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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!