The idiom “The tail wagging the dog” describes a situation where an insignificant part of the whole – a person or group involved in something important – has too much influence and consistently reverses the dynamics of power.
The tenets behind this expression have been the governing factor in Volusia County politics for years.
A system that permits uber-wealthy insiders to control public policy by purchasing the rights to malleable politicians through massive campaign contributions – giving sway to individuals and industries who long-ago discovered the profit potential in underwriting private projects with public funds.
Regardless of the pursuit, it seems the wants and whims of those who can still afford political representation always outweigh the needs of those of us who pay the bills.
Then, when we ‘little people’ have the temerity to question the why of things, or take the initiative to develop successful events that benefit the community and contribute to the local economy, invariably, outside forces apply pressure to just the right part of Volusia County’s massive bureaucracy and We, The People are told to sit down and shut up.
Like an abusive suzerain, the ensuing heavy-handed governmental intrusion in our lives destroys our sense of place, crushes the volunteer spirit and undermines the intrinsic social benefits of community-based events.
Since 2012, a grassroots group of racing historians have organized, staffed and managed the Historic North Turn Legends Parade – an annual event during Speed Weeks celebrating the storied past of auto racing on the old beach course that was used prior to the advent of Daytona International Speedway.
The one-of-a-kind exhibition of vintage race cars on the sand creates a spectacular visual for the hundreds of spectators from around the world who gather in Ponce Inlet for the event.
Inexplicably, earlier this year, our weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, unilaterally decided that the Legend’s Parade would not be permitted in 2020.
In July, Eckert sent a letter to the parade’s sponsors, Walt and Rhonda Glasnak, claiming that Volusia County had allowed the event by “mistake,” and that permitting vehicles on that section of the beach constituted a violation of the county’s Incidental Take Permit (ITP) issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designed to protect sea turtle nests.
There was little ambiguity in the risk involved. . .
According to Mr. Eckert, permitting the parade could have the catastrophic effect of jeopardizing beach driving on the precious few miles that are still open to vehicles:
“The ITP must be renewed in 2030. It would be ironic if an event whose purpose in part is to celebrate the history of racing on the beach factored in the ultimate demise of all vehicular access on the beach.”
As it turns out, Mr. Eckert’s statement was complete horseshit.
Worse, it appears he knew it at the time. . .
I guess Ol’ Dan hadn’t banked on the fact that the intrepid Glasnak’s would ask for outside help from parade supporter and United States Congressman Bill Posey, who represents Florida’s 8th District in Brevard County.
A subsequent investigation by Representative Posey’s staff directly contradicted Mr. Eckert’s “explanation,” and proved conclusively that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has essentially ceded decision-making authority for special event beach access to Volusia County.
In fact, the Fish & Wildlife Service reported it has supported allowing the parade each February – which is held outside turtle nesting season in compliance with the county’s federally mandated Habitat Conservation Program.
Not taking ‘yes’ for an answer, in a bizarre twist, Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman aggressively challenged the findings of the very federal agency who issued the permit – now claiming the parade violates state law governing vehicles on coastal beaches?
When Mr. Eckert’s shenanigans were publicly exposed by Representative Posey’s inquiry – several sitting Volusia County council members felt they had been intentionally duped.
Because they were. . .
Last week, Paul Zimmerman, president of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, met with Jennifer Winters, Volusia County’s Protected Species Specialist, who administers the Incidental Take Permit and Habitat Conservation Program.
According to Ms. Winters, in 21-years there have been no adult sea turtles killed on Volusia County beaches – none – and the remaining “take” is so negligible that county officials have received just one minor concern from the USFWS over the life of the permit.
In fact, according to Ms. Winters, the permit has been amended multiple times and the county has never been found out of compliance.
(I mean, if allowing the Hard Rock Daytona – with its 410-feet of traffic free beach – to detonate a professional fireworks display on the beach for its invitation only grand soiree for politicians and their benefactors on the first evening of turtle nesting season isn’t a violation, I doubt a well-managed two-hour parade poses a hazard. . .)
Despite the facts, Dan Eckert and his staff have wielded the Incidental Take Permit like a club.
Why would a publicly compensated attorney consistently misinterpret the federal permit to restrict beach access and intimidate citizens, bureaucrats and elected officials for years?
In my view, Ol’ Dan is merely facilitating the objectives of those who truly control public policy in Volusia County.
Just like always. . .
For decades, uber-wealthy political insiders, to include His Majesty Hyatt Brown – under a variety of civic guises and political insulation façades – have vehemently opposed beach driving, believing that allowing speculative property developers to use “traffic free” beaches as a cheap marketing tool should take precedence over our heritage of public access.
From our oligarchical overlords and their professional flatterers on the dais of power – to the useless convention/visitors/tourism gurus and the marketing hacks they pay to tell them exactly what they want to hear – the entire “system” continues to push the goal of those with the financial wherewithal to control their environment: The effective privatization of our beaches.
To permit the Legend’s Parade in 2020 is to publicly admit that 21-years of scare tactics and legal bullying was all smoke-and-mirrors – a cheap Sword of Damocles hanging precariously over the heads of residents – a damnable lie which has been trotted out so many times that we have come to believe the hype.
Now that Mr. Eckert has been caught out, “county staff” would have us believe that he is somehow kowtowing to Shirley Reynolds – who filed the original federal lawsuit which resulted in the Incidental Take Permit and Habitat Conservation Plan over two decades ago – and is once again stirring the pot all the way from her home in Colorado. . .
It seems “Cujo” turns into a toothless lapdog when he’s up against anyone other than his own constituents. . .
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Shirley Reynolds, a long-time New Smyrna Beach resident who now lives in Colorado, told The News-Journal that she would be “outraged, but not at all surprised” if the County Council elects to go against its attorneys views and allow the racing Legends parade to continue in an area of the beach where cars are not supposed to be.”
Of course, the “news” that Ms. Reynolds has once again stuck her nose into the issue gave our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, the perfect excuse to flip-flop and support Dan Eckert’s manipulation of the facts over the concerns of his constituents. . .
No offense – but who gives a shit what Shirley Reynolds thinks?
She had a bite at the apple – now, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has spoken.
The Volusia County Council will have yet another opportunity to prove to their long-suffering constituents who really sets public policy when they take up the fate of this incredibly popular parade later today.
Will the tail once again wag the dog?
Time will tell. . .
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal