On Volusia: “We are nobody. . .”

“It’s not Daytona.  It’s Dirtona,” said Enrique Zahn, an east International Speedway Boulevard property owner since the early 1990s who has grown weary waiting for things to improve on the road.”

“We are nobody,” Zahn said.  “It’s controlled by the powerfuls.”

–Enrique Zahn, Daytona Beach, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Daytona’s east ISB overhaul 3 years away,” Monday, January 27, 2020

Wow.

A spot-on assessment of our current social, civic and economic situation from someone actually in the trenches, a small business owner trying desperately to scratch out a living in the Halifax area’s artificial economy.

This week, we learned that the long-awaited East ISB revitalization project isn’t coming anytime soon – and that is devastating news for struggling businesses and property owners – and anyone else who has been waiting patiently for something, anything, to bring hope to our beleaguered beachside.

So, for at least the next three-years, this stretch of abject dilapidation that marks the city’s main gateway to what was once “The World’s Most Famous Beach” will remain a rotting, graffiti-covered monument to the apathy and neglect that is slowly killing a once vibrant tourist economy – as the real money continues its retreat west.

Tragically, despite the controversy surrounding the roundabout, the East ISB revitalization project was the only shred of optimism left.

Because it’s been almost two-years since the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, which was formed in the aftermath of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s scathing exposé on the deplorable condition of our core tourist area, presented its bureaucratically neutered findings to the Volusia County Council.

In my view, the BRC – comprised of all the right last names, heavy hitters  like Albright, Bowler, Ghyabi, Lichtigman, Sharples, Grippa and Henry – represented our last/best hope for substantive change.

Unfortunately, when the report was rolled out, Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler brought a cruel false hope when she enthusiastically vowed that the recommendations (of what turned out to be little more than a time buying political insulation committee) would not be put on a shelf:

“I am fighting with you on this,” Wheeler said. “This is my district, and we do have a plan of action but I want to make sure it is not one of those plans of actions that goes on the shelf, and I can tell you I am 100% committed to doing whatever I need to do in collaborating with this group on getting things moving.”

Bullshit.

Where is that “plan of action” Ms. Wheeler?

Trust me – now’s the time to implement it.  And fast. . .

Call me a soothsayer – but, despite the denials of our Halifax area “Hospitality Gurus” – I recognized early that our struggling tourism industry was in serious trouble – hemorrhaging revenue as the “product” continued to decay – and it had nothing to do with hurricanes or fickle air carriers.

So, as the beachside committee’s report sits gathering dust on some groaning shelf in that dank place where good ideas go to die in Volusia County government – we absorb yet another punishing kick to the gut as we watch our “brand” slowly die. . .

Most places with a sense of pride in place, a strong community spirit and a civic vision –  beyond allowing gazillionaires carte blanche to construct a “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of town, as they feed greedily at the public trough – would be working collaboratively with residents and business owners to correct the decades of blight and dilapidation that continues its malignant spread.

They would be struggling mightily to protect and curate what remains of our core attraction and manage our most important natural amenity in a way that would enhance our unique traditions while investing in historic beachside neighborhoods and encouraging entrepreneurial investment while supporting existing small business.

Not here.

In a weird reversal of blame that could only happen in Daytona Beach, City Commissioner Quanita May, who ostensibly represents East ISB, goaded desperate business owners on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams – demanding that they throw good money after bad to “overhaul and modernize” – even though most remain in the dark on how much of their property will be lost to the road project – or what effect the disputed roundabout at A-1-A and East ISB will ultimately have on their livelihood.

Look, there’s enough blame to go around – but what we need now is leadership – and hard answers to difficult questions.

To that end, the Florida Department of Transportation prudently scheduled an informational summit to gain public input and communicate with an anxious community on the estimated $23.8 million road project for tomorrow evening.

Unfortunately, the FDOT meeting conflicted with the elegant annual soiree of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce – the very organization that should care, but doesn’t – which means the long-anticipated transportation meeting has been reset for late March.

As a result – you, me, and the besieged business community of East ISB – can wait two more months before we get substantive answers – all so the Chamber of Commerce set can tell us all how good we have it while bestowing something called the “J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award” on Team Volusia.

You read that right.

Priorities, eh?

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

Mr. Zahn is right.

We truly are nobody to those who make the rules and substitute lavish banquets for civic engagement here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal

 

2020: A Space Oddity

People often ask me why Volusia County politicians routinely insult the intelligence of their constituents and seem to live in an alternate universe separate from the rest of us – a fantasy land of falsehoods – where they fabricate a bogus narrative, then flog the storyline incessantly, in a vain attempt to make us believe things that simply aren’t true.

It’s a form of political “gaslighting,” where those who hold themselves out as a self-important “authority” use manipulation and misdirection to sew confusion and delegitimize our perception of reality.

Once you recognize the method and motivation, it’s easy to spot when elected officials are blowing smoke up your ass. . .

I keep a running list of these recurrent “trust issues” – and trot them out whenever talk turns to resurrecting the rotting corpse of the sales tax initiative that voters roundly defeated last year.

Since taxpayers shot down their bold money grab, Volusia County politicians – and their handlers over at the secret society of millionaires known as the CEO Business Alliance – keep trying to frighten us with tall tales of losing space related businesses because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate them.

At a November 2019 meeting of the Knights of the Round Table – a shadow government comprised of area mayors and managers that serves as a political insulation committee for difficult public policy decisions – the always arrogant Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys said with that sense of faux-urgency only a politician running for higher office can muster:

“We’re at a crossroads, Volusia County,” Denys continued. “If we get another Blue Origin or Space X (or other aerospace companies considering expanding to Volusia) and they need infrastructure, what’s your answer going to be?”

To bolster the narrative, last week, Team Volusia – that do-nothing “public/private partnership” which ostensibly exists to lure new business and industry to Volusia County – held their annual soiree at The Mori Hosseini Center at Daytona State College.

In years past, The Daytona Beach News-Journal has described Team Volusia’s elegant schmoozer as “big on enthusiasm, short on details” – and this year’s gathering of our stuffed-shirt politicians, their oligarchical handlers and that fawning coterie of “economic development” shills they bankroll with our money was no different.

This year, the keynote speaker was none other than Scott Henderson, Florida site selector for Blue Origin, the private commercial space company formed by Amazon’s Jeff Bazos.

During his speech, Mr. Henderson made the ambiguous comment that our assembled big shots had been waiting to hear – a mustard seed of vague hope that will be perpetuated by Councilwoman Denys, and everyone who makes their living telling people what they want to hear, throughout this years election cycle:

“We’re going to launch something from this county before it’s all said and done.”

And pandemonium ensued. . .

In fact, Volusia County Councilman Fred Lowry took to social media to toast the big announcement, “Attending Team Volusia Annual Dinner. Blue Origin in Volusia County!!!!”

While Ms. Denys touted her recent appointment to something called “Florida’s Space Caucus” (whatever the hell that is) – another nonsensical title only Tallahassee insiders could dream up. . .

Is it just me, or does anyone else see a recurrent theme here? 

Look, maybe “when its all said and done” Blue Origin will be blasting rockets into space from Volusia County  – sending missiles over your home and mine – fouling the sensitive estuaries of the Mosquito Lagoon and Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge with frightening regularity – getting “outside the fences, away from the federal bureaucracy,” (and prying eyes and federal environmental regulations, etc.) at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral (you know, where the launch pads are located?  Where we’ve launched rockets since their inception?)

But it won’t be anytime soon. 

And anyone who suggests differently is – for reasons that are becoming increasingly clear – manipulating the facts to meet their narrative.

You see, five years ago, back when “Project Panther” – another super-secret “economic development” sham which perpetuated the idea that the Shiloh area of Southeast Volusia was poised to become a “spaceport,” to include a rocket manufacturing plant near Oak Hill – then United States Senator and Freeloading Political Astronaut Bill Nelson said:

“I’m not going to sweet talk anything, I’m going to tell it like it is, Shiloh is not going to become a spaceport.”

He was right.

Now, in a front-page article by Clayton Park in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Deb Denys is quoted as saying, “The possibility of Volusia becoming home to a commercial rocket launch site “is always in play.”

Say what?

Where?  When?  Why?  How?

My God.  How cruel? 

Have you been to Brevard County lately? 

I have.

Trust me.  The Titusville, Coco Beach, Melbourne metroplex has enough vacant office buildings, strip centers, warehouse space and vacant land – the carnage left in the wake of the original space programs exodus – to house hundreds of aerospace, support and supply chain businesses, literally on the front porch of the launch complex. . .

While Ms. Denys continues this sham of attracting “commercial space jobs” – all while touting the need for a sales tax increase to pay for the infrastructure required to support it – the good citizens of Volusia County continue to suffer under the debilitating social, civic and economic issues that are ruining our quality of life – including our own growing local transportation issues, water availability, looming environmental catastrophes and overwhelmed utilities.

Yet, she breeds false hope for struggling families with fabrications of imminent space related jobs – and an almost pathological indifference to the real needs of her long-suffering constituents.

Why?

The reality is, while Ms. Denys wastes time in Washington and Tallahassee perpetuating this odd space fantasy and painting herself as a subject matter expert to bolster her campaign for County Chair on our dime – some 43% of the population here on the Fun Coast are unable to meet basic living expenses each month – while uber-wealthy insiders continue to enjoy an endless flow of public funds for private projects – as the affordable housing crisis continues, even as our sensitive natural places are paved over for yet another massive “luxury” community, etc., etc.

And that, friends and neighbors, is when superfluous, non-committal comments at a rubber chicken banquet becomes something more sinister.

Expect to see our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, spill more of this Buck Rogers bilge water during his annual “State of the County” hot air generator next month – when the same shim-sham artists gather to tell us all what they think we want to hear. . .

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of this orchestrated sleight-of-hand designed to divert attention from the pressing needs of Volusia County residents.

“When all is said and done” I hope voters will put a stop to this malicious farce while there’s still something worth worrying about.

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 24, 2020

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:

Before we get started, I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my beat-up old heart who reached out to me since our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, announced that he won’t be running for a second term.

Look, I sincerely appreciate everyone who asked me to consider a run for elective office – your support and confidence is truly humbling (if not a bit baffling) – but there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell my name will ever be on a ballot. . .

Not happening.

You see, Volusia County politics has become a blood sport – and I don’t have the stomach for it.

I’m not running for anything – or from anything – and that’s the way I like it. . .

For those intrepid souls who are considering standing for high office – you have my abiding respect; however, please know that I have absolutely no clue how to start, manage or strategize a political campaign.

Sorry, but I wouldn’t know where to begin.

My role, as I see it, is limited to openly criticizing every misstep, mini-move and machination of those who are actually in the political arena – a toothless watchdog perched up here in the cheap seats – nothing more.

I’m not kidding.  You take your burgeoning political career (and personal reputation) in your hands when you ask for my advice.

Besides, nothing about wallowing around in the mud with these assholes intrigues me.

Last weekend, with Volusia County residents still processing his decision to leave public life, Old Ed took to social media to bash, Jeff “Plan B” Brower – the only declared opponent to the darling of the Halifax areas “in-crowd” – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys.

Apparently, our ‘powers that be’ are pissed that a family farmer and small business owner from Deleon Springs has the temerity to challenge the status quo and threaten the flow of public funds to the private, for profit projects of our uber-wealthy east-side insiders who purchase political candidates like cheap livestock with massive campaign contributions each election cycle.

In Ed’s vapid and mean-spirited style, he struck in all directions, like a blind rattlesnake, openly accusing Mr. Brower of various and sundry atrocities – like being $136 delinquent on his property taxes – and making veiled threats to expose similar outrages as things progress.

Who needs that shit from the likes of Ed Kelley?

It was ugly and crude and so typical of the petty mudslinging that has marked Chairman Kelley’s absurd political career since his early days meddling in Ormond Beach.

Old Ed’s bumbling attempt to besmirch Mr. Brower’s personal and civic reputation reminded me of every reason I don’t want any direct association with Volusia County government – or the rabid, wholly compromised political whores and hangers-on who lurk in its dark and moldy corners – dutifully servicing those who bought the paper on their very soul.

If Jeff Brower’s trivial transgressions make him unsuitable for public office – then I’m the last guy who can meet the high standards of our “Rich & Powerful” gatekeepers.

You see, I’ve been married three times – and I’m hopelessly guilty of more youthful indiscretions, character flaws, mistakes, imprudence, recklessness, foolishness, irresponsibility, piss-poor judgment, personal errors and professional blunders than I can count.

I hail from a long line of impertinent hillbillies – and my love of self-indulgence, debauchery and the non-stop pursuit of fun is legendary.

I have a propensity for strong drink and I smoke like a chimney fire.

At one point or another, I’ve  been delinquent on every insufferable tax, fee, loan and past due bill that I couldn’t wheedle my way out of.

I’ve been shot at and missed, shit at and hit, and squandered my misspent youth dancing the soles off my boots at every ol’ bar from The Frontier to the Rockin’ Ranch.

(Trust me – there’s a lot of stories under those wagon wheel lights. . .)

I’m perpetually lazy, broke, beaten and bruised – as the song says, “a man of means by no means”still upside-down on a car loan – carry two mortgages on a wood frame cracker box that’s three years late on a paint job – and there’s a gentleman in India who works for American Express that calls me several times a week to ask where the money went – and I’m just as confused as he is.

The last time someone stole my identity – they repossessed his car and turned his damn utilities off. . .

And I exaggerate more than any stuffed-shirt politician you ever met.

I’m a piece of work.

Perhaps most disturbing, I take some perverse pride in it all. . .

At the end of the day, I know that what little I have was earned honestly – during an incredibly satisfying career that spanned three decades of service to a cause greater than my own self-interests – a true calling that gave me far more than I can ever repay – along with a few emotional and physical scars – and enough stories to last a lifetime.

It’s the one thing I got right in life.

And I don’t need Ed Kelley’s approval.  For anything.

You see, for reasons I’ll never understand, my long-suffering wife, two dogs, a precious few friends and my beautiful grand kids think I’m something special.

And that means more to me than any highfalutin elected office in the world.

So, to all you kindhearted souls who continue to ask me to run for political office, I’ll just echo the sentiments of the late Congressman Mo Udall, who once said:

“If nominated I will run — for the Mexican border.  If elected, I will fight extradition.”

 Amen.

Angel               Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado

Finally, true leadership emerges. . .

Last week, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado saw with the clarity of his own eyes the onerous hurdles and hoops that await any homeless person who attempts to seek shelter at our “new” $6 million First Step Shelter.

I’ve liked Aaron Delgado since the first time we met.

He’s a smart guy with a swagger I respect – he doesn’t suffer fools – and he cares more about people than his political future.

Now, Commissioner Delgado is boldly wading into the middle of this fetid mess in an attempt to bring order and a sense of direction to a publicly funded social service that has clearly left the rails.

In fact, Mr. Delgado is calling for a whole new way of doing business – a return to the low barrier, come as you are, shelter we were promised in the first place – to include doubling the number of available beds and designating an outdoor safe zone for those who can’t – or won’t – participate in First Step’s mysterious transitional streets-to-prosperity self-help seminar.

In addition, Delgado seems intent on determining exactly what we are getting from Catholic Charities, who, apparently, runs day-to-day shelter operations in cooperation with Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg, City Manager Jim Chisholm and the First Step Board – a multi-tiered bureaucracy that has proven wholly dysfunctional.

You may recall that when the facility was still a sandy patch of ground, Catholic Charities continued to accept public funds, month in and month out – giving absolutely nothing in return – because there was nothing for them to manage!

That became painfully clear last month when it was exposed that important policies and protocols have yet to be written or approved – something that should have/could have been completed well before the doors opened.

According to an excellent report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Commissioner Delgado challenged the status quo in an email to City Manager Jim Chisholm last week:

“If this is what we are getting for our money from Catholic Charities (not to mention the year we paid for literally next to nothing), then we need a new group to run it or we need to run it as a division of the government.  We take the blame either way.”

Of course, Commissioner Delgado’s new strategy didn’t sit well with those neutered lap dogs on the First Step Shelter Board – hapless municipal officials who have been embarrassingly marginalized and openly abused by Mr. Chisholm literally since the board’s inception.

Several board members (who still think they are relevant to the conversation) immediately began nipping and yapping at Delgado’s pant leg, claiming the board would prefer to “handle First Step operation decisions themselves,” and accusing the commissioner of entering the fray only now that the shelter has been built and opened.

According to Port Orange City Commissioner Chase Tramont, “The commissioner is inserting himself into policy decisions that he has no role in.  My advice is that you either stay in your lane, or feel free to take the wheel and I’ll get off at the next stop. What I’m not going to be is a yes man for the Daytona Beach City Commission.”

Really?

We’ve heard Mr. Tramont’s saber rattling before. . .

Anyone paying attention knows that the First Step Board has been publicly tied to Jim Chisholm’s whipping post for months.

In fact, the lack of substantive communication between the City of Daytona Beach and First Step has been staggering – and called into question the ultimate motivations of board members – as it seemed inconceivable that any elected official would knowingly endure that level of insult and repetitive disrespect.

Whatever.

Perhaps most disturbing are recent reports of homeless persons being turned away from the First Step Shelter when a blast of arctic air drove wind chill values to dangerous levels earlier this week.

I guess Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry was dead serious when he declared the multi-million-dollar shelter would not provide the common humanitarian service of protecting the sick, vulnerable and downtrodden from the threat of exposure and hypothermia on extremely cold nights.

My God.  How does anyone with a conscious refuse warmth and refuge to a person at risk of freezing to death? 

These phony “do-gooders” – and the politicians who claim to care – should be ashamed of themselves. . .

When Commissioner Delgado’s plan was announced, the News-Journal was treated to yet another round of the City Hall Two-Step – which has become Daytona Beach’s patented response to uncomfortable questions from the working press:

“When asked Tuesday for legal clarification, City Attorney Robert Jagger, who sits in on all shelter board meetings, said he was referring the question to the city’s spokesperson. The spokesperson did not reply to the question.”

 Perhaps breaking the city’s Code of Omerta – something that has become the operative ethic in Mr. Chisholm’s administration – should be the next thing on Mr. Delgado’s quest to bring positive change to this beleaguered municipal government.

Unfortunately, during Wednesday evenings city commission meeting, Mr. Delgado’s strong suggestions for revamping this boondoggle dissolved into one of Mayor Henry’s patented long-winded soliloquies – a monologue which says nothing, and explains even less, other than buying time while anesthetizing anyone listening into a catatonic state.

I’m not sure what the final outcome was – I was hypnotized into a “Henry Coma” on my sofa – but it appears the majority are content to give First Step even more time – and money – as we all wait patiently to see how things shake out.

Good luck, Commissioner Delgado.

And thanks for trying. . .

Angel               Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg

Well, it looks like the strange and tragic saga of Deltona City Manager Jane Shang is finally coming to a complicated end, thanks to a long overdue motion to terminate her reign of terror brought by Mayor Heidi Herzberg during a meeting earlier this week.

The action didn’t receive the required super-majority – but the handwriting is on the wall. . .   

When it came time to do the right thing and eliminate this malignant curse of drama, maladministration and outrageous personal and professional conduct that has resulted in the city government becoming a cautionary tale – inexplicably, Commissioners Bob McFall, Maritza Avila-Vazquez and Chris Nabicht voted against the motion. . .

In our modern vernacular: WTF?

The commission responded in kind when Mayor Herzberg called for a vote of no confidence.

At the end of the day, Ms. Shang is now on the losing end of a majority vote – a formal notice that most of the elective body feel she is no longer fit to serve – and I suspect all that remains is determining the amount of taxpayer funds she’ll command on the way out the door.

In my view, the Shang administration has been a perpetual disaster – marked by repugnant strongarm tactics more akin to a barbarous dictatorship than a representative democracy.

From the insidious intimidation of employees who attempted to bring her mismanagement to light – the malicious use of the criminal justice system to crush citizen dissent and intimidate anyone who worked to expose the dysfunction in her weird administration – to the embarrassing debacle that found her entering a deferred prosecution agreement last year following an investigation into voter fraud allegations – it has been a shit show of epic proportions.

Frankly, in most places that value good governance and a strong civic reputation, this nightmare should have ended when the city commission had a moral obligation to protect their constituents from Ms. Shang’s abhorrent conduct.

It didn’t.

Shang continued to crash around like a demented bull in a china shop, destroying civic morale and using the close manipulation of information vital to the decision-making process like a weapon to divide elected officials, all while the community grew increasingly fragmented, frustrated and angry.

City commission meetings descended into chaos, with obscene outbursts building to threatening rhetoric from the gallery, as many frightened residents feared the situation was deteriorating toward violence.

Soon, metal detectors and armed sheriff’s deputies greeted citizens as authorities responded to the mounting discord.

All while Jane Shang sat smugly on the dais in stoic, almost mocking silence – holding firm to her omnipotent power in the cloistered environment of City Hall – while Deltona smoldered.

Now, residents (and city commissioners) are just learning of Shang’s cockamamie deal with a 46-year old Deltona firefighter accused of gross sexual harassment and unprofessional conduct with coworkers and citizens, which resulted in Fire Chief Bill Snyder’s recommendation for termination.

Instead of supporting her department head, Shang agreed to allow the employee to remain on something called “suspended without pay” for one year, allowing the firefighter to use accrued leave until November 1, 2020, when he will have completed 25-years of service – thus becoming eligible for full retirement benefits under the city’s plan. . .

Say what?

After learning of the “deal” from a records request by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mayor Herzberg remarked:

“You (Shang) undermined your director (Snyder) and you didn’t inform your commission until it got hot and heavy.” 

Wow.

How Commissioners Avila-Vazquez, Nabicht and McFall can continue to support this abject lunacy defies reason. . .

Kudos to Mayor Herzberg for following her conscience in calling for Jane Shang’s termination – and for bravely defending the precepts of good governance and participatory democracy for her long-suffering constituents.

In my view, that takes a level of personal and political courage that has been sorely lacking in Deltona for far too long.

Angel               BC-U Track and Field Champion Summer Fields

Barker’s View joins with the Wildcat Nation in mourning the untimely passing of the legendary collegiate athlete, Summer Fields, who passed away following a courageous battle with cancer earlier this month.

According to Bethune-Cookman Athletics:

“The 2016 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference indoor pentathlon and outdoor long champion had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma cancer last December and had used social media as an outlet to both inform and motivate.”

“To God Be the Glory for the Life of Summer Brown,” said B-CU Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lynn W. Thompson via twitter.  “Summer was such a beautiful soul who touched so many during her time at B-CU. We will forever cherish her!”

In remembering Summer’s brilliant life and athletic career, B-CU Head Coach Donald Brown said, “I use her name a lot when describing how a true champion makes sacrifices to obtain their goals, I want to thank her and her parents for blessing us with her presence here at Bethune-Cookman University.  She is forever family and forever loved.”

 Indeed.

Ms. Fields leaves behind a young son, Aycen, to cherish her inspiring legacy.

Quote of the Week

“At what point does a city or town reach a growth saturation point?  Is it when first responders receive negative commentary for response times?  Is it when traffic gridlock becomes a daily obstacle?  Is it when your community loses its character and the very reason as to why you decided to settle is lost?

The buzzwords “Smart Growth” can have various meanings that can be orchestrated to fit the planners, engineers and developers; however, the end results in many cases is not always in the best interests of the community.  We know growth does not pay for itself (tax referendums) and locally falls short in providing those economic achievements the developers so smoothly cover in a presentation.” 

–Barry Du Moulin, Ormond Beach, Letters to the Editor, Ormond Beach Observer, “Can we grow better in Ormond Beach?” January 20, 2020

My friend Barry makes a good point.

Unfortunately, the citizens of Ormond Beach are about to reap the whirlwind of what happens when their ‘powers that be’ make historically poor strategic decisions and allow their much larger, and more aggressive, neighbor to envelop their flank.

As you read this, Orlando-based Avalon Park Group is in the preliminary stages of developing a massive 2,500 acre “master-planned community” on State Road 40 west of Interstate 95 – immediately adjacent to the sprawling faux-beach community of Latitudes Margaritaville – which will see thousands of 55-and-over Parrotheads crowding area surface roads when the 3,400 home community is ultimately built out.

What that means is Daytona Beach gets the revenue boost – while Ormond Beach residents get the shaft. . .

And don’t forget Mosaic – the 1,200 home “lifestyle” community currently being built off LPGA Boulevard by our High Panjandrum of Political Power Mori Hosseini’s ICI Homes. . .

When you add these “master planned communities” up – the tens-of-thousands of new neighbors we’re being forced to welcome will place extreme pressure on our already over-stressed transportation infrastructure and finite water supply, which, in my view, is the very definition of the civic saturation point.

And if you think our ‘powers that be’ have any real plan to implement so-called smart growth initiatives – think again.

They can’t even define the term. . .     

The unfortunate reality is that many of the same compromised politicians who are asking us to return them to the Halls of Power throughout Volusia County are the same ones who got us into this mess in the first place.

You might consider that in the voting booth this fall.  If you can get there. . .

And Another Thing!

When I was a mid-career police officer, I made the decision to seek promotion to the rank of Lieutenant – essentially a middle management position that, at the time, supervised the uniform patrol division.

After serving as a line supervisor in both patrol and investigations – I felt I had the operational and administrative experience to take on greater responsibility.

So, I put on my best uniform, shined my shoes and polished my brass, then walked into the chief’s office and closed the door.

After making a convincing case why I should be promoted over the other sergeants competing for the job, the chief agreed that I had done everything possible to qualify for the promotion – but he had a few questions that would determine whether I was ready for it:

He looked me in the eye and asked if I was prepared to accept personal and financial responsibility for my officers 24/7 – even when I was home asleep?

When they fail, are you ready accept it as a personal failure?

When they win, are you prepared to defer credit and let them shine?

And, most important, he said when my subordinates screwed up – the first face he needed to see was mine – accepting complete responsibility for the mistake without excuse.

Discipline and retraining could follow to correct behavior – but the responsibility was mine – and, ultimately, his.

I never forgot that.

And while I didn’t always live up to those high standards of accountability commensurate with responsibility – I tried hard every day.

That’s part of why I’m so hyper-critical of those in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County Schools who hold positions of great responsibility – yet consistently blame their subordinates for institutional shortcomings that bear no resemblance to proper command and control.

This week, we learned that several administrators at Spruce Creek High School received something called a Letter of Caution – which, I think, is something similar to a watered-down reprimand – following a September incident in which an ambulatory drunk, armed with a pocketknife, made his way from the street into an occupied classroom without any substantive intervention for 20-minutes. . .

So, as typically happens whenever the district is asked to investigate itself – the official inquiry “found that there was not enough evidence to support disciplinary action” – yet, for some unknown reason, Spruce Creek Principal Todd Sparger, his assistant principal and two campus advisers were “cautioned” anyway.

Whatever.

What we didn’t see was any substantive discipline at the top of the organizational chart – those who make the big bucks to ensure that the policies and protocols designed to protect tens-of-thousands of vulnerable students, teachers and staff are implemented, understood and followed.

Why is that?   

According to the News-Journal, Chief Operations Officer for Volusia County Schools Greg Akin – in my view, a wholly ineffective poser who is paid handsomely to oversee a security role he is clearly unqualified for – said “protocol would have been for the campus adviser at the guardhouse to use his radio to communicate, and go into immediate lockdown.”

Really?

That’s how the “Chief Operations Officer” quibbles away personal and professional responsibility for a potentially catastrophic event that occurred on his watch – by blaming the lowest man on the totem pole? 

My ass.   

If there is any good news to report, it is that the district is actively advertising for a professional Safety and Security expert to provide a degree of credibility and oversight to a critical role that has become a catchall – an afterthought – in an era that deserves the very best we can employ.

In the meantime, perhaps our new superintendent – Dr. Scotty Fritz – can find his way to purge the overpaid and under-qualified frauds in the hierarchy of Volusia County Schools who continue to accept public funds for a vital role they failed when the chips were down.

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

 

   

Please, Sir, May I pay some more?

Are Volusia County taxpayers really demanding to pay more?

On Monday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board published an interesting piece entitled, “Take sales tax off the table.”

They should have stopped there.

After rehashing the who, what, when and why last year’s half-cent money grab crashed and burned, the editorial hinted at some veiled initiative by “a group of Volusia County residents” who are apparently working to get the proposal back on the ballot through a “citizen-led” petition drive.

Say what? 

Look, I consider myself relatively wired-in to current events – but I’ll be dipped if I’ve heard of any organized effort to force this issue back before voters with a grassroots initiative like the News-Journal implied.

I’m not saying it isn’t true – but I haven’t spoken to anyone who wants to champion the cause of taxing our own eyeballs out so the same players can get us deeper into this rotten quagmire – so, I’m merely suggesting that the News-Journal might want to flesh their weird theory out a little more in coming days. . .

In fact, most Volusia County resident’s I’ve talked to thought this issue was dead and buried when they voted against it during an incredibly expensive special election that cost taxpayers $490,000 – because that’s what our ‘powers that be’ were convinced (by a privately funded consultant) would give their tax the best possible chance of passing.

Remember?

Everyone who is anyone in county/city government was whipped into a greed-crazed froth by Dr. Kent Sharples and his secret society of millionaires over at the CEO Business Alliance – ostensibly bright politicians and political insiders who went blind to public perception in their avaricious anticipation of the windfall they all knew was coming.

Right up until the votes were tallied. . .

What our uber-wealthy “brain trust” failed to comprehend, or accept, is the depth of suspicion and cynicism that has driven a wedge between citizens and those they elect and appoint to represent their interests.

I mean, what part of the “trust issue” don’t they understand?

The uncontrolled growth and sprawl which continues unabated directly on top of our aquifer recharge areas?

The impact fee debacle which saw shadowy factions inside county government intentionally hiding a publicly funded study from decision-makers and residents?

The continuing fight to overturn the voter-approved Amendment 10?

The massive giveaways and incentives to billionaire corporations?

The active suppression of citizen input in public policy decisions or the utter ineptitude and ham-handed bungling that has made a mockery of the legislative process?

The strategic rot of publicly owned facilities, the blight and dilapidation of our beachside, the looming financial exposure of SunRail, the mismanagement of our most important natural amenity, the complete lack of leadership and vision, the oversize influence of wealthy insiders, yada, yada, yada?

I’m asking – because it baffles me that those who occupy the seats of official and unofficial power in Volusia County can’t grasp the gravity and consequences of this growing wariness and mistrust.

In my view, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that no tax increase is ever really dead in Volusia County – and the elected officials and government contractors who stand to reap the lucrative benefits could give two-shits about the will of the people – or respecting our sacred vote.

The only viable option I’ve heard since it became apparent our oligarchical system wouldn’t take no for an answer has been brought by Big John, Volusia County’s preeminent government watchdog, and a valiant warrior in the fight to defend the rights of taxpayers, is touting an idea to have any revenues generated by a sales tax increase directed by an independent citizen committee outside the influence of government.

Now, I’m not even sure that’s legal – and there are a lot of moving parts to be sorted out – but I understand that some serious people are willing to serve.

It’s an interesting concept that speaks to how low we’ve sunk.

An environment where citizens must form an external oversight committee – separate and removed from the greed and maladministration of their elected officials – to make policy decision that can no longer be trusted to the mechanisms of local government. . .

Perhaps it’s time for Volusia County voters to open their eyes – just as they did when they answered the sales tax question the first time around.

When we need an external means of administrating public funds for much-needed infrastructure, water quality and utilities projects to keep pace with massive growth – perhaps its time to change the composition of our elective bodies by electing servant-leaders who respect the will of the people – and put our quality of life before their own craven self-interests.

On Volusia: The Lion in Winter

Politicians are a different breed.

I truly admire those with a legitimate call to serve – that fire-in-the-belly determination to stand bare before their neighbors and endure the slings and arrows of a modern political campaign – then work cooperatively to make a difference in the life of their community.

Despite my often-scathing criticism of local politics, it is important to remember that there are true servant-leaders working hard in elected positions in municipal governments and serving on civic committees, taxing authorities and advisory boards throughout Volusia County and beyond.

Those who spend their time and talents in service to their community without mercenary motivations – who aren’t driven by cronyism, facilitating corporate welfare or lock-step loyalty to a venal system that enriches those who have purchased a lucrative spot on the public suckling line at our expense.

Given our unique circumstance here on the Fun Coast – a place where many key elected officials have become little more than obsequious bootblacks for the uber-wealthy insiders who purchase politicians like cheap livestock each election cycle – it is easy to become cynical about the process.

But it’s never dull. . .

Last week, during an elegant soiree of the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (sorry, I just upchucked in my mouth a little) – where the always arrogant Deb Denys was being “honored” as Citizen of the Year (?) – our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, stood before the assembled developers, real estate speculators and political benefactors that he served so well and announced he will not seek a second term.

But it became immediately apparent that Old Ed wouldn’t be going quietly into that good night as a lame duck political eunuch. . .

After letting the air out of the room, Chairman Kelley clumsily threw his support to Ms. Denys, who will vacate her District 3 post (sort of) to run for the catbird seat.

It was a well-orchestrated plan, clearly conceived in some shady backroom deal by two sitting officials, that will allow Old Ed to use the remainder of his term – damn near a full year – to transform back into the political werewolf we all know and love to run interference for Ms. Denys – slinging mud, digging dirt and spreading misinformation about anyone who dares to challenge the status quo.

And it didn’t take long for Chairman Kelley to make his lycanthropic change – or accelerate the destruction of public respect for his high office – when he began hurling cheap accusations and veiled threats on social media.

Just days after his announcement, Mr. Kelley took to Facebook to troll Jeff “Plan B” Brower, the Deleon Springs farmer, small business owner and intrepid civic activist who is currently Ms. Denys’ only declared challenger.

Old Ed called into question Mr. Brower’s property tax bill, besmirched his contributors, and even took an oblique swipe at some obscure “agriculture exemption inquiry” on Brower’s family farmland, whatever that means.

(Now that Ed has pried opened that long nailed shut door, I think it would be fun for some reputable investigative reporter to take a look at which politically active corporations and individuals are actively farming in Volusia County in exchange for a break on their property tax bill, don’t you think?)

Chairman Kelley’s outburst on Facebook was ugly and embarrassing – and so typical of the underhanded, cheap-jack treachery that has defined Volusia County government since the original sin:

Having our very Charter cobbled together by some of the same uber-wealthy insiders who even now reap the fruits of their handiwork at the public teat. . .

I’ve said it for years – Ed Kelley is a whole different person when he’s angry – and, right out of the gate, he didn’t disappoint.

At the end of the day, it was a petty attempt to besmirch the reputation of a civically active citizen with a burning desire to serve – simply because Mr. Brower poses a real threat to the oligarchical system that has fed Old Ed’s cronies so well, for so long.

In doing so, Chairman Kelley exposed that ugly, abusive and vindictive part of himself – that shit-covered rat that crawls out and spews bile whenever the “system” becomes vulnerable each election cycle.

Don’t take my word for it.

Watch how Chairman Kelley treated Councilwoman Heather Post literally from the moment she took office.

Review how he openly signed his name to a letter supporting Ms. Post for statewide office which said, “Volusia County enthusiastically supports County Council Member Heather Post’s candidacy for a Vice President position with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC)” – yet, the second he was out of our sight, actively and enthusiastically campaigned against Ms. Post!

Rather than make good on his promise to support his own colleague’s run on behalf of Volusia County –  he succumbed to his innate propensity for quisling and mean-spirited backstabbing, then – when the chips were down – he blatantly lied – and embarrassed all of us in the process. . .

Add the fact that Old Ed couldn’t cut the mustard on an incredibly lucrative half-cent sales tax initiative that crashed like a cheap kite during a very expensive special election last year.

(Maybe it just boiled down to the fact our ‘Rich & Powerful’ couldn’t afford another round of Mr. Kelley’s ham-handed bungling screwing up their next bite at the apple?)

And don’t get me started on the fumbling, mumbling and bumbling that has marked Mr. Kelley’s term at the helm of this ship of fools – how he quashed public participation, shutdown his “colleagues” whenever they attempted to question the “why” of things and, through his gross ineptitude, turned the legislative process into a foul joke.

Trust me.  They’ll be plenty of time for reminiscing on all of this and more over the next year. . .

But the next time you find yourself waiting on three cycles of a traffic light on area surface roads – or contemplate the specter of drinking your own recycled waste to make room for even more development – or pay handsomely to enjoy what’s left of a beach you already support with your tax dollars – or try desperately to keep a roof over your head and feed your family – or contemplate how Volusia County’s budget grew to nearly $1 Billionask yourself if your family is better off for having been subjected to Old Ed’s unique brand of “service”?

The fact is Ed Kelley has always allowed vindictive animus and petty politics to stand in the way of true public service – and it shows.

In my jaded view, Chairman Kelley – and his heir apparent, Deb Denys – a perennial politician with the “likability” factor of a water moccasin and a malleable voting record – represent all that is wrong with Volusia County government.

This year, I’m not alone.

Make no mistake, Jeff “Plan B” Brower has been recognized by his opposition as a very real threat to the status quo – the continued viability of using public funds for private projects – and the exclusion of citizen input into the ways and means of these pompous assholes who govern our lives and livelihoods.

If Ed Kelley’s ill-timed mudslinging on social media this weekend is any indication, it’s going to be a very interesting – and revealing – election year on all sides of the ballot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 17, 2020

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              Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley

He finally did the right thing. . .

Earlier this week I received word through the Barker’s View grapevine that Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley would announce his retirement from public life during the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development’s elegant soiree last evening.

Apparently, it wasn’t a very well-kept secret. . .

Out of some warped sense of begrudging respect, I held the news until Chairman Kelley could sing his swan song in his own inimitable way.

I owed him that.

I can’t think of a more fitting setting for his valediction – in a gaudy ballroom at One Daytona – the struggling retail, shopping and entertainment complex owned by International Speedway Corporation that Volusia County and Daytona Beach taxpayers gifted a cumulative total of $40 million in incentives – with Old Ed standing resplendent before an intimate coterie of developers, real estate speculators and political benefactors that he served so well, for so long.

Unfortunately, the news was bittersweet – after Ed stole her thunder, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys announced she will now be seeking the catbird seat when she takes on the only external threat to the iron grip of Volusia County’s oligarchy – Jeff “Plan B” Brower – and whoever else our power brokers insinuate into the race to muddy the waters this fall.

Tragically, the ascendance of Deb Denys may well be a prophetic sign that we are finally hitting rock bottom. . .

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Kelley said he plans to spend time helping his son, Brian Kelley, with business endeavors related to his very successful music career with the country band Florida Georgia Line.”

Whatever that means. . .

Cowbell
In retirement, Kelley plans to assist his son, Brian Kelley, of Florida Georgia Line

Regardless, I find the timing interesting – and you can bet your sweet patoot none of this was conceived in a vacuum – as I’m sure our power brokers were involved at every step.

Before you pop the champagne corks, Chairman Kelley plans to finish out his term – which means he isn’t going anywhere until December 31st. . .

Look, I’ve watched Ed Kelley’s political mischief since his early days in Ormond Beach – back when I was still bound and ball-gagged by my job in the public sector and wasn’t allowed to have an opinion – but to say he and I never saw eye-to-eye on the issues of the day is an understatement.

In my jaded view, for years, Old Ed has used his considerable clout – influence he earned the hard way – by kissing the sizable backsides of our oligarchical overseers, ignoring the needs of his constituents and doing whatever it took to ramrod the for-profit projects of his cronies – always in a manner detrimental to our quality of life and pocketbooks.

In fact, I don’t believe Ed Kelley had an original thought after he accepted his first campaign contribution. . .

But maybe that’s how the game is played here on the Fun Coast? 

If so, then Mr. Kelley was a master of his craft.

As a perennial politician with many years of public service under his belt, I was always struck by the fact he had the ability to shrug off withering criticism (and common sense) and remain true to his own North Star.

No matter how ridiculous or hurtful to our quality of life his brainless decisions were, he never wavered; something I found both admirable and confounding.

I am essentially a hapless rube lost in the dark political wilderness – a naïf who shifts through the massive piles of steaming manure produced by local governments seeking specks of truth – then I salve my raw frustrations on the pages of this blogsite.

And Ed Kelley was the perfect foil.

In my mind, Chairman Kelley was never a political villain – more a dithering figurehead who shilly-shallied on stage while the real decision-makers worked behind the curtain – and his value to the “system” was that he never asked “why?”

Regardless of the issue, he never disappointed my pathological need to find fault – and proved a worthy adversary for anyone attempting to influence public policy from outside the Ivory Tower of Power – or blow the whistle on inefficiencies and mismanagement in county government.

Like a gormless drone, he dutifully patrolled the battlements of this Kingdom of Fools like a demented sentry – always protecting the status quo from any external threat.

If Chairman Kelley is remembered for anything, it will be that he helped crush participatory democracy in Volusia County – an ineffective jackleg who shit on everything his long-suffering constituents held dear.

So, as Chairman Kelley enters the twilight of his public career and becomes a lame duck – a political eunuch – (which can be infinitely more dangerous than a politician who still needs to curry favor) I plan to stay vigilant – and metaphorically quirt him like a borrowed mule in this space every time he sells us out for cheap political leverage – right to the bitter end.

I don’t think Chairman Kelley would expect – or respect – anything less. . .

I hope you’ll stay tuned.  Because things just got very interesting in Volusia County politics.

Angel               Former DeBary City Clerk Stacy Tebo

Last month, while meeting behind closed doors in “Executive Session,” the DeBary City Council approved a settlement agreement with former city clerk Stacy Tebo worth some $287,000.

The citizens of DeBary will pay a $5,000 deductible and the remainder of the cost will be assumed by the city’s liability carrier.

The action brings to a close a very dark chapter in DeBary’s history and emphasizes the importance of professional management and politically accountable oversight in the often-cloistered environment of government organizations where, by charter, the chief executive’s power is virtually omnipotent.

Following some five-years of ugly, and incredibly expensive, legal wrangling as the municipality tried to defend outrageous allegations against former city manager Dan Parrott – who was accused of repeatedly demeaning Tebo and former Assistant City Manager Kassandra Blissett –  who endured alleged misogynistic slurs, an incredibly hostile work environment and the ultimate demise of their promising careers with the city.

The lawsuit claimed “ongoing and pervasive sexist remarks,” such as:

“Women don’t think clearly because they are too emotional.”

 “There’s too much estrogen here.”

 When the women complained, they were fired. . .

Mind boggling, really.

Ultimately, Parrott fled the small community with a sack full of severance and other lucrative payouts, and the city government dissolved into a fetid quagmire of political vengeance and malfeasance, which ended with the duly elected mayor being removed from office in a cheap coup d’etat.

In May 2018, DeBary settled Ms. Blissett’s gender discrimination suit for $250,000.

Then, in August 2018, a federal court ruled in favor of Parrott and the City of DeBary; however, to her credit, Ms. Tebo appealed the decision and continued her relentless pursuit of justice, prompting the city to settle the matter in December.

According to reports, an attorney representing DeBary surmised that, had Ms. Tebo’s case gone to trial, the cost would have been “much higher” than $287,500.

Indeed. . .

The DeBary case aside, perhaps it’s time we begin holding highly paid public administrators personally responsible when they act in an abhorrent manner that destroys morale, discriminates, sexually demeans and exposes their constituents to serious financial liability – then withhold lucrative severance packages until all investigations and lawsuits have been settled.

In my view, the quickest way to put a stop to sexual harassment, official misconduct and discriminatory practices by senior executives is to hold these craven assholes – who feel their lofty position permits them to exercise their God complex with impunity – personally responsible for monetary damages.

The idea that powerful government administrators in Florida and beyond can repeatedly slip the noose by pulling the ripcord on a lucrative golden parachute – then move on to their next victim – is proving extremely costly for taxpayers.

The concept of accepting personal accountability for one’s own actions sounds like a fiscally responsible idea to me.

How about you?

I applaud Ms. Tebo – and others like her – for having the courage and perseverance to expose sexist bullying and pursue justice for herself and other women who feel they have suffered any form of humiliation or discrimination in the workplace.

Angel               Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via

During this week’s Knights of the Round Table meeting – that shadowy de facto government comprised of area mayors and managers that also serves as a political insulation committee for unpopular policy decisions and a war room for tax increases – Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via demonstrated the courage to say what others won’t.

With Volusia municipalities still reeling from the news that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm tried to unilaterally quash the promised First Step Shelter’s safe zone, Mr. Via put into plain talk what many in our local Halls of Power must have been thinking for over a week.

“There seems to be a disconnect in what we were promised and what is reality now,” Via said. 

“I’m thoroughly disappointed in looking at what we’re going to get.  We talk a lot about trust. This is a perfect example of why citizens don’t trust government.”

Amen.

According to reports, the latest brouhaha began earlier this month when First Step Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg sent a clearly worded email to shelter board members regarding the future of the safe zone that explained, “. . .the manager (Chisholm) has decided to not move forward with building it.”

Any ambiguity there?  Just asking.

Because Fahlberg back peddled faster than a circus clown on a unicycle – claiming what she really meant to say was that Mr. Chisholm “would not be leading the effort to build the safe zone,” deciding instead to send it back to the First Step board to develop a plan, secure funding, etc.

How bizarre.

Why is it that when any aspect of this dreadful money pit is publicly discussed – those close to it are left hemming and hawing, yipping and yapping – trying desperately to explain why what we were told doesn’t comport with what was delivered?

In fact, each time The Daytona Beach News-Journal peels another layer from this fetid onion, more questions arise.

For instance, what began as a low barrier, come as you are, shelter for Halifax area homeless somehow transmogrified into a mysterious self-help seminar designed to efficiently transition wayward vagabonds from the mean streets to a prosperous, contributing life.  Somewhere.

Only the programmatic details have never been fully explained to those of us who pay the bills – and, to my knowledge, no one who should has any understanding of the goals, objectives, past success or per client cost.

Now, it appears the “program” has shape-shifted into little more than a very expensive Book Club. . .

According to a report in the News-Journal by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, Director Fahlberg said:

“They’re given three free meals a day now, and they can simply sit and read in their free time rather than put their energy into where they’re going to sleep or get more food. Some of the clients are rail thin, but they’re starting to gain weight on food from the county jail that they’re grateful to have.”

So, that’s the measure of success?

I’m asking.  Because that doesn’t sound like a homeless rehabilitation program – it sounds like my daily routine in retirement. . .

It gets worse.

Inexplicably, the same architect who designed the facility has apparently been tapped to plan the safe zone as well.

As a result, a simple fenced in area on the property now has an estimated price tag of $200,000 – not including security costs of $150,000 annually.

I mean, we’re talking a patch of bare ground for those who either can’t – or won’t – submit to the rejuvenating affects of the First Step program – not the Château de Chambord.

With $6 million in public funds already over the transom, my guess is Daytona Beach officials are merely confused:  After all, it’s a tough call – should the safe zone be located between the formal gardens and the reflecting pool or next to the polo pitch?

In addition to Mayor Via’s bold stand against this continuing absurdity, Ormond Beach City Commissioner and First Step board member Dwight Selby recently asked his colleagues to withhold his city’s $82,000 annual contribution to fund shelter operations until the safe zone becomes a reality – or the board determines the space is not needed (?)

I suspect we are hearing the death knell for the shelter’s external funding scheme as more municipalities come to the stark realization that First Step is simply not financially sustainable under the current plan – and it bears no resemblance to what any of us were promised going in.

That’s assuming a “plan” exists at all – because every shred of material evidence points to the fact the First Step debacle remains the exclusive domain of the City of Daytona Beach – as Mr. Chisholm intended – and any external oversight is clearly unacceptable to him or his wholly subservient city commission.

Quote of the Week

“Twenty years ago, voters approved both Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO. Both are due to sunset this year. However, a half-cent sales tax increase failed to pass just seven months ago in an expensive special election. That should have sent a clear message that there is no appetite for an increase to the local sales tax.”

 –Joe Hannoush, Libertarian Party of Volusia County, The Daytona Beach News-Journal Letters to the Editor, “Sales tax isn’t ready for Round Two,” Wednesday, January 15, 2020

When will Volusia County elected officials respect the will of the people?

Now, Deland Mayor Bob Apgar – with the support of our lame duck doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley – are floating the nasty idea of “bundling” a full cent sales tax increase into the voter approved Volusia Forever and ECHO programs, which must be renewed, or allowed to sunset, this year.

Now, our ‘powers that be’ want to present us with a weird Hobson’s choice – a “take it or leave it” proposition that does nothing to address the serious and ongoing “trust issues” that saw last years half-cent sales tax initiative go down in flames.

Can this cockamamie strategy possibly be legal?

In my view, wrapping three important issues into one unappealing turd dilutes the viability of each issue – and does a real disservice to area voters – many of whom, including area environmentalists, support the preservation of Volusia Forever and ECHO.

This idea of “vote for a tax increase and you get all of it – or vote against it and you get none of it” doesn’t sit well with me.

In fact, it stinks.

And Another Thing!

Vote Jeff “Plan B” Brower for Volusia County Council Chair.

Vote like your family’s quality of life depends upon it.  Because it does. . .

For more information, please visit: https://www.jeffbrowervcc1.com/

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

 

 

On Volusia: The Epitome of Arrogance

Look, I want to qualify this screed by saying I’m not opposed to paying people what they are worth – especially those with the courage to stand for public office – and I have always respected senior public officials who, on principle, refused to accept pay increases if their subordinates were not afforded the same benefit or during times of financial hardship for their jurisdiction.

I know something about that.

It’s called making a small personal sacrifice for the betterment of something larger than your own self-interests.

During a rushed and rambling council workshop last week, talk turned to placing Charter amendments on the ballot for this year’s election – the act of expending public funds to solicit permanent, voter-approved changes to our county’s otherwise sacrosanct governing document.

To say our Charter needs a fresh set of eyes, beyond the once in a blue moon review by a committee made up of all the right last names, is an understatement. . .

But rather than focus on those serious issues with the Charter – like ensuring those of us who pay the bills are afforded substantive input in the development of public policy – our elected officials took the opportunity to serve their own vanity by suggesting we change the name of our elected body from “Council” to “Commission.”

Why?

Because the term “Councilperson” doesn’t command the level of approbation and reverence our elected representatives feel they are entitled to.

Then, in perhaps the flakiest thing since my granny’s buttermilk biscuits, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, made the asinine suggestion that his exalted position at the head of this wobbly totem pole be officially changed to “Mayor.”

Don’t take my word for it, down three fingers of bourbon, chase it with Kaopectate, and listen to the archived audio.

While council members were on the topic of how woefully unappreciated they are, our vainglorious elected elite had the unmitigated gall to publicly wallow in their own egotistic angst over how terribly expensive shameless self-promotion has become for politicians in 2020.

So, for what must have seemed like the best of reasons, the Volusia County Council tuned their proverbial guitars to the doghouse bass and played the Poor Mouth Blues – openly mewing, moaning and whining about out-of-pocket expenses, a lack of personal assistants, the price of gasoline and high cost of their automobile insurance – before determining how to best couch ballot language for a pay increase that gullible voters might actually swallow.

It was like listening to the Joad’s describe the depravities of poverty in the Dust Bowl. . .

Now, until a recent article on the subject in the News-Journal, I didn’t know exactly how much we pay our elected officials to sacrifice their valuable time and talents for the ungrateful bastards who elected them – and I’ll just bet you didn’t either.

Because its next to impossible to calculate base salary, per diem, fees for attendance at various self-congratulatory soirees and awards banquets, etc. – not to mention travel, hotel and dining expenses for do-nothing meetings, conferences, hobnobs, grip-n-grins and hot air generators in, Tallahassee, Washington D.C. and beyond.

Now, these junkets are always sugarcoated in some pressing public need – like Councilwoman Deb Denys’ incessant squalling about her single-handed attempts to lure SpaceX and United Launch Alliance out of Brevard County to a vacant shopping center on ISB – as though the Titusville/Cocoa/Melbourne metroplex, located literally on the doorstep of the Kennedy Space Center, doesn’t have enough abandoned storefronts, office buildings and warehouse space to accommodate a hundred aerospace companies within a stones throw of the launchpad. . .

Whatever.

For the record, according to the News-Journal, Old Ed commands a base salary of $54,288 annually for his “service” as council chair – and the rest haul in $45,240 each year – essentially for attending two meetings a month and schlepping around to a slate of officious time-wasters that never seem to improve our quality of life or lower our already exorbitant tax rate.

That’s an incredible $217,152 we will have paid Ed Kelley to fumble, mumble and bumble his way through a four-year term at the helm of this ship of fools. . .

Did I mention that, according to 2018 census records, Volusia County households have a median income of just $46,760 – which must cover essential life expenses for families with children?

Since listening to this shit show play out in real-time – and recalling that some 43% of Volusia households do not earn enough to consistently cover basic living expenses – I’ve wondered if these unashamed crybabies sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, lathered in cold sweat, asking themselves if they really said those things into an open microphone?

During an election year? 

Look, I realize that, generally speaking, most politicians have a pretty high opinion of themselves – but building resentment by publicly complaining about their remuneration in front of the tax-strapped folks who foot the bill (after they begged us for the job with the full knowledge of what it paid) is never a good look.

In fact, it’s loutish.

But what’s done is done.

Ultimately, we all get what we deserve.

If our elected officials are convinced that that a pay increase is truly the highest and best use of our tax dollars – then, by all means, they should put that question to the voters this fall.

I can’t wait to see the reaction. . .

 

On Volusia: “The Seduction of Secrecy”

“Difference of opinion leads to inquiry, and inquiry to the truth.”

–Thomas Jefferson, 1815

I find it fascinating that people – depending upon position and perspective – can see the same issue from distinctly different viewpoints.  For instance, those who hold lofty public positions and elevate themselves above those who elected them have a different line of sight from those of us down here in the trenches.

In Volusia County, there is a supreme third perspective – the views of those known colloquially as our “Rich & Powerful” – the oligarchical insiders who trade in local politicians like cheap livestock each election season – then use their purchased clout to shape public policy.

As a result, the always self-serving vision of our uber-wealthy overseers is the only one that matters.

As outsiders peering into the inner sanctum of local governments through the greasy window in the fortified portcullis that separates us from those who accept public funds ostensibly to serve in the public interest – we are forced to use scripted public meetings to catch a glimpse of where our haughty “leadership” stand on the pressing issues of the day.

With the advent of paid government mouthpieces, “communications managers” and “public information directors” – who sanitize and condense “the message” into expressionless press releases while running interference for public administrators – these stilted biweekly theatrical productions by the Volusia County Council and various municipal commissions are the only knothole we have left.

Over time, it has become painfully apparent that most official decisions are a foregone conclusion – hashed out ahead of time in the city or county managers office or based solely on the safety of a “staff recommendation” – reducing the need for public input or strategic thought on the important issues.

This homogenized decision-making process excludes differing opinions from the debate – reducing public policy considerations to an exercise in rubber-stamping the behind-the-scenes “suggestions” of those with a financial chip in the game.

Look, don’t get me wrong – secrecy simplifies things.

However, as taxpayers, we should have an equal voice on how our money is spent – and some meaningful input in legislative and policy decisions that directly affect our lives and livelihoods.

It’s true.  “Information is the currency of power,” and ensuring the people’s ‘right to know’ is the central purpose of Florida’s venerated (yet increasingly eroded) public records and open meetings laws.

Recently, this growing culture of secrecy became problematic when the City of Deltona willingly entered the high stakes game of attracting an Amazon distribution center – and the adage ‘knowledge is power’ became more than just a worn proverb.

Now, the long-suffering community is embroiled in yet another controversy as city commissioners ask why some members were provided advance information – and others were not.

Meanwhile, no one mentions that the good citizens of Deltona were asked to pony up millions in tax incentives before knowing who – or what – they were luring to town. . .

In my view, increasingly, our local governments are falling victim to what Fritz Schwarz, chief counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice, has called “the seduction of secrecy,” and everyone will agree that an informed citizenry is democracy’s best defense.

So, why are We, The People being treated like mushrooms: Kept in the dark and fed bullshit?

I mean, the lengths to which some government offices will go to avoid answering legitimate questions from citizens and reporters – such as where millions in public funds have been spent – are becoming too obvious to ignore.

The working press, who, despite having some trust issues of their own, still hold an important watchdog role over the often-self-serving nature of government, and should be provided reasonable access to investigate and report on the maneuverings and motivations of those who hold power over us.

That always gets messy – as it should.

Our elected and appointed officials derive their authority from the will of the people – in other words, they work for us – or at least they should.

Somehow, in Volusia County, those well-defined roles have been reversed.

This sense of remoteness between the average citizen and those we elect to serve our interests, is becoming institutionalized, an accepted part of what passes for local governance in the new decade, an environment where public policy is formed in seclusion.

Especially when public officials seem to completely ignore that the “trust issue” even exists.

This summer, when incumbent politicians come out of their bunkers in the Ivory Tower of Power to shake our hands, slap our backs and ask for another bite at the apple, please take a minute to ask them when those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence became an afterthought?

Ask them why they sold their souls for a cameo in a staged play that no longer bears any resemblance to a representative democracy – or service in the public interest?


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

Listen locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or worldwide at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

In addition, I will be the streaming live on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mdbarker1 – thanks for joining us for “The fastest two-hours in radio!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for January 10, 2020

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           Volusia County Council

I’m trying my damnedest to stop carping on every mini-move and intrigue of the Volusia County Council – because the turmoil and dysfunction is omnipresent – and it has become clear that there is nothing anyone without a billion dollars in the bank can say that will fundamentally change the existing state of affairs.

At least until the election this fall. . .

In the interim, I’m left looking like a demented Henny Penny, running in circles, pointing fingers and calling attention to the blatantly obvious.

Let’s be honest – as long as the dais resembles some weird Island of Misfit Toys – led by our doddering fool of a county chair, Ed Kelley – I think its prudent to keep at least one eye peeled, as their every decision directly affects our lives, livelihoods and pocketbooks.

So, let me just hit the high points that caught my eye during the latest production of our Theater of the Absurd:

Yesterday, we learned that absolutely nothing has changed as we enter the new decade, when Councilwoman Heather Post nominated her colleague, District 1 representative Barb Girtman, for the Vice-Chair post.

Her motion died for lack of a second – amid an awful, earth-shattering silence.

Instead, the status quo was suitably and predictably protected when Rev. Fred Lowry was returned to the post for another term.

Then, Councilwoman Billie Wheeler made an abrupt motion to appoint Assistant County Attorney Michael Dyer, former general counsel for Volusia County Schools, to the role of interim county attorney effective immediately.

Since Mr. Eckert announced he would be leaving, there has been speculation in the community that Dyer was Eckert’s first choice to succeed him – an idea, I suspect, that is shared by unnamed fringe players who control our destiny from the shadows – especially given the fact that there are two very experienced and respected deputy county attorneys on staff – one a former county court judge.

So, despite all the caterwauling from the dais about ensuring a “transparent process,” a nationwide search, the possibility of dissuading qualified outside candidates from applying and other horseshit assurances – I predict that our “new” county attorney will ultimately be Mike Dyer.

On a positive note, Ms. Post announced that Votran is working toward providing long-needed bus service to Tanger Outlets and the shopping mecca of Tomoka Town Center – at no additional cost – something we were told was physically impossible (unless we agreed to pony up some $871,000+ to expand service) when the subject was broached eons ago.

Of course, Ms. Post’s contributions to the public transportation effort were immediately marginalized by County Manager George Recktenwald and Old Ed – who pointed out that it was actually Georgie who built the fire under Votran during the behind-the-scenes discussions that ultimately reversed months of stonewalling.

Sorry Councilwoman Post, early on, when you refused to be beaten into the round hole of lockstep conformity to the “system” – in the eyes of your esteemed “colleagues” – you will never measure up and your efforts will always be marginalized.

It’s the “Volusia way”. . .

I also want to commend Councilwoman Deb Denys for her persuasive suggestion that someone from that festering money pit over at First Step Shelter be asked to appear before the council.

Call me crazy, but I would very much like for someone, anyone, in a position of authority to formally explain the chaos and confusion that permeates everything about the so-called “shelter” and its bizarre administration.

Wouldn’t you?

With millions of tax dollars over the transom – and more coming – I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Denys logical suggestion to explore where First Step is going, and how it plans to get there, as it continues to hemorrhage cash month-over-month.

Look, I’m sorry – I tried to follow along with the afternoon workshop – but my antiemetic simply wasn’t strong enough.

When the talk turned to the exploration of Charter amendments for this year’s election – somehow it has become imperative that we change the name of the County Council to “County Commission.” 

Why?

Because “Councilperson” apparently doesn’t command the appropriate level of respect from their cronies who hold office in other Florida counties – leaving them feeling like a hillbilly municipal official from some panhandle hog waller.

I don’t make this stuff up, folks.

Then, for reasons known only to him, Old Ed pushed the weird idea of changing his exalted title from “Chairman” to “Mayor.” (?)

I guess “King Shit the Rag Boy” was taken.

When money is no object – that’s when tone-deaf elected officials begin spending our money to put vanity referendums on the ballot.

Remember that the next time they ask you to support a sales tax increase. . .

Whatever.

It was when the group began collectively crying the Poor Mouth Blues over the pittance they receive for their exhaustive service to Volusia County and all Mankind.

Frankly, as they prattled on about “what people expect” of them (they don’t have a flippin’ clue what people expect) and the atrocious drain their haughty positions put on their valuable time and pocketbook – then tried their level best to couch an undeserved pay raise in disjointed terms they think you and I (and the thousands of their constituents living at or below the poverty line) will swallow – I actually became nauseated.

Yep.  Threw-up in my mouth a little.

 I had to turn it off.  Really.    

From their pretentious whining about how much their car insurance cost (suggesting a “car allowance” might be appropriate) to crying and rending their garments over the stress shameless self-promotion puts on their disposable income, it became chillingly clear that we’ll soon be asked to pay these stuffed-shirt buffoons even more than we already do.

Honestly.

Perhaps our ‘powers that be’ have finally got a small taste of what financially strapped Volusia County families deal with every day – and the burden isn’t attending some stilted meeting, photo opportunity, Washington soiree, Tallahassee hot air generator or other obscure political hobnob – but the real and ongoing struggle of keeping a roof over their children’s heads and putting food on the table.

Regardless, I’m not inclined to supplement these crybabies with one more public dime than they already receive.

The fact is, they each stood for elective office on a promise of selfless public service, knowing full-well what the job entailed – and what it paid.

If they don’t want to do it anymore – then quitget the hell out – and make room for an actual servant-leader who is in it for more than their own personal enrichment.

These assholes should be ashamed of themselves.

Angel              Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz

For the first time in his short tenure at the helm of Volusia County District Schools, our new Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz is saying all the right things.

While he’s not speaking my language just yet – it appears Dr. Frtiz is slowly developing a clear road map away from the flaming wreckage that is our district’s administration – moving carefully towards more insightful, effective and standardized educational strategies for long-suffering Volusia County students.

In my view, for far too long, some principals have been allowed to run their schools like feudal lords – a practice that ultimately resulted in the shocking scandal at Mainland High School and left district student’s with wildly different experiences based solely on geography.

Fortunately, it appears Dr. Fritz sees the very real need to get everyone on the same page, using proven lesson plans, exposing students to scholastic aptitude testing, putting greater emphasis on the fundamentals, promoting early literacy programs, and, perhaps most important, asking the district’s most effective teachers for their valuable input.

That’s the benefit of a fresh set of eyes.

However, it’s patently clear that Dr. Fritz has a rough road ahead. . .

While I was initially impressed that the district acted quickly to relieve the principal of Ortona Elementary after allegations by school staff of “unprofessional conduct,” which resulted in an investigation that, despite multiple revelations by staff members all having close similarities, failed to develop evidence of misconduct.

The result was a strongly worded letter of caution (?) and “mental health and threat assessment training.”  Then, on Tuesday, we learned that the embattled administrator was simply shuffled to an assistant principal role at Spruce Creek High School.

Did I miss something?

Well, at least he wasn’t appointed Chief of Security and placed in charge of our children’s safety. . .

While I applaud Dr. Fritz’ efforts to change the toxic culture in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand – in my view, he still has a long way to go when it comes to important reforms.

Maybe things are happening behind the scenes (I hope), but I still haven’t seen evidence that Dr. Fritz is addressing perhaps the most pressing issue facing Volusia County Schools – the complete revamp of safety and security protocols – to including employing a credentialed physical security expert to administrate and enforce the unique policies and practices necessary to properly secure our schools – along with an effective plan to stop the widespread bullying and violence we’ve seen over the past year.

In my opinion, that includes purging the system of highly compensated senior administrators – shameless posers who have mastered the art of talking the talk – saying all the right things and deflecting blame when telling issues occur – yet lack the training, experience and commitment to walk the walk. . .

Regardless of the quality of the teaching, lesson planning or programs offered, children simply cannot achieve in an environment that harkens back to Attica 1971.

Quote of the Week

“The lack of communication and total disregard for the neighboring cities and county who financially support the mission is wholly unacceptable in my opinion. We were there and gave support when asked.  There was an opportunity to reach out and collaborate with neighboring local governments that was totally disregarded by Mr. Chisholm.  Instead, I hear about it for the first time after he makes his decision in a silo by reading the local newspaper.”

Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette, speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Decision putting Daytona homeless ‘safe zone’ in limbo leaves Port Orange leaders unnerved,” Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Whatever.

Unfortunately, Mayor Burnette’s noble saber rattling – and spot on assessment of the complete lack of substantive communication from Daytona Beach – was diluted by the First Step Board’s milquetoast response to the Safe Zone controversy when they simply kicked the can even further down the road as they grope and fumble for a new way forward.

In my view, most telling was when members began important discussions concerning the fate of the Safe Zone – and Mayor Derrick Henry fled the room like a base coward taking his city attorney with him – as the City of Daytona Beach abruptly cut the television feed with the meeting still in progress. . .

They had a commission meeting, you know.

My ass.

 If anyone at First Step – or the City of Daytona Beach – think these chikenshit moves instill confidence in potential donors, they are sadly mistaken.

My only hope is that area voters will remember the fainthearted response of First Step Board members when it came time to stand up for what we were promised – not to mention their seemingly endless tolerance for abuse and embarrassment at our expense.

What a bunch of neutered lapdogs, eh?

In my view, this continued acquiescence and spineless timidity of certain municipal representatives on the board proves the moral courage exhibited by South Daytona Mayor Bill Hall and Holly Hill City Manager Joe Forte, who resigned when it became clear the misdirection and machinations of senior Daytona Beach officials conflicted with their professional ethics and sense of service in the public interest.

Clearly, the City of Daytona Beach wants unfettered control of the First Step facility and operation – so give it to them, dammit – and pull all external municipal funding for this expensive sham now.

And Another Thing!

An Open Note to the Daytona Beach City Commission:

Look, I hate to be one to give advice.

During my long career in public service, I found it prudent to take the guidance of well-meaning critics over the sycophantic fawning of obsequious shits who’s only goal was to feather their own nest – and I hope you will consider this opinion in the spirit in which it is offered.

If you are a sitting Daytona Beach City Commissioner who plans to seek reelection, I strongly suggest that you take a long look at what’s happening in the bowels of your own City Hall – a place that has become a citadel of non-communication, evasion and obfuscation that protects senior administrators from outside inquiry and steadily broadens the void between you and your increasingly suspicious constituents.

Don’t take my word for it.  Read the paper. . .

Earlier this week, the News-Journal published a bold editorial which painfully, yet accurately, summarized the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the demise of a proposed safe zone at the controversial First Step Shelter.

But this isn’t about who will ultimately pay for a designated patch of muddy ground for the less fortunate to lay their head on.

It’s a telling look at a local power structure that has made a conscious decision to adopt dictatorial rule over democratic representation – a sacred system which serves to provide politically accountable oversight and prevent the kind of abuses and cloistered atmosphere your residents have been complaining about for some time now.

Only now, the City of Daytona Beach’s relationship with its neighbors is being irreparably damaged.

And you are the face of it. 

I don’t need to tell you that we live in a pivotal time in the history of this unique mosaic of municipalities in east Volusia County – where everyone is affected by out-of-control growth, a lack of adequate infrastructure and pressure on our sensitive environment and water supply – a time when open communication and honest collaboration on the issues we collectively face will be key to finding sustainable, long-term solutions.

Yet, City Manager Jim Chisholm seems intent on forging his own path (not always forward) on the important issues of the day – damn the consequences – including unilateral decisions on the direction of the First Step Shelter that has resulted in the resignation of two important advocates from your neighbors to the north and south – meddling that now threatens the all-important financial support from Port Orange and beyond.

Look, I admire Mr. Chisholm’s self-confidence and strength of personality.

Clearly, he shoots from the hip when it comes to making important decisions – but where he finds direction is known only to him.

Despite popular belief, this isn’t the kingdom of a few well-heeled oligarchs – it is a living, breathing, struggling community whose essential services are funded by the hard-earned tax dollars of the residents who voted you into office – and that doesn’t comport with Mr. Chisholm’s increasingly insular style.

In my view, your staff’s refusal to cooperate with the working press is an abomination – the antithesis of an open and transparent local government – a situation that cannot help but foster suspicion and speculation that the tail truly is wagging the dog.

It also projects incredible weakness – and serves to substantiate the pervasive view that Mr. Chisholm’s impetuous actions are protected by a few wealthy insiders who fund your political campaigns. . .

I understand if you don’t want to accept my unsolicited counsel, after all, I don’t have any money – which means I couldn’t possibly have a civic vision – but perhaps you should listen to our community’s newspaper:

“In short, commissioners should have taken control as they were elected to do. They should have stood up for the principles of transparency and respect for the First Step board members and the city’s taxpayers, who are footing the bill.

It’s not too late.

“Commissioners can make it clear that things must change, and fast. If there needs to be a discussion of whether or where to build a safe zone, call all the stakeholders to the table. Stop rubber-stamping staff decisions as if the commission were helpless to make changes. And for heaven’s sake, make it clear that Chisholm no longer has permission to make major policy decisions behind closed doors.”

That’s powerful.

And it does not inspire public confidence in sitting politicians preparing to ask their neighbors for another bite at the apple.

In my view, your action – or inaction – in reining in Mr. Chisholm’s despotic rule by exercising the powers and oversight vested in the city commission by Charter – then demanding that your staff open the windows and let the sunshine bathe the dark corners of City Hall, which have become the realm of “communications managers” and other politically unaccountable gatekeepers – will ultimately determine your political fate this fall.

You’re welcome.  You can thank me later. . .

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

 

On Volusia: The Ultimate “Bait and Switch”

I hate to call “bait and switch,” on the First Step Shelter, but I’m definitely leading the growing chorus of Volusia County taxpayers – and concerned politicians – who feel that what we paid for, and what we ultimately received, are two very different things. . .

I’m not inclined to provide a history lesson to politicians who never seem to learn from it – but many here in the “Real World” will recall those dark days in the winter of 2016 when the City of Daytona Beach closed access to restrooms, benches and the relative concealment of soggy cardboard boxes and dirty blankets tucked into the oyster middens of Manatee Island.

The equal and opposite backfire to this misguided action was an orchestrated mass migration of homeless from the shadows to a very visible perch outside the County Administration building on North Beach Street.

The occupation became a very visible social, civic and economic reminder – and one that would drive what ultimately came to be the ungodly expensive First Step Shelter.

As early as 2013, when the homeless population grew in the face of the Great Recession, our local “movers & shakers” began to explore options for “controlling” the problem – or at least providing a rudimentary shelter that would comport with laws prohibiting the institutional humiliation of the homeless population.

To that end, in early 2014, the city hired controversial shelter consultant Robert Marbut – who now serves the Trump administration as our national director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness – paying him some $135,000 for his suggestions.

Ultimately, Marbut developed a plan – then known as Volusia Safe Harbor – which the News-Journal described as a “no-frills, 26,000-square-foot shelter with 250 beds on county property” that would be funded by all 16 Volusia County municipalities chipping in a cumulative total of $1.6 million annually for operating costs.

By 2015, Volusia County finally got off their ass and offered property near Stewart-Marchman ACT and other service providers – along with $4 million for construction costs and $2 million for operational expenses over five years.

Then, in February 2016, immediately following the Beach Street encampment, the county’s contribution was formalized in a written agreement – but the plan went down in flames on a split vote of the County Council – ostensibly over concerns the municipalities weren’t adequately committed to supporting operating costs.

In 2017, Daytona Beach countered with a contentious idea – under a nonprofit formed by the city called First Step Shelter – with the selling point that the facility could be built quickly, and at a lower cost, than the original plan.

Endless debate began over every aspect of the proposed shelter – would it be tensile fabric, modular buildings, tents, trailers, etc. – and time marched on.

We were told, “an important goal for the city is to design a shelter building with an estimated construction cost not to exceed $2 million.” 

Within months – and without any logical explanation to long-suffering taxpayers – construction costs alone soared to over $6 million with operating costs estimated at $1.1 to $1.7 million annually.

(And don’t get me started on the uber-weird ancillary “deal” to allow P$S Paving to haul publicly owned fill dirt off the site and sell it for private profit. . .)

In November, The Daytona Beach News-Journal announced, “New Daytona homeless shelter to include safe zone,” a legal place for homeless persons to sleep and an integral part of why many Volusia County cities signed on in the first place.

The area would have provided homeless persons who either can’t, or won’t, participate in First Step’s publicly funded self-help seminar a place to sleep in relative safety – and an option to incarceration for those engaging in “life sustaining” activities, such as sleeping or creating unsanitary conditions in a public place.

Now, we’re faced with yet another growing shit storm after the current iteration of the much-anticipated Safe Zone was effectively killed by unilateral edict of City Manager Jim Chisholm – eliminating the one piece of this complex and incredibly expensive solution that the municipalities were promised.

Jesus.

What was once billed as a reasonably priced “come as you are” low barrier shelter has transmogrified into a mysterious personal development program that, as far as I know, has never been publicly explained in terms of programmatic goals, success in similar shelters or per client operational and ancillary costs.

And abject confusion reigns. . .

As an example, on Wednesday afternoon, I watched in absolute shock as members of the First Step Shelter Board – with the exception of Ormond Beach City Commissioner Dwight Selby, who pushed to allow staff to develop a workable policy – explained why they didn’t believe the shelter should permit the common humanitarian service of protecting vulnerable homeless people from the threat of exposure and hypothermia on extremely cold nights.

You read that right.

Our $6 million dollar “homeless shelter” will not provide cold weather shelter to our homeless population. . . 

Christ.  That’s not penny-pinching – that’s cruel.

Then, after much saber rattling in the newspaper, the First Step Board took a namby-pamby, do-nothing position after Mr. Chisholm put the kibosh on the promised Safe Zone when they simply kicked the can even further down the road as they ostensibly search for additional funding (or a new plan, or something.)

In my view, most telling was when members began discussion on the fate of the Safe Zone – and Mayor Derrick Henry fled the room like a base coward taking his city attorney with him – as the City of Daytona Beach abruptly cut the television feed with the meeting still in progress.

They had a commission meeting, you know. . .

Trust me.  If anyone at First Step – or the City of Daytona Beach – thinks that kind of petty crap instills confidence in potential donors, they are mistaken.

All we know for certain is that First Step is NOT a homeless shelter – and acceptance into the “program” appears to be contingent on a persons willingness to jump through a multitude of hoops – making First Step anything but “low barrier.”

In a Tweet earlier this week, Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post said:

“Unfortunately people finding a way to the shelter & showing up are being turned away with no assistance being told “They don’t take walk-ins”.  On a hopeful note, discussion about being a cold weather shelter is expected to be discussed at their next Board mtg.”

With just 23 homeless persons currently being served – and multitudes remaining on the street – many of my neighbors are asking serious questions about the future of this unsustainable money pit, and when our representatives on the First Step Shelter Board will finally grow a pair and challenge Mr. Chisholm’s unrestrained power over a program our tax dollars are helping underwrite.

And perhaps its time for the Volusia County Council to determine the direction of this mess before releasing one more dime of our tax dollars – because it is growing more apparent that First Step has the financial life expectancy of a consumptive Mayfly. . .

In my view, our municipal representatives should make good on their promise to pull external funding for this godawful quagmire and turn the facility, operation and growing expense over to Daytona Beach once and for all.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal