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 Daytona Beach City Commission
This week, the incomparable Mark Lane, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, let us know that no bad idea is ever really dead – especially once a self-serving bureaucracy, and the elected officials it controls, get dollar signs dancing in their heads and engages the legislative machinery.
Earlier this year, Daytona Beach residents learned that City Manager Jim Chisholm, and his minions on the City Commission, were working surreptitiously to have public use deed restrictions on City Island removed so they can ultimately accommodate the avaricious greedheads looking to exploit the land.
Even Volusia County – who has a courthouse and library on the property – and His Royal Highness J. Hyatt Brown, who controls everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide in this community, claimed they were blindsided by the news. . .
Last December, former Governor Rick Scott and his Cabinet voted to remove the deed restrictions, which date to 1925, if the City of Daytona Beach agreed to render unto Caesar a handsome ransom of $8.77 million.
When the scam was uncovered, citizens of the Halifax area were rightfully and royally pissed off – I’ve found that is the expected reaction whenever We, The People find out those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests have ulterior motives – however; it appears now that our collective push-back has receded, Mr. Chisholm is moving full speed ahead with plans that could ultimately privatize City Island by lobbying the state to remove the fee.
Or at least he tried to. . .
At their last meeting in October, as commissioners reached one of the final Administrative Items on the agenda, the rather benign topic of setting the city’s legislative priorities for the coming year, there it was, in a resolution request from the City Manager’s Office on line 10-B – buried amongst the innocuous state and federal funding requests:
Support for release of state-owned rights and restrictions on riverfront area property to the City at no cost to the City.
My God. . .
After the city’s always effervescent Government Relations Administrator, Hardy Smith, used his patented ‘dry as a popcorn fart’ delivery to explain the city’s legislative priorities – he tossed it over to Commissioner Rob Gilliland – who proceeded to lecture us on how the initial exposure of the City Island debacle was “completely misrepresented by the News-Journal,” then did his level best to assure us that “there’s nothing underhanded going on here. . .”
Even if there isn’t, we’re all way past the old governmental “See, nothing up my sleeves!” trope. . .
To her credit, Commissioner Ruth Trager spoke directly to the controversy – and the will of the people – in calling for an end to this quest to turn “the peoples” island over to what she aptly described as “some big entity” for private profit.
Hell, even Mayor Derrick Henry formally acknowledged the “trust issue,” the clear and convincing message that We, The People – unequivocally – do not want to see Jackie Robinson Ballpark and other areas set aside for public use and recreation put under a bulldozer blade.
The whole exercise was stilted, uncomfortable and clumsy – and it was clear to everyone that Mr. Chisholm shouldn’t have tried to shoot this political hot potato through the grease – because it just brought more unwanted attention and official yammering to the original shit storm. . .
It was equally apparent that the elected officials and the City Manager’s Office were working from two completely different sheets of music, and none of the policymakers (except, perhaps, Mr. Gilliland) seemed completely comfortable with what was happening or why.
In politics, perception often becomes reality – and given the community outcry the first time around – tossing this cause célèbre in with the miscellany of a legislative priorities package was wrong.
This should never have been sprung on the citizens this way.
At the end of the day – at the very smart suggestion of Commissioner Aaron Delgado – the elected officials agreed to pull the item from the mishmash of municipal lobbying “priorities” until visual aids (they didn’t have maps before now?), various development restrictions (and a narrative that makes some semblance of sense) can be produced to ameliorate the very real fears of a citizenry that has been fooled before.
Look for this to come back for discussion later this month. . .
Angel OBS Association & Ormond Beach City Commission
It always amazes me, and restores my faith in our battered and bruised democratic system, when a small group of committed citizens band together to protect their civic interests – and are actually listened to by government.
That takes guts – and a degree of mutual trust and diplomacy that’s sorely lacking in local government today.
However, that is exactly what happened this week when the Ormond Beach City Commission agreed to table its push to convert thousands of Ormond by the Sea homes from septic to municipal sewer until further inquiry can be made.
On Tuesday, members of the OBS Association and other residents of the unincorporated north peninsula took to the podium at the Volusia County Council meeting to express their fervent view that the environmental argument brought by the City of Ormond Beach doesn’t hold water (pun intended) unless an independent study scientifically proves that their septic systems are a significant contributor to pollutants and nutrients in the Halifax River.
Needless to say, the concerned citizens didn’t get much of a response from their elected representatives in DeLand. . .
In an unfortunate turn, one clearly angry individual used an extremely poor choice of words when he said council members “should be shot” for their handling (or lack thereof) of the highly contentious septic-to-sewer measure.
That’s wrong. And dangerous.
I’m all for speaking truth to power – and I am a staunch defender of a citizen’s right to voice criticisms and seek redress of grievances before those they have elected to serve their interests – but no one has the right to evoke even the suggestion of violence toward our elected officials or anyone else.
That crosses a very bright line – and I agree with Chairman Ed Kelley that violence has no place in the public discourse.
Fortunately, the Ormond Beach City Commission was more receptive to residents’ concerns.
During the meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to research a scientific analysis – and look at alternative environmental protection projects that can be completed in the interim.
There was also substantive discussion of a moratorium on new septic systems in Ormond Beach.
Kudos to the intrepid civic activist Jeff Brower – candidate for Volusia County Chair – who boldly stepped into the fray and spent his own time and money to bring independent soil testing to the conversation.
I was also impressed by Commissioner Dwight Selby – who has been the city’s very visible point man for this issue from its inception – and was incredibly magnanimous in agreeing to seek answers for north peninsula residents.
In addition, Commissioner Troy Kent showed signs of the responsive civic leader I once knew when he openly contemplated how the city got so deep into this issue – knowing well the residents of Ormond by the Sea didn’t want it – then looked introspectively at the larger issue:
“We need to get our own house in order first. We need to get our own residents — all of them — off septic before we introduce this into other jurisdictions.”
At the end of the day, I understand why some don’t believe that the proposed study will be independent or objective – and only the City of Ormond Beach can alleviate those fears through complete transparency and on-going collaboration with their constituents and north peninsula residents.
But, in my jaded view, this was a good start.
Look, I don’t agree with much coming out of the Ormond Beach City Commission chambers of late, but this high-minded compromise in the interest of concerned citizens showed real statesmanship.
A job well done by both sides of this difficult and divisive challenge.
Angel Seabird Island Residents and the Halifax River Audubon Society
As I mentioned in the screed above – bad ideas in Volusia County, from sales tax initiatives to the wholesale giveaway of public resources to for-profit interests and colossally stupid development schemes – just seem to reanimate and claw from their moldering graves the very minute our attention wanes.
After a few fits and starts a decade ago, most of us thought the sclerotic plans to develop Seabird Island – one of the most sensitive and accessible nesting rookeries for brown pelicans, great herons, egrets, wading birds and other species on Florida’s east coast – were dead and properly buried.
They weren’t. . .
This week we learned that a pair of former Seminole County Firefighters-turned-developers (?) are resurrecting plans for a 102-slip deep-water marina on the south side of the Port Orange causeway under the Dunlawton bridge.
Which proves my long-standing belief that, in the Sunshine State, literally anyone – regardless of education, training, vision, experience, funding or motivation – can make the lycanthropic transformation into speculative developer. . .
According to reports, the original plans brought by Melbourne-based developer Joe Calderwood, never got past the design stage.
This incredibly complex project would require filling some 1.2 acres of sensitive wetlands and river bottom to make way for 87 parking spaces – then dredging other areas of the site to allow boats enough draft to maneuver.
Historically, residents of the long-time mobile home park have been less than receptive to the idea of having their quality of life – and the habitat of the birds and wildlife they share the island with – irreparably disturbed by some cockamamie development scheme.
Obviously, there are more questions than answers right now – and any plans for disturbing this protected critical wildlife area and develop what the two former firemen envision as Pelican Key Marina (I don’t make this shit up, folks) – would need to start from square one.
I admire the young men’s determination – but taking on a massive marina project in the worst possible location – adjacent to a protected seabird colony involving the destruction of sovereign submerged lands, a natural sandbar and sensitive estuary – in an environment where residents have proven their desire to be left alone might be a little ambitious. . .
But stranger things have happened here on the Fun Coast. . .
Kudos to Seabird Island residents and the Halifax River Audubon Society for your dedicated advocacy for this sensitive ecosystem and sanctuary.
Keep up the good fight.
Quote of the Week
“Facebook is the domain of trolls who live not to provoke thought but simply to provoke. Facebook is also the platform that refuses to police political advertising. Candidates at all levels will need to deal with false narratives on Facebook.”
“A final point: Social media can be ugly, but it’s inexpensive, and 2020 could be a year when money will have less influence, and may even be a liability.”
–Pat Rice, Editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Predictions for 2020 elections,” Sunday, November 3, 2019
On Monday, I wrote a piece which asked the question – Whose opinion matters most?
I also learned this week from several reliable sources that there are plans afoot in Volusia County government, and its hyper-redundant “economic development” apparatus, to increase their social media presence as a means of confronting what is being referred to, in the parlance of Mr. Rice, as “false narratives.”
In my view, that means any point of view that doesn’t comport with the official glittering generalities that pass for “public information” – regardless of how patently misleading or biased those messages may be.
Perhaps I’m clinically paranoid – but since I am the only guy sitting around in his boxer shorts pounding out an alternative opinion blog focused exclusively on the machinations of Volusia County politics which is read by thousands each month – I get the sneaking feeling they’re talking about me. . .
Clearly, this forum is upsetting what passes for the Halifax area haut monde.
Maybe it should.
Frankly, I could care less what these damnable political hypocrites think.
In my view, Volusia County government isn’t known for employing the best and brightest in its senior management ranks – that’s just a sad reality – and we’ve had a front row, center ring seat to the intellectual limits of our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, and his Boo-Boo the Addlepated Clown act for the past three years. . .
Let’s just say, our Brain Trust in DeLand doesn’t inspire confidence.
So, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the Ivory Tower of Power had the dull-witted idea to bring their bureaucratic agitprop to social media as a means of marginalizing citizens who point out the utter dysfunction we’ve suffered for years.
Here’s an educated prediction from up here in the cheap seats:
If the long-suffering citizens – those who pay the bills with their hard-earned tax dollars – suspect for one minute that highly-paid governmental mouthpieces are being dispatched to the lower parts of the internet to battle “trolls” and bicker with frustrated citizens on Facebook as a means of influencing the outcome of a local election – or to hawk flawed public policy – the political shit-storm that accompanies that level of official waste and overreach is going to be felt strongly at the ballot box.
For the uninitiated in the Halls of Power, this is a simple exercise in critical thinking – a rapid cause-effect analysis – an evaluation of all potential outcomes beyond the momentary ego-massage of answering a critic. . .
I would remind Mr. Rice – and the others who feel the need to do something, anything, to stop the near-constant criticism of a system that no longer represents the interests of its constituents – of the effectiveness of Facebook in the defeat of the recent sales tax referendum.
The fact is, social media represents a bully pulpit for the masses, a clear and equal voice for “citizen journalists” – and bombastic blowhards like me – who ventilate when they realize they can no longer afford political representation in this oligarchical caste system we find ourselves in.
And anyone who doesn’t embrace that concept won’t be in politics – or the news gathering business – in the coming decade.
Consider that some free advice from out here in the hinterlands – an alternative view you might not get in that bastion of obsessive groupthink in DeLand. . .
In my view, Mr. Rice is right about one thing – the citizens of Volusia County are most assuredly coming to the realization that the pernicious use of massive campaign contributions to purchase the loyalties of compromised perennial politicians is counter to the civic, social and economic progress we deserve.
So, go ahead and set ‘squabbling on Facebook’ as a governmental priority for 2020 – rather than attempting to learn from the varied – even scathing – criticism of a constituency grown tired of neglect, and let’s see how that strategy works come election time. . .
I’ve mentioned this before, perhaps it’s time for Volusia County, and those ancillary quasi-governmental organizations that drag on the public tit, to focus on the foundational elements of public service – transparency, honor, fidelity to our democratic values, service over self-interest, ensuring a level playing field for everyone – regardless of their ability to pay, and a commitment to providing fact-based information in the public interest, rather than engaging in this base form of political insulation.
And Another Thing!
Kudos to Richard Wahl, the New Jersey Mega-Millions lotto winner who recently invested $13.65 million in the revitalization of our desperately downtrodden core tourist area by purchasing the rotting corpse of the former La Playa Hotel & Resort – with the intent of transforming the festering eyesore into a timeshare property.
For his trouble, Mr. Wahl was all but labeled a fool and a rube by those whose opinions matter in the Halifax area tourist and hospitality industry. . .
In a recent report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, our own Bob Davis, Chief Maharishi of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, didn’t sound overly encouraging of Mr. Wahl’s vision:
“He (Wahl) had to invest his money to get the tax credit,” Bob Davis said. “It’s a good piece of property in a good location, but I think that timeshares have had their day. People aren’t investing in timeshares (like they once were) because they can’t get out of the contracts. If that’s what he wants to do with his money, God bless him.”
Awesome reception for our new investor, Bob!
Wait until Mr. Wahl meets the Welcome Wagon over at the City of Daytona Beach Permits & Licensing Department. . .
As you may recall, the decrepit ruins of the La Playa were owned by Summit Hospitality group – those darlings of the Volusia County Council responsible for permanently removing some 410’ linear feet of beach driving behind their Hard Rock Hotel – who kept stringing us along with tall tales of renovating the dump as a “name brand” hotel.
Somewhere in that process, Volusia County gifted an adjacent beach approach to Summit – apparently contingent on the developer constructing a “dune walkover” and a beachside parking lot.
No word yet on the fate of our beach approach. . .
It’s painfully clear that local government can’t dig us out of this festering quagmire of blight and dilapidation that our ‘powers that be’ have turned a blind eye to for years.
No, the issues are now so horribly entrenched that “The Brand” has been irreparably damaged, with a corresponding impact on occupancy and room rates. Yet, I doubt Mr. Davis – or anyone else who makes their living prognosticating on Fun Coast tourism – will confirm my suspicions. . .
In my view, the only thing that can reverse our fate is the stimulating effect of entrepreneurial investment on the beleaguered beachside.
By forming a strategic vision for the future which incorporates quality hotels, family-priced resorts, private convention and entertainment venues, well-managed short-term rental properties, wholly owned condominiums, first class timeshares and the “condotel” concept into a comprehensive plan which embraces our century old traditions of beach driving and open access – I believe good things can happen on Atlantic Avenue and beyond.
That plan should include a commitment from notoriously lead-footed Daytona Beach bureaucrats to remove the onerous hoops and hurdles that have seen the dreams of more than one new business owner dashed before ever opening the doors – and foster a “business friendly” approach to welcoming new enterprise on the beachside.
Unfortunately, according to our Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce’ “Government Relations E-News Update!” the legislative committee is busying themselves rehashing “priorities” for the coming year, that – like most years before – will never come to fruition (how’s that east ISB looking?), rather than focus on using their collective clout to breakdown the official barriers and bureaucratic interference that is the true obstacle to outside investment and revitalization.
I know some of these Chamber types personally.
They are incredibly bright minds with a history of personal success – so, why they engage in these annual fiddler’s conventions while our beachside burns continues to escape me. . .
Interestingly, I almost never see the kind of negativity that greeted Mr. Wahl from our exalted city/county “leaders” when ill-fated businesses throw good money after bad by rolling the dice in places like One Daytona – where the average life expectancy of even nationally recognized restaurants and shops is about that of an asthmatic Mayfly. . .
Why is that?
Good luck, Mr. Wahl – and welcome to the Fun Coast!
You’re gonna need it, buddy. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!