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.

 

 

 

 

 

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