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.”
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?
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.
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.”
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. . .
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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. . .