Angels & Assholes for March 20, 2020

Hey, 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.

As most loyal readers of these screeds have figured out – I’m something of a nonconformist.

I don’t like being told what to do – or how to do it – especially when its my government dictating what I will or won’t do – usurping my right to make informed decisions for myself and my family while issuing what is essentially a death sentence for many small local businesses who are actively laying off our friends and neighbors following a government-imposed shutdown of commerce in response to the coronavirus.

As I write this, my heart bleeds for friends and neighbors who are actively losing their livelihoods and shuttering their businesses as we engage in this national panic to do something, anything, to protect the masses from the virus.

In over thirty years in public service, I learned that people will comply with subjective orders and mandates only so long as they can see the public benefit.

Once they suspect that draconian measures have crossed into the realm of the ridiculous or feel base politics are at play – they will question the strategy – and we will begin seeing civil disobedience if/when citizens perceive an infringement on their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.

That’s frightening.

The process begins when citizens feel they are slowly being turned into subjects – manipulated by fear and financially ruined by capricious restrictions that seem to change hourly – and appear to favor one business or industry over another in the name of “the public good.”

When government overreach – regardless of the threat – inhibits our ability to make informed decisions for ourselves and our family, free-thinking citizens of a constitutional republic will begin to push back from what they perceive as oppression – regardless if it’s in our collective “best interest” or not.

My sincere hope is that our elected and appointed ‘powers that be’ at all levels of government understand that there are natural limitations to this “preventative” intrusion in our lives and livelihoods – and no one benefits when law abiding citizens are forced into a corner because our elected officials “know what’s best for us.”

We understand the benefits of “social distancing,” frequent hand washing, staying home if we’re sick, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, keeping kids out of school and taking logical precautions to protect ourselves – just like we do every flu season.

And we understand that the coronavirus represents an unprecedented threat.

But why not take enforcement action on those groups and individuals who violate crisis response regulations, rather than continue to adopt widespread and increasingly harsh mandates that affect everyone?

In my view, citizens in a free society don’t understand impulsive and seemingly random decisions to ensure lockstep conformity with other government entities – or nonsensical measures like closing vehicular beach access – or the wholesale destruction of our local economy with a mishmash of restrictions that insult our intelligence and suppress our civil liberties – simply because some officious government entity believes we cannot make prudent decisions for ourselves.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Angel               Volusia County Council

Asshole           The Nanny State of Volusia County

We live in strange times.

Made stranger by the fact this would have been the second time in as many weeks I counted the Volusia County Council in the Angel column.

On Tuesday, for the first time in a long time, I felt our elected officials demonstrated true leadership in carefully considering emergency mitigation efforts in response to the coronavirus – even in the face of withering criticism – when they decided on reasonable measures to protect public beach access while recognizing the needs of threatened small businesses.

Then – like always – our elected and appointed officials pulled defeat from the jaws of victory by succumbing to their natural need to overreact.

I wrote the following missive earlier this week, congratulating our elected officials on what, at the time, was a measured response in keeping Volusia County beaches open.

Then, late yesterday afternoon, they turned tail and saw fit to close beach approaches and eliminate beach driving as visitors and residents seek refuge from the claustrophobia of social isolation by getting outdoors and enjoying our beach.

Here’s my original – clearly premature – thoughts:

As the Volusia County Council sat for their regular meeting, Governor Ron DeSantis was in Tallahassee actively shutting down bars and drastically curtailing restaurant operations for the next 30-days – before closing all public schools in Florida until at least April 15 – giving the impression he is simply pulling new measures out of his ass every two-hours in an apparent race to one-up New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio and the State of California for the most draconian response. . .

To ensure efficient command and control, the council gave County Manager George Recktenwald and (frighteningly) our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair Ed Kelley, wide-ranging authority to make unilateral decisions to expedite crisis management decisions (and shield vulnerable council members who are running for reelection from potential criticism) during the emergency declaration. 

When talk turned to protecting Volusia County residents during these uncertain times, I watched our elected officials engage in a thoughtful, contemplative and controlled discussion – which included a presentation by Volusia County public health officials – who provided a peek into the byzantine world of our state and local system, which, once this panic is over, is in desperate need of a complete overhaul – especially in terms of reporting and public information protocols.    

Don’t get me wrong, there were the usual spits and spats between Chairman Kelley and the overly inquisitive Councilwoman Heather Post – and a few cringeworthy moments as some of our elected officials provided their weird thoughts and freewheeling commentary on the issues  – but, for the most part, I was impressed with their ability to work cooperatively when it counts.

And these important decisions were not without controversy. 

Earlier this week, the Volusia Watermen’s Association – a labor union of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters which represents Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue employees – issued a damning open letter to council members accusing them of putting lives at risk by not closing our public beaches, and spewing hyper-dramatic horseshit like, “Every day you wait to act, the virus spreads. . .”

Even though public health officials continue to report no community acquired cases of the virus in Volusia County.

The screed culminated in the rather self-absorbed line, “…if a single Beach Safety employee get sick while you continue to fail to act, we will all know who to blame.”

Bullshit.  

I found it unconscionable that Beach Safety officers, men and women who have sworn to serve and protect, even at risk to their own personal safety, would put their name to this mewling tripe – ignoring the sacred traditions of their service – while seeking the complete closure of their jurisdiction at the first sign of a crisis?

And since when do career civil servants’ issue not-so-veiled political threats to duly elected officials? 

I’m pretty sure that’s not the way our system works. . .

Throughout Volusia County and beyond, the brave men and women of law enforcement, the fire service, emergency medical personnel and dedicated healthcare professionals continue to boldly hold the line – honoring their sacred oath without the convenience of barricading off their entire area of responsibility – putting themselves in harm’s way, instilling public confidence, protecting their neighbors and serving the needs of anxious communities – despite the very real personal hazards they face. 

By their very presence, these public servants bring a sense of calm assurance to frightened residents. 

In my view, anything less is unacceptable – and irresponsible.

If beach safety personnel don’t feel they can stand their post – then they can resign – and retreat to the relative safety of their homes. 

Ultimately, the Volusia County Council took reasonable steps, in concurrence with Governor DeSantis’ mandates, to keep our beaches open and accessible while limiting groups to ten or less with “social distancing” spacing requirements. 

Given the safety provided by the wide expanse of our beaches – which allows people to easily maintain spacing – coupled with the intrinsic physical and psychological benefits of getting outdoors in the sunshine and enjoying the warm breeze – it was the right thing to do. 

Thanks, and kudos to the Volusia County Council – and all of our county staffers, emergency management personnel and first responders on these commonsense crisis response and mitigation efforts.   

Yeah, right.

For reasons that have yet to be fully explained, yesterday afternoon County Manager George Recktenwald announced that beginning Friday, vehicular beach access ramps will be closed in New Smyrna Beach – and, on Saturday, the ban will extend to include all Volusia County beaches.

Bullshit.

Welcome to the Recktenwald/Kelley Emergency Junta – where your beach-going habits are monitored by drones and “Beach Safety officers” (who have proven they would rather be anywhere else) while disabled persons, families with special needs and those of us who support beach management with our hard-earned tax dollars are forced to park wherever we can find a spot and dodge dangerous traffic lanes to access our beach.

Why not enforce the law on groups and individuals who refuse to comply with separation regulations – rather than inconvenience Volusia County beach goers with a driving ban?

As always, these reflexive actions create even more questions and anxiety.

Is this ridiculous mandate only for this Saturday and Sunday – or will the driving ban be extended as the weather warms and residents want to access their beach? 

Well, that’s apparently going to be ‘reevaluated’ by county officials who have proven, time and again, they couldn’t pour piss out of boot with the instructions on the heel.

At a stilted “press conference” last evening – the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys tried her level best to demonstrate some semblance of “leadership” to bolster credibility for her run for County Chair – yet, typically, she came off looking like the mealy-mouthed, flip-flopping, responsibility dodging coward she’s become known for.

During a crisis, we expect strong, focused leadership – and this is what we get?

How sad. . .

In my view, our elected officials can blame it on the Centers for Disease Control all they want – but the agency’s prevention guidance hasn’t wavered – and not once have I heard anyone at CDC proclaim that driving a vehicle on a public beach – or associating in groups of less than ten in the open sunshine and fresh air – has resulted in any community acquired infections.

I suspect when the parking complaints start pouring in this weekend from outraged neighborhoods as people exercise their right to access our public beaches by parking anywhere and everywhere they can find a spot – we will see even more cockamamie restrictions in coming days.

Look, if you feel Volusia County beaches should be closed in the interest of public health, that’s fine – stay home.

We can disagree.  That’s okay.

But I happen to be of the mindset that says the risk of contracting the coronavirus while visiting the beach is minimal – as Governor DeSantis suggested in his initial decision to keep Florida beaches open – and I’m quite certain my family and I can make these decisions for ourselves.

Angel               Chief Craig Capri

In my view, Sheriff Michael Chitwood and Daytona Beach Chief of Police Craig Capri have shown outstanding leadership during this crisis – a voice of calm reason who continue to put out commonsense information that builds community confidence and salves fears.

When it comes to commonsense leadership and the development of community-based programs that work, few can match the efforts of Chief Capri.

Last year, the City of Daytona Beach took direct action to effectively eliminate the number of aggressive panhandlers that occupied literally every major intersection in the Halifax Area – a scourge that saw professional mendicants playing on the sympathy and good nature of residents – while ruining the aesthetics of our community.

In an excellent piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Community Voices column earlier this week, Chief Capri expertly summarized the advent of a highly effective ordinance which gave police the tools necessary to drive roadside grifters out of town and stop the proliferation of this insidious practice.

In my view, the City of Daytona Beach got it right when they recognized a community nuisance and adopted proven measures to eliminate it – a program that has paid dividends throughout east Volusia County.

Good work!

Angel               Copper Bottom Distillery

I’ve always said the City of Holly Hill represents the best of small-town Florida – where, during times of crisis and calm, residents and businesses join together to prop each other up – a real sense of community where the worst of times always brings out the best.

In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, our neighbors at Copper Bottom Distillery have begun producing an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help protect from the spread of the virus – distributing it free of charge to anyone with a need and a four-ounce container.

On Wednesday, dear friends of mine who operate a small local business were concerned about protecting their employees when they found store shelves bare of commercial hand sanitizer and other cleaning products.

Upon learning of Copper Bottom’s extraordinary community service – my friend drove to the Holly Hill distillery and was quickly provided with ample supplies.

What an incredibly generous way to help during this time of fear and uncertainty.

According to reports, the distillery is asking for donations of white table sugar, xanthan gum and bottles to assist with production and distribution.

The hand cleanser is available at Copper Bottom through tomorrow during normal business hours – 12:00pm to 7:00pm – at 998 North Beach Street in Holly Hill.

I hope you will remember this good deed by a local business who saw a need and immediately took steps to meet it when this crisis has passed.

In my view, Copper Bottom produces some of the finest spirits currently in production anywhere – and their handcrafted products can be found at the distillery or your favorite local liquor purveyor.

Please join me in shopping with this wonderful family owned business and say ‘thank you’ for their dedication to protecting the health of their neighbors – and improving our collective quality of life during a difficult time.

Angel               The “Five Families of the Halifax”

On Wednesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported the news many have been anxiously awaiting:

Bethune-Cookman University is poised to receive a $17.3 million infusion of much-needed cash when Governor Ron DeSantis approves the state budget – which includes $13 million in new funding – a financial inoculation that just might save the imperiled institution from the “edge of extinction.” 

In addition, Bethune-Cookman President Brent Chrite recently received individual $50,000 donations from some of the Halifax Area’s most important and successful business icons and philanthropists; to include, Mori Hosseini, Glenn and Connie Ritchey, Hyatt and Cici Brown and L. Gale Lemerand – along with a $55,000 check from long-time B-CU supporters Lowell and Nancy Lohman.   

According to a report by the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, former Mayor Ritchey explained “It’s seed money from the business community.  It’s a beginning.  We want to show support for Bethune-Cookman.”

A wonderful new start, indeed.  

The article went on to provide a laundry list of state politicians who had a hand in cobbling together the funding bill – and while we appreciate their efforts – I think we all know where the credit truly belongs. . .

Despite the fact I often take him to task in this space for development and growth management issues – or for using his considerable power to control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast – I have a great deal of respect for Mori Hossieni.

I’m almost certain that he and I don’t agree on anything, but, in my view, he epitomizes the “American Dream” – the promise that with hard work and perseverance one can achieve great things in this country, and make no mistake, few people in the history of the State of Florida have attained more financial success (or raw political influence) than Mr. Hossieni.

Trust me.  Our elected state officials can slap themselves on the back all they want – but none of this happens without Mr. Hossieni’s “encouragement” at the highest levels of government.

Love it or hate it – that’s the way the game is played – and Mori Hossieni is the undisputed champion of the political playing field.

Fortunately, Mr. Hossieni, who has been a longtime advocate for higher education in our state, saw the dire circumstances that have brought Dr. Bethune’s dream – and the hopes of students and anxious alumni – to the very precipice of disaster.

When it mattered most – Mr. Hossieni rode to the rescue of an embattled institution that holds such vital importance to our community – and he did it behind the scenes, leaving the accolades for the politicians who did the heavy lifting.

I admire that. 

I believe this substantial state funding measure – coupled with the generous personal investment of those in a position to truly help – represents a real turning point in Bethune-Cookman’s long institutional nightmare.

Thank you.  Your generosity has made a difference in the lives of many.    

Let’s all take encouragement in Dr. Chrite’s assessment this week:

“I’m so excited about the future of this institution,” he said. “The issues here were caused by inept and corrupt leadership, and they can be fixed by integrity and good leadership. We’ve got the pieces in place.”

Quote of the Week

“The current outbreak is a timely reminder of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ nod, more than a hundred years ago, to sunlight’s disinfecting properties. Brandeis is thought to have been paraphrasing the British jurist James Bryce, who wrote about government transparency in his 1888 book, “The American Commonwealth.”

“Public opinion is a sort of atmosphere, fresh, keen, and full of sunlight, like that of the American cities,” he wrote, “and this sunlight kills many of those noxious germs which are hatched where politicians congregate.”

–The Daytona Beach News-Journal Our View column, “Sunshine, our best disinfectant,” Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Now, there’s something we can all agree on. . .

And Another Thing!

Since Colonial times, the neighborhood tavern has been a place for community members to gather, enjoy a pint, discuss and debate the news of the day, watch the game, relax with friends and celebrate the blessings of life.

I have my spot – perhaps you have a special place “where everybody knows your name.”

Earlier this week, Governor Ron DeSantis followed the lead of other states in abruptly closing bars and seriously curtailing the hours and operating conditions of restaurants in the latest measure to limit social gatherings in the face of the coronavirus.

As Newton’s third law explained, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and in our fragile service-based economy – the negative consequence of this government imposition on small businesses will result in massive layoffs, with many establishments closing their doors forever.

Seemingly unfazed by this unfolding financial disaster, earlier this week, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry – in his simpleminded crusade to stop Spring Break even if it bankrupts the rest of us – argued to further curtail the hours restaurants can sell alcohol, even as some speculate that 30-40% of area restaurants could go away in coming weeks.

In turn, rather than being a calming presence during a crisis, Mayor Henry thought it best to fan the flames of panic by calling this “the greatest threat of our lifetime.”

Really?

Whatever.

Mayor Henry’s histrionics aside – we live in a symbiotic economy – a true interdependence where pressure on one segment is felt by everyone.

Tragically, many of our neighbors are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate, businesses are shutting the doors and feelings of fear, anger and frustration are beginning to fill the void.

Not that Mr. Henry gives two-shits – so long as those damn kids get off the beach. . .

In my view, the extent and seemingly arbitrary nature of these closures – where government decides which industries live and which small businesses die – is a conversation we are going to have in this country once this societal panic subsides.

I suspect many politicians who erred on the side of what they thought would paint them in the best light will find themselves wishing they had bet on their constituents’ courage, intelligence and ability to self-regulate their own behavior instead of issuing sweeping edicts from on high.

While we’re being told a federal stimulus package is forthcoming, the immediate reality is that many local businesses have a life expectancy of weeks – even days – and they desperately need our help.

I would like to make a sincere plea to all members of the Barker’s View tribe:

Please make a point of ordering takeout meals from area restaurants as they struggle mightily to remain open.

Let’s help keep our friends and neighbors employed during this extended closure – and consider donating to service industry relief organizations, like Foundation 37 – “Locals Helping Locals” – which was recently recommended by New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen.

(Find more information here: https://tinyurl.com/svu9p6t )

In addition, I understand the City of DeLand is actively working to provide assistance to service industry professionals who have been displaced.

Look, you and I can disagree on the goofy political issues of the day – and I admit, my views aren’t always right, or even rational now that I’ve been cooped up all week, rambling around the house on a steady diet of vodka, ice and lime – but I hope you will concur that local businesses and their employees deserve our support during these difficult and uncertain times.

Please don’t forget a generous gratuity for your servers, takeout cashiers and delivery drivers.

Tip like their lives and livelihoods depend upon it.

Because they do.

That’s all for me.  I hope everyone has a great weekend despite our current situation – remember we really are in this together!

Go to the beach.

Take a walk.

Play catch with the kids.

Sit on the porch.

Watch a movie.

Call a distant family member or friend.

Carry out a family feast from a locally owned restaurant you’ve never been to before.

Be cool.

Smile.

Take care of yourself and each other.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln during his 1859 address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.”

Keep your chin up, kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for March 20, 2020

  1. It’s interesting that you chose the descriptor “nanny state” to describe Volusia County. From my 31 years in government, one clear truth that emerged is that there really are “commons”: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we inhabit, the taxes we contribute, etc., and as social psychologists have demonstrated repeatedly, the “tragedy of the commons” is real. Each free-thinking individual is inclined to use just a little more than their fair share of the commons, whatever it is. I’ll buy two cases of toilet paper, because after all, not everyone else will, and there will still be enough for anybody who really needs some. Unfortunately, we all think that way, and pretty soon the shelves are bare and some who are out of this commodity will be unable to buy any. The spread of COVID-19 is like that. I don’t have symptoms, so it’s ok for me to be out and about because I won’t affect anyone else. Sadly, I can be contagious LONG before I’m symptomatic, and in the meantime, I’ve infected many others, the curve of infections climbing exponentially unimpeded. Government has a responsibility to act for the greater good, even when it produces unpleasant collateral damage: failed businesses, revenue shortfalls, deficits, travel bans, and yes, even prohibiting large gatherings. Since the public (including visitors whom we’ve spent fortunes inviting here, WOF) will gather in large groups despite the danger, then government has a responsibility to make that harder to happen. Thank God our County government has moved beyond science-denial into the real world of helping slow the spread of this pandemic. They should be listed in your Angels column.

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    1. Our Volusia County council has just found another way to force the citizens to be unable to drive on our beaches. They have shown for many years that they despise beach driving and will do anything to stop it, including using the caroniavirus as a tool now. We are adults with the brain power to make decisions everyday of our lives and do not need Ed Kelly and his band of “yes men and women” to decide if we want to spend time on OUR BEACHES!! We are Americans and have the right to decide for ourselves!

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  2. Now it has come to complete bullshit. I got a bad feeling with the full beach closure and now NO restaurant can serve food or alcohol on premises? Talk about Draconian. Yes, these decisions are going to come back and bite these lawmakers in the ass. I, for one, have been tired of this climate of fear and isolation for years now. Because of your most recent post, I did donate nearly a full bag of Xanthan gum (beacause I happened to have it) to the Copper Bottom distillery today and am grateful for the service they’re offering and for your civic service, past and present, Mark. Keep up the good work. Those of us who can still think sanely are with you.Warmly,Liz (Missy) Wade

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

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