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 Dustin Wyatt & Tony Holt
The exodus from The Daytona Beach News-Journal continues, and the unfortunate loss of journalistic talent and stability is being felt throughout the community as our nearly 116-year-old newspaper of record slowly transitions into something. . .different.
Much of what I write about here on Barker’s View is a riff on News-Journal articles crafted by gifted professional journalists and editorialists who are out pounding the streets, working the phones, keeping their ear to the ground and bringing the news of the day to our doorstep or computer screen each morning.
And, like anyone with ethical boundaries who serves the public, they often take a horrible beating for their efforts. . .
During my professional life, I developed close working relationships with some very talented News-Journal reporters – superior scribes like Lyda Longa, Patricio Balona, Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Barry Gear and others – and had the pleasure of working with legendary storytellers like Kathy Kelly and the late John Carter – it wasn’t always easy, and I took the lumps when I made a mistake, but these symbiotic relationships taught me how hard good reporters work to get it right and the importance of building trust.
Now, instead of hearing it straight from those we have elected and appointed to serve our civic interests, increasingly, stories in our hometown newspaper will begin, “. . .according to a GateHouse Media data analysis. . .”
Adding to the sense of uncertainty was the newsroom layoffs – then, this summer, the News-Journal’s printing press was shuttered, and the operation moved to another GateHouse proprietary in Ocala.
“These days, it’s not unusual for a newspaper to be printed outside the market where it circulates. In fact, it’s become the norm.”
Then, the talented editor and accomplished author Derek Catron – and our incredibly dedicated environmental reporter, Dinah Voyles-Pulver, who shined such a bright light on those who profit from the wholesale destruction of our natural places, left for roles with GateHouse Media.
And now, crime reporter and Sun Crime State podcast host, Tony Holt, and our intrepid Volusia County reporter, Dustin Wyatt, are leaving the News-Journal for greener pastures. . .
In my view, Mr. Holt’s coverage of the always intriguing local crime beat was truly second-to-none – and it was always interesting to learn the misty machinations of Volusia County government from Dustin Wyatt’s inimitable writing.
I don’t know about you, but Dustin’s live Tweets from County Council meetings were something I looked forward to.
As I understand it, Tony has been snatched up by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, while Dustin will be serving the fortunate citizens of the Upstate of South Carolina as a journalist with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
When it comes to consuming the news, one thing I appreciate is the institutional knowledge of a seasoned reporter who understands the nuances of what is happening ‘behind the story’ – and uses that situational awareness to triangulate relationships, analyze previous decisions, recall quotes, develop depth and craft a rich explanation of perhaps the one nugget of good information in an otherwise dull public meeting.
In my view, Mr. Wyatt’s painstaking reporting on what became known as the ‘secret study’ – a 2016 report commissioned by the county council which was intentionally hidden from policymakers because it called for higher impact fees – brilliantly exposed the lack of transparency and backroom shenanigans so common in Volusia County politics.
In my view, his unflinching reportage ultimately led to the departure of former County Manager Jim Dinneen – and if he never writes another exposé – Dustin Wyatt earned his spurs on that one. . .
I’ve said this before, community journalism is important – and ‘our’ newspaper is as relevant and necessary today as it always has been – perhaps more so.
That’s why the loss of those bylines we have come to trust is so terribly difficult to take.
Best of luck, Dustin and Tony.
Your important contributions to the life and health of our community will be sorely missed.
Asshole Volusia County Council
Last month, I wrote a screed venting my spleen on the growing mystery of why County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert attempted to unilaterally cancel a popular historic racing parade in Ponce Inlet.
Following a public outcry from race organizers, beach driving advocates and concerned residents, earlier this month the county council rightfully ignored Mr. Eckert’s weird “advice” and authorized the 2020 North Turn Parade on a 5-2 vote.
That’s a good thing. The event has become a very important part of Speed Weeks – and it deserves the county’s logistical support and sponsorship.
Now, amid accusations that over the eight-year life of the parade, county officials allocated public funds and logistical resources for the event without proper accounting or documentation, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys has come down with selective amnesia – acting as though she has no recollection of the county’s direct involvement.
The trouble is, a virulent case of selective amnesia is highly infectious – especially when it starts running rampant through the halls of governmental power – and, like a bad syphilis outbreak, it can be hard to stop until virtually no one in the organization can remember what they had for breakfast – let alone who authorized public funds for a controversial community event. . .
As a result, the chasm of trust between taxpayers and Volusia County government has deepened, with many – including at least one former member of the Volusia County Council – wondering aloud what other unexplained leaks are lurking in the labyrinthine system.
Unfortunately, it appears help is still too far out for hope. . .
Inexplicably, nearly a year after the position was approved, Volusia County has conveniently failed to attract a qualified internal auditor – the ombudsman we were promised would improve transparency in this shadowy secret society and add a layer of “checks and balances.”
For the princely $215,000 plus bennies we pay County Manager Georgie Recktenwald, we don’t get to hear directly from the Big Guy himself; however, Volusia’s new professional mouthpiece, Kevin Captain, tells us it’s a “unique and difficult” position to field.
But for $156,963 a year – certainly not impossible. . .
Last week, in a well-researched piece by former News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt, we learned that, even in the aftermath of the shit-storm surrounding the North Turn Racing Parade, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, continues to consider the internal auditor a “waste of money.”
You read that right.
“It’s nonsense to think we need an internal auditor,” Kelley said, adding that that measure is only needed when a company is in the midst of a financial scandal. “That’s for a company like Enron.”
Actually, it’s to prevent another governmental “Enron,” you insufferable ninny. . .
If this isn’t a “financial scandal,” what would Chairman Kelley call the unexplained allocation and expenditure of tens-of-thousands in public funds and transportation resources with no record, requisition, allocation, accounting or documentation?
If Old Ed can’t see the frightening similarities between Enron and Volusia County government – the hubris, the arrogant sense of infallibility, the clear lack of ethical and moral guidance, the marginalization and destruction of whistle-blowers, the ‘asleep at the switch’ lack of oversight, the unnerving incompetence that precludes even an organized public meeting – then perhaps we have bigger issues than we know. . .
“It’s my guess that there are lots of surprises from over the years,” said Vicky Jackson, a Daytona Beach resident and former councilwoman who served from 1989 to 1994. We have had a series of managers and financial people and it’s past time to check up on the peoples’ money.”
Amen, sister. . .
Now, after yet another embarrassing fiasco, Chairman Kelley has been forced to acknowledge what many of us have been demanding for years – an end to the pernicious practice of ‘Public Policy by Ambush’ – off-the-agenda financial sneak attacks, where our hard-earned tax dollars are shunted to special interests without any debate, explanation or public input.
Our elected officials have used this sleight-of-hand for years – now, they have been caught with their pants down. . .
In my view, it’s not enough to pull the same scam time-after-time – then feign a lukewarm promise of substantive change to the way you’ve always done business after the con has been exposed.
We’ve heard it all before, and this is unacceptable by any standard.
I like to humor myself into believing that we still have some fragments of a democratic process remaining – like the sacred tradition that permits one person, one vote.
I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical and visionary members of our community to high office – servant/leaders who will stand firm in defense of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of taxpaying residents who work hard to carve out a life here on Florida’s Fun Coast – we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness and the spirit of democracy in Volusia County government.
Angel Maryam Ghyabi & Kelli McGee
Have you ever gone into a situation with terribly preconceived notions – only to be pleasantly surprised that those with seemingly opposite viewpoints can find common ground on matters of universal importance to the community?
This week I had the pleasure of meeting with Maryam Ghyabi, owner of Ghyabi Consultants & Management, a transportation and infrastructure engineering consultancy in Ormond Beach, and Kelli McGee, Executive Director of the Riverside Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy dedicated to cleaning and protecting our sensitive waterways and estuarine ecosystems.
We were joined by the irrepressible Big John – host of the public affairs forum GovStuff Live! With Big John, on 1380am The Cat – an important alternative voice which airs weekdays beginning at 4:00pm.
What began as an invitation for coffee turned into a three-hour, wide-ranging discussion on some of the most important state and local issues of our time – transportation, infrastructure, growth, controversial funding issues and the impact of urban sprawl and development on our water quality and natural places.
We agreed on certain issues – disagreed on others – and shared personal insights on problem-solving, community building, environmental resiliency and sustainability planning.
Initially, I felt like a fish out of water – an unrefined bumpkin asked into the company of real players.
Fortunately, my fears were quickly put to rest.
I found these two highly accomplished professionals to be super intelligent, sharp-witted and incredibly astute on the contemporary issues facing Volusia County and beyond; with a disarming sense of humor and down-to-earth charm that immediately put me at ease.
As an uneducated rube, I learn best from being around smart people – and my time spent with Mrs. Ghyabi and Ms. McGee provided a quality primer on many important topics that interest me.
Most important, it was the first time that anyone took the time to sit down and ask my opinion on the myriad civic, environmental and social threats facing our community – let alone value my input on potential answers.
In my view, the result of these informal discussions between people of differing perspectives naturally result in a feeling of joint ownership in solutions – and proves that the debate of varied opinions can be done in a non-confrontational way – in an atmosphere where everyone’s contribution has value.
Trust me. Key Volusia County governments do not employ the vision required to get us out of this quagmire.
As a result, we desperately need more of these small group conversations across the diversity of stakeholders as we work collectively to establish a path forward – one that includes clean water, supports and protects our natural resources, effectively manages growth, embraces environmental conservation, demands quality governance and leaves our children and grandchildren with a safe, prosperous and healthy coastal community to call home.
Angel Bethune-Cookman University Homecoming 2019
Kudos to everyone from the university who worked so hard to see Bethune-Cookman’s Homecoming 2019 become a rousing success!
In my view, it was a true shot-in-the-arm for this important community institution that has endured turmoil and distraction for too long.
From Friday’s Pep Rally at Ocean Center to Saturday’s parade, afternoon of football and fellowship, I believe this special weekend signaled a turning point in the renaissance of B-CU.
It is evident that there truly are community angels among us, and Barker’s View would like to recognize the contributions of B-CU Graduate Assistant Tennis Coach Alejandra Vidal for her outstanding work making the 5th Annual Juan Varon Wildcat Invitational tournament such a huge success.
The event is the university’s signature tennis tournament which brings clay court play to Daytona Beach in honor of former team captain Juan Varon, who tragically lost his life in a 2013 auto accident.
According to historian and senior writer Dan Ryan of B-CU Athletics, “With our resources maxed out thanks to homecoming and a sold-out football game down the road, Alejandra stepped up and made sure the tennis tournament was a logistical success.”
Also, I recently heard an inspirational story about National Football League veteran Jon Bostic, a linebacker for the Washington Redskins, who recently honored his father – B-CU great and 1984 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year John Bostic – by purchasing throwback uniforms for the current Wildcat squad and sponsored a party for the entire 1984 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship team, which was coached by former B-CU and Miami Dolphin great Larry Little.
In addition, Jon provided a few very special gifts for his father, legendary Coach Little and other members of the Wildcat’s staff.
What a wonderful way to pay tribute to the contributions of B-CU Hall of Famer John Bostic – and a beautiful expression of a son’s love. . .
Quote of the Week
“The city seems bound and determined to move forward with the Beach Street project come hell or high water (very appropriate considering the location). Like the ridiculously expensive roundabouts now under construction in Flagler County and the City of Palm Coast, it is very frustrating when government spends tens of millions of dollars for projects that the locals do not want. Representative government? I think not!”
–Mike McQuire, Palm Coast, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “City persists in Beach Street foolishness,” Monday, October 28, 2019
It is becoming increasingly clear to anyone paying attention that the mysterious plans to systematically destroy Beach Street merchants under the guise of “transforming” the area by removing traffic lanes and widening the already ample sidewalk has nothing to do with helping existing businesses and everything to do with appeasing special interests.
Yep. It appears the greedy Curse of the Halifax – the bizarre anathema to good governance that puts the wants of political insiders over the needs of many – is alive and well downtown. . .
According to a persuasive dispatch sent to members of the Daytona Beach City Commission by James Sass, long-time owner of Abraxas Books:
“I’m in touch with many merchants on Beach Street and none of them I am aware of are in favor of the project to narrow Beach Street two lanes. I know Kelly White pushed this and I know (City Commissioner) Quanita May is now pushing it. I’ve not spoken to anyone who feels they are representing the interests of the merchants on Beach Street. Quite the opposite, the impression is they are ramrodding the agenda of Kelly White especially in her relationship with Brown & Brown and the Riverfront Esplanade Foundation. None of the other business owners I have spoken to on Beach Street are in favor of this project.”
“The arguments for it presented by Jim Chisholm, Quanita May and a handful of people invariably affiliated with Jack and Kelly White are lame at best and not shared by anyone I have spoken to.”
Unfortunately, for reasons known only to Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm, he is hellbent on forcing the complete destruction of the downtown streetscape – an area that already includes all the aesthetic qualities, traffic flow, sidewalks and ample parking necessary for success.
Why is Mr. Chisholm intent on treating Downtown like a kid with a box of Tinker Toys – build something – then tear it apart and put something else together with the random pieces?
With construction expected to start in January, perhaps it’s time for the Daytona Beach City Commission to actually do their job – provide a modicum of oversight to Mr. Chisholm – and consider the urgent needs of their constituents who are trying desperately to eke out a living downtown.
These are small businesses who have suffered the environmental and economic hardships – and stood valiantly against the economic odds, waiting patiently for the much-promised Eternal Blessing of Brown & Brown to take hold – only to be told their storefronts will be virtually inaccessible as Jim Chisholm and Company orchestrates the destruction of Beach Street.
And Another Thing!
There was an ancient Chinese execution tactic known as “Lingchi” – which loosely translates to “lingering death” or “death by a thousand slices.”
As the name implies, lingchi was a brutally drawn out process where the executioner would administer hundreds of cuts to the body of the condemned, slowly exsanguinating the victim over time. . .
I was reminded of this nasty bit of history last week when a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe reached out to express his utter disgust with the recent unanimous vote by the Volusia County Council to raise fees for both the county parking garage, and surface lots, during events at the Ocean Center and Peabody Auditorium.
In addition, our elected officials gave the “Gift that Keeps on Giving” by increasing daily maximum rates for their spooky elevated garage at Ocean Walk from $8.00 to $10.00. . .
Why the need for a 100% increase in parking fees as our increasingly distressed core tourist area is struggling to attract visitors – fighting for its very survival?
At a time when Main Street merchants are begging city and county officials to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way as they work feverishly to breath life into that vitally important commercial corridor?
Because, despite a budget approaching $1 Billion – Volusia County needs the money for “accelerated completion of much needed capital improvements” to the garage – oh, and some parasitic horseshit about keeping rates in line with other nearby parking locations.
Civic Lingchi. What a cruelly effective strategy for killing a tourist economy. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, friends.