Angels & Assholes for April 5, 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:

Angel              Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

I have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog.

Otherwise, this would have been a completely different piece on the abysmal state of the tourism industry in the Daytona Beach Resort Area as evidenced by months of declining occupancy at area hotels during what should have been our busiest time of the year.

Despite the fact our ‘powers that be’ seem intent on morphing our local economy from travel and tourism to one supported exclusively by warehouse drones and retail sales jobs – the fact remains that many families in the Halifax area depend on a vibrant tourist and convention trade for their survival.

Clearly, Central Florida remains an international beacon for vacationers – in fact, the Orlando Metro welcomes an estimated 43 million visitors annually – generating some $260 million in Tourist Development Taxes each year.

These funds are being reinvested in state-of-the-art amenities, sports complexes, cultural initiatives and world class recreation venues for the benefit of residents and visitors alike – you know, spending on things that actually provide a return on investment by keeping people coming back for more.

Look, I understand we’re not Orlando – but the trend in Volusia County is grim. . .

It should be clear to anyone watching that Volusia County has become the pariah of regional tourism – written off as a wasteland – with millions being invested in Central Florida commuter-transit systems that include Port Canaveral and Brevard County beaches without a mention of adding lines to the Fun Coast anytime in the next millennium.

I don’t know him personally, but I admire Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.

For years, Mr. Davis has been a staunch cheerleader for our area – and he continues to use his vast institutional knowledge of Volusia tourism trends as a bellwether of things to come.

It’s a hard dollar in a crumbling market – but Mr. Davis never gives up.

Unfortunately, I always felt that our “tourism leaders” put a rather Pollyannaish spin on the malignant issues that our ‘powers that be’ simply prefer to ignore.

In my uneducated view, people quickly learn that their scarce disposable income and vacation time spend anywhere – and they don’t have to subject their family to wandering hoards of Boardwalk zombies, down-at-the-heel “attractions” and the abject blight that permeates large areas of our core tourist area.

Add to that the near-constant drumbeat of paid shills – long-term consultants who receive public funds to put a happy face on a horribly disfigured and dying industry – and it is difficult to know what to believe.

After all, the “new” Daytona Beach is taking shape in the pine scrub west of town – and “Boomtown Boulevard” on LPGA is shaping up as a shopping mecca – drawing established retailers from International Speedway Boulevard to homogenized centers near I-95 and the growing sprawl of Latitudes Margaritaville and Mosaic.

But, with the slow death of NASCAR playing out weekly – and special events attendance at all-time lows – will “synergistic” shopping centers and one really nice downtown park be enough to breath life into the Daytona Beach Resort Area?

And where is the collective vision of our elected and appointed officials to revitalize and redevelop our failing beachside – where massive hotels and convention centers are rising from the sand in some weird “build it and they will come” scheme  – even as the once heralded “brand” slowly gives up the ghost?

I fear they don’t have one – because if they do – now is the time for a “Grand Reveal” of their strategic plan to make the Halifax area attractive to visitors.

If not now, when? 

With the dwindling numbers playing out on the front page of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, anecdotal reviews pointing out the obvious – and those dubious on-line lists consistently placing us among the “Worst Place to (insert life activity here)” – when will those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest get off their collective ass and start doing something – anything – to help Mr. Davis and those with a true stake in our future save this incredibly important industry?

Does touting how we’re going to put the arm on tourists for some 35% of the proposed sales tax increase do anything to restore our image?

How about charging out-of-towners $25.00 to participate in our century-old tradition of beach driving and access?

Is erecting more ugly wooden poles, putting parking meters in public lots, as has been suggested by our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, or erecting even more signage on the strand to detract from the natural beauty helping to market our area?

As they demand more from you and I – how long is Volusia County going to shun tourist development tax payments from short-term rental provider Airbnb – even as 40 counties in Florida with the tax now accept automated remittance – yet, our Dullards in DeLand still demand that property owners submit the tax themselves?

Are any of these current tactics helping turn things around?      

Look, Volusia County will never be the “Theme Park Capital of the World” – but we are still recognized as the “World’s Most Famous Beach,” and with a little luck and hard work, we always will be.

Perhaps now is the time for those whose voices and vision matter to change tack and begin the process of reclaiming our once bright spot as a premiere seaside destination before it’s too late.

Angel              The Terribly Confused Citizens of the Halifax Area

The fading number of well-meaning people who support the proposed half-cent sales tax citing the “what else are we going to do?” argument, are finding it increasingly hard to defend the initiative after a series of revelations that continue to erode the public’s faith in their local government.

Frankly, I think we’re all a little confused by the rhetoric and bullshit being spewed by our ‘powers that be.’

At the end of the day, when we consider handing over our hard-earned money to others – be it a personal or public investment – it becomes a matter of trust.

In matters of government, transactional ethics require that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest speak the truth and conduct the “people’s business” in an open, transparent and inclusive way.

Anything less undermines the legitimacy of our system of governance.

In places like the City of Daytona Beach, where a supreme senior executive maintains almost omnipotent power over the operational and administrative functions of local government – and has for many years – a sense of arrogance and infallibility can take hold.

Absent a lack of strong political oversight, over time, entrenched bureaucrats feel they can act independent of public input – and come to consider the natural give-and-take of a healthy representative democracy to be an impediment to civic progress.

That’s when the insidious practice of secrecy and backroom deals becomes the norm.

When the idea of isonomy becomes skewed, and what passes for “governance” begins to exclusively serve the needs, wants and whims those few who have the financial wherewithal to influence outcomes – the oligarchs – who have a chip in the game by virtue of their ability to pay-to-play.

In an excellent piece by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, “Riverfront effort done quietly,” we learned that the pernicious move to remove deed restrictions and privatize public land on City Island has been an on-going, behind-the-scenes effort since at least March 2017.

Now, bureaucrats will say that the matter went before a publicly scheduled meeting of the Daytona Beach Planning Board – and it certainly did – but how many of us actually read the agenda of every civic advisory board – or follow the daily machinations of senior planners and “economic development” staffers?

In fact, it appears the Daytona Beach City Commission simply relied on individual private briefings by City Manager Jim Chisholm – rather than demand public hearings or open discussions on the highly controversial removal of state restrictions that held the land for public use in perpetuity.

Given the fact we live in Florida – arguably the biggest whorehouse in the world – under former Governor Slick Rick Scott, Daytona Beach was offered the opportunity to, in effect, purchase the public use protections and open the island and adjacent properties for private development for $8.77 million.

Many residents are rightfully pissed off – citizens who can’t yet picture a City Island bristling with half-empty high-rise condominiums where their County Library once stood – or vacant storefronts occupying the historic footprint of Jackie Robinson Ballpark. . .

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you and I think.  If it ever did.

The Big Money is moving now, and those who have a chip in the game are working themselves into an onanistic frenzy – like a troop of frantically masturbating monkeys – over the very thought of developing our riverfront property for private profit.

To salve the community’s loss, our Philanthropic Savior J. Hyatt Brown, is bringing us a really nice consolation prize in the form of a quasi-public park – which will proudly bear his name and stand as yet another monument to the Brown Dynasty – yet cost Volusia County taxpayers $800,000 to $1 million annually. . .

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the City of Daytona Beach – local governments from Ormond Beach to Edgewater are demonstrating in the most extraordinary ways just how dysfunctional things become when private interests win out over the public good.

Smart people are beginning to speculate that as more of these toxic revelations and behind-the-scenes maneuverings come to light, the more We, The People begin to question the true motivations of those who are demanding even more of our hard-earned tax dollars.

The public trust is an incredibly fragile commodity.

Central to the idea of our representative democracy is that a small group of politically accountable people will represent the collective interest of thousands of others.  For this system to work, it requires a foundation of trust – a belief that what our elected and appointed officials tell us is true and that their motivations are pure.

When we sense that our system of governance has become biased – and our representatives more interested in promoting their own self-interests or those of their political benefactors – cynicism sets in, an inherent distrust that spreads like wildfire, destroying community cohesion and institutional credibility.

In my view, the malignant suspicion that permeates every aspect of Volusia County government – and that is quickly taking hold in the City of Daytona Beach and elsewhere – is infinitely more detrimental to our civic viability than any contrived infrastructure emergency or dubious tax grab.

My sincere hope is that those who have taken an oath to serve in the public interest come to the realization that our government exists to serve the needs of everyone – that they take a step back and rediscover the best impulses that brought them to the dais of power in the first place – honor, integrity and selflessness – rather than merely working in the shadows to facilitate the profit motives of greedheads and the insiders who perpetuate this bastardized oligarchy that is ruining our quality of life and crushing public confidence in the process.

Angel               City of Daytona Beach  

I recently read a post on social media by my smart friend Steve Koenig – a veteran civic activist whose tireless work with The Bellaire Community Group, Sons of the Beach and other grassroots organizations continues to enhance the quality of life of all Halifax area residents.

Steve reported that while traveling to a meeting this week, he was forced to swerve his vehicle to avoid a pothole on Halifax Avenue just north of University Boulevard.  Clearly, Steve was concerned about the safety hazard and decided to contact the City of Daytona Beach for assistance.

Not sure who to call – Steve reached out to Frank VanPelt, the Technical Services Project Director for the Daytona Beach Public Works Department – a true gentleman who is widely known as one of the most caring and responsive civil servants in the business.

According to Steve’s very appreciative post:

“By the time I got to the office, I had an email from Frank copying me on an email he had sent to the right people. Just then I got a call from Steve Doherty from Public Works thanking me for reporting this and he was sending a crew out there to check it out and take care of it. He told me they accept calls 24 hours a day just for such situations. He can be reached at 386-671-8815.  Catching our city doing the right thing is a good feeling.”

Despite my frequent gripes about the state of political affairs in Daytona Beach and elsewhere, the fact is, the community is blessed with many incredibly talented public servants across all disciplines and departments, who perform the thankless work of providing quality core services to thousands of residents and visitors.

Kudos to Mr. VanPelt, Steve Doherty and the hardworking public servants in the City of Daytona Beach – and all of our local governments – who are committed to providing responsive, high-quality services to the mosaic of communities that make up Volusia County.

Thank you for a job well done!

Asshole           Volusia County School Board  

Our elected dullards over at the Volusia County School Board are giving Nero a bad name. . .

While our failing district continues its deleterious spiral – with some seventeen schools dropping one or more letter grades last year – and others, like the languishing Palm Terrace Elementary, recording it’s third “D” in a row – the Volusia County School Board busies itself with arbitrarily changing school start times and ignoring the recommendations of long-suffering teachers who are actually delivering the district’s curriculum in the classroom.

In an inexplicably weird reversal – after first seeking public input through a survey on preferred school start times that was answered by some 24,054 teachers, students and community members – ultimately, the School Board voted 3-2 last week to adopt a schedule no one had ever seen before.

Then, the board opted to ignore a request by some 61 percent of district staff who asked that the new start times be postponed.

Rather than listen to our hardworking teachers when they express real concerns over increasing workloads and decreased planning time – and the destabilizing effect of capriciously changing school start times – once again, their pleas fall on deaf ears, dismissed by an arrogant top down decision-making process and asinine internal policies that place Volusia County Schools statistically among the rock bottom of similar sized districts around the state in several important categories.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s education reporter Cassidy Alexander, attempted to explain the inexplicable in an outstanding article entitled, “Against teachers’ wishes, Volusia School Board picks new school schedules to start in August”:

“The School Board unanimously approved the schedule, which was not included on the survey it used to gauge the public’s opinion and doesn’t resemble the schedule option that got the majority of the votes. Instead it’s one they came up with at their workshop, after asking the transportation department to be flexible in the amount of time it needed to bus students to and from school.”

 As apparent punishment for their impudence in demanding fundamental changes to a failing curriculum that is turning our precious children into victims of system they cannot escape – Volusia County teachers are now being forced to implement long-requested math and language arts textbooks, navigate new computer systems for student data and human resources processes and complete extra state-mandated in-service training – all on top of the new bell schedule – in just four short months.

Volusia United Educators President Elizabeth Albert said, “I am extremely disappointed that the will of the employees was overlooked.  The most concerning part is there are so many changes heading to VCS employees next year. We have reached the saturation point.”

Who does that to their employees?

Who does that to our children?

In my view, Superintendent Tom Russell and his coterie of star-crossed senior administrators seem utterly tone-deaf to the troubling issues faced by our hard-working teachers and families –  a group devoid of imagination and innovative thought who clearly value mediocrity over the smart work and collaborative strategic vision required to fundamentally change this incredibly flawed system.

Now, it is readily apparent that the majority of our School Board seem intent on punishing teachers – and innocent families who must now juggle their busy lives, jobs and after school activities to fit the new bell schedule – while making a total farce of one of the most critical decisions of the past decade.

Angel              Volusia County Councilwoman Barbara Girtman

I wrote about this disturbing series of events in a post earlier in the week – but it bears repeating.

Frankly, the tone and tenor of the raucous free-for-all that passed for a “public meeting” of the Volusia County Council – a parliamentary nightmare that shocked and embarrassed bewildered constituents – has bothered me since I listened to it.

Like many of you, I am still staggered by the open disrespect shown to District 1 Councilwoman Barbara Girtman – and the crushing political dysfunction that exemplifies everything wrong with our county government.

At this weeks Volusia County Council meeting, the Minority Elected Officials of Volusia County proposed a $5,000 public sponsorship for the upcoming “Dreams Do Come True” celebration recognizing the lifetime achievements of former Councilwoman Joyce Cusack and the groundbreaking of the Spring Hill Resource Center which will bear her name.

The event will be hosted by the MEO, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization comprised of current and former minority government representatives – dedicated to developing resources for disadvantaged communities and ensuring fair treatment of historically underrepresented constituencies (which, at this point, includes every taxpayer in Volusia County).

From the outset, it was clear the seemingly routine request had an uphill battle.

In what will go down as one of the worst moments of Councilwoman Weak Billie Wheeler’s lackluster political career – she immediately went on the attack – politicizing the request by accusing the MEO of fielding a candidate to run against her in the next election and labeling the nonprofit as a “political action committee.”

It was ugly – and wrong.

Not to be upstaged, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, joined Weak Billie in a tag-team match, besmirching the MEO as a PAC, and claiming that county sponsorship of Ms. Cusack’s much-deserved recognition was akin to a “political endorsement.” 

Bullshit.

Only Councilwoman Heather Post and Councilwoman Barbara Girtman – who serves as co-chair of the MEO – voted to approve the measure.

I found the whole dynamic strange – given the fact that the Volusia County Council annually gives away a small fortune to every pet cause, rubber chicken banquet and not-for-profit with their hand out.

For instance, just last year, you and I were the unwitting benefactors of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Blue and Gold Gala – benefiting the athletic programs of the prestigious private university that is virtually owned and operated by the capo di tutti capi of political benefactors, Mori Hossieni.

Then, we gave $3,000 to sponsor the 2018 Herbert M. Davidson Memorial Award for Community Service – which just happened to go to Lesa France-Kennedy – who is arguably no slouch when it comes to financially underwriting the political careers of hand-select politicians (or receiving a return on that investment. . .)

Maybe it’s me – but I thought it sounded more than a little disingenuous when Old Ed and the Funky Bunch mewed and whined about how cautious they have suddenly become when  stewarding the public’s money.

Since when? 

In a very poignant moment, Councilwoman Girtman showed incredible poise and true leadership when she eloquently called for “inclusiveness,” and thoughtfully explained to her “colleagues” on the dais of power, “I think it’s really important to understand the reason there’s a minority elected officials group is because there needs to be. There needs to be someone who looks out for communities that have a lesser voice — that have always had a lesser voice.”

In a painful reminder of the obvious, Ms. Girtman enlightened her dimwitted fellow elected officials about what her service to Volusia County truly represents.

“We’re a diverse county that should be evolving in a very different way, and the issues that you bring to the table are not the issues that are the affecting a total community.”

 Then, as Chairman Kelley lectured Ms. Girtman about his everlasting love for Ms. Cusack – the intrepid Councilwoman stopped the doddering dipshit in his patronizing tracks – explaining that, “It goes beyond that individual.  That’s the part that none of you are connecting to.”

Rather than listen to the erudite advice of someone who understands the depths of the social, civic and economic issues that plague Volusia County – Old Ed interrupted Ms. Girtman, insolently gaveling her down – before essentially clarifying in his own haughty way that he was talking at the Councilwoman, not to her.

Although I don’t always agree with her politically, in my view, Barbara Girtman represents the fundamental change and fresh eyes Volusia County desperately needs.

In her short tenure, Ms. Girtman has been thoughtful, engaged and incredibly well-informed on the myriad issues we face here on the Fun Coast, and she routinely runs mental laps around Ed Kelley – something I take an almost perverse pleasure in watching. . .

Thank you, Ms. Girtman, for reminding your listless “colleagues” – and the rest of us – of the importance of inclusion and leveraging the power of our diversity to improving the quality of life for all Volusia County residents.

Quote of the Week

“City leaders can’t defuse suspicions — much less generate public excitement and buy-in — by opting to do the bare minimum required to comply with open-government law. In an undertaking that (City Manager) Chisholm rightly described as “transformative,” they should be engaging the public at every opportunity, and making their case in an open, collaborative (and yes, sometimes raucous) discussion of City Island’s future.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Our View column, “Daytona’s City Island deal sparked suspicion,” Thursday, April 4, 2019

In my view, when the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – our ‘Rich & Powerful’ political insiders who stand to benefit most – gather to perform an autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death of their half-cent sales tax increase, they need look no further than this editorial, and the hundreds of anecdotal experiences and perceptions of area residents who have learned the hard way that the motivations of their elected representatives can no longer be trusted.

In short, they have no one to blame but themselves. . .

Not once during the ham-handed and incredibly convoluted process of “re-educating” the public on why self-inflicting a sales tax increase is a “good thing” have our ‘powers that be’ even suggested a governmental austerity program – a reduction of the shit-through-a-goose spending strategy that has seen millions in public funds funneled to the for-profit projects of political insiders.

Instead, we are told horror stories about what our very quality of life will look like if we vote down the measure – even as local governments continue to demand more, fritter away some $50 million over time on a really nice downtown park and press to allow speculative developers to run wild on our beautiful City Island.

In Ormond Beach, residents have watched as elected officials ignore their own planning board and staff recommendations – then prostrate themselves before their almighty benefactors in the real estate development industry – destroying our lifestyle and even more of our natural places in the process.

Trust me.  There is some shit we won’t eat.

And it is becoming increasingly obvious to anyone paying attention that this ill-fated money grab will be dead-on-arrival – the victim of public distrust in this terribly flawed oligarchical system that no longer bears any resemblance to a representative democracy.

And Another Thing!

The Helping Hands Thru Arts in partnership with the City of Holly Hill presents the first ever Holly Hill Art Festival!

The festival will be held on the spacious front lawn of historic Holly Hill City Hall, 1065 Ridgewood Avenue, and will feature over 70 juried works of fine art and innovative crafts.

The show will run Saturday, April 6 from 9:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.

A portion of the proceeds from the inaugural festival will help support arts and music programs at Holly Hill School.

Helping Hands Thru Arts works with local communities and organizations to support fundraising through the arts to benefit local needs.

I hope you will join me for a wonderful weekend of art and culture – and experience the unique vibe and civic pride of this very special small community.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Angels & Assholes for April 5, 2019

  1. How about you start with getting your facts straight. The school board voted unanimously 5-0, to implement start times that were a vast improvement, according to Elizabeth Albert who was sitting with me, on the three options we the committee came up with. Five-zip, not 3-2. Three-two was against the delay. I was on the committee. The board and committee worked on this for months, the survey was just a survey, not a vote, and only about 10% of the stakeholders took the survey. Facts matter.

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