Volusia County Schools: Character Counts

Because I’m angry, I wanted to begin this heated diatribe by lecturing you on the importance of role models and positive influences in the life of a child – and crow about how we learn core values and the moral imperatives of life at an early age by emulating those we admire – learned traits which form the ethical backbone of our character.

But you already know that.

And you don’t need a degree in educational psychology to understand that building trusting relationships between students, faculty and staff is key to forming a healthy learning environment.

Perhaps most important, anyone with a modicum of human decency knows that intentionally misleading impressionable young people – regardless of how well-intentioned the lie may be – is reprehensible.

Like many of you, when the disastrous news of the ‘placebo’ Advanced Placement examination scandal broke at Mainland High School in June, I was literally dumbstruck – unable to process the breadth and depth of an organized fraud that adversely affected so many families in our community.

I found it hard to believe that ostensibly smart people – veteran educators with extensive training and experience could exhibit such horrific personal and professional judgement – or deliberately devise a scheme wherein 336 high school students would be intentionally deceived into believing they were sitting for an AP examination leading to college credit.

Unbelievable.

Now, after anxious students and parents waited nearly two-weeks with absolutely no substantive information while the district finished investigating itself – we are being told that no one in a leadership role will be held even marginally responsible for this appalling scam that has destroyed the public’s trust and forever altered the way Volusia County students will perceive and interact with teachers and administrators.

Earlier this week, thanks to the outstanding reportage of the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Cassidy Alexander, Volusia County taxpayers – and those who were victimized – learned that the architect of this sordid scheme, Mainland Principal Cheryl Salerno, and the district’s former Chief Academic Officer Teresa Marcks, will receive little more than a stern scolding from something the district absurdly refers to as the “Office of Professional Standards” – whose inquiry described this inexcusable malfeasance as “inappropriate and/or unprofessional.”

My God. . .

According to reports, “No other disciplinary action is outlined in the documents. . .”

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact the Volusia County School Board apparently allowed former Superintendent Tom Russell (who, according to the “investigation,” approved the original plan) to slip the noose and run off to a comfortable new position as principal of Flagler Palm Coast High School with a sack full of severance pay – without ever having been interviewed by investigators. . .

Our elected officials knew about this building fiasco – and voted to award Mr. Russell some $68,700 in severance pay anyway?

In addition, Ms. Marcks – who served as the district’s chief academic officer and a member of Superintendent Russell’s “cabinet” – was allowed to retire the same day Russell left.

Wow.

Look, I’ve read all the testimonials to Principal Salerno’s professionalism – and I have no doubt she is a wonderful person and creative educator who normally has the very best interests of her students at heart.

However, it appears to me – regardless of her altruistic intentions – Ms. Salerno pursued a path that she either knew or should have known would compromise the trust of over three-hundred high school freshman who were led to believe their academic efforts would lead to advanced credit for their work.

In my view, Ms. Salerno must have realized the depth of the problem the very minute Ms. Marcks refused to pay the $60,000 required for all 414 students to sit for the examination – and it is inconceivable that other senior administrators were unaware of the plan.

Instead of admitting a mistake and alerting students and parents to the problem – inexplicably, the key players concocted a fake ‘placebo’ test intentionally made to resemble the actual exam.

That’s inexcusable.

Now, rather than act in a manner her senior leadership role demands and accept personal responsibility for her actions – Ms. Salerno has submitted a letter to district officials challenging the investigative findings and carping that the courageous whistle blower who exposed this travesty to the Florida Department of Education “influenced public opinion.”

Jesus.

What message must that send to the 336 young victims of Ms. Salerno’s bizarre “experiment”?

And how do senior administrators maintain the moral authority to discipline students and staff in the aftermath?

Unfortunately, rather than demonstrate the strong leadership needed during this mushrooming crisis, School Board Chairman Carl Persis, “. . .called the issue of whom to blame and disciplinary actions “a moot point.”

Really?

Accountability – the foundational element of good governance that ensures those who make decisions that affect people’s lives are answerable for their actions – is a moot point having no practical value or importance?

An experienced ship captain once wrote on the subject of responsibility, authority and accountability:

“What holds together the tradition of command is inescapable accountability.  How many times do we hear people say they take full responsibility for some disaster and then nothing happens to them?  No accountability.  Without accountability there can be no trust from your crew, especially in times of danger.  If they don’t trust you, you’re finished.”

With all due respect to the Chairman’s lofty position and delicate sensibilities – I’m going to offer Mr. Persis an urgent suggestion – in the same spirit an old chief of police I worked for would do for me whenever I had that deer in the headlights look during an emergency:

CARL!  PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS – DEMONSTRATE SOME BASIC LEADERSHIP – AND TAKE CHARGE OF THIS CATASTROPHE BEFORE EVEN MORE DAMAGE IS DONE TO THE DISTRICT’S CREDIBILITY!

Because your district is in real trouble – and you are rapidly losing the trust of those you were elected to serve. . .

Now is the time for the elective body we have placed our sacred trust in to establish strong public policy, purge that wholly dysfunctional Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand and establish a lasting culture of honor, virtue and transparency that students of the Volusia County School District can take pride in – and learn from.

It is important that our children know that character counts.

On Volusia: An Issue of Trust

Why is it so difficult for Volusia County politicians to accept the will of the people and move on?

Regardless of the question, when We, The People use our sacred vote to choose how we wish to be governed, oppose entrenched power structures or express our shared disapproval for dubious measures that enrich the few at the expense of the many – we are invariably second-guessed and formally challenged by those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests.

If the electoral system is the foundation of our hallowed representative democracy – a regulated process that allows the governed to share power with those we elect through political accountability – then what do we call it when our elected policymakers ignore our collective will and fight to overturn our decisions with protracted legal actions (while using our money to pay for their arrogant folly) – or simply cycle the question through repetitive election cycles until their desired outcome is achieved?

In the aftermath of the Volusia County sales tax initiative – a failed plan that asked long-suffering taxpayers to suspend reality and lavish a $42 million annual windfall on the same compromised politicians and entrenched bureaucrats that created this quagmire of overburdened transportation and utilities infrastructure by rubber stamping massive development without any concern for the devastating impacts of unchecked growth – it’s clear many of our elected officials are still not mentally prepared to accept our decision.

You see, in their cloistered world high atop the Ivory Tower of Power – you and I are too stupid to understand the significance of the problems we face – or the importance of allowing the same dullards who created this mess even deeper access to our pocketbooks as they try in vain to find a workaround to their previous handiwork.

Bullshit.

Immediately after the results of the “special” mail-in only referendum (the brainchild of a privately-funded, first of its kind scheme concocted by government contractors and others who stood to benefit most) that cost Volusia County taxpayers an obscene $490,000, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, began discussing the option of resurrecting the half-cent sales tax question on the 2020 ballot.

This week, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a very informative Community Voices column penned by my incredibly smart friend, Mike Scudiero – our areas preeminent political consultant and analyst – who offered a cogent road map for sour grapes politicians who remain intent on ignoring the will of their long-suffering constituents.

Mr. Scudiero hit all the high points – explaining the mechanics of crafting a better argument for taxing the eyeballs out of every man, woman and child in Volusia County at the point of sale – to include fashioning a more transparent plan, providing a factual accounting showing exactly how much of the burden will be borne by tourists, being inclusive of tax-wary Republicans and touting the “Come on, everybody’s doing it!” philosophy that the increase would bring us in line with fifty other Florida counties. . .

What Mr. Scudiero’s strategy failed to consider – or counter – is the fact that the vast majority of Volusia County residents have lost total confidence in this compromised cabal of political marionettes that populate the seats of power on the Volusia County Council and beyond.

The “Trust Issue” is the one aspect of this sordid debacle that even the incredibly influential  Volusia CEO Business Alliance can’t throw enough money at.

And absolutely nothing has changed. . .

Despite the fact the electoral deck has been stacked against us – with staggered terms and other pernicious protections designed to ensure the status quo survives – I believe the one positive lesson resulting from this monstrously expensive fiasco is that we can protect our interests and bring positive change through the power of the ballot box.

Perhaps it is time Volusia County voters begin the process of exercising our will – and replace this contemptible oligarchy that has, by design, ensured that the self-serving wants of the uber-wealthy puppeteers who deftly manipulate the rods and cables of government always outweigh the needs of those who are expected to pay the bills.

Let’s return a sense of sanity and restore the public trust in our local government.

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for July 12, 2019

Hi, kids!

When I was a boy in the early 1960’s, we had one of those two-tone Zenith portable televisions that sat on a small stand in the family room – a brown and beige metal box with two plastic tuning dials and a small black-and-white screen that received three stations – and, on occasion, WJXT, the CBS affiliate all the way in Jacksonville.

Some of my earliest memories involve the weekday morning ritual of faithfully tuning into Channel 6’s Romper Room in the fervent hope Miss Nancy would call my name. . .

Remember?

No matter where I was in the house, the exact second I heard Miss Nancy’s beautiful sing-song voice – I made a beeline to the television – flopping breathlessly on the thick shag carpet just inches from the shadowy screen, watching in rapt anticipation as she gazed through the Magic Mirror and chanted that mysterious incantation that allowed her to see into living rooms around the world:

“Romper stomper bomper boo; tell me, tell me, tell me do; Magic Mirror, tell me today; did all my friends have fun at play?”

Invariably, I would catch the names of school chums and neighborhood playmates – resulting in crushing disappointment (if not a slight sense of gluckschmerz) – but, on occasion, I would hear those joyous words of complete validation, “. . .and I see Mark, he’s being extra good today!” – and pandemonium would ensue!

I would tear-ass around the house, grinning from ear-to-ear, screaming breathlessly, “She saw me!  Miss Nancy SAW ME!” which always elicited a congratulatory hug from my doting mom – and a stoic stare over the morning newspaper from my father – who was no doubt wondering how this giddy little sap could be the fruit of his loins. . .

Just as Romper Room’s “Do Bee” and “Don’t Bee” taught generations of American kids the moral imperatives of life – Miss Nancy’s Magic Mirror showed us that recognition and acknowledgement is important to our happiness and emotional well-being.

Many years ago, when I was a young police detective, some churl posted a nicotine-stained mimeographed sign on the wall of our bullpen that said, “Doing a good job is like pissing your pants in a dark suit.  You get a warm feeling, but nobody really notices. . .” 

Well, I notice.

At the end of the day – I guess that’s the purpose of this weekly segment that continues to grow in popularity throughout the Halifax area and beyond.

Recently, a loyal reader reached out to me in faux disappointment that they hadn’t yet been named an “Asshole” in this space.

This wiseass member of the BV tribe claims to get up early every Friday morning, run to the computer and search Angels & Assholes in the hope of receiving the dubious honor.

Because this person is a sitting public official – I won’t mention his or her name – but for those who hold themselves out for elective office, remaining relevant and in the “public eye” is important – and, as Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. . .”   

Clearly, this important member of our community was having fun with me – but our conversation underscored the importance of recognizing the many positive acts of kindness and generosity in our community – and the civic value in calling out those in positions of power.

It’s one reason I was so happy to see The Daytona Beach News-Journal is now ending each week with their own Angel’s list of sorts – stories “Celebrating what’s good in our community.” 

I like that.

I continue to be humbled by the fact so many of you take time out of your busy day to read and consider these hyper-opinionated rants.  Whether our opinions agree or disagree on a given topic  – your participation in driving a larger discussion of the issues does my beat-up old heart good.

Please know that if I have yet to offend your sensibilities – or gore your sacred ox in this always sarcastic space – please stay tuned!

Like Miss Nancy, I get around to everyone sooner or later. . .

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              Chief James Bland, Holly Hill Fire Department

Loyal readers of these screeds know that on the second Monday of each month, Barker’s View takes to the airwaves, co-hosting Gov Stuff Live! with Big John – the Halifax areas premiere public affairs forum – on 1380am “The Cat.”

The segment is always a lively, in-depth discussion on the important issues of the day – presented with a healthy dose of humor – in an easy to follow format, which includes taking your phone calls, providing a soapbox for citizens to voice their frustrations and answering community questions.

Trust me.  I learn far more from my participation in the forum than I contribute. . .

In March, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on a disturbing conversation between our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and freshman Volusia County Councilman Ben Johnson, voicing their over-the-top support for consolidating all municipal and county fire department’s under “one unified umbrella” as a means of cutting costs and “improving” service delivery.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t allow Volusia County government to take care of my pet goldfish (literally), and I damn sure don’t want them anywhere near the critical municipal services that my family and yours depend upon for our safety and welfare.

In an informative piece by News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Volusia expands fire service, raises topic of countywide department,” Old Ed said:

“We’d be far better served with a unified, consolidated form of fire service than having it all split up,” he said. “Do we need 13 fire chiefs? Sorry fire chiefs out there. Maybe you could be a different chief in a bigger system.”

My God.  What a condescending dipshit. . .

In Eddie’s warped world, bigger is always better – because the arrogance of size actually causes him, and those other parochial assholes he conspires with, to believe that county-controlled agencies are superior to the smaller – and infinitely more efficient – essential services provided by the municipalities.

In response to Old Ed’s incoherent rambling, our “new” County Manager Georgie Recktenwald – in that sleepy ‘couldn’t-be-bothered’ low-slung monotone that has endeared him to so many – said he would discuss the “possibility” of consolidation with city leaders.

In my view, that took the chatter from two puffed-up politicians playing with their governmental Tinker Toy set – clumsily resurrecting the goofy suggestions of an ancient study by The Civic League of the Halifax Area – to actually furthering this cockamamie notion of destroying our municipal fire departments.

That scared me. . .

In my view, the Civic League – whose membership is by “invitation only” (apparently to keep the riffraff out) is the alternate club for those who don’t have the money for membership in the more exclusive – and infinitely more influential – Volusia CEO Business Alliance (?)

I’ve always felt that clubby “civic organizations” that regulate their membership through exclusive tap-on-the-shoulder invites are anything but.

Don’t worry – all the right last names are listed on the League’s gilded rolls – another semi-secret society that allows the anointed ones to go behind closed doors and meddle in the lives and livelihoods of us “little people” on the other side – you know, the huddled masses still waiting on our engraved invitation to participate in the larger discussion of our future. . .

Regardless, the Civic League has served as the Halifax area’s well-meaning hot-air generator since 1965 – originally known as the Community Problems Discussion Dinner – the club has, in my view, dissolved into an irrelevant manufacturer of various stodgy reports and studies – always heavily peppered with the painfully obvious leading to off-the-mark conclusions.

For instance, the league’s 2014 “tourism study” came to the ingenious realization that the beachside ISB corridor is “blighted” – and concluded, “There is a need for leadership in government and the private sector to assist in accomplishing our common goals of the revitalization of the tourism industry and our quality of life for the area.”

Wow.  Earth shattering. . .

Look, as far as I’m concerned, they can sit around and tut-tut over inane white papers and give each other awards until the cows come home (by-the-by, they gave the 2019 Beacon Award to the CEO Business Alliance – I don’t make this shit up. . .) but, when the Civic League’s nearly decade-old suggestions regarding the consolidation of our fire service are taken seriously, it really bothered me.

So, having heard from the horse’s ass – I wanted to hear the truth of the matter from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

That’s when I asked Holly Hill Fire Chief Jim Bland, who also serves as the president of the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Association, to join me on the radio to explain the current state of our fire service so we could form an educated opinion based on current data and hands-on operational experience.

What followed was a fascinating discussion of how our municipal fire departments have already consolidated common functions and services, established shared responsibilities, equipment allocations, strategic plans, resource tracking and even cooperative purchasing policies.

In addition, we learned that emergency response protocols have been standardized across the board – and when coupled with a common incident management system – firefighters from Ormond Beach, Holly Hill or Edgewater can (and do) work effectively in West Volusia and beyond.

In my view, this is a testament to what can happen when those in positions of power drop the ego-driven fiefdom building and work cooperatively in the spirit of what is ultimately best for those they serve.

As a result, in Volusia County, we have an incredibly effective fire protection system – a functional amalgam of various department’s who work shoulder-to-shoulder in every operational aspect of the profession – from training and certification to prevention and fire ground tactics – while keeping the individual agency’s unique identity and allowing the municipalities to control their own costs.

I believe when it comes to emergency services, most residents want the personalized service that only comes from local oversight – and an “of the community, for the community” dedication that many larger metropolitan areas are struggling (and spending) to recreate.

Most long-time observers of the machinations of the Volusia County Council – a weird puppet show performed bi-weekly by a dysfunctional troupe of compromised marionettes and their uber-wealthy handlers – understand that what we are witnessing is a “representative democracy” in name only.

One would have thought that Chairman Kelley, George Recktenwald and the others would have known about all this before stirring the “consolidation” pot? 

Clearly, Ed Kelley remains an uninformed dullard who doesn’t have a clue about how Volusia County fire departments work cooperatively in an incredibly efficient and well-choreographed system that encourages the inherent benefits of community control and decentralization.

However, he instinctively knows the advantages of taking marching orders from his political benefactors in places like the élite Civic League of the Halifax Area. . .

Another thing Old Ed and his “colleagues” understand is that they have already taxed the eyeballs out of everyone living in unincorporated areas to pay for a horribly inadequate and mismanaged county-operated fire service that puts our brave firefighters – and the citizens they valiantly serve – in danger due to understaffing and other organizational management issues.

For that matter, does Volusia County even have a permanent Fire Services Director?

Jesus.

Frankly, I believe Volusia County has reached the financial tipping point when it comes to fire and emergency medical services – which, until recent substantive changes at EVAC, (forced by Councilwoman Heather Post) has historically been a botched shitshow that ultimately resulted in Port Orange funding their own ambulance service and other communities considering it.

Now, Old Ed and the Funky Bunch are desperate to find a way to consolidate municipal services as a cheap means of getting even deeper into our pockets. . .

Whatever.

Kudos to Chief Jim Bland and members of the Volusia County Fire Chief’s Association – all consummate professionals – for their extraordinary service to their communities and Volusia County.

(If you missed this important forum, please find Chief Bland’s segment at www.govstuff.org (Archives) for Monday, July 8, 2019.)

Angel               Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County

From the “We’re so far behind we’re ahead” column:

We, the long-suffering denizens of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast, put our best foot forward and pulled it off once again, posting a 15.4% increase in bed tax revenues in May!

Woot!  Where’s former Mayor Glenn Ritchey and the Good Time All Star Band playing “Happy Days Are Here Again!” when I need him, dammit! 

Yep!  According to a report by Jim Abbott in The Daytona Beach News-Journal – citing data compiled by Evelyn Fine over at Mid-Florida Marketing & Research (who has been paid to tell our Maharishis in the Halifax area tourism industry exactly what they want to hear for decades), “Hotels, vacation rental properties and campgrounds throughout the county generated $1,858,427 in bed taxes, up from $1,609,660 in May 2018. . .” 

Which seems weird to this uneducated bumpkin, because just last week that equally enthusiastic bunch over at Daytona “International” Airport gave a gloomy report that passenger traffic dipped some 6.8 percent that same month (year-over-year)?

Oh, well – what the hell do I know?  I’m totally ignorant of the mysterious ways of these voodoo statisticians in the hospitality marketing research game. . .

I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for the incongruity between a 15% increase in bed tax revenue and a 7% decrease in passenger traffic at DAB in the same month, right?

Maybe visitors are tired of being gored by our astronomically high airfares and are driving in?

Or, perhaps there’s been a sizable increase in hitchhiking families who realize getting here is half the adventure?

Extraterrestrials? 

Unfortunately, the revelry over at the Lodging & Hospitality Association was tempered with the news that, “Volusia’s countywide average daily hotel room rate for the month decreased by about 3 percent year-over-year to $118.96, compared with $122.64 in May 2018.”

By comparison, Volusia County’s average daily rate was substantially less than the statewide average of $139.01 – and our “revenue per available room” of $81.26 trailed the statewide average of $99.91 – which I think means our slightly down-at-the-heels “product” is worth considerably less than similar brands offered in other areas of the Sunshine State?

Whatever.  Stop being such a nay-saying asshole, Barker.

As long as Mid-Florida Marketing is dishing it up hot and piling it high – let’s take all good news we can get, right?

Damn straight.

Asshole           Florida Legislature & Governor Ron DeSantis

Florida is screwed.

Last week saw the death knell for our environmentally sensitive state when Governor Ron DeSantis inexplicably signed a devastating bill into law that essentially requires any citizen with the temerity to file a lawsuit to ensure their elected officials abide by legally mandated growth management plans to pay the government’s legal bill’s if they lose.

Unfortunately, the “consistency challenge” represented the only enforcement mechanism left to ensure that proposed developments conform with local comprehensive plans.

Anybody willing to take a bold stand and put their family’s financial future in jeopardy to challenge the wholesale destruction of specimen hardwoods and wildlife habitat to make way for a new WaWa?

How about betting your children’s college education against some greed-crazed speculative developer – who has openly financed the political campaigns of sitting elected officials and employs the best land use attorneys money can buy – and wants to shoehorn thousands of cookie-cutter cracker boxes into the space of a few environmentally sensitive acres as part of the malignant sprawl that is actively threatening our very quality of life? 

Me neither. . .

You can thank gazillionaire Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes for his quisling eleventh-hour “floor amendment” – which was passed on a last-minute voice vote by the rest of those culpable cowards we elected – without any public comment, staff analysis or open debate by legislators.

So much for Governor DeSantis’ pseudo-commitment to rebuilding environmental protections that were butchered under former Governor Slick Rick Scott’s eight-year assault on our natural places, eh?

The new law essentially permits developers to ramrod projects through their compromised political puppets on local councils and commissions without any viable recourse from those affected most.

In Florida, money talks.

It also ascends to positions of power and perpetuates an open oligarchy – where incredibly loose campaign finance laws and a neutered public integrity system conspire with a gutted environmental protection apparatus to form a perfect storm of quid pro quo corruption that is destroying our environment, overloading our schools and transportation infrastructure, and all but insuring we’ll be drinking our own recycled sewage in a few short years.

Because the whole concept of concurrency is for suckers.

So, forget about educating your children here – student/teacher ratios will be astronomical – and, eventually, we will erect prefab lecture stadiums in an armed compound where a faceless audio loop will “teach” the pathetic little rubes to the test. . .

As it stands, they’re hapless victims of a broken system that cannot adequately serve the needs of  those they are responsible for now – let alone absorb the impact thousands of new families will have on what passes for our already overburdened “educational” system.

Another gut-punch to our impressionable children who are brazenly lied to by the very school administrators they are expected to trust – failed by a hopeless cycle of mediocrity – all while a time-honored internal protection scheme insulates the guilty, the gutless and the inept.

Welcome to the Sunshine State, kids.  The biggest whorehouse in the world. . .

More clogged roadways, loss of greenspace, overtaxed emergency services and dwindling civic amenities – all sacrificed to a rubber-stamp system that all but ensures development applications will be approved without challenge – as our local land use plans are used as cheap toilet paper by those who stand to benefit most.

We lost.  Get used to it.

Now, the pernicious motivations of these special interests are protected by force of law – and there truly are no checks and balances in a system seemingly tailormade to facilitate the unbridled aggression of those who haul massive profits off the land.

Quote of the Week

“I would like to know where is all the wildlife in the areas that are being developed now?

These acres and acres of land that have been bulldozed and the trees eaten up by big machinery. Where are the animals going to go? 

There has been an increase of animals wandering in peoples’ back yard because we destroyed their habitat. 

We live in a very, very environmentally sensitive place. Yes, you can buy land and develop it, but you must follow the rules. We must protect the environment.”

–Unknown, Hometown News Volusia, Rants & Raves, “Where have all the animals gone?” Friday, July 5, 2019

Damn fine question.

A bit naïve – considering there are no more “rules” to protect our sensitive environment and threatened wildlife habitat now – but a good question.

The short answer is that the animals were sacrificed at Florida’s Altar of Greed.

Our beautiful state is quickly becoming a barren wasteland where the ravenous appetites of speculative developers are satiated by the slash-and-burn rape of pristine forests, our waterways are turned to ghastly green sludge, specimen oaks are ground into pulp and our natural places rapidly become muddy moonscapes – an abattoir for flora and fauna with nowhere left to run – all so that you and I can live in another dreadful “theme community.”

Perhaps someone should quiz United States Senator Slick Rick Scott – or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – about where our wildlife went at their very next campaign rally?

Something tells me they have infinitely cheerier answers than I do. . .

And Another Thing!

Last week in this space I wrote a tongue-in-cheek account of the spectacular fireworks display that booms, bangs and whistles through the streets of my normally quiet neighborhood every Fourth of July.

Trust me – I was only half-joking.

In fact, I’m still finding shards of melted plastic and burnt cardboard bomblets in my yard – the singed shrapnel of hundreds of exploding aerial pyrotechnics.

Now, multiply that debris exponentially and you have some understanding of what our shoreline looks like from Ponce Inlet to Flagler Beach on the morning of July 5th. . .

In fact, last year, volunteers and a county trash contractor removed some 55,000 pounds of trash from Volusia County beaches!

For some reason, our “experts” in the hallowed halls of Volusia County Beach Management haven’t figured out how to curb the use of illegal fireworks that hoards of people openly carry onto a traffic-free beach one day each year?

Whatever.

I also want to recognize the outstanding dedication of Volusia County lifeguards who went the extra mile and picked up a massive amount of trash on Thursday evening following the festivities – great work!

Meanwhile, just up the road, our neighbors in Flagler Beach acted proactively in distributing some 1,000 trash bags to beach-goers – and passed out metal straws to curb the use of single-use plastics.

Look, I’m normally a “do whatcha wanna” kind of guy – to each their own, I say – but when you endanger sea life and discourteously trash our most precious natural amenity by intentionally leaving your stinking garbage, cigarette butts and fireworks detritus for others to cleanup, well, that qualifies you for the Barker’s View King Hell Asshole award. . .

Fortunately, in Volusia and Flagler we have a committed army of intrepid volunteers – both organized and everyday folks – who graciously give of their time to clean-up the enormous piles of trash that are left on the beach following the Independence Day celebration on local beaches.

If you were part of the solution – on behalf of the thousands of beach lovers who sincerely appreciate your efforts to sanitize our shoreline and protect our vulnerable shorebirds and sea creatures from this threat – please accept a hearty Barker’s View Thank You!

Your important work personifies good citizenship – and exemplifies the great spirit of volunteerism that makes our community great!

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

 

 

 

 

 

Volusia County Schools: How’s that whole ‘secrecy’ thing working out?

In the Barker household – borrowing money is a Big Deal.

See, my family has a finite stash of “fun tickets,” and once it’s gone – it’s gone.

Even though we are a typical two-income household, given my abhorrent habits, most economists would group my monthly expenditures on the “feasible – not optimal” side of the budgetary slope. . .

Like many in Volusia County, we simply don’t have the luxury of accelerating “nice to have” purchases by borrowing against future income – because we understand that, given the myriad variables, over time that can lead to insolvency.

As a municipal retiree, it boils down to the simple realization that, at the end of the month, if I’ve overextended the family budget in one area or another (normally a line item loosely labeled “Mark’s Entertainment”), there will be a few lean days ahead until the Eagle shits and the cycle repeats. . .

For “big ticket” items, we do something novel in today’s free-wheeling world of personal finance – rather than incur debt, we save money until we have enough to make the purchase.

Weird, right?

Unless you’re a senior insurance executive, own a motorsports dynasty, develop Halifax area real estate or hold a management position in local government – I suspect your family’s finances are much like mine.

(Trust me – if I had J. Hyatt money, I’d put mine in a little pile and burn it. . .)

I guess that’s why whenever I read a headline that screams, Insert government agency here borrows a Gazillion dollars!) it bothers me.

Maybe it’s because you and I are forced to live within our means?

Here in the Real World, even minor deviations can have catastrophic consequences for those who live on a fixed income or eke out a living in this struggling artificial economy.

You see, we don’t have the ability to demand that our neighbors subsidize our lavish lifestyle and spending habits – or to borrow astronomical amounts of money – paid for with millions in interest – safe in the knowledge that the faceless masses will ultimately pay for it through increased taxes.

It’s like walking a tightrope – only you and I don’t have the luxury of a net.

I love it when those we elect to represent our interests crow, ad nauseum, about how borrowing against future earnings is a good thing – and the financial advisers and economists who are paid by the very entity they are “advising” always seem to rubber stamp these massive borrowing schemes regardless of cost.

Whatever.

Recently, the Volusia County School Board announced that it was bonding a whopping $100 million, ostensibly to accelerate construction and renovation at several area schools.

Of course, the money to repay the loan – and the estimated $6 million in interest – will come from the half-cent sales tax increase that you and I approved in 2001 – then extended in 2014.

The bond comes on the heels of an ugly debacle involving the sale of other district assets to the Town of Pierson.

After a tangled process (if you can even call it a “process”) the Volusia County School Board recently approved the sale of land and buildings on the former Pierson Elementary School site to the small community for use as a civic complex.

For many, the “deal” initially came as a complete surprise. . .

Fortunately, freshman Board member Ruben Colon fought for transparency back in April when he demanded that two items – one of which declared some five-acres of the property surplus – the other approved the purchase agreement with Pierson – be pulled from the School Board’s consent agenda. . .

When the mechanics of the deal came to light, in May, former School Board member Dr. John Hill sounded the klaxon on social media:

“Just like in the past, this was attempting to be done without any property appraisal and only one or two personnel from the school district arranging this deal.”

It was eerily reminiscent of a bizarre backroom deal with AdventHealth – a weird scheme that traded incredibly lucrative advertising rights (read: exclusive marketing access to some 63,000 families and an untold number of teachers and staff) for just $1 million in “in kind” services and $200,000 annually over five-years – a “deal” that blindsided Volusia County taxpayers after months of “secret” negotiations with district staff. . .

Jesus.

When Mr. Colon pulled the covert deal with Pierson off the agenda for further study, he said, “We are entrusted with the management of taxpayer funds.  This is not a responsibility I take lightly.”

In typical fashion, at the time, Saralee Morrissey, the district’s director of planning, quibbled the facts of the transaction – explaining that the $3.77 million just or “market value” set by the Volusia Property Appraisers Office was “not a reasonable value” due to the deplorable condition of the buildings.

At the end of the day, the School Board approved the sale of 5.5 acres and structures to the Town of Pierson for just $73,000.

Again.  Whatever.

Look, nobody involved in this mess – including those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence – begrudge the Town of Pierson this important community asset.  But the way the transaction was handled by district administrators was slimy, arrogant and opaque – and it served to cement the public’s inherent distrust of Volusia County government agencies.

Given the fact that, just a year ago, district officials were making the rounds crying the poor-mouth blues – begging spare change from the municipalities to fund basic security measures to protect our vulnerable children, teachers and staff – perhaps the district’s recent move to borrow $100 million to expedite new school construction is a good thing?

I don’t know.

But unless and until the Volusia County School Board sets about purging entrenched bureaucrats and administrators who continue to operate in the shadows, outside any politically accountable oversight – their long-suffering constituents will remain skeptical of anything coming out of DeLand.

For an agency with a budget approaching $900 million – secrecy is unacceptable.

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on Gov Stuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

Tune in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or online at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

We’ll be taking your calls and talking about the important issues of the day that impact our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

 

Angels & Assholes for July 5, 2019

Hi, kids!

Happy Birthday to the United States of America! 

This morning, me and the dogs are slowly emerging from the bunker here at Barker’s View HQ, taking off our helmets – putting away our matching red, white and blue “Thundershirt” anxiety jackets – and beginning the annual bomb damage assessment following the overnight artillery barrage here in north Ormond Beach.

Many years ago, our neighborhood – which is idyllically calm every other night of the year – decided, “To hell with the city-sponsored fireworks display – Let’s celebrate Independence Day by calling in a Star-Spangled airstrike on the old Barker place!

And let me tell you, this year some of that incoming ordinance could be measured in kilotons. . .

I think I know the origin:

For many years, I had an over-the-road trucker living next door – a friendly chap I affectionately called, well, “neighbor man” (because actually learning his name could have been mistaken for a friendly overture, which would have invariably led to neighborly chit-chat, obligatory “howdy” waves in the driveway, etc.  Ugh.)

“Neighbor man” was perfect for me:  Because he was on the road for literally weeks at a time.

Pure bliss for a reclusive, anti-social hermit like me. . .

In exchange for his frequent absences, I was more than happy to ignore the periodic “chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug” of an idling Detroit Diesel, punctuated by the thunderous hiss of a Freightliner’s air brakes outside my window at four o’clock in the morning – or those times when he moved a new “girlfriend” into the house that he found at some all-night truck stop outside Knoxville – only to have her steal everything he owned and flee in the middle of the night while he was hauling freight somewhere between Provo and Kankakee. . .

Interesting fellow.  I liked him.

But at dusk every 4th of July – like clockwork – neighbor man would begin the yearly ritual of detonating his gigantic pyrotechnic arsenal – serious recreational explosives he collected on his runs around the country – and made great sport of launching mortar shells, flaming whizzers, screaming meemies, roman candles, spinning buzz bombs, fire fountains, crowd pleasers, flying crackers, bottle rockets, boom-boom tubes, aerial shockers, mini-missiles and every other known variety of neighbor-hater China ever exported directly over my house.

All while laughing maniacally and screaming over the roar, “How’d ya like dat one!”

Of course, I would respond in faux amusement – like good neighbors do – as the neutral ground between our homes turned into a gunpowder-singed moonscape, “Wow.  Good one.  Was that thing purchased legally?  In this country?” as I staggered around the front yard – stiff cocktail in one hand, garden hose in the other – putting out secondary fires on the roof.

Why?  Because I once made the mistake of telling him that my wife enjoys fireworks. . .

And, she does – Patti loves them.

Nothing makes her giddier than the sight of those monstrous flaming chrysanthemums bursting and shimmering over the Halifax river while the William Tell Overture blasts in the background – and I continue circling the block looking for a parking space east of Nova Road. . .

You know, the “professional” kind you sit in a comfortable folding chair down-by-the-river and enjoy from afar – not the ones that each year shower our wood frame cracker box in a continuous downpour of molten sparks – and pepper every inch of my yard in burnt cardboard and smoking detritus.

I guess I didn’t make that part clear to him. . .

Although my gear jammin’ neighbor moved away years ago – I’m convinced his perennial attempt to please my wife’s firework fetish started what I like to call the “Siege of Northbrook” – which, with the accuracy of a Norden bombsight – targets my humble home annually at sundown on July 4th – a bombardment that bangs, booms and whistles damn near continuously until the neighborhood stockpiles have been depleted and the novelty wears off.

Whatever.

When it comes to my neighbors, I’m a live and let live kind of guy.

What you do on your slice of the American Dream doesn’t concern me in the least – to each their own, I say – and, as long as my liquor cabinet is stocked and well-meaning people leave me alone, I can put up with most anything. . .

So, like every year before, yesterday I did the patriotic thing and ate the requisite hot dog, drank copious amounts of Tennessee whiskey, and, come nightfall, I hunkered down with Nola and Benny – holding them tight while they nervously shook and shimmied to the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air as this damnable neighborhood tradition played itself out.

If you happen to live up here in God’s Country – here’s hoping your Independence Day was everything mine was – and more. . .

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              City of Ormond Beach

Kudos to the City of Ormond Beach, Ormond MainStreet and The Ormond Beach Arts District for having the foresight to permit public art downtown.

In May, the Ormond Beach City Commission approved a plan which allows property owners and merchants to commission outdoor artwork with the assistance of the Arts District Mural Committee.

In my experience, murals help provide a sense of place – a vibrancy that stimulates civic dialog – and has a positive economic impact on communities who embrace the cultural and social value of public art.

The Barker Tribe is blessed to have the amazing painter and performance artist, Perego, as a member of our family.

Through Perego’s incredible talent, I have learned to appreciate the amazing impact art can have on one’s mood and physical environment – and his incredible frescos create a stunning visual aesthetic that set locations and communities who host them apart.

In fact, many places are discovering the intrinsic benefits of public art and its ability to draw visitors to city centers, art districts and commercial areas.

For instance, the next time your travels take you to North Carolina or Southwest Virginia, take in a few miles of the Appalachian Mural Trail – which maps out a whimsical tour of small rural towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway that host both contemporary and historical murals.

In my view, this is a wonderful addition to our beautifully restored downtown – one that will pay dividends for Ormond Beach and the Halifax area for many years to come.

Asshole           Volusia County Government

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but there’s been a resolution, of sorts. . .

Recently, News-Journal editor Pat Rice performed a practical test of sorts – challenging the veracity of a pedestrian walkway that was opened apparently without much forethought at Protogroup’s “$192-million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project.

When work abruptly stopped on the north tower – the developer finally opened a rudimentary beach access point as required by Protogroup’s development agreement with Volusia County.

Inexplicably, Volusia County rolled over and completely abdicated its enforcement responsibility under the terms of a “Use, Easement and Access” agreement which ensured public beach access during construction of the monstrous project in exchange for closing the Oakridge Boulevard approach for construction purposes.

Some seven months ago, the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, brought the issue to the attention of Volusia County – his concerns were met with exactly what we have come to expect.

There were the usual denials from the developer and complete paralytic inaction by our elected and appointed officials in DeLand – followed by some moronic disavowal from our dimwitted County Council Chair, Ed Kelley.

Then, Old Ed – in a fit of hillbilly hysterics – demonstrated that whale-turd level of whatever the antithesis of leadership is when he blamed the contract – describing the easement contract with Protogroup as a “poorly-worded, hastily written agreement.”

“The only thing we can do is kill the project and tell them they have to stop the building.”

Jesus.

In response to beach access signage which clearly indicated the path is accessible to “pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs,” Mr. Rice attempted to navigate the sandy path through the heart of the half-active construction site while pushing a carriage simulating the weight of a child and beach gear.

He then wrote about the experience in an editorial entitled, “Our newest beach access point may be the ugliest.”   

“It was slow going. The baby carriage’s wheels kept bogging down in the sand. In the end, I pushed the baby carriage down the path. But it wasn’t easy.”

What bothered me most was what Rice found at the end of the path – eleven wooden steps leading down to the beach – an obstacle that would make wheelchair access difficult, if not impossible.

That’s wrong.

Based upon his personal experience, Pat made the pertinent recommendation that “Protogroup, or someone, ought to change the beach access sign.”

Fortunately, Mr. Rice’s piece brought much-needed attention to the issue, and earlier this week, “someone” replaced the deceptive signage which had been in place since June 21st.

I say “someone” because it appears the operative policy for anyone associated with the increasingly mysterious towers project is to avoid reporters’ questions like the plague.

(Word to the wise: Rarely does a total information blackout build community support or instill confidence – especially when construction slows on a massive concrete monolith in the heart of our struggling core tourist area. . .)

In a follow-up report, the News-Journal’s Jim Abbott noted that no one at the general contractors office, the developer or the City of Daytona Beach were available to him – and Volusia County’s mouthpiece, Joanne Magley, gave a lukewarm, shoulder-shrug non-answer: “Our understanding is the contractor responsible for that property changed the sign to properly reflect the access.”  

Okay. . .

What bothers me is – even after Mr. Rice demonstrated the problem – no one in County government who is paid to care bothered to demand that the developer simply allocate $12.50 from the “$192 million” budget and erect proper access placards to mediate a clearly dangerous situation for the mobility impaired?

That’s inconceivable. 

I know everyone is over-the-moon for our “new” County Manager George Recktenwald – but for $215,000 a year – is it too much to ask that he hold “someone” accountable for ensuring shit like this doesn’t happen again?

Sorry.  Too much to expect?   

Regardless, after nearly two-weeks of jeopardizing the physical safety of families and disabled persons who were misled by erroneous signage suggesting wheelchair access, “someone” finally responded to our community newspaper’s pointed call for change – and for that we can all be thankful.

Angel              Citizens of Flagler County

I am incredibly proud of the intrepid citizens of Flagler County who are taking a bold stand to preserve their environment and quality of life by asking the difficult questions of a North Carolina-based developer intent on shoehorning some 4,000 residential, commercial and mixed-use units onto 825-acres along John Anderson Highway.

Last week in this space I mentioned a rumor that was slowly filtering its way into northeast Volusia County regarding a planned unit development known as “The Gardens.”

If successful, the project will ultimately bring an estimated 9,000 residents to the area – nearly twice the current population of Flagler Beach.

In a bizarre editorial (read: fairy tale) written by Ken Belshe, a senior director with the property owner, SunBelt Land Management, which appeared in FlaglerLive.com – Mr. Belshe spewed some of the most phony-baloney, candy-coated horseshit I’ve ever heard uttered by a speculative developer – and that’s saying something. . .

“We have known for decades that this area is a glimmering gem outshining others in the Southeast. We have no intention of damaging that gem or risking its value. We hold it carefully in our hands, polishing it and deliberately waiting to share our ideas about what to do with it.”

Jesus.  If this real estate development gig doesn’t work out, Belshe has a bright future in the industrial fertilizer business – or as a Daytona “International” Airport executive. . .   

In my view, Mr. Belshe is polishing something, alright – and it isn’t a “glimmering gem.”

On Monday, my friend Rob Merrill, our areas preeminent land use attorney with the esteemed Cobb Cole firm (who is dutifully representing SunBelt Land Management) hosted a raucous community meeting at Flagler’s Hilton Garden Inn.

Some 300 concerned residents packed the room – with some 8,000 having let their feelings be known by signing a petition challenging the project online.

According to reports, as Rob did his level best to keep order (with the assistance of several Flagler County Sheriff’s Deputies) the rowdy crowd voiced their displeasure with the proposed project, and asked the difficult questions about density, schools, concurrency, impact fees and the inevitable environment impacts to Bulow Creek and beyond.

It sounds like Rob and his clients at SunBelt needed a whip and chair, rather than a flashy PowerPoint touting the benefits of introducing 9,000 new Walmart shoppers to southeast Flagler County, to keep the pitchfork-wielding villagers in check. . .

At the end of a testy two-hours – complete with boos, taunts, invitations to step outside and threats of ejection – Mr. Belshe’s mood appears to have changed from the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy, Joy!” sentiments of his earlier syrupy essay.

According to an article in FlaglerLive entitled, “Boos, Jeers and Defiance as Flagler Beach Voices Its Opposition to The Gardens Development on John Anderson,” Mr. Belshe exhibited a sharper tone when he said:

“The secret is out,” he said. “Unless you just want to close the gates and say – no more people.” Huge applause interrupted him, a chorus announcing the crowd’s inclination: no more growth.”

“If that’s how you feel,” Belshe continued, “then I encourage you to contact your county commissioners and let’s shut down the office of economic development. We don’t need more jobs; we don’t need more businesses.” But, he said, if there’s some acceptance that growth is ahead, then it should be done smartly.”

“Trust me, density is not the enemy. Urban sprawl is the enemy.” He closed on a note about his young children and his environmentally conscious intentions, along with his intentions to address the development’s impact on schools “with new buses, for instance.”

My God.  Do these people know no shame? 

There’s a lot to digest in Mr. Belshe’s statement.

In my view, his “good cop/bad cop” approach is typical of how speculative developers ultimately crush public dissent.

The scary “what if” scenarios to drill home the inevitability of their fate – the “trust me” prognostications about all the good things to come, and, in the end, waving shiny baubles around (like school buses, “conservation areas” and fancy civic amenities) to help remaining skeptics come to terms with their inescapable destiny.

Then, the all-important “corporate humanization” campaign.

After all, this isn’t some faceless out-of-state land developer – they have families too – they are part of the community. . .

My ass.

I encourage the citizens of Flagler County who feel strongly about protecting our sensitive environment and their unique quality of life to stay active and involved as The Garden’s project creeps its way through the byzantine planning and permitting process – in my view, a purpose-built path that invariably leads to formal approval.

It’s important – and it’s up to you.  No one is coming to help. . .

Quote of the Week

“I find Kelley’s digital handwringing to The News-Journal unacceptable. Volusia County needs sensible leaders who address environmental threats to existing infrastructure and make responsible development decisions. As the county chair, Kelley should generate ideas to address problems; not shift blame to the residents who elected him — and whose properties will see a five-inch sea rise in the next 10 years.  If Ed Kelley cannot solve problems or heed reasonable science, Volusia County must elect someone who will.”

–Tamara Parker, Port Orange, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “It’s a local threat,” Wednesday, July 3, 2019

In an ever-changing world, County Chair Ed Kelley’s cosmic stupidity is the one constant. . .

I’m not a climatologist.

Neither is Ed Kelley.

The difference being, like most reasonable people, I’m willing to read critically and interpret data, keep an open mind, listen to the opinions of experts and weigh the findings of scientists and environmentalists who are working hard to find answers to climate change and its potential impact on our lives and livelihoods in coastal Florida.

Unlike Old Ed, I don’t care about the source.

Be it the Greenhouse Effect from fossil fuels or the earth’s natural processes at work – the fact is, we are experiencing a relatively rapid increase in sea level and changes to weather patterns that are adversely affecting many areas of our state – and now is the time to find workable solutions.

Fortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis has broken with the radical fringe of his party and taken early steps to address Florida’s environmental crisis – including measures to clean our diseased waterways and adapt to the effects of global warming, weather extremes and their coastal impact.

More important, Governor DeSantis has proven that he is willing to engage with the scientific community on climate and environmental issues – which is a stark contrast to eight-years of simply ignoring the issue while streets flooded, the bulldozers roared and our rivers turned to guacamole under former Governor Slick Rick Scott’s “fox in the hen house” strategy of environmental protection.

Unfortunately, County Chair Ed Kelley continues to expose his own limitations on issues he cannot begin to comprehend – a demonstrable lack of brainpower that is destroying public confidence in Volusia County government and perpetuating the unnerving sense that we’re all adrift in a sea of ignorance on a foundering ship of fools.

I happen to believe that Old Ed is simply parroting what he thinks his friends in the upper echelons of the local Republican Party apparatus want to hear – you know, the same Volusia County Republican’s in Name Only that never met a tax increase, exorbitant fee or government handout they didn’t like?

Because, in my view, Mr. Kelley lacks the basic smarts to make informed decisions on the important issues of the day; however, he makes up for that intellectual shortcoming by doing what he’s told.

You see, many of Chairman Kelley’s political benefactors make their fortune in industries that are panicked by the proposition that curbing emissions, conserving greenspace, modifying building codes and limiting construction in environmentally sensitive areas might adversely impact their ability to haul massive profits off the land.

Trust me.  That single external factor has done more to influence Mr. Kelley’s cockamamie ideas about climate change – and the myriad other issues facing his long-suffering constituents – than his legendary inability to reason and think independently.

And Another Thing!

I’m confused. . .  (Which should come as no surprise.)

And, at the end of this screed, I suspect you will be too.

Our old friend, the infernal optimist and executive director of the Daytona “International” Airport, Rick Karl, was back in the news this week – still closing after the sale on the massively expensive renovation of our perfectly usable airport.

Look, I’m the first to champion the cause of public officials answering questions of the working press – letting their constituents know about policy issues, public safety threats and other pertinent information that we need to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

But how many times are they going to trot out Rick “Pollyanna” Karl to spin another fantastic yarn about why it was imperative to invest $14 million in public funds into our wholly underutilized and totally serviceable airport?

It’s a done deal.  We bitched, moaned and put ice on it.  Nobody cared.  Move on.

(Although I still wonder if the Volusia County Economic Development offices at the airport are part of the big “renovation”?  Humm. . .)

Yet, Rick continues to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – regardless of the news – and the amount of energy expended is giving me a headache. . .

In March, we were told passenger traffic set an all-time monthly record – even in the aftermath of JetBlue’s unceremonious departure in January.

According to Rick, “It’s amazing to see when the airlines add capacity, the community is filling the seats. These types of positive trends bode extremely well for further airline expansion at DAB.”

“March is always one of our busiest months of the year (but) to have this type of growth is phenomenal.”

Apparently, there was actually a silver lining to the JetBlue desertion – at least according to our always over-enthusiastic airport execs!  (Look, I don’t understand how or why – but whatever the reason – just know it’s phenomenal!)

Heck, yeah!

Then, last week, we were told that maybe JetBlue’s departure might not have been the blessing we were first led to believe it was.

In Clayton Parks informative article in the News-Journal, “Passenger traffic dips at Daytona airport despite increases for Delta, American Airlines,” we learned, “The effects of JetBlue’s departure at the start of the year continue to be felt at Daytona Beach International Airport.”

It seems passenger traffic at DAB waned nearly 7% year-over-year in May. . .

Wait?  That’s not good, right?

Never mind all that maudlin crap – according to Chief Cheerleader Rick Karl: “Even though overall traffic may be down slightly this year; we expect continued growth on our two major air carriers.”

So there!  Take that you naysaying assholes!    

Passenger traffic is up!  Passenger traffic is down!  Who cares! – It’s phenom. . .whatever.

Frankly, I’ve all but stopped reading any article with Daytona “International” Airport in the lede because I’m always left with a weird feeling there’s more to the story – something more ominous behind the mumbo-jumbo of statistics, pap and fluff that always paint things in the most positive light.

Maybe that’s the point?  Anesthetize the masses with over-the-top optimism?   

Regardless, rain or shine, Rick Karl & Company over in the executive offices at DAB never disappoint.

However, in his recent essay in the News-Journal explaining to us hapless dullards why the millions-of-dollars in terminal upgrades will have absolutely no impact on airfares – Mr. Karl gave us an uncharacteristic hard truth about why carriers continue to charge exorbitant ticket prices that drive the local traveling public to airports in Sanford and Orlando.

According to Rick: “Air fares are determined by the local market. Airlines owe a duty to their stockholders to generate as much revenue as possible, and therefore will charge the greatest fares that a given market will allow. This is capitalism at work, and it has nothing to do with landing fees or other fees that the airports charge to operate and maintain such things as the terminal facilities, runways, taxiways and airfield lighting.”

In other words, it’s not airport overhead that causes the two airlines serving the Daytona Beach market to screw us – it’s our own damn fault!

We allow them to gouge us!

Because that’s what their stockholders expect!

Apparently, we are bent-over and paralyzed in a strange Fun Coast Catch-22 where airlines charge as much as the “market will allow” – then, when we balk and use alternate airports – they simply fly off in a haze of jet exhaust, taking our publicly-funded giveaways and incentives with them. . .

Oh, well.

At least we’re getting a lot of “cool features” and terminal updates – which will be great – for the few who can still afford to pay the premium required to travel from our new and improved “hometown” airport.

Keep up the good work, Karl!  We need your unbridled enthusiasm around here.

That’s just my take on it.  Thanks for reading!

Stay cool and have a great weekend, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Volusia: Acts and Omissions

This shouldn’t come as any great surprise – but we’re being lied to.  Again.

Maybe it doesn’t rise to the level of the whoppers we’ve been told by our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County government over the years – but it’s a blatant untruth all the same.

Recently, News-Journal editor Pat Rice performed a practical test of sorts – challenging the veracity of a pedestrian walkway that was opened without much forethought at Protogroup’s “$192-million” Daytona Beach Convention Hotel & Condominiums project.

When work abruptly stopped on the north tower – after months of closure with a hideous hodgepodge of chain-link fencing – the developer finally opened a rudimentary beach access point as required by Protogroup’s development agreement with Volusia County.

Consternation over the walkway built when Volusia County inexplicably rolled over and completely abdicated its enforcement responsibility under the terms of a “Use, Easement and Access” agreement which ensured public beach access during construction of the monstrous project in exchange for closing the Oakridge Boulevard approach for construction purposes.

Some seven months ago, the intrepid Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, brought the issue to the attention of Volusia County – his concerns were met with exactly what we have come to expect.

For a time, we were led to believe that Councilwoman Billie Wheeler was championing the cause – questioning staff some three times over two-months.  (I guess our highly compensated county executive staff have the same level of respect for Ms. Wheeler that her constituents now do. . .) 

There were the usual denials from the developer and complete paralytic inaction by our elected and appointed officials in DeLand – followed by some moronic disavowal from our dimwitted County Council Chair, Ed Kelley.

Then, Old Ed – in a fit of hillbilly hysterics – demonstrated that whale-turd level of whatever the antithesis of leadership is when he described the easement contract with Protogroup as a “poorly-worded, hastily written agreement.”

“The only thing we can do is kill the project and tell them they have to stop the building.”

Jesus.

Last week, in response to beach access signage which clearly indicates the path is accessible to “pedestrians, strollers and wheelchairs,” Mr. Rice and another News-Journal editor attempted to navigate the sandy path through the fenced off heart of the half-active construction site while pushing a carriage simulating the weight of a child and beach gear.

He then wrote about the experience in a piece entitled, “Our newest beach access point may be the ugliest,” in Sunday’s News-Journal.

“It was slow going. The baby carriage’s wheels kept bogging down in the sand.  In the end, I pushed the baby carriage down the path.  But it wasn’t easy.”

What bothered me most was what Rice found at the end of the path – eleven wooden steps leading down to the beach – an obstacle that would make wheelchair access difficult, if not impossible.

That’s wrong.

In Mr. Rice’s article, he suggests that Protogroup, or “someone,” do the right thing and change the signage to ensure that the mobility impaired aren’t trapped, injured or worse simply because they want to enjoy a day at the beach.

In my view, that “someone” is those do-nothings at Volusia County government who entered into a legally binding agreement – then did absolutely nothing to ensure that residents and visitors retained reasonable access to our public beach.

Ultimately, the City of Daytona Beach was forced to deal with the issue amid slights and swipes from County administrators.

At the time, County Manager George Recktenwald said, “The city, which we have partnered on for many projects, I don’t think has been much of a partner in this case here.  This is the first time in my 21 years (with the county) I’ve ever encountered that another government didn’t support us or work with us.”

Which is total and unequivocal bullshit.

In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a case where any interaction between Volusia County and a municipality hasn’t dissolved into an ugly pissing match – complete with threats of lawsuits, angry ultimatums and outright bullying.

Perhaps when the U.S. Department of Justice is finished investigating the Volusia County School District for its alleged mistreatment of disabled children – it could find its way to launch an inquiry as to how running the gauntlet of this half-ass attempt at accessibility to a publicly maintained beach comports with the tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

In my view, the sad reality is – once again – you and I are left in the untenable position of being openly mislead by those compulsive liars in DeLand.

Because lying by omission by entering into a sham access agreement they had no intention of adequately enforcing is a blatant misrepresentation.

Unfortunately, not unexpected.

Earlier this week, we learned through a fluke that Volusia County has summarily banned inflatable amusements at county parks.

The policy wasn’t communicated through a press release – or broadcast by one of our highly-paid professional mouthpieces – and “official” action appears limited to a brief discussion at the June 18 County Council meeting.

This time, Volusia County taxpayers learned about new public policy through a newspaper article – only because the City of DeBary’s request for a “bounce house” at their Independence Day celebration was denied based on “safety” concerns.

Apparently, Volusia County’s “risk manager,” Charles Spencer, decided for the rest of us that slides and other inflatables create too much exposure:

“As a property owner, we have a duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition and to warn of known hazards,” Spencer wrote. “If something should happen alleging improper maintenance while in use (such as it not being properly secured or a defect that we should have discovered upon inspection while in use) that would likely fall back on the property owner and the party renting the bounce house.”

Yet, Mr. Spencer doesn’t have the same concerns over maintaining safe access to Volusia County’s most popular public asset – or warning the disabled of “known hazards” or improper maintenance as confirmed and reported by Pat Rice of The Daytona Beach News-Journal?

Where were our hand-wringing “risk management” experts when the “Beach Access Surface” sign lured unsuspecting persons with disabilities and families with infant children down a nearly impassible lane to a beach wholly maintained and totally controlled by Volusia County government?

I guess its easy to write officious memorandums from an air-conditioned office in DeLand – but actually getting off your ass and ensuring safe and proper beach access for Volusia County families is too much to ask?

What a sick joke. . .

As Albert Einstein once said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”