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.
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. . .