Hello? Is anyone there?

I’m on vacation – enjoying a 30-year love affair with New Orleans – the “The City that Care Forgot.”

But Pat Rice’s column in today’s News-Journal “A Daytona Beach primer for President Trump” really got my alcohol-infused blood boiling.

After going through a laundry list of reasons why we no longer trust government here on the Fun Coast – he accuses those who use social media as the only effective means of communicating with those in power of being “nasty and mean spirited.”

That’s like saying, “You’ve been socked in the eye, punched in the mouth and kicked in the groin – what are you sore about?”

Here’s a post from last November that, in my jaded view, explains part of the story…

Now, I’m going back to vacation mode – have a great week everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God. 

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

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

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 14, 2020

Hey, kids!

Welcome to our Valentine’s Day Special – All love, all the time!

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               Daytona International Speedway & NASCAR  

We’ve had quite a few issues on our plate in the early days of 2020 – from the machinations in the county attorney’s office, to East ISB, the continuing debacle at First Step Shelter, the breech birth of Hyattona with its wholesale destruction of our downtown streetscape, upheaval in Deltona and the first salvos in this year’s election cycle – so it’s refreshing to have a distraction now that the most exciting weekend in motorsports has returned to Daytona International Speedway.

Last year was a time of transition and contraction for our friends over at DIS and NASCAR as they continue the fight to remain relevant and find a place for their struggling product in the ever-evolving world of sports entertainment.

In Daytona Beach, racing will always be our raison d’être – one man’s extraordinary vision that helped build our community and continues to sustain it – a massive undertaking that remains vitally important to our regional economy.

Here’s wishing everyone at NASCAR a prosperous, safe and exiting weekend as the sport kicks off its 2020 season with the Great American Race – the one and only Daytona 500 – on Sunday.

Let’s hope our local hospitality industry sees a much-needed boost from the event as well.

Despite what we are repeatedly told is a “healthy economic outlook” for Volusia County – many in our community remain dependent on a robust special events season to keep their heads above water – and we really need race fans, spring breakers, motorcycle enthusiasts and anyone else we can lure to our slightly down-at-the-heels destination – to come visit us in droves over the next few weeks.

Like many of you, I fear our hospitality industry, and those ancillary businesses that rely on it,  are standing at a dire crossroads – and a few more seasons of reduced occupancy won’t bode well for struggling families who depend on service industry jobs to make a life.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurial start-ups and established small businesses receive very little in the way of assistance or financial incentives in Volusia County.

It seems our Regional Chamber of Commerce has become perpetually starstruck by the “Rich & Powerful” oligarchs who control our lives and livelihoods here on the Fun Coast – and corporate welfare is exclusively reserved for those who have the wherewithal to purchase it through a massive return on their investment in the campaign coffers of perennial politicians with a certain “flexibility” on issues that affect their bottom line. . .

Look, I spend an inordinate amount of time opining on the myriad social and economic issues that are dragging our core tourist area and beyond into a festering quagmire of blight and despair – something I believe is fundamentally damaging our sense of place, civic pride and international reputation.

However, each year about this time, with spring in the air and the roar of stock car racing on the breeze – I get a renewed enthusiasm for what our future could hold under the right circumstances.

Thanks to everyone at DIS, NASCAR and the various service providers and first responders who worked so hard to make Speed Weeks such a rousing success!

When I was growing up, the speedway had bumper stickers that said, “If you wanna race, Daytona is the place!”

Here’s hoping it always will be.

Keep the faith, baby.

Angel              New Smyrna Beach Police Department

Earlier this week, we learned that the New Smyrna Beach Police Department is exploring the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems – commonly referred to as “drones” – to assist public safety efforts and better serve the needs of their residents.

At present, just three Volusia County law enforcement agencies employ this emerging technology – Daytona Beach, Holly Hill and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

I’m proud to report that late last year I helped seven Holly Hill police officers prepare for the rigorous Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 written examination; a comprehensive knowledge test covering various regulatory, safety and decision-making aspects of unmanned flight that certifies them to act as commercial UAS pilots.

As a certificated flight instructor and retired law enforcement officer, this volunteer opportunity allowed me to give back to my department, community and profession in a meaningful way – and, I must admit – it is exciting to play a small role in bringing this amazing asset into service locally.

Just as the Wright Brother’s 1903 flight changed our world forever – rapid advances in the public and commercial use of unmanned systems will improve our daily lives in ways once reserved for science fiction novels – and define this century as the dawn of a new age in aviation advancements.

UAS technology is bringing cost effective aerial capabilities to local, state and federal government agencies for improved search and rescue, law enforcement, disaster recovery, firefighting, inspection, spectrometry, security operations and more.

In fact, advanced payloads are available to assist in a variety of public safety applications – and whenever a drone successfully locates a missing Alzheimer’s victim, allows a safe and efficient damage assessment following a natural disaster or helps contain a raging brush fire – the benefit of this equipment becomes self-evident.

Unfortunately, despite clear rules regulating the use of drones, some still harbor significant concerns that these systems will be misused for surveillance activities or other operations that invade a citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy, or endanger the safety of persons and property on the ground.

While privacy concerns are important to all Americans – unfortunately, the concept, as our parents and grandparents knew it – no longer exists in modern society.

Whenever we go out in public, technology is capturing images and data all around us as business and industry use our personal information for a variety of purposes – and the use of cell phone cameras, CCTV monitors and security sensors is omnipresent.

Just consider the amount of overt and covert scanning and monitoring that occurs during a trip through any airport in the world and you begin to understand how far down that road we are.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand that government agencies act responsibly in the deployment of unmanned systems – and it is important that local departments use sound command and control strategies to ensure these extraordinary devices are properly employed for their intended purpose as a means of building public trust in the technology.

I applaud NSB Police Chief Mike Coffins’ efforts to provide advance information to residents on the laws regulating UAS operations in the public airspace – and his department’s internal policies which will govern the use of drones in police operations.

Kudos to the New Smyrna Beach Police Department for embracing the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems to enhance and improve service delivery.

Welcome to the 21st Century, y’all.

Quote of the Week

“I’ve lived in DeLand for 67 years. I remember the Daytona from many years back. I worked on the Boardwalk for 7 1/2 in the early 80’s repairing the arcade games. The big money seemed to never like what it was then. Now I drive down A1A and it is like canyon in that area. Horrible!”

 “There is no flavor of a seaside town and will never be again. New Smyrna is making some of the same mistakes, but not as quickly. There never should have been high rise buildings on the east side of A1A. I kinda wish there was a hall of shame for the officials responsible for this spoiling of the beach area. May their legacy be recorded for all to know.”

–Doug Bell, DeLand, writing in Facebook’s Volusia Issues public forum, Monday, February 10, 2020

According to Mr. Bell, he placed the above anecdote in the comments section of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s social media page last week in response to a recent announcement that the newspaper will be hosting yet another community coffee klatch to discuss the malignant blight and dilapidation that has all but consumed East ISB and much of our languishing beachside.

I don’t know Mr. Bell personally, but I’m told his opinion was “deleted” from the site – so, I thought I would give him a well-deserved voice on this important issue.

(Note: After I posted this blog, I received word from the News-Journal that the omission of Mr. Bell’s post must have been in error.  In my experience, the N-J is good about accepting all points-of-view, even those hypercritical of the newspaper.  I’m sure if Mr. Bell is so inclined, he could resubmit his piece for publication.)

While I admire the News-Journal’s persistence in attempting to stimulate a continuing dialog  – the fact is, we’ve talked these specific issues to death – and there is still no substantive plan for turning the tide and revitalizing our core tourist area and beyond.

In my view, the time for idle chit-chat on these important issues has come and gone.

Now, it is time for direct action at the ballot box.

Unless and until those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests actually listen to our concerns – all the “Town Hall” meetings and neighborhood coffees the News-Journal can muster will remain little more than hot air generators for citizens who have been marginalized and ignored by their own representatives.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bell.

Perhaps it is time to enshrine these do-nothing buffoons that hold high public office in a place of dishonor – the Volusia County Hall of Shame.

Let it serve as a terrible reminder to future generations of the corrosive effect consolidating power in the hands of a few greedy bastards had on a once world-class destination. . .

And Another Thing!

Ready to attend some exciting candidate “grip-n-grins” as the 2020 election season heats up?

Yeah, me neither. . .

But this one sounds like it will be fun – and informative.

 From Jeff “Plan B” Brower, Candidate for Volusia County Chair:

“Come on out for happy hour on your way home and meet the real Plan B – Volusia County Chair 2020 candidate Jeff Brower.  Enjoy some great snacks and/or buy a delicious meal from this local favorite restaurant over the World’s Most Famous Beach.  Ask Jeff questions, meet our volunteers, sign a petition to get Jeff on the ballot and just enjoy the beautiful setting and great food and drinks. Make a donation and get a Plan B tee shirt as a thank you!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 – 4:00pm to 7:00pm

Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill – 3701 South Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach Shores, Florida

——————————————————————————-

Barker’s View will be on hiatus next week – taking some much-needed time away, a different perspective and a chance to become somebody else’s problem for a while. . .

I know some of you political junkies, sitting politicians, entrenched bureaucrats, uber-wealthy insiders and die-hard members of the BV Tribe miss my weekly take on the news and newsmakers who influence public policy in Volusia County whenever I’m away.

(I have to admit – because I’m a degenerate masochist – I also long for the froth and fray of local politics whenever I’m away. . .)

Have no fear!

Because my views on our place and time are nothing if not prolific – there are over 500 posts archived by month and year on this blog site that will give you a unique historical perspective on the myriad problems we face.

If you want to feed your need for an alternative point-of-view – and take a disturbing glimpse into my quirky mind and the weird forces that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – go crazy with it!

Fair warning: I’ll be back in a week or so. . .

As always, thanks for reading – and have a great weekend, my Valentines!

 

On Volusia: Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance

Sometimes, in the quiet of the evening, when I’m sipping aged whiskey and cogitating on the signs and wonders – I question if we’re living in some parallel dimension here on the Fun Coast?

Because, of the hundreds-of-trillions of galaxies out there in the infinite expanse of the universe – you’d be hard pressed to find a more surreal political “reality” than what we experience here on this salty piece of land.

A place where, no matter how utterly dysfunctional things may get, our ‘powers that be’ always muster the hubris to stand before their long-suffering subjects, smile broadly, and paint a rosy picture using a dull palette of half-truths, feint maneuvers and old-fashioned political horseshit.

Once again, when it came time to do the right thing, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, couldn’t rise to it.

On Tuesday, Old Ed stood before a fawning coterie of insiders, political benefactors, government contractors, political candidates, a handful of municipal officials (who, given their historic poor treatment by county government, would have preferred to be anywhere else) and a few suspicious citizens – to deliver the annual “State of the County” address.

(I would have been there, but I wash my beard on Tuesdays and can’t do a thing with it. . .)

So, I watched the oddly produced video on the County website afterward – the first ten-minutes of which was a rolling advertisement for the event’s (wink,wink) “sponsors.”

As usual, I was immediately struck by the fact that every elected official and bureaucrat in the room was acknowledged and thanked during the lengthy introduction – not one mention of the hard-working and overtaxed residents of Volusia County who pay the bills and suffer in silence.

After all, it’s not about us.  It never has been.

During the opening segment of the canned video, county employees were shown sampling water quality on the St. John’s River – before a Volusia County environmental specialist took the opportunity to scold residents:

“If people really knew why we did this and rather than just complaining about the water looking so bad or being concerned about whether the fish are edible or not, if they really understood why things get so bad and took more care of what they do we might not have to be out here quite as much.”

So, the fact our water quality is in serious decline – with wild fish showing signs of tumors and lesions – is our fault?

If only we took more care, it would lighten the load on Volusia County Environmental Management and clean-up our increasingly polluted rivers, estuaries and sensitive wetlands. . .

Remember: The state of our environment has nothing to do with the residential and commercial sprawl our elected officials continue to permit – while their political benefactors in the real estate development industry line their groaning pockets – understand?

So, stop your bitching about whether the fish are edible, or why the water looks so bad, and change your heathen ways.  Got it?

That’s when I turned it off.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of being blamed and lectured by the very elected officials and entrenched bureaucrats who got us into this damnable condition in the first place. . .

Whatever.

 It was an ostentatious affair – political vanity run amok – complete with a “free lunch” provided by several companies that do business with Volusia County (?) – and held at the county owned Ocean Center, which stands at the epicenter of our crumbling core tourist area.

How appropriate.  How completely appropriate. . .

One would have thought that as he sang his swansong before a roomful of like types, Chairman Kelley would have, for once, told the truth – you know, sail off into the sunset with a clear conscience – while challenging the next iteration of our county council to begin the monumental process of rebuilding the public trust.

Nah.

Instead, Chairman Kelley dutifully recognized the assembled nabobs, then flogged some ridiculous narrative to shore up his heir apparent – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – clumsily touting her weird obsession with “space jobs” – while their “colleagues” provided video evidence of their own ill-informed perception of the state of things here on the beleaguered Fun Coast.

According to the agitprop that was provided to attendees:

“Government, business and education leaders also are coordinating like never before to ensure that Volusia County – squarely within the so-called Space Triangle – has the regulatory climate and educated workforce necessary to broadcast its message to the aerospace industry: Volusia County is ready, and Volusia County is right!”

Say what?

The fictitious Space Triangle is “so called” because it doesn’t exist.

And the fact of the matter is, we are nowhere near ready. . .

Just for the record – I didn’t say that.  Dr. Kent Sharples, the Enlightened One of the exalted CEO Business Alliance did.

Remember?

During his flashlight-under-the-chin apocalyptic prognostication at the November 2019 meeting of the Knights of the Roundtable, describing our horrific fate if we don’t increase the sales tax, Sharples said of roads, infrastructure and “shovel-ready” sites to attract aerospace companies:

“Until we get that infrastructure in place, we’re not going to be successful.  If we’re not ready in 12 to 18 months to be able to start construction, we’re not even in the competition anymore.”

My ass.

In my view, this shim-sham of aerospace manufacturing in Volusia County continues to serve as a convenient diversion to the fact we don’t have the infrastructure, workforce or ancillary services to support these industries, and, at present, we simply cannot compete with Brevard County – who continues to recover from the economic disaster resulting from the loss of the shuttle program – not to mention that the vacant infrastructure which pockmarks the Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne metroplex sits literally on the doorstep of the commercial launch complex.

While Volusia County’s potential role in the space industry remains decades away – if ever – those we have elected to meet our current economic and employment needs continue to feed us this pie-in-the-sky pap as though we’re ready to start launching rockets from the old Home Depot parking lot next month.

Bullshit.

The constant drumbeat from Denys and our shameless “economic development” shills is cruel comfort to some 43% of our county’s population who struggle to meet monthly living expenses – and the thousands more living below the poverty line – who are begging for more opportunities than $32,000 a year storehouse jobs.

In my view, Dr. Sharples was right about one thing – if these half-wits who hold high office don’t put a moratorium on this massive sprawl and begin the process of improving our transportation, water quality and utilities infrastructure in the next 12 to 18 months – we’re all screwed. . .

But wait, there was more “good news” from Old Ed and the Funky Bunch on Tuesday.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Among other things, Kelley touted major upgrades to the Ocean Center and Daytona Beach International Airport, new routes for Votran buses, the hiring of a long-awaited internal auditor and giving County Manager George Recktenwald the permanent job as a few of the year’s highlights, adding that the State of the County video may have shown a lot of progress and accomplishments some residents might not know about.”

Tragically, bus routes and new carpet in an airport terminal are what pass for civic “accomplishments” in Volusia County.

I don’t make this shit up, folks. . .

To take this abject absurdity to the ragged edge – let’s look at a few of the “Goals and Objectives” that, according to the soiree’s glossy program, have been proposed by county government – which, by any metric, remain a figment of our county councils very vivid imagination:

“Maintain and foster productive relationships with public and private partners.”

If maintaining “productive relationships” with “private partners” means funneling public funds to underwrite the private, for-profit projects of their political benefactors – mission accomplished!

“Demonstrate leadership in decisions and actions.”

Does anything about this perpetual shitshow in DeLand resemble strong “leadership”?

“Meet community expectations for quality.”

Please.  The community quit expecting anything from Volusia County government years ago – and we collectively spoke volumes about this continuing “trust issue” during last year’s half-cent sales tax referendum.

Now, let’s hope the long-suffering voters of Volusia County continue that positive momentum and demand servant-leadership that will bring true accomplishments we can all be proud of at the ballot box this fall.

 

 

Talked to Death

“If officials listen, people will talk”

“Residents question if city is listening”

“Residents raise concerns over growth”

“Mayor gets earful at community meeting”

“Since the Fall of 2006, more than 1,800 citizens, residents, persons with a place of employment, business owners or full-time students in Daytona Beach have actively participated in public visioning meetings”

“Panel set for News-Journal meeting focused on homeless”

“A meeting at the Ocean Center on Tuesday night drew a standing room only crowd of local residents who discussed the challenges and opportunities on Daytona Beach’s Main Street”

“Passionate Debate: Meeting on Daytona’s beachside draws large crowd”

“Consider this your personal invitation to attend a “town hall” meeting focused on Daytona Beach’s core beachside area”

“Blighted Corridor: Daytona’s East ISB is broken. Can $25.75M fix it?”

“Daytona readers speak up at ‘Coffee with the News-Journal”

“PAT RICE: Coffee‘s on. Let‘s talk East ISB, Daytona’s beachside”

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

On Sunday, the editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Pat Rice, announced that the newspaper will be hosting yet another community coffee klatch to discuss the malignant blight and dilapidation that has all but consumed East ISB and much of our languishing beachside.

According to Mr. Rice, “The lack of progress is discouraging. But things won’t change without dialogue and ideas.”

It doesn’t appear to those paying attention that much changes with dialogue and ideas, either. . .

They say the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.” 

In Volusia County, we call that process “developing a strategic vision.”

While I admire the News-Journal’s persistence in attempting to stimulate a continuing dialog  – the fact is, we’ve talked these specific issues to death – and there is still no substantive plan for turning the dismal tide and revitalizing our core tourist area and beyond.

In my view, the time for idle talk has come and gone.

Now, it is time for direct action at the ballot box.

The fact is, We, The People, have talked about the myriad problems on the beachside until we’re blue in the face.

Unless and until those we have elected and appointed to represent our interests actually listen to our concerns – all the “Town Hall” meetings and neighborhood coffees the News-Journal can muster will remain little more than hot air generators for citizens who have been marginalized and ignored by their own representatives.

For example, a year ago, some 75 people attended a meeting at the Peninsula Club where they “vehemently opposed” the construction of a roundabout at East ISB and A-1-A.

Then, last month, residents and business owners were told the Florida Department of Transportation would hold a meeting to provide information and solicit input on the very roundabout we resisted since it was a mere suggestion – only to have the session cancelled when it conflicted with the Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual soiree for our social and civic elite. . .

That meeting has been moved to late March when it’s more convenient for politicians who won’t attend it anyway. . .

Still, the problem remains – residents talk, commiserate, provide input, discuss, debate, argue, question, deliberate, weigh options, reflect, ponder and plan – but our fervent desire to be part of the solution, and have our concerns taken seriously, is invariably ignored by the decision-makers.

Every time.

Why is it that you never see a widespread turnout of those we have elected and appointed to serve our interests at these “visioning sessions,” Town Hall meetings and coffee talks?

The fact is, they just don’t give a damn what you and I have to say – and it shows.

While East ISB – the gateway to what was once the World’s Most Famous Beach – continues to crumble, and we learn it will be at least three-years until the promised revitalization project gets underway, millions are being spent on a weird rework of the perfectly serviceable and eye-catching streetscape in Downtown Daytona. . .

Why? 

Because His Exalted Highness J. Hyatt Brown recently lorded over his bought-and-paid-for minions at a Daytona Beach City Commission meeting and demanded it, that’s why.

In fact, he cruelly threatened to remove a children’s splash park from the Brown Esplanade if anyone had the audacity to cross him.

They didn’t. . .

In turn, last week, the City of Daytona Beach spent some $100,000 to move the historic (if not itinerant) Josie Rogers House from its spot across Beach Street from the Brown & Brown headquarters to the western end of the Main Street Bridge.

Why?

We are told the move was necessary to make way for renovations to Riverside Park – which is being hailed as the Crown Jewel of Hyattona – something Daytona Beach taxpayers will be responsible for maintaining for the next 50-years – all while our core tourist area continues to openly decompose.

(Besides, you can’t have some claptrap house in view whenever Hyatt paces the gilded ramparts of his glass and steel monument and settles his gaze across the width and breadth of his kingdom, right?) 

Whatever. . .

Talk is cheap.

So is beachside real estate, once you let it rot into a decrepit hole of blight and dilapidation.

Perhaps that’s been the plan all along, eh?

The News-Journal’s meeting is set for 7:30 to 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, February 25, at Henry’s Pizza, 336 East ISB, Daytona Beach.

Normally, you won’t find an elected official within a mile of any event where their constituents might voice their views – or, God forbid – ask the difficult questions about how we got to this dismal place in our history. . .

However, this is an election year – so, I’ll bet you won’t be able to swing a dead cat inside that pizzeria without hitting a sitting politician who is busy shaking your hand, slapping your back and begging for one more bite at this rotten apple.

Hey, never hurts to talk, right? 

Unfortunately, when it comes to fundamentally changing the beachside’s death spiral, rescuing our imperiled hospitality industry and protecting our very quality of life – voicing our concerns  doesn’t seem to help, either. . .

Photo Credit:  The Daytona Beach News-Journal

————————————————————————

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

Please tune in locally at 1380am “The CAT” – or on the web at www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

I’ll also be streaming the forum live at: https://www.facebook.com/mdbarker1

We’ll be talking the issues of the day and taking your calls at 386-523-1380 – I hope you’ll join us for the Fastest two-hours in Radio! 

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 7, 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               B-CU President Brent Chrite

They say anyone can hold the helm in calm seas – but when the going turns rough, it requires strong, focused leadership to keep the vessel from foundering – and make no mistake, our once venerated Bethune-Cookman University is precariously close to breaking up on the rocks. . .

In his seminal work on Principle-Centered Leadership, Steven Covey said:

“I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a ‘transformer,’ in any situation, any organization.  Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf.  It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.”

In my view, Bethune-Cookman University’s new president Brent Chrite represents that one special person – our very best hope for the rebirth of this once great institution – that has been brought to its knees by internal and external forces who cared more for their own self-interests than the sacred promise that was placed in their charge.

According to reports, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the organization which accredits Bethune-Cookman’s programs, is requiring that the university resolve its current operating deficit of $8 million in just a few short weeks.

Unless that happens, the school’s re-accreditation is in grave jeopardy – which would domino into a loss of federal grants and financial aid – and signal the death knell for Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune’s dream.

How terribly sad.

(For a comprehensive look at how B-CU got here, please see: https://tinyurl.com/txezzm9 )

When you analyze the gross maladministration, lack of substantive oversight, backroom deals, lawsuits, counterclaims and good old-fashioned greed that brought B-CU to this dismal place, it stirs a sense of rage.

And it should.

In August 2018, the B-CU National Alumni Association fired a pointed letter to the University’s Board of Trustees demanding answers to some very difficult questions:

“How is it that Kent Sharples, the former president of Daytona State College (and current chair of the Volusia CEO Business Alliance), Joe Petrock, the former board chair of Daytona State College, Jacob F. Bryan, a wealthy Insurance Magnate, and others on the Board of Trustees who share similar pedigrees, approve a dormitory deal that absolutely no one on the Board of Trustees understood!” 

“How is it that the Board of Trustees, being such an eclectic group, to this day, cannot adequately explain why $85 million dollars was borrowed to build dormitories that cost less than $60 million dollars?”

“Where is the other $25 million dollars Dr. Carter-Scott? Joe? Kent? If $25 million dollars was misplaced or misappropriated at Florida State University, it would be a matter of great concern, so you can imagine what $25 million unaccounted for dollars means to a small, private school like Bethune-Cookman University?”

My God.  How do these people sleep at night?

In my view, those in a position to know better, the exalted Board of Trustees – a virtual Who’s Who of the Halifax area elite – had an ethical, moral and fiduciary responsibility to alumni, students and staff to ensure the best interests of this historic university were protected from the self-serving motives of former ‘administrators’ and predatory shysters.

Instead, many stood idle while the jackals fed.

That’s unconscionable.

In my view, perhaps it’s time for Dr. Sharples’ and the members of the CEO Business Alliance – along with the other gazillionaire oligarchs who control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – (and those shameless social climbers who hold themselves out as civic visionaries) to get off their ass, scratch around their couch cushions, and come up with $8 million to shore up this important pillar of our community’s foundation before it’s too late.

You know, actually earn some of those haughty tributes and “honorary doctorates” they so willingly accept with a straight face at elegant soirees each awards season – while, across town, B-CU drowns in a murky sea polluted by graft, corruption and mismanagement.

Look, I’ve all but given up on the “federal investigations” we were promised back in September 2018 – criminal probes that may or may not be ongoing.

I hope I’m wrong, but it doesn’t appear anyone’s coming to the University’s rescue.

After all, this isn’t Stetson or ERAU we’re talking about. . .

How terribly sad.    

Perhaps the long-suffering Wildcat Nation will be buoyed by the words of President Chrite, who recently said, “While this is obviously serious, I have no doubt that we will prevail.  I have full faith in our alumni community, and I am excited about this institutions future.”

Good luck and Godspeed, Dr. Chrite.  We’re glad you’re at the helm.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

To say the First Step Shelter debacle has been a shit show of epic proportions is an understatement.

In fact, the situation has gotten so out of hand that last month Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado attempted to personally intercede to ensure the taxpayers of Volusia County – and the homeless community – are getting maximum benefit from the millions-of-dollars already spent.

Naturally, Delgado was shot down.  But, dammit, he tried.

Then, County Councilwoman Deb Denys demanded that a representative of First Step appear in DeLand and explain the utter dysfunction that seems to permeate every aspect of the shelter project.

So, earlier this week, First Step Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg stood dutifully before the Volusia County Council and gave one of those upbeat/sing-song performances that is the stock-in-trade of career bureaucrats and non-profit administrators when they try and sugarcoat a wet turd.

One might have thought our elected officials would have come prepared – armed to the teeth with a laundry list of questions designed to ferret out the truth surrounding this $6 million+ quagmire – and demand a full explanation of how Fahlberg and the gang at Daytona Beach plan to overcome its mounting operating deficit and keep the doors open long term.

Nah.  They brought the soft-soap instead.

Only Councilwoman Heather Post came anywhere near a probative question when she described a pathetic episode wherein a homeless woman slogged out to the hinterlands to seek assistance at the First Step Shelter last month, pitifully sitting in the rain until a security guard arrived for work that morning – who proceeded to throw her off the property. . .

Of course, Dr. Fahlberg immediately reversed blame – claiming that Post’s little melodrama, and others like it, were the result of a lack of understanding in the community.

Yep.  It seems the homeless population was under the mistaken impression that the First Step Shelter was, well, a shelter.

Bullshit.

In my view, when it came time to pursue hard answers to difficult questions – our elected milquetoasts were struck dumb by some weird form of political pseudobulbar affect by Dr. Fahlberg’s incredibly sugary presentation.

At the end of the day, Fahlberg told those on the dais what they needed to hear – and they wallowed in it.

In my view, outside a “law enforcement referral,” the “shelter” remains a Monday to Friday cottage industry of what I call the ‘do-gooders with a profit motive’ set.

I was left with the impression that, like most governmental endeavors, First Step now exists to serve itself – to feed Fahlberg, security contractors, Catholic Charities, architects, designers, consultants, hangers-on and the government contractor who hauled untold tons of extremely lucrative publicly owned dirt for private profit, etc. – and, in my view, these shameless phonies  proved that theory the exact second they turned a helpless woman out in the January rain. . .

The one opportunity Volusia County taxpayers had to get a deep dive into the operational, financial and administrative components of this incredibly expensive enigma turned into a fawning love-fest – complete with gushing accolades from the dais for Fahlberg and her crew.

Hell, even the always arrogant Deb Denys shape-shifted into a bowl of quivering Jell-O – then had the audacity to lecture the “faith community” (which has fought tooth-and-nail for a come-as-you-are shelter for years) to “write the check and be part of the solution.”

Can Ms. Denys really be that out of touch?

Like most thinking people – I suspect the faith community is waiting patiently to see some level of sanity and stability before financially supporting a goofy pseudo social service that continues to hemorrhage money uncontrollably (an incomprehensible $28,000 per bed) to serve just forty-five participants in some mysterious residential self-esteem seminar.

At the end of the day, we are still being asked to believe what we are told about the shadowy operation and multi-tiered administration of the First Step Shelter.

In other words, they want us to take their word for it.

As history proves, that never seems to work out well for Volusia County taxpayers, who are expected to pay the bills and keep our traps shut, while those we elect to steward public funds continue to cloak the truth.

Angel               Lt. Albert Pagliari, Jr. (Ret.)

Here’s a heartfelt Barker’s View congratulations on the well-deserved retirement of my friend and former colleague, Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Al Pagliari, Jr., who departed from active service last month following more than 38-years of honorable service.

Early in my career, I had the privilege of serving with Al as a member of the Volusia County Crime Prevention Association.

For the few in Volusia County who don’t know Al – he has a friendly, easygoing style and an omnipresent smile that immediately endears him to anyone he meets – and he carries himself with a quiet self-assurance that instills confidence.

These personal attributes served him, and the citizens of Volusia County, well during his long career in a variety of assignments.

In addition to his incredible talent as a law enforcement officer, Al personifies the best attributes of a servant-leader – a true care and concern for his subordinates and those he serves – with a deep-rooted personal commitment to Volusia County that transcends what is expected.

In every situation, Al takes the high road – a true professional – and earned the confidence of his peers in the local law enforcement community.

What Al Pagliari did behind the scenes to build a bond of trust between residents and the agency was important, and it is heartening to know he will be returning to VCSO in a community relations role.

During a brief retirement ceremony at the Volusia County Council meeting this week, I was touched by the sincere thanks and deep appreciation shown by our County Council for Al’s unique legacy and dedication to the best traditions of our service.

Our elected officials were clearly touched by Al’s storied career.

Lt. Al Pagliari represents the best of us, and he exemplifies the importance of building positive community relations to the success of any law enforcement agency.

A job well done, sir.  We’re glad you passed our way.

Here’s wishing you all the best for a wonderful and purpose-filled retirement.

Asshole           The Coming “Great Daytona Stadium Debacle of 2020”

Hold on to your shorts, folks!

Here we go again. . .

Whenever my wife and I decide to purchase a big-ticket item, one that will significantly impact our monthly budget, we take time to perform due diligence.

You know, a comprehensive analysis of all available options, potential long-term liabilities, the reputation of the company we’re considering doing business with and an honest cost/benefit analysis leading to a sound go/no go decision?

I’ll bet you do the same.

After all, some things are “nice to have,” while others are “must haves.”  Right?

So, why is it whenever our local elected officials enter into some convoluted, multi-decade “public/private” partnership (which usually means the use of public funds to underwrite private profits) with a for-profit entity, neither party seems to give two-shits about the potential consequences?

Is it because they’re gambling with other people’s money? 

Case in point – just two-years into a 30-year lease of the aging “Daytona Stadium” complex, Mike Panaggio of DME Holdings is now suggesting the City of Daytona Beach close the sports venue on LPGA Boulevard – then sell the publicly owned property to a real estate developer. . .

You read that right.

According to an interesting article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mr. Panaggio can’t seem to turn a profit at the facility under the current arrangement.

Who saw that coming?

Now, Panaggio is trotting out an ostentatious plan to sell the land the stadium occupies – then leverage the estimated $15 million he believes the stadium will fetch with an equal amount derived from “local and national sponsorships.”

In turn, Mr. Panaggio will use the blend of funds to build a “state-of-the-art” indoor athletic complex somewhere in Daytona Beach.

Oh, Panaggio has “pledged” to throw in $1 million. . .

Unlike Mr. Panaggio – I’ve never been accused of seeing the “Big Picture.”

I don’t have the entrepreneurial vision to come up with moneymaking schemes – or the wherewithal to take wild, winner-take-all, risks that either result in massive wealth, or crippling financial ruin, but I admire those who have the cojones to put it all on the line.

So long as these wildcatters use their own money to speculate with. . .

According to Mr. Panaggio (who also owns a sports training academy) this is somehow different:

“I’m not trying to enrich myself.  I’m just trying to use assets wisely,” he said, explaining his idea is to set up a public-private nonprofit.”

Of course, the very officials the citizens of Daytona Beach have appointed and elected to steward their assets think Panaggio’s plan to leverage public funds with private donations to underwrite a for-profit endeavor may have legs – even though no one associated with “Daytona Stadium” has been able to squeeze a profit from the sports venue in years. . .

In a recent social media post defending his vision to those of us who reside in the lower bowels of the internet, Mr. Panaggio said, in part:

“At one point Municipal Stadium was a fresh beautiful young baby puppy but as all good loyal dogs do, they pass on. This puppy needs to be buried and because we love animals and specially dogs, we want and need to get another one to take the place of the old one.  If we can replace it lets do it and try to not cost taxpayers any money.”

Say what? 

Didn’t Panaggio know this mangy geriatric cur had one paw in the grave – and the other three on the proverbial ‘nanner peel – when he leased it just two years ago?

And I’m not sure its accurate to say the replacement won’t cost taxpayers money – when he plans to use some $15 million from the sale of publicly owned property to underwrite the new, bigger, bestest alternative.

Just sayin.’

Look, I like Mr. Panaggio’s spirit.

I think he’s a good guy who puts his time, unbridled enthusiasm and considerable personal wealth into civic issues he feels strongly about – and that’s admirable.

But I question whether selling another public asset to a speculative developer so they can shoehorn even more homes west of the LPGA Boulevard pinch-point is a wise move right now? 

In my view, Mr. Panaggio either knew, or should have known, what he was getting into when he decided to lease what is essentially an inconvenient location for high school footballs games from the City of Daytona Beach (who, I’m sure, was happy to unload the burden).

Everyone understands why Panaggio wants to staunch the flow of good money after bad as he tries to meet a massive 30-year nut that includes $150,000 in annual rent, utilities, taxes, insurance, a $250,000 “performance bond,” $50,000 annually to local youth sports programs and a promise of $2 million in capital improvements to the facility by September.

Wow.

For now, Mr. Panaggio is promising not to cut and run – while teasing a “major concert” at the stadium next month – but he lost me when he added that the show will be the “biggest concert this town has ever had.”

We’ve heard that before.

(Perhaps Mr. Panaggio should ask Dr. Kent Sharples, and some of his cronies over at the CEO Business Alliance, how the last “major concert” we had worked out for them. . .)

Because anytime one of our “movers & shakers” touts another “game changer” – or tells us rubes how we will benefit if we only agree to commingle public funds with private interests – taxpayers are reminded in a most visceral way of all the ugly disappointments we’ve suffered here on the Fun Coast.

The fact is, city and county officials are begging for a sales tax increase, we lack adequate transportation infrastructure to support growing demand, public utilities are woefully overtaxed, our aquifer recharge area is being actively paved over to accommodate a faux beach community in the pine scrub west of I-95, our natural places are being bulldozed at an alarming rate, our rivers and springs are fouled by over-development and residents face the very real specter of drinking their own recycled sewage in a few short years when our potable water supply runs dry.

Before they rollover and acquiesce to the “next big thing,” perhaps Daytona Beach officials should consider whether this is the appropriate time to swing a $30 million sports complex to replace one nobody uses now. . .

Quote of the Week

“We turned out thousands of people, every year for seven years in order to get the county and city governments to fund $8 million for a come-as-you-are, 24/7, emergency shelter with enough services to get people into housing. The proposal we worked on with Catholic Charities and other community partners allowed for a $1.2 million budget for 80-100 residents. With enough beds and low barriers to entry, there would be no need for a safe zone. FAITH will continue to fight for our homeless brothers and sisters because it is what God requires.”

 –Rev. Kathy Tew-Rickey, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column, “Barriers to redemption hold homeless people back,” Sunday, February 2, 2020

Given my dismal reputation, she probably won’t want me to say this, but Rev. Rickey is a dear family friend.

Don’t hold it against her that she has compassion for an unrepentant backslider like me. . .

Although we don’t always see eye-to-eye on social issues – she has something unique and original to say about the challenges we face – and I invariably learn something new from our conversations.

She is smart, intuitive, very active in social issues and cares deeply about people and the civic, spiritual and economic health of our community.

In other words, she is everything most of our elected officials are not. 

I would suggest County Councilwoman Deb Denys – and any other clueless elected official who remains ill-informed on the monumental fight by FAITH, and other local faith-based organizations, to serve the needs of those less fortunate in Volusia County – reach out to Rev. Rickey for a history lesson.

It might help our elected officials understand why so many are incredibly disappointed in what First Step Shelter represents – and what it does not. . .

And Another Thing!

As a loyal reader and member of the Barker’s View tribe, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not out to win any popularity contests.

In fact, if I haven’t offended your personal or political sensibilities – stick around, I get to everyone eventually. . .

That’s okay.  I self-identify as an asshole – but we can still be friends.

After all, differences of opinions are how we find solutions – and the honest debate of competing ideas is important to the health of our community.

That said, I’m swimming against the tide of public opinion on the mysterious case of former Deputy County Attorney Jamie Seaman, who – after a cumulative total of some three-decades of public service – fell to the political garrote in a messy bloodletting last Friday.

Look, I’ve never met Ms. Seaman – and I damn sure haven’t supported the weird legal opinions that originated from her office under the reign of County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert – but the manner in which she was forced out, then publicly humiliated, opened a brief window into something potentially more sinister.

As usual, there remains more questions than answers – and those who know where this hayride is ultimately heading – aren’t being “made available” to the working press. . .

On Friday, Councilwoman Heather Post issued an alarming memorandum to her “colleagues” announcing that she possessed inside information indicating Seaman had been “overpaid” some $33,000 in cashed out leave – then entered an agreement to pay the county back incrementally – only to receive a ‘suspicious’ pay increase, orchestrated by then County Attorney Dan Eckert and former Human Resources Director Tom Motes.

I read Ms. Post’s memorandum on Sheriff Chitwood’s social media page last Saturday, and her note seemed a tad panicky to me – especially when Councilwoman Post asked that the resignations of Eckert and Motes be “rescinded” to allow time for an investigation.

It was as if Post had just discovered Professor Plum in the library with the candlestick and couldn’t contain her excitement – a weird ‘gotcha’ moment – and Seaman’s’ detractors could smell blood in the water. . .

Considering no one in county government has given Post any substantive information since she took office – it didn’t smell right to me. . .

So, I asked a few inside folks who don’t have a personal or political axe to grind what they knew of this sordid mess.

I quickly learned it was the Volusia County’s finance department who made the error that resulted in an over-payment when Seaman entered the deferred retirement option several years ago.

I’m also told that Seaman offered to refund the full amount to correct the county’s mistake at the time; however – given that she had already paid taxes on the payout – the county preferred she repay it incrementally at $434.76 per paycheck for three years.

So, that’s what she did.

In December 2018, Ms. Seaman, along with another attorney in the office, was given a pay increase commensurate with her responsibilities, something Ms. Post – and County Manager George Recktenwald – now claim was inappropriate, given the fact Seaman was “in debt” to the county.

Say what? 

If this was an error on the county’s part – and the repayment agreement the county requested was executed – why would a mistake by the finance department automatically make Seaman ineligible for merit or routine pay increases? 

And was anyone in the finance department ever held accountable? 

I do agree with Ms. Post on one aspect of this oh-so typical Volusia County contretemps:

Why isn’t our county manager personally responsible for approving every pay increase for non-union employees as a matter of protocol – or signing off on repayment plans – just like every other county or municipal government operating under the council/manager form does? 

Who’s running this shit show?

Whatever.

For now, we’re told that our new Internal Auditor, Jonathan “Milk Carton” Edwards – who hasn’t been seen in public since his surprise on-boarding last November – is on the case.

He’s not being “made available” to those he ostensibly serves, mind you – but we’re assured he’s “directing questions” to the legal department (whatever the hell that means).

Great.

Now that Michael Dyer has been named Interim County Attorney (whose relative inexperience and tepid performance at the Volusia County School District has smart people baffled how he ever fell into this important role) – why is our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, crowing that he doesn’t want a nationwide search like we were all assured would happen?

Who gives a damn what Old Ed thinks?

He’s outta here. . .no longer relevant to the long-term discussion.

And who, pray tell, is waiting in the wings with bated breath if/when Volusia County decides to start farming out some of its lucrative legal work to local law firms, eh?

A potential goldmine that would make $39,000 seem like pocket change.

Remember, when it comes to Volusia County government – the truth is often difficult to discern until all the right people have been granted access to the public trough.

All I’m asking is that you keep an open mind – and take nothing at face value this election season.

This one’s going to get interesting. . .and all the players will be revealed in time.

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

 

 

 

 

Righting Wrongs in NSB

I’m not a “joiner.”

When I was a kid I tried to become a member of the Columbia Record Club once, even submitted an application.

But, when no one called me back, I didn’t push it. . .

Besides, I’ve always subscribed to the old Groucho maxim, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

The fact is, Volusia County has a long history of people who set themselves apart from the rest of us based upon their own sense of self-importance or social status – and that’s okay.

To each their own, I say. . .

Where I have a problem is when these “invitation only” groups, “alliances” and “civic leagues” commission “studies” and “reports” to impose their narrow-minded views on other taxpayers who can’t be members of the club and attempt to craft public policy in their image.

Or when discriminatory organizations flaunt their exclusivity on publicly owned property – through wink-wink arrangements cloaked as “lease” agreements – in my view,  patently unjust pacts that affect everyone through a reduced tax base and limited access to community amenities.

In New Smyrna Beach, there has been a long-simmering (and incredibly ugly) community secret that many residents – including some who have been elected to represent the interests of their neighbors – would prefer remained in the civic shadows.

The Anglers Club – a ‘not-for-profit’ corporation – which sits on some incredibly valuable waterfront real estate on New Smyrna’s North Causeway – is the successor of something called the “Sons of Leisure” which was formed in 1914.

To say the organization’s roots run deep in the quaint coastal community is an understatement. . .

In 1951, after various iterations, the organization apparently amended its governing charter to change the name to the “Anglers’ Yacht Club,” with the stated purpose “to form a social club, having for its purpose and promotion and advancement of recreation of its members and the advancement of game and sports fishing in both fresh and saltwater; to encourage yachting and power boating. . .” yada, yada, yada.

Under the revised charter, the club was exclusively limited to “white male citizens over 21 years of age,” and membership required a majority vote by the club’s even more exclusive “governing board.”

At present, the “club” has some 90 members – none of whom are black. . .

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the organization’s spokesperson, retired attorney Michael Brewer, said (Cue the Dukes of Hazard theme song), “The fact that we don’t have a black member doesn’t mean that we discriminate against them.”

Yeah.  No. . .

The Anglers Club isn’t so cagey when it comes to their views on accepting women into their all male ranks – they don’t.

“It’s a fraternal organization,” Brewer said. “We have a freedom of association in America. To belong to a men’s club doesn’t make you a nasty, discriminatory person.”

In my view, the only problem is that argument is that most “men’s clubs” don’t sit on two-acres of prime riverfront property – owned by the citizens of New Smyrna Beach – with an estimated worth in excess of $2-million and “leased” to the Anglers Club for a paltry $25.00 a year. . .

You read that right.  $25 bucks.  A year.

In my view, if a group of ‘good ol’ boys’ want to buy some property, build a meeting hall and form the New Smyrna Beach chapter of the “He-Man Women Haters Club” who cares?

Just get the hell off public property if you’re not willing to welcome everyone. . .

Now, a courageous resident of New Smyrna Beach, Rhonda Kanan, has decided to do what city officials won’t and challenge the validity of the Anglers Club asinine “lease,” which essentially allows an organization that openly discriminates against women the use of very valuable public property for private benefit.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Kanan alleges that the Anglers secured a Small Business Administration loan after the hurricanes of 2004 damaged club structures – the terms of which require that the organization not discriminate “in any fashion.”

In addition, the organization apparently rents boat slips under a “Submerged Lands Lease” with the State of Florida, provided that the Anglers “shall not discriminate against any individual because of that individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status with respect to any activity occurring within the area subject to this lease or upon lands adjacent to and used as an adjunct of the leased area.”    

Huh. 

You see, when you start accepting public funds – which originate from hard working taxpayers who are white, black, brown, male, female, gay, straight, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, from various and sundry places, ethnic backgrounds, and all shapes, sizes, colors, etc., etc. – to repair your private clubhouse – there are strings attached.

And there should be.

According to Ms. Kanan’s suit, way back in 2009, the City of New Smyrna Beach received a legal opinion that the Anglers Club leases were invalid – along with remedies that ran from ratifying the leases in an open public meeting – to asserting the agreements aren’t worth the yellowing paper their printed on and “seek to eject the Club from the premises.”

The 2009 review also found “no racial discrimination” by the Anglers. . .

The News-Journal reports, “The City Commission in 2009 voted 4-1 to renegotiate the lease. But it never did, and the club remains on the property paying the low rate for the land.”

I guess NSB officials opted for the “let’s sit on our collective asses in see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil fashion until people forget about it” response.

According to reports, Ms. Kanan suspects her membership in the New Smyrna Yacht Club was blocked by “certain members of the Anglers Yacht Club” who blackballed her application for reasons that haven’t been made clear – and that prompted her to exhume something many in the community would prefer remained out of the light of day. . .

Regardless of Ms. Kanan’s motivation, in my view, this case raises some interesting, long-simmering questions about basic fairness, the taxpayers expectation of just compensation for their civic assets – and the rights of all people to enjoy the benefit of public amenities – and public funds.

Perhaps if the Anglers spent more time around strong women, they would understand the irrefutable fact that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” – or Heaven more rage than one who sets to right perceived wrongs in service to her community.

Stay tuned, folks.  This ones going to get interesting. . .

 

On Volusia: Civic Mind Reading

I was sitting on a barstool in my favorite watering hole the other evening, feeding the jukebox, nursing a glass of Irish whiskey and casually shooting the breeze with an old buddy of mine.

We ruminated on life, fishing, football and the infinite mysteries of women and the universe.

Invariably, talk turned to local politics, and my friend asked where I find the inspiration to write such a prolific number of these long-winded diatribes on our collective condition – and how I developed the style to impart my thoughts in a way that seems to resonate with so many?

His question took me by surprise. . .

The fact is, I didn’t have an answer.  I’ve never thought about it.

I just opine on the news of the day through the prism of someone who spent three-decades in the meat grinder of small-town politics – a washed-up bureaucratic magician who knows how the legerdemain is performed – and isn’t afraid to expose the illusion when it conflicts with what I know of good governance.

Obviously, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer – not known for my quick wit, or grasp of difficult concepts like long division or the importance of sticking to the monthly booze budget my wife has imposed – so, I took another shot of Jameson, pushed the empty glass toward the back of the bar, and exclaimed:

“I dunno.  From God’s lips to my keyboard, I guess.” 

It’s true.  These screeds just come to me – like some weird gift of extra sensory perception that allows me to instinctively identify the musky scent of political bullshit in any situation – and spot a stuffed-shirt, phony-baloney grifter from a mile away. . .

Sometimes when I read older Barker’s View posts, I find a kernel of truth or a facet of an issue I didn’t realize I possessed when I wrote it – weird, right?

Last week, the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce – a once proud advocate for our business community that faded into just another bastion of Fun Coast mediocrity – held their 100th annual banquet at the Ocean Center, our county-owned event venue nestled in the rotting heart of our core tourist area, to bestow haughty awards and pass the gavel between the Big Wigs du jour, who, for a Century now, parrot the same tired promises their predecessor spewed the previous year. . .and the pernicious cycle repeats.

Whatever.

Look, I don’t give a Tinker’s damn if our “movers & shakers” want to get together, preen and peacock, slap each other on the back and take credit for their own narrowly defined idea of “progress” – after all, that’s what “movers & shakers” do, right?

However, in my view, it crosses a line when the Chamber’s leadership fail to see the glaring idiocy in “honoring” Team Volusia – a publicly funded do-nothing economic development “corporation” – that has been on the margins of every controversial roll-out, secretive project, and bald-faced “high paying jobs” sham perpetrated on Volusia County residents (who are crying out for something, anything, other than storehouse work) as some 43% struggle to meet basic monthly living expenses. . .

My ass.

It boggles my feeble mind that our Regional Chamber of Commerce would be so callous – so heartless – as to openly diminish the efforts and accomplishments of small businesses and area entrepreneurs who strive every day to keep people employed, pay exorbitant taxes, feed their families, see the doors open and the lights on and authentically contribute to our local economy through sheer grit and determination.

Instead, the Chamber’s most prestigious award goes to a passel of “economic development” shills who spend their time touring the world on our dime, taking eleventh-hour credit for the hard work of municipal practitioners and telling our elected officials exactly what they want to hear – all while facilitating corporate welfare incentives and maintaining control with their statutorily protected Secret Squirrel horseshit – which allows them to conceal key information from those of us paying the bills while leaking it to all the right people in advance.

Crowing about his ludicrous accomplishment in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden said:

“. . .the award was a “validation” of Team Volusia’s “economic development without walls” approach to recruiting companies to the area.”

Look, if your sole reason for existence is luring new business and industry to Volusia County and you need the “J. Hyatt Brown Enterprise Award” to somehow “validate” your efforts – if the results of your “public/private partnership” aren’t immediately evident to everyone through a burgeoning portfolio of “high paying” jobs, civic prosperity, a fire hose flow of useful leads to municipal partners, expanding regional influence and a robust local economy – perhaps we have bigger problems than we realize?

Because that would signal that they actually believe their own shtick.

And that level of hubristic self-deception is dangerous in a community dealing with myriad social, civic and economic challenges. . .

I thought it was apropos that the evening’s entertainment for our assembled elite was provided by Mr. Kevin Viner, a self-described mentalist – like a modern-day Amazing Kreskin or Carnac the Magnificent – who must have left the chic event Thursday evening with a pounding headache. . .

I mean, being a professional mind reader and all.

Because, I’m assuming Mr. Viner would have made his way to the Ocean Center through the East ISB corridor, traversing the abject blight, dilapidation and human carnage that populates what passes for our core tourist area, and thought:

“Is this the World Famous Daytona Beach?  How can ostensibly bright civic leaders gather in their finery, smack in the middle of this decrepitude, and not be moved to tears by the condition of their community?” 

Then, upon entering the elegantly appointed space – rather than being telepathically overwhelmed by the surge of civic vision, strategic creativity, clarity of purpose, depth of concern and unyielding advocacy for area businesses that normally dominates the thoughts of Chamber of Commerce officials – Mr. Viner must have been met with a blank 30Hz tone emanating from the vacuous “minds” of our Halifax area brain trust. . .

Oh, well.  Maybe not.

But let me have my little Thurberesque fantasies, okay?

Because it’s the only thing that comes close to soothing my utter frustration over this level of apathy from the very organization who should give a damn – but doesn’t – and the intrinsic damage this senseless strategy of “ignore the problem until it goes away” is doing to our “brand” – and our quality of life.