An interesting phenomenon emerged this week in the shameless push by Volusia County politicians to separate your family and mine from more of our hard-earned tax dollars.
With just weeks remaining before the weird $490,000 “mail in” referendum to decide if We, The People want to self-inflict a half-cent sales tax increase – in effect, giving even more money to the same incompetent assholes whose ineptitude got us into this mess in the first place – our ‘powers that be’ are taking to social media.
Once the forbidden lair of nasty nay-sayers, gadflies and misanthropes – a dark place where most self-respecting politicians fear to tread – it looks like the interwebz has now become the latest battleground in the sales tax push.
This week, my goofy screeds were answered by two of our ‘movers & shakers’ who chimed in on Facebook, and we’ve been besieged by a preeminent economist with a case of logorrhea even worse than mine, who has regaled us for days with rambling dissertations explaining (I think) why we’re all too stupid to accept that higher taxes are somehow a “good thing” – all while touting his own accomplishments – like most PhD’s are wont to do. . .
I found that interesting.
In my experience, you know sitting politicians are getting desperate when they start feigning interest in the thoughts and opinions of their constituents – even more so when they actually come down out of the ivory tower and interact with us. . .
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
At a recent Volusia County Council meeting, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, joined several of his “colleagues” in hatching the cockamamie idea of consolidating municipal fire departments under one “unified umbrella.”
Which is to say they are coming for our municipal fire departments after making a gruesome mess of their own emergency services. . .
Of course, as always, they couch it as a way to, “. . .cut cost and improve service to residents,” because if we’ve learned anything about Volusia County – they’re all about cutting costs and improving service delivery. . .
The same shitheels who brought you a $25.00 day at the beach (which has deteriorated into little more than an inaccessible sandy forest of wooden poles and ugly signs saying “do this, don’t do that”), allowed public infrastructure and utilities to reach an estimated $1.5 billion crisis-point requiring a sales tax increase to solve, set astronomical fire district fees, permitted unchecked growth along the spine of Volusia County, sat idle while publicly-owned structures and facilities rotted from neglect and contributed to a sense of blight in places like Ormond Beach and Downtown DeLand and levied exorbitant fees and taxes for essential public services – now want to takeover well-managed, well-equipped and well-staffed municipal fire departments in a bald-face power grab that made even veteran political observers blush.
In typical fashion, Volusia County is grasping for a way to bolster their own horribly compromised emergency services by wrapping them with well-funded municipal services before a catastrophe befalls its own wholly understaffed and underfunded fire/rescue department.
What happened to the notion that small, accountable essential public services are the most manageable, responsive and community-centric – while large, unwieldy, centralized government entities become grossly inefficient and impassive with a corresponding loss of services?
On the very day the Volusia County Council smugly patted themselves on the back for “fixing” our horribly broken Volusia County emergency medical and fire services by throwing a collective $17 million of our money to repair the damage inflicted under the reign of former County Manager Jim Dinneen and rebuild a marginally efficient service that the Old Guard of Ed Kelley, Fred Lowry and Deb Denys helped destroy, they announce plans to push for consolidation of municipal fire departments?
Once again, this diabolical clown troupe has been caught out – now, they’re scrambling for a solution that transfers even more of the burden to the long-suffering municipalities.
I wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating:
The men and women of EVAC and Volusia County Fire/Rescue are dedicated professionals who have performed with incredible professionalism despite being trapped in a poorly funded and terribly managed system that has long been treated like the red-headed step child of county government.
For years, VCFR and EVAC suffered service and staffing reductions – despite increasing service demand due to unchecked development – which is slowly choking area roadways and stressing public infrastructure, utilities and essential services.
At their own professional peril, members of the Volusia Professional Firefighters Association were among the first to sound the klaxon on the life-threatening issues with staffing at EVAC that led Councilwoman Heather Post to fight for substantive change.
During the height of the EVAC debacle – when your family and mine were placed at grave risk by the horrific mismanagement and understaffing that caused large population centers in Volusia County to go unprotected – municipal fire chiefs did their level best to ensure that their citizens were protected.
Now, it appears those same chiefs are about to reap the whirlwind of their courageous effort to protect their citizens and speak truth to power.
If history repeats, no one who dares bring to light the almost criminally negligent machinations of county government leaves the field unscathed – so, the county council trots out the specter of consolidation to destabilize and demoralize area fire service professionals.
According to the incredibly mean-spirited Chairman Ed Kelley, “We’d be far better served with a unified, consolidated form of fire service than having it all split up,” he said. “Do we need 13 fire chiefs? Sorry fire chiefs out there. Maybe you could be a different chief in a bigger system.”
Apparently after realizing the fallacy of his insensitive public comment, Old Ed responded to my criticism on social media:
“Wow, I brought up the subject for discussion that could lead to better service for our residents and might be more efficient, (could even lead to lower property taxes) but it seems Mark just wants to continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We know the definition of that.”
Yeah. That’s what I want, Ed – more of the same. . .
It seems when Chairman Kelley receives any criticism of his delusional musings, he instinctively squawks, “I just brought the subject up for discussion!” as though that cowardly walk-back makes everything right again. . .
Anyone remember Mr. Kelley’s weird Freudian slip in December 2017, when he “suggested” moving the City Island library and privatizing our public land?
“It could be a private use that could generate jobs or provide residences, but it’s not up to me to say what should go there. … We (the council) should evaluate the situation.”
Then, just weeks later, Old Ed did his level best to explain what he didn’t say in his premature revelation, “I never, ever once said to tear the library down. I said we should look at possibly relocating it, and if I didn’t say ‘possibly,’ that’s what I meant.”
Even Councilwoman Weak Billie Wheeler got in on the cover-up, mewing in the newspaper in January 2018, “. . .all the negative comments and false rumors give the appearance that the council is “planning something under the curtain” when it isn’t.”
Last week, we learned the City of Daytona Beach and state legislators are actively working “behind the scenes” to have century-old deed restrictions lifted which will pave the way for the commercial development of City Island – and, trust me, there will be no room for a public library, or a historic ballpark, once the greed-heads are allowed to run wild. . .
With much of City Island currently hosting county facilities, it’s boggles the mind to think that Weak Billie, Old Ed and our other elected dullards on the VCC didn’t know about the city’s mini-moves to legislatively lift stipulations that the property be held for “public purposes forever,” so why lie when the truth would serve them better?
Given our dismal past history, you can bet your bippy Chairman Kelley is doing more than floating the idea for discussion when he says he supports the consolidation of the fire service – and that should send a shiver down the spine of every resident and visitor who relies on these life-saving services in an emergency.
Asshole Ormond Beach “Deputy Mayor” Troy Kent
Why is it that perennial politicians get so damned offended when their double-dealing and abhorrent official behavior is memorialized in print?
Just curious. . .
Two-weeks ago, the City of Ormond Beach Planning Board – a group that must be developing a hellish inferiority complex after repeatedly being reversed, chided and blatantly ignored by the very politicians who appointed them – voted to allow our new Lucky’s Market to have daily outdoor displays of fresh produce when the much-anticipated store opens this spring.
I happen to think Lucky’s will be a wonderful addition to East Granada Boulevard – an area that is actively taking shape as an upscale shopping and dining area after years of chronic stagnation.
In addition, I am impressed by the chain’s “Community Project” strategy, described as “. . .an ongoing endeavor to create lasting change in the communities we serve. This means we support projects, organizations, and initiatives that focus on healthy communities, youth & education, sustainability and resilience.”
That’s a noble enterprise – but if Lucky’s wants to “create lasting change” here in the Halifax area – they’ve got their work cut out for them. . .
Unfortunately, another struggling local business wasn’t as lucky as, well, Lucky’s Market and other beneficiaries of the City’s subjective benevolence when they asked for the same consideration.
The Ormond Beach Observer recently ran a touching piece on the demise of Woodstock South – a well-kept storefront located in an abysmally distressed area of South Young Street – that features “tie-dyed shirts and other vibrant clothing along with jewelry and metal yard art. Music from the 1960s and a mild aroma of incense waft through the store.”
A whimsical place that catered to the sartorial needs of the aging hippie set. . .
Like most entrepreneurs, owners David Oshman and his wife, Kamonkwan Tongmusick, were excited about their new venture when they opened in December 2016 – making a home with their small child in a modest apartment attached to the building – and becoming an active part of their new community.
“Our desire was to brighten up U.S. 1 in Ormond Beach and create some excitement and self-expression in a very bland and overlooked area, Tongmusick said.”
According to the report, last fall, the couple requested to have outdoor displays and music as a means of attracting customers after several hiccups.
Apparently, the owners made a mistake and placed some wares near a roadside monument sign, a U.S. 1 motel complained that music from Woodstock South was disturbing their guests and there was a signage dispute with the city – issues which resulted in a code enforcement action.
So, they tried to do things the right way.
When they approached the City of Ormond Beach, the owners were told by staff they would be required to pay $1,650 to have the special exception considered.
Ultimately, the request was approved by the city’s planning board on a six-to-one vote – with the outdoor music (subject to provisions) approved five-to-two.
Then, the matter was sent to the elected panjandrums for consideration.
At the September 19, 2018, City Commission meeting, the city’s planning director, Steve Spraker, spoke in favor of the special exception – explaining that testing was performed for the outdoor music and it met the decibel level required by ordinance – suggesting that music be allowed Saturday and Sunday from noon to 7:00pm.
Other reasonable stipulations included rescinding the external music exception if the store received more than two noise complaints. That’s fair.
It appeared as if the little shop who risked it all to make an investment in Ormond Beach – and jumped through all the onerous hoops required by the city’s bureaucracy – would receive the meager concessions they sought.
Not so fast. . .
Inexplicably, the uber-arrogant Commissioner/”Deputy Mayor” Troy Kent – a middle-school middle-manager with a raging God complex – set about destroying the hopes and dreams of the small business owners with an incredibly officious tirade normally reserved for zoning disputes with whorehouses, coal-fired medical waste incinerators and commercial meth labs. . .
(Unless the campaign contributions are right, anyway. . .)
The always overbearing Kent crowed, “There is a reason we have rules against outdoor storage in Ormond Beach,” before besmirching a piece of the store’s yard art depicted in a supporting photograph.
He then turned his bitter bile toward city staff and our all-volunteer planning board members:
“I can’t believe staff has given approval for this,” Kent said. “This is not what I believe the residents of Ormond Beach want to see.”
Interestingly, the owners of Woodstock South were not asked any questions – or given a chance to explain their simple needs – instead, they were required to absorb Mr. Kent’s vile verbal abuse and made to feel unwelcome in the very community where they make their home.
Ultimately, Commissioners Dwight Selby and Rick Boehm joined Kent in voting to reject the shop’s special exception – with Mayor Bill Partington and Commissioner Rob Littleton voting to approve. (The meeting was held before the last election.)
In “Deputy Mayor” Kent’s patented style – the rejection of the couple’s simple request was contrived, pretentious and hyper-dramatic.
Don’t take my word for it, listen to the archived meeting. . .
According to the Observer, Oshman and Tongmusick shed a few tears when they returned home from the meeting – then, they decided to close their business and move out of Ormond Beach.
“The main theme was that our store just didn’t belong on U.S.-1,” Tongmusick said recently.”
“We’re a blight and an eyesore to the neighborhood.”
When it became apparent that they were no longer welcome in their adopted hometown, the couple put the building up for sale and have decided to move their home and store to Massachusetts.
According to Tongmusick, “The air may be colder, but we believe their hearts will be warmer.”
How terribly sad that any taxpaying citizen would be made to feel that their quaint boutique is considered a nuisance by their own elected representatives.
Then – to add insult to injury – Commissioner Kent, that mean-spirited asswipe who has no problem verbally castigating defenseless entrepreneurs whose only crime was thinking they were competing on a level playing field – cried like a whimpering simp when his abhorrent actions were accurately portrayed in the Observer.
During the comments period of last week’s City Commission meeting – when our elected potentates are allowed to drone-on, ad nauseum – Mr. Kent took the small newspaper to task in his condescending, sing-song manner, for reporting the obvious.
“Deputy Mayor” Kent puffed up like a rabid toad and howled maniacally about enforcing “the rules” – while pounding on the people’s dais like some demented Nikita Khrushchev character – describing the reportage as “slanted” and made to sound like the city put Woodstock South out of business.
Well, ultimately, they did. . .
Guess ol’ Troy Boy steams-up his ten-gallon hat and goes all apoplectic when the working press exposes him for the petty tyrant that he is, eh?
So, why is it that other businesses – like upscale grocery stores, produce markets, home furnishing retailers and other enterprises can openly display their goods outdoors – but Woodstock South is publicly humiliated and run out-of-town for even asking?
What did those who successfully received the commission’s blessing for a special exception do that Woodstock South didn’t?
And why is it that our ‘powers that be’ repeatedly ignore the carefully considered recommendation of their own advisory board – and our professional planning director – unless it comports with the needs, wants and whims of an influential real estate developer or political benefactor with a profit motive?
Again, just curious.
So, we say Goodbye to another Ormond Beach small business – better luck elsewhere. . .
Quote of the Week
“I have yet to hear any official vow that these incremental taxes will be spent incrementally on infrastructure. Each year every town and the county spend money to build and repair roads, sewers, water supplies and the like. Now, they’ll have more than $40 million more to spend. Will they vow that this will be spent on top of the current spending? Perhaps incremental to the last five-year average?
Will they commit to this formula for the next 20 years until the tax sunsets?
If not, then the money currently spent on roads, water and infrastructure projects will simply move to other pet projects at the whim of the elected officials. In the meantime, we, the taxpayers, will be left with less money in our pockets and the same road and water conditions that we have today.”
–Robert Giebel, Ormond Beach, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Build on base,” March 25, 2019
Like Mr. Giebel, many of us have serious trust issues with the proposed sales tax increase – and, unfortunately – the recent Town Hall infomercials starring our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald – did little to allay our growing concerns.
In fact, many of my neighbors say that the repetitive nature of the non-answers provided to wary taxpayers – the monotonous, loop-like talking points that were so carefully crafted by the Volusia CEO Business Alliance’s hired shill – left them feeling like victims of an elaborate sham.
For instance, when we review the still incomplete list of “sales tax projects” compiled by Volusia County and the municipalities (many of which will receive so few dollars back they are hard to discern on the colorful “revenue distribution” graph), we find nice-to-have terms like “asphalt resurfacing,” “road rehabilitation,” “multipurpose trail” and “dirt road reduction,” rather than must-have congestion reduction projects.
How in the hell is a “multipurpose trail” from Valentine Park to Blue Spring Park in Orange City going to help stave off the terrifying specter of a “No Plan B” infrastructure Armageddon?
Or keep my grandchildren and yours from having to subsist by drinking their own recycled sewage?
How do these catch-all aesthetic improvements fit into a larger, comprehensive transportation strategy that will alleviate the gridlock we all know is coming once all these goofy “theme communities” are built out along the spine of east Volusia County?
Do we even have a comprehensive transportation strategy?
The fact is, no new information came from these dog-and-pony shows that toured Volusia County like a bad Vaudeville act for the last two-weeks.
And it shows.
Our ‘powers that be,’ and their nervous handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, realize they are running out of time to convince their long-suffering constituents that throwing good money after bad at the same incompetents who got us into this crisis in the first place is a good idea.
Yet, they seem wholly incapable of explaining how this hodgepodge of “wish lists” interrelate to form a strategic countywide plan?
That’s because they don’t have one. . .
And Another Thing!
Last week, I wrote a little ditty questioning if the recent $15 million “gift” from our own philanthropic savior, J. Hyatt Brown, could actually be a “give with one hand, take with the other” scenario in disguise.
Is it really a gift horse – or a swayback nag that requires constant attention and can eat its weight in tax dollars?
You may recall that Mr. Brown’s munificence came with a $40-$50 million commitment from struggling taxpayers for upkeep of his really nice park – even as we are being asked to pony-up an additional half-cent sales tax to cover a burgeoning infrastructure and utilities emergency that threatens our very quality of life.
Like many, I am concerned that the grand Brown Riverfront Esplanade may be part 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.
My fears were stoked by 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,” who 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.”
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, I asked the legitimate question: Will J. Hyatt’s park and $60 million Brown & Brown headquarters complex anchor a privatized City Island and obscenely expensive courthouse on Beach Street?
Is the Brown Riverfront Esplanade the sweetener that helps ‘what comes next’ become more palatable to a citizenry that can’t yet imagine half-empty condominiums and more vacant storefronts where our library and historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark once stood?
After all – some might think it’s easier for all the right last names to steal and develop public land when you’ve got a multi-million-dollar quasi-public park to replace it, right?
Earlier this week, Tony Grippa, a local ‘Mover & Shaker’ and former Brown & Brown senior executive, who last year chaired the disastrously underwhelming Beachside Redevelopment Committee – a political insulation ploy comprised of our best and brightest minds, born in the aftermath of the News-Journal’s scathing “Pockmarked Paradise” series which exposed the years of blight and dilapidation that are slowly strangling our beachside – took me to the woodshed on social media for having the temerity to question the altruistic motivations of King J. Hyatt Brown:
“The Brown family has done so much for this community that your thoughts are really silly. It is okay to question many things, but the generosity and commitment of the Brown’s to this area is one that should NEVER be questioned. Sounds like you should either run for office, rethink your negativity, or Mark, give some time (or money) to the community. Please tell me you are not just the “critic”? As President Theodore Roosevelt said: “the credit belongs to the man in (woman) the arena.” Not critic (sic) Usually enjoy your comments. (Even when I am the asshole of the week). But this time I think you are off base.”
Look, I really enjoy digesting dissenting opinions from those with a take different from mine.
That’s how I learn.
And I am most definitively a “critic.”
But being lectured on what I “should” do by Mr. Grippa was a little hard to swallow. . .
At the risk of sounding maudlin, I dedicated my life to a cause greater than my own self-interests, something that remains a great source of personal pride.
My service, such as it was, to our nation as a member of the military – and in over three-decades as a career law enforcement officer – may have been relatively unremarkable compared to some, but I always tried to serve with honor.
I like to think that I’ve paid my dues in blood, sweat and tears – which, in my view, gives me the right to complain about the entrenched civic, economic and social issues that continue to plague much of the Halifax area – my home – even as Mr. Grippa’s fellow Illuminati ignore the past and busy themselves building a “new” Daytona Beach in the pine scrub west of town.
And, for the record, I have no desire to run for high office (for the same reason I don’t wallow with pigs) and, unlike Messrs. Grippa and Brown – I don’t have any money to “give to the community.”
What I do have is one man’s cynical opinion on the important issues of the day – something I hope drives a larger discussion of the problems we face.
Here’s a little hard-earned advice for Mr. Grippa – and anyone else who consciously choses to blindly accept the murky motivations of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ and NEVER question the true intentions of those who use immense wealth to seek power and influence over the will of others:
In my view, a healthy representative democracy, where the seat of power still resides in the will of the people, requires freedom of thought, varied viewpoints – and, as C. Wright Mills described, “The ebb and flow of discussion,” where citizens are free to think things out for themselves, form their own point of view and join the debate of competing ideas – or even write goofy opinion blogs to vent their spleen.
Then, through the competition of varied ideas, one opinion wins out – usually at the ballot box – and our duly elected representatives are duty-bound to turn thought into action in the form of public policy.
Unfortunately, in my view, what happens in Volusia County is the antithesis of this model – and it is due, in no small part, to the infusion of massive amounts of money into the political process by influential oligarchs whose often mercenary motivations dominate because they own the hearts, minds and loyalties of policymakers.
In my view, that’s not healthy in a representative democracy – and often skews the playing field in a free and open market. The grim results of this broken system are all around us – some of which Mr. Grippa’s ill-fated committee tried valiantly to solve.
I don’t know J. Hyatt Brown personally.
I’m pretty sure we run in different social circles – because I never see him at the local watering hole I frequent to drink whiskey, swap tall tales and solve the problems of the world with hardworking men and women – many of whom feel disenfranchised by a system they can neither understand nor escape.
Those who do know Mr. Brown tell me he’s a good guy.
I sure hope so – for all our sake.
There is a maxim, often credited to Benjamin Franklin, which says, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
In my jaded view, ol’ Ben was right.
So, Mr. Grippa, I’ll embrace my “negativity,” hyper-critical suspicions and “silly” notions of the news and newsmakers of the day – and I will wear them proudly, like a badge of honor – just as I will continue to respect and defend your inalienable right to form your own opinions as well.
‘Merica. That’s what it’s all about. . .
Rock on, my friends. Have a great weekend, everyone.
Photo Credit: Ormond Beach Observer