Angels & Assholes for May 10, 2019

Hi, kids!

Earlier this week, I had an unexpected encounter with an intrepid member of the Barker’s View tribe that made my heart feel good.

A few weeks ago, the windshield on the Lone Eagle developed a small nick which quickly developed into a foot-long serpentine crack.  So, I immediately contacted the great folks at USAA Insurance and they arranged to have the glass replaced by a local company.

When the piece was received, I drove to the Nova Road business at the appointed time, but became confused (as I often do) and inadvertently entered a neighboring business instead.  A lady and gentleman were seated behind the counter of the small automotive shop as I happened in, and kindly redirected me to the glass installation place next door.

While maneuvering out of the parking lot, I noticed that the man had followed me outside.

I pulled up and he introduced himself as Steve – then asked my name.

As we shook hands, he told me how much he enjoys reading Barker’s View!

Wow!

The support and encouragement offered by Steve was truly heartening – and I was incredibly humbled that he would take the opportunity to say hello and offer his thoughts on my often-weird take on current events.

I want to say a big “Thank You!” to Steve for being so gracious in his praise of these crude screeds – and  to let all loyal members of the BV tribe know how much I appreciate the fact you take time out of your busy day to read, consider and engage in a larger discussion of the issues that face us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

I believe that, despite our differences, community engagement and neighbors taking the opportunity to exchange their diverse views develops cohesion and strengthens our community.

In my view, this chance meeting demonstrated in the most wonderful way how we can either agree or disagree, come at problems from similar or differing points of view – yet remain friends and neighbors – always seeking to enhance our common experience and improve the place we call home.

That’s special.

Whenever I get the opportunity to meet Barker’s View readers, you have been incredibly kind – and the feedback and creative suggestions you bring help make this space something unique – a salon, of sorts, for furthering the debate of entrenched civic and social issues facing our community.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness, civic involvement and continued support.

It means more to me than you know.

On Thursday, May 16th – I’ve been invited to talk issues with those good souls at the Bellaire Community Group!

Our discussion will be moderated by long-time grassroots activist and President of Sons of the Beach, Paul Zimmerman, and will cover a wide range of interests, topical concerns and opportunities facing the Halifax area and beyond.

The meeting will be held at Schnebly Center, 1101 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach.

A delicious meal is served at 6:00pm and the meeting gets underway at 6:30pm.

If you can make the time, please stop by and say hello – and spend time with some great people who are firmly committed to the betterment of the Halifax area.

I would love to say thank you in person – and hear your take on the many pressing issues we face.

I hope you’ll join us!

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           Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys

In my view, the antithesis of leadership is exemplified when a sitting elected official makes political hay during an unfolding crisis – criticizing those who are desperately trying to find answers and make a difference – sniping from the cheap seats and piling on while offering no credible solution to perhaps the most malignant social issue of our time.

That’s my job. . .

Earlier this week, the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys took the opportunity to kick the beleaguered members of the First Step Shelter Board while they’re down – publicly putting the boots to her municipal colleagues who boldly stepped up to serve the effort to bring Volusia County’s first homeless assistance center to fruition despite years of political obstacles – many of which were erected by the Volusia County Council’s obstinate refusal to assist beyond throwing our money at the problem.

In an excellent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal penned by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, entitled “Shelter trudges through upheaval,” taxpayers got an up-close-and-personal view of the myriad problems that have plagued the First Step project since its inception – and a dire warning that this incredibly expensive option for reducing chronic homelessness may, once again, be headed for the rocks.

But rather than provide moral support for members of the executive board – or add constructive suggestions for bringing the board and the City of Daytona Beach together – the always arrogant Ms. Denys uses this low point to say “I told you so,” and tout her prognostication that the project (which is slowly, but surely, under construction in the hinterlands off US-92) was doomed to failure when she cast an obstructionist “No” vote two-years ago.

“Leadership starts at the top. You can’t cloak it anymore,” Denys said. “You’ve got a governing board whose hands are tied to govern.”

Look, Ms. Denys wouldn’t know decisive leadership if it bit her on the backside.

In fact, she remains a big part of perhaps the most dysfunctional and inept elected body in the history of Volusia County governance – and that’s saying something.  In my view, her near-constant self-serving antics and weird grandstanding in defense of this lopsided system she helped create says everything you need to know about Ms. Denys’ loyalties.

Many agree, the problem of chronic homelessness is a countywide issue that ultimately needs a countywide solution.  It’s part of why some municipalities are balking at throwing more money at First Step.

As board member Joe Forte recently pointed out – the First Step project and its board remains a wholly controlled entity of the City of Daytona Beach – and that gives some cities cause for pause.

While some may disagree, the City of Daytona Beach stepped up when Volusia County would not – and to their credit (or detriment) – the municipality has struggled to find a lasting solution to one of the most critical issues of our time.

During a recent meeting, First Step Executive Board Chair Mayor Derrick Henry, was quoted as saying, Daytona Beach “doesn’t want to be in the homeless business.”

I’m afraid it’s too late for that now, Mayor Henry – and its high time the CODB begins to play nice in the larger sandbox – which means sharing information and supporting the board’s important work.

It’s also time for the Volusia County Council to get off their sizable ass and help.

Unfortunately, several iterations of the Volusia County Council saw more political benefit in ignoring the issue – forcing the municipalities to cobble together fragmented solutions – with Daytona Beach ultimately stepping up to the plate to accept responsibility for developing a workable shelter.

Has it been a smooth ride?  Hell no.

But what alternative is Ms. Denys – or her “colleagues” on the dais of power in DeLand offering?

According to Ms. Denys, “. . .the shelter needs “a local champion” to get everyone excited and committed, as happened with Forough Hosseini leading the charge for the Hope Place family shelter.”

Hey, Deb – believe it or not – it is possible, with a modicum of leadership and vision, for our local elected and appointed officials to develop and implement workable solutions to entrenched civic, social and economic issues without the direct involvement of J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini or Lesa France-Kennedy.

Try it sometime – you might be surprised what you can accomplish.

When Ms. Denys received this dubious distinction in Barker’s View in 2017, I wrote:

If there is one consistent obstruction to substantive progress on the myriad issues facing residents of Volusia County, it is the abject arrogance of Councilwoman Deb Denys.

On issues large and small, Ms. Denys always finds a way to protect “the system” – to ensure the best interests of county government are protected, while the true needs and wants of her constituents are ignored or openly opposed.

From her bald-faced lie on preserving beach driving, to her blatant obstruction of a compassionate solution to homelessness, Deb Denys exemplifies all that’s wrong in Deland.

As Councilwoman Joyce Cusack led the majority vote approving county funding for the First Step shelter – an intractable Denys voted in opposition – then continued to grandstand with her self-important “prove me wrong” challenge.

Screw that.  How about helping for a change?

After countless years and setbacks, public, private and faith-based organizations came together to see a plan to fruition that will, for once, provide basic shelter for homeless persons and serve as a catalyst for alleviating an issue that has hampered true economic development and contributed to the malignant blight that effects all of us.

How do you oppose that?

In addition, at the same meeting, Ms. Denys gave us all a brief glimpse into the future when she openly voiced her support for increasing beach access fees for out-of-county visitors – you know, the “tourists” we’re always crowing about – and spending to attract.

How terribly sad.

As usual, Deb – thanks for nothing.”

What’s changed?

Angel               City of Palm Coast

Believe it or not – for a brief moment in my life I served as Interim City Manager for the City of Holly Hill during a dark and stormy period of the community’s history.

Truth be told, it was the worst experience of my professional life. . .

Within days of taking my place in the wing-back hot seat in the manager’s office, I began receiving laudatory notes and introductory phone calls from a few of the Halifax area’s ‘Rich & Powerful’ – and one prolific government contractor even sent a nice box of Belgian chocolates to congratulate my temporary promotion.

It was all pretty heady stuff for a flatfoot cop on a day pass.

But the chocolates bothered me. . .

Rather than do it myself, I thought I would turn it into a “teaching moment” and directed a junior staff member to return the sweets to the corporate office of the company that sent them as an example of the importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

You see, at my core, I’m an East Tennessee Hillbilly – which means I’m too stupid to take money and too prideful to let those who offer unethical incentives get away with it – and it was clear to me what the expensive goodies represented.

At times, I am also a raging hypocrite who holds others to extremely high standards while often overlooking my own faults and foibles. . .

Look, in a 31-year career in government, I made my share of procedural and ethical mistakes – God knows, I’m not perfect – and, as a functional binge drinker with a darkly cynical outlook – I struggle daily with life’s moral imperative of trying to be a better person today than we were yesterday.

For example, as a law enforcement officer, I have enjoyed countless cups of “free” coffee from local businesses – or half-price meals offered by restaurateurs who want to show their appreciation to local first responders.

It’s unavoidable (if you want to have meal on-duty, anyway) – an uncomfortable part of being a uniformed member of the most visible arm of local government – and, for me, the ethical antidote to this practice was to always leave a tip which covered both the gratuity, and the full cost of the coffee or meal.

Maybe that strategy falls short – but any law enforcement officer who has ever had the agonizingly embarrassing confrontation at the point of sale – refusing a discount, only to be told by the adamant clerk that it’s “company policy” to offer a public safety discount knows what I’m talking about.

Recognizing the sensitivity of this issue – and the fragility of the public’s trust in their government – I was incredibly proud of the City of Palm Coast’s strong stand in launching an investigation and taking decisive action after some seven municipal employees were suspected of accepting gifts of top-shelf whiskey and candies from a local government contractor.

As I understand it, last December, internal auditors from something called the Palm Coast “Internal Control Ethics Team – ICE” (I like that) interviewed employees in the planning, building and utilities departments after a security camera at City Hall captured a planning technician accepting gift sets of Crown Royal, a bottle of Jack Daniels and eight boxes of chocolate candy over the front counter.

Apparently, the improper gratuities were provided by Sergey Nevod – co-founder of Palm Coast residential developer Blue Crown Construction. . .

According to a report at www.flaglerlive.com (where you can read the ICE report in its entirety):

“The intended recipients, whom Nevod specified by name and type of gift to be handed, were mostly employees of Palm Coast’s building department, who work with builders and developers. Accepting gifts is a violation of policy as it sets up the potential for corruption. Most of the employees took the gifts, some of them hiding the booze in cabinets then dissimulating it out of City Hall under their clothes.”

One public employee – Ricky Lee – a Palm Coast building official, was “incensed” by the gift (apparently the Jack Daniels had Mr. Lee’s name on it), and when the booze was transmitted to him concealed in a box – he rightly refused it – and ordered it be returned to Nevod.

In my view, Mr. Lee’s actions in recognizing the ethical implications and doing the right thing stands as an outstanding example of the moral character of thousands of true civil servants who represent the very best the public service has to offer – dedicated government employees who accept public funds and serve admirably in the public interest – never using their position for personal gain or to benefit others with an ulterior motive.

I find that refreshing – and it restores my faith in the institution.

Thank you, Mr. Lee.

Your small act of courage in refusing to compromise your personal and professional ethics stands as an example of how we expect our elected and appointed public officials to conduct themselves when no one is looking.

Asshole           Former Florida Governor – now Senator – Slick Rick Scott

It appears Floridians are finally awakening to the inevitable environmental impacts of former Governor Rick Scott’s embrace of development-friendly policies and weakening of regulations –  while stripping state regulatory agencies of experienced staff and replacing them with industry insiders – then populating oversight boards with horribly conflicted shysters with a clear financial incentive to undermine rules protecting Florida’s sensitive natural resources.

It’s not like we weren’t warned. . .

We are extremely fortunate to have one of the finest environmental reporters in the nation working for us in the News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles-Pulver.

Since 2016, Dinah’s explosive articles have shone a very bright light on how the St. Johns River Water Management District, a wounded regulatory agency charged with protecting our precious water supply, dissolved into little more than a one-stop shop for greed-crazed developers and land-rapists seeking to subvert environmental regulations and make a quick buck.

Earlier this week, in her excellent piece entitled, “Investigation searches for cause of sick fish,” we learned that state officials are investigating reports of freshwater mullet suffering from lesions, open sores and scale loss – a horrific condition one observer equated to “zombie fish” – which coincides with a massive algae bloom in the St. Johns River, Lake George and a growing number of feeder springs.

Look, I’m no micro-biologist – but I am an aquarist – and keeping fish in the closed environment of an aquarium is a great way to learn the biological processes of natural filtration and the importance of the nitrogen cycle to a healthy ecosystem.

If you have children, I encourage you to establish an aquarium as a means of teaching them the extreme sensitivity of our own ecosystem.

Trust me, it doesn’t take the loss of too many $50 fish to gain a quick understanding of how the introduction of external contaminants and high nutrient loads contribute to a proliferation of nitrates, algae and aquatic plants resulting in anoxic water conditions that stress fish and wildlife making them susceptible to infections and parasites.

So, why in the world would any civilized society allow human waste sludge from water treatment plants in South Florida to be dumped anywhere near this sensitive and incredibly beneficial watershed – Florida’s only EPA-designated American Heritage River? 

Because that is exactly what has been allowed to happen.

In turn, rains allow the nutrient-rich runoff to enter the St. Johns River near its headwaters where it begins its 310-mile journey north to the Atlantic Ocean.

Inexplicably, with residents being told not to eat fish and crabs from the once bountiful river – and ostensibly smart state scientists seemingly baffled by the cause (?) – our elected representatives in the Florida legislature have gone home without any substantive effort to stop the statewide pollution of our sensitive waterways.

What gives?  

Fortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis has introduced new leadership in Florida’s water management districts – stopping the dangerous “fox in the hen house” strategy encouraged by Slick Rick Scott – and sending a clear message that the culture of Florida’s environmental protection apparatus is about to change.

In my view, that’s a good place to start.

Quote of the Week

“I just received my glossy color flyer implying tourists don’t pay their fair share of taxes and is one reason we should vote for the half-cent sales tax increase. Being in the tourist business for over 40 years, I find this flyer a slap in the face to every tourist that has ever visited this county.”

–David Lamotte, Ormond Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Sales tax flyer,” Wednesday, May 8, 2019

I commend Mr. Lamotte’s excellent commentary on the stated desire of those who support this shameless money grab to tax the eyeballs out of “visitors” to Volusia County – otherwise known as “tourists” (that we spend millions in public funds to attract) as they work overtime to ram this sales tax increase down our collective throat.

Interestingly, on the preceding page was a massive op/ed by Nicki Junkins, president of the League of Women Voters of Volusia County – a group that just exposed themselves as yet another apparatchick of the Big Money Consortium at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – rehashing the same tired laundry list of talking points cobbled together by a privately paid marketing consultant who specializes in selling local option sales tax increases throughout Florida.

We’ve heard it all before.

In fact, our elected officials have done an incredible job of toeing the party line, rarely venturing off-script – knowing well that any chink in the armor makes them all vulnerable – but it’s getting monotonous.

It also demonstrates, in a most disappointing way, the intellectual limitations of the “No Plan B” crowd we have elected to represent our interests – and the propensity of once politically savvy organizations to turn a blind eye to the abject mismanagement, cronyism, corporate welfare and wholesale giveaways of public funds and assets that has brought us to this dark place.

And Another Thing!

According to reports, as of mid-week, just 23,618 of the nearly 400,000 ballots mailed to Volusia County voters – both dead and alive – have been cast in the special half-cent sales tax referendum.

As we reach the halfway point in this first-of-its-kind mail-in election – voter participation in the process doesn’t impress. . .

Perhaps this was part of the tax grabbers strategy all along – or maybe things will turn around in coming days and Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis will be deluged by a wave of ballots in the mail – I don’t know.

But I can tell you that there was a clear method to the madness of those who have choreographed every step of this shameless pass-through – and the confusion many are experiencing is leading some to fear voter fraud.

Look, I trust Supervisor Lewis to do the right thing, and I’m not one of those who see a conspiracy afoot to manipulate the vote beyond an incredibly well-funded propaganda machine – but more disturbing – these misconceptions have once again mystified an important civic process and further eroded the public’s trust and confidence in this important function of local government.

If our ‘powers that be’ were counting on this chaos as part of their strategy to give the sales tax initiative it’s best chance of passage – mission accomplished.

I hope it was worth it.

Because 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 uber-wealthy insiders who have clearly demonstrated just how pervasive their influence truly is.

In my view, the realization that Volusia County voters are slowly awakening to the real threat posed by this oligarchical control of our government processes should scare the living 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.

That’s all for me, folks.  Have a great weekend!

 

One thought on “Angels & Assholes for May 10, 2019

  1. Thank you for contacting your insurance carrier BEFORE having the windshield repaired. By doing so you have avoided joining the wave of “assignment of benefits” cases plaguing our court system, raising our car insurance rates and making some lawyers quite wealthy. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2019/04/12/523549.htm
    Someday you need to speak with me about the even larger problem of PIP lawsuit abuse in Volusia County!

    Like

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