Getting away from the familiar has a way of changing our perspective through comparison.
My wife and I traveled to one of our favorite getaways this week – the quaint community of Thomasville in the Red Hills region of South Georgia – a place where creatives have discovered the civic magic in historic preservation and true community involvement.
I happen to like old places with a rich history; that feeling of continuity and the strength and stability of things that last.
For the second time since discovering Thomasville, we stayed at the Alexander House, a beautifully restored 1930’s home offered on Airbnb – with burnished hardwood floors, tongue-and-grove ceilings, a formal dining room that hearkens back to a more genteel era and one of the best home library’s in existence.
To me, there’s something special about sipping 12-year old whiskey on an old screen porch while the peal of a nearby church carillon announces the 5 o’clock hour. . .
The home is located just steps from the city’s picturesque downtown, which offers an eclectic selection of upscale boutiques, specialty gifts, coffee shops, craft cocktails and a variety of excellent restaurant experiences, all tied together by a vibrant arts scene.
By adopting sense-of-place initiatives into the regeneration of the community’s downtown, entrepreneurs are working closely with visionary city planners to develop mixed-use infill projects which incorporate living space in upper-levels of historic buildings to encourage a more walkable city center.
The plan is drawing people back to living downtown in beautifully renovated second and third floor housing spaces – bolstered by a complementary creative district that is repurposing existing facades to house artists, ceramicists, a yarn and fiber shop, galleries and other businesses with artistic leanings.
The citizens of Thomasville understand that for every dollar spent on historic preservation, five are returned to the local economy – the natural result when an eight-hour street transitions to an 18-hour street.
The comparative experience between the economic, civic and social progress of Thomasville and the stagnation of much of the Halifax area was palpable – and proved the benefit of evaluating the success of others and how those ideas might translate here at home.
For instance, residents of Thomasville have embraced the concept of the community “Charrette,” defined as “an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers.”
Rather than hiding projects behind cryptograms like “Project X” – they utilize whole community decision making to bring people together and seek innovative ideas and input during the planning phase – a process that builds a true sense of place and encourages early buy-in from all stakeholders.
Thomasville has shown that modern infrastructure can be placed below brick streets to honor the past while building a place where creativity and innovation can thrive, and by keeping things presentable, the community attracts people who can appreciate it.
Another difference I noted is that Thomasville has seen the intrinsic benefits of incorporating quality short-term vacation rentals into their tourism strategy, then use art and a festive event calendar to draw return visitors year-round.
Most of all, each time we visit, I am taken by the pride residents feel for their community.
As Michele Arwood, Executive Director of the Thomasville Center for the Arts recently wrote, “I love our town and our people, and the beautiful new streetscape that lies ahead. With its new sidewalks and budding trees, it seems to wave and say, “Hey, look at me. Look what I’ve become.”
Collaborative. Innovative. Visionary.
The power of a new way of thinking.
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:
This installment of our dubious weekly awards show is dedicated to those intrepid citizens who fought hard to see the Historic North Turn Beach Parade become a reality in 2020 – a hard-fought battle against forces that seek to remove beach driving through a variety of guises – and one that has opened the eyes of a shocked community.
Angel Paul Zimmerman, Sons of the Beach
Persistence is defined as continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.
In my book, it means ‘never quit.’
That ethos is embodied in civic activist Paul Zimmerman.
As president of Florida’s premiere beach driving advocacy, Sons of the Beach, Paul continues to fight against government overreach and the pernicious actions of political insiders who seek to monetize our most precious natural and economic resource.
Last week, Mr. Zimmerman wrote a cogent response to a recent upbraiding by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board.
For reasons known only to the newspaper, locals who have worked hard to preserve our century old heritage of beach driving were publicly reprimanded for questioning the motives of our weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, and his mysterious efforts to crush the incredibly popular North Turn Beach Parade.
In Sunday’s ‘Community Voices’ column, Mr. Zimmerman rightfully pointed out that Volusia County officials have strategically employed an overly restrictive interpretation of the Incidental Take Permit that protects sea turtles and other wildlife while permitting beach driving.
For years, the oligarchical insiders who control our elected officials have openly pushed for the removal of cars from the beach as a means of essentially privatizing sections of the shore as a cheap marketing tool for hoteliers who contribute heavily to the campaigns of sitting politicians.
Thanks in no small part to the efforts of Paul Zimmerman, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, Walt and Rhonda Glasnak and, my new hero, Congressman Bill Posey – earlier this week, after an interminable back-and-forth, the parade was begrudgingly approved by majority vote of the Volusia County Council.
If this ugly imbroglio over the fate of a two-hour beach parade did anything, it proved, once and for all, who this massive bureaucracy exists to serve – and exemplified the depth of dysfunction that is destroying any hope for substantive progress.
Angel Councilwoman Billie Wheeler & Walt and Rhonda Glasnak
Kudos to Walt and Rhonda Glasnak for proving that when your cause is righteous – it is possible to fight the dark forces of a government gone off the rails.
Many in our community were impressed by the Glasnak’s perseverance in standing against powerful forces who sought to eliminate this community event celebrating the heritage of racing on the original beach course in Ponce Inlet.
When Walt and Rhonda ran into a brick wall in the form of a suspicious legal opinion issued by the county attorney’s office – they enlisted the help of Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler – who began asking all the right questions and working hard to find the truth.
In my view, Councilwoman Wheeler well-earned the respect of her constituents – and proved how statesmanship and community-focused representation can expose bureaucratic impediments and foster substantive change.
On Tuesday, the Glasnak’s and parade supporters refused to capitulate to external pressure – in the form of Chairman Ed Kelley’s near-constant push to compromise their worthy goals for cheap political expediency.
In turn, residents of Volusia County got an interesting view of how county government has used the federal Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to limit beach access – and a new perspective on the abhorrent dysfunction that has become status quo in DeLand.
Thank you for your efforts to preserve the storied history of our community.
Asshole County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert
I spent the bulk of my adult life working and surviving in the politically charged environment of local government.
Time and again, I watched as long-time public servants overstayed their welcome, hanging onto a self-identity (and a paycheck) by their fingernails, as the environment around them went toxic and their opinions became worthless.
By all accounts, Dan Eckert is a good man. I don’t doubt that.
He has served the citizens of Volusia County for more than 40-years in an important role that isn’t known for its longevity.
In my opinion, somewhere Dan got off the boat and began serving the implied wants, whims and personal ambitions of the uber-wealthy insiders who control his bosses on the dais of power to the exclusion of any logical or legal alternative.
For the most part, that unspoken pact was okay for everyone who is anyone.
He kept things subtle, defensible and within the often-malleable boundaries of the charter – and the not-so-flexible margins of the law – while routinely meeting the selfish needs of those who use our campaign finance system to purchase the loyalties of hand-select politicians to ensure a clear conduit between public funds and for-profit projects.
No one really questioned the arrangement.
In my view, several years ago, at the direction of a wholly compromised council, Mr. Eckert went over-the-top when he sued his own constituents – stomping a grassroots advocacy who wanted nothing more than to have a modicum of public input in beach management decisions – then mounted a no-holds-barred appeal when Sons of the Beach attempted to stop the pernicious practice of removing beach driving from large sections of the strand as a cheap giveaway to speculative developers.
It was ugly and divisive.
But, like any good attorney, Mr. Eckert was a zealous advocate for his client – the Volusia County Council – even when the rest of us felt he was using our own money to fight against us.
(Don’t take my word for it, just ask the citizens of Daytona Beach Shores how it feels when Mr. Eckert is allowed off the leash. . .)
Mr. Eckert received a council mandate to mount a vigorous challenge to the voter approved Amendment 10 – a constitutional amendment which will return constitutional sovereignty to several elected county officials, including the Sheriff’s Office – and many began to sense he fought like a rabid badger when called to suppress the will of the people – yet transformed into a toothless lapdog whenever the issue was counter to that of our political overseers.
Then, things took a more sinister turn. . .
In July, Mr. Eckert sent a letter to the parade’s sponsors, Walt and Rhonda Glasnak, claiming that Volusia County had allowed the event for the past eight years 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.
There was little ambiguity in the risk involved: The complete removal of beach driving.
A subsequent investigation by Congressman Bill Posey’s staff directly contradicted Mr. Eckert’s dire prediction and proved conclusively that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service has essentially ceded decision-making authority for special event beach access to Volusia County.
When Mr. Eckert’s weird view of the ITP and subsequent maneuvering was publicly disputed by the official Congressional inquiry – Councilwoman Billie Wheeler felt she had been given misinformation.
Because she was.
On Tuesday, Mr. Eckert’s opinion became the basis of a theater of the absurd at the Volusia County Council meeting, where the findings and authorizations of the Fish & Wildlife Service were purposefully ignored, and any semblance of reason thrown out the bureaucratic window.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Eckert pitifully yammered and stammered through his clarification, holding firm to his blatant mischaracterization of the take permit like a soggy life preserver.
At the end of the day, Mr. Eckert’s “legal advice” was definitively ignored on a 5-2 vote when common sense, and the will of the people, was upheld when the community event was allowed to continue.
In my view, now it is time for Mr. Eckert to retire – quickly and honorably – from government and enjoy the financial rewards and well-deserved salutations that come from a life of public service – because his effectiveness as our county attorney has officially come to an end.
From this point forward, our elected and appointed officials – and the citizens they serve – will forever question Mr. Eckert’s motives and clarity.
Now, taking his professional advice will become the equivalent of drinking from a contaminated well.
It is time.
Quote of the Week
“I’ve never seen a meeting held like that before in all of my days. Typically, you take one vote at a time. It seemed to me like most of the council members up there had no idea what they were actually voting on.”
–Patrick Gavin, Executive Director for U. S. Congressman Bill Posey, aptly describing the utter dysfunction he witnessed during discussions regarding the fate of the Historic Legends North Turn Beach Parade at the Volusia County Council meeting, Tuesday, October 15, 2019.
Sometimes it takes the eyes of an outsider to call attention to the familiar things we long-suffering citizens of Volusia County have simply become accustomed to.
What happened at Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting was a damnable embarrassment and an affront to good governance everywhere.
Some will take me to task for not writing a glowing accolade to the five elected officials who ultimately voted to continue the beach parade. The fact is, this shouldn’t have been an issue to start with.
Besides, I’m not in the habit of congratulating a shit-show that happened to have a positive outcome.
In actuality, the vote to approve this popular event should have been no more than a perfunctory nod on a consent agenda – not an hours long descent into bureaucratic madness that gave onlookers a very public glimpse into the invalidity and sense of chaos that continues to afflict county government.
Personally, I blame our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, for what happened.
After nearly two-decades of masquerading as a public official, one would think that, over time, Old Ed would have (through osmosis, if nothing else) developed the ability to run a cogent, deliberative, organized meeting that results in strong, goal-oriented public policy.
Instead, he disrespectfully interrupts citizens and talks over his “colleagues” who are trying desperately to make a point, find clarity or question staff – then insinuates his own cockamamie, ill-informed views – and confuses the orderly discussion by mucking up established procedure in favor of his egotistical desire to serve his own convenience.
Unfortunately, far too often discussions on the dais are hijacked and turned into weird, disjointed self-promotions by the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – or used like a club to bash Council member Heather Post for actually questioning the why of an issue – while protecting do-nothing bureaucrats from even a modicum of external oversight.
All with a frightening degree of regularity that has become so familiar we have come to accept it.
As a result, public input into the issues of the day is considered an inconvenience – and the shadowy machinations and hegemonic opinions of entrenched influencers, like County Attorney Eckert, are considered sacrosanct – regardless of material evidence to the contrary.
But this “meeting” was something different – amending bullshit amendments to amendments in some terribly confusing tragicomedy of errors – an awkward and excruciatingly humiliating exercise that bears no semblance to the work of any legitimate governmental body.
Disgusting. And wholly disrespectful to the citizens of Volusia County.
As a taxpaying denizen of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast, I would like to issue a personal apology to Mr. Galvin – who has spent the past 23-years working in federal government and appropriately described these idiotic proceedings as “absurd” – for any post traumatic effects he may experience after being subjected to our unique form of “participatory democracy.”
My only hope is that he will go home and tell his boss just what we’re up against down here in Bizarro World. . .
Folks, this hopeless dysfunction simply cannot continue.
And Another Thing!
Now that so many have fought so hard to accomplish this important victory – let’s make sure we show our support by attending the 9th Annual North Turn Beach Parade on Saturday, February 8, 2020, sponsored by the Town of Ponce Inlet and (for the moment) Volusia County!
For more information, please go to: www.historicnorthturnbeachparade.com
That’s all for me! Have a happy and safe Biketoberfest everyone!