On Volusia: Ignorance is Bliss

In aviation – where risk mitigation is the sum of everything a good pilot does – it’s called Situational Awareness.

You either have it or you don’t. . .

According to one model, situational awareness is achieved by perceiving the current status and dynamics of elements in one’s environment – processing that data to comprehend the current situation – and then extrapolating this information forward in time to anticipate future status.

Perception, comprehension, projection.

What is happening now?  What can I expect to happen next?  

When I served as Chief of Police for a law enforcement agency in east Volusia County, I quickly learned how to mentally weigh hundreds of pieces of often unrelated information against known facts to constantly assess and respond to threats.

I tried to remain hyper-vigilant and cognizant of what was happening in and around my community because people counted on me for their safety and security.

For instance, I would often good-naturedly quiz new supervisors with seemingly inane questions, like: “Which way is the wind blowing this morning?”  

Initially, my query would be met with a shoulder shrug and blank stare – or worse, a “What difference does it make, Chief – I’ve got more important things to worry about. . .”

I would then explain that in the unlikely – but potentially deadly – event that we experienced a train derailment where hazardous materials were present, or there was a release of toxic gas from a compromised storage facility, knowing wind speed and direction would allow our officers to immediately initiate evacuations and secure the scene while avoiding the danger zone without unnecessary hesitation while the incident commander tried to determine which way the plume was moving.

It was an exercise in getting those responsible for serving and protecting others to think comprehensively – to consider the bigger picture – and remain aware of relevant issues in their environment that could assist in both time sensitive and strategic decision-making.

Because that’s what people who accept public funds to serve in the public interest are expected to do.

Like many of you, earlier this week I read a disturbing article by reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal entitled, “Volusia County says Daytona left it out of City Island plans.”  

The piece found Volusia County officials whining over the fact that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm, and others in the municipal government, who were working overtime to see deed restrictions on the publicly owned land at City Island removed to allow the commercialization of the area by greed-crazed speculative developers who, for years, have salivated over the mere thought of putting up condominiums and strip centers on one of the most picturesque spots on the Fun Coast, apparently kept them out-of-the-loop on their grand plans. . .

My ass.

Look, this is nothing new.

Like every other community in the area – the City of Daytona Beach learned a long time ago that Volusia County officials cannot be trusted – and this latest move in the internecine battle has overtones of good, old-fashioned tit-for-tat business as usual. . .

Anyone remember the March 2017 sneak attack when former County Manager Jim Dinneen waited until the morning of the County Council’s vote to spend some $970,000 on a parcel of land fronting Main Street to let Mr. Chisholm know their plans?

I do.

At the time, Chisholm said he wasn’t made aware of the purchase until Dinneen telephoned him the very morning of the council meeting.

Even after voicing concerns about the appropriateness of a parking lot under the city’s “Entertainment Zone” planning tool – Mr. Dinneen failed to advise county council members that Daytona Beach had questions until after the vote had been taken.

Speaking at the time, Dinneen explained, “There’s no obligation to call (Chisholm) at all.”

Now, it’s Volusia County officials who have been exposed for the clueless assholes they truly are. . .

It should be clear to anyone paying attention just how little substantive conversation there is between Volusia County and, well, any other entity in the region on the important issues of the day.

I guess when you take your marching orders from the same group of oligarchical puppet masters, there is little, if any, real need to collaborate?

After all, Big Money interests have taken the need for our elected officials to think and plan out of the equation.  As a result, those who manipulate the campaign purse strings of sitting politicians also control our areas strategic vision – and define what passes for “progress.”

At the June 4 council meeting, County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler exclaimed, “I’m really, really, really concerned about this.  The county did not give the city the authority to petition on its behalf.”  

Now, We, The People, are supposed to believe that no one in that bloated bureaucracy in DeLand had any inkling that Daytona Beach officials – in concert with state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff – were actively attempting to have the Florida legislature remove deed restrictions which maintained the property for ‘public purposes forever’ and release the $8.77 million ransom enacted by former Governor Slick Rick Scott and his cabinet?

Really? 

As Mr. Chisholm essentially said:  Doesn’t anyone over there read the paper? 

Not surprising, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, was recently quoted admitting his abject ignorance of what anyone with a Glasgow Coma Scale above “No Motor Response” knew was in the works since at least February.

According to the News-Journal’s report, “I don’t know that any of us were aware that was going on,” said Kelley, who’s been the county’s top elected official for two and a half years.

Say what?

Because that’s not what Old Ed said previously. . .

In late 2017, Chairman Kelley boldly announced at a goofy Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues” breakfast:

The time is right to relocate the City Island Library and free the land for commercial development.

Naturally, Mr. Kelley’s bombshell resulted in a strong response from, well, anyone and everyone who cares about the future of the Halifax area – something Mr. Dinneen immediately attempted to walk-back.

Chairman Kelley’s monstrously stupid idea resulted in a landslide of angry questions – and fueled speculation that Volusia County is planning to remove established public amenities from City Island to make way for private development.

Then, Ed just kept digging the hole as he explained to everyone what he didn’t say:

“My statement was, ‘Yes, we should look at it,’” he said. “I think anytime there’s an opportunity to make something better, you look at it. Who would want to have a closed mind about something?”

That’s not what you said, Eddie.

You specifically said, “Now would be the time.”

Let’s look at the facts – Chairman Kelley told a room full of like-types that he supports reallocating funds to move the City Island Library as part of a larger plan to demolish the Courthouse Annex and turn the property over for private development.

Later, Kelley went so far as to describe the land’s potential use to a reporter, “It could be a private use that could generate jobs or provide residences, but it’s not up to me to say what should go there. … We (the council) should evaluate the situation.”

Now, this doddering asshole has no recollection that Daytona Beach was attempting to have deed restrictions removed?

Seriously?  Less than two-years ago he wanted us to believe it was his idea!

Gentle readers, in my view, this latest kerfuffle between the City of Daytona Beach and county government is far more disturbing than it may initially appear.

If it is proven true that our elected and appointed leadership in DeLand were caught totally flatfooted by the city’s efforts to open City Island to private development – then this foundering ship of fools truly has no rudder – and this level of abject ignorance and lack of even a cursory understanding of the important civic issues facing our region should frighten all of us.

Because the alternative is that we have once again been blatantly and spuriously lied to by senior county officials as they attempt to control the narrative and seek standing in any lucrative future plans for the commercial development of City Island.

Neither scenario is acceptable.

 

 

On Volusia: The Politics of Cowardice

” … the distinguishing character of (the reign of king Henry the Seventh) was that of amassing treasure in the king’s coffers by every means that could be devised; and almost every alteration in the laws, however salutary or otherwise in their future consequences, had this and this only for their great and immediate object. To this end, the court of Star Chamber was new-modeled and armed with powers the most dangerous and unconstitutional over the persons and properties of the subject.”

–Blackstone Commentaries

For good or ill, Florida’s “Fun Coast” consists of a mosaic of distinctive communities – each with unique attributes, challenges and personalities which provide a true sense of place and identity for their residents.

For instance, Ormond Beach is as different from Holly Hill as Pierson is from Ponce Inlet – and those of us who live in one of Volusia County’s 16 municipalities have a distinct pride in where we call home.

In keeping with our right to self-determination and accountable representation, in each community we elect fellow citizens to serve our collective interests, ensure efficient service delivery and steward public funds while remaining politically answerable to a concentrated and invested electorate.

Because I have old-fashioned notions of accountability and responsibility in local government, I happen to like it this way.

Bigger is not always better.

Anyone who has been forced to deal with a behemoth bureaucracy – trapped in a weird loops-and-traps maze which seems purposefully designed to frustrate any meaningful interaction between government and those it ostensibly exists to serve – will know what I’m talking about.

Because the very nature of a government bureaucracy is to self-perpetuate.

In my view, in Volusia County we’re seeing exactly what former Coca-Cola executive Harry Teasley, Jr., who spent his life confronting and triumphing over mindless agents of self-serving power structures, called “The Seven Rules of Bureaucracy” in action:

  1. Maintain the problem at all costs! The problem is the basis of power, perks, privileges, and security.

 

  1. Use crisis and perceived crisis to increase your power and control.

 

  1. If there are not enough crises, manufacture them, even from nature, where none exist.

 

  1. Control the flow and release of information while feigning openness. Deny, delay, obfuscate, spin, and lie.

 

  1. Maximize public-relations exposure by creating a cover story that appeals to the universal need to help people.

 

  1. Create vested support groups by distributing concentrated benefits and/or entitlements to these special interests, while distributing the costs broadly to one’s political opponents.

 

  1. Demonize the truth tellers who have the temerity to say, “The emperor has no clothes.”

Sounds eerily familiar, eh?

I’d like to add one:  The prolific use of political insulation committees to avoid accountability.

Like many of you, in recent years I have watched suspiciously as a benign monthly information-sharing klatch known as the Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials – which, according to the county website, “…consists of one member each from Volusia’s cities and county government, meets regularly to discuss countywide issues and concerns” – has slowly transitioned into something more ominous:

A de facto government where important public policy is crafted under the watchful eye of those who own the paper on the very politicians sitting at the table – at a stilted meeting more difficult for the public to attend than a Volusia County Council meeting. . .

In the interminable lead-up to the failed half-cent sales tax initiative, the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – in my view, an elitist Camera Stellata comprised of millionaire business interests whose collective take from the public coffers under the guise of “economic development incentives” totals in the tens-of-millions – used the Knights of the Roundtable to orchestrate a shameless attempted money grab through this weird public/private meld.

Don’t take my word for it – simply review The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s coverage of this debacle and see for yourself how the “Roundtable” was used as a conduit to ensure a uniformed, lockstep adherence to the misinformation and “reeducation” campaign crafted by a privately funded marketing expert with experience ramrodding local option tax increases.

Frankly, I’m suspicious anytime a cabal of political insiders with a profit motive cloister themselves with sitting elected officials to craft tax policy – especially when those same profiteers gather like blowflies on a fresh turd anywhere public funds and private interests intersect. . .

Now, we are being told that the Knights of the Roundtable are considering incorporating “smart growth” initiatives into municipal and county land use regulations – a noble cause, considering unchecked sprawl is adversely affecting everyone in Volusia County, regardless of your zip code.

According to Smart Growth America, a non-profit which works with elected officials, real estate developers, transportation and urban planning professionals and chambers of commerce to improve everyday life for people across the country through better development, “smart growth” includes specific planning initiatives which local governments can utilize within existing legislative frameworks to ensure economically prosperous, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable cities, towns and neighborhoods.

These goals are accomplished by developing innovative zoning regulations, planning mixed use projects that create a range of housing opportunities and choices, fostering attractive communities with a strong sense of place, directing the redevelopment of existing communities, providing a range of transportation options and encouraging community stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

(Essentially, everything we don’t do now. . .)

Unfortunately, this approach is so foreign to our current crop of elected dullards that our County Chairman, Ed Kelley, was recently quoted as saying “smart growth” is merely, “…an abused term.  Just a buzzword to get people excited and make them think that what we’re doing is not smart.”

Jesus.  Does this foul ball’s abject stupidity know no bounds?

Yet, at a recent Roundtable meeting, our elected officials decided that all incorporated communities in Volusia County will adopt a do-nothing “smart growth resolution” (?) (supporting something they clearly haven’t so much as Googled) and directed equally clueless local planning officials to come up with ideas for yet another time-wasting jawbone session in September. . .

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

In my view, the Roundtable is no longer an exchange of best practices on what the various municipalities are doing to benefit their constituents – it is a spineless political insulation committee where the groundwork for significant policy decisions are made in advance of perfunctory public hearings – the old “if everyone is doing it, then it can’t be wrong” philosophy that shirks accountability and gives “wink, wink, nudge, nudge – we’re all on-board” approval without any external input or challenge.

A weird “get the ducks in order” forum where a half-bright dunce like Ed Kelley can formulate his nonsensical “ideas” and political insiders can insinuate “suggestions” into the process from the sidelines without any legitimate public challenge.

In my view, important public policy decisions should be deliberated by our elected officials during properly noticed, accessible and open public meetings in front of the citizens they are sworn to serve – those who elected them to high office, in the community where they are politically accountable – not over a taxpayer funded lunch in some backroom at Daytona “International” Airport at midday on a Monday (when absolutely no one who works for a living can attend) in the presence of their political handlers and benefactors. . .

When are our elected officials going to realize that this unmitigated fear of independent thought, creativity, self-reliance and strategic vision is blunting their best instincts and dragging our system of local self-determination into the dark morass of groupthink?

When will they stop paying fealty to uber-wealthy special interests and start fighting for the citizens and employees of the community they were elected to serve?

It is called base cowardice – and it is the last resort of craven politicians who shrink behind forced consent and conformity.

This Star Chamber approach to determining our collective destiny in Volusia County isn’t healthy to our democratic principles and time-honored ideas of political accountability – and it is high time our municipal officials come to that realization – or face the consequences of their lily-livered need for countywide consensus at the ballot box.

 

On Volusia: Putting the “Fun” in Dysfunctional. . .

Times of transition offer a brief glimpse into the inner workings of government – and in the aftermath of the failed half-cent sales tax initiative – we are most definitely in a time of transition. . .

Some believe the referendum forced our elected officials to finally listen to the voice of the people and turn over a “new leaf” – a change in tack many see as a catalyst for real change.

Others (like me) are of the cynical opinion these self-serving dullards are merely changing tactics.

Time will tell.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that what passes for “governance” here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast has become so horribly dysfunctional, opaque and fatuous that many citizens who are getting their first peek behind the curtain are still in denial – dumbstruck that something so important to our lives and livelihoods could be so horribly perverted by greed and abject cronyism that our very quality of life is threatened.

Late last week, I was surprise by a series of social media posts by my friend and civic activist Greg Gimbert – a long-time beach driving advocate who has, for years, lobbied long and hard to open sections of the Tiger Bay State Forest for All Terrain Vehicle access – who gushed about our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley’s, recent support for his efforts – and praised Old Ed for leading “…a bold council to do a courageous thing.”

While I haven’t always agreed with Greg’s vision for this environmentally sensitive area – much of which is considered a wildlife refuge with extensive wetlands and unique habitats that are vital to protecting rare fauna and replenishing our aquifer – his enthusiasm and activism for causes he feels strongly about is infectious.

By way of full-disclosure – unlike Chairman Kelley, and Council members Ben Johnson and Fred Lowry – I’m not an ATV enthusiast.

I take my recreation at the bottom of a whisky glass (hey, don’t judge) – a pursuit that can be just as bumpy and adventurous as a 4-wheeler on a washboard dirt road – but the fact is, I’m getting a little long in the tooth to be careening around the woods on a scooter. . .

However, I certainly don’t deny others their fun.

In my view, those who enjoy riding ATV’s should have a publicly accessible place to enjoy their pastime – I’m simply not convinced an ecologically sensitive state forest is the “right fit.” 

Maybe it is – but I think anyone paying attention will agree that the cheap slight-of-hand Chairman Kelley attempted last week isn’t the way to go about it. . .

After hearing from Mr. Gimbert, last Tuesday the Volusia County Council pulled one of its patented off-the-agenda, public policy by ambush maneuvers when Old Ed polled the council members – out of the blue – and all agreed to become signatories to a letter advising state forestry officials that Volusia County supports allowing ATV’s and motorcycles the exclusive use of “up to 10%” of Tiger Bay.

Say what?

It was a typically ham-handed affair – a move that caught everyone by surprise and shocked the conscience of many residents and environmentalists who were under the mistaken impression that Volusia County had already rejected allowing vehicular access to Tiger Bay after the forest service cited “environmental damage, maintenance issues and fire danger” in 2013.

It also appeared to have been well-choreographed in advance – especially when Old Ed whipped out a pre-produced “rough draft” of the proposed letter of support – before anyone on the dais had even been surveyed. . .

More disturbing was the fact that no one who may have opposed the idea, or had an alternative solution, was permitted the opportunity to let their voices be heard – either behind-the-scenes or in a public hearing – an infernal trick used to ramrod controversial matters that has become standard protocol for the Volusia County Council.

According to an interesting article by News-Journal reporters Dinah Voyles-Pulver and Dustin Wyatt,  “…less than 24 hours later, after protests from former council members and others, at least two members of the council had second thoughts, and County Chair Ed Kelley said he would ask for a motion for reconsideration of the action at the council’s next meeting. If it’s approved— which appears likely — the letter of support would be placed on an agenda for discussion at a future meeting.”

Apparently, at least three former council members, including Pat Patterson, Joie Alexander and Pat Northey, had a visceral reaction to the unannounced, off-the-agenda action that essentially reversed years of established public policy.

Then, things started to fall apart for Old Ed’s “bold council” who had just done a “courageous thing” when members Heather Post and Deb Denys began backpedaling faster than Austrian circus acrobats. . .

In a late-night email to County Manager George Recktenwald (who has clearly mastered the art of political survival by simply acquiescing to anything and everything the elected officials want to do) Councilwoman Post asked that her name be removed from the letter of support.

By the following morning, the always arrogant Deb Denys had reached out to County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert requesting an exit strategy for rescinding the vote.

Then, within hours, Old Ed issued an email “…saying he had asked for a motion of reconsideration at the next meeting.”

So much for that whole “conducting public business in an open, transparent and public forum” thing, eh?

What an unmitigated embarrassment. . .

As a result of this bungled mess, our elected officials have painted themselves into a dark place that requires they either go back on a promise made to Mr. Gimbert and those seeking access to Tiger Bay – or they proceed with the previously approved letter of support – and alienate residents who are concerned about the potential environmental impacts, yet weren’t noticed that the council would be taking decisive action to reverse existing policy.

Frankly, Mr. Gimbert – and those who support and oppose his ideas – deserve better from their elected officials.

Look, I happen to know that freshman Councilman Ben Johnson is a very intelligent man with good political instincts – that’s why I’m so surprised he would be caught up in something like this?

I also happen to believe that Chairman Kelley is a compromised buffoon who hasn’t had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution.  Nothing he does or says – regardless of how nonsensical – shocks me anymore.

Perhaps this will finally teach Mr. Kelley’s “colleagues” that it’s never wise to follow that crotchety dipshit down the rabbit hole. . .

In my view, this monstrous lack of concern for our democratic principles – intentionally blindsiding constituents with important public policy decisions simply to deny dissenting opinions a voice – serves no one.

This latest three ring circus underscores the depth of dysfunction and complete lack of effective internal and external communications that continues to drive a wedge between citizens and Volusia County government.

New leaf, my ass. . .

Gentle readers, please join me this afternoon on Govstuff Live with Big John beginning at 4:00pm.

Enjoy the forum locally at 1380am The Cat – or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

Our guest today will be Tom Caffrey – a civically active entrepreneur – owner of The Pallet Pub and Hopcycles – who is a big part of the Main Street renaissance!

First Step Shelter: The mysterious case of Commissioner Quanita May

Anyone familiar with Halifax area politics knows that nothing of substance happens without the acquiescence of the Big Money players who pull the strings.

It’s a fact of life.

Something the long-suffering residents of Volusia County have learned to live with – and we no longer even try and decipher the motivations of these elected shills who do their masters bidding behind a thin façade of political independence that hasn’t existed in our local council and commission chambers for decades.

While I don’t have any direct knowledge of the inner-workings of the beleaguered First Step Shelter Board or the behind-the-scenes maneuvering at the City of Daytona Beach – continuing political machinations that have thwarted efforts to kick-start a homeless assistance center in the pine scrub off International Speedway Boulevard for months – I suspect at least some of these influential elements are present.

In an informative article by News-Journal reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean entitled, “Shelter Board changes sought,” we learned of the weird eleventh-hour roadblock erected by Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May – another mysterious hurdle on an already precarious path that has had more switchbacks and rough patches than the Death Road to Machu Picchu.

Inexplicably, after first suggesting that the First Step Shelter Board be disbanded and the effort returned to the sole control of the City of Daytona Beach (a move which would have left already suspicious municipalities who have pledged financial support without any representation) – now, Commissioner May is suggesting that “one or two” of the existing board members step down to make room for a woman.

Look, I’m all for diversity and multiplicity of opinions.

In my experience, a variety of unique viewpoints tends to make the product of any endeavor better – but given the fact the First Step Shelter project has just shown it’s first frail steps forward after many months of controversy and disorganization – perhaps now isn’t the best time to raise the issue of gender inclusiveness as a showstopper?

Let’s face it, despite her denials, it is apparent Commissioner May has done everything in her considerable power to besmirch the volunteer service of First Step Shelter board members, question the effectiveness of their efforts and obstruct substantive progress.

But why? 

According to the report, “She (May) wants women to have a voice, and with six of the seven board members representing Volusia County governments, she also would like the group to diversify by adding people with a business background who are “well-connected in the community” and have fundraising experience.”    

Look, I’m admittedly a conspiratorial nut job with trust issues – but the term “people with a business background who are well-connected in the community” sounds a whole hell of a lot like the Merriam-Webster definition of our oligarchical puppet masters who contributed heavily to Ms. May’s 2018 campaign.

In an August 2018 article in the News-Journal, “Daytona campaign contributions show who the power structure supports,” reporter Zaffiro-Kean wrote, “While some locals are trying to figure out how May was able to pull in so much money, and how she managed to get so much of it from some of the area’s most powerful people, May says there’s no mystery or controversy. She said the checks came from people she’s known for years, or those who heard about her accomplishments.”

Interesting. . .

Because even a casual observer of Volusia County politics might come to the conclusion that Ms. May’s sabotage is less noble than ensuring inclusiveness – and more designed to extend control to her politically unaccountable benefactors. . .

A quick check of Ms. May’s campaign finance reports finds most all the right last names and their various entities represented – nothing unusual for a Daytona Beach City Commission race – but perhaps it helps us better understand her bizarre last-minute obstructionism.

In my twisted take on this ongoing shitshow, I have always believed that our ‘Rich & Powerful’ overseers – the Halifax area’s power elite – are directly responsible for pushing the City of Daytona Beach into this no-win predicament in the first place.

They panicked – fearing that the great hordes of unwashed homeless would be an omnipresent part of the landscape – wandering mendicants begging for change around their new headquarters building, riverfront esplanade, “synergistic” speedway attractions and tony new shopping and entertainment areas, etc.

So, they forced the issue of a homeless warehouse – deep in the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” hinterlands miles west of town – something no one in their right mind thought was a good idea.

In turn, the political pressure exerted by our ‘movers and shakers’ set about a Battle of Wills between Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm and former County Manager Jim Dinneen for who would ultimately be left holding the shitty end of the stick.

Clearly, Mr. Chisholm lost. . .

After a series of fits and starts – which almost destroyed the professional reputation of the Rev. L. Ron Durham, who became the face of the city’s often convoluted efforts to find a solution to the “homeless issue” – the idea of the First Step Shelter was set in stone way back in December 2017, when 150 local dignitaries gathered in their finery on the sandy site for a premature groundbreaking ceremony/photo opportunity.

It’s been an uphill battle to say the least – with community-wide disputes and strong feelings on the lack of direction, financial and administrative dysfunction, absence of substantive fundraising and the problem of operational plans and protocols that still haven’t jelled – but the walls and roof are up, the existing board members have pledged their commitment to seeing the project through and things are finally beginning to take shape.

In my view, now is not the time for political grandstanding, isolationism and petty impediments to progress – and I think we need some clarification on just what Commissioner May is really attempting to accomplish. . .

I’m just spit-balling here, but perhaps Ms. May’s political benefactors – who control everything but the ebb-and-flow of the Atlantic tides here of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – have enlisted her help to ensure their influence on the routing of public funds and policy making now that it appears the First Step Shelter might actually come to fruition?

I don’t know – and I doubt anyone outside of Daytona Beach City Hall knows either.

But time will tell.

 

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for June 7, 2019

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               VCSO Senior Deputy Frank Scofield & PIPD Lieutenant Max Binz

 From the time I was a young boy, law enforcement officers have always been my heroes.

They still are.

This week, God took two of our very best home.

Godspeed Frank and Max.

The great honor of my life was the opportunity to serve with men and women of your exceptional character and professionalism.

Well done – go rest now.  Your brothers and sisters behind the badge will take the watch from here.

You will be missed.

Angel               New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen

When I’m wrong – I’m wrong.

A few weeks ago, I mischaracterized a quote by New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen when I assumed – through psychological acclimation to Volusia County Politics – that his remarks in a recent News-Journal editorial represented a slight to citizens who voice their political frustrations on social media.

I was mistaken.  Mayor Owen gets it.

In the aftermath of the failed half-cent sales tax increase, savvy politicians in municipal governments throughout Volusia County are coming to the realization that the majority of their long-suffering constituents have had their fill of unchecked sprawl.

On Tuesday, those dullards on the Volusia County Council paid tacit lip service to the idea of ‘Smart Growth’ – a concept they can’t begin to comprehend – because it is counter to the mercenary tactics of those in the real estate development community who fund their re-election campaigns.

There was a fancy presentation – a typical opéra bouffe – replete with colorful maps and a PowerPoint chock full of meaningless fluff – to include a “History of Planning in Florida” (anyone consider that a success?) and an overview of how growth management regulations have essentially been reduced to one-ply toilet paper by the state. . .

The staged production even had the requisite amount of nonsensical “bureaucratese,” such as, “Need to update planning horizon and the data used in the analysis of the goals, objectives and policies.”

Say what? 

As always happens, after enough hot air had been generated, the puffed-up lecture ended with a call for a “needs analysis” relative to the county’s comprehensive plan – and yet another pie-in-the-sky call to “work with the cities,” put another do-nothing committee together, sit cross-legged on the floor and sing Kumbaya, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. . .

What was missing was any substantive talk about real smart growth initiatives – meanwhile, the bulldozers roar on massive developments that have already been approved – with more in the pipeline.

The temerity of these assholes to so blatantly insult our collective intelligence is astounding. . .

Another study.

Another colossal waste of time.

Another opportunity to put political distance between where we are now and the true crisis we will find ourselves in by the time some neutered committee’s “recommendations” have been finalized.

Then, the resulting report (no doubt crafted by Volusia Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin to avoid any substance or accountability) can take its rightful spot in that groaning bookcase in DeLand where expensive, time-consuming studies go to die – how about sandwiched between the dusty 2013 Tourism and Marketing Study and the Beachside Redevelopment Committee report, eh? 

Another example of how true leadership and strategic vision on the serious issues that face Volusia County is anathema to this troupe of wholly compromised sock puppets.

For the uninitiated (including our elected officials in DeLand), smart growth initiatives are a way to build and expand cities and neighborhoods that are economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable – a deliberate approach to development that uses effective planning practices to enhance economic and community development to avoid unchecked sprawl and the resulting infrastructure and environmental pressures that degrade quality of life.

Earlier this year, in the lead-up to the sales tax referendum, Mayor Owen courageously brought up the idea of incorporating real smart growth initiatives into the discussion at the Volusia Roundtable of Elected Officials – a group that spent the better part of two-years scheming and dreaming with their handlers at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance about innovative ways to separate you and I from even more of our hard-earned tax dollars.

In an excellent article by News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, “Smart growth movement gains momentum,” Mayor Owens indicated that our political leadership can find alternatives to the suburban sprawl that threatens to paralyze much of east Volusia County if they spend as much “time and energy” on the problem as they did pushing the sales tax initiative.

“We had more town halls (on that) than I’ve seen on anything,” Owen said. “There was a willingness to do whatever it took on that. If we do that here, we will see (ideas) start to come together on this. We will start stealing good ideas that are working in neighboring cities, neighboring counties, neighboring states.  We can find a way.”  

In April, the Knights of the Roundtable agreed to “make smart growth a focus once the sales tax vote was over.”

My ass.

Trust me.  At that point they would have agreed to anything – because they just knew the results of the weird mail-in referendum were a foregone conclusion. . .

At that time, Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post – one of the few elected officials in the region who saw this shameless money grab for what it was – reached out to the municipalities in the spirit of cooperation (something unheard of in Volusia County) asking that they begin discussing incorporating smart growth concepts into their planning process.

According to the News-Journal’s report, “She (Post) called it “deeply troubling” that development in areas where roadways are already critical or near critical congestion levels continue to get approval.”

 “We all know that saying, ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,’” she wrote. “Simple, yet that phrase holds true. If we want different results than what we’re getting, we have to try different approaches.”

Now that the sales tax vote has gone down in flames – and they realize the depth of their constituents disgust – our horribly compromised politicians will begin mewing about sustainable growth, commissioning political insulation studies and generally mouthing the keywords they think we want to hear.

But not too loud.

You see, they know which side their bread is buttered on.

They also know that the incredibly powerful real estate development community will continue to do exactly what they want on the Fun Coast – so long as they throw enough money around and support the political aspirations of their hired chattel on the dais of power in council and commission chambers throughout Volusia County.

Thank you, Mayor Owen.

Many of us support and appreciate your substantive efforts to protect our quality of life and slow the tsunami of unchecked growth along the spine of east Volusia County.

Angel              Rishi Desai & Gloria Max

With a true spirit of generosity and sense of care, Rishi Desai, a junior in the IB Program at Spruce Creek High School, is literally helping to save lives in our community.

That’s not surprising, considering this impressive young man has a goal of becoming a medical doctor.

In keeping with his commitment to helping others, he matched a community service project with a true need in our community of providing medical screening for those less fortunate.

Recently, Rishi raised $5,000 to provide 100 free mammograms for women in need.

The vouchers were presented to Gloria Max, executive director of the Jewish Federation who is generously administering the program.

For information on the mammogram program, contact the Jewish Federation at 386-672-0294.

Asshole           Chairman Ed Kelley and the Volusia County Council

We can all agree to disagree – because that’s what makes a horse race – and none of us are right all the time.

More important, we can have differing views and still be friends – because the healthy debate of competing ideas helps build communities.

That said, in my opinion, anyone who thinks the current iteration of our horrifically compromised Volusia County Council has somehow “seen the light” in the aftermath of the half-cent sales tax vote and is preternaturally transmogrifying into a functional, accessible, transparent and responsive governing body with their constituents’ best interests at heart is delusional.

If you’re one of those unfortunates who truly believe recent events in DeLand are cause for hope – some kind of “new leaf” moment – far be it from me to wake you from this bizarre wet dream.

However, in my view, throwing an occasional bone with a bow on it to residents who have been historically ignored and abused isn’t my idea of substantive change – its ham-handed political manipulation, akin to a ‘Battered Constituent Syndrome,’ not responsive public policy-making. . .

In my view, our collective distrust is well-founded – and it will be a cold day in hell before I kiss the County Council’s collective ass and say, “Thank you, may I have another?” 

Screw that noise.  Nothing has changed but the tactic.

For instance, way back in June 2016, following one of the most divisive periods in the short history of the City of DeBary – after four-years of gross indecision by former County Manager Jim Dinneen – some 102 acres of extremely sensitive land collectively known as the Gemini Springs Annex was saved from the developer’s bulldozer when the Volusia County Council accepted the tract from the St. Johns River Water Management District.

At the time, I strongly suggested that given the shitstorm of controversy and open deceit surrounding the troubled land deal, rather than keep this sensitive area under government control, the acreage, in its entirety, should be transferred to an independent private conservation entity, such as the Nature Conservancy.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

On or about June 2, 2016, the Volusia County Council adopted a revised resolution accepting the threatened land and agreeing to manage it as conservation lands “in perpetuity.”

The material portion of that resolution stated, in part:

“Utilizing any portion of the Gemini Springs Addition to support development or redevelopment is contrary to the stated mitigation purpose of the property.”   

“…the continued management and preservation of the entire Gemini Springs Addition solely as conservation lands is imperative for the restoration of the site which will provide an invaluable benefit to the ecology of the region.”

In keeping with their historic precedence of doing exactly the opposite of what they resolved to do – on Tuesday, the Volusia County Council voted unanimously to permit two-acres of the Gemini Springs Annex to be transferred to the City of DeBary, who will in turn permit a developer to pave it over for a four-approach signalized traffic intersection to support the DeBary Town Center project which sits adjacent to the “protected” land.

Oh, there was much consternation on the dais – a lot of steam about FDOT mandates and agreements the county has no control over, and a requirement to make a trip to the hurt here, help there mitigation bank – but, when it came time to make a statement and do the right thing – our elected dullards did exactly what the 2016 resolution said they would never do when they led two contiguous acres of the environmentally sensitive lands to slaughter.

I hate to say I told you so, but following the transfer of lands to Volusia County, I wrote:

“While this transfer may resolve the matter for the immediate future, in my experience the word “perpetuity” means “about 10-years” in government parlance.  I guarantee you this will not be the last move to develop these lands if they are left in the care of elected officials who are bought and paid for by speculative developers.”   

In fact, it only took three-years to start piecing it out and paving it over. . .

Asshole           Deltona City Manager Jane Shang

For the already beaten and bruised residents of Deltona, the hits just keep on coming. . .

Earlier this week, City Manager Jane “Shameless” Shang entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Office of the State Attorney – essentially admitting responsibility for six instances of voter fraud – three considered felony crimes.

During an investigation of allegations that Shang intentionally listed the address of Deltona City Hall – rather than her residence – on voter registration forms, it was determined that during last year’s election Shang voted in a District 1 race – while residing in District 3. . .

Despite Shang’s hubristic explanation that her offenses were the result of “mistakes and errors” – in my view, knowingly casting a vote in an election outside your district evidences a well-formed intent – something far from an honest oversight.

Under the terms of her agreement, Shang must pay investigative costs, undergo drug testing, perform 100 hours of community service and avoid violating any federal, state or local laws for the next 12 months.

This includes $50.00 per month “toward the cost of her supervision,” plus $2.00 per month to the Florida Department of Corrections – placing her on what is essentially supervised probation.

Jesus.  What a godawful embarrassment to this beleaguered community. . .

In my view, if Jane Shang doesn’t have the common human decency to resign her position and leave with the degree of dignity the city deserves – then the City Commission has a moral responsibility to their constituents to unceremoniously throw her sorry ass out of City Hall before any more damage can be done to Deltona’s already battered reputation.

Quote of the Week

“There will be a time when we have no auto access to our beaches,” Kelley said. “I don’t know when, it’s not my plan.  It’s not something that I’m looking forward to because I’ve driven on that beach since 1962.  I’ve been a supporter of beach access and driving. But you can bet the federal government is not going to allow us to have that permit in 2030.”

–County Chairman Ed Kelley, as quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Volusia council oks new parking in NSB,” Wednesday, June 5, 2019

In my view, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, is a congenital liar who has become so truth-averse over his many years in elective office that he can no longer discern fact from a bald-face falsehood.

I don’t think he even recognizes it anymore.

It’s borne of the same twisted mindset that ends with his much-anticipated “Plan B” unveil being just another uninspired tax scheme. . .

It’s one of the many problems inherent to a system where uber-wealthy insiders artificially manipulate political campaigns with massive cash infusions to perpetually return these two-faced twits and moral defects to positions of power.

There is nothing to suggest that the federal government is going to revoke the permit allowing beach driving in Volusia County – and Old Ed’s spurious speculation is clearly wishful thinking on his part.

The fact is, Ed Kelley has quibbled the distinct difference between “beach driving” and “beach access” for years.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kelley joined Council members Ben Johnson, Deb Denys and Fred Lowry in blatantly ignoring the wishes of New Smyrna Beach residents when they voted to spend $475,000 for eleven “off-beach” parking spots, bringing vehicular traffic to a quaint residential neighborhood that was well-served by a relatively inexpensive walkover.

Speaking with the News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt following the meeting, New Smyrna Beach City Commissioner Jake Sachs lamented:

“They basically want to turn New Smyrna Beach into a parking lot,” he said, while acknowledging that it could have been much worse. “I’m very pleased they didn’t make a beach driving ramp out of it.”

And, just like that, New Smyrna Beach joins other small beachside communities – like Daytona Beach Shores – who have taken it in the tookus from our not-so-benevolent dictators in Volusia County government.

As I’ve said, the quaint notion of municipalities controlling their own destiny through self-determination and local governance might work elsewhere, but not in Volusia County.

Don’t like it?  Tough shit.

When Daytona Beach Shores balked at this aggressive form of buggery, Volusia County unleashed the weaponized county attorney’s office like a rabid Doberman – with orders to do whatever was required to exert their omnipotence – including crushing the small municipality’s will with overwhelming legal bills.

When Old Ed says removing beach driving “is not my plan,” you can bet your sweet patootie that’s exactly what he has in mind. . .

In my view, Chairman Kelley now owes every taxpayer in Volusia County a formal apology for making outrageous statements and spending our hard-earned tax dollars over what the federal government may – or may not – do over a decade from now.

Folks, that’s not leadership – that’s hysterical raving and fear-mongering – and any self-serving elected official who has spent as much time humiliating himself from a political dais as Mr. Kelley has should know the difference.

And Another Thing!

I don’t know about you, but I really need a dose of Daytona Beach “International” Airport executive director Rick Karl’s infectious optimism right now. . .

I need to hear Rick tell me how my investment is all “part of the larger story of the renaissance of this community,” and assure me we’re not pissing good money after bad every time another national or regional carrier (that we handsomely subsidized) packs up and jets off into the sunset.

Because, that’s what we pay Mr. Karl for – to pat our bottoms and tell us all the good things about our “International” airport we so desperately want to hear. . .

Regardless of how dire the circumstance, Director Karl can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – spinning fantastic yarns about “passenger traffic increases” – and soothing our worst fears with fairy tales about how much we stand to make in the gift shop if we just throw more money around in a market that has essentially remained a regional feeder – outpaced by Sanford, Orlando, hell, everywhere with access to an interstate highway.

With many in Volusia County still reeling from the abrupt departure of Jet-Blue, on Wednesday, we learned the disheartening news that our most recent beneficiary of public funds – something called Silver Airways – announced it will be stopping scheduled service from DAB effective July 1.

According to a crafty statement from the air carrier, while the service was “well-received by travelers and the community and bookings were good,” the fare level was not “financially sustainable” in current market conditions. . .

I find that strange, because just months ago you and I ponied up an incredibly lucrative incentive package to lure Silver Airways to Daytona Beach.

This included some $100,000 to market the Daytona Beach-Ft. Lauderdale flights, a partnership agreement with the Daytona Tortugas organization, waiving landing fees and “facilities costs” (read: rent and utilities), a year of free ground handling services (according to reports, estimated at $91,250) and a quarterly payment of $25,000 for one year to help “offset some of the airlines startup costs.”

 You do the math.

 I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

At the time,  Mr. Karl sang us a comforting lullaby, assuring us weary rubes that this time we wouldn’t be stood-up like every time before, “This is the beginning of a long-relationship that we hope to build over time,” Karl said, adding, “One flight a day is not the goal. We want to have more flights. We want to grow the airline with us.”

 He sounded like Claude Rains in the final scene of Casablanca. . .

 Come on, Rick.  I really need to hear how this time is different from last time.

Please?

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

Angels & Assholes will be on a brief hiatus next week as I travel to my ancestral home deep in the verdant bosom of the Appalachian Mountains – time to watch the lightning bugs in the evening, sip some corn squeezins and get back to my hillbilly roots for a few days. . .

Stay vigilant!

The battle for the soul of Volusia County

“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Why is it that Volusia County politics – regardless of jurisdiction – is increasingly marked by the near-constant internecine battle between ‘Us and Them,’ a destructive series of lopsided skirmishes fought by We, The People and those we have elected to represent our highest and best interests?

In a well-written piece in Sunday’s News-Journal entitled, “Daytona riverfront property remains in limbo,” reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean took us on a journey through the brewing fight over public control of City Island – marked by a pernicious effort by Daytona Beach city officials to remove decades-old land restrictions that held the historic downtown property for “public purposes forever.”

Why? 

Why would any civil servant – or elected official who accepts public funds to serve in the public interest – seek to quietly strip protections forged decades ago when the spoil islands were created as the channel was dredged in the Intercoastal Waterway?

Because they want to hand it over to their political benefactors in the real estate development community, that’s why. 

That’s old news – the standard modus operandi of this compromised Oligarchy that has replaced our democratic principles in Volusia County.

What I find most disturbing is the mindset.

My sincere hope is that the overweening attitude of some in government that actively works to strip perpetual safeguards on lands set aside for public use through behind-the-scenes political maneuvers – is the typical “we know what’s best for you” bureaucratic approach – the disconnect commonly found in places where entrenched administrators successfully reverse the administrative and political power structure.

Because the alternative – a situation where special interests pressure (suggest?) the very policymakers whose political campaigns they have underwritten to remove restrictions and sell or lease the scenic land for private development – is too grim to consider.

Unfortunately, anything is possible in a time and place where a billionaire insurance executive can assume control of a massive riverfront park adjacent to his already publicly underwritten headquarters complex by mere acquiescence of the community’s elected body – then receive some $1 million annually in tax dollars over the next 50 years to cover maintenance costs. . .

No one asked the citizens of Daytona Beach if they wanted to spend $50 million of their hard-earned tax dollars over the next half-century on a really nice park – and no one has asked the residents of Volusia County if we want to hand over City Island and adjacent waterfront property to a speculative developer for another half-empty condominium tower and a strip center.

And don’t expect anyone to ask for your opinion on the issue anytime soon. . .

In the aftermath of the failed $500,000 mail-in ballot scheme designed to ramrod a half-cent sales tax increase down our collective throats – I doubt our ‘powers that be’ will be asking us to vote on anything of substance – at least nothing they can find an expeditious legislative work around for.

Because, when they do allow us a say – and the outcome is not what their uber-wealthy puppet masters thought it should be – they either attempt to overturn our will by filing a lawsuit against us using our own money – or perpetually return the question to the ballot (no doubt rewritten to make the latest iteration of the money grab even more opaque) each election cycle until the desired outcome is achieved.

That is not how a representative democracy is supposed to work. . .

Fortunately, it appears yet another grassroots effort to protect the public’s interest is forming ranks in the Halifax area to block the handover of public lands on City Island for private development and political expediency.

According to the News-Journal’s article, Daytona Beach resident Mary Welch recently challenged state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff – the darling of the Florida Realtors PAC.  During the last legislative session, Ms. Fetterhoff pushed failed legislation to remove the City Island deed restrictions without requiring the city to pay a $8.77 million ransom demanded by former Governor Slick Rick Scott.

The report indicated Ms. Welch asked Fetterhoff on social media the logical question, “. . .what’s in it for you?”

 According to Welch, “She never replied.”

 “Fetterhoff said she understands there’s been pushback from local residents who want all of the land to remain open for public use, but she said “it needs some value. It’s off the tax rolls.”

Bullshit.

What Rep. Fetterhoff and her benefactors in the real estate development community fail to grasp is the intrinsic civic, social and recreational value of holding certain lands for the exclusive and collective use of the public – something our forefathers recognized way back in 1925.

In my view, small-minded politicians – and those officials who have willingly compromised themselves to the mercenary tactics of special interests – have disgraced themselves in the eyes of their disbelieving constituents.

However, rather than exhibit a sense of shame – the much darker emotion of political advancement at all cost has emerged.

It seems now that they have been unmasked for who, and what, they truly are – our ‘powers that be’ no longer try to camouflage their true motivations – or those of their gluttonous political benefactors.

Slowly, the thin façade of service in the public interest has been eroded to the point a pernicious system that exists to serve a small ‘power elite’ is exposed.

A symbiotic relationship between compromised politicians who need massive campaign contributions to ensure victory – and the Big Money donor class who recognize the opportunity this presents.

In my view, this growing shift in strategy represents a dangerous proposition in this no-holds-barred “Us vs. Them” atmosphere, where a few well-heeled winners take all – and the rest of us suffer the innumerable consequences of their ravenous greed.