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 Knights of the Roundtable
One of the more painful aspects of this ham-handed process to force a half-cent sales tax increase down the throat of every man, woman and child in Volusia County has been watching the scheming and cheap maneuvers of our elected and appointed officials and their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance.
As I’ve said before, from its inception, the marketing strategy for this shameless sales tax increase has been a discombobulated mess – a slapstick of errors, missteps and good old-fashioned fuck-ups that resulted in the measure being pulled from the general election ballot last year in the eleventh-hour.
The initiative was resurrected only after the CEO Business Alliance determined that a sufficient majority of their shills had been returned to office, then set about saddling residents with a $490,000 special election – a first of its kind “mail in” ballot with “secure” drop off locations at area city halls and so many other irregularities that many are already calling the referendum a bald-faced sham.
Add to that the revelation that the much-ballyhooed citizen oversight committee – the cleverly added regulatory provision that we were promised would ensure our compromised elected officials allocate funds appropriately by “holding their feet to the fire” – is no more than a toothless watchdog, with “no decision-making authority,” comprised of political appointees who will serve at the pleasure of the very politicians they were commissioned to regulate.
Earlier this week, something called the Roundtable of Elected Officials – a weird public/private consortium of area mayors, city managers and their Big Money handlers from the CEO Alliance – huddled over a lunch you and I paid for to discuss their on-going efforts to take even more money out of our pockets and transfer it to political insiders and government contractors in the name of “better roads and clean water.”
In typical fashion, reports from the confab resulted in more questions than answers. . .
For instance, many question why Dr. Kent Sharples – the infamous president of the Volusia CEO Alliance – is within a hundred miles of a government tax initiative?
In my view, if we’ve learned anything about Dr. Sharples, it’s that he could screw up a wet dream. . .
From the mysterious $1.4 million American Music Festival fiasco at Daytona State College to his questionable “service” on the Board of Trustees of beleaguered Bethune-Cookman University – which now stands at the very precipice of catastrophic financial failure after gross mismanagement and a series of internal and external scams – I wonder just how many more bites at the apple Dr. Sharples should be permitted?
Eventually, one would think our elected and appointed officials might concede that Volusia County taxpayers have a right to be suspicious of ol’ Kent’s capabilities, involvement and motivations, right?
In my view, here on the Fun Coast – piss poor performance and abject ineptitude has long been handsomely rewarded by those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests – so long as their situational ethics remain malleable and the patency of the public tit is assured.
Let’s face it, during Dr. Sharples’ tenure at the Alliance, millions of our hard-earned tax dollars have been shunted to senior members of that camarilla of millionaires under cover of dubious “public/private” partnerships, incentives and government contracts.
Don’t take my word for it – read the newspaper. . .
That makes the good Doctor a valuable asset for those greedheads who see this sales-tax increase for what it is – a multi-million dollar pass-through from our pocket to theirs.
In my view, this slimy confederation between those who were elected to high office by their neighbors and swore an oath to “well and faithfully” execute their fiduciary responsibilities to We, The People – and a secret society of uber-wealthy, oligarchical insiders – represents our worst fears of quid pro quo corruption run amok.
Trust me. The Volusia CEO Business Alliance – and their paid shills at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and city halls throughout Volusia County – do not have your family’s best interest at heart.
Now, after approving unchecked sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line – in some weird “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on me again. Fool me three times and one of us is an exploitative sneak thief,” strategy – the Knights of the Roundtable would now have us believe they are interested in smart growth initiatives.
Following a flim-flam presentation by Clay Ervin, Volusia County’s director of the farcical “Growth and Resource Management Division” – essentially a make-work comparative analysis of nearly two-decade old residential construction permit issuance with today’s numbers – several of our local elected tools thought it would be a good idea to resurrect a do-nothing “Smart Growth Committee” circa 2005.
I dunno, maybe because the first one had such a tremendous influence on our ability to, as the News-Journal reported, “combat growth to sustain quality of life for residents”?
While the grown-ups in the room were discussing topical issues of growth management and out-of-control taxation – real conundrums that threaten to crush their collective political careers – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, kept jabbering like a deranged macaque about bringing back a failed 2011 “study” which suggested that blending the 13 well-managed and well-staffed municipal fire departments with Volusia County’s mishmash of failing, overpriced emergency services would somehow “save tax dollars” (because, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that Volusia County is all about saving tax dollars. . .)
This awkward roundtable meeting sounds like some weird Antique Roadshow episode where our uninspired and totally visionless politicians trot out musty old studies – the ghosts of bad ideas past – tired notions that are no longer relevant to the conversation or the festering problems we face.
I’ve got a suggestion! It’s also an oldie but goodie!
How about these shameless political hacks pull their head out of their ass, forget the empty exercise of yet another political insulation committee, come face-to-face with the very real challenges of 2019, and develop a strategic vision for Volusia County’s future?
Angel FAITH – Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony
On Monday evening, I joined with over 1,500 of the faithful at Peabody Auditorium for the 2019 FAITH Action Assembly.
The active coalition of over 30 area faith-based organizations is tackling some of the most intractable social, economic and civic issues of our generation and valiantly fighting for social justice here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
It was a real learning experience on a number of fronts.
For instance, FAITH’s initiatives designed to bring restorative practices to Volusia County Schools and reform failed disciplinary protocols, which some believe contribute to lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout and the so-called “school to prison” pipeline really opened my eyes.
According to the FAITH Education Committee, of the 67 counties in Florida, Volusia ranks 7th highest in school arrests, 5th highest in out-of-school suspensions, and 57th in overall graduation rate – with minority students and those with disabilities most affected.
This informative segment was attended by members of the Volusia County School Board – to include Chairman Carl Persis, Ruben Colon, Jamie Hayes and Ida Wright – along with District Superintendent Tom Russell.
Only board member Linda Cuthbert was absent.
In addition, Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Dan Merrithew, chief probation officer for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, spoke about their support for a local Juvenile Assessment Center – and agreed to work cooperatively with FAITH to ensure the appropriate use of civil citations to avoid the life-altering consequences of physical arrest for juveniles accused of minor, non-violent offenses.
While I didn’t agree with everything the group advocated for – the energy in the room was contagious – with a palpable sense that faith truly can move mountains.
In addition to their on-going efforts to reform juvenile justice programs, this year, FAITH leaders sought commitments from area officials to address the growing problem of affordable housing options in Volusia County.
According to a FAITH Housing Committee report, 6 out of 10 renters in Volusia County pay more than 30% of their income on rent – with some 21,000 households paying over half of their monthly take home pay for housing alone – which means a single-parent making minimum wage would have to work 72-hours a week simply to afford a one bedroom apartment.
“The situation is most dire for the 45,000+ households in our county earning less than 50% of Area Median Income (less than $26,000 for a family of three). For them, hardly any affordable options exist.”
In turn, FAITH asked for the development of a countywide affordable housing fund – a dedicated revenue source to help “create, rehabilitate and preserve” affordable units for the tens-of-thousands of Volusia County families who make less than 50% of our area’s median income.
Sounds like a noble endeavor, right?
I think we can all agree that finding affordable housing solutions for thousands of hard-working Volusia County families trapped in a service-based economy – many of whom are being driven to homelessness or forced into the destructive cycle of week-to-week substandard motels or long daily commutes just to keep a roof over their head should be a priority?
Apparently, County Chairman Ed Kelley could give two-shits about the basic shelter needs of over 45,000 of his financially strapped constituents. . .
That’s right – Old Ed couldn’t be bothered to attend the largest gathering of civically-active, socially conscious citizens in Volusia County – or even sit down with FAITH leadership to discuss possible solutions to one of the most pressing social issues of our time.
Cowardly asshole. . .
To their credit, Volusia County Councilwomen Heather Post, Billie Wheeler and Barbara Girtman joined Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Commissioners Paula Reed and Quanita May as they stood tall and represented their constituents with honor, answering the difficult questions and concurring with those assembled that affordable housing is a true crisis in Volusia County – then pledged to help identify funding sources and opportunities to fill this growing need countywide.
Although freshman At-Large Councilman Ben Johnson met with FAITH leaders to discuss the issue, he was not present at the assembly. However, at least Mr. Johnson had the common decency to answer the hard questions and engage in a meaningful dialog that can lead to innovative solutions – even if we don’t always agree on the path forward.
Unfortunately, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys and The Very Reverend Fred Lowry joined Old Ed in boycotting this important event – openly refusing to even discuss these important issues with FAITH – let alone attend the assembly – and their noticeable absence spoke to the condescending attitude that permeates this cabal of dullards and perpetuates the civic and economic stagnation that contributes to the very issues FAITH is fighting against.
Frankly, if it doesn’t directly benefit their ‘Rich & Powerful’ overseers – these craven assholes could care less.
How terribly sad. For all of us.
Angel Hy’s Toggery of One Daytona
Farewell, Hy – We hardly knew ye. . .
In what everyone hopes isn’t a harbinger of a mass exodus to come, Hy’s Toggery at One Daytona – the first expansion location of the popular casual wear shop which was established in Panama City Beach in the 1960’s – will close its doors tomorrow less than one-year after opening to much fanfare.
This represents the first high profile establishment to go out of business at the International Speedway Corporation’s publicly underwritten “synergistic” shopping center.
In June 2018, The Daytona Beach News-Journal quoted Gentry Baumline-Robinson, communications director for ISC, as she gushed about the shop’s “fit” for the “destination”:
“This is a great addition to the retail businesses at One Daytona. They have a selection unlike any other retail store in the area. With our outdoor lifestyle here in Daytona Beach, with the beach and the fishing, Hy’s Toggery is a natural fit for the destination.”
Earlier this week, Ms. Baumline-Robinson wasn’t quite so bubbly when contacted by New-Journal business reporter Clayton Park, “We don’t discuss tenant/landlord matters so nothing to add here.”
Look, I wish the best for any business or entrepreneur with the courage to throw the dice and take a chance in our weird local economy – which is based upon the same five uber-wealthy oligarchs passing the same nickel around. . .
Unfortunately, business closures in cloistered environments like One Daytona often come in clusters as the toxic effects of the “Retail Apocalypse” and a substantial drop in tourism conspire with low regional wages to form the perfect storm.
Or is something else stirring at One Daytona?
Last year, I wrote a widely read opinion piece on the sales-tax-by-another-name known as an “Enhanced Amenity Fee” which shoppers began to notice last year when a placard was posted at the point-of-sale of One Daytona retailers:
Notice of EAF – All retail purchases at One Daytona are subject to an Enhanced Amenity Fee (EAF).”
“The EAF is an additional one percent added to the total amount due before sales tax.”
“The EAF will not exceed $350 for any applicable purchase.”
“The EAF will be reinvested to continually enhance the center, including its public space, mobile technology, entertainment options and public art program.”
“Thank you for your patronage of One Daytona.
At that time, I opined:
“ACHTUNG! You hapless piss-ants – It’s not enough that we extracted $40-million dollars in public funds, tax abatement, infrastructure improvements and other “incentives” from you star-crossed fools to reduce our financial exposure and enhance our languishing motorsports business – now, we are going to wring an additional 1% from your skinny little wallet every fucking time you dare to shop here!”
Oh, you don’t want to support our entertainment options and public art program?
Tough shit. Not an option.
You want to patronize the shopping center that you rubes subsidized? Pay-up at the register, asshole.
When does a “public/private” partnership turn into a usurious victimization – a parasitic exsanguination of the very people who were previously tapped to fund a private project with their hard-earned tax dollars?
As I understand it, the One Daytona Community Development District – the governing body which manages “community development services in the area” – does not have the authority to levy an additional sales tax – but the board can charge dubious “assessments” which are tied to properties within the District’s boundaries.
(As it happens, the Chairman of this quasi-governmental community development district is the penultimate political insider, Glenn Ritchey – whose daughter-in-law, Cyndi Ritchey, was recently hired to serve as chair of the Political Action Committee funded by members of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance (where Mr. Ritchey is a sitting board member) – which is actively ramrodding the half-cent sales tax increase. . . I don’t make this shit up, folks.)
Look, you can call this polished turd whatever you want – but this sales-related “EAF” is nothing more than a money-grubbing tax by any other name.
I, for one, refuse to shop at One Daytona out of a highly developed sense of self-preservation.
You see, I try to avoid being fleeced at the point-of-sale whenever possible – especially at a shopping center that was underwritten with my tax dollars.
Now, I wonder how many other local consumers feel the same way I do – and what effect that may be having on the future of One Daytona?
The fact is, my money spends anywhere – so does yours – and I choose to purchase goods and services at small, privately owned retailers in our community who eke out a living despite the unfair advantage of their competitors at places like One Daytona who keep 1% of every purchase to cover their overhead.
In my view, whenever government entities artificially skew the playing field in a free and open market place bad things happen – it is unnatural and defies the laws of supply and demand – and it is unsustainable over time.
Let’s hope that ISC can turn the tide at One Daytona before our $40 million public investment becomes another empty shell. . .
Quote of the Week
“There is a dark gloom on this (B-CU) campus. We are losing students daily transferring to other schools in fear. And lastly, someone needs to be held accountable, and go to jail. There are others who bear responsibility for this fiscal malfeasance, not just Dr. Edison Jackson. We also need to have a forensic handwriting expert to test all of those who were employed, sitting on the board to actually see who signed off on that dorm deal. At this point, our university could have been run by Boo Boo the Clown, and his board. I’m just saying.”
–Norma Bland, second degree master’s student at Bethune-Cookman University, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Students unfairly caught in B-CU mess,” April 11, 2019
Well said, Ms. Bland.
And infinitely, horrifically and painfully true. . .
And Another Thing!
It is increasingly clear that we have serious issues at Volusia County District Schools – not the least of which is the School Board’s complete unwillingness to listen to the needs and substantive input of classroom teachers, staff members and parents.
Earlier this week, the Volusia County School Board approved a suppressive measure which will relegate public participation to two time-certain windows at the beginning and end of meetings during which citizens may address their elected officials on items of importance that are not on the agenda.
The vote came amid public condemnation of the board’s failure to listen to its constituents when they arbitrarily changed the bell schedule a few weeks ago after ignoring citizen survey results – and a request by teachers and staff to delay the new schedule for a year.
Only board member Linda Cuthbert took issue with the actions, rightly calling the measure “censorship.”
“I am vehemently against this policy as written,” Cuthbert said at Tuesday night’s meeting, “If someone takes the time to come and speak, they should have the time to speak.”
Screw John Q. Public’s asinine input on their child’s primary education – pay the bills and shut your pie-hole. . .
According to a report by the News-Journal’s outstanding education reporter Cassidy Alexander, Elizabeth Albert, president of Volusia United Educators – the collective bargaining unit representing our hard-working teachers:
“. . .told board members they lost the trust of teachers after they didn’t listen to them. They approved a schedule that wasn’t in the survey for the public to vote on and isn’t similar to the option that received the most votes. They also decided to implement the changes in August, despite the survey showing that about 60 percent of district employees wanted to wait a year.”
Which brings me to my point – last week, I was taken to the woodshed by area high school teacher and school board apologist Kate Cumiskey, who took exception to my characterization of the School Board’s vote to change start times:
I wrote, “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.”
According to Ms. Cumiskey: “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.”
So, I stand corrected – and suitably admonished.
The fact is, I was wrong.
The 3-2 vote had nothing to do with the board’s unanimous decision to ignore the input of those affected when they arbitrarily changed school start times – the 3-2 split occurred when a majority of the board chose to also ignore the wishes of some 61% of their teaching staff who asked in vain that the measure be delayed, allowing more time for proper implementation.
Don’t I feel like an asshole. . .
In my view, given the myriad problems that continue to plague Volusia County Schools, perhaps it’s time our school board members come to the realization that they don’t have all the answers – and neither does Superintendent Tom Russell and his goofy “Cabinet.”
I’ve said this before – during a crisis, I’ve found it beneficial to seek input from all stakeholders – to open lines of traditional and non-traditional communication, seek alternative opinions, get out and knock on doors and put an emphasis on developing collaborative, broad-based solutions that simply cannot be arrived at in this vacuum of arrogance.
That’s all for me!
Barker’s View will be on hiatus for the next two-weeks as I take a long-anticipated sabbatical to the United Kingdom – a chance to rest, relax and enjoy the sights of Jolly Olde London – and quaff a few proper pours of Guinness in Dublin.
Yep! The Original Ugly American will be traveling abroad. . .
While I’m ‘across the pond,’ I also thought it might be a good idea to share my opinions on the Brexit quagmire with members of Parliament. After all, as a Volusia County resident, I’m a veteran of pig-headed political shit shows – and you know me – I’m always willing to lend a hand. . .
Angels & Assholes will be back next month with my strange thoughts and goofy opinions on the half-cent sales tax referendum and much more!
In the interim, if you feel strongly that this shameless money grab is yet another low blow for long-suffering, tax-strapped Volusia County residents who can ill afford an increase at the point-of-sale – please join with like-minded friends and neighbors for sign waving and demonstrations of civic solidarity at:
Ormond Beach – Southwest Corner of Nova Road and Granada Boulevard – Monday, April 15 – 5:00-6:00pm
Ormond Beach – Granada Bridge at Beach Street 5:30-6:30pm – Wednesday, April 17, Wednesday, April 24 and Wednesday, May 1.
For additional information – follow Sons of the Beach and Friends on Facebook – or donate to the cause at: http://tinyurl.com/yy6cf4fs