Angels & Assholes for September 20, 2019

Hi, kids!

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

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

Asshole           Florida’s Crippled Campaign Finance System

Way back in November 2016, I wrote a little ditty called “The Biggest Whorehouse in the World,” after former Governor “Slick” Rick Scott reappointed his buddy, Long John Miklos, to an unprecedented umpteenth term as head of the St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board.

As you may recall, Mr. Miklos owned a prolific environmental consultancy that had an incredible run of success ensuring his clients – generally big-time real estate developers – got what they damn well wanted from the very regulatory agency he oversaw.

In my view, Slick Rick was the poster boy for the statewide problem of quid pro quo corruption – and he had no qualms selling his soul, or the State of Florida, to anyone who passed a buck in his direction.

Over time, watching gubernatorial appointments and access to the highest echelons of political power sold to the highest bidder cemented my belief that we live in the most corrupt state in the union.

What’s changed?

This week, Gatehouse Media – who owns The Daytona Beach News-Journal – published a piece in the “painfully obvious” column about Governor Ron DeSantis’ penchant for openly selling influential appointments to various statewide boards and committees.

The Gatehouse reporter exposed a growing laundry list of campaign donors to something called “Friends of Ron DeSantis,” who magically ascended to posts on powerful boards from the State University System to the Jacksonville Port Authority, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and beyond.

To add insult, the Tampa Bay Times recently uncovered internal memorandums prepared by DeSantis campaign strategists that laid out a virtual smorgasbord of pay-to-play access – from golf outings, to dinners and short grip-n-grin meetings – the exorbitant price list made it clear that admittance to the inner sanctum remains out of reach for most Floridians.

The governor’s staffers made it clear that the pricing scheme was never implemented, but reality is in the eye of the beholder. . .

For instance, according to the Gatehouse report:

“Ron Howse, president of a Cocoa engineering and land planning company, was reappointed in August to the St. Johns Water Management District, after contributing more than $14,700 last year.  Howse also is chair of the Florida Transportation Commission, and last year helped DeSantis’s campaign by making his airplane available to the governor.”

Wow.  Friends indeed. . .

Look, I could have easily headed this Asshole segment with Governor DeSantis – or the name of any current or former politician from either party who has held statewide office in the last millennium – but the fact is, they’re just trying to stay afloat in the cesspit.

The real problem remains Florida’s sketchy campaign finance rules that have turned our political system into a cheap livestock auction.

And if you think its any different at the local level – think again.

In my view, we are “governed” by an entrenched oligarchy, where uber-wealthy individuals and industries have the ability to control their environment by purchasing the malleable loyalties of these uninspired dullards they perennially return to office.

Unfortunately – for reasons I’ve blathered about for years – We, The People are at least partially to blame.

Earlier this week, a long-time friend and loyal Barker’s View reader reminded me of an apt quote by the Savoyard philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, who said: “We get the government we deserve.”

Perhaps it’s time we stop deluding ourselves that our “rich and powerful” overseers are going to step-up and do what’s best for us, and begin populating the halls of power at all levels of government with responsive, independent and ethical servant-leaders with our best interests at heart.

Only then can we begin the monumental process of reforming local and state campaign finance laws and put an end to this pernicious pay-to-play system that has had such a damaging influence on our lives and livelihoods.

Angel               Jeff Brower, Candidate for Volusia County Council Chair

Speaking of responsive and ethical government. . .

Earlier this week, Volusia County residents got the first piece of good news we’ve had in a long while when Jeff Brower formally announced his candidacy for Volusia County Council Chair.

In my view, it’s time to change the cycle of ‘politics as usual’ in DeLand – and it’s good to see quality candidates like Jeff stand up and fight to return a sense of values-based governance to this dry and weary land.

In many ways, this is a true David and Goliath story – a simple man of integrity standing honorably against a money-fueled machine that seeks to perpetuate the status quo at all costs.

In my view, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has presided over one of the most dysfunctional eras in our illustrious history – a time when unchecked growth and suburban sprawl was mistaken for “progress” – and obfuscation, political sleight-of-hand and the brutalization of those with opposing viewpoints replaced ethical leadership.

When you consider how long Old Ed has championed the wants and whims of the Donor Class – virtually ignoring the needs of his long-suffering constituents to the exclusion of any reasonable sense of fairness – it becomes clear that Chairman Ed Kelley epitomizes the self-serving nature of the lopsided “system” he has worked so hard to protect.

I think we’ve had enough, don’t you?

Jeff Brower is an impressive guy.  He get’s it.

For many years, Jeff has worked diligently to identify waste, inefficiencies and mismanagement in County government and has served as a tireless advocate for accountability and responsive representation.

I also admire his community involvement, volunteerism and personal commitment to preserving our unique heritage of beach driving and access.

Most important, Jeff Brower knows that character counts.

I was impressed by the following from Jeff’s campaign website:

“Like you, Jeff is tired of voting for someone only to be pushed aside for the wishes of Volusia’s power brokers.  He  will be your voice and your vote on the council regardless of your economic or personal status.  You should be the special interest our county government is concerned about.  Our American principles and personal desire for a safe and secure life are in danger as families are confronted with an ever-growing tax burden, rising crime rates, intrusive government, and fiscal irresponsibility that leaves essential services under funded.  It seems as if our votes and voices no longer matter to the people we elect to represent us.”

“The county is the first line of defense to protect our liberty, neighborhoods and beautiful environment.  County government should provide an effective environment for superior public safety, transportation, education, recreation, and a safe and clean environment.  It should also encourage small business establishment and opportunity without picking winners and losers.”

To learn more about Jeff’s impressive commitment to the citizens of Volusia County, please go to: www.jeffbrowervcc1.com

Asshole           First Step Shelter Board

It’s official:  The First Step Shelter Board now has no one to blame but themselves. 

Last week, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm issued a memorandum extending the construction deadline on the beleaguered homeless assistance center for a fourth time – pushing the earliest possible completion date to November 11.

Look, I’m not going to call it a deadline, because experience has proven that things like performance guarantees or expecting contractors to live up to reasonable expectations, are unheard of in this festering quagmire we find ourselves in.

According to reports, even P$S Paving – the beneficiary of an incredibly lucrative land deal which allows them to mine and sell profitable fill dirt in exchange for site preparations – has only completed 85% of the required work. . .

Now, the contractor claims work was hampered when crews had to make “adjustments” to the building foundation built by P&S Paving (?) – along with months-long delays in getting electricity to the building (?).

Say what?

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, setbacks also include “Getting the concrete slab the building sits on dried out has also been slowed down by the site being prone to sogginess. . .”

Whoa.  I guess First Step should have used a smidgen of that fill dirt for its own needs, eh?

Whatever.

On Wednesday, the City of Daytona Beach approved the convoluted lease agreement – before the building is even habitable – so, it’s the neutered First Step Shelter Board’s problem now. . .

My God.  What a damnable mess.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

For those of you tuning in late:  On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council raised our property taxes by 4.8% – bringing the parasitic behemoth’s total annual budget to $980 million. 

You read that right.  Nearly One Billion Dollars.

In an article announcing the rate hike, Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark Harper quoted freshman Councilman Ben Johnson’s rather callous take on the county’s voracious appetite after voting to increase the burden on thousands of already tax-strapped constituents:

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said Wednesday. “You see the kind of audience we had, people thanking us for what we did.  We’ve had several letters to the editor, and most of them have been favorable. … I felt like we were very responsible with it.”

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Councilman Johnson (I hope) was referring to representatives of a few government-funded programs who appeared before their benefactors, hat in hand, and thanked the council for their very livelihoods – because I can assure him that none of my neighbors here in the “Real World” are looking at this obscene tax increase “favorably.”

In fact, everyone I’ve spoken with – from homeowners to businesses to elderly neighbors on fixed incomes to the guy on the barstool next to me – are pissed off beyond belief.

Some even speculate that the increase is punishment for our rejection of the half-cent sales tax. . .

Unfortunately, what our elected dullards are too arrogant to admit is that the collective silence of over 538,000 citizens does not equate to our tacit approval.

To the contrary.  It speaks to our longanimity.

Our deafening quiet is borne of a crippling resignation – the terrible realization that the average citizen can no longer afford political representation – so, we have no choice but to bend over and bear it.

We also learned this week that Volusia County’s wholesale attack on the will of the people in the form of its incessant challenge of Amendment 10 – a voter-approved measure to return constitutional sovereignty to several important county offices – will be heard by a state appeals court early next month.

Even before the election, Volusia County insiders worked hard to get the initiative removed from the ballot altogether, fearing that returning independence and external oversight to our sheriff, property appraiser, elections supervisor and tax collector – which, under the current charter, are relegated to little more than elected department heads reporting to a politically unaccountable manager – would disrupt the solidification of power.

When that initial challenge was denied – and the amendment was approved by voters statewide – a fractured county council directed our weaponized County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert to fight tooth-and-nail to overturn the vote of the people and shit on the very idea of a participatory democracy.

Now, the battle continues, with long-time political hangers-on crowing, ad nauseum, that the county charter – a governing document that was cobbled together in 1970 by a group of entrenched insiders to consolidate power in the hands of a few – should remain sacrosanct.

These tired graybeards – who ferociously preserve and protect the sanctity of their charter by strategically populating the once-per-decade review commissions with many who stand to directly benefit from the status quo – will fight to our last dollar to preserve a bastardized oligarchy that has worked well (for all the right last names, anyway) for nearly a half-century.

See why I’m so fond of campaign finance reform? 

Here’s hoping the appeals court stands on the foundational principles of our democracy and sides with We, The People in returning constitutional sovereignty and political accountability to these important county offices and put an end to Volusia County’s misguided assault on the citizens ability to control our system of governance.

Asshole           City of DeBary

I covered this in a piece last year about the fallout from the ‘Debacle in DeBary’ – and it’s hard to believe the reputation of a conscientious former employee is still being drug through the mud. . .

During the long, hot summer of 2016, I wrote a series of opinion essays on the political maelstrom that wracked the City of DeBary.

People still ask me why I expended so much stomach acid on the small west Volusia town, and I explain that if you care about good government in your community – you should care about good governance everywhere.

I live in God’s Country here in Ormond Beach (seriously, I heard he has a home in IL Villaggio. . .) but what happened in DeBary really bothered me.

DeBary’s disgraced former city manager, Dan Parrott – in my view, a congenitally crooked douchebag whose brand of ham-fisted revenge politics and open misogyny ultimately cost two good women their careers and the duly elected mayor his seat on the council – was ultimately responsible for this civic disaster.

He also cost the citizens of DeBary a ton of money.

One segment of the saga ended last spring when the taxpayers of DeBary (through their insurance premiums) paid for the sins of Dan Parrott by compensating former Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett some $250,000 to settle a federal gender discrimination suit.

In my view, that wasn’t nearly enough.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kassandra since her first job in municipal government.

In my experience, she is a consummate professional – bright, articulate, with a style and sense of humor that endeared her to staff, elected officials and the citizens she served.

Unfortunately, when Parrott took the helm of DeBary government, Ms. Blissett’s career trajectory arced like a lawn dart.

According to her March 2015 complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, female staff members were “subjected to ongoing, pervasive and offensive remarks and discriminatory actions on account of her gender” by Mr. Parrott.

An amended complaint alleged Parrott called Blissett and then city clerk, Stacey Tebo, “bitches,” and sullied Kassandra’s reputation by referring to her as “the county whore.”

In addition, the complaint accused Parrott of making other despicable comments in the workplace, opining that “women don’t think clearly because they are too emotional,” and complaining there was “too much estrogen” on staff.

Jesus.

Of course, neither Parrott, nor the City of DeBary, admitted wrongdoing – claiming Tebo’s suit was all part of some sinister plot to “undermine” the city manager.

Initially, Ms. Tebo lost her gender discrimination and retaliation suit against the City of DeBary and former City Manager Parrott – and she appealed the judgement to the United States Court of Appeals.

Earlier this month, the appellate court upheld the summary judgement dismissing Ms. Tebo’s discrimination suit; however, they reversed the district court’s decision as to her claim of retaliation, remanding it back to the federal district court.

How long will this ugliness continue?

In my view, DeBary’s City Attorney Kurt Ardaman has always been extremely generous when it comes to making work for his colleagues in Central Florida law firms – hiring outside counsel and dragging out issues, ad infinitum, has long been his stock in trade.

From the sloppy coup d’etat that toppled the former mayor, to countless investigations, nasty lawsuits, claims and negotiations – God knows what DeBary residents have paid in outside legal fees over the last five years. . .

In my view, it is high time the citizens of DeBary demand that the municipal government end this ongoing and incredibly expensive defense of the indefensible – reach an amicable settlement with Ms. Tebo – and put the ‘bad old days’ behind them once and for all.

Angel               City of Port Orange

Heroes remembered never die. . .

Kudos to the City of Port Orange for recently dedicating a boat ramp under the Dunlawton Avenue Bridge to the cherished memory of Senior Deputy Frank Scofield of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, who tragically lost his life in June while training for a law enforcement memorial bicycle ride.

During his impressive career, Senior Deputy Schofield served as a patrol deputy, a SWAT team member and spent the last 22-years as a proud member of the Marine Unit.

How appropriate to use this unique location – where families, friends and fishermen launch on adventures – to memorialize the life and legacy of a man who dedicated much of his career to protecting those who enjoy the waterways of Volusia County.

A fitting tribute to a gentle man who epitomized service above self.

Quote of the Week  

“I will not accept that. That should have been left outside. There’s no reason to bring in a twig. This is a place of  business.  I wouldn’t have that in my house, nor would you.” 

–County Chair Ed Kelley, curtly admonishing DeLand resident Tanner Andrews when he attempted to enter tree branches and leaves into the public record to demonstrate his utter frustration over the lack of dependable solid waste collection, Volusia County Council Chambers, September 17, 2019

When the curtain opens on the Kabuki theater that passes for Volusia County Council meetings, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, mumbles through a stern warning to any subject of the realm with the temerity to prostrate themselves at the feet of the monarchy and attempt to seek information or make a point to the Ruling Class.

He begins the boorish admonition by ordering those who have “filled out a card” to direct their silly questions to him alone, then reminds the assembled serfs not to expect a reply – or even acknowledgement of their physical existence – by the Great and Powerful seated on the publicly owned thrones before them.

Our exalted Chairman runs a tight ship (when it comes to citizen participation, anyway) holding the 30-minutes set aside for constituents to address their representatives inviolate – even to the point of cheating citizens out of their three-minute audience should there be more speakers than time allotted. . .

On Tuesday, DeLand resident Tanner Andrews patiently waited his turn to address The Crown.

Upon assuming the podium, Mr. Andrews brilliantly took command of the room – expertly defined the Pecking Order of Power under the Volusia County Charter – and accurately called those dullards on the dais mere “decoration” when reminding everyone that, under the charter, County Manager George Recktenwald actually makes the decisions. . .

In superb fashion, Andrew’s articulately explained that what passes for Volusia County’s Solid Waste department is useless – pointing out that yard trimmings from Hurricane Dorian preparations had yet to be removed from a county road near his home.

In turn, the sharp-witted Mr. Andrew’s asked that a bough of dry leaves and branches be entered into the public record and Old Ed recoiled – jowls aquiver – sputtering and fuming that the Council Chambers is a “place of business.”

Priceless.

Twigs 2
Twigs being forcibly escorted from the place of business. . .

Listening to Tanner Andrew’s take this shameless buffoon behind the woodshed restored my faith in the incredible courage and citizenship of those who speak truth to power.

Well done, sir!

And Another Thing!

On behalf of the Barker’s View Tribe, I want to extend all best wishes to Volusia County Vice Chair Dr. Fred Lowry who has been under the weather this week.

I don’t always agree with Dr. Lowry’s politics – but I have always respected his commitment and willingness to serve others in such a meaningful way.

Here’s wishing Vice Chairman Lowry a most speedy recovery.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

 

Photo Credit: Mark Harper, The Daytona Beach News-Journal (@markharper36)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Angels & Assholes for September 20, 2019

  1. Interesting, you had some relatively very kind words for Charlie Lydecker just a few months ago. Now you are clearly referencing him, though omitting his name, as player in DeSantis’ toxic pay-to-play culture. Different times, different motivations I suppose.

    Like

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