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.”
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.”
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.
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. . .
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.”
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?)
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?
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 email@example.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.