Best of Barker’s View: If you build it, they can’t come. . .

Angels & Assholes will return next Friday!  Until then, here’s something to contemplate:

Three years ago, I published the following piece on the still festering issue of denying public transportation to Tomoka Town Center, Tanger Outlet and the western reaches of Boomtown Boulevard.  

And nothing of substance has changed. 

We’re still being held hostage – told that a simple reroute of an existing bus line will cost us “$871,510, including $483,435 for the purchase of a bus.”

I think its patently clear that some retail management types and certain public officials, who spent $4.5 million of our money to underwrite Tanger Outlet alone, would prefer that the great masses of unwashed undesirables – the poor, the disabled, the “wrong demographic” – not have access to the tony shopping complex, or, inexplicably, the jobs they sought to create with a liberal dose of our hard-earned tax dollars. 

So, let’s take a walk down memory lane and have a look at a Barker’s View post from November 2016. 

When you’re done – take a gander at the front page/above the fold piece in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Still no Votran to Tanger area,” and ask yourself, with former County Manager Jim Dinneen now retired and off to greener pastures, “What’s changed?”:

“No bus service planned for Tanger Outlets Mall”

Really?

This morning I read an informative piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal reporting on the County of Volusia’s shortsighted refusal to extend Votran bus service to the new Tanger Outlet Mall.

In essence – Volusia officials are money-grubbing again, and the abject arrogance expressed by the County’s top transportation official tells me County Manager Jim Dinneen is pulling the strings on this one.

Last year, the County Council voted to approve an agreement to contribute $2.25 million to the Tanger development – while Daytona Beach city commissioners approved the expenditure of an additional $2.25 million for roads, water and sewer pipes, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

The highly anticipated 39-acre, $100 million-dollar retail center is set to open later this week.

Now, county officials would have us believe that they failed to allocate funds for public transportation service to the outlet mall.

They can’t be that stupid.

Can they?

Like everything else in Volusia County, the devil is in the details.

After throwing a collective $4.5 million of our tax dollars into a private retail development we’re told that the critical element of public transportation won’t be available.

The reason?  No money.

According to Steve Sherrer, general manager of our county operated bus system, “There is currently no funding in Votran’s operating budget to support new service to the Tanger mall.”

In Volusia County’s typical over-the-top fashion –  Sherrer would have us believe that adding a short connection to an important economic driver like Tanger would cost between $300,000 to $400,000 a year – not counting the cost of vehicles.

Bullshit.

According to Google Maps, using the North Williamson Boulevard route from the nearest Votran stop on LPGA Boulevard, the distance is approximately one-half mile.  Too far for the elderly or disabled to walk – especially on a hot summer day – but a short five-minutes by bus.

In June of last year, Sherrer sent a letter to the City of Daytona Beach asking if they would be interested in funding bus service for Tanger Outlets and the nearby Trader Joe’s distribution center.

Seem weird?  You bet it is.

In turn, Assistant City Manager Betty Goodman responded, “It is surprising that Votran’s opinion is that expense for the new service would need to be borne by the city.  As I’m sure you are aware, we do not have any budget for Votran service routes.”

Surprising indeed.

According to Sherrer, “We certainly recognize that Tanger is going to be a legitimate trip generator, but if I don’t have any money in my budget (to add Votran service to the outlet mall) how am I supposed to provide it?” he asked. “I reached out to the city but I can’t twist their arm.”

When asked by the News-Journal whether Votran has sought funding assistance from the outlet mall itself, Sherrer said, “We have not heard from Tanger, but I haven’t picked up the phone (to speak with them).”

Of course not.

Why would the general manager of our public transportation system consider “picking up the phone” and communicating with the area’s most touted retail destination in years to discuss alternatives to a problem everyone saw coming over a year ago?

I suppose it comes from the same mindset that fails to budget – or at least plan for the system flexibility necessary to address a legitimate public need.

Let me get this right: We use millions in public funds to create ‘jobs’ – then fail to provide a means of access to workers who rely on public transportation – and the shoppers who will ultimately make or break our investment.

Tragic.

In most competently managed and accountable organizations – Mr. Sherrer would be called on the carpet and summarily fired for his incompetence, lack of strategic planning, piss-poor budgetary oversight, and the condescending tone of his public communications on a matter of community concern.

(In January 2018, Mr. Sherrer was “moved to a new role” with RATP Dev, the company Volusia County contracts with to manage our public transportation system.  In that role, Mr. Sherrer is, “providing oversight services to transit systems in the eastern United States, including Votran.”)

As I’ve previously said, once again a situation erupts that exposes the depth of dysfunction in County government and begs the obvious question: “When is it appropriate to hold public officials accountable”?

In the Dinneen administration the answer is never.

In government, as in most progressive private organizations, accountability exists when a responsible individual, and the services they provide, are subject to critical oversight. This occurs when the responsible party is required to provide articulable justification for their actions, omissions, expenditures, planning, and performance.

A practice especially important for government officials at the executive level whose decisions can have wide-ranging and very expensive implications – such as the management of our public transportation system.

Despite overwhelming evidence that Mr. Dinneen is incapable of holding his senior staff responsible for their continuing pattern of gross mismanagement – a serious problem that has been the hallmark of his tenure – rather than demand accountability, our elected officials continue to praise Dinneen’s performance, and reinforce his behavior.

Ridiculous.

You want to know what is truly the most serious issue Volusia County residents face?

It is the staggering level of incompetence, government waste and resource mismanagement during Jim Dinneen’s administration – and a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this atrocious malfeasance to continue.

Now, as always, Volusia County is crying poor-mouth and threatening service cuts to taxpayers as a means of shirking yet another county responsibility.

Call it what it is – extortion.

You want transportation to the most heralded addition to the Halifax area’s retail scene in over 20-years?

Then pay us what we demand – or walk.

Disgusting.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Happy Thanksgiving!

To the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe:

I have always believed that there is room for an alternative point-of-view in Volusia County.  An opinion beyond the government soundbites and spin – a blog site that holds those in positions of high responsibility accountable.

Something that lets our ‘powers that be’ know the great unwashed masses are watching.

I believe we are making a difference.  All thanks to your loyal readership and activism.

Writing Barker’s View has been incredibly cathartic for me, and it continues to be a source of pride that has returned a sense of purpose and much-needed social interaction – while the process of contemplating issues and writing my thoughts continues to keep my mind limber.

I also sincerely appreciate the many wonderful relationships this blog has allowed me to cultivate in the community.  Barker’s View has supported my long-held belief that we all want to be listened to – and have our opinions considered and valued by those who establish public policy.

Thank you for listening to mine.

At the end of the day, I’m still just a guy in my boxer shorts banging out foul screeds when I feel citizens are being marginalized, abused or taken advantage of by their local government  – but your response to the message, acceptance of my delusions and incredible friendship have been a true blessing in my life.

The best part of this forum is hearing your feedback, discussing differing opinions and arguing the fine points, because, in my view, that drives a larger discussion of the myriad problems we face in our community.

Sometimes you agree with me – other times you vehemently disagree – but we can remain friends and perhaps gain a better perspective through the civil debate of ideas.

I can’t think of anything more purely American than that.

On this Thanksgiving 2019, please accept my sincere thanks and deep appreciation for your loyalty, friendship, and for taking time out of your busy day to read, think and form an opinion on the critical issues and newsmakers of the day.

It’s important.

May God bless each of you, your families, and our men and women in uniform at home and abroad – our military and first responders – who go into harm’s way to protect us everyday.

From the Barker Family to yours – Happy Thanksgiving!

Beyond Thunderdome. . .

When did recipients of public funds stop communicating with those who pay the bills? 

More important, when did We, The People begin tolerating it?

Recently, the wonderful community newspaper, The West Volusia Beacon, reported that during a five-week period in October and early November, members of the DeLand Police Department responded to at least eight fights – and arrested some 14 children, ages 11 to 14 – at DeLand Middle School.

During the same time frame, officers responded to the school 87 times for both routine issues and to investigate assaults, battery, fighting, suicide threats and to take children into protective custody under the Baker Act, which indicates they were a threat to themselves or others.

A deeper dive found that during the 2017-18 school year, nearly 30% of the student population of the school was given in-school or out-of-school suspensions, or placed in an alternative education program.

Did you hear anything about it? 

Neither did the parents of vulnerable DeLand Middle School students. . .

According to reports, when parents are notified of violence and disorder at the Thunderdome, it comes in the form of frantic calls from their kids, social media posts or a network of parents – not school administrators.

In fact, Amaria Dirch, the parent of a sixth grader, said it’s not uncommon to call the school, repeatedly, with no answer – or leave messages that are never returned.

“Instead of the school administration, Dirch said, she relies on her daughter, other parents, and social media to know when something has happened.  “It doesn’t seem like they care,” Dirch said. “If I didn’t show my face out there every other week, they would throw her to the wolves.”

Wow.

Perhaps most disturbing, the school’s administrators – including the new principal, John R. De Vito, refused to be interviewed by The Beacon.

“Likewise, the DeLand Police Department did not respond to The Beacon’s requests to interview the school resource officer assigned to DeLand Middle School or anyone else in the Police Department who could speak about the situation.”

Ultimately, The Beacon was shunted to the Volusia County School’s Community Information Office – that citadel of non-communication, evasion and obfuscation that protects senior administrators from outside oversight – who, in turn, also blew the newspaper off – refusing to allow a reporter to interview anyone in the publicly funded school system.

Eventually, a highly paid district mouthpiece issued a canned release which, per usual, said nothing – other than spewing some responsibility-dodging crap about “taking matters seriously. . .”

My ass.

Fortunately, our new Volusia County School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Fritz reached out to The Beacon and reassured a concerned community that he would look into the problems at DeLand Middle “fairly quickly” when he takes the helm on December 2.

“If the school is experiencing regular encounters, something is going on in the community. We can’t solve only at the school level, we have to reach out to the community,” Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz said.”

(Note to Dr. Fritz:  I think you will find this has little to do with the delightful community of DeLand – and everything to do with the abject mismanagement, legacy of incompetence and strategic neglect of essential district services you will inherit early next week. . .)

Look, I am personally grateful that Dr. Fritz took the time to speak with the working press – his worried constituency deserve to hear directly from those they have elected and appointed to represent their interests, especially in a crisis.

In my view, any “public servant” – especially those in a senior leadership role – who won’t openly communicate with the public they ostensibly serve are cowards who dishonor their sacred obligation of accessibility and transparency.

And that breeds frustration, animosity and distrust.

Sound familiar?

If you live in Volusia County, it should.

Here on Florida’s Fun Coast, our political leadership have adopted a “loose lips sink ships” policy which keeps the people’s business among the tightly circled wagons of insiders – and employs politically unaccountable government gatekeepers to ration information to the masses in a manner and form most advantageous to preserving the status quo.

In my view, this tight-lipped strategy is counter to the time-honored idea that “an informed public is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment,” and a slap in the face to our cherished democratic principles.

I sincerely hope that Dr. Fritz uses this unfortunate early experience as an indicator of just how far the publicly funded system he will soon oversee has gotten from the core values and considerations that citizens should rightly expect from a massive authority they support with their hard-earned tax dollars.

 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 22, 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           First Step Shelter Board

You’re not going to believe this – because I certainly don’t – but this week we learned that the long-awaited First Step Shelter will open its doors to homeless persons seeking assistance (and their law enforcement escorts) on December 16 – and welcome other unfortunates not in police custody, so long as they make an appointment in advance. . .

After years of fits and starts, the long-suffering citizens of Volusia County are being told that, in less than a month, the languishing shelter will be staffed and operational – even though the facility has “. . .a few major tasks left uncompleted.”

According to a report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, those odds-and-ends include:

“There’s no hot water yet because a valve is needed for the propane gas that will heat water. There is no phone or Internet service yet because there’s no agreement with a provider. Washers and driers haven’t arrived yet.

All security equipment has yet to be installed, and contracts still need to be finalized with the two companies that will supply security employees and equipment such as cameras and high-tech door locks. A large portion of the bare concrete floor has to be ground down and covered with a stain, urethane and a new mat finish.

Outside, work has yet to start on building the fenced-in “safe zone” where homeless people can stay for part of a day when they’re accused of committing a minor crime and exercise their legal right to choose the spartan holding area over jail.”

Oh, and the parking lot is only half paved – you know, to save money and all.

I guess our partners at P$S Paving have given all they can. . .darn the luck, eh?

Other than that, folks, it’s all “rah-rah-sis-boom-bah!” out in the hinterlands on US-92.

Unfortunately, things remain clear as mud over here in the Real World.

Don’t take my word for it.

Even our new First Step Executive Director, Victoria Fahlberg, has been kept in the dark on when the controversial “safe zone” – perhaps the most important element of the entire operation – will ultimately be completed.

According to Director Fahlberg, she “heard” plans are being drawn up – but, “. . .that’s all I know for now.”

Even the contractor doesn’t know for sure if his company will be asked to construct the safe zone if/when plans for the spartan “safe zone” are complete.

But if/when it is finished, it appears only the security officer monitoring the area 24/7 will be provided shelter from the elements in the form of a “guard shack.”

We’re also unsure of the zone’s size, whether the floor will be a poured pad or bare dirt, how much the site will cost – or who will ultimately pay for it. . .

Weird.

I wouldn’t look for much more in the way of hard information in coming weeks.  Even our neutered “representatives” on the First Step Shelter Board continue to be openly ignored by the City of Daytona Beach.

That’s what happens when you sign a lease on a half-finished building which only provides a modicum of control over the operation and absolutely no authority over the still active construction. . .

On a positive note, the News-Journal also reported:

“When everything is in place and the Catholic Charities shelter staff that will operate it has been trained, clients will be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis, Fahlberg said. Those not brought in by law enforcement officers will need to make an appointment to be considered for a bed inside the shelter, she said.”

In my 31-years of dealing with the homeless population, one thing I came to respect is their painstaking attention to detail and Swiss watch punctuality when making appointments and keeping commitments. . .

But I continue to hope for the best.  Because hope is all we’ve got at this point.

Last weekend, my wife and I were driving home on a rather blustery Saturday night after enjoying dinner in downtown Daytona Beach.

As we stopped for a traffic light on Ridgewood Avenue, we saw two mounds of tattered blankets heaped in the filthy doorway of a long-shuttered business – then heard the croupy rattle of a tubercular cough emanating from under the makeshift shelters.

Unfortunately, neither of us were shocked by the scene.

God help us.

Like thousands of other Halifax area residents (and potential donors) over time, we’ve become numb to that all-to-familiar level of human suffering on our streets – and the foot-dragging and political gamesmanship that has denied this vulnerable population help for too damn long.

I just hope those two hopeless souls Patti and I encountered make their appointments – then begin the long, arduous march toward whatever assistance the First Step Shelter will ultimately provide before the cold, damp winds of winter begin to blow. . .

Angel              Coach Alvin Wyatt, Sr. & Coach Steve Ridder

From the Barker’s View Sports Desk:

This was a banner week for Halifax area collegiate sports with two legendary coaches reaching milestones in their impressive careers.

Last week, it was announced that renowned Bethune-Cookman University Coach Alvin B. Wyatt, Sr. is one of five 2020 inductees into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame!

According to B-CU Athletics, the former Wildcat football All-American took over as head football coach in 1997, leading Bethune-Cookman to their first-ever Division I bowl game in 1998 when the Wildcat squad appeared in the Heritage Bowl.

“Wyatt is both the all-time winningest coach in Bethune-Cookman football history at 90-54 and in women’s basketball program with a career mark of 245-207 from 1978-96 that includes the 1984 MEAC Tournament championship with a 62-61 overtime win over South Carolina State and an 84-63 victory over Rust in the 1981 AIAW Regionals.”

Congratulations, Coach Wyatt, on this richly deserved recognition for your lifetime of dedicated service to B-CU Athletics and a grateful community.

Equally impressive is Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Basketball Coach Steve Ridder, who earned his 700th career win on the first night of the 2019 Daytona Mitsubishi/Kia Shootout beating Spring Hill College 109-76.

Eagle Basketball reports, “For Ridder, his 700 victories came in just 986 games over 31 seasons with Embry-Riddle. He is the 29th coach to get all 700 wins at one school and the 16th active coach in collegiate men’s basketball to reach the 700-win plateau.”

 Kudos to Coach Ridder and Coach Wyatt for their incredible contributions to area collegiate sports – and, by their shining example, for  positively influencing the personal, athletic and scholastic development of our leaders of tomorrow.

Well done, gentlemen.

Asshole           Daytona Beach City Commission

It’s been clear for some time now, that – damn the torpedoes – the City of Daytona Beach will steam full speed ahead with their expanded “plan” to turn downtown Beach Street upside-down early next year.

Although the Daytona Beach City Commission did a good job feigning tacit interest in the concerns of frightened business owners and critics who believe that tearing up the current streetscape, only to replace it with another streetscape, will crush many small businesses – it has been clear for weeks that this was a fait accompli.

According to reports, the multi-million-dollar plan to reduce traffic lanes (?) and widen sidewalks will begin in February, with completion expected sometime in “early” 2021. . .

During Wednesday’s Daytona Beach City Commission meeting, the elected officials sat up straight and tall as His Royal Highness J. Hyatt Brown –  and Dr. Kent Sharples of that secret society at the CEO Business Alliance – did their Smithers and Mr. Burns act – sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the front row – which is the patented “Halifax area High Sign” that signals to their hired chattel on the dais of power how to vote.

The Academy Award for Best Dramatic Performance went to Mayor Derrick Henry for his eerily convincing recital that the commission asked City Manager Chisholm for a “plan” to assist and promote businesses during construction, “should we decide to move forward” – almost as if the result wasn’t a foregone conclusion. . .

In perhaps his best Ebenezer Scrooge impersonation to date – Mr. Brown sealed the deal when he admonished his assembled subjects that he “was going to have to reconsider some things in the $18 million rebirth of Riverfront Park” if the streetscape project doesn’t proceed.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Brown said he’s been looking at spending up to $775,000 for a state-of-the-art splash pad in the park. But research shows mothers won’t want to cross four lanes of traffic to get to a splash pad, he said.”

 “I don’t want to spend that amount of money if it’s two lanes,” said Brown, chairman of the board of insurance broker giant Brown & Brown.”

Wow.

His Majesty has no qualms taking a splash park away from the very children who are now saddled with the exorbitant bill for upkeep on his “Grand Esplanade” for the next 50-years if he doesn’t get his way on Beach Street.

You see, it doesn’t matter if the long-suffering villeins of Daytona Beach ponied up millions of dollars in tax abatements and infrastructure to underwrite Mr. Brown’s over-hyped insurance building on Beach Street, The Monarchy rules – and if you don’t bend over and submit to the King’s every fancy – “No splash park for you!”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way things are “accomplished” here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast. . .

Just one question:  How long are We, The People going to be held hostage by what Mr. Brown will and won’t do in Riverside Park if our elected officials don’t acquiesce to his every whim?

Angel              Ponce Inlet Police Chief Frank Fabrizio

On Monday, Ponce Inlet Chief of Police Frank Fabrizio announced he will be stepping down next month, culminating some 37-years of committed public service – the last seven to the grateful citizens of the Town of Ponce Inlet.

I can attest to the fact that, even on a good day, a police chief’s job is a hard dollar – and those who do it well deserve our respect.  In my view, few have done better by their department and community during these challenging times than Frank Fabrizio.

I have steadily admired his handling of several high-profile incidents that rocked the quaint seaside town.  Perhaps most memorable was his unyielding support for residents who were outraged by the gruesome beating death of a Labrador puppy in 2017.

The tragic incident galvanized many – both in Ponce Inlet and around the globe – who banded together and fought hard to seek legislation that ultimately became known as “Ponce’s Law” – which will bring stiff penalties to those foul pieces of human excrement who would torture and kill defenseless animals.

The law, which went into effect on October 1, will permit judges to ban convicted abusers from owning a pet, place their names in a database of shame and increase the likelihood that these sadistic offenders will be sentenced to jail time for their horrific crimes.

In my view, his efforts to assist the passage of this important legislation speak to Chief Fabrizio’s character – and the depth of his personal concern for the community.

Chief Fabrizio also dealt with the internecine squabbles that befall all law enforcement agencies from time-to-time – to include the internal and external criticism that can make the job incredibly difficult – and extract an equally hard personal toll.

After a stellar career with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Fabrizio was appointed by Town Manager Jeaneen Witt in January 2012, following the death of my dear friend and close colleague, the incomparable, Chief Wayne Lurcock, who passed away unexpectedly the previous September.

As Chief Fabrizio departs, Ms. Witt has tapped veteran Lieutenant Mark Walker to lead the agency forward until a new chief is named.

In my view, having known and worked closely with Lt. Walker for over three-decades, you will not find a more dedicated or able public servant anywhere.

I’m proud to call Mark my friend.

Lt. Walker’s quick wit and incredible skill – both as a servant-leader and police administrator – are only eclipsed by those hard to define “people skills” that endear him to those he serves and the officers in his charge.

My sincere hope is the Ponce Inlet Town Council will consider appointing Mark Walker to the position, rather than engage in an expensive and unnecessary search.

Congratulations to Chief Fabrizio on your well-deserved retirement from a lifetime of exemplary public service – and thank you for a job well done, sir.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

Another stage production of “Ed Kelley’s Cornpone Carnival” is in the books – and, as usual, our doddering fool of a County Chair didn’t disappoint. . .

If you’re not attending these obscene shit shows in person, I completely understand.

I don’t either.

After all, most people work during, well, business hours on Tuesdays and simply can’t be there (I think that’s the plan) – but that shouldn’t stop you from tuning in for the live feed online.

Best slapstick in town. . .

In this week’s episode, two concerned constituents who live in unincorporated Ormond-by-the-Sea attempted to address the still raw topic of septic-to-sewer conversion on the north peninsula.

Before the first citizen could formally address his elected representatives, Chairman Kelley –  clearly annoyed that he had to speak with a commoner – began abdicating any county responsibility for the utility issue with his patented histrionics and a disjointed lecture that had a chilling effect on both citizens, who took time out of their lives to appear before their haughty overlords in DeLand.

When the second resident took exception to being publicly scolded by the very elected body who ostensibly represents her interests – she logically asked Old Ed, if he doesn’t represent north peninsula residents, “Why are you here?”

Damn fine question.

Unfortunately, that legitimate query triggered Chairman Kelley, who initiated a shouting match with the residents after they left the podium in disgust.

The disturbing back-and-forth included Mr. Kelley’s always petty, not-so-veiled, swipes at Councilwoman Heather Post – and culminated with his unhinged raving from the dais, “I am not the bad guy!”

Wild.

In my view, it was one of Old Ed’s better Captain Queeg moments. . .

As the Theater of the Absurd continued (I don’t want to say “progressed,” it didn’t) – following a super-secret selection process known only to County Manager George Recktenwald – we witnessed the anointment of a Jonathan Edwards as our long-anticipated Internal Auditor.

During the discussion, unidentified “critics” were taken to task from the dais for even suggesting that Mr. Edward’s appointment was a slap-dash, thrown together decision – with Councilwoman Post alluding to the fact our elected officials apparently held surreptitious off-the-record interviews with Edward’s at some point in the recruitment “process.”

Were you invited to participate in Mr. Edward’s selection and vetting? 

Were you aware of other finalists, if any, that Mr. Edward’s may have competed against for the job?

Were you told what selection criteria was used – asked to provide interview questions – or advised of what qualifications and experience put Mr. Edward’s over the top?

Will Edward’s be permitted to make direct referrals to law enforcement on instances of fraud, misuse of public funds, theft, false representation, misappropriation of public resources, etc. – or will the county’s legal department and senior leadership make that decision?   

Are you aware of what he’s being paid, who he reports to, if his office will be internal or external, what administrative or investigative assistance is he being provided, or even what his responsibilities and scope of authority will be?

Me neither. . .

Look, all I know is that one month ago – on October 24, 2019, to be exact – The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported in an informative piece by Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Volusia still hasn’t hired internal auditor,” there was absolutely no mention of Edwards, or anyone else, being considered for this highly sensitive role.

Why is that? 

And how did we go from zero interest to making a job offer in fifteen working days?

I don’t know about you, but for a highly-touted position that was resurrected following the universal distrust of county government that saw the death of a very expensive sales tax initiative – and has destroyed the public’s trust – one would have thought the recruitment and selection process might have been slightly more transparent?

Even during the confirmation process at the public meeting – all we really learned about our new auditor is that he was a deputy finance officer in some suburb of Charleston, that, according to Ed Kelley’s razor-sharp insight, has some great bar-b-que and seafood restaurants. . .

No word on his success as a public finance watchdog.

Once again, what could have given constituents a feeling of buy-in and substantive participation was dashed by Volusia County’s cloistered, almost psychopathic, need for secrecy and backroom machinations.

Whatever.

Good luck, Mr. Edwards – whoever you are. . .

Quote of the Week

“Enjoy the wooded ride on Maytown Road with its beautiful plant life and possible wildlife sightings while you can.  For soon, thanks to the greed of investors/developers and attorneys, 30,000 or so houses will be built.  How many creatures will be displaced or eliminated?  How many plants will join the growing list of plant extinction?  Prepare for the demise of our aquifer, urban sprawl, and all its problems.  Video your ride so that your future kids can see how it used to be.”

–Sonny Ellison, Bethune Beach, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Act now to save natural beauty,” Tuesday, November 19, 2019

We’re ruining it all for our children and grandchildren. . . 

Slowly but surely – thanks to voracious  greed – we watch in horror while land rapists and speculative developers continue the slash-and-burn wholesale destruction of our natural places to make room for more garish “lifestyle” communities and depressing, half-empty strip centers.

The astute writer featured in today’s quote is obviously referencing the long-anticipated environmental atrocity known as Farmton – which, beginning in 2026, will bring some 25,000 homes to the natural area between Osteen and Oak Hill – complete with a planned 4-million square feet of commercial space.

That represents a lot of new Walmart shoppers, folks.

I just hope they don’t drink water, drive cars or excrete waste like the rest of us. . .

Interestingly, on last Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps it’s time we collectively inform our tone-deaf ‘powers that be’ that average citizens no longer see our “place” in anything local government does.

Until We, The People use the electoral process to jettison these greedy whores and faux-environmentalists who masquerade as “public servants,” citizens will continue to stand helpless while even more sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted while the bulldozers roar over a moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

And Another Thing!

Guess what?

After marginalizing our opinions, suing their own citizens for having the temerity to petition their government for a say in the future of our beach, intentionally suppressing publicly funded studies urging significant increases in impact fees, obstructing public input, ostracizing whistle-blowers, ignoring concurrency regulations, approving massive sprawl from Farmton to the Flagler County line while completely disregarding transportation and infrastructure needs, then bowing to every whim of their uber-wealthy campaign donors – now, those same elected dullards in DeLand and beyond want to sit down and talk “issues” with you naysayers. . .

Bullshit.

I suppose when all else fails – and your complete lack of respect for those you represent has been repeatedly exposed – then it’s time to feign sincerity, fan the flames of pseudo-urgency and engage your disenfranchised constituents in some stilted tête-à-tête to make them believe now you care what they have to say. . .

How stupid do these pinheads think we are? 

Too little, too late.

Inexplicably, rather than address the very real “public trust” issue that doomed the half-cent sales tax referendum earlier this year, the exact same players – a weird amalgam of pompous profiteers and the lickspittle politicians who are indebted to them – are back for another bite at this moldering apple less than six-months after their money grubbing plan went down in flames.

On Monday, over a lunch you and I paid for, the Knights of the Roundtable – that shadow regime comprised of mayors, managers and parasitic hangers-on – met while you were at work to get their collective stories straight on perhaps the most pressing issue of our time:

How to fund improvements to our wholly ignored, now totally inadequate, transportation infrastructure and maintain water quality in the face of crushing over-development when no one trusts you anymore?

According to reports, the preliminary “plan” is to slap together another “committee” – this one  comprised of Dr. Kent Sharples, the doyen of the camera stellata at the CEO Business Alliance, and Jim Cameron of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce (?) – along with a smattering of elected officials who aren’t up for reelection next year. . .

Oh, I almost forgot, the klatch will also include a few token “naysayers” (the Roundtable’s insulting moniker, not mine) apparently selected from those who stood in opposition to the tax hike the first time around.

As the recognized Crown Prince of Volusia County Critics, the Nabob of Negativity, the Monarch of Misanthropes, the Sultan of Suspicion, the Potentate of Pessimists, the Maharishi of Malcontents, the (oh, sorry) – I wouldn’t add credibility to their damnable disinformation campaign by sitting on their faux-fence mending committee if they paid me.

Don’t worry, they won’t.  Something tells me the Knights of the Roundtable don’t want me anywhere near their committee. . .

In my view, this is the nadir of political chicanery – and speaks to the depths our compromised politicians will go to ignore and disrespect the Will of the People.

Because he’s a true gentleman, Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte advised the tone-deaf group that branding a large and growing segment of their constituency as “naysayers” was inappropriate – but the damage was done.

Frankly, to watch the likes of the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys – backed by Dr. Kent Sharples and his Merry Band of Millionaires (who shouldn’t be within a hundred miles of a sales tax referendum) lecture us on how much we collectively stand to lose in the next “12 to 18 months” when Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon take their mythical high paying “aerospace jobs” elsewhere – is nauseating. . .

It’s also a gross insult to our intelligence.

If a sales tax increase were passed this afternoon, it would be 12 to 18 years before the level of transportation and utilities infrastructure meets current demand – and no one in their right mind, let alone sitting public officials – should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

As always, thank you for reading, and for furthering a larger conversation on the myriad issues we face.

You are making a difference.  Never forget that.

A&A will take a break next week as we join with family and friends to give thanks for the many wonderful blessings in our lives.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and a most Joyous Holiday Season!

 

 

 

 

What elephant?

In a famous scene from the Broadway play Billy Rose’s Jumbo, a police officer stops Jimmy Durante who is leading a live elephant and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?”

Durante’s reply, “What elephant?”

 I was reminded of that comedic exchange this week. . .

 Despite the consternation this blog site continues to bring to the Hallowed Halls of Power in DeLand and beyond, I remain a Quixotic rube lost in the wilderness – nothing more – a bombastic blowhard with internet access who pontificates on the issues of the day – and ponders on the perennial politicians, insiders and bureaucratic do-nothings that, in my view, are actively destroying our quality of life – clumsily plowing forward with no semblance of a comprehensive vision for our future other than an insatiable appetite for more tax dollars.

It’s why I’m easy to dismiss as a hypercritical lunatic.

But sometimes I stumble upon an uncomfortable reality it seems no one but me wants to talk about. . .

Between the weird political Couéism that continues to permeate most public meetings – the recurrent self-aggrandizing autosuggestion of “Day by day in every way we’re getting better and better” – I notice a sustained attack on those citizens who are critical of the political intrigues and missed opportunities to encourage public input in solving some of the most vexing civic, social and economic problems of our time.

Quite simply, no one who should will listen, and they haven’t for a long while now.

The ingrained trait of turning a deaf ear to our concerns is embodied in many elected officials who obsessively refuse to accept the public’s voice – the Will of the People – especially when it relates to questions that have already been put to a vote.

Earlier this week, the Knights of the Roundtable – a bizarre shadow régime comprised of mayors, managers, county officials and various parasitic hangers-on, led by the illustrious Illuminati at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – resurrected the specter of the half-cent sales tax initiative which was resoundingly rejected by the electorate just six-months ago.

From Amendment 10 to the sales tax debacle, when will they listen to the voice of the people?

It is an insult to our intelligence – and our revered democratic system – to continue repackaging this shameless money grab and putting back on the ballot until they get the answer they desire.

That’s not how this works.

Our ‘powers that be’ asked the question in the very expensive manner and format they were told would be most advantageous for the desired outcome – and we answered.

Loud and clear.       

What I never hear is a substantive discussion by our elected officials – particularly on the Volusia County Council – regarding the real reason this referendum ended in defeat:

The universal distrust of disenfranchised citizens – and our well-founded suspicion that this oligarchic sham that passes for governance here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast no longer represents our interests – or bears any resemblance to a representative democracy. 

In fact, at this weeks roundtable, the always arrogant County Councilwoman Deb Denys condescendingly dismissed the notion that the public’s trust played any role in the defeat of the sales tax – and joined CEO Business Alliance president Kent Sharples (whose involvement in debacles from the American Music Festival to the downfall of Bethune-Cookman University are legendary) in frightening us all with scary stories of losing out on pie-in-the-sky deals with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance if we don’t tax ourselves NOW.

“Saying the sales tax failed because of a lack of trust is not the answer, I’m sorry that answer is wrong from here on out,” Denys crowed.

“There’s too much at stake.”

How dare you.  I mean, what happened to the common human emotion of shame?

Sorry, Deb.  You’re not going to devalue our concerns and sidestep responsibility that easily.

Not this time.

Rather than confront the elephant in the room, our elected dullards stumble about in some stupor of conceit – unable to comprehend that We, The People would deny the very same elected and appointed numbskulls who got us into this damnable infrastructure quagmire in the first place even deeper access to our wallets.

That’s the uncomfortable truth no one in a position of official or unofficial power wants to address.

“What elephant?” indeed. . .    

In my view, no one who truly cares about the real needs and concerns of their long-suffering constituents should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

In my view, it’s time we begin that difficult discussion.

 

On Volusia: Ignoring the will of the people. Again. . .

Well, it would appear the Knights of the Roundtable – that goofy pseudo-government comprised of local mayors, managers, county officials and parasitic hangers-on – led by the secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – still can’t accept the Will of the People. . .

What gives?

Inexplicably, during Monday’s mid-day confab of our Templar’s of Taxation, the failed half-cent sales tax referendum was exhumed from it’s freshly tamped grave and laid upon the catafalque of public opinion, as our powerful political forces and farces attempted to reanimate its festering remains.

How utterly macabre?

Perhaps that’s why Volusia County failed to put the meeting’s agenda on their website in advance of the revelation?

Earlier this year, following an incredibly expensive “special election” – a weird mail-in ballot scheme which was ushered in on a full-frontal assault by our ‘powers that be’ and their friends at the CEO Alliance – We, The People overwhelmingly stood firm and screamed ‘Hell No’ to a pernicious plan which would have saddled every man, woman and child in Volusia County with a half-cent sales tax ostensibly for transportation and water-quality improvements.

By any analysis, the brutal death of this shameless money grab was due – almost exclusively – to the citizen’s utter disgust with the machinations of arrogant elected officials on the County Council and beyond – a sense of ostracism which has many feeling excluded and led to an almost universal distrust in local government.

What’s changed since the people spoke just six short months ago?

A moratorium on permitting and building massive “theme” and “lifestyle” communities on our sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitats? 

Strict enforcement of fertilizer ordinances, strengthening development regulations or a stop to septic systems on new construction near delicate estuaries? 

Have we stopped pumping partially treated effluent into the Halifax River? 

Increased public transportation options to the mega-shopping areas on LPGA Boulevard and beyond to decrease vehicular traffic on our already overburdened roadways?

Moved to reduce spending as a means of funding critical infrastructure repair or transportation improvements beyond taxing the eyeballs out of Volusia County residents?

Seen a more responsive, transparent and communicative city and county government? 

Discussed substantive changes to our perverse campaign finance system?

Commissioned an independent outside forensic audit of Volusia County government to alleviate taxpayer’s very real fear that we continue to hemorrhage money from orifices our elected and appointed officials don’t even know about?

Or – perhaps the worst example – following the least transparent selection process in governmental history, now County Manager George Recktenwald is set to announce he’s finally hiring the long-awaited “independent” Internal Auditor – one day after the sales tax initiative was resurrected?  Really?    

Bullshit.

Unbelievably, some of our elected officials now want a full one cent tax.

The fact is, absolutely nothing has fundamentally changed – except our property taxes were drastically increased on a swollen Volusia County budget now approaching $1 Billion – and some municipalities are mysteriously finding unencumbered funds immediately after significantly raising taxes. . .

Jesus.

I don’t make this shit up, folks.

When will ‘No’ finally mean ‘No’?

These incompetent shitheels still think we are too stupid to understand that they desperately need the money for infrastructure improvements after painting themselves into a dark corner with over-development and a lack of appropriate impact fees or substantive growth management.

Trust me.  We get it.

However, as clearly stated in the failed first attempt, we simply will not piss good money after bad with the same craven assholes who got us into the mess in the first place. . .

That’s a recipe for disaster – and no one should expect us to forgive, forget and hand over more of our hard-earned money to those who have proven unworthy of our sacred trust.

Look, there is little doubt our elected and appointed officials will continue to punish us like recalcitrant children with exorbitant property taxes and fees – and allow even more malignant sprawl to pressure our infrastructure – until We, The People cry out for mercy.

Perhaps that was the dog-whistle our always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Deny’s sent to her “colleagues” on Monday when she screeched something about “tough decisions” and “political willpower”?

(As opposed to the abject political cowardice Deb exhibited when she haughtily demanded that each municipality prostrate themselves before the High Altar in DeLand and pledge support for the sales tax earlier this year?) 

Political willpower?  My ass. . .

Now, several dear friends of mine – intelligent, dedicated citizens whose opinions I trust – are of the opinion that a bottom-up approach – policed by an independent committee of responsible stakeholders who are not beholden to the special interests whose fingerprints were all over the original plan – can effectively carry a new referendum past wary voters then efficiently steward the millions in tax dollars resulting from their “new and improved” sales tax scheme.

I disagree.  Vehemently.

You see, I come from a place that says, ‘Leopards don’t change their spots,’ and our current crop of entrenched perennial politicians, who are demonstrably controlled by those uber-wealthy individuals and industries who stand to benefit most, have proven they will never change their character.

Stay tuned, kids.  It’s going to be a long, hot election season – and this shit show has legs.

 

 

 

 

Hello? Is anyone there?

If I didn’t know better, one might think I’m suffering from some weird persecutory delusion of late – an irrational fear that my progeny, this humble blog site, has become the object of collective hostility by our ‘movers & shakers’ – who seem increasingly worried by this lone voice in the wilderness.

On occasion, well-meaning members of the Halifax area Illuminati will sit me down and point out where I erred on one civic issue or another – or try and persuade me to change my opinion on some important project or asinine development that stands to benefit the few at the expense of many.

Sometimes these arguments are compelling – other times they speak to the mercenary needs of those who seek an advantage – and, over time, I’ve developed the unique ability to differentiate the two within nanoseconds. . .

I understand the motivation – and I do my level best to explain to members of this clique, ostensibly bright people who continue to mistake the size of someone’s bank account with their level of intelligence and civic vision – that Barker’s View is simply one man’s jaded opinion on the vexing issues of our time, and it’s popularity speaks to the growing number of citizens who no longer feel any connection to their local government.

It’s good to know that I am not alone in this dreaded feeling of alienation, marginalization and suppression of substantive public input – or my fervent desire to see a fundamental change in the manner and means by which uber-wealthy oligarchs and their hangers-on control their environment, and our lives and livelihoods, by purchasing political loyalty through our perverse campaign finance system.

This increasingly cloistered and enigmatic society of those who have influence, was evident in Sunday’s The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

In a telling piece by reporter Jim Abbott, which explored the looming January deadline for the languishing “$192 million” beachfront condominium and convention center being developed by the Russian-owned Protogroup, a project which remains painfully ‘under construction’ near Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue in the heart of our core tourist area.

In fact, even casual watchers are stunned by the cadaverous appearance of the site – and many are concerned about the fate of the towers – and the $1.6 million in CRA funds the City of Daytona Beach is slated to release to Protogroup for a beach approach and utility work as outlined in a “loose” public/private “agreement.”

Unfortunately, Protogroup, and the City of Daytona Beach, have both become equally (and suspiciously) uncommunicative – leaving the rest of us to suffer in fear and speculation of what will become of our beachside if this key section of real estate is abandoned mid-construction.

In fact, according to reports, Protogroup hasn’t responded to requests from the News-Journal “for months,” and calls seeking comment from the construction contractor “weren’t returned.”

In my view, perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Daytona Beach officials – those elected to represent the interests of their constituents – are also actively avoiding mounting questions from the press on the fate of what is quickly morphing into a grotesque white elephant.

In a weird twist, Mr. Abbott reports that, “Multiple attempts were made without success to get comments from Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry as well as Commissioner Rob Gilliland.”

Then, a full week after emailed questions regarding the state of the towers were sent to Commissioner Quanita May (as she requested?), the News-Journal received a series of one-word non-answers apparently compiled by municipal mouthpiece, Shelley Szafraniec:

“Are you satisfied with the progress of the construction to this point? Yes.”

“Are you concerned about the project not making this deadline? No.”

Jesus.  How can a sitting public official be so patently out-of-touch – or unresponsive?

In my view, this clumsy dodge by the Daytona Beach City Commission is cowardly, and speaks to the isolation many residents rightly feel from elected officials with a sworn personal and fiduciary responsibility to those who pay the bills.

Interestingly, on Sunday’s editorial page, the News-Journal asked why more residents aren’t “lending their voice” to local governments on environmental issues and resiliency:

“What too many aren’t seeing is their place in the discussion. They don’t see opportunities to adapt to changing conditions. They aren’t speaking out to demand their leaders do a better job of managing threats to the way of life they treasure. Many — make that most — don’t even vote in local elections.”

Perhaps the answer is that average citizens no longer see their “place” in anything local government does.

Long-suffering constituents watch as their elected and appointed officials openly ignore the working press – communicating with us through spinmeisters – highly paid public mouthpieces who tell us exactly what our government thinks we want to hear.

Citizens stand helpless while even more environmentally sensitive lands are rezoned and more “planned unit developments,” often owned by campaign contributors, are permitted and the bulldozers roar over a slash-and-burn moonscape, paving over aquifer recharge areas and planting more gaudy “theme” communities on wetlands and wildlife habitat that are never coming back.

Residents watch in horror as those same compromised politicians pay mumbling lip service to things like resiliency, concurrency and sustainability – while hiding and suppressing publicly funded studies recommending higher impact fees for speculative real estate developers.

When outlets like this blog site – or courageous civic activists – speak out and demand answers, our ‘powers that be’ do their level best to marginalize our collective voice and persuade us their rotten “vision” is more important than our own, all while suppressing dissent and alternative opinion by extraordinary measures.

For instance, when we try and participate during county and municipal governmental meetings, citizens are regularly harangued by their mayor, or our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, to remain courteous and professional when they prostrate themselves before the Monarchy and seek their benevolence.

At “public meetings,” politically accountable elected officials have purposely severed the television feed during the “public comment forum” – which has been relegated to the bitter end of the meeting and allows taxpayers just 2.5 minutes to address their exalted “representatives” – ensuring that their constituents concerns and criticisms are contained within the four walls of the chamber.

And they do so with the confidence that, come election time, they’ll simply outspend their challengers with money taken directly from the pockets of those who stand at the nexus of public funds and private interests.

All while reminding us Dalits how “responsive” they are to our needs. . .

Things have gotten so bad that, in Daytona Beach, intrepid activists are now demanding a municipal charter amendment to ensure that those who pay the bills are afforded at least 3-minutes to address civic issues and provide input at public meetings.

My God. 

Perhaps its time The Daytona Beach News-Journal stop asking muted citizens why they refuse to engage with their local governments – and start asking these arrogant “public servants” who are clearly no longer accountable to anyone other than their wealthy handlers – why they have effectively walled themselves off from their constituents and the media?

Just make sure you’re courteous and professional when you do it. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for November 15, 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:

Angel              Rose Schuhmacher

During my public service, I had the honor of working with a diverse group of very bright professionals who shared their unique training and talents to provide the community with quality essential services.

As a young man just starting out, I respected those with the depth of experience and strong leadership skills to teach me the fundamentals – the tactical and interpersonal skills that would help me survive the job, both physically and politically.

These veterans taught me that before you can truly lead others, you must learn to follow.

As a mid-career professional, I admired those with the vision to recognize the need for doing things differently – not just enacting change for change sake – but the real ability to transform an organization, to work smarter, more efficiently than before.

By watching those with the ability to analyze problems and breakdown the “we’ve always done it this way” routines – then develop a better way forward and encourage buy-in for the solution – I learned that with experience comes the ability for critical thinking and good judgment.

Because I lack a formal education, my professional development was derived from mimicking those with inherent leadership skills who earned my respect by their own inspirational example.

At the end of my career, there was one defining personal trait in those wonderful servant-leaders that I came to admire the most:  The importance of being there.

And Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Schuhmacher was always there.

Last week, after thirteen years at the helm, one of the very best people I know – my friend, the beautiful, irrepressible Rose – revealed she is moving on.

Apparently, her decision was born of irreconcilable differences with a generationally diverse executive board with equally varied ideas for the organization’s future. . .

In my view, in an increasingly unpredictable economic environment, instability is the last thing the Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce needs.

The announcement shocked many in the small community – and Rose’ departure leaves a void that will be incredibly difficult to fill.

During her tenure, Rose brought the Holly Hill Chamber of Commerce back from near insolvency and dissolution (trust me, it was close) and under her outstanding leadership, the chamber thrived with a robust and very active membership.

I watched as Rose stewarded her struggling members through the depths of the Great Recession, propping up lagging spirits, offering sound advice, often a shoulder to cry on, and, most of all, using her unyielding dedication to physically hold the business community together during challenging times.

Her efforts earned her the distinction of being the longest serving Chamber of Commerce executive in Volusia County.

However, her service to the City of Holly Hill went far beyond the business of supporting business.

Rose Schuhmacher was one of those mentors who taught me the intrinsic importance of being there.

During her distinguished service, Rose was a fixture at community events – serving as the always effervescent emcee of the Holly Hill Christmas Parade and a hundred other civic events – a buoyant, energizing and endearing cheerleader for our small city in good times and bad.

In short, Rose Schuhmacher exemplified the premise that the strength of a small business community is in its relationships – building networks, supporting each other’s unique efforts, and working with local government in a collaborative way that helps everyone grow.

In my experience, a chamber executive must have the ability to play both offense and defense in a hyper-political environment – and Rose Schuhmacher is a superior talent with the smarts and across-the-board cachet to get things done.

That’s a tough trait to find in today’s ‘modern’ workforce.

I only hope the spirit of genuine care, personal loyalty and steadfast commitment to the community’s collective success that Rose brought to this important role won’t be lost as the chamber seeks a new vision.

Godspeed, Rose.  You can be very proud of your accomplishments and contributions.

All best wishes for success in whatever great adventure awaits this unique talent.

Asshole           Flagler County School Board

Like many of you, over the past year, I’ve given more than a passing glance to the dysfunctional roil that is Volusia County Schools – in fact, it’s had my full and undivided attention – like being psychologically incapable of averting one’s eyes from an unfolding disaster. . .

From an active U.S. Department of Justice investigation, to credible evidence that the district continues to use unqualified staff in critical roles – such as student counseling services and the all-important safety and security role – it is becoming increasingly clear that the issues facing Volusia County schools have become deeply ingrained in the district’s culture of mediocrity.

Given the frightening regularity of these serious issues – to include a reverse cheating scandal that affected the scholastic lives of hundreds of students at Mainland High School – and sustained allegations that the school’s disgraced former principal pencil whipped passing grades for student athletes – it quickly became apparent that district officials would prefer we believe these egregious violations of the public trust was a localized anomaly.

However, it is also clear that negligence, concealment, deception and downright dumb decision-making is epidemic in both Volusia and Flagler County schools.

Last week, the disturbing case of Robert Sprouse, a former Flagler Palm Coast High School teacher, who brought allegations of gross harassment and bullying of students to light – only to be marginalized and ultimately dismissed for his efforts – was settled with a paltry $30,000 and a commitment from the school board to review disciplinary procedures and determine whether student’s are taken seriously when they seek help.

Say what?

When Mr. Sprouse reported the harassment internally, he was apparently taken to task by his superiors for putting his concerns in writing (in other words, for leaving a paper trail that could be discovered by the public) – then found that the referrals he and other staff submitted in 2017 and 2018 (some involving shocking descriptions of sexual harassment and complaints of Ku Klux Klan references and anti-Semitic “jokes”) had completely disappeared from school records. . .

Despite a history of exemplary evaluations, in May, the district opted to not renew Sprouse’s contract without explanation.

According to the report, when Mr. Sprouse asked for clarification, a senior district official said, “Under Florida Law I don’t have to tell you.”

You can read the compelling material evidence provided by Mr. Sprouse at FlaglerLive.com:  https://tinyurl.com/u5pqk84

Following a grievance hearing last week, several members of the Flagler County School Board either agreed – or compromised – on how best to address serious allegations brought by Sprouse, which include students being discouraged from submitting written documentation of harassment and bullying, the missing  disciplinary referrals, and a pattern of victims being ignored or belittled.

What took so long?

In an age where families live in constant fear of school violence – and taxpayers eagerly support elaborate reporting programs and security upgrades – why is it that some Florida school districts seemingly refuse to protect our vulnerable children from abhorrent harassment and violent bullying in favor of self-protection, cover-ups and painting senior administrators as something they are clearly not?

My God.

Once again, we find a disturbing situation where a school district will once again investigate itself in the face of serious allegations of abject mismanagement that potentially exposed children to physical and mental injury.

I have the highest admiration for brave whistle-blowers like Robert Sprouse and other educators  who put their careers and reputations on the line to expose wrongdoing and protect children in their charge as their professional ethics – and the law – requires.

When will senior school administrators start treating these courageous few who report systemic problems like the heroes they are – instead of marginalizing their sacrifice then shunning them as trouble-making provocateurs?

And when will someone – anyone – start holding these arrogant assholes accountable when they brutalize whistle-blowers, destroy their livelihoods and send a chilling warning of the fate that awaits others who would dare expose corruption or worse?

In my view, it is past time for the Volusia/Flagler state legislative delegation – and our state and federal law enforcement apparatus – to begin living up to their sacred obligation to the haunting spirit of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act and ensure that school administrators who show indifference or ignore and belittle complaints of bullying – a cruel behavior that has been directly linked to school violence – are held civilly and criminally accountable for their base inaction.

I mean, in the lead up to the 2020 session, maybe our illustrious state senators or representatives could find a minute between legislative committee meetings, being soft-soaped by backslapping lobbyists and smooching the sizable backsides of their major campaign contributors – to show some leadership and actually do something that would fundamentally benefit thousands of their most vulnerable constituents?

Perhaps that can begin by getting Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran off his ass and in the field to fulfill his sworn duty to oversee compliance with the law in places like Volusia and Flagler County – out-of-control districts that continue to make a mockery of our children’s safety and security.

Quote of the Week

“The only thing they can do is try to look for another place that’s not a flood prone area.  That’s basically the lowest part of the city.”

–Daytona Beach City Manager James Chisholm, speaking with the intrepid WFTV reporter, Mike Springer, who sought suggestions on what residents of low-income and subsidized housing along Caroline Street can do to protect themselves from frequent floodwaters that have plagued the area for decades.

Move. 

That’s the official answer for low income families seeking answers from city officials on perennial flooding issues in their neighborhood.

In turn, the City of Daytona Beach has apparently asked the State of Florida for help keeping the Nova Road drainage canal free of debris and vegetation, a problem identified as a substantial contributor to the frequent overflow and inundation of residential areas.

But that’s not what Mr. Chisholm said. . .

In his own inimitable style, WFTV’s unflinching investigative reporter Mike Springer was able to bypass the stilted press releases and obfuscation of the city’s professional spinmeisters to ask the public’s pointed questions of the only decision-maker who matters.

City Manager Jim Chisholm.

I’m just not sure anyone was expecting his brusque response. . .

In most politically accountable government hierarchies, the elected official who has a personal and fiduciary responsibility for serving and protecting the interests of constituents living in the Mid-Town neighborhood, might have taken exception to Mr. Chisholm’s rather cavalier response to citizen concerns.

But not here.

The roles have been reversed for years. . .

In Volusia County, non-elected appointed executives who enjoy the personal protection of those oligarchical insiders who trade in candidates for elective office like cheap livestock, know that as long as their “bosses” are effectively neutered – they can essentially do, or say, any damn thing they want.

What are you going to do about it – complain?    

Look, Mr. Chisholm is a highly experienced government administrator with decades in the fishbowl of municipal service – and he knows how the game is played.

So, fielding a reporter’s questions about a common storm water issue should have been limited to a simple explanation of “working with our partners at the state” to ensure drainage.

Done.

Something tells me Mr. Chisholm was making a very clear statement that had nothing to do with a soggy housing project – and everything to do with his complete independence from the news media – and the people. . .

Most folks I know who follow Daytona Beach politics don’t want to hear this, but I happen to think Jim Chisholm epitomizes strong leadership and the force of personality that gets those projects and agendas that are important to him (and all the right last names) passed with minimal disruption or involvement by the elected officials.

You don’t have to agree with his vision or tactics – but it’s true.

This is what power looks like in its natural political environment.

The problem is – when the parliamentary process and political oversight that normally accompany the creation of public policy is no longer relevant – a lot can get ignored, delayed, ramrodded or pushed aside in that laser-focused environment where decisions are made long before the biweekly public spectacle in the commission chambers.

It has become apparent to everyone paying attention that Mr. Chisholm enjoys the political insulation of some well-heeled players with a personal agenda for downtown Daytona, City Island and beyond.

In the Halifax area, when an appointed city or county executive is cloaked in the Monarchs supreme protection – there are few men or beasts (elected or appointed) who can touch them.

So, hide and watch.  Because that’s about all anyone can do.

I suspect Mr. Chisholm will comfortably take up the rocking chair the very minute he decides to – and not one second before.

And neither you, me, nor the hapless handmaidens on the dais of ‘power,’ are going to do a damn thing about it.

And Another Thing!

Congratulations to Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz on his appointment as the new Superintendent of Volusia County District Schools!

On Tuesday, the Volusia County School Board formally selected Dr. Fritz from a group of three very impressive finalists.

He currently serves as Chief of Staff for Teaching, Leading, and Learning for Osceola County Schools and is set to take the reins in DeLand this December following the formalities of an employment contract.

In recent days, the top candidates were put through their paces during open interviews with School Board members, participated in one of those awkward grip-n-grins with members of the public, then met individually with the elected officials.

Look, I like to give everyone the benefit of moral support and confidence whenever they step into the fray – boldly say “send me!” – and demonstrate a pure calling to serve our community.

To say Dr. Fritz has his work cut out for him is an understatement – he better pack a lunch and bring a flashlight with him, because it’s going to be well-past dark when he’s done. . .

To be successful, he will need both internal and external input, grassroots encouragement and the backing of both union and elected officials as he works toward the revivification of a district lost in an awful quagmire of maladministration and mediocrity.

I’m obviously not a member of the well-established Volusia educational clerisy, just a bumpkin with a naïve desire for reasonably responsive governance in my lifetime – but I do have one suggestion for Dr. Fritz as this long and arduous process begins:

Get rid of that wormy “Superintendent’s Cabinet” – a ridiculous amalgam of overpaid posers, fools and incompetents who are wholly responsible for dragging Volusia County schools into this dark place.

You’re welcome.

Good luck, Doc.  You’re gonna need it. . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back, Henry. . .

If recent reports are accurate, it would appear the Halifax area’s on-again-off-again relationship with Canadian developer Bayshore Capital is warming again. . .

The News-Journal reported this week that the long-awaited Max Daytona – a 12-story, 72-unit uber-luxurious condominium project recently broke ground on its oceanfront lot in Daytona Beach Shores.

According to reports, “Prices for condo units at Max Daytona range from the low $400,000s to $1.4 million.”

In a market that last year saw a median sale price for beachside condos at just $207,000? 

(Dammit.  I promised myself I would stay positive here, so never mind my nay-saying, hypercritical horseshit.  I simply want to take a nostalgic walk down memory lane. . .)

On Monday, Bayshore officials assured the News-Journal that “phase 1” of their sales program has met expectations, permits are in hand, and the project is set to come out of the ground within days – although Mr. Wolfond reports that “Out of respect for our owners’ privacy, we will not be sharing the amount of units sold.”

Call me crazy, but I get the heebie-jeebies whenever a developer plays sales figures close to the vest.  After all, way back in February 2013, the News-Journal wrote of Bayshore’s highly-touted ‘next big game changer,’ the ill-fated Hard Rock Hotel & Café condominium project:

“A month after beginning a sales blitz for the condos at the Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe planned for the oceanfront, more than half of the units have been snatched up by buyers. “We’re targeting to be sold out by June,” said Henry Wolfond, CEO of Canada-based Bayshore Capital Inc.”

And, “Going into the Daytona 500 race weekend, Wolfond said he had 49 reservations for the 99 condos. After courting potential buyers in a rented suite at the Speedway for four days, that tally is sailing past 70, Wolfond said Monday afternoon.”

Apparently, that courtship was short-lived, because we all know how that adventure ended for us. . .

I’m not sure how salving the fears of your skeptical neighbors is being discourteous to Max Daytona owners, but I suppose we skittish residents of the Halifax area simply must come to grips with financial intrigue and uncertainty as the “new normal” when “new” friends come to town, правильный? (Correct?)

To say our relationship with Bayshore CEO, Henry Wolfond, has been complicated is an understatement.

You may recall that back in 2013, Mr. Wolfond came to town full of promise – telling everyone who is anyone in Volusia County’s political and social hierarchy that if we just agreed to sacrifice our century old heritage of beach driving in support of his proposed Hard Rock Hotel/Condo/Café, it would serve as a panacea for all the social, civic and economic ills that plague our very sick core tourist area.

At the time, Mr. Wolfond told us, “The gorgeous beach, hot cars, bikes, great hospitality and the sound of rock ‘n roll music together will celebrate Daytona Beach’s resurgence.”

And our “Rich & Powerful” swooned. . .remember?

“The city and county have been working hand-in-hand to rejuvenate the city of Daytona Beach, and we’re thrilled Hard Rock and Bayshore Capital have chosen ‘The World’s Most Famous Beach’ as its newest location for expansion,” said Derrick Henry, Mayor of Daytona Beach. “The synergies between Daytona Beach and Hard Rock are limitless, and we cannot wait for the brand to open the Hotel and Cafe.”

Wow.

Then, when the idea was rightfully questioned by beach driving advocates and those concerned about public access – to include a protracted legal challenge to the effective privatization of our beach – Mr. Wolford wrote a haughty opinion piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal labeling us all damnable “obstructionists” before taking his football and stomping back to Toronto in a huff.

Apparently, it never occurred to Mr. Wolfond that his investors may have been more than a little wary of a project that sought Palm Beach prices in a Hooterville market. . .

No, at the end of the day, it was our fault – and the power brokers and failed developer du jour – stood together and pointed their collective finger in our face like some demented Ebeneezer Scrooge – blaming We, The People for shitting on yet another cure-all.

Given that we’ve heard these pie-in-the-sky false promises from out of town speculators before, giving up more of our drivable beach was hard to swallow – and exposed the fact our Volusia County Council had no qualms about legislatively exploiting our most important economic and natural amenity as a cheap incentive.

When Mr. Wolfond threw in the towel, another developer, Summit Hospitality, ultimately turned the haunted ruins of the old Desert Inn into a diluted semblance of a real Hard Rock Hotel – complete with 410’ of traffic-free beach – and everyone got a chance to see, once and for all, just how little effect that combination had on the revitalization of the suppurating lesion that is our beachside. . .

Whatever.

Now, everyone in the know is thrilled with the groundbreaking at Max Daytona.

Hell, it’s ‘the next big thing,’ right?

Right.

Once again, the long-suffering denizens of the Fun Coast will forgive and forget – despite our instincts – and extend a hearty welcome to Mr. Wolfond and Bayshore Capital as they take another bite at the apple.

No hard feelings, Henry.  We’re glad you’re back.

I hope you’ll forgive our trepidation.

It’s just that the residents of this salty piece of land have been screwed over so frequently, for so long, that suspicion and cynicism have become a physiological reflex.

Max Daytona is expected to open in “late 2021.”

 

 

 

 

 

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. . .

Time is a strange thing.

While it doesn’t heal all wounds as we’ve been led to believe, like water flowing over rock, it does takes the edge off and dulls sharp memories – good and bad.

Time can make heroes out of heels, and vice versa, and change our perceptions of people, places and times gone by.

Over time, the origins of ideas and answers begin to blur.

And only the monuments remain. . .

As a result, with the passage of time, we often get trapped in the “halos and horns” conundrum, where we view people from the past through our hypercritical modern lens, often demonizing historic figures for their acts and omissions – while canonizing others as we rewrite history or engage in collective denialism.

That judgmental arrogance allows us to paint our modern selves in a morally and ethically superior light as we criticize the ghosts of long-dead notables.

Recently, there has been a brewing tempest in a teapot over a long-forgotten coquina monument, originally erected to memorialize a forgotten Daytona Beach mayor, Edward Armstrong – a politician of a different era – who is now best remembered as a dictatorial shithead and corrupt ward healer with few redeeming civic qualities.

Normally, I like to stay focused on the present – rarely averting my eyes from current events – but I found the strange saga of Mayor Armstrong and his ill-fated marker intriguing.

Born in 1880, Mayor Armstrong was a Halifax area grocer who served five terms during the 1920’s and 30’s – ultimately becoming the undeniable Boss of Daytona Beach politics during the Great Depression.

A big part of his political success was due to his ability to garner support from African Americans – making jobs available for minority candidates during a time of segregation and focusing on community improvements – and in 1935 he won by a landslide after receiving 91% of the black vote.

He also had an unwritten requirement that city employees kickback 10% of their pay. . .

In addition, according to reports, “…the Daytona Beach News-Journal, often accused him of corruption that included buying votes, squandering and misappropriating funds, political favoritism and tampering with elections.”

In a recent treatment by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Mark Lane, we learned that, in addition to his underhanded political machinations, Mayor Armstrong was instrumental in building some of the Halifax area’s earliest infrastructure – to include a public transportation system, a waterworks project, municipal airport – and seeking New Deal funding for an ocean side park, built by the Works Progress Administration, that included the Clock Tower, Boardwalk, Bandshell – and the Edward H. Armstrong Monument. . .

Mayor Armstrong is perhaps best known for his involvement in “The Battle of Daytona Beach” which saw police officers, armed city employees and supporters in a standoff with Florida National Guard troops at City Hall following a state investigation into “fiscal irregularities.”

You can read all about it – it’s a quaint part of our colorful history here on the Fun Coast. . .

When Mayor Armstrong died in January 1938, the Daytona Beach City Commission and all the right last names of the day couldn’t agree on the wording for the Armstrong plaque – ultimately voting 3-2 against putting up anything at all.

The brouhaha got me pondering what local historians and cyber-archaeologists will think of us a hundred years from now?

I mean, what’s changed?

Although we haven’t had the National Guard show up (yet), is our local government anymore responsive or transparent than it was when the Armstrong Machine was in power?

Could our elected and appointed officials be more disrespectful of our concerns or irresponsible with our hard-earned tax dollars?

At least we don’t have politicians who play favorites based upon our ability to contribute to a political campaign – and we don’t hear rampant claims of “fiscal irregularities” – or widespread criticism of the lack of oversight that allows egregious abuses in government spending or the use of public funds for private projects. . .

Thank God that type of political corruption, corporate welfare and bureaucratic dysfunction is a quaint part of our past, right?

Interestingly, the Armstrong controversy is centered just feet from “Ritchey Plaza,” a sempiternal monument to another former Daytona Beach mayor and founding member of the Halifax area’s present-day ‘in-crowd,’ Glenn Ritchey, which was built smack-dab in the smoldering remains of our once thriving Boardwalk – the epicenter of the now tattered and fading World’s Most Famous Beach.

With the scourge of unrestrained blight creeping in all directions, and the pungent odor of urine wafting on the sea breeze, I always questioned the optics of the monument – complete with Adirondack chairs and eight (count ‘em) Royal Palm trees – strategically positioned around one of those “Remember, I coughed up cash” plaques commemorating the largesse of the donor class and reminding Mayor Ritchey who really cares. . .

I guess it’s only right, though – it’s a Halifax area tradition – and Mayor Ritchey deserves his due.

After all, Mr. Ritchey’s contemporaries – like our High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hossieni, has his name emblazoned on more buildings at Daytona State College and Embry-Riddle than you can shake a stick at – and His Royal Highness Hyatt Brown has a museum, and will soon have his name emblazoned on the tallest building in downtown Daytona complete with a sprawling riverside esplanade – while our own First Family of Auto Racing, the France Dynasty, has statuary galore.

I guess at the end of the day, Mayor Armstrong’s only true sin was not cementing his own legacy by ensuring his constituents paid for a plaque to adorn the self-aggrandizing monument to his own self-importance.

Fortunately, around here, we always learn from history, right?

Right.

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

Listen locally at 1380am The Cat, or online at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

We’ll be talking local issues and taking your calls on the fastest two-hours in radio!