Angels & Assholes for May 31, 2019

Hi, kids!

Well, friends and neighbors, it appears our ‘powers that be’ have dropped the proverbial turd in our celebratory punch bowl.

That’s right.  Gird your loins in 2020 – because here it comes again. . .

In the aftermath of the Volusia County sales tax initiative – a failed plan that asked long-suffering taxpayers to suspend reality and lavish a $42 million annual windfall on the same compromised politicians and entrenched bureaucrats that created this quagmire of overburdened transportation and utilities infrastructure by rubber-stamping massive development without any concern for the devastating impacts of unchecked growth – it’s clear many of our elected officials are not mentally prepared to accept our decision.

Earlier this week, during a transportation hand-wringing session hosted by U.S. Representative Michael Waltz – which was attended by what the News-Journal described as “more than 20 movers and shakers” – our esteemed state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff echoed our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, asinine call to dismiss the will of Volusia County voters and return the half-cent sales tax to the ballot again next year.

These do-nothing windbags couldn’t move-and-shake their way out of a wet paper bag. . .

I don’t know about you, but the mindset of our “power elite” that says We, The People somehow got it wrong when we screamed enough-is-enough and rejected this shameless money grab pisses me off.

Most smart public officials and growth management professionals understand the importance of maintaining legally mandated concurrency – land use regulations that require adequate public facilities and infrastructure be in place to serve new development as it occurs.  That means having roads, sanitary sewer systems, stormwater facilities, emergency services, schools and other public infrastructure and utilities in place to support increased demand.

Not here.

In Volusia County, our elected dullards continue to put the cart before the horse – then cry about it, ad nauseum, like recalcitrant children when voters don’t fall for their privately orchestrated bailout scheme.

Bullshit.

Our elected officials have already approved massive sprawl along the spine of east Volusia from Farmton to the Flagler County line – all while keeping impact fees at historic lows – ensuring that their political sugar-daddies in the real estate development industry reaped maximum profits without concern for the social, civic and environmental effects.

Now, many Volusia County residents are looking for real leadership – a change from the external manipulation inherent to an oligarchical system that rewards cronyism and eschews independent thought and inclusion – then callously refuses to accept the will of the people whenever an election doesn’t go the way their uber-wealthy handlers had it planned.

On social media and over backyard fences, residents are already discussing the 2020 election cycle, which many see as the beginning of fundamental change in what passes for governance here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Who will emerge as the right man or woman for this troubled time and place?

In my view, there are several sitting politicians throughout Volusia County who had the acumen and personal courage to question this ill-fated sales tax push from the beginning – including District 4 County Councilwoman Heather Post and Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via – leaders who asked the difficult questions and spoke early and often about their opposition to asking their constituents to self-inflict a regressive sales tax increase.

Another tireless leader with our best interests at heart is civic activist Jeff Brower – a life-long Volusia County resident who is deeply committed to our future – a change agent who says what he means and means what he says:

“It is time your money was recognized as your money instead of a slush fund for rewarding political favors.  It is time to give you as much respect, and the same kind of consideration, as the richest members of our community.  It is time to make Volusia County the cleanest, healthiest, and safest County to raise your family, work, and retire in.”

I’ve spoken with Jeff personally and he’s an impressive guy – bright, articulate and dedicated to a cause greater than his own self-interests – a true servant/leader who seeks to build community engagement and restore trust in Volusia County government.

There are others out there with a ‘fire in the belly’ and a call to serve who demonstrate the leadership, intelligence and finely-tuned moral compass required for public service – and more will surface in coming months.

In my view, with the defeat of the sales tax initiative – a victory many see as a David and Goliath conquest, where grassroots forces defeated this well-funded and well-orchestrated sham – many in Volusia County learned the valuable lesson that there is strength in numbers and the foundational aspects of our democratic processes truly can bring substantive change.

Now, I suggest it’s time sour-grapes assholes like Old Ed Kelley and Elizabeth Fetterhoff apologize to their constituents for questioning the will of the people, stop this ridiculous gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, and come to terms with the fact a flawed sales tax policy, handwritten by their political benefactors, got shut down by an electorate fed-up with the status quo.

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                       One Daytona & International Speedway Corporation  

So long, Joe. . .

Late word is that Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que has shut the doors, tucked tail and shuffled on home to Tulsa after little more than six-months slinging hash at One Daytona.

Unfortunately, word on the street is that another restaurant at International Speedway Corporation’s “synergistic” shopping and entertainment complex is also on life support and not expected to survive.

Damn shame.  Because each exodus equates to the loss of jobs – which negatively impacts local families – and our economy.

When you couple that with last month’s abrupt departure of Hy’s Toggery – smart people can see the handwriting on the wall – and that’s an ominous sign for a project that was underwritten with $40 million in public funds, incentives and infrastructure.

Yet, in keeping with ISC’s strict policy of “loose lips sink ships” a spokeswoman aboard the leaky S.S. One Daytona once again refused to comment – or assuage our growing fears that these mounting closures and continuing loss of jobs at One Daytona isn’t a grim trend.

Given our personal investment – I think we have a right to know what’s going on, right?

Right. . .

I hate to say I told you so – but I told you so. . .

Many of our local ‘movers and shakers’ thought I was a raving lunatic when I proselytized that there aren’t enough tourists to support the venue year-round – and locals weren’t ready to pay International Speedway Corporation an “enhanced amenity fee” for the privilege of patronizing a shopping center we subsidized with our hard-earned tax dollars.

Perhaps they were right – I’m an admitted kook – but there is no denying something worrisome is afoot at One Daytona. . .

Meanwhile, in this incestuous marketplace, the ultimate insider, Glenn Ritchey, continues to serve as the “Mayor of One Daytona” in his role as chairman of the weird public/private “One Daytona Community Development District” – and the shopping complexes parent company, ISC, is being absorbed by NASCAR in some last-ditch effort to consolidate and survive the sport’s current death spiral – or, as ISC frames it, “. . .a highly competitive sports and entertainment landscape.”   

It seems nothing changes – even as Rome continues to burn. . .

In this artificial economy, the same tired last names, with the same tired ideas, retain their mercenary grip on power regardless of how dire the situation – or the consequences.

Don’t take it too hard, Joe.

You’re not the first Okie from Muskogee who got bamboozled by some two-bit Fun Coast “economic development” pirates in expensive suits and Gucci loafers – and you won’t be the last.

We have a long history of telling people what they want to hear.

Our promises are legendary.

Angel                          Volusia County School Board

Well, most of them anyway. . .

On Tuesday, School Board Chairman Carl Persis joined Ruben Colon and Jamie Haynes in a 3-2 vote to oust embattled Superintendent Tom Russell.  Members Ida Wright and Linda Cuthbert apparently bowed to outside pressures that inexplicably supported continuing Russell’s reign.

Look, someone ‘in-the-know’ told me that Tom Russell is a really nice man – perhaps too nice for someone overseeing the massive educational apparatus that serves our children and administers a nearly $900 million publicly funded budget.

I was also told that Russell has been poorly served by some in his ‘cabinet’. . .

Now that Superintendent Russell is departing, I’m not going to rehash the laundry list of issues that brought about this overdue action – but even casual observers of the trajectory of Volusia County Schools will agree that a change in leadership was the only viable option.

Because that’s what it all boils down to: Leadership.

The ability to lead is not magically imparted on an individual simply because they are elected or appointed to a prominent position – and organizations without inspired direction rarely meet their full potential.

The role is never static, it is fluid, constantly in flux, and it requires the ability to ‘multi-task,’ evaluate, consider variables, adjust to changing conditions – and most important – anticipate future challenges in time to adapt.

I can tell you from personal experience that providing guidance and leadership in a dynamic environment is a hard dollar – and while Superintendent Russell had many fine qualities and accomplishments (many of which he rattled off in his final moments on the dais Tuesday, before self-indulging an in-your-face, mic-drop moment: “It was said at the last meeting that I am an ineffective leader. This is what I’ve done.” before walking out) – by any metric used to judge the health and effectiveness of our schools, his tenure was less than inspiring. . .

Leadership positions come with great responsibility – and in most places outside of Volusia County government – an equal level of accountability.

In the public sector, we tend to reward those in positions of high authority based upon the level of political instability inherent to the job – rather than their individual performance and the overall success of the organization.

For instance, in Volusia County, we paid Mr. Russell an annual salary of $175,000.

Conversely, he will pull the ripcord on a golden parachute valued at between $250,000 and $270,000 – while the organization he oversaw is left to clean up the mess – including an on-going United States Department of Justice investigation of the district’s treatment of disabled children.

I found it interesting that when Superintendent Russell came under fire by the School Board, some diverse heavy hitters came to his defense – including Sheriff Michael Chitwood, who penned a Community Voices column in the News-Journal praising Russell’s vision and leadership – and a weird call-to-action by the Volusia County Republican Executive Committee calling for Republican’s to become “activists” and “movers & shakers” to lobby the School Board on Russell’s behalf.

(Where were these patriotic “movers & shakers” when some 75% of our elementary schools received a “C” grade from the State of Florida?  Languishing in a cycle of mediocrity – while graduation rates are well-below state average and those for economically disadvantaged children remain near dead last in similarly sized districts?)

The VCREC also claimed the move to oust Superintendent Russell was part of some mysterious “liberal agenda” – no doubt orchestrated by the Red Menace at Volusia United Educators. . .

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Now, my hope is that the Volusia County School Board can come together and heal the wounds of what has been a difficult and divisive period – then set about the important work of finding a School Superintendent to lead our district forward.

Angel              NBA Referee Eric Lewis

Earlier this week, the National Basketball League announced that Eric Lewis – veteran NBA Referee, Bethune-Cookman University graduate and husband of Lady Wildcat’s Basketball Head Coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis – has been selected as one of 12 referees who will officiate the 2019 NBA Finals!

According to a B-CU press release, “The Daytona Beach native was a member of the basketball teams at Mainland HS and here at Bethune-Cookman.”

“In each level of Eric’s personal and professional life he seems to reach the pinnacle of success,” said BCU Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn W. Thompson. “No one deserves it more. He makes all of us so very proud!”           

Indeed.

The championship series between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors began last night with an exciting win by the Raptors.

Game Two starts at 8:00pm Sunday in Toronto.

Congratulations Mr. Lewis!

Angel              Debbie Darino & Justice for Ponce

As a law enforcement officer, you tend to see a lot of things – good and bad.

Some of them stick with you. . .

Like a mental tableau of the dark depths of human depravity.

When I was a young patrolman in the early ‘80’s, one memorable afternoon I was dispatched to a call of an injured animal.

When I arrived at the modest home on May Avenue, I was immediately struck by the heartbreaking scene in the front yard of a teenage boy attempting to comfort a small dog who was writhing in pain – a hunting arrow protruding from the poor puppy’s head.

The thought of it still brings me to a seething rage over 30-years after the fact.

My hurried initial investigation found that the dog – a miniature Collie named ‘Lady’ – had wandered out of her yard, returning moments later with the aluminum arrow, equipped with a “broadhead” point (essentially a pair of fixed razor blades fashioned into a cutting point), that struck the dog in the face, penetrated the back of her neck and exited near the base of the skull.

The location and trajectory of the wound meant that whoever did this was looking Lady in her sweet eyes when the arrow was released. . .

Unfortunately, despite receiving emergency veterinary care, the internal damage was too extensive, and the projectile could not be surgically removed.

Lady was euthanized in the loving embrace of her family later that evening.

In years to come, I would spend many hours working high-profile homicide cases – and I would see the full-range of man’s despicable inhumanity to man, including horrific crimes against vulnerable children and the elderly – but I can assure you that the effort extended to identify the person responsible for harming that defenseless animal was equal to any criminal case I ever worked.

Partnering with a detective who was equally shocked by the nature of Lady’s death, we launched an exhaustive investigation that ultimately identified a suspect – a man who lived just a few doors down from Lady’s home.

There could be no explanation for what he had done – it was a vile act of pure evil.

I took great satisfaction in bringing that piece of human excrement to justice – although, at the end of the day, he was sentenced to little more than restitution and a short probation.

On a positive note, the young man who owned Lady is now a highly decorated local law enforcement executive – now protecting and serving others in the community where he grew up.

I am incredibly proud of the man he became.

In the years that followed, I never forgot the horror and sense of helplessness I felt at that bloody scene of inexplicable cruelty – or the sight of a grieving young man trying to comfort his dying pet.

Perhaps that’s why I was so incredibly moved by the efforts of the intrepid animal rights activist Debbie Darino, and members of the animal rights group Justice for Ponce, who lobbied so diligently for “Ponce’s Law” – important legislation that increased penalties for animal abusers and ensures those convicted of these heinous crimes will never own a pet again.

According to reports, “The law is named after Ponce, a Labrador retriever puppy found beaten to death in the Ponce Inlet backyard of Travis Archer just after midnight on April 8, 2017.”

In keeping with the spirit of Ponce’s Law, earlier this week, Volusia County launched an online registry of persons convicted of animal cruelty – a comprehensive archive going back a decade which includes the abuser’s photograph, date-of-birth and a brief description of their crimes.

The purpose of the database is to allow animal shelters and adoption agencies to screen potential pet owners and weed out those despicable assholes who would harm a defenseless animal.

The Volusia County Animal Abuse Database can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y6n9dk2w

Kudos to Ms. Darino, the tireless advocates of the Justice for Ponce organization and everyone in state and local government who worked so diligently to see this important legal resource come to fruition.

God’s work.

Angel               Indigo Lakes Neighborhood

Anyone who has called the Halifax area home remembers Indigo Lakes as an exclusive golf community – one of Daytona Beach’s toniest neighborhoods – elegant homes surrounding a beautiful 18-hole course that was once the temporary home of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

Now, not so much. . .

Like many once-stylish locations here on the Fun Coast, Indigo Lakes has fallen victim to the age-old problem of a speculative developer who scooped up a distressed location on the cheap – another “Grand Plan” to fundamentally change a unique community into yet another congested, high-density enclave where recreational and natural amenities are bulldozed to make room for more wood-frame cracker boxes, apartments and condominiums.

According to News-Journal reports, Colin Jon, “a Chinese-Canadian investor who is part of a group that bought Indigo Lakes Golf Club in 2013,” is apparently putting a plan in place to build more than 530 residential units on much of the existing golf course – including commercial development with access to Williamson Boulevard.

Under the plan, residents will be required to schlep their clubs around just nine playable holes – and make way for a shitload of new neighbors. . .

While many dismiss Mr. Jon’s early moves as mere spitballing – reports indicate that he has engaged the venerated Cobb Cole law firm – well-connected, razor-sharp land use attorneys who have little sense of humor when it comes to getting their clients exactly what they paid for. . .

Established residents of Indigo Lakes are pissed – and they have every right to be.

A good, old-fashioned Battle Royale is brewing. . .

This will be interesting to watch – especially given the fact that several current and former senior Daytona Beach city officials call Indigo Lakes home – including City Manager Jim Chisholm.

In my view, Mr. Jon and his investors should be required to restore the golf course to a respectable condition – that’s only right.  After all, that was the property’s historic use when it was purchased – and the reason many existing homeowners invested in Indigo Lakes in the first place.

Like many, I believe the City of Daytona Beach has an obligation to homeowners to ensure that the property is adequately maintained – rather than stand idle while the once pristine course at the heart of this neighborhood is allowed to deteriorate into a hocked-out, overgrown steppe – slowly destroying property values and ruining the quality of life for residents – while high-priced land use attorneys develop a profitable strategy for their client.

Quote of the Week

“Although I have serious trepidation with the circumstances surrounding how the special election came to be, I am much more concerned with the glaring dismissal of the will of the people.  It is outrageous that any elected official would have the audacity to announce intent prior to the vote even being counted that if the vote doesn’t go the way they want it to, the issue will be placed on the ballot again in the next election until the desired vote is achieved.  And now, after an election where the citizens of Volusia County voted, their voice is being stifled and dismissed by a continued message that the issue will simply be placed on the next ballot until the people vote differently.”

 –Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, “Don’t ignore the voice of the people,” Tuesday, May 28, 2019

And Another Thing!

Are you paying attention to the disturbing developments in the City of Deltona surrounding a plan to punish the long-suffering residents of Volusia’s largest city with an outrageous increase in water rates?

If not, you should be.

Last year, Deltona city commissioners – perhaps the most dysfunctional elected municipal body in the region (and, in Central Florida, that’s a difficult badge to earn) – made it clear that the city’s equally dysfunctional water utility is a business – not a charity.

That’s an understatement. . .

During a subsequent workshop to address growing concerns about an inordinate number of customers who were accumulating late fees on their water bills (in 2017, that amounted to some 84,000 customers, with more than 6,000 resulting in shut-off) – city officials opted to provide funds to social agencies who provide financial assistance for those who can no longer afford their water service.

At the same time, many customers of the Deltona water utility were raising disturbing questions about wild fluctuations in their monthly water bills – trapped in a paradoxical nightmare of repeatedly being told these insane amounts were the result of “leaks,” even after their properties were cleared by licensed plumbers and professional leak detectors – coupled with the city’s refusal to investigate the reasonable concerns of residents who felt victimized and powerless.

Let’s face it, unless you have a freshwater well and water conditioning system – or survive on some 17th century rainwater cistern – most of us who live in incorporated areas are dependent upon our local government for little things like potable water. . .

In turn, we pay taxes (often exorbitant) and consumption fees with the expectation that this important, life-giving utility will be professionally maintained, closely managed and properly administered.

You see, most people don’t mind paying reasonable incremental increases to ensure both the safety and availability of our precious drinking water supply.

That means We, The People expect those we elect to represent our interests will ensure that city administrators maintain adequate repair and replacement schedules, abide by regulations, provide reliable distribution and a fair billing system with adequate checks and balances to protect customers.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, Deltona city government has apparently kicked the can down the road in the name of political expediency, leading to Mayor Heidi Herzberg’s recent assessment, “You had in Deltona effectively 10 years of no water-rate increases. . .”

Some residents are openly questioning Mayor Herzberg’s veracity, claiming residents received modest water and sewer rate increases both before – and after – the city purchased the water utility.

Interesting. . .

Now, the Tampa-based consultant that advises Deltona officials on the management of its water and sewer systems is recommending a massive rate increase – which includes a 15% one-time hike in water rates, followed by 5% annual increases in water and sewer rates through 2029.

Wow.

To add insult to injury, I’m told that a sitting City Commissioner recently admonished his constituents to “cut back” and learn to live with this new reality – including fixed-income seniors and the thousands living at or below the poverty line who are now forced to make difficult decisions, like not flushing toilets or skipping showers.

Yeah.  Wow.

In an excellent report in The West Volusia Beacon, we learned, “City officials say there are between 100 and 300 disconnections of water service each week in Deltona, many because of nonpayment of bills, but also because of families moving out of the city.”

My God.

Why does Deltona – a community that should be enjoying the intrinsic benefits of being uniquely situated between Daytona Beach and Orlando – have more governance and utilities issues than those lawless tribal territories in rural Pakistan?

And no one who should seems to care?

In my view, if this latest assault on Deltona residents isn’t the proverbial straw that breaks the camels back – then that bloated Deltona Dromedary’s spine can’t be broken – because this latest outrageous example of gross mismanagement and lack of strategic planning by city administrators’ boarders on the textbook definition of dereliction and nonfeasance.

Shouldn’t someone be held accountable? 

Keep an eye on this one, folks.  It’s going to get interesting.

That’s all for me!  Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

 

On Volusia: Are our best days ahead?

Earlier this week I wrote a heartfelt post in support of ‘our’ hometown newspaper – The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

I meant every word of it.

That doesn’t mean we all have to agree with everything they publish.  Nor should we.

I have always advocated the philosophy that, “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking” – because lock-step conformity is counterproductive to deliberative decision-making.

The purpose of editorial content is to sway public opinion, promote critical thinking on the issues facing our region and encourage readers to take action or vote a certain way.

The very nature of the editorial page is to be persuasive and convey the newspaper’s thoughts and opinions.

In my view, opinion writing is meant to not only express the editorial board’s point-of-view – but to stimulate a larger conversation in the community that can breakdown barriers and lead to solutions.

I tend to disagree with those who say they don’t subscribe to the News-Journal because they feel the newspaper “leans” one way or the other – or the content is too “liberal” or “conservative” – too slanted toward the needs and wants of Big Money players, etc.

Because any publication worth it’s salt (including this goofy alternative opinion blog) is, at various times, going to be all those things and more when held up to the prism of the readers own viewpoint.

But if it stirs your emotions – causes you to think differently about an issue, sparks discussion, or even heated debate, and lets you know how other people in the community are thinking – well, that’s money (and stomach acid) well-spent.

A good example of that can be found in today’s News-Journal editorial entitled, “On infrastructure, what’s next?” which continues to struggle with the idea that We, The People have spoken – and the fact our “Rich & Powerful” overseers can’t seem to come to grips with the outcome – an unfortunate circumstance that doesn’t invalidate our concerns, or our near universal distrust of Volusia County government.

Frankly, we’re getting tired of hearing the same flashlight-under-the-chin scary stories that our ‘powers that be’ told – ad nauseum – as a means of cramming the idea of a half-cent sales tax increase down our throats for the last two-years.

We’re also growing increasingly frustrated with the fear-mongering and sour-grapes threats that only reinforce the core belief of many that local government’s have been caught flatfooted by their long-suffering constituents – exposed as dysfunctional shills for an oligarchical system that truly doesn’t have a “Plan B” beyond financially exsanguinating their already overtaxed constituents.

“There may be tough times ahead. Property taxes could go up; services local residents expect may be cut. Our biggest concern is that Volusia County will see itself left behind as Florida’s economy crests, and in more pain than it deserves when hard times inevitably come. That’s why we recommended a “yes” vote on the half-cent sales tax: We thought it was the best available option. Other paths will be thornier.”

Says who?

Our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley?

That shadowy consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance?

Government contractors who heavily financed the failed sales tax grab who won’t have the opportunity to gorge at the public tit now that their much-anticipated $42 million windfall went bye-bye?

Because the rest of us here in The Real World are damn glad Daddy finally took the T-Bird away. . .

It is asinine to expect residents and visitors of Volusia County to throw good money after bad, lavishing our hard-earned tax dollars on the same do-nothing dullards who got us into this quagmire of suburban sprawl and overburdened infrastructure on the hope and prayer that, when the time came, their constituents would simply rollover, self-inflict a sales tax increase, and bail them out of the social, civic, economic and environmental mess they created.

Doesn’t work that way. . .

Most agree that the way forward is not going to be popular with those who currently call the shots – the uber-wealthy political insiders, the real estate developers who have received maximum profits while paying little for the direct impacts of growth and the bought and paid for politicians who facilitate Volusia County’s unique brand of quid pro quo cronyism that continues to stifle true economic development and exacerbates the problems inherent to out-of-control growth.

It will require that we elect candidates who retain the ability of independent thought – visionaries who can think strategically and stop the waste, favoritism and corporate giveaways that have brought us to this desperately low place in our history.

True servant/leaders who are accessible to all of their constituents – and have a vested interest in stopping the tragic cycle that has left thousands of Volusia County families living at or below the poverty line while a few insiders continue to get fat – using public funds to underwrite private, for-profit adventures – always under the guise of “better paying jobs” that never seem to materialize for those who attempt to eke out a life here.

In my view, the table is big enough for everyone – and those who were wildly successful before the May 21st reckoning should understand that they can be part of the solution and still make a fortune – but it’s going to take a different mindset – one that partners with We, The People in decisions and priorities that directly involve the expenditure of our hard-earned tax dollars.

No one that I have spoken with – on either side of the issue – is under the mistaken opinion that the myriad problems Volusia County faces are going to get better on their own.

To the contrary.  The way forward will be difficult – and it will require hard work and tough decisions.

But I also believe our best days are ahead.

We now have the unique opportunity to restore trust in our sacred system of governance and the democratic processes that ensure a level playing field for everyone – not just those with the ability to pay-to-play.

We, The People can now negotiate from a position of power.

In my view, Volusia County is standing at the precipice of greatness – the opportunity to continue the grassroots momentum that stopped this shameless money grab and put our ‘powers that be’ on notice that we are tired of the status quo – as we work together to manage growth, restore our historic neighborhoods and core tourist areas and bring equal opportunities for success to anyone willing to invest in the future of Florida’s Fun Coast.

Despite what we’re being told – by our newspaper, our business leaders and those we have elected to represent our interests – the patch forward is bright.

The challenges ahead will test our mettle and there will be roadblocks as those who thrive in the status quo fight hard hold on to the old days and old ways – but those who see the opportunities ahead will not be deterred.

Persistence in omnipotent.

Keep the faith.

Never quit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Forgotten: The Men of Spike Team Asp

In late March 1968, United States Army Sergeant First Class George “Ron” Brown of Holly Hill, Florida, Sergeant Alan Boyer of Missoula, Montana, and Sergeant Greg Huston of Shelby County, Ohio, along with six indigenous personnel – collectively known as “Spike Team Asp” – conducted a top-secret intelligence operation behind enemy lines approximately 12-miles northeast of Tchepone, Laos.

tchepone

Assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) this team of elite Special Forces soldiers was tasked with setting Air Force wire-tapping equipment and sensors along the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trail system, the main north-south supply line for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

The men had been covertly inserted into the area after launching from Nakon Phanom, Thailand aboard a CH-3 from the Air Force’s 20th Helicopter Squadron call sign “Pony Express.”

More than 25 special forces soldiers and many indigenous troops had already been killed or gone missing in our deadly secret war in Laos.

At approximately 11:00am on the morning of March 28, the team reported that they were in contact with an enemy force and requested an immediate emergency extraction from the area.

A helicopter arrived in the area a short time later and quickly located the team on the ground.

Due to thick canopy jungle and rough terrain the pilot was unable to land so a rope ladder was dropped from the open doorway of the aircraft to the men below.  Five of the six indigenous troops climbed the ladder and were safely taken into the helicopter.

As the sixth was going up, Sergeant Boyer was seen beginning his ascent on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Al Boyer
Alan Boyer

Just as Boyer started climbing, one of the rope’s mounting brackets either broke free or was shot away by heavy enemy ground fire.  Personnel on the helicopter reported observing the indigenous soldier and Sgt. Boyer falling to the ground.

According to reports, Sgt. Dave Mayberry, who served as the chase medic on the extraction helicopter, observed the Green Berets still very much alive and heroically returning fire and defending their position.

When Sgt. Mayberry turned to treat one of the wounded he lost sight of the men on the ground.

Brown, Huston and Boyer were never seen again.

Numerous air assets were diverted to the area and a rescue team was assembled, but the mission was called off later that afternoon when there were no further communications from the men.

On April 1, 1968, Special Forces Sergeant Chuck Feller, along with several indigenous soldiers, launched on a mission to locate the lost men of Spike Team Asp.  After just six hours on the ground, Sgt. Feller and his team came into direct contact with the enemy and called for an emergency extraction.

Ron 3
Ron Brown

Again, a rope ladder had to be dropped and one of the indigenous soldiers was forced to dangle from the rungs as the helicopter returned to the airbase in Thailand.  Sgt. Feller later reported that his search found no evidence of Spike Team Asp.

Interestingly, after Al Boyer went missing in action, his best friend since childhood, Doug Hagen, was attending North Dakota State University when he heard the news.  He decided he needed to find out what happened to his friend, and enlisted in the Army, ultimately joining the 5th Special Forces Group, just as Boyer had done.

On August 7, 1971, 1st Lieutenant Doug Hagen was killed during heavy fighting while leading a reconnaissance team – RT Kansas – on a secret mission deep within enemy controlled territory.

For his heroism, Doug received the Medal of Honor, the United States highest decoration for valor.  He was the last United States Army soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war.

In January 2000, a team from the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Office conducted extensive excavations of the Laotian countryside near where Spike Team Asp was last seen.

During the latter part of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail was heavily bombed leaving the earth deeply cratered and much of the topography completely different than it had been in 1968, making search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.

However, the archaeological excavation uncovered several personal artifacts attributable to U.S. military personnel, to include a metal boot insert and several uniform buttons.

In addition, a single human tooth was recovered at the site.

The tooth was later linked to Ron Brown through dental x-rays at the Department of Defense Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

In May 2003, Sergeant Brown’s daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father’s remains had been found in Laos.  Unfortunately, dental records provided to her showed that her father’s tooth had a filling – and the tooth recovered did not.

Due to the confusion, Ronda demanded a DNA test, but it was refused based on the Army’s policy of “body desecration.” A DNA test would have destroyed “all of the remains.”

In 2006, a casket containing the remains of Master Sergeant George “Ron” Brown was delivered to his daughter and later interred with full military honors in Dayton, Texas.

Many years ago, I received a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Ron’s name.

When I was a young boy growing up during the Vietnam era, these bracelets were a fairly common sight, but not so much anymore.  In the 1970’s many school children wore the bracelet as a means of ensuring that the POW/MIA issue remained a priority until they all came home.

For those whose adopted POW didn’t come home, the bracelet holder became the keeper of the eternal memory of one man’s sacrifice.

The silver band has become both a personal memorial, and a public reminder, that there are some debts of gratitude that cannot be repaid.

This small token has allowed me to learn about Ron’s military career and his incredible heroism; and I have had the honor of speaking with his friends and family, and to meet and correspond with some of the men he served with on Okinawa and in Vietnam.

He was a husband, a father, a former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights,” and a professional soldier of incredible skill and dedication.

Even though Ron’s “remains” have been repatriated, I still wear his bracelet as a personal remembrance of one man’s sacrifice to the high cost of freedom – and in memory of Greg Huston, who remains missing.

Incredibly, the story of Spike Team Asp continues.

 

 

greg huston
Greg Huston

On March 7, 2016, one day before what would have been Sergeant Alan Boyer’s 70th birthday, United States Army and DOD officials presented his sister with Alan’s military decorations, to include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

During the visit, Judi Boyer Bouchard, now of Leesburg, Florida, was notified that a single leg bone fragment had been located by the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Office.  The bone shard was apparently purchased by a Laotian activist from Lao nationals described as “remains dealers,” and later positively identified through mitochondrial DNA analysis.

On June 22, 2016, Sergeant Alan Boyer was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 28.

He was laid to rest just 15-feet from his best friend, Doug Hagen.

hagen
Doug Hagen

Currently, there are 1,589 Americans who remain missing after the Vietnam War.

Overall, there are more than 82,000 missing personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, Korea, the Cold War and the Middle East.

On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us remember the extraordinary service of men like Ron Brown, Al Boyer and Greg Huston and Doug Hagen – and all those brave souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.

Never forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: We need community journalism now more than ever

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a cogent and touching piece penned by editor Pat Rice entitled, “We’re your local paper, and we need your support.” 

The op/ed ran following a particularly difficult week  during which six more professional journalists lost their jobs at the News-Journal in a corporate “restructuring” that apparently originated in a stale conference room of some faceless media conglomerate that trades in newspapers like a cheap commodity.

Frankly, the cavalier attitude exhibited by Mike Reed, CEO of GateHouse Media, which owns The Daytona Beach News-Journal, who called the cuts ‘immaterial’ was, in my view, particularly despicable.

Love it or hate it, the News-Journal truly is our “hometown” newspaper and those who work hard to report the news and provide entertaining features day-in-and-day-out deserve our support as they work hard to figure out the dynamics of a changing culture and the often-fickle wants and needs of an evolving readership.

As a long-time resident of the Halifax area, I’m old enough to remember when the News-Journal put out a morning and evening edition – and having spent over three-decades in law enforcement – a pursuit often considered a “newsmaker” – I got to know many reporters who later became life-long friends.

When I hear people say, “I wouldn’t wrap fish with that paper,” I understand the frustration – but I also know that if you take the time to turn the page – everyone can find something of substance in the News-Journal.

For instance, Dinah Voyles-Pulver is one of the finest environmental journalists working anywhere.

I felt her exhaustive reporting on the gross conflicts of interest at the St. John’s River Water Management District – and the on-going violations of environmental regulations at local residential and commercial developments – were worthy of the Pulitzer Prize.

And Elaine Zaffiro-Kean’s outstanding 2017 exposé, “Tarnished Jewel: Daytona’s troubled beachside,” which dove deep into the myriad issues that continue to plague our core tourist area, epitomized community journalism at its finest.

The five-part series examined how $120 million in Community Redevelopment Funds seemingly evaporated in the Main Street area – and exposed the continuing struggles of Ocean Walk and our desperate Boardwalk.

In fact, the News-Journal’s work spurred the Volusia County Council to commission a working group of our ‘best and brightest’ minds to study beachside redevelopment initiatives – and a series of informative Town Hall meetings that gave a voice to the many residents and entrepreneurs who have suffered in silence for far too long.

Unfortunately, as often happens once the political insulation provided by these exploratory committees has been realized by our elected officials, the resulting report is now collecting dust on the groaning credenza of some do-nothing bureaucrat wherever expensive, time-consuming “studies” go to die. . .

I also like the day-to-day local reporting of the intrepid Dustin Wyatt, and I try not to think about what would happen in the halls of power without Dustin and others in the ever diminishing newsroom who ask the difficult questions and stand as a silent sentinel for the rest of us.

In his article, Mr. Rice cited a note he received from New Smyrna Mayor Russ Owen, which read:

“’The Internet’ will not attend hours of local commission meetings and provide a (usually) fair and balanced article about what went on.

‘The Internet’ won’t come sit on my porch and get to know about my candidacy for Mayor and share that with the community. ‘The Internet’ doesn’t have long and deep connections in town with enough trust to learn about a city manager’s departure days before it was anywhere close to public knowledge.

These are things only a local reporter that is a part of the community can do. I don’t always agree with how things are portrayed by The News-Journal as a whole.

But when compared to the reams of misinformation, rumors, hearsay, and half-truths found on Nextdoor and Facebook every hour, The News-Journal stands as a gold standard of journalistic integrity for our community. I am glad it was there for administrations before me, and I hope it remains in place long after me.”

Unfortunately, it appears Mayor Owen has succumbed to that age-old close-minded mentality that invariably consumes politicians who fail to realize there are many “realities” in the information black holes that local governments have become.

The “reams of misinformation, rumors, hearsay and half-truths,” Owen’s rails about are mirror images of the same “misinformation, rumors, hearsay and half-truths,” We, The People are routinely subjected to by those we have elected to represent our interests – yet, over time, increasingly serve an oligarchical system more focused on billionaires with a profit motive than the true wants and needs of their long-suffering constituents.

A place where expensive impact fee studies are purposefully withheld from policymakers and the public – yet no one was ever held accountable for this almost criminal cover-up of a tax funded report.

Where a shadowy alliance of millionaire government contractors and business owners hand-craft public tax policy in backrooms – then privately pay for an extensive marketing campaign supported by county and municipal governments – designed to ramrod an asinine sales tax increase down the throat of every man, woman, child and visitor to Volusia County.

An environment where local government officials no longer present themselves to the working press – scurrying like diseased rats and hiding like the cowards they are behind paid mouthpieces and canned “press releases” that seek to spin the facts and avoid any semblance of accountability or responsibility.

The result is that taxpayers who are fed up living in the information desert that local governments have created will obtain their “news” anywhere they can find it – and express their opinions and frustrations on social media – which is now established as the digital “Town Square” of the new epoch.

Mayor Owens and his colleague need to understand that whoever controls the message, controls the masses – and the masses are sick and tired of being kept in the dark.

I’m an admitted hack – a dilettante who pens a goofy opinion blog, so hyper-political and regional in nature that one really has to search for it.

Yet, as of today, this site has generated 312,005 views – with thousands more each month –  including international visitors from some 121 countries around the world (ever heard of the Kingdom of Benin?  Me neither.  It’s a small country in West Africa – birthplace of the vodun (or “voodoo”) religion and home to the former Dahomey Kingdom from circa 1600–1900 – where some folks clearly enjoy reading Barker’s View!  Shout out to my peeps in Benin!)

But this forum is not a “news outlet” – it is a cheap opinion blog that voices my personal and political frustrations, rants and delusions – an often humorous, always irreverent take on the news and newsmakers of the day – and most smart people enjoy it for what it is: an alternative take on the issues that face us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

We need daily local newspapers – staffed by professional journalists who live in the community, know the players and can feel the results of their important work up close and personal.

In my view, reading the daily paper should stir the complete range of emotions – from breaking  local news, to in-depth series on the issues of the day and well-written editorials that spark a greater discussion in the community – and I am invariably moved (sometimes to rage, sometimes to laughter) when I digest the news of the day as reported by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

I happen to subscribe to the News-Journal’s online content, because I like the up-to-the-minute news feature – coupled with the ability to read a digital version of the print edition each morning with coffee.

I couldn’t tell you what I pay for the subscription  – but whatever it is, it’s worth it.

Look, I know nothing about reporting the news – or what it takes to eke out a profit in an environment where traditional paper and print newspapers are quickly going the way of the buggy whip.

But I know that ‘our’ newspaper is as relevant and necessary today as it always has been – perhaps more so – and it deserves our support and defense.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 24, 2019

Hi, kids!

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

–Earnest Lawrence Thayer

Feels good to win one, doesn’t it?

It should.  Enjoy it while it lasts. . .

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           Mark D. Barker, Unrepentant Shit Stirrer  

Sometimes I laugh at myself whenever I read an opinion piece penned by one of our “local illuminati” that exposes just how wrong and painfully out-of-touch I am on any given issue.

For instance, according to News-Journal Editor Pat Rice, our new Lucky’s Market on Granada Boulevard is THE happening place – just about the best thing since sliced bread (they have that – only it’s called “sliced Brioche” and it sells for four bucks a loaf. . .)

I made my first foray to Lucky’s last week – dutifully making hot laps around the crowded parking lot until a sufficient number of customers departed to make way for the throngs still pouring in.

I’m not new to this ground.

Fifty years ago, Oceanside County Club’s swimming pool sat on the site – which provided a cool summer respite for my classmates and I at St. James Day School, just south on Halifax Drive.

Once I shoehorned the Lone Eagle into a parking space, I removed a small buggy from the rack outside and began zigzagging my way through the mass of self-absorbed shoppers fondling a huge stack of “organic” pineapples near the entrance – clanging my cart into others as I attempted to navigate the narrow aisles – muttering sotto voce, “excuse me, ‘cuse me. . .pardon, whoops, sorry, excuse me. . .”

My stress level immediately hit 9.8 on the agoraphobia scale.

So, I made for the draft beer taps at the back of the store, thinking a cold craft brew might soothe the raging social anxiety I was experiencing from being in such close proximity to so many of my fellow Ormondites.

The beer line was ten deep and growing. . .

I quickly grabbed a bag of “savory crostini,” a container of olive tapenade, some salame di parma and a chunk of aged Parmigiano Reggiano (add a glass of good Italian red wine and you’ve got the makings of a nice lunch) then weaved my way to the small bakery for some chocolate chip cookies, a loaf of sourdough bread, some cheese danish and other essentials for the Barker’s View HQ larder.

My bill was just over $70.

Look, Lucky’s is a great addition to Ormond Beach – similar, if slightly less pretentious, than a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods – and I’m very happy the opening has been such a huge success.

If you’re in need of a few specialty items (or some really good prepared foods) I encourage you to brave the crowds and enjoy the communal experience of this upscale souk.

I’ve always been tragically “unhip” –  totally oblivious to what’s “happening” now – or maybe I’m just a curmudgeonly asshole, too inflexible and set in my ways to embrace the fashionable – but if I had subjected myself to the Lucky’s experience 17 times in the past two-weeks as Pat did, I’d be institutionalized. . .

Look, I know what I like.

When I want good, locally produced beef and pork, I travel to Harris Grocery in Bunnell – a small IGA market located on U.S.-1 that’s been owned and operated by the same family for over 25-years.

If you haven’t tried the bulk country sausage – or “market fresh” meat bundles and exceptional vegetables, often displayed right in the farm box they were harvested in – well, you’re doing it wrong.

For everyday shopping, I’m a Publix guy.

In fact, I still drive out of my way to the Ormond-By-The-Sea location because that’s where my mom took me shopping when I was a little boy.  I know where my staples are located – and even when they try and trick me with periodic product placement changes – I can instinctively ferret out my Walker’s Shortbread and Martinelli’s apple juice. . .

I was also a bit surprised by just how wrong I was in my harsh criticism of embattled Volusia County School Superintendent Tom Russell. . .

In a Community Voices column last Sunday, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood opined that, “In our county, we have been fortunate to have the leadership and vision of Tom Russell.”  

Really?  

Because in my view, Superintendent Russell’s time at the helm of Volusia County Schools has been marked by one roiling shitstorm after another. . .

Although Sheriff Chitwood points to “improving” graduation rates – statistically, Volusia County remains woefully short of the state average – and when you consider completion rates for economically disadvantaged students – the results are abysmal.

Now, We, The People – and our elected representatives on the Volusia County School Board – are just learning that the district has been the focus of a United States Department of Justice investigation into the treatment of student’s living with Autism for over a year?

Say what?

What about the ham-handed “secret discussions” that resulted in a five-year contract with AdventHealth – naming the healthcare provider the “exclusive student education and student wellness partner of the School Board for all purposes and on all levels” – for just $200,000 in cash each year. . .?

One might have thought that given our current dire financial straits – a direct advertising campaign reaching some 63,000 Volusia County families might have been worth a tad more?

Or the decades-old backlog of school infrastructure projects, bargain basement sale of public property and the never-ending/never-productive negotiations with our teachers – professionals who are desperately seeking a living wage for their important work – anything to stop the hemorrhage of talent as educators continue to flee Volusia for more responsible districts or professions that appreciate their contributions.

Add to that the stark realization that we cannot adequately fund prudent security measures without putting the arm on already strapped municipalities – and a hundred other serious issues facing our struggling schools – and I can’t help but think that Sheriff Chitwood’s idea of Russell’s “leadership and vision” and mine are two very different things. . .

Is it possible I’m living in some alternate universe? 

A parallel reality where residents no longer believe anything their elected say or do – yet only one in four actually participate in the democratic process?  Where our bought-and-paid for shills on the dais of power continue to tell us things that don’t comport with what we see with our own eyes – yet few seem to care?

A coastal county with incredible natural amenities and inherent beauty that has been allowed to dissolve into a dreary, uninspired place where tens-of-thousands live below the poverty line – and a dearth of affordable housing leaves many on the precipice of homelessness – yet our government officials continue to lavish millions of our hard-earned tax dollars on the wants and whims of local billionaires with a profit motive in some horribly corrupted “economic development” scheme that is routinely glorified in our newspaper as “progress”?

A mosaic of once vibrant beachside communities that wallow in mediocrity – all while speculative developers haul massive profits out of the pine scrub west of I-95 as even more wood-frame slices of the American Dream are erected on top of our sensitive aquifer in a faux “beach community” miles from the languishing real one – a world where asphalt and concrete blanket wetlands and crush wildlife habitat in the name of suburban sprawl?

Maybe I am living in a fantasy land – tilting at windmills and railing against conspiracies real and imagined – lost in delusions of my own making.

But I was right about one thing. . .

On Tuesday, We, The People overwhelmingly decided that enough is enough!

After a protracted marketing effort culminating in a weird mail-in ballot scheme designed to give the half-cent sales tax initiative it’s best chance of passage – Volusia County voters roundly rejected a strong push by a cabal of uber-wealthy opportunists and their hired chattel on the county council and municipal commissions up-and-down the Fun Coast.

For far too long the residents of Volusia County have taken it on the chin – trapped in a system they can neither understand nor escape – struggling in an artificial economy controlled by the same five people passing the same nickel around – where public policy is decided in boardrooms by those with the ability to pay-to-play, then rubberstamped by politicians hand-selected in backrooms, anointed by “kingmakers,” and financed by massive campaign contributions that skew the political playing field and ensure a handsome return on investment.

This is what it feels like to finally negotiate from a position of power.

That’s what elections are all about – and we finally know how J. Hyatt feels most election cycles.

Now, the true test will be if we can use this incredible momentum to return accountability to the halls of power and restore the public’s trust in local government.

Besides, it does my beat-up old heart good to be right for a change. . .

Angel              Volusia County Voters

I don’t care how you voted.

If you were one of the 28% of eligible Volusia County voters who cast a mail-in ballot in what passed for the convoluted local option sales tax referendum, give yourself a Barker’s View Gold Star!

In my view, a participatory democracy requires, well, participation.

For most, the very idea of a free and democratic process represents the idea of equality and fairness – the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way.  But it also requires that citizens take advantage of that chance and let their voice be heard at the ballot box.

The question of why growing numbers of people allow a small percentage of their fellow citizens to decide the important questions of our time is a conundrum political scientists have struggled with for years.

In Volusia County, voter apathy is a growing problem that aggravates the other serious issues that have resulted in such widespread distrust in government.

Many citizens I speak with tell me they believe their vote doesn’t matter – that the “system” is rigged to protect itself – even from the foundational processes and protections of our democracy.

Others tell me our elections have devolved into little more than a weird Sophie’s Choice – the lesser of two evils – where candidates with malleable ethics are bought, sold and fielded by Big Money interests who see the process as a means to a profitable end.

Perhaps they’re right. . .

Several years ago, a group of committed citizens petitioned Volusia County government for the right to vote on issues effecting beach driving and access in an effort to stop the pernicious practice of elected and appointed officials using our beach as a cheap bargaining chip for speculative developers seeking to privatize our most precious natural amenity.

Under the simple premise that “Politics Change – Community Values do not,” the grassroots effort collected nearly 19,000 signatures and qualified the charter amendment for its rightful place on the ballot.

Then, fearing a challenge to the status quo, Volusia County government sicced their weaponized public attorney – Dan “Cujo” Eckert – on the intrepid beach driving advocates and filed suit against these long-time citizen activists using their own tax dollars to do it.

Most recently, Volusia County government mounted a strenuous and protracted legal challenge after 53% of the county’s electorate approved Amendment 10 – which will return constitutional authority to the sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor – each of which currently serve as little more than elected department heads, held firmly under the yoke of an unelected, unaccountable and almost omnipotent county manager.

This aggressive challenge to the will of the people further reinforced the notion that this oligarchical system will go to whatever lengths necessary to stifle the democratic process and ensure the patency of the public tit. . .

When viewed from the perspective of a compromised Volusia County political system, one that has been bought and paid for by a few ultra-rich elites who throw huge sums of cash at select candidates through multiple, but individually controlled, corporate entities many get the impression that citizen input and opinion on matters large and small is neither wanted nor considered.

I believe there remains one fundamental mechanism which, if used properly, will allow us to prevail over the insiders and well-heeled donor class that seem intent on taking our lifestyle and heritage away from us and handing it to outside speculators for backdoor personal enrichment:

It is the ultimate power of the ballot box.

I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical and visionary members of our community to high public office, we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness, and the spirit of equality and fair play in Volusia County government.

To those who took the opportunity to participate in this sacred process – Thank you.

Asshole           City of Ormond Beach  

 From the “Things that make you say W.T.F?” file. . .

A very astute observer of all-things political, and an avid reader of Barker’s View, recently pointed out that on the very day following the sales tax initiatives demise – the City of Ormond Beach posted a cryptic notice on their website announcing:

“Due to extended dry weather and increased demand, reclaimed water is currently unavailable. The reuse system will be made available as soon as the water supply is adequately replenished by rainwater. Updates will be posted on the City’s website at http://www.ormondbeach.org.

 As a reminder, once reclaimed water service is restored, please do your part to use reclaimed water wisely. The St. John’s River Water Management District recommends the following for a healthy landscape:

 Irrigate no more than twice (2x) per week.

Irrigate no more than ¾ inch of water per zone per irrigation day.

Irrigate no more than one hour per irrigation zone per irrigation day.

Thank you for your consideration!

Please contact the Public Works Department at (386) 676-3220 for further information.”

 For the uninitiated, reclaimed water is essentially partially treated and disinfected effluent –sewer water – used for irrigation.

We don’t drink it (Yet) – we water our lawns with it where available.

According the city’s website, the system currently provides some one-billion gallons of reuse water annually to Ormond Beach customers.

“Currently there is an annual average day customer demand of 3.62 Million Gallons per Day (MGD) used for irrigation purposes from the available 4.57 MGD sanitary sewer flow rate received at the City’s wastewater treatment facility. Using effluent for irrigation reduces the amount of effluent that must be discharged to the Halifax River, lessening environmental impacts to the River’s ecosystem.”  

If these figures are correct, at average daily demand – using sanitary sewer intake alone –  the system produces a surplus of approximately .95 million gallons of reuse water per day.

Now, unless the good citizens of Ormond Beach have ceased exercising their bodily functions or flushing their toilets in some weird protest – the treatment facility should be producing an ample supply of reuse water.

Am I right? 

Look, we’ve had “extended dry weather” before – even what many meteorological experts consider extreme drought conditions – and I’ve never seen the entire supply of reclaimed water abruptly shut off to Ormond Beach customers.

What gives? 

Because I’m a conspiratorial asshole – my initial thought was that this is the first of many “punishments” and small inconveniences we can expect from our local governments for having the temerity to quash their big windfall on Tuesday – because why else would a public utility producing a billion gallons of reuse water each year suddenly and inexplicably turn off the tap to thousands of residential and commercial customers without a peep of warning?

Now, we’re seeing “updates,” such as, “Thank you for your patience as we make every effort to restore and maintain full access to the reuse system as soon as possible.”

 What? 

If the “extended dry weather” excuse is true, what is Mayor Partington going to do, some ceremonial dance on the steps of City Hall in hopes the heavens open up?

I hate to be an alarmist, but it appears “something” happened beyond a dry spell. . .

We’ll see.

Angel              Citizens of Ormond Beach

Kudos to the citizens of Ormond Beach who voted to block a nasty power grab by elected officials who attempted to lash term extensions and staggered elections to the sales tax referendum.

This cheap-jack move to cement their positions came following one of the most hotly contested and expensive contests in recent memory, when a majority of incumbents were returned to office on a wave of developer dollars.

Fortunately, their hubristic past came back to haunt them on Tuesday. . .

On election night 2018, our tone-deaf Mayor and Commissioners posed for a picture during their collective victory party on the dance floor of the Rockin’ Ranch – epitomizing the back-slappin’ good ol’ boy network they represent – holding a filthy push broom to signify their unanimous “clean sweep.”

To add insult to injury, the most vocal of the bunch – “Deputy Mayor” Troy Kent – who long ago became the mouthpiece and chief apologist for speculative developers – was costumed, cap-a-pie, in a ten-gallon cowboy hat and boots – personifying the chummy Old South crony politics many of us who lived it have worked hard to escape.

Simultaneous to the Hootenanny over at the Rockin’ Ranch – those aligned with Mr. Kent and his buddies – placed an industrial highway sign on Granada Boulevard blazing antagonistic one-liners (“THANKS ORMOND NO-CANDO”) and other juvenile slogans – as a direct thumb-in-the-eye to a very committed segment of their constituency who fought hard for what they thought was right for their quality of life.

Troy and the boys

According to the Ormond Beach Observer, “Ormond Beach heard a resounding “no” echoing throughout the city as voters rejected the four-year term proposal 65.7% to 34.3%. Its defeat meant that staggered terms also went down the drain, because it was dependent on four-year terms passing. Voters said no to staggered terms 57.8% to 42.2%.”

“Voters said yes to term limits, 62% to 38%, but term limits will not be instated, because the question was also dependent on four-year terms.”

Hear, Hear!

Asshole           County Chair Ed Kelley

“My goal would be to discuss it and see if there’s an interest in putting it back on the ballot in 2020,” he said. That way “we’d have a 60 percent turnout in voters, and it would give us more time to inform the public. Maybe a year and a few months will make a difference.”

The one constant in Volusia County politics is that no tax proposal is ever really dead.

Make no mistake, if our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has his way (and he will) the moldering corpse of the recently deceased half-cent sales tax initiative will be reanimated on the bones of the same tired issues and trotted out for a second run in 2020.

Why?

Because it’s true – Old Ed and his fellow uninspired dullards – truly have “No Plan B.”

All they know is the malicious cycle of take from the weak and give to the powerful who pull the strings – mental prisoners of the insipid lock-step conformity that permeates Volusia County government and abhors ingenuity, imagination and creativity.

The unfortunate reality is that Mr. Kelley still refuses to accept that, over time, We, The People have lost all trust in the system he serves – and now we have sent a clear message that we will no longer allow our hard-earned tax dollars to be frittered away or simply handed over to his cronies and political benefactors.

Clearly, with few exceptions, our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County government still haven’t come to terms with the fact this referendum was a public indictment of their lack of transparency, abject favoritism and gross mismanagement.

Until certain key policymakers resign or are voted out of office – this basic lack of moral and ethical clarity will cause an equal backlash in 2020.

It’s time our ‘powers that be’ understand the practical implications of their collective behavior on the public’s trust.

For good or for ill, this sales tax debacle painted our elected officials, and those members of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance who pushed the initiative from its inception, as master manipulators – willing to say anything, and use any means at their disposal, to “reeducate” citizens and achieve their greed-crazed end result – an ill-fated campaign that merely highlighted the sloth-like inefficiencies inherent to government projects and the ineptitude of our elected officials in DeLand.

That’s not how healthy partnerships start.

In my view, this desperately failed money grab was Old Ed’s Waterloo.

We’ve had enough of his unique brand of “leadership.”

Now, it’s time for Chairman Kelley to own his dithering Captain Queeq routine and resign for the good of his constituents and the institution he represents – then, slither off to that smoldering ash heap where cheap-jack politicians go once they have been exposed for who and what they are. . .

Asshole           GateHouse Media

Yesterday, the slash-and-burn “restructuring” by GateHouse Media – which owns The Daytona Beach News-Journal – continued with the unceremonious termination of six more professional journalists.

Look, I frequently criticize the views and opinions of the News-Journal’s editorial board – but make no mistake – The News-Journal is my newspaper, and has been since I was old enough to read critically and take the news of the day.

In my view, Pat Rice and a core of dedicated journalists do a fantastic job, in a very difficult economic environment, reporting on local issues that affect all of us – and in an age when a sizable portion of the population have lost total trust in their government – we need that oversight now, more than ever.

In a report by Poynter Media, some corporate pencil-neck stooge who can’t seem to navigate the current media marketplace with enough dexterity to save his most important assets made an incredibly heartless statement announcing the layoffs:

“Mike Reed — CEO of GateHouse’s parent company, New Media Investment Group — told Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds, “We are doing a small restructuring — at least that’s what I would call it — that I’m sure will be misreported. We have 11,000 employees. This involves a couple of hundred.”

Jesus.

According to reports, the cuts at the News-Journal included “. . .editors for sports, features, politics and letters.”

My heart breaks for these dedicated professionals.

Godspeed and all best wishes to everyone affected – including those still in the trenches fighting the good fight – may your future be bright.

You deserve better.

Quote of the Week

“I’m here to fight,” said board member Joe Forte, Holly Hill’s city manager.”

 “I don’t recall ever quitting anything,” said board member Bill Hall, South Daytona’s mayor and former police chief.”

–Speaking at the First Step Shelter Board meeting, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, as quoted by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Shelter board to stay intact,” Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My hat’s off to the much-maligned members of the First Step Shelter Board who took a bold stand earlier this week in the fight to see the homeless assistance center become a reality.

Clearly, the City of Daytona Beach isn’t making it easy – and that’s unfortunate.

But things are definitely looking up.

Following the loss of Executive Director Mark Geallis, who succumbed to the age-old malady of political stagnation, protectionism and the Machiavellian strategy of withholding key information as a means of controlling ones grip on power, it appeared to everyone that the First Step Shelter was in danger of foundering – a rudderless ship left to the fierce political winds.

Now, after reaffirming their collective commitment to helping solve one of the most intractable problems of our time, it appears the First Step Board – and, by all accounts, the City of Daytona Beach and even Volusia County (who has been effectively riding the pine since this effort began) – will be able to move forward with a renewed enthusiasm.

I, for one, am pulling for them.

And Another Thing!

A judge recently upheld the City of Daytona Beach’s misplaced argument that short-term rentals are only allowed in tourist zoning districts or community redevelopment areas where hotels and motels are also permitted.

Now, the intrepid group of rental property owners who sued the city in the summer of 2017 is planning to appeal the decision to the 5th District Court of Appeal.

In my view, the city’s position on this important issue is shortsighted and clearly geared toward appeasing the Halifax areas strong hotel/motel lobby, who view short-term vacations rentals as a threat to their continued viability, in an era where tourists are growing tired of paying exorbitant prices for a cubical in a beachfront fleabag that smells like mold and looks like merde. . .

As I’ve said before, this expensive and time-consuming fight is unfortunate – and it’s time that the City of Daytona Beach and other municipalities throughout Volusia County awaken to the benefits of this growing segment of the state’s tourism economy.

You don’t have to venture very far into many neighborhoods – especially on the languishing beachside – to see the devastation that has resulted from a stagnating service-based economy, decades of neglect, a lack of strategic vision and almost non-existent code enforcement.

In certain areas, malignant blight is so prevalent that it creates a gut-wrenching visual.

The deplorable condition of once vibrant residential and commercial districts is defining our community in the eyes of residents and visitors alike – and that’s not a good thing for the future of tourism on Florida’s Fun Coast.

When investors purchase dilapidated properties and renovate them into a marketable short-term rental – it has a radiating effect in the surrounding area, slows the spread of blight and proves that pride in appearance can be equally contagious.

According to rental property owners, these renovations are performed at private expense, without tax abatement or government incentives, and the construction and ongoing maintenance provides jobs, such as landscaping, property management and other trades while increasing sales at local businesses.

I know a few of the plaintiffs in this case – others I have met at community events – and they are solid citizens, many heavily invested in the City of Daytona Beach and personally committed to the Halifax areas social, civic and economic revitalization.

One property owner recently explained to me that resort hotels are artfully designed to keep visitors on the property – spending money at on-site restaurants and lounges – while short-term vacation rentals, by their very nature, encourage tourists to get out into the community – to shop, eat, drink and play at local businesses and venues.

Obviously, local governments must retain the right to enact common-sense rules to alleviate nuisance issues and ensure the health, safety and quality of life for all residents – but property owners should be permitted to market short-term rentals in an open and responsible way without oppressive government regulation.

In my view, many local hotel/motel operators are part of the problem.

For years they have refused to reinvest in their product, squeezed profits while paying shit wages for scullery work and allowed their facilities and amenities to deteriorate.  While some hoteliers have kept up with the times, many others on Atlantic Avenue and beyond have become little more than run-down dumps which contribute to the seedy sense of hopelessness that continues to plague revitalization efforts.

In my view, it’s time that our elected and appointed officials come to the realization that we simply must incorporate innovation and alternatives and change the status quo.

That’s all for me – have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.  Never forget. . .

Congratulations Volusia!

On Tuesday, We, The People overwhelmingly decided that enough is enough!

After a protracted and incredibly expensive public/private marketing effort culminated in a weird, $490,000 mail-in ballot scheme designed to give the half-cent sales tax money grab it’s best chance of passage – Volusia County voters roundly rejected a strong push by a cabal of uber-wealthy opportunists and their hired chattel on the County Council and municipal commissions up-and-down the Fun Coast.

For the first time in decades, voters sent a clear message to our ‘powers that be’ and their “Rich & Powerful” overseers that there is some shit we won’t eat.

In my view, the only positive to emerge from this incredibly expensive and time-consuming fiasco is that many in Volusia County are beginning to question how much longer we can afford this level of external manipulation of our sacred systems of governance by politically connected insiders who have clearly demonstrated just how pervasive their influence truly is.

Clearly, Volusia County voters are slowly awakening to the real threat posed by this oligarchical control of our government processes – and that should scare the hell out of petty politicians who have now been exposed as little more than two-bit shills for entrenched special interests – while blatantly ignoring the needs and wants of their long-suffering constituents.

Many politicians and hangers-on in Volusia County politics were caught flatfooted on this one.

It seems they never understood the basic flaw in their “No Plan B” strategy that painted them as visionless shit-heels who lack the skills to identify the myriad problems that accompany unchecked growth – or the basic ingenuity to develop workable solutions beyond taxing the eyeballs out of every man, woman, child and visitor.

In the aftermath, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, is apparently still trying to grasp the reality of his situation:

“It was not anything personal. It was about taking care of the needs we’ve been facing, that we’ve been putting off.”

To those of us who, for years, have been ignored, expected to pay the bills and endure the corporate giveaways, inadequate impact fee structure purposely designed to profit their political benefactors in the real estate development community, and the craven spending habits and favoritism of those compromised puppets we elected to represent our interests – it has been incredibly personal.

I just hope Old Ed was looking at his watch last night as the returns were announced – because it’s not every politician who knows the exact second his career ended. . .

Just do the right thing, Ed – Resign.  Step aside.  Make way.  Slink off to that smoldering ash heap where cheap-jack politicians go once they have been exposed for who and what they truly are. . .

Look, I try to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat – but this one just feels good.

And it should.

For far too long the residents of Volusia County have taken it on the chin – trapped in a system they can neither understand nor escape – struggling in an artificial economy controlled by the same five people passing the same nickel around – where public policy is decided in boardrooms by those with the ability to pay-to-play, then rubber-stamped by politicians hand-selected in backrooms, anointed by “kingmakers,” and financed by massive campaign contributions that skew the political playing field and ensure a handsome return on investment.

Unfortunately, the problems of suburban sprawl, inadequate transportation infrastructure, water quality and the devastating environmental impacts of unchecked growth are real – and they are not going away.

But, this is what it feels like to finally negotiate from a position of power.

That’s what elections are all about.

Now, the true test will be if we can use this incredible grassroots momentum to return accountability to the halls of power and restore the public’s trust in local government in 2020?

 

 

On Volusia: Purgatory and Paradise

Screw it.  I’m over it.

There, I said it.

But it doesn’t matter what I think.

This afternoon, the much-maligned members of the First Step Shelter Board will meet to determine their future – and decide just how much pain and suffering they are willing to endure, personally and politically, to help solve one of the most entrenched problems of our time.

In my view, there is honor in walking away from toxic circumstances that no longer serve the best interests of the community – when you cease to have even a semblance of influence in the outcome – and refuse to give tacit approval to an increasingly mysterious endgame gone haywire.

Sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men are doomed from the start – and, once again, those who control our destiny here on Florida’s Fun Coast have proven there is no problem, large or small, that they can’t exacerbate with in-fighting, selfishness and good, old-fashioned political hubris.

After years of heel-dragging, the beleaguered First Step Shelter, which may or may not ultimately become the Halifax area’s first homeless assistance center, is at a pivotal point in its convoluted evolution from a blustery stand-off on the front steps of a Volusia County administration building in downtown Daytona Beach.

To their credit – and ultimate detriment – in the face of Volusia County’s complete inaction on this malignant social and economic issue that has affected every community in the region, the City of Daytona Beach took firm ownership of the “homeless problem,” and, after a series of fits and starts, settled on a plan that seemed to generate real buy-in from several key stakeholders.

Perhaps most important, the First Step Shelter, as it came to be known, would be governed by a board consisting of elected and appointed officials and community leaders from the various cities who pledged to fund recurrent operating costs and provide guidance, stewardship and equity – a wise choice whenever disparate tax dollars are commingled. . .

It seemed like the perfect symbiotic relationship – providing the City of Daytona Beach a degree of political insulation while protecting the varied interests of the other municipalities involved – and all it required for real success was marginal cooperation and fair play.

Some heavy-hitters signed on for the effort, and an executive director was hired – then, after months of stagnation – earlier this year the prefabricated walls of the structure began to take shape.

Unfortunately, as happens more times than not, the specter of political division and protectionism took hold – and when talk turned to who would fund what and when – it seemed the project suddenly and irrevocably derailed.

The City of Daytona Beach refused to release information critical to administrative goals and fundraising efforts to the First Step Shelter Board – then, executive director Mark Geallis abruptly resigned, describing irreconcilable conflicts and a lack of access to the real players that made his position untenable.

Recently, the Daytona Beach City Commission inexplicably set upon those same board members who volunteered their time and talents to help – pointing fingers and blaming the governing board for the myriad delays and still unresolved questions that surround the shelter’s operations – before putting a figurative gun to their heads with a threatening motion to disband the First Step Shelter Board altogether.

(Don’t Daytona Beach city commissioners realize that if they disband the shelter board now, the fault for this ugly debacle lays firmly on their shoulders?  What will they do with nowhere to place blame – or when once promising public funding sources evaporate before their eyes?  I mean, the project could implode altogether, and the tax-funded land clearing, infrastructure, drainage, retention ponds and acres of site improvements that we paid for might fall to opportunistic speculative developers who will put up yet another “theme” subdivision in the pine scrub rather tha – wait, what. . .?) 

Sorry, I got lost in one of my infernal conspiratorial rants. . .  After all, public funds would never be used to reduce developers overhead under the guise of a failed homeless shelter – that’s crazy talk, Barker – have another drink. . .

Jeez, I get out there on the fringe sometimes, eh?  Where were we?

Now, we’re told that the First Step Shelter may not become a homeless assistance center at all, but rather some hodge-podge of services called a “jail diversion program” – where people seeking shelter are interned in a hierarchical system where ferine subhumans sleep in the dirt outdoors, humans progress to floor-space inside and gainfully employed “residents” graduate to a cheap bunk bed in some purgatory between a jail cell and the mean streets.

I don’t know much – but unless things have drastically changed since I got out of the business – I do know that law enforcement is woefully ill equipped to deal with the myriad social, medical and psychological causes of homelessness.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s recent suggestion of a “hybrid” program administrated by his agency, the Daytona Beach Police Department and Volusia County Jail officials seems like a 180-degree diversion from what Volusia County residents were sold when our ‘powers that be’ gathered in their finery for the groundbreaking ceremony that bright December morning in 2017.

Don’t you remember?  

When the Reverend L. Ron Durham lauded the assembled politicos for their inspirational vision?

“It is because of all of you that we have now come to this historic day in the county of Volusia,” Durham said. “First Step Shelter, and all that it represents, is in an inspiration to all of us that good works can be achieved by communities that share a common vision.”

 My ass.

With the recent success of Daytona Beach’s panhandling ordinance – a law which effectively removed ragtag mendicants from every major intersection in the city – most citizens have gone back into hibernation.

After all, when it comes to the “homeless problem,” out of sight means comfortably out of mind.

Maybe Sheriff Chitwood’s plan for a cut-rate alternative to the incredibly expensive revolving door of incarcerating homeless persons for nuisance crimes has legs – I don’t know – but it’s certainly better than nothing.

(And, being the political voyeur that I am, it will be interesting to see what the Sheriff’s detractors on the dais of power in DeLand will ultimately have to say about his confederation with Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm. . .)

But, whatever ultimately becomes of the First Step Shelter, in my view, it will long stand as a troubled monument to the political ineptitude that continues to plague the long-suffering residents of Volusia County and proves, once again, that our path forward on the real issues we collectively face will be dark and slippery for many years to come.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

On Volusia: Sturm und Drang

“Engineers said the coaster’s design along with excessive speed and wear on the coaster were likely factors in the accident, according to reports. The engineers also said they found evidence that the coaster had traveled too fast many times and had an extended history of derailments.”

I found a loose analogy in News-Journal reporter Frank Fernandez’ informative article on efforts by Daytona Beach Boardwalk honcho George Anderson to have the hulk of the ill-fated “Sandblaster” roller coaster removed from the haunted ruins of the once popular tourist area.

Anyone paying attention to what passes for governance here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast will see it immediately. . .

The long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County have been trapped on this rickety chute-the-chute for years – nauseated by the constant ups, downs, twists, turns and loop-de-loops of an out-of-control bureaucracy operated by a troupe of clueless carnies drunk on greed and power.

The centerpiece of a Carnival of the Absurd that no longer bears any semblance to a participatory democracy.

Next week, the storm and stress that has marked the no-holds-barred push by that consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance to saddle every man, woman, child and visitor with a half-cent sales tax increase will come to an unceremonious end – as these things always do.

There will be no “winners and losers” on Tuesday.

So, put that quaint notion out of your mind and prepare yourself for the crushing realization that, whatever happens, the outcome will not be good for Volusia County residents.

If the tax increase passes, it is expected to result in a $42 million annual windfall to a horribly compromised county government (with a percentage broken off and hand-fed to the municipalities, who are barking like trained seals at the hand of their masters) – cold hard cash that will ultimately be encumbered then passed through to those individuals and corporations who concocted and funded this pernicious initiative from its inception.

Our bought-and-paid-for politicians, and their uber-wealthy political overseers, will crow long and loud about what a great “Victory” it will be if We, The People succumb to the scary stories, fear-mongering and half-truths that have been used to sell this shameless money grab to the masses and self-inflict a tax increase.

They will preen like peacocks – call the win a “mandate” to continue the status quo – then set about doing exactly what they have always done with our hard-earned tax dollars – following the same failed policies and corrupt processes that have brought us to this incredibly low point in our history.

A visionless “No Plan B” strategy in the face of unchecked sprawl along the spine of Volusia County, where speculative developers rape the land, ignore environmental regulations and the ecological impacts to our water supply and get wildly rich in the process – while hapless residents face the specter of gridlocked traffic, overloaded essential services and the very real prospect of consuming our own sewage in a few short years – a gluttonous all-or-nothing mindset that continues to ignore the myriad problems that got us here.

That’s why I voted “No” – and I hope you will too.  But, regardless of the outcome – I fear our near future is grim. . .

If voters reject doing the same thing over-and-over again while expecting a different outcome from these uninspired shitheels we elected to represent our best interests and deny the increase, where are we then?

Does anyone really think if this local option tax initiative fails our ‘powers that be’ will put a moratorium on new development – finally say “No” to the developers who feed their political campaigns – or implement austerity measures to shrink the size and scope of that grossly bloated bureaucracy in DeLand?

Do you think our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has the strategic vision, leadership skills and basic intelligence to drive a workable solution to the crushing tsunami of infrastructure, utilities and environmental overburden that is just over the horizon?   

In my view, we – the long-suffering residents of Volusia County – are about to reap the whirlwind that invariably results when a disinterested electorate (where just less than one-in-four households could be bothered to check a box and drop a postage paid ballot in the mail) is set upon by greed-crazed oligarchs who use their massive resources to openly buy elections, corrupt the system of checks-and-balance and continue to openly control the destiny of this sandy piece of land like a fiefdom while you and I pay for it.

As my literary hero Hunter S. Thompson said, “In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught.  In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 17, 2019

Hi, kids!

I like to tell tall tales – and I enjoy listening to a good yarn, well told.

Storytelling is an art that dates to our earliest times when the news of the day traveled by word-of-mouth.

In fact, I was born just a few miles west of Jonesborough, a quaint community in east Tennessee, home to the International Storytelling Center – a beautiful campus which includes the historic Chester Inn and Mary B. Martin Hall and each October hosts the National Storytelling Festival.

I come from a long line of hillbilly raconteurs.

One of the funniest people I ever knew was my maternal grandmother.  I have watched in pure amazement as this diminutive lady, who stood four-foot-nothing, held the rapt attention of friends and neighbors who gathered among the fireflies in her back yard on Appalachian summer evenings as she told old-timey ghost stories or wove some circuitous joke that involved four or five side stories. . .

Author Edward Miller once said, “Stories are our primary tools of learning and teaching, the repositories of our lore and legends. They bring order into our confusing world. Think about how many times a day you use stories to pass along data, insights, memories or common-sense advice.”

 Because I lack a “formal education,” listening to the anecdotes and concerns of my neighbors and friends is how I learn – from bar stool chats and social media posts, to reading local stories in The Daytona Beach News-Journal or listening to Big John’s “snippets” on the radio – I keep abreast of daily happenings through the stories we share.

You must admit, these unfolding sagas we collectively follow here on Florida’s Fun Coast are rarely dull.

For instance, the narratives coming out of DeLand this week caused me more mood swings than my hops and barley-based “medication” could keep up with. . .

Like many of you, I was disappointed to see our incredibly popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood – who, to this point, has been a staunch advocate for changing the status quo and returning sanity and a sense of accountability to what passes for government in Volusia County – change tack and encourage voters to approve the proposed sales tax increase – a ravenous pass-through scheme that more efficiently transfers our hard-earned money to the groaning wallets of political insiders.

Considering Sheriff Chitwood’s open warfare with the Volusia County Council over allegations of quid pro quo corruption, pay-to-play politics, dishonesty and abject ineptitude – it was one of those Et tu, Brute? moments that left many sad and confused. . .

Then, my spirits were buoyed by the news that the Volusia County School Board has finally had their fill of beleaguered Superintendent Tom Russell amid an active federal investigation of the district and on-going “communications” issues between Russell and the intrepid freshman Ruben Colon.

Trust me.  That’s the least of it. . .

I’ve got a few other burrs under my saddle I’d like to tell you about – so draw close with the beverage of your choice and let’s try to bring some ‘order into our confusing world,’ shall we?

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               Volusia County School Board Member Ruben Colon  

 Someone once said, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.”

It’s easy for mealy-mouthed critics like me to snipe from the cheap seats – to point out “how the doer of deeds could have done them better” – it’s something else to stand for high office and shoulder the mantle of responsibility for representing the best interests of your neighbors, often in the face of withering blame and condemnation.

That’s especially true for those who choose to serve our children and steward our schools.

Earlier this week, I was proud of freshman school board member Ruben Colon who made a motion to terminate the services of embattled Superintendent Tom Russell.

A subsequent 4-1 vote began the process. . .

I have a working theory that somewhere along the way Volusia County government services surrendered, en masse, to the forces of mediocrity.

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

Let’s face it, it’s easier that way.

But the issues facing our school district represent something more disturbing.

When one considers the near-constant roil that defined the administration of Superintendent Russell and his clown troupe “Cabinet” – many of whom currently occupy roles they are wholly unqualified for and others who have created what some staff members have described to me as a “do as I say, not as I do” environment – those of us paying attention wonder what took so long?

As I’ve previously written, by any metric, Volusia County Schools are failing miserably – and for a long time our school board members couldn’t seem to grasp that ineffective leadership just might have something to do with that.

According to reports, last year 72% of the district’s elementary schools were ranked as C or D schools – trapped in a cycle of ‘averageness’ that is destroying the morale of our long-suffering teachers and robbing our children of the educational opportunities they deserve.

Add to that the fact Volusia County suffers one of the lowest graduation rates of any similar sized district in Florida, a cockamamie hiring process and an unstaunched hemorrhage of talent – made worse by an inexplicable refusal to listen to the needs of classroom teachers or pay a competitive wage – and you begin to see the true depth of the problem.

All on top of a $900 million annual budget that we are now being led to believe will see a nearly $10 million shortfall next year – resulting in vague, cowardly threats by some bureaucrats and school board members to eliminate positions and previously promised pay raises.

Now, we learn that the union and district have yet to finalize the hard-won salary plan that would have made Volusia more competitive and help retain teachers – and it appears the two sides are headed back to the bargaining table (?).

Perhaps most egregious, Superintendent Russell kept the School Board in the dark about an active United States Department of Justice investigation into the district’s treatment of student’s living with Autism Spectrum Disorder – all while some educators are set to be interrogated by DOJ investigators.

Jesus.  What a shit show. . .

In an explosive article by Cassidy Alexander writing in the News-Journal, we learned that Russell told board members earlier this week that he was clueless about the scope of the DOJ investigation – when, in fact, he had been briefed on the matter a year ago. . .

Hell, I learned about the problem last month at the F.A.I.T.H Action Assembly, when the father of a first grade student at Tomoka Elementary School told horror stories of the discrimination and humiliation his autistic son has endured – while Superintendent Russell stood slack-jawed just feet away from him.

Who does that? 

This latest series of blunders simply underscores the abject ineptitude that has permeated Russell’s administration – making victims of those unfortunate young people who rely on Volusia County Schools for their primary education.

Unfortunately, there were several key points when Russell’s reign could have been cut short before the train left the tracks.

Last October – following a long hot summer of intense negotiations – the leadership of Volusia United Educators called for Russell’s head, citing an “unsupportive” atmosphere that was failing teachers.

At the time, then Chairwoman Linda Cuthbert attacked her former classroom colleagues, calling the teachers reasonable demand to oust Russell “unprofessional.”

Cuthbert crowed, “They have every right to express their opinion, but they have absolutely no right to tell any School Board who they can hire and fire,” Cuthbert said. “We most certainly do not tell the union who they can elect as their president.  We have to be responsible to the entire school district and to the taxpayer.”

Yes, you do Ms. Cuthbert.

So, when do you plan to live up to that weighty responsibility?

I found it incredibly disturbing that – despite mounting evidence – Ms. Cuthbert was the lone vote this week to keep Superintendent Russell at the helm of this foundering ship. . .

In my view, its high time the Volusia County School Board acted to jettison Superintendent Russell and launch an inquiry to determine the true depth of issues facing our children’s education.

With luck, Russell will take a few other senior administrators with him who continue to prove the Peter Principle is alive and well in District offices – dullards who are actively killing ingenuity, morale and organizational effectiveness in this all-important public service.

Thank you, Mr. Colon.

You have proven a true commitment to your oath – and the best interests of Volusia County’s children.

Angel              City of Holly Hill and “Pictona”

Kudos to the City of Holly Hill on what is being hailed as the “Wimbledon of Pickleball” at beautiful Hollyland Park!

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held earlier this week – festivities I’m told drew nearly two hundred of the sports faithful.

In December, city officials made the visionary commitment to contribute $1 million in Community Redevelopment Funds to see the project become a reality.  The state-of-the-art sports complex is also being underwritten by the $3 million private investment of Rainer and Julie Martens of Ormond Beach.

Now that’s my kind of “public/private partnership”!

Once the facility is complete next spring, pickleball enthusiasts will have access to 24 open and covered courts – along with space for bocce ball and shuffleboard.

The facility’s clubhouse will include a pro shop, players lounge with video replay technology, training space, a fully appointed locker room and a restaurant, known as “The Kitchen,” which will offer skybox-style viewing of six covered pickleball courts.

I like the fact city officials were respectful of the park’s storied history as a place for youth and community sports activities.  In keeping with that tradition, at least one large baseball field will remain in place.

According to reports, Hollyland Park will also host a community garden and senior activity center offered as a free public resource to area residents!

After establishing itself as one of the most business-friendly locations in Volusia County – a hub of light industry and small manufacturing – “The City with a Heart” is working hard to show its larger neighbors what a true active lifestyle community can be.

With its quaint, tree lined streets, advanced wellness equipment at Sunrise Park and enduring community spirit, Holly Hill is coming into its own.

Now, we learn of an investment consortium who recently purchased some 150 vacant condominium units at Marine Grande – to include the long-dormant 11,000 square foot upscale retail center which fronts Riverside Drive.

Sales of the condo units and accompanying boat slips at the posh, resort-style marina will be conducted by Re/Max Signature, who will soon open an office in the Shops at Marine Grande.

In my view, this news adds fuel to a small community that is already on fire – actively reinventing itself – a second act that proves Holly Hill is ready to compete with any community in the Halifax area.

Congratulations to Nick Conte – one of the finest economic development directors in that difficult game – and the outstanding team at the City of Holly Hill!

Angel             New B-CU President E. LaBrent Chrite

They say anyone can hold the wheel when the sea is calm – but it takes real courage to leave the safety of shore and take the helm in the midst of a storm.

That’s true.

With remaining options to ensure the viability of Bethune-Cookman University quickly waning, we recently learned that what’s left of the historic institution’s beleaguered Board of Trustees has selected E. LaBrent Chrite to lead the university beginning July 1, 2019.

According to a release by B-CU, “I am tremendously honored to assume the presidency at Bethune-Cookman University, an academic institution with a storied history; great faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends; and a bright future,” Chrite said.

“We face some serious challenges, but we have so much that’s outstanding in our community and traditions—and I have every confidence that together we will make exciting things happen. I am passionate about Bethune-Cookman and am thrilled to be a part of its community.”

Hailed as a “truly exceptional and rare leader” by former colleagues, in my view, it appears Dr. Chrite has the preparation and business experience necessary to change tack and return financial viability and a sense of stability to the troubled school.

God, I hope so.

I’m not sure interim president Judge Hubert Grimes did himself – or the University – any favors when he recently launched a hyper-critical screed indicting The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s revealing coverage of this unfolding debacle – including a recent report on the school’s $17.5 million technical default on bonds the school borrowed on in 2010 to pay off old debts on campus buildings.

Citing “erroneous comments from local press,” Judge Grimes claimed that the newspapers “half-truths and negative spin” have resulted in a dramatic reduction in student applications and damaged the school’s reputation and brand.

Hardly. . .

Judge Grimes simply cannot blame The Daytona Beach News-Journal for this atrocity.

In my view, the blame for this unfolding outrage lies with a previous administration that, by all accounts, used university resources like a personal piggy bank, while an asleep-at-the-wheel board comprised of local ‘movers & shakers’ stood around with a thumb wedged firmly in their ass, lauding each other with honorary degrees and looking the other way while sneak thieves looted the place. . .

My hope is that federal authorities are actively investigating why ostensibly bright people – a Board of Trustees in name only with a sacred fiduciary responsibility to students, parents and staff – consciously abdicated their duty and stood idle while the very institution they were responsible for protecting was exsanguinated.

Asshole           Volusia County Tax Grabbers 

A version of this screed appeared earlier this week, but given the lingering questions of pay-to-play politics and the insidious influence of cronyism and corporate giveaways on Volusia’s artificial economy at a time when our ‘powers that be’ are actively flogging a sales tax increase, it bears repeating. . .

In his well-researched article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Will past deals hurt?” reporter Dustin Wyatt asked the important question:

“Will Volusia County’s insidious cronyism and malignant corporate welfare system play a role in the sales tax vote?”

 Now, I took some editorial liberty with the phrasing – but make no mistake – that is the question.

For years, the dirty little secret that has stifled true economic development – and created an artificial economy through unfair advantage in Volusia County – is that here, uber-wealthy political insiders truly can keep their cake and eat it too.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask any of the countless small businesses that have withered on the vine of local government over-regulation, been asked to jump through onerous hoops by the very officials who are paid to foster entrepreneurial investment, fell victim to bait and switch promises, endured the insidious problems of blight, homelessness and hopelessness, or simply faded out of existence due to the economic realities of Main Street, Downtrodden Downtown Daytona or in our traditional tourist areas along Atlantic Avenue from Ormond Beach south.

Take a drive, see the sights, then consider where the tens-of-millions in redevelopment funds earmarked for these critical commercial areas ultimately ended up?

Speak to those who own restaurants, operate movie theaters, retail shops and other enterprises that don’t enjoy the buoyant effect of having their start-up costs, overhead and financial risk mitigated by massive infusions of public funds – or given the unfair advantage of charging “enhanced amenity fees” – a sales tax by another name – to cover maintenance, guest experience and marketing costs.

What? 

Your small business doesn’t enjoy the same infrastructure improvements, tax abatement, fee reductions and direct financial support from local government that, say, J. Hyatt Brown, the Forbes listed France family, or any number of real estate developers enjoy? 

Tough shit.  Here on Florida’s Fun Coast – you pay to play. . .

Despite what our “economic development” gurus over at Team Volusia tell themselves so they can sleep at night – a free market and strong local economy is not based upon which community can throw the most money and tax incentives at a corporation on the always flimsy, rarely fulfilled, promise of “high paying jobs.”

In my view, when done properly, visionary communities take a holistic approach – working with planners to carefully select, recruit and position businesses in a way that provides the company with the best opportunity for commercial success, while enhancing quality of life and building a distinctive civic brand by carefully shaping a physical and regulatory environment where people and businesses want to be.

Sound familiar?  I didn’t think so. . .

Here, our ‘powers that be’ simply turn a blind eye to the sins of the past – ignore long-neglected existing neighborhoods and dilapidated commercial corridors – then allow developers to build a sprawling “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of town.

My God.   

There was a time when government assisted the development of a strong commercial tax base by identifying and reducing expensive permitting, onerous regulations and promoting fair practices for the benefit of consumers.

Local, state and federal government ensured that the playing field was level then allowed the natural competition of the free market to work without unnatural stimuli.  It meant that only the best ideas survived, and that prices for goods and services were controlled by marketplace factors, such as quality of service and the law of supply and demand.

Under Volusia County’s current economic development strategy, local governments have essentially become backhanded philanthropists – offering huge sums of public funds to private interests with a profit motive.

Whenever you are playing fast-and-loose with other people’s money, the risk for favoritism and corruption is high.

In my view, Volusia County has an abysmal track record of pissing away our hard-earned tax dollars to satiate the personal wants of entrenched power brokers which has perpetuated an out-of-control oligarchical system that no one trusts anymore.

Now – after lavishing millions of tax dollars on a few political insiders who fund the political campaigns of hand-select candidates for public office – their elected shills are asking every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to self-inflect a sales tax increase – a move many are convinced is just another pass-through from our pockets to those of the wealthy government contractors and others who are pushing this shameless money grab.

Why?  Because Volusia County government – who will receive the bulk of funds generated – needs this tax increase like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host.

All the right last names are working hard to see it pass – and even our daily newspaper has joined the bandwagon with not-so-subtle slants and editorial backing that have rubbed many loyal readers wrong.

For instance, supporters of this shameless money grab are glowingly described as “some of the largest, most influential countywide groups,” who make “surprise endorsements,” and care about our “quality of life” – while opponents of the scheme are painted as trolls out of some weird Norwegian fairy tale – “Citizens against virtually everything” who “. . .can largely be found leveling criticism against the county on social media or waving “Vote No” signs on some busy intersections.”

Friends and neighbors I speak with are tired of being marginalized and viewed as mere pawns in a darker game who exist for the sole purpose of generating tax dollars for an out-of-control bureaucracy.

I think Alycia Severson, a teacher and civic activist from Ormond Beach, said it best in last Sunday’s News-Journal, “Isn’t it strange to give away millions to friends and developers with one hand and extend the other (to residents) for a handout” in the form of a sales tax?

Trust me.  There is a reason why this tax increase is being ramrodded by that consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance through their dubious Political Action Committee – Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to VOTE NO! on the half-cent sales tax increase.

I assure you giving more of our hard-earned money to the same conniving assholes that got us into this festering quagmire in the first place is not the solution to Volusia County’s infrastructure and environmental needs.

Enough is enough.

In my view, it’s time we send a clear message to our elected officials and demand an end to these pernicious corporate giveaways, abject cronyism and unchecked growth that is replacing the stability of our long-term economic outlook with the constant expansion and contraction of the ‘boom/bust’ cycle.

It is time we demand that our elected and appointed officials get their fat hands out of our pockets – learn to live within their already sizable means – and work to build a sustainable tax base and thriving economy through a fair and competitive marketplace.

Angel              Nancy and Lowell Lohman

While many of our “Rich & Powerful” continue to belly up at the public trough – it’s refreshing to see successful local business owners giving back to the community in such a profound way.

Ormond Beach philanthropists Nancy and Lowell Lohman, former owners of Lohman Funeral Homes, recently gave a no-strings-attached check for $1 million to the Council on Aging to assist their good work in providing essential services to Volusia’s growing elderly population.

Once again, my hat’s off to Mr. & Mrs. Lohman for their kindness – and vision.

They simply saw a need in our community, engaged with those who are working hard in a good cause, then provided substantial, life-sustaining assistance where it is needed most.

A hearty Barker’s View “Thank You!” to the Lohman’s for their incredible generosity – and congratulations to the good folks at the Council on Aging for proving worthy of this very special gift – and for working hard to meet the needs of our most vulnerable population.

God’s work.

Quote of the Week

“Politicians leading the charge for development have proven they don’t have a clue. Rather than taxing new development in a thoughtful way, they have given free rein to explosive development and froth at their eagerness to provide tax dollars as incentives to developers eager to build. This is still a great place. Developers don’t need more incentive than that: “This is a great place to live”. And if withholding tax incentives slows development — well, I see that as a wonderful thing.”

 “More development and an increased sales tax is not the answer to our present infrastructure issues. Look to the politicians who brought us here to budget their spending and to control development in a way that will bring us out of this mess.”

–Mac Smith, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor column, “Wrong people pay,” Wednesday, May 15, 2019

And Another Thing!

I want to say, ‘Thank You!’ to those wonderfully engaged citizens at the Bellaire Community Group for inviting me to speak with them last evening about local issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here in the Halifax area.

In my view, the essence of citizenship is coming together as neighbors in the common cause of making our community a better place to live, work and play.

In an era of decreasing participation in local elections, a gross lack of accountability by our elected officials, the marginalization of those with dissident viewpoints – and the personal destruction of whistle-blowers who attempt to expose corruption and inefficiencies in government – it is vitally important to have groups of well-meaning citizens who gather to observe, discuss and learn about the myriad issues we face.

In addition, in a place with troubling power relationships – where the needs, wants and whims of the donor class outweigh those of hard-working residents without a financial chip in the game every time – grassroots organizations like the Bellaire Community Group play an important social and political role in shaping change.

As author and anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

If you aren’t already involved in a neighborhood organization, I encourage you to seek one out and get involved – none better than Bellaire Community Group.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Sheriff Chitwood, say it isn’t so?

In the waning days of one of the most divisive episodes in the history of Volusia County politics, the tax grabbers – Big Money insiders, their elected chattel on the dais of power and the cabal of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance who have financed this pernicious money grab – are bringing out the Big Guns.

Like many of you, I was terribly disappointed to see our incredibly popular Sheriff Mike Chitwood – who, to this point, has been a staunch advocate for changing the status quo and returning sanity and a sense of accountability to what passes for government in Volusia County – change tack earlier this week when he issued a social media post encouraging voters to approve this ravenous pass-through scheme that more efficiently transfers our hard-earned money to the groaning wallets of political insiders.

As though it were previously orchestrated, within hours, The Daytona Beach News-Journal went to press with a front page/above the fold spread – “Volusia Sheriff backs sales tax” – clearly exploiting the incredible popularity of Volusia County’s chief lawman.

Frankly, I am mystified why Sheriff Mike Chitwood would wade into this galvanizing shit storm in the first place?

In the prominent piece by Dustin Wyatt in Tuesday’s News-Journal, the Sheriff is quoted:

He (Chitwood) said he wanted to vote no on the tax in protest of “all the damage” county leaders have caused.”

“Then I realized my no vote doesn’t punish the County Council. It punishes everyone else,” he wrote. “We didn’t ask to be put in this hole, but here we are. Let’s climb out first, and then deal with those who did the digging.”

Look, Sheriff Chitwood is no dummy – but in this instance, we are going to have to agree to disagree.

The fact is, if approved, this sales tax increase will have a debilitating impact on those Volusia County residents who can least afford it – the thousands currently living at or below the poverty line – the more than 21,000 local households paying over half of their monthly take-home pay for housing alone – the single-parent making minimum wage – and the 45,000+ families here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast who earn less than 50% of the area’s median income (south of $26,000 for a family of three).

This sales tax increase won’t help the growing number of families who eke out a living as warehouse drones, retail salesclerks or  work dead-end service jobs in a fading tourist economy.

It damn sure won’t benefit senior citizens on fixed incomes who struggle mightily to maintain a home under crushing property taxes, fees and exorbitant insurance rates – in one of the already highest taxed counties in Florida – or young families working hard to establish themselves who will now suffer the additional burden of increased taxes at the point-of-sale.

In my view, Sheriff Chitwood is going to have a hard time convincing the large segment of his constituency who will suffer the most under this shameless money grab that their “quality of life” is somehow going to improve by increasing their tax burden. . .

While I wholeheartedly support Sheriff Chitwood’s efforts to expose the ineptitude, quid pro quo corruption and institutional inefficiencies in that bloated bureaucracy in DeLand, in my view, his take on the half-cent sales tax is simply wrong.

I believe it’s time for long-suffering Volusia County residents to say, “enough is enough” and put an end to this greed-crazed, tax-fueled oligarchical system.

There is something Sheriff Chitwood wrote in his Facebook post that I can get behind:

“Whatever you decide on this tax, I ask you to vote for what you think is right. And if yours is a protest vote, I ask you to also show up at the ballot box when our failed County Council “leaders” are up for re-election in the future.”

Amen, Sheriff.

Folks, I hope you will join the growing number of family, friends and neighbors who are standing firm to the core belief that handing more of our hard-earned money to the same inept assholes that created this “infrastructure emergency” through unchecked sprawl and an exploitative corporate welfare culture is fundamentally wrong.

Refuse to be fleeced by millionaire insiders and their craven marionettes on the dais of power – VOTE NO!

It is the very essence of good citizenship to fightback against an insidious system that no longer represents the interests of We, The People – then begin the arduous process of reestablishing a government that serves all of its constituents as we work collaboratively to restore the public’s trust in our once-revered political processes.

In my view, that important process shouldn’t begin by throwing good money after bad.