On Volusia: Truth in Advertising?

When District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post first took office, I supported everything she represented – a counterpoint to the entrenched status quo, an emerging maverick who refused to be pigeonholed or forced into lockstep conformity by the ‘Good ol’ Boy’ network that has controlled everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide here on the Fun Coast for decades.

I didn’t have much hope for the rest of those dullards on the dais – but I put a lot of faith in Ms. Post.

She became a political punching bag – the target of her “colleagues” political ire as they tried desperately to pound a square peg into the round hole of conformity – and a lightening rod for time-wasting controversy.

I am still enamored with the ideal Ms. Post represented to many – an independent voice who seeks the truth, serves in the public interest, stands up to political bullies, embraces the concept of fairness and fights mightily to give taxpayers a true voice in their government.

To many, she was our best hope for something resembling a representative democracy.

Then, I watched as she slowly changed into something different.

While continuing to mouth the words many of us wanted to hear, when it came down to it, Ms. Post invariably voted in mindless agreement with the majority – something that became hard for her supporters to swallow – especially when those votes helped take away more of our century old heritage of beach driving or involved development issues that adversely impact our quality of life.

Then, she stopped talking to the working press altogether – choosing instead to communicate with the world exclusively through a canned social media presence where she alone controls the message.

I found it reclusive and weird – a one-way barrier which protected her from political criticism by releasing only what she wanted her constituents to hear – using the distance to help cultivate the image of a professional political victim.

Initially, I chalked this chameleon-like ability to change with the prevailing winds up to inexperience – a desire to be all things to all voters – then, I recognized it for what it is:

Shameless self-promotion which plays on the average citizens short political memory.

Not that this peculiar personality trait hasn’t become a prerequisite for public office at all levels of government – it has.  But with Ms. Post, it quickly became so flagrant that it was repellent for the many long-suffering residents and civic activists who had hoped for more.

Frankly, the political posturing and preening by Ms. Post and other members up for reelection became a serious distraction during Volusia County’s response to COVID-19 – complete with Facebook manifestos, the release of half-baked information outside official public information protocols and insisting on weekly meetings to allow for political exposure – even if it undercut the authority granted to County Manager George Recktenwald by the emergency declaration.

I didn’t think this pretentious horseshit could get much deeper. . .

Then, earlier this week, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe asked if I had seen a photograph Ms. Post published to her social media page on the National Day of Prayer – an annual event formally recognizing the importance of prayer by all faiths to the health, safety and cohesiveness of our nation.

The well-crafted photograph appears to depict The Very Reverend Heather Post standing dutifully in the pulpit – a heavenly light bathing her in a soft beatific glow from a stained-glass crucifix – giving the perfect impression to anyone observing that she was witnessing to devout congregants on our National Day of Prayer. . .

The only problem – it was a sham – in my view, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Stolen Valor.

The photograph appears to have been taken at the Riverview United Methodist Church during a September 6, 2019 town hall to discuss septic-to-sewer conversions in Ormond-by-the-Sea – not a National Day of Prayer event.

Don’t take my word for it – ask anyone who was there.

Or better yet, ask Ms. Post.

The concerned reader (who, by the way, is a confirmed supporter of the Councilwoman) was rightly offended by the fact Ms. Post used the photograph to insinuate she was engaged in a National Day of Prayer event – when others couldn’t – due to quarantine and social isolation.

Why? 

Because the sentiments that accompanied the ethereal photograph on Facebook said, “On this #NationalPrayerDay Whomever it is you pray to, join me in saying a prayer that our protectors be strong, our sick be healed, our children be loved, and that all be blessed. #VolusiaCountyDistrict4

The National Day of Prayer reference set the stage – and because this is an election year – the #VolusiaCountyDistrict4 made it political.

When I saw the misapplication for myself, I was stunned.

This was over-the-top.  Even for a Volusia County election season.

Look, I’m the sheep that got lost – an unrepentant sinner just trying to do the right thing in a world gone mad – but even a lowlife like me can see this self-serving stunt is wrong on a number of levels.

I don’t agree with District 5 representative Dr. Fred Lowry’s politics – but he holds advanced degrees in Religious Studies and New Testament Theology – and has actively and tended his flock at a Deltona church since 1993.

If Dr. Lowry wants to exploit his pastoral standing for political gain – that is his right as an active, long-time member of the clergy.  After all, he answered a higher calling and dedicated his life to the ministerial care of his congregation.

It is equally within bounds for former Volusia County Sheriff and current council member Ben Johnson to use his decades of honorable law enforcement service to his political advantage – because he has earned that privilege.

And, if the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys wants to hold herself out as a shameless developer’s shill – have at it!

She’s earned that right as well. . .

Unfortunately, when it comes to Volusia County government – Ms. Post isn’t the only poseur holding high positions of responsibility – and their ham-fisted official response to the coronavirus outbreak has exposed the depth of this ineptitude and dysfunction with horrifying regularity.

I don’t know why this campaign tactic bothers me – but it does.

Perhaps, like many of you, I’m sick and tired of those who were elected to represent our interests engaging in these clumsy attempts to pull the wool over our eyes with cheap political posturing – especially during a “State of Emergency” that is crushing small business and leaving thousands of hungry families standing in breadlines – grasping at any shred of truth they can find.

Welcome to the “new reality,” folks. . .

 

 

Angels & Assholes for May 8, 2020

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

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

Asshole           Gannett

Change is inevitable.  I get it.

But I don’t have to like it.

There is no denying that The Daytona Beach News-Journal is morphing into a weird amalgam of information and pap – something akin to a regionalized USA Today – which I’ve always considered news light – something to pass the time while waiting for your boarding call.

I suppose we should have expected it when our long-time local newspaper was caught up in the merger of two massive conglomerates – GateHouse Media and the Gannett Company – which created “…a nation-blanketing print and digital giant, with more than 260 daily newspapers and hundreds more websites and community and weekly newspapers stretching across 47 states.” 

When local newspapers are gobbled up by mass media holding companies, the community aspect is naturally replaced by something different – something homogenized and bland – as the immense talent of our hometown reporters and editorialists becomes diluted with pools, research groups, downsizing and weird computational reporting, where news stories emerge from a faceless database, eliminating the need for shoe leather journalism.

While I don’t always agree with News-Journal editor Pat Rice – or the views of his editorial board – this transformation is not his fault.

Sometimes, when I take a view which differs from the newspaper’s editorial stance, a few people misinterpret that to mean I dislike Mr. Rice – or the newspaper he runs – and that is simply not true.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal will always be “my newspaper.”

The daily broadsheet I grew up with that taught me to read critically and think analytically – the common denominator that allowed my late father and I to bond as we discussed our often-divergent thoughts on the issues of the day.

In my view, the purpose of the editorial page – and this blog site – is to provoke a larger discussion of the issues, to stimulate the debate of competing ideas, agitate, persuade, even “stir the pot” on occasion – or, in the case of the incomparable scribe Mark Lane, to use humor to enlighten us.

The fact is, I like disagreeing – even arguing – with people who are smarter than me.

That’s how I learn.

And I’m still of the shrinking view that we can have wildly conflicting opinions on politics – or the social, civic and economic challenges we face – and remain friends.

Last Friday, I took offense to a nationally distributed editorial which originated from some nameless editorialist at the Gannett flagship USA Today and republished in the News-Journal entitled, “Reverse the anti-science pandemic.”

“Of all the emotions, none motivates like fear. It is not reason or civic virtue that is keeping people indoors.

It is, rather, fear — fear of dying in a hospital without a ventilator or of spreading disease to a loved one.

Fear is also often behind big shifts in society and public policy. In fact, America’s future prosperity could well depend on its ability to use the coronavirus pandemic and the fear it engenders for positive results.”

Bullshit.

This ill-thought tripe began an essay which attempted to link the coronavirus outbreak with climate change – but what it ultimately achieved was to give readers an inadvertent glimpse into the mindset of our nation’s largest newspaper chain.

What a ghastly view of the human condition.

What telling insight into how this media behemoth thinks and the motivational forces it embraces.

The use of “fear” as a change agent for whatever the giant considers “positive results.”

In my view, that truly is terrifying.

I happen to believe that Americans have acquitted themselves admirably during this challenge – uniting in a common goal of “flattening the curve,” protecting those most vulnerable and taking steps to physically isolate while remaining socially and civically connected.

And we have found creative ways to support healthcare professionals and first responders serving and protecting at great personal risk – providing assistance to those on the front line in this “war on the invisible threat.”

When threatened – Americans fight to preserve our way of life – and our nationwide willingness to join together during times of emergency speaks to our unique sense of pride, patriotism and sacrifice – a willingness to protect something greater than our own self-interests.

And many have engaged in this struggle at dreadful cost to their personal finances and business interests.

Hold your heads high! 

Our individual and collective response to this pandemic has shown incredible courage – heroic personal and professional contributions, large and small, that represent the very antithesis of panic and trepidation.

In my view, no “positive result” was ever based on fear.

What truly frightens me is that, in the not to distant future, I may not have a local opinion to disagree with – an editor to bicker with over the issues of the day – or a “community” newspaper to call my own.

Replaced by a gargantuan fearmonger that pushes its version of the “news” to the masses through a lockstep network of hundreds of outlets across the nation – and shapes public policy, right down to the local level – with hyper-sensationalized horseshit designed to instill terror in the American heart and mind.

Angel               Consortium of Fitness Centers

Small businesses have taken the fight against COVID-19 squarely on the chin.

That includes fitness centers, personal trainers, martial arts studios and neighborhood micro-gyms have unduly shouldered much of the burden and suffered the economic ravages of our state and local governments biased response to the outbreak.

Last week, a consortium of fifteen local, privately owned businesses, who provide essential health and fitness services to our community, issued an open letter to the Volusia County Council on behalf of some 112 employees who were financially devastated when these small facilities were erroneously categorized under the same umbrella as massive corporate “gyms.”

During the lock-down, many of these companies attempted to safely provide for the health of their customers through virtual workouts and other online services – now, they are rightfully asking our ‘powers that be’ to allow them to initiate a well-thought step-by-step process for safely reopening their businesses in the face of “…losing thousands of dollars weekly with little-to-no rent abatement, delayed or denied federal loans, and mounting operating costs.”

Fortunately, it appears Volusia County is working on a program which will put some $10 million in federal relief funds, in the form of $3,000 grants, in the hands of strapped small businesses – many of which are on the ragged edge of closing their doors forever.

Of course, there will be government-defined parameters for how business-owners can spend the funds – but anything helps.

With luck, the Volusia County Council will vote to approve this much needed assistance during their “special meeting” on Tuesday.

In the groups cogent plea for help authored by Bobby Wise of Delta Life Fitness in Daytona Beach, the consortium summed up the frustrations of many:

“We ask the Volusia County Council to consider the damage caused to our civil liberties as business owners. The State has essentially decided that they know what is best for private industry and for consumers. This philosophy violates every American principle of self-determination, free market economics, and the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.    

In my view, these truths apply equally to bars, nightclubs, hair salons, barber shops, boutiques and specialty stores, restaurants and the many other businesses who were left to die a slow, painful death by tyrannical decrees.

Here’s hoping these desperate cries for help do not fall on deaf ears – and much-needed funds are quickly routed where they are needed most.

It’s time to get Volusia County back to work.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I am getting tired of being lectured by compromised elected officials’ intent on telegraphing how they plan to vote on critical changes to comprehensive plans and zoning issues before We, The People have had a chance to provide required public input.

They puff out their pompous chests and crow about how their hand-picked appointees and hangers-on which occupy various “growth management” commissions and “land development” boards have unanimously approved modifications – a political insulation ploy that always includes the pernicious practice of ensuring the legitimate concerns of taxpayers are dismissed as “misinformation.”

These changes always place our sensitive environment and diminishing quality of life in jeopardy – while making it infinitely easier for developers to seek tax-based giveaways, publicly funded infrastructure improvements and engage in sham “hurt here, help there” programs to legally facilitate the destruction of our environment.

(Trust me – when “…it can be demonstrated to be in the overriding public interest,” (read: greed) some of the most threatened estuaries, wetlands, lagoons and wildlife habitats in the nation don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. . .)

All while kowtowing to the self-serving needs of phony-baloney “economic development” shills whose uninspired sleight-of-hand always includes the use of public funds to underwrite private profit motives.

On Tuesday, in her long-winded lead-up to a motion postponing a vote on the issue, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys droned on, ad nauseam, about the need to turn the whole of southwest Volusia into a Commercial Space Opportunity Overlay District.

The changes to the comp plan ostensibly serve to incentivize and expedite approval of a wide range of aerospace industries – and capture the accompanying “high paying jobs” we are always promised but never materialize – by ensuring our tax dollars fund the private infrastructure needs of Buck Rogers and Company.

In his cogent response during what passed for public input, Jeff Brower, who is aggressively challenging Ms. Denys for Volusia County Chair, spoke for many in Volusia when he said:

“What should be made clear is that limited tax dollars and infrastructure monies is not fast tracked to incentivize new businesses while Volusia residents and existing businesses continue to suffer from a lack of maintenance and upgrades.”

In response, the ultimate bureaucrat, Clay Ervin, our director of growth management (whose gross incompetence and malleability became evident when he told area mayors not to “reinvent the wheel” on smart growth), supported Old Ed’s predetermined position by quibbling that the changes do not necessarily promise incentives.

“There’s no formal commitment of any expenditure for money for any job at this point,” Ervin said.

At this point? 

No shit.  The proposed changes haven’t even gone through the eyewash/formality of a vote – but you can bet your bippy those who stand to benefit most are champing at the bit to get these changes in place so the incentivization of potential marks can begin. . .

Last year, in the frenzied drive for the failed half-cent sales tax increase, the star-crossed  municipalities identified hundreds of critical transportation infrastructure projects – current and future needs that remain stagnant and unfunded – pressing needs that represent a clear and present threat to our quality of life.

In my view, before we spend one more dime in public funds to support the infrastructure needs or offer tax abatement for “the next big thing,” perhaps our ‘powers that be’ should begin the difficult process of living within their means in this strange “new reality” they have created – and prioritizing existing resources to meet the needs of current residents.

Quote of the Week

“That was a good question.  They got the ocean.  It’s one of those things where we just weren’t ready, but we wanted to get people back on the beach.  We could have put it off a week because I fully expect that this weekend.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, responding to a question by WFTV reporter Mike Springer regarding the closure of public restrooms to beach goers, Monday, May 4, 2020

Last week, I took our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley to the woodshed for his flippant answer to a logical question by the intrepid WFTV-9 investigative reporter Mike Springer, when he asked:

“We hear the importance of having good hygiene and being sanitary when you are out and about, but if we have thousands of people at the beach, how are we able to have good hygiene and sanitation if we can’t use the bathroom there to wash our hands and do other things?”

Now, Mr. Kelley claims his dim-witted remark was a joke – and Mr. Springer took the Chairman’s answer in jest – but I just could not let it go.

Look, I have the weirdest and broadest sense of humor anyone could imagine – and I can find something inappropriately funny in the darkest situation – but making light of a poorly thought official decision to open Volusia County beaches to thousands of visitors, while keeping public restrooms padlocked, was cruel – and exemplified the institutional ineptitude we’ve come to expect from our county government.

“Hey, let those hapless peons’ shit in the ocean.” 

What a knee-slapper, right?

I guess that’s why I didn’t find the situation quite as amusing as Chairman Kelley – and given his propensity for making mean-spirited declarations at the most inopportune time – anything is possible. . .

Then, rather than admit a mistake and move on, our resident beach safety “expert,” Chief Ray Manchester, barefacedly tried to cover Kelley’s ass when he said, “Due to challenges with decontamination, the public restrooms remain closed.  These facilities present a challenge because they create an opportunity for the easy spread of germs and bacteria.”

Say what?

According to photographs that readers have sent me in the past, these off-beach restrooms typically look like a fetid Third-World squat-hole, where you take your health and safety in your own hands on a good day. . .

Now, they’re worried about cleanliness? 

Look, Votran, our county’s public transportation service, has been operating with minimal precautionary measures – no hand sanitizer or wipes available to riders, no enforcement of social distancing requirements, etc. – while countless “essential” businesses, like groceries, big box stores and gas stations have kept their restrooms open since the COVID-19 lock-down began.

These companies didn’t turn their facilities into some posh Ritz-Carlton style toilette, with a washroom attendant to freshen things up and offer a spritz of cologne, mouthwash and mints – they simply opened for business and expected customers to wash their hands and practice good personal hygiene.

So, I asked the logical question:

Why can’t ostensibly bright people – who County Manager George Recktenwald has held out as the “best team in the state” – professionals who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – find a way to open public restrooms for the personal convenience of beach goers?

Then – suddenly – in the great tradition of exploration and discovery of Pasteur, Edison, Newton and Einstein – midweek we witnessed a monumental breakthrough! 

On Wednesday afternoon, Old Ed stood proudly at a lectern in the bowels of the Volusia County Emergency Operations Center and belched his way through a prepared statement – congratulating his own performance for ramrodding the opening of off-beach restrooms (effective tomorrow) – complete with paid “porters” who, I guess, will loiter around bathrooms wiping things down when you’re done wiping things down. . .

Whatever.

Kudos to those dedicated county executives and elected officials who boldly went above and beyond the call, spending countless hours and sparing no expense in researching, brainstorming and burning the midnight oil to devise a solution to this conundrum wrapped in an enigma – ultimately solving the infinite mystery of how to turn the key on an outhouse door.

And Another Thing!

Unlike her cantankerous son, if anyone has ever spoken a bad word about my mother – I have never heard it.

Admittedly, I’m biased – but she’s hard not to like.

An authentic free spirit with a quick laugh and comedic sense of humor that draws people like moths to a bright, inviting light.

Standing five-foot-nothing at an incredibly young 85 – she tools around town in her wholly inappropriate jet-black pick-up truck like some diminutive badass – and her mind remains much sharper than what remains of my own hop-laden gray matter.

Billie Mae Barker is a world-class raconteur, who loves regaling everyone she meets with stories of when she dated Elvis Presley in the 1950’s, holding her audience in awe with a thick hillbilly accent and a razor wit that perfectly complements an encyclopedic memory.

Like my grandmother before her, my mom is the funniest person I know – a personality that finds the lighter side of any situation – and makes you feel better just being in her presence through an innate ability to find the silver lining.

Something I find both interesting, and infinitely confounding, is the depth and eclectic variety of those she counts among her countless friends.

I know like five people.  She knows everyone!

In fact, many of the politicians and ‘movers and shakers’ I take to the woodshed on this site count my mother among their friends – and always ask for her with genuine interest, or relate a funny story, whenever I speak with them.

Then, they invariably question how a daft asshole like me could possibly have originated from that wonderful woman.

I must admit – that remains a mystery to me too. . .

Fortunately, through the gift of time, my mom has had the chance to enjoy her many grandchildren – and now, great grandchildren – imprinting upon each of them the same depth of love, pursuit of fun and zest for life my sister and I inherited.

I am forever grateful for that gift.

Throughout the incalculability of space and time, God found the perfect mother for me.

And that is why I can never repay him for the enormous favors and blessings he has brought to my life through her presence.

I also want to wish my long-suffering wife, Patti, a very Happy Birthday this weekend!

Trust me.  If there was ever a living saint, she’s it.

And I love her beyond words. . .

Here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and mom – and all mothers out there as we approach their special day.

That includes all those loving moms who care for their precious fur babies!

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

 

 

On Volusia: Don’t Forget to Flush!

As I examine the machinations of Volusia County government, sometimes I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me – like staring fixedly into one of those fun house mirrors.

The old, “That can’t be right, can it?” mental gymnastics that keep me guessing.

Then, I realize that fact really is stranger than fiction here on the Fun Coast. . .

Earlier this week, in a ditty entitled “Sorting Fact from Fiction,” I questioned the wholly confusing “do this, don’t do that – no more than six people in a group – maintain ten-foot intervals, park between the poles, not those poles, the new poles, etc., etc.” revised rules and regulations controlling otherwise lawful activities on Volusia County beaches.

Apparently, County Manager George Recktenwald and our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley, concocted a poorly thought “half-opening” to keep up with Governor Ron DeSantis’ painfully slow restoration of our tattered economy – an edict which now permits the once verboten pleasures of sitting and sunbathing on the beach – without fear of arrest and prosecution for a second-degree misdemeanor. . .

Unfortunately, there were some glaring discrepancies surrounding the soft opening that no one on the dais of power in DeLand – or any of our highly paid “beach management” experts – bothered to ask before visitors flooded the shore on Saturday.

So, I did my best to sound the klaxon.

Last weekend, I issued a serious warning to the thousands of beachgoers – including the disabled and mobility impaired who were allowed vehicular access under strict controls – to consider where, exactly, they planned to exercise their “bodily functions,” considering the fact every off-beach public restroom remained inexplicably gated and padlocked.

“…if you do venture down to the beach, I hope you are close to home – or don’t have an aversion to emptying your bowels and bladder in the surf, among your friends, family and neighbors – because, for reasons known only to Volusia County officials, public restrooms remain closed to public use. . .

Hell, even I thought that one was over-the-top. . .

I mean, is it humanly possible that following weeks of forced isolation – with confined children unable to attend school, parents climbing the walls and thousands of out of work residents looking for a diversion – those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest could possibly allow unfettered beach access without considering the personal needs of visitors?

Like many of you, I initially thought, “This must have been an unfortunate oversight – another bungling bureaucratic mistake – eventually, our highly paid beach management experts will realize that, at some point in the day, people will need to pee and poop, and unlock the facilities.

Let’s face it – anything less would be cruel – or, at the very least, horrifically stupid, right?

Who in their right mind would suggest that throngs of beachgoers be forced to create unsafe and unsanitary conditions by relieving themselves in the crowded surf, exposing visitors and residents to serious gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, infections and disease as raw sewage distributes fecal bacteria and viruses in the shallow the water.

Screw the gross-out factor – Is that even legal?

For years, our elected and appointed officials in county government have done everything in their power to discourage beach access and destroy the experience, to include using our century old heritage of beach driving as a bargaining chip for speculative developers seeking a quasi-private strand, charging obscene access fees, bullying tourists and residents with officious law enforcement and littering our most important natural amenity with countless poles, posts, cones and signage.

Regardless, I could never have imagined that our elected officials would open beaches to “all activities” – then attempt to control crowd behavior by manipulating the public’s right to urinate and defecate in sanitary facilities.

It defies reason.    

Just last week, Volusia County purchased some $30,000 in “utility markers” (not including installation) using CARE Act funds – a move ostensibly designed to force ridiculously wide social distance spacing between parked vehicles – yet, they couldn’t task a few maintenance personnel to open and supply public restrooms?

What gives? 

This couldn’t have been intentional, right?  

Fortunately, the intrepid investigative journalist Mike Springer of WFTV-9, reached out to Chairman Kelley for hard answers on how this colossal blunder happened.

Having reached Old Ed by phone, Mr. Springer inquired:

“We hear the importance of having good hygiene and being sanitary when you are out and about, but if we have thousands of people at the beach, how are we able to have good hygiene and sanitation if we can’t use the bathroom there to wash our hands and do other things?”

 Inconceivably – in the most classically daft response ever uttered by a sitting elected official – Chairman Kelley, the highest-ranking elected official in Volusia County, explained:

“That was a good question.  They got the ocean.  It’s one of those things where we just weren’t ready, but we wanted to get people back on the beach.  We could have put it off a week because I fully expect that this weekend.”

They got the ocean?

Let that sink in for a moment. . .

Sorry, but we are all adults here – and there is no delicate way to say this:

It is now the official policy of Volusia County for beachgoers to relieve themselves in the same surf-line where thousands of men, women and children – your friends, family and neighbors – are swimming, surfing, sitting and enjoying a day at the beach? 

Seriously?

Rather than simply open public restrooms – this dullard would rather we turn the Worlds Most Famous Beach into the River Ganges?

My God.

Then, rather than admit Chairman Kelley has lost his marbles, Ray Manchester, Chief of Volusia County beach safety, doubled down on Old Ed’s preposterous suggestion – and, in the process, destroyed any shred of professional credibility he had left – when he told The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Due to challenges with decontamination, the public restrooms remain closed,” said Manchester. “These facilities present a challenge because they create an opportunity for the easy spread of germs and bacteria.”

But forcing visitors to drop a deuce in the waves is perfectly acceptable?

Are you shitting me, Ray?  (Pun intended. . .)

In my view, this horrible miscalculation by senior officials is one thing, but the ridiculous, self-serving excuse provided by Kelley and Manchester epitomize the strange culture of this terribly compromised organization – a sick joke that insults the intelligence of taxpayers who look on as our most precious natural amenity is fouled and mismanaged – as the county’s official response to the Coronavirus outbreak is exposed for the inept sham it is.

What a shit show.  (Literally.)

(Sorry, I’ve got a million of them. . .)

But most important, please don’t forget to flush these turds this fall – and let’s begin the important process of restoring honor and credibility to Volusia County government.

Enjoy the beach, kids.  I think I’ll take a pass. . .

 

 

On Volusia: Sorting Fact from Fiction

As most of you have figured out – I tend to overthink things. . .

I invariably take a deep dive on the issues that bother me, then let my mind wander; always searching for the “why” of the situation, a brooding, ruminative process that often begets more darker questions.

Perhaps this weird contemplative personality quirk comes from decades in law enforcement, where we practice the art and science of forensic investigation – gathering and analyzing items of physical evidence – blood, hairs, fibers, latent fingerprints, ballistics, toolmarks etc. – interviewing witnesses, interrogating suspects, developing timelines and determining the “who, what, when, how and why” of a crime.

Deductive “fact-based” reasoning leading to a logical and legal conclusion.

I’ve found that here on the Fun Coast, it’s difficult for most to begin dissecting the machinations of government, because most people tend to base their examination on the “message” – the official narrative – which is typically pushed as a series of “reframed” facts designed to reduce any negative impact or political criticism.

We receive what passes for “news” from paid governmental mouthpieces – “public information” professionals who are experts in spin and obfuscation – who present a biased interpretation of events as a means of influencing public opinion – then speak “for” our elected and appointed officials when the questions get tricky using canned “talking points” and soundbites.

It is an effective political insulation practice – one that removes any requirement that those we elect to represent our interests should have to think for themselves, formulate cogent answers to our questions and actually communicate with worried constituents.

The process isolates elected officials – cementing the impenetrable wall that separates “us from them” – barriers that are bolstered by talk of further limiting public participation in government (during a time we can’t even be in the same room together), putting “decorum” over citizen input while limiting the competition of debate, extending even more physical and emotional distance between citizens and our increasingly monarchical office-bearers.

Then, there are individual politicians who – in an attempt to paint themselves as a “maverick” – focus on manipulating the minutia of the official message, arguing semantics and inflating their contribution while quibbling process – a dramatic performance that only serves to expose their own ignorance of what’s actually happening outside the Ivory Tower of Power – the things that truly matter to us, the Little People.

Now, imagine a scenario where, as our local, state and national political systems continue to contract and centralize power in external forces with no political accountability, professional journalists and “news organizations” increasingly accept (even reinforce) the official propaganda of government when it serves mutual goals.

Scary, right? 

Well, welcome to our collective nightmare. . .

If the Coronavirus craze has exposed anything, it’s that “media driven hype” has a synergistic effect on our politicians inability to think for themselves – creating a situation where public policy is formulated, changed, then changed yet again – as local government attempts to mitigate the worst case scenarios and subjective projections of those who make a living selling the news – driving reader/viewership with sensationalized versions of reality.

Then, some just get it wrong – because its easier (and cheaper) for a news agency to simply regurgitate an emailed press release than actually seek the unvarnished truth. . .

For instance, in a recent article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal heralding the “opening” of Volusia County beaches, headlined: “Volusia beaches draw crowds:  Reopening of county sands, surf for all activities met with cheers by people, but hesitancy still looms,” didn’t tell the whole story.

The fact is – Volusia County beaches are not open for “all activities” – and any suggestion to the contrary is simply misleading.

For instance, with the exception of highly regulated parking for persons with disabilities, vehicular access to our beach – a century old tradition that defines the Worlds Most Famous Beach – remains completely closed.

To that end, some $30,000 in CARE Act funds have been squandered on 1,800 “utility markers” which will mandate where visitors and residents may park on driving areas of the beach to force separation – an expenditure that passed muster with the Volusia County Council, even as thousands of families seek sustenance at overburdened food banks and small businesses succumb to the unfair mandates of government officials who haven’t lost one dime in salary or benefits since this lock-down began.

Off beach parking remains restricted.

Our ability to peaceably assemble in groups over six – or use our own judgement to maintain adequate social distancing – is officially controlled by unilateral edict of (I think) County Manager George Recktenwald, who continues to remind us that any violation of his diktats carries the possibility of arrest and prosecution for a second-degree misdemeanor.

And, if you do venture down to the beach, I hope you are close to home – or don’t have an aversion to emptying your bowels and bladder in the surf, among your friends, family and neighbors – because, for reasons known only to Volusia County officials, public restrooms remain closed to public use. . .

You read that right.

And, so far, I haven’t heard any working journalist question the reason “why”. . .

What a crock of shit (literally).

Angels & Assholes for May 1, 2020

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

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

Asshole           Volusia County Government

On Wednesday, Volusia County residents were greeted with this provocative headline in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“Coronavirus: Uncooperative beachgoers make reopening Volusia beaches difficult”

Bullshit.

Is anyone else sick and tired of being openly blamed and villainized by clueless elected and appointed officials who continue to project their clumsy mishandling of their “response” to the coronavirus outbreak on law-abiding citizens?

Yeah.  Me too. . .

After enacting arbitrary “rules” for beachgoers – a horribly confusing mishmash of “do this, don’t do that, no, you can do that but not this” regulations ostensibly designed to protect us from ourselves – we’re told that our Beach Safety personnel (which lost all objectivity and impartiality early when their union published a manifesto demanding the complete closure of our beach) have issued over 2,500 warnings and six citations to citizens who had the gall to sit on the sand.

Then, last week, persons with disabilities were allowed to drive onto the beach at designated approaches – but once they were there – yet another asinine “rule” prohibited the mobility-impaired from sitting outside their vehicle.

What gives?

Is this open shaming of disabled beach-goers the official policy of the Volusia County Council?

Or just the subjective enforcement of illogical, poorly planned pseudo-legislation by a slow-on-the-uptake Beach Safety Department who, according to County Manager George Recktenwald, is still “learning as they go”?

Trust me:  When over 2,500 citizens are found in “violation” of the rules – the problem lies in the terribly flawed and virtually unenforceable regulations – not with citizens engaged in otherwise lawful activities. 

In my view, if our elected representatives want to provoke civil disobedience and flagrant disregard of the “law” – keep suppressing our access to public beaches, amenities, trails and parks with draconian decrees and officious enforcement that turns good citizens into criminals for the heinous act of sitting down. . .

Effective tomorrow, we are being told that the beach is “open to all activities” – except driving, gathering in groups of more than six, being closer than ten-feet apart, etc., etc.

Which, I think, means you can now sit down on the beach without fear of being prosecuted for a second-degree misdemeanor – but that’s not “open” – not by a long shot. . .

Regular readers of these screeds know that I’ve never been a fan of the Volusia County Council – a stultified parody of an elected body that has mutated into a ridiculous theater of the absurd; a ham-fisted bully who long-ago lost the ability to think for itself or act with independence from its uber-wealthy overseers – that has, once again, exposed itself as a grossly inept hindrance during this endless “State of Emergency.”

However, during this weeks installment of what was either a faux public meeting – or another goofy political posturing session cloaked as a “briefing” – I heard a paid public official issue one of the most nonsensical, inappropriate and outrageously stupid ideas ever hatched by a local government.

With an apparent straight-face (we don’t know, we couldn’t see her on the “virtual” meeting screen), Mr. Recktenwald’s coadjutor, Suzanne Konchan, explained to our elected dullards that Volusia County has purchased some 1,800 “utility markers” (at $16.55 each) which will be installed at intervals on what remains of driving portions of the beach.

You read that right.

Apparently, our “beach management” experts plan to place even more hideous poles between the existing “conservation area” pillars to designate temporary socially distant parking spaces – a move which, when driving is allowed to return, will separate cars by 25-feet and limit beach access to approximately 210 cars per mile.     

My God. 

This disastrous plan – that adds even more ugly pole/sign pollution to the forest already in place – is so wrongheaded that it causes one to wonder how ostensibly smart people, who accept public funds to serve in the public interest, could possibly have dreamt it up?

Perhaps most disturbing – not one of our elected officials questioned this idiocy – or, to my knowledge, acted to formally approve the nearly $30,000 expenditure of CARES Act funds which we are told will be used to pay for this latest fiasco.

Really?

With tens-of-thousands of Volusia County residents out of work, area businesses closing and families standing in line for sustenance at strapped food banks – this is how our elected officials plan to use $30,000 of the $96.5 million in federal coronavirus relief? 

Unbelievable.

Look, whether you agree with my goofy opinions – or abhor everything blowhards like me stand for – know this:

None of this is our fault.

You are not to blame.  

Our community has done an incredible job of following guidelines and recommendations, practiced social distancing, worn masks, remained in isolation and done our level best to obey the rules, flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Now, remember this pretentious tut-tutting and godawful finger-pointing at the ballot box this fall.   

You do not have to stand idle and accept unwarranted blame – or fear “more strict action in the future” if you fail to conform to these convoluted, puzzling, self-serving and completely unconstitutional mandates from that ship of fools in DeLand – a troupe of elected and appointed jacklegs who have proven, through their own glaring ineptitude, just how utterly compromised Volusia County government truly is.

Angel              Local Musicians, Artists and Creatives

Throughout recorded history, we have used music and the arts to endure times of crisis, to protest, salve our fears, alleviate national sorrow, bolster our confidence and bond with one another.

Artists fill a vital role in protecting our mental and societal health during uncertain times.

In fact, one of the most enduring stories from the last hours of RMS Titanic was when the ship’s musicians gathered to play for frightened passengers and bring a sense of calm in the midst of certain disaster.

During this extended period of social confinement – a seemingly endless period of isolation that has had such a devastating impact on the psychological well-being of so many who feel lonely, increasingly anxious, forgotten and claustrophobic – several area musicians and entertainers have taken to social media to boost our flagging spirits in their own inimitable way.

Asking nothing in return, incredible local talent like my friend Reuben “The Lounge Lizard” Morgan, who, in addition to being an exceptional guitarist/singer/songwriter, just happens to be an all-around great human being – and the incomparable Mark “Muddyharp” Hodgson, New Smyrna’s own harmonica virtuoso – and many others who have regularly performed “virtual” concerts on Facebook to the absolute delight of so many in our community and beyond.

Add to that the incredible contributions of my dear friend Miguel “DJ Dynasty” Capellan, who has produced wonderful shows online – and all the chefs, artists, painters, radio hosts and other creatives who have brought light to this dark time.

In fact, some of my favorite nationally recognized performers – like the great Texas troubadours Pat Green and Ray Wylie Hubbard – have regularly performed songs in their living rooms, bringing a real personal connection that let’s everyone know we really are in this together.

It is truly something special when artists who are feeling the devastating financial impact of this economic crisis – missing scheduled performances and paying gigs while trying to keep their own small businesses afloat – put their own worries and fear aside to brighten the lives of others.

From the bottom of my beat-up old heart – thank you.

Thank you.

I have a request for all members of the Barker’s View Tribe:

When this mess is behind us, and we can once again join together and listen to live music, sing along and enjoy the incredible talents of our local musicians – please put an extra something in the tip jar to show your heartfelt appreciation for letting the music sooth our souls during this difficult time.

Quote of the Week

“It’s important that we heed the governor’s guidance and ensure our actions fall in line with the state,” Kelley said. “We want to open, for me the sooner the better, but safely.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, Wednesday, April 29, 2020

As Governor Ron DeSantis slowly peels the onion on his politically cautious “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan for resurrecting the rotting remains of our state’s economy, the Volusia County Council is working on a similarly guarded strategy called “Relaunch Volusia.”

Whatever that means. . .

After all, now that the federal government has turned on the funding spigot, there’s no sense rushing into things, eh?

Even with “the curve” now flatter than a cheap pancake, state and local government officials continue to pick the winners and losers – placing absurd limits on how some businesses can operate – while keeping other industries closed altogether, almost ensuring the financial ruin of many small businesses in our community.

(How can anyone believe that a restaurant can survive with a forced occupancy of 25% of capacity?)

Now, these arrogant phonies on the dais of power – who haven’t lost a dime in salary or benefits during this hyper-extended “State of Emergency” – want to drag their clay feet on when the marketplace can open its doors – all to avoid even a hint of political criticism.

My ass.

Earlier this week, I listened, mouth agape, to a Special Meeting of the Volusia County Council as Councilwoman Heather Post argued semantics with Corrections officials – demanding that they stop saying there have been no coronavirus cases among inmates or staff (even though there haven’t been) – citing the fact no testing has been done.

Apparently, Ms. Post failed to grasp the fact no testing had been done because no inmates or staff members have exhibited symptoms of coronavirus. . .

That is the most pressing issue of our time?

This is what passes for leadership during a civic, social and economic crisis? 

When our elected and appointed officials should be burning the midnight oil determining how to get much-needed financial support to low/moderate income families who are out of work, assisting struggling small businesses and partnering with local governments to determine needs – they twiddle away precious time debating messaging? 

Then, I heard the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys all but burst into a rousing chorus of the Ray Stevens classic “Everything is Beautiful” – as she asked that the county’s website make room for “all good news, all the time” – while no doubt watching her political career dissipation light flicker in the corner of her eye.

During my long career in public service, I saw some in leadership positions come apart under pressure.

That painful process always manifested in repeatedly telling themselves things weren’t as bad as they seem – focusing only on the “good news” while consciously ignoring reality – hoping against hope someone, or something, will intervene to lessen their personal and professional responsibility for the outcome.

Sad.

As I observed Tuesday’s painful posturing and political grandstanding – a horror show of preening pomposity – I wondered if anyone on the dais had even once considered the pain many Volusia County families are feeling right now – or consider their important role in alleviating it?

So, in this leadership void, I suggest you be you – and I’m not being facetious.

Seriously – stay home if you feel vulnerable, continue to take reasonable precautions, wash your hands, avoid large groups, follow CDC distancing guidelines, don’t go to the beach if you feel it’s a threat, etc. – but now is the time to take back personal responsibility for our own health and safety, and stop looking to this out-of-control Nanny State for answers and solutions they don’t have.

You do not need to be told what to do by Governor DeSantis, Chairman Kelley or anyone else!

We must bring this absurd chapter of our national history to a close.

In my view, now that we have beaten the virus back to manageable levels, it’s time to stop this torturous seclusion that has stolen our basic liberties – end the arbitrary shutdowns that are crushing our economy – and get Volusia County residents back to work.

And Another Thing!

Because I am one of the vainest, most self-absorbed assholes you know, it pains me to say this – but, I’m tired.

I know you are too.

I’ve lost that ‘pep in my step’ – my sense of humor isn’t as elastic – and I find myself even more cantankerous, brooding and argumentative than normal (if that’s possible).

Worse yet, I see a similar change in friends and family who are closest to me – as “quarantine fatigue” combines with a raging case of Spring Fever and frustration born of an unsettling lack of transparency by those institutions we look to for answers during times of crisis.

I’ve convinced myself this isn’t going away anytime soon.

Because it’s not about a virus anymore.

As the media continues to flog the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak 24/7, unrelentingly harping on patently erroneous cumulative statistics and worst-case scenarios that mean nothing, all while the Florida Department of Health refuses to agree on a logical definition of “recovered,” I believe it’s important to begin rebuilding our lives – and start thinking for ourselves.

This week, an expose in the Tampa Bay Times uncovered a disturbing dust-up between Florida medical examiners and the Department of Health.

According to the informative report, “State officials have stopped releasing the list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by Florida’s medical examiners, which has at times shown a higher death toll than the state’s published count.”  

In fact, statistics previously released by the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission were some 10% higher than those reported by the DOH – and, the redacted pathology reports contained demographic information, probable manner and cause of death, and pertinent information regarding the persons medical and travel history – while stopping short of identifying individual patients.

As I understand it, the discrepancy is due, in part, to the Department of Health’s weird policy of only counting Florida residents in the death count – while medical examiners include anyone who died in the state of the disease – as they are required to do by law.

Once again, the Department of Health used their tired argument of “privacy concerns” when it formally interfered and strong-armed medical examiners to stop reporting what is clearly public information compiled in the public interest.

According to Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the state Medical Examiners Commission, “This is no different than any other public record we deal with,” Nelson said. “It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know.”

More important, the information represents an important piece of the puzzle – one that helps an anxious public understand the scope and impact of the epidemic and identify preexisting conditions that can exacerbate an infection.

I’m not an expert – but I can read and reason.

In my view, when our powerful public health apparatus starts influencing what information forensic pathologists, specialists in the processes of death and disease, may release concerning fatalities from a communicable illness that poses a threat to public health – perhaps its time for outside intervention.

What else is the DOH hiding from us?

Count my voice among the growing number of Florida residents who are calling on Governor Ron DeSantis to commission an independent top-to-bottom review of the Florida Department of Health, and its lockstep minions in county health departments statewide, who, by their almost pathological desire for secrecy have eroded the public trust and added to our government’s chaotic response, just when we needed them most.

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