions that effect our lives and livelihoods.

A cruel system that preys on struggling taxpayers eking out a living in an artificial economy in one of the most highly taxed counties in the State of Florida.

As a result, there is a growing cynicism in our community – a sense that what we are being told does not comport with what we see – and the resulting confusion is quickly giving way to a gnawing suspicion that things are not as they seem.

We see a sales tax referendum forced upon us with little more than a one night “infomercial” to explain the need – a carefully crafted dog-and-pony show where those we have elected to represent our interests will attempt to convince us why we should take even more hard-earned money out of the mouths of our children and place it in the already burgeoning coffers they control.

We see a public school system that has allowed a campus to dissolve into a dystopian scene out of a bad Mad Max movie – with hoards of students locked in weeks of violent conflict – while administrators address it by issuing lanyards – then return to wringing their hands over the minutia of school start times and haggle about purchasing textbooks and other educational materials our long-suffering teachers have been literally begging for.

In Ormond Beach, we watched helplessly while 2,061 old growth trees and specimen hardwoods were savagely churned into a black muck on Granada Boulevard to make way for a developer’s payday – then stood aghast as our elected representatives went against their own advisory committee, planning staff and the protestations of concerned citizens to plop an automated car wash in the backyard of an adjacent long-established neighborhood.

We do live in a land of wolves – now evolved into bipedal sleazebags in cheap suits with broad smiles – who slap our backs every election cycle and tell us exactly what they want us to hear.

But a small group of Ormond Beach residents are hoping to change the way we interact with one another when debating the divisive issues that threaten our very quality of life.

Concerned about the rising incivility in local discourse, Linda Williams, Bill Denny and Ann Long are holding moderated discussions of local issues based upon the model set by the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona.

The group hopes to “change the tone of current politics” by making suggestions for how residents can engage in civil group dialogues between themselves and elected officials.

According to a recent report on the project in the Ormond Beach Observer, “The group will employ five practices for their discussions: Humility, solidarity with conversation partners, leading with what you stand for, and avoiding binary thinking and dismissive words and phrases.”

Clearly, Barker’s View misses the mark on all best practices for civility – and dismissive words and phrases make up my stock vernacular. . .

Now, I don’t have a clue what “binary thinking” is – but if it means knowing the difference between right and wrong and standing up for the ethical principles and values you hold dear – and demand from your government – guilty as charged.

Look, I’m a lost cause – a half-drunk rabble rouser, a dissident with an axe to grind and little redeeming social grace – but I have proudly, and unashamedly, lived my life as a sheepdog.

And given the predatory self-interests of those who control key elected officials throughout Volusia County, and the threat their unbridled greed poses to our very quality of life, I have no inclination to stop alerting the flock of danger.

But if you still believe we, as a people, can be better than what we have become – then I encourage you to join with your neighbors at the next civil discourse meeting on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, beginning at 5:30pm, at the Ormond Beach Library.

For more information, contact Williams at linda@bluegreenalgae.com

Also, regular readers know that I don’t normally advertise for area businesses on this blog – but I have a very big place in my beat-up old heart for the City of Holly Hill – and I really like good local beer!

So, if you’re looking for something cool to do on Saturday, join me at the new Red Pig Brewery at The Market, located at the corner of Second Street and Riverside Drive in Holly Hill.

If you haven’t been to this historic location, I encourage you to attend the grand opening of the Halifax areas newest craft brewery.  In my view, the courtyard, with its majestic oaks set against the incredible coquina architecture, is one of the most beautiful venues in Volusia County.

Music starts at 3:00pm with amazing food available for purchase from Vitamina-T!

Come on out and help support the City with a Heart’s newest addition.  You’ll be glad you did.

Hope to see you there!

That’s all for me.  Have a wonderful weekend, friends.