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 Flagler County Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston
If you’re a regular reader of these screeds, you know that I take a dim view of most government bureaucracies – especially those here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – most of which are a direct reflection of those sloth-like, mid-career clock-watchers who pose as “senior management.”
From the haughty arrogance of Volusia County, to the self-absorbed showboating of municipal officials’ intent on keeping their names in the newspaper, the level of ineptitude and stagnation is mind boggling.
God willing, in a few short weeks, my odometer will hit the “Big 6-0” – sixty-years of age – one of those milestone birthdays where one is expected to take stock, look back, and plan for what comes next as I enter the gloaming of my life.
But my introspection and reflection were quickly interrupted by a note from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (second only to a registered letter from the IRS on the ‘Oh, shit’ scale) notifying me that my drivers license must be renewed before my birthday early next month.
The friendly reminder included two options – an online portal or in-person at a “service center” – including a list of the various papers and documents I would need to prove I am who I say I am. . .
Then, I entered the dark bureaucratic maze of FLHSMV – where, if you successfully navigate the mystifying labyrinth – a shiny new drivers license takes the place of the proverbial piece of cheese.
Of course, after diligently working through the online route, I was thrown out of the system with a terse explanation that I had already used my one “convenience renewal” – which put me on track for the “inconvenient renewal” option.
A bright red banner on the FLHSMV site warned that, due to COVID-19 precautions, access to state service centers would be limited to appointment only. Naturally, that pinch-point in the system refused to give me an appointment – and the only telephone number provided for Volusia County offices resulted in a monotonous – and ill-omened – busy signal.
So, on the off chance someone in “the system” might have a suggestion – I called the County of Volusia – and was greeted by a disembodied voice which directed me back to the off-the-hook FLHSMV phone number. . .
I later learned through non-official sources that the Volusia County “service centers” are closed – but Volusia’s recording didn’t say that.
Welcome to the classic governmental Catch-22, baby.
I was getting anxious – more so when I saw that Governor Ron DeSantis had granted renewal extensions early in the pandemic, but that didn’t appear to be an option at the moment (at least not according to the state’s nameless/faceless web presence) – and it became readily apparent I was firmly trapped in a classic bureaucratic quagmire.
Then, just as my last vestiges of hope were being crushed by the full might of government inefficiency, a friend suggested that I call the Flagler County Tax Collectors office for help.
Ladies and gentlemen, from the moment I reached out – the staff of that wonderful, responsive, and service-oriented office went out of their way to meet my every expectation.
From the initial telephone call, Suzanne Johnston’s courteous staff assisted me with directions to their Bunnell office where I was promptly greeted by two gracious ladies who, after a quick coronavirus screening, provided directions to the service desk.
Within minutes, I was seated at a service desk being warmly greeted by the clerk – and less than fifteen minutes later – I departed with a new drivers license and a smile on my face (under my mask, of course. . .)
Not only did the clerk seamlessly process the renewal – but she went the extra mile to explain other services offered by the Tax Collectors office – and made certain that I was completely satisfied with my experience.
On her website, Ms. Johnston makes it clear that customer service is her number one priority – and I can personally attest that her office more than lives up to that promise.
Frankly, I cannot wait for an appellate court in Tallahassee (or, ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court) to force Volusia County to finally submit to the will of the people and implement the voter-approved constitutional office of Tax Collector – an elective office personally responsible to taxpayers.
Kudos to Flagler County Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston and her outstanding staff for setting the example of effective, efficient, and customer-focused service by a government agency!
Angel Volusia Councilwoman Heather Post
I wrote about this earlier in the week.
If you didn’t cover your eyes, then peek through your fingers to watch the utter debacle that was this week’s Volusia County Council meeting – it bears repeating.
It was one for the books. . .
In the history of Volusia County’s weird system of governance, has there ever been a sluggardly asshole more oppositional, argumentative, or openly hostile to his fellow elected officials – or constituents who seek input in their government – than our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley?
Because, on Tuesday, I sat through the bulk of what passes for a Volusia County Council meeting – a continuing insult to Robert’s Rules of Order and the intelligence of taxpayers – a contrived tragicomedy that has been clearly orchestrated in advance to ensure controversial issues are voted on and approved before members of the public can have any substantive input in the decision.
For instance, the published agenda contained some sixty consent items – ten of which were added just three days before the meeting. . .
(Including an undiscussed $158,862 cost overrun by Johnson Brothers – Change Order 18 filed in March – for concrete to “fill pile voids” (?) on the still incomplete Veterans Memorial Bridge – money that I’m sure was already spent before it was shot-through-the-grease on Tuesday’s consent agenda. . .)
To her credit, Councilwoman Heather Post asked that, in the future, the consent agenda be broken into more manageable bites to allow sufficient time for our elected officials to actually review (yeah, right) what they are voting to approve.
Unfortunately, Ms. Post’s request was overshadowed by Old Ed’s mean-spirited bullying and eye-rolling assholery that added even more confusion to the “discussion” – and the meeting rolled on down the rutted trail with the usual dysfunction and inconsistency.
But it did not end there.
During her closing comments, Ms. Post brought forth very serious concerns about the accuracy of the public record – specifically as it relates to the council’s “follow-up list” – essentially a tracking mechanism for staff action taken on behalf of a council member’s request during a meeting.
In short, in May, Councilwoman Post suggested important modifications to CARES Act funding which would open up mortgage assistance to a broader range of citizens in need – a damn good idea – and one that other elected officials obviously wanted to hitch their wagon to after the fact.
So, when the May follow-up list was posted – Ms. Post found it strange that she was not listed as having suggested the change.
Instead, her name had been replaced on the list with the term “Multiple CC Members.”
When she made inquiry, Councilwoman Post was told that “…lower staff said that they were told to change it by upper staff – upper staff advised “what did I want?” – could they put “me and another council member on there?” with Post explaining that her concern was for an accurate public record – rather than taking credit for the change.
We later learned that the “other council member” was none other than Dishonest Deb Denys. . .
That earned Ms. Post a demeaning swipe from doddering Old Ed – you know, the “Champion of Decorum” – who pompously accused Post of grandstanding – even as he brazenly attempted to take the glory for the CARES Act modification – mewling that he mentioned it ten-days before during a private meeting with George Recktenwald – then accusing Post of beating him to it!
If Post’s allegations of falsification of the public record are proven true, it is against the law – because intentional inaccuracies on insignificant documents leads to bigger frauds – and that erodes the public trust in their government.
In my view, if that is the way Volusia County government is being administered behind the scenes – with undue influence by sharp-elbowed elected officials with no qualms about ordering staff to change the public record for political purposes – then we have bigger problems than we know.
Frankly, these allegations should be investigated by outside authority.
They won’t be. . .but they should.
Then, in the waning minutes of her comments, Ms. Post had the incredible courage to do what I have never seen done in the Volusia County Council chambers – ever – and suggest meaningful campaign finance reform.
You read that right.
During her remarks, Ms. Post boldly announced she has spoken with the county attorney’s staff regarding the possibility of adding a charter amendment to the November ballot limiting campaign contributions to ensure a fair and level playing field for all candidates – not just those “well connected” few (some of whom were sitting to her immediate right. . .)
A palpable silence fell over the council chambers – and you could almost hear Ms. Denys’ bowels locking up as she sat high atop that mountain of campaign cash – all courtesy of Volusia County’s “movers & shakers.”
To her credit, Councilwoman Barb Girtman seconded Ms. Post’s motion to allow discussion – then spoke eloquently about her desire to open elective public office to everyone.
Then, Ms. Post’s “colleagues” masterfully turned things around – the old Volusia Switcheroo – cravenly suggesting that the current system, which has all the earmarks of a legalized quid pro quo scheme, actually ensures that incumbent candidates do not enjoy an unfair advantage.
Yep. When talk turned to the single most important issue facing Volusia County politics – our elected officials fell back on the ol’ CYA Rules of Political Hackdom:
Turn the argument around, make counter-accusations, paint your opponent as a petty asshole.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at the archived video.
At 7:09:22, you will be treated to Councilwoman Denys hemming-and-hawing her way through something that sounded a lot like Otter’s speech in Animal House – couching the debate as some patriotic “First Amendment issue.”
The only thing Deb didn’t do is lead her colleagues off the dais while humming the Star-Spangled Banner. . .
Painfully, Ms. Denys stumbled and fumbled through an essay by the Institute for Justice – a libertarian law firm which opposes even reasonable campaign finance regulations on free speech grounds – while ignoring the corrosive influence of big money on local races where individuals and industries out bid John Q. Public for the loyalty of their elected officials every damn time.
The reaction of the majority was embarrassing – a telling aperçu – which exposed the true mindset of those on the dais of power who have proven they are willing to ham-handedly slug through the mechanics of government – waiting patiently until they are needed by their uber-wealthy overseers – then used like dull tools as a means to an end.
Folks, I hate to give advice, but this abject idiocy cannot continue.
If you care about the future of Volusia County – the horrific legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren – then I ask that you cast your sacred vote for Jeff Brower as our next County Chair.
It is time that we stop accepting this “more of the same” philosophy that has our highest elected office serving as a common shill for big money influencers intent on maintaining the patency of the public tit – and bring commonsense, responsiveness, and the spirit of public collaboration back to Volusia County government.
Angel County Council Candidate Barbara Bonariggo
“Wait. How in hell can you congratulate Councilwoman Heather Post in one breath – then laud her opponent in the next, Barker?”
Look, I get it.
But sometimes a candidate for public office goes above and beyond what one expects in the no-holds-barred blood sport of politics in 2020 – like earlier this week when Ms. Post courageously called for campaign finance reform – knowing well the personal and political ramifications she faced from influential power brokers.
That takes guts.
However, Ms. Post’s opponent – Barbara Bonariggo – did something this month that I found incredibly refreshing – and it deserves to be recognized.
On just one day in June, Ms. Bonariggo’s campaign received $10,000 in contributions from Beat Kahli – the Orlando-based developer of the highly contentious Avalon Park Daytona – a massive city-within-a-city which will see some 10,000 homes, and over one-million square feet of commercial space, erupt like a suppurating lesion on the southwest border of Ormond Beach.
In addition to his personal $1,000 contribution – Ms. Bonariggo also received checks from nine corporations and limited liability companies all having the same mailing address as Mr. Kahli. . .
(I’m told by Dishonest Deb Denys it’s a “first amendment thing.” Whatever.)
Given the controversial nature of the Avalon Park project – coupled with the fact hers was the only candidacy Mr. Kahli contributed to – on July 10, Ms. Bonariggo returned all $10,000 in contributions from Kahli and the entities under his control.
That also takes guts.
Especially from a political newcomer with little name recognition who is facing a charismatic incumbent.
Although Ms. Bonariggo is the darling of local big money donors – all the right last names who show up bearing gifts to hand-select candidates every election cycle – by returning contributions from an out-of-area developer set on contributing to the cancerous sprawl that is threatening the quality of life for Halifax area residents shows an impressive level of political sophistication – and proves (for the moment) that she will not be compromised.
Asshole Palm Coast City Council
When I was a 22-year old kid, I worked for a wise old police chief who would help me regain situational awareness by growling, “Hey Barker, get your head out of your ass.”
I was reminded of that frequent admonition this week while reading The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s astonishing piece detailing the free flow of taxpayer dollars in severance packages, apparent hush money and exclusive buyouts for municipal managers who are fleeing City Hall in droves.
According to the excellent article by investigative reporter Matt Bruce:
“All told, 16 top-ranking staff members at City Hall have either resigned, retired or been terminated over the past two years.”
“Much of that turnover has occurred since Matt Morton took over as Palm Coast City Manager in April 2019. Under his leadership, 13 department heads and management level city employees have departed. Seven of those exits have come with severance packages totaling $151,484.”
Since July 2018, the City of Palm Coast has paid out some $430,000 in separation agreements with former department heads and senior managers.
Having spent 31-years running the gauntlet of municipal government, I can tell you that the departure of sixteen senior staff members in 24-months could seriously compromise service delivery – and should be a glaring warning to any elected official paying attention.
By any metric, Palm Coast City Hall is embroiled in a shit-storm of controversy – including suggestions of an active FBI investigation of Mayor Milissa Holland – apparently following allegations she may have misused her public office for private business dealings.
In recent weeks, the News-Journal’s investigation has uncovered the ugly internecine warfare between Mayor Holland, the city’s internal compliance officer, Jay Maher, and City Manager Morton.
According to a recent report, in May, Morton hired a Tampa-based construction law firm (?) to oversee internal misconduct investigations in the city – effectively subverting the work of Maher, who served as Palm Coast’s compliance manager for nearly two-decades until he was relieved of those duties in March.
That move alone should have been a red flag to council members who, so far, have done little more than sit on their thumbs and attempt to legitimize Morton’s oddities in the newspaper.
Look, there are questions on both sides of this issue – but I believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and the overt manipulation of the community’s “Fraud, Waste and Abuse hotline and system” by a city manager with multiple scalps already tacked to his wall has all the earmarks of a pending conflagration.
Hey, Palm Coast City Council, get your head out of your ass. . .
You can thank me later.
Quote of the Week
“With a $805.9 million budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 prepared by staff, Volusia County is proposing a millage rate of 5.45 mills, a reduction of 3% from last fiscal year’s tax rate.
The first budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15. The proposed millage rate is a “partial rollback,” meaning that while the rate is decreasing, the county will still collect more taxes compared to last fiscal year, as property values have increased from $36.6 million in 2019 to $39.8 million in 2020. The proposed millage rate of 5.45 mills means $5.45 will be collected for every $1,000 of taxable property value.”
–Jarleene Almenas, Associate Editor, Ormond Beach Observer, “Volusia County presents proposed millage rate at ‘partial rollback’, Tuesday, July 21, 2020
And Another Thing!
“Daytona’s Orange Avenue Bridge is still months away from completion” November 2019
“More than year behind schedule, Daytona bridge aims to open in March” December 2019
“Bridge opening is not too far away” January 2020
“Veterans Memorial Bridge to reopen soon” (City of Daytona Beach) February 2020
“Veterans Memorial Bridge Just Weeks from Opening” February 2020
“Daytona’s Orange Ave. bridge to open in March, Volusia officials say” February 2020
“New Daytona bridge opening delayed. Again.” March 2020
“Veterans Memorial Bridge on Track to Open Mid to Late May” May 2020
“Daytona bridge opening delayed – yet again” May 2020
“Volusia County hopes to open new Veterans Memorial Bridge next month” June 2020
“New Daytona bridge could open in a few days” July 2020
“Merchants, residents eager for Daytona bridge to open” July 2020
“Better Late Than Never” Big John, July 2020
Pending Barker’s View headline that will perfectly sum up this concrete and steel monument to governmental ineptitude and inefficiency:
“Volusia Officials Suffer Sprains Patting Themselves, Johnson Brothers, on the Back at Elaborate Orange Avenue Bridge Ribbon Cutting Ceremony”
Date of publication remains unknown. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!