A little jetlagged – a tad discombobulated from transatlantic flights, but glad to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A. – and the fray.
Over the last couple weeks, Patti and I finally did some of the much anticipated “travelling” we promised to do when I put my papers in five years ago – time away to recharge the batteries, a return on the investment of 31-years of service and sacrifice – a chance to get a different perspective through exploration and discovery.
Plus, we needed the break. . .
A dear friend and former colleague who recently entered retirement has embraced the wanderer’s motto, “Travel. As much as you can. As far as you can. As long as you can. Life is not meant to be lived in one place,” and she is now on the final legs of an adventurous around-the-world cruise.
That’s doing it right.
As we get older, there are very few “firsts” left in life – and ours was definitely a trip of firsts.
England and Ireland were the magical places I read about as a boy – realms of castles and knights – and these fascinating countries, and the wonderful people who inhabit them, were everything I hoped for and more.
From the bustle of London with all its pomp and circumstance (and protests, and people, and traffic…) – to the relaxed seaside villages of Folkestone, Sandgate and the famous White Cliffs of Dover in southern England, where on a clear day you can see the port city of Calais, France – the U.K. was a “bucket list” experience.
Then, a quick flight on Aer Lingus across the Irish Sea took us to the fun pace of Dublin and, later in the week, a beautiful train ride through the lush Irish midlands delivered us onto the quaint Medieval streets and stone alleyways of Galway – a magical place where we came away with wonderful new friends and memories to last a lifetime.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in the pubs of London and Dublin where talk invariably turned to American politics.
Like here, people seemed equally split on their support for President Trump – and most Londoners had a better grasp on current events in the United States than many of my fellow citizens – but they love talking issues.
When I arrived at Heathrow, all I knew about England was that I really enjoyed their muffins.
But after meeting the incredibly friendly people of the London suburbs, I learned a lot about the intricacies of the “Brexit” quagmire, and the proposed cradle-to-grave social policies that are causing concern throughout the European Union.
In a dark pub on Pearse Street in Dublin, I listened over a proper pint of Guinness as a local from the rough streets of the city’s public housing projects spoke painfully about the still raw feelings of many in Ireland regarding “The Troubles” in the north – the centuries-old, often bloody fight for Irish independence and a voice in the future of this beautiful island.
Regardless of where we visited, when talk turned to local politics, I was amazed at how similar the problems are to our own problems here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast. . .
To my new friends in Ireland – thank you for the warm hospitality and enlightening late-night conversation over good Irish whiskey.
You taught me that no matter where we live – everyone wants essentially the same good things – safety, security, the right to self-determination and a better life for our children – and that we all have the same frustrations with government, and a universal distain for petty politicians who have lost sight of their sworn duty to serve the needs of all constituents – not just the wealthy few who can benefit them personally and politically.
Like any hardened “news junkie,” while travelling I kept a close eye on The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s website and tried my best to make sense of current local events from afar.
I couldn’t help myself. . .it’s like trying to avert your eyes from a train wreck.
In an ever-changing world, it seems Volusia County is the one constant.
For instance, I was more than a little taken back last Sunday when I perused a piece by my normally reasonable friend, News-Journal editor Pat Rice, who took a page from my playbook and used an inordinate amount of space – going over-the-river and through the woods to explain the pleasures of a jog on our beach – just to take a cheap shot below the belt of my fellow residents and taxpayers over at the Volusia Issues Facebook page.
What gives, Pat?
In his piece entitled, “Volusia beaches wash away the crazy,” Mr. Rice opined:
“On some Facebook pages, people will suggest things without any basis in reality, and then they’ll stake out positions as if they’re debating actual facts. Visit the “Volusia Issues” Facebook page, where those who seem to be against everything congregate. It’s bizarre.”
You know what I find ‘bizarre’?
The fact that our local newspaper of record repeatedly publishes stories flaunting everything Volusia taxpayers fear – including the all-too-cozy relationship of our elected officials with their uber-wealthy political benefactors who continue to receive millions in public funds to underwrite their personal for-profit projects and the resulting complete lack of public trust – then essentially rub our noses in it and belittle our passionate desire for fundamental change.
To add insult, the News-Journal routinely praises in print our elected officials historic lack of vision, unprecedented ineptitude and shit-through-a-goose spending policies that continue to benefit those who can pay-to-play – extolling the virtues of a dangerous pro-growth strategy that has solely benefited powerful real estate development interests – while leaving the rest of us facing the specter of gridlocked traffic and fouled drinking water if we refuse to self-inflict an obscene sales tax increase. . .
During the recent Volusia County sales tax push – the N-J provided a moderated forum which was heavy on local politicos spouting canned answers crafted by a marketing consultant – and light on those who oppose this shameless money grab.
On the very day the News-Journal ran an opinion piece lamenting the nightmare that has befallen the languishing First Step homeless shelter project – they printed a front page/above the fold swoon about the pompous groundbreaking ceremony for the exalted Brown & Brown headquarters building in downtrodden downtown Daytona – which is still being billed by our elected and appointed officials as yet another panacea for the years of strategic neglect that has reduced the area to a cesspool of blight – and incredibly cheap real estate. . .
The accompanying photograph depicted the Reigning Monarchs of Daytona Beach – J. Hyatt & CiCi Brown – perched resplendent upon their front-and-center thrones – surrounded by our preening political and oligarchical aristocracy and their respective hired political chattel – while Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry took the stage and soft-soaped this grand gathering of the only constituency our elected officials seem to care about anymore.
In my view, the juxtaposition of these articles perfectly exposes the divergent issues we continue to face – a hopelessly gridlocked shelter project originally designed to assist one of the most malignant social issues of our time, and the ease with which tens-of-millions our hard-earned tax dollars can be allocated to meet the profit motives of one incredibly wealthy political insider.
And no one who should seems to question that. . .
In an excerpt from his speech, I noted with interest that Mayor Henry said of the massive, publicly-underwritten glass-and-steel monument to J. Hyatt’s self-importance:
“This says more about how we should feel about ourselves.”
Amen, Mayor. Amen.
In my view, Mr. Rice should understand that what our ‘powers that be’ are experiencing on social media is the direct result of an information black hole they created – where those we elect and appoint to represent our interests communicate with working journalists through paid media hacks and canned, electronically transmitted press releases – and public tax policy is cobbled together behind the scenes by consultants paid for by millionaires – then the idea is rammed down our throats through direct mail and slick marketing campaigns underwritten by those who stand to benefit most.
When citizens rightly vent their growing frustrations through Facebook pages – ostensibly hosted by their own elected officials – they are blocked, deleted and marginalized as “citizens against virtually everything” – and now castigated as fools by their hometown paper. . .
In my view, it’s beginning to look like a bad tag team match.
Perhaps the News-Journal should look carefully at the very real concerns of their readership – rather than merely accepting the smoke and mirrors of those with demonstrably self-serving motivations.
Congratulations on finding your ‘Happy Place,’ Pat – I hope you enjoy zigging and zagging your way through the maze of wooden poles and ‘do this – don’t do that’ sign pollution that has turned the beach I grew up on into anything but the paradise it once was.
And while you’re busy rinsing out the “craziness” the rest of us have endured for decades – those who are expected to pay the bills and suffer in silence will remain here, in the trenches, screaming fervently to anyone who will listen, that we truly deserve better than this – from our elected officials – and our newspaper.
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 Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water
At the end of the day, I hope it was worth it. . .
Somehow politicians have the unique ability to justify their decisions to voters – regardless of the ethical, moral or civic implications of their acts and omissions – by insulating themselves with consultant reports, dubious studies and group-think – then ensuring their political survival by invariably siding with their political benefactors on the important issues of the day.
In the case of Volusia’s money-grubbing half-cent sales tax initiative – win or lose – this asinine comedy of errors that has been wholly orchestrated by a passel of uber-wealthy political insiders and ramrodded by a politically unaccountable retired city manager – will have dire political ramifications for years to come.
Why? Because it has further polarized an already fragmented Volusia electorate. Despite the claims of those seeking to line their pockets with the windfall – a sales tax increase sold with threats to the safety of our very drinking water is not a unifying force. . .
In recent days, Volusia County residents have been targeted by a direct mail campaign pushed by a Political Action Committee known as Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water – comprised of millionaire government contractors and other members of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – who repeatedly benefit from their bought-and-paid-for place in the suckling order at the public teat.
A recent report provided the tale of the tape:
“The committee has raised $222,156 from donors such as Hyatt Brown, chairman of Brown & Brown Insurance, John Albright, the CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co., and Michael Panaggio, the owner of DME Sports Academy.
Former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey has also contributed money through his business, John Hall Chevrolet. His daughter-in-law, Cyndi Ritchey, was tabbed to chair the committee after managing political campaigns for former sheriff turned Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson and former state representative Fred Costello.”
I’ll bet if you review the campaign finance reports of the majority of sitting politicians on the Volusia County Council you just might find an interesting correlation between major league political donors and Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water. . .
In my view, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these entrenched political insiders have determined that Volusia County’s proposed sales tax increase will generate some $42-million annually – funds that their political marionettes will ensure ultimately passes from our wallet to theirs.
A recent professionally produced glossy mailer attributed to the pernicious PAC depicted a water-filled pothole with the tagline – “Join local business leaders and community leaders who want to improve roads, sidewalks, and bridges in Volusia County by voting yes on May 1st.”
How dumb do these conniving shits think we are?
Most thinking people rightfully see a gaping pothole in the road and immediately equate it to the abject neglect and abysmal attention to the repair and replacement of transportation infrastructure foisted on them by a disinterested local government.
Am I right?
I mean, who in their right mind spots a pock-marked roadway and immediately thinks – “Humm, maybe I should throw more money at the same people who ignored this problem in the first place, hoping against hope that they’ll be more responsible with my families hard-earned tax dollars the next time around. . .”
Please VOTE NO! on the Volusia County half-cent sales tax scam.
Let’s let our elected officials and their puppet masters know that there is some shit we won’t eat – and begin the important process of returning trust and accountability to local government.
Angel Mark Geallis
Kudos to Mark Geallis, the former executive Director of the languishing First Step Shelter, for having the courage of his convictions, speaking the unvarnished truth and telling the shelter’s executive board – and the City of Daytona Beach (the real power behind this failed project) to – in the immortal words of Johnny Paycheck – Take this job and shove it.
Less than a year after taking the reigns of this catastrophically flawed plan to build a homeless assistance center in the hinterlands between Daytona Beach and DeLand – a weird social conglomerate somehow owned by the City of Daytona Beach, operated by Catholic Charities of Central Florida, administered by the First Step Executive Board (a body comprised of municipal representatives whose communities have pledged financial support and a few private sector participants) and operated by an Executive Director charged with begging operational funds with absolutely no guidance or real understanding of the projected financial requirements – Mr. Geallis has had enough.
I don’t blame him.
With the building still under construction, last week, Geallis notified members of the First Step Shelter Board that he would resign his position within the next 90-days.
Earlier this week, the board accepted his resignation – while lamenting whether or not to disband the advisory board altogether and turn the whole shit show back over to the City of Daytona Beach.
According to a reports, board members are becoming increasingly frustrated by the city’s total lack of substantive communication on key issues – such as exactly what the board will be required to fund – and other lingering operational and administrative questions that Daytona Beach officials seem unwilling or unable to answer.
Look, I know some of the board members personally – and I trust them implicitly.
For instance, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte is one of the most inherently trustworthy men I know – and South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall is a man of incredible character and talent who has spent his life in service to the citizens of Volusia County.
Both men personify the best public service has to offer.
Earlier this year, we learned that the shelter project was hemorrhaging some $15,000 per month in salaries to Geallis, his assistant, and some weird vigorish to Catholic Charities (apparently for use of their name alone) – all of whom were hired to operate a facility that is still months away from opening.
Obviously, this instability and abject dysfunction made fundraising virtually impossible – especially when Mr. Geallis was denied a mark of passage for an audience with Daddy Warbucks himself.
When questioned about his difficulty raising funds to support this raging dumpster fire, Mr. Geallis lamented, “I can’t get a meeting with Hyatt,” Geallis said, referring to Hyatt Brown, chairman of insurance giant Brown & Brown Inc. “A nonprofit board opens those doors. I don’t run in those circles.”
Indeed. . .
Add to that the hell-broth of controversy over myriad operational issues – to include the basic question of which segment of the homeless population will be served and which will not.
Catholic Charities – who have been accepting some $7,500.00 a month to operate a facility still under construction (?) – wants the “First Step” for someone seeking shelter to be a formal background check by law enforcement. . .
According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, on Monday evening, after accepting Mr. Geallis’ resignation, the executive board discussed their exasperation over “…the limited power and crumbs of information they feel they’re getting from the city leaders who set up the board and appointed them.”
The board’s chair, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry, was quoted as saying the project has been a “political nightmare,” before reassuring his frustrated colleagues that the board could “be as relevant as we decide to be.”
I think Mayor Henry better speak to his boss, City Manager Jim Chisholm, about just how “relevant” he wants the board to be. . .
On Wednesday, the Daytona Beach City Commission changed tack yet again, signaling they may not want the current board members involved at all going forward – probably in favor of turning control of the project over to some hand-select overseers, who would serve as “an executive fundraising commission” made up of non-elected, politically unaccountable players with all the right last names and a chip in the larger game.
After all, it seems the only entity to have been served by the shelter to-date is P$S Paving – a massively successful government contractor (whose owner just happens to be a member of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance) who is busy getting fat selling public dirt from the site for private profit. . .
Perhaps someone should remind the current members of the First Step Executive Board that you can’t pick up a turd by the clean end – and, with no plan, no policies and no hope – there is honor in distancing yourselves from this imminent catastrophe.
Quote of the Week
“Voting yes to increase our sales tax gives a green light to business as usual. That means more mega developments in all the wrong places to add thousands more vehicles on our roads.
It means millions of gallons of polluted water dumped into our waterways that ultimately end up in the aquifer. It continues to send most of our West Volusia tax dollars to the east side.
A yes vote increases the likelihood we all drink and bathe in toilet-to-tap water. It is already being tested in Daytona Beach.
There is another solution, a sustainable Plan B. First, we have to vote no on the proposed sales-tax increase. If passed, it would be a green light to continue the same failed policies that got us into this mess.
Second, any politician who had the temerity to say he or she has no plan other than to raise your sales or property taxes must be voted out in 2020.
Only then can a real conversation about the kind of community we want to live in occur.”
–Civic Activist and former Volusia County Council candidate Jeff Brower, writing in The West Volusia Beacon, “Vote no on sales-tax hike; let’s have a real conversation about growth, instead,” May 2, 2019
In my view, Jeff Brower continues to be a strong voice for the citizens of Volusia County.
And he’s right – with ballots already in the mail for this $490,000 “special referendum” which asks We, The People self-impose a half-cent sales tax on every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to pay for the continuing sins of those who long-ago abdicated their sworn responsibility to their constituents – it’s time to VOTE NO, and send a strong message in the process.
As I have previously written, the number of civically active citizens opposed to the Volusia County half-cent sales tax initiative is growing daily as our family, friends and neighbors – many of whom have never been politically active before – stand 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.
These active and engaged members of our community should be applauded for their efforts – not maligned and marginalized.
In my view, it is refreshing to see so many Volusia residents rising in unison against this bloated, plodding bureaucracy that now exists to serve the needs, wants and whims of millionaires who view our tax dollars not as a sacred responsibility, but as a means to an end.
It is the very essence of good citizenship to fightback – to scream ‘enough-is-enough’ – 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.
And Another Thing!
I want to send a special Barker’s View “Thank You!” to the intrepid Dede Siebenaler – a staunch local civic activist who keeps our elected and appointed officials on their toes by voicing her opinion on the issues of the day and asking the hard questions – often in the wide-open badlands of the internet.
Trust me. Politicians know the inherent value of social media.
From using various platforms for distributing their campaign message to posting self-aggrandizing photographs of themselves doing some contrived civic good or facilitating cheap fundraising efforts – social media sites are the 21st Century version of shaking hands and kissing babies – only at lightning speed with the ability to reach thousands of potential voters instantly.
But they can’t have it both ways.
Social media is not an amplified soapbox – it’s a two-way interactive platform – comment and response – and elected officials should understand the frustrations of their long-suffering constituents will often result in strong opinions.
If you need more proof of the political power of social media – subscribe to President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed – then hold on tight to your digital device. . .
In many ways, social media has made our elected representatives more accessible to the “little guy” – those of us who don’t have the money or political clout to get their civic concerns and issues in front of those with the power to affect change.
A few months ago, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, impudently blocked Ms. Siebenaler from his Facebook page. After all, it’s infinitely easier for small-minded elected officials like Ed Kelley to simply block criticisms than form cogent explanations for the bizarre machinations of government.
Inexplicably, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post was recently found to have “blocked” News-Journal reporters from her Facebook page, effectively shutting the working press out of her official online presence – and the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys had blocked some 60 people from her personal page – while Old Ed now has a cheap disclaimer posted to his official Facebook site which states:
“For those few who continue to complain legal confirmed that having a page for information only is LEGAL. If you wish to share thoughts or information you can do so by email at: email@example.com I answer all emails that are received. Thanks.”
Thanks to Ms. Siebenaler’s questioning – Volusia County’s legal department recently agreed that the act of blocking constituents’ access to the social media sites of their elected representatives could be considered a violation of constitutionally protected rights and sent a letter of guidance advising against the practice.
In my view, it’s time our all-powerful ‘movers & shakers’ – those who hold themselves out for high office, campaign for our vote with firm promises, then do the exact opposite when it benefits a select few – come to the realization that We, The People are demanding transparency – and equal access.
We have a right and civic responsibility to hold those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest accountable – including voicing our critical opinions on the important issues of the day.
Thanks to galvanizing issues like this disastrous half-cent money grab, the decimation of our century-old tradition of beach driving – and a hundred other backhanded slights – more Volusia County residents than ever before are taking a true interest in the workings of their government – and demanding better from those who have sworn an oath and accepted the privilege of public service.
That’s all for me.
Have a great weekend, my friends!