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.
It’s been an unsettling week here at Barker’s View HQ.
Many years ago, when Patti and I scrimped and saved to obtain a mortgage on our little wood frame cracker box up here in north Ormond Beach, the selling point for me was a beautiful old-growth oak tree that graced the front yard.
We bonded from the minute I saw her.
The spectacular Southern live oak was complimented, just across the cracked front walk, by an equally majestic Florida maple that graced us with its spectacular color change each year when the weather turned cool.
The towering trees provided shade, cooling and shielding the front of our little house, and they paired well with a stand of cedars and several young oaks in a way that enhanced the landscape and gave our arrogantly shabby home some “curb appeal.”
Because I have been cursed with a brown thumb – a horticultural malady that automatically ensures the untimely death of any plant, shrub, or flower that I touch – these trees were the landscape.
Unfortunately, in time, the maple fell victim to high winds during one of the glancing coastal hurricanes – dropping with a mighty crash and completely blocking the street – leaving a huge divot in our yard as the root structure pulled the lawn up like a tattered carpet.
A short while later, we learned from a practicing arborist that the gigantic oak tree – which I guess was well over 100-years old, and appeared to be comprised of several trees that comingled and fused over time – was decaying from the inside out, leaving the compromised structure in jeopardy of collapsing onto our house, or worse. . .
During my working years, I once investigated a terrible tragedy wherein a lady was killed, instantaneously, by the crushing weight of a falling water oak – a tree, that by all outward appearances, was strong and healthy – when the enormous trunk toppled onto her car as she drove past on a quiet residential street.
Call it bad luck, destiny, or fate – but I have never forgotten the horror of that scene – and the incomprehensible odds that the victim would be passing at the very moment of the trees demise.
So, for the best of reasons, after receiving another opinion from the City of Ormond Beach, it was confirmed that my wonderful old friend must come down.
So, it did.
With a municipal permit in hand, my majestic specimen was felled by the herculean effort of a team of skilled tree surgeons, using heavy equipment and roaring chainsaws, in a nine-hour effort – one that saw hundreds of gallons of water flow from the diseased trunk as, piece by heavy piece, my beautiful old girl was reduced to so much sawdust and fireplace logs.
The superintendent of the job told Patti that his crew got many dirty looks from passersby – and one concerned neighbor even stopped his car and angrily took pictures of the ugly scene – no doubt documenting evidence of the environmental atrocity for proper authorities. . . But, I assure you, no one was sadder than me to see her go.
Hell, I don’t blame them for being mad at me. The neighborhood lost something incredibly special – and the entire block has a different feel.
In fact, I could not bring myself to watch the arboreal euthanasia.
Instead, I took to the bed, listening again-and-again to the weighty “whump” as her limbs were severed and fell to the ground – my situational depression was comforted by our dogs, Nola and Benny – who seemed to sense something unfortunate was happening outside.
I am told the old gal put up quite a fight – with her damp and rotted wood crimping the mechanized blades as she wept water and slowly succumbed. . .
Now, the yard looks barren – and our house stands out like a sore thumb – with the blemishes of its well-past-prime paint job now more prevalent than ever, as curb appeal suddenly gave way to a certain down at the heel’s dreariness.
Fortunately, the cycle of life will begin anew in coming weeks when we replace both trees with young, sturdy hardwoods – something of a leap of faith – as I doubt either Patti or I will live to see them in their natural prime.
But our grandchildren will. . .
When you think about it, planting a tree is a leap of faith, an act of hope for the future, the slow transformation of a thing of beauty, over decades, that others will enjoy long after the planter shuffles off this mortal coil.
As farmer and WW1 veteran, Nelson Henderson, so aptly put it:
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
There now. Somehow, I feel better. . .
Thanks for listening, friends.
Angel Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom
I know something about small town managers.
I have worked for great ones – the best in the business – who, by their personal example, inspire their staff to greatness – and I have endured the worst of the worst – craven jacklegs who can do serious damage to a hapless community in a very short period of time.
Rarely is there a happy medium.
Small town city managers typically fall into two categories – young, inexperienced neophytes clutching a newly minted degree in public management, seeking to gain experience and make a name for themselves in the maelstrom of tiny town politics – or the grizzled veterans on the run – fresh off the dreaded “managers in transition” list – trying hard to put time and distance between their last disaster and ‘what comes next.’
So, when a community finds a professional chief executive with a solid track record of civic progress and a noble willingness to serve – smart elected officials hang on to that rare commodity at all cost – because that quality of care, commitment and concern is worth more than gold bullion.
Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom was sui generis – a city manager who embodied the important personal and professional attributes of a true servant-leader, embraced values-based public service, and made an enduring impact on the citizens and staff he served so well.
In a wonderful piece last week, FlaglerLive.com wrote:
“Beloved by his staff and fiercely protective of it to the point of willingly risking his job in his staff’s defense, Newsom was outspoken, folksy, at times salty-tongued and unafraid to be confrontational. . .”
I admire that.
Larry Newsom died Sunday at AdventHealth Palm Coast. He was 56.
His enormous contributions to the City of Flagler Beach, one of the last quaint vestiges of Old Florida, will be sorely missed.
Requiescat in pace.
Asshole Daytona Beach City Commission
At the risk of coming off like the egotistical shitheel I am:
When I am right – I’m right!
Earlier this week, I published a screed entitled “Cui Bono? To Whose Benefit?” speculating that Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm’s surprise “Daytona Emerging” announcement was little more than a ruse – a confidence game designed to conceal the fact he and Sir John Albright of CTO Realty Growth, Inc. (formerly known as Consolidated Tomoka Land Company), want to use public funds to underwrite a parking garage for an apartment complex at International Speedway Boulevard and North Ridgewood Avenue.
In order to do that, Mr. Chisholm – acting as a shill for the Tampa-based developer Framework Group – threw a lot of dust in the air to keep our focus off the actual prize.
His elaborate scheme included detailed architectural renderings of a multi-million-dollar City Hall complex, a grocery store, five-story parking garage and a “multi-family building” complete with rooftop pool.
Then, on Wednesday, during a weird meeting of the Daytona Beach City Commission – which was apparently called by Mr. Chisholm (?) – the true scam was revealed when citizens learned that their lame duck City Manager is acting as a cheap facilitator for CTO Growth Realty and an out-of-town developer with an unsustainable plan that, by his own admission, cannot succeed without an infusion of millions in public funds to construct the apartment complex’ parking garage.
Don’t take my word for it.
According to an article by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“Phillip Smith, president and founder of the Framework Group, told commissioners his Daytona Beach apartment project is at a crossroads because the rent he would charge won’t support the cost of the garage.”
Naturally, Mr. Smith then baited the hook with the classic J. Wellington Wimpy dodge, you know, the old, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” ploy, when he told the slack-jawed elected officials that if his first venture in Daytona Beach is successful, he’ll be back to “tackle more residential projects.”
My ass. . .
Now, many of you are wondering, “Hey, Barker, why didn’t you just bestow the Asshole of the Week award on Mr. Chisholm and place blame where blame is due?”
After all, the News-Journal described commissioners as “cool” to the idea, what gives?
Because, rather than tell Mr. Chisholm to focus on his own desk in the waning months of his tenure – or explain to Framework Group that they should go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan they can afford – Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry, Commissioner Rob Gilliland, and others encouraged Chisholm to “explore” the specifics of the project and put together details on how the city could possibly afford the project’s $15 million price tag.
In my view, that’s a tall order, given the fact they have all but exsanguinated the Downtown CRA with an $800,000 annual commitment to J. Hyatt Brown for maintenance of his riverfront esplanade. . .
Weird how you can paint yourself into a corner when you fail to plan, eh?
Look, I’m not going to gloat and say I told you so – that would be pompous and arrogant.
But I told you so. . .
Now that the groundwork has been laid, you can bet your sweet bippy that the citizens of Daytona Beach will soon expend CRA funds to underwrite a for-profit project for our new friends at the Framework Group.
It is going to happen.
Because no one wants to be perceived as holding up “progress” – not on CTO Growth Realty property – which sits ugly and vacant since the churches and surrounding structures were demolished. . .
It is becoming clear that residents of Daytona Beach are being groomed with elaborate, pie-in-the-sky plans on the front page of the News-Journal – dramatic depictions of all the wonderful hotels, retail, bistros and penthouse apartments (that may or may not happen) as Burgoyne Properties – which has sat on a huge chunk of Downtown Daytona for more than 80-years – scramble to secure changes to the city’s comprehensive plan before Jim “Sugar Daddy” Chisholm takes up the rocking chair early next year.
Now, all the usual patsies and cheerleaders are crowing about how “fantastic” the future of our downtrodden downtown is, now that J. Hyatt’s glass and steel monument is preparing to open later this year, and Burgoyne Properties is getting zoning changes they can sit on for years.
And, time is of the essence.
God forbid, the next city manager might actually encourage city officials and stakeholders to develop a coherent, transformational and comprehensive plan resulting in an ideal urban center – rather than a patch-work hodgepodge of projects designed to ensure that all the right last names have unfettered access to the public trough.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor and keep asking the important question: Cui Bono? To whose benefit?
Angel Volusia County Council
I am on a roll this week, kids!
On Tuesday, my deep, focused, and fervent prayers were answered. . .
Last week in this space, I submissively prostrated myself in front of our all-knowing, all-powerful Monarchs on the Volusia County Council and reverently beseeched them to abandon their two-year legal challenge to the voter approved (63% of Florida voters and 54% of Volusia County voters) Amendment 10, which returns constitutional sovereignty to certain elective offices.
Back in December 2018, instead of accepting the voter’s decision, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, began telling tall tales that the transition would cost taxpayers $10 million – then, led the charge to have former County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert use public funds to challenge the people’s decision in the courts.
Of course, the Volusia County Council’s Royal Decree to contest the results of a fair and lawful election came during a typical off-the-agenda ambush.
Ultimately, the fight was joined by the doyen of the Volusia County Old Guard, Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, and his co-chair of the group that a half-century ago cobbled together the county’s original charter, Dr. P. T. “Bud” Fleuchaus.
Inexplicably, you and I – the long-suffering taxpayers of Volusia County – paid all legal fees and administrative expenses related to Bud and T. Wayne’s attempt to exempt Volusia County in the name of “protecting” us from ourselves by warding off any challenge to the omnipotent charter that leaves very little power or influence in the hands of citizens.
Last week, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee upheld a previous ruling by a Leon County circuit judge rejecting Volusia County’s ill-thought opposition to Amendment 10.
On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council agreed to drop the legal challenge going forward.
To their credit, it was the right thing to do – and Councilman Ben Johnson was correct in his depiction of the challenge as “divisive” and a “waste of time.”
Now, Drs. Bailey and Fleuchaus, the old lions of Volusia County politics, will have to pay for their own damn attorney if they want to continue this asinine push to retain and consolidate power in the hands of a politically unaccountable manager, while relegating our constitutional officers to little more than elected figureheads.
In keeping with tradition, Old Ed, and his sidekick, Dishonest Deb Denys, droned on, trying their level best to convince their constituents that the challenge was intended to protect provisions of the sacrosanct charter – not overturn the people’s right to self-determination at the ballot box.
I should also say that the county’s staff worked diligently, under often changing and unclear circumstances, to prepare for the transition and ensure that essential services will be available to residents in January – because they did.
Unfortunately, serious questions remain. . .
During his oddly muted response, County Attorney Mike Dyer stated for the public record that the total cost of Volusia County’s aggressive two-year challenge of Amendment 10 cost taxpayers just $1,980.88 – that’s it.
For less than the cost of a household appliance, the full-might of Volusia County government – including the research, preparation and all necessary legal work of former County Attorney Dan “Cujo” Eckert (who was paid approximately $109.15 per hour) and our current representative, Mr. Dyer (who receives approximately $79.33 per hour) and their staff – mounted a protracted legal argument that went all the way to the First District Court of Appeals for less than $2,000?
My ass. . .
So, with great trepidation, earlier this week I virtually entered the murky labyrinth of the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building in DeLand when I emailed a public records request seeking an itemized accounting of all expenses related to the litigation.
Initially, my simple request to the point of contact listed on the Volusia County website for the County Manager’s office was returned by the former employee – who retired in November 2019 – directing me to yet another deputy clerk, Karissa Green, which resulted in a canned response advising that she is working “remotely.”
So, I asked my duly elected representative, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, for help negotiating the bureaucratic maze – and to her great credit – she reached out to both the County Manager and County Attorney to clarify for me exactly how much the Amendment 10 legal challenge cost taxpayers – she even managed to get the contact information corrected on the website!
In my experience, most lawyers do not work for free – and billable hours is their stock in trade. Even salaried government attorneys (one would assume) must account for their time as a managerial necessity – but, I have yet to receive an official response to my inquiry.
So, like you, I sit and speculate. . .
My fear is that I am about to enter the rabbit hole – hoping against hope that Mr. Dyer and Mr. Recktenwald do not try to equivocate that Volusia County cannot produce an accurate accounting for the legal fight because none exists.
I suspect they will ultimately blame poor old (now forcibly retired) Cujo Eckert for not keeping accurate records of the time he, his deputy, and staff spent formulating a strategy and preparing their case – essentially telling me (and you) that the only factual expenses related to the Amendment 10 challenge add up to just $1,980.88 in filing and administrative fees.
The fact is, anyone who has ever employed an attorney knows that this protracted litigation cost far more than what we are being led to believe.
And there is absolutely no reason to lie about it!
In my view, if our “new” County Attorney has mislead both the County Council, and the citizens of Volusia County, by quibbling the cost for political expediency – then he must resign or be terminated immediately – because he will have lost the trust of those he serves.
Unfortunately, Mr. Dyer will have no one to blame but himself.
Time will tell. . .
Quote of the Week
“The County Charter Architects of the old days have always sought to abolish the people’s Sheriff’s Office and replace the elected sheriff with an appointed one. They, along with a County Council majority that does whatever it’s told, tried their best to defeat Amendment 10 on the ballot and in court, and they failed.
There is no point in continuing to lie about it, but I have a feeling that Ed Kelley’s lies won’t be finished until the day he steps down from office. November can’t come soon enough.”
–Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood announcing an end to the County Council’s asinine legal fight against the voter approved Amendment 10, which returns constitutional sovereignty to his office and others, Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Well said, Sheriff Chitwood.
And Another Thing!
As usual, “Barker the Bitcher” has a problem.
During council member comments at what passed for a Volusia County Council meeting on Tuesday, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys – a current candidate for the County Chair seat – used her lofty position to direct County Manager George “Wreck” Recktenwald to provide water quality and wetlands protection information in response to campaign criticisms leveled by her opponent, Jeff “Plan B” Brower and others.
You read that right.
Now, to be clear, Dishonest Deb attempted to couch her “request” as a council action, a means of answering “purposeful misinformation” during an “election cycle” – but it was clear to everyone watching what her true motivations were.
Don’t take my word for it, watch the archived video of the meeting here: https://tinyurl.com/y6eapn8q – the action begins at 3:56:31.
Rather than formulate a cogent response based upon her appalling “go along and get along” record with developers – one that has contributed to continuing water quality issues at Blue Spring, DeLeon Springs and Gemini Springs, each of which have been declared “impaired” – fish in the St. Johns River developing ulcerated lesions linked to pollutants – and the slow death of the Indian River Lagoon, where nitrogen runoff from fertilizer and leeching sewage has had a devastating impact on underwater vegetation – now, Dishonest Deb wants you and I to pay Mr. Recktenwald and his staff to collect oppositional research to bail her out.
And probably illegal. . .
Back when I was playing government, public officers were statutorily prohibited from using their official positions to obtain a special privilege or benefit for themselves or others.
Since Ms. Deny’s critics and political opponent do not have an equal ability to turn to the County Manager from the dais of power and suggest he produce mitigating evidence on water quality and wetlands protections to answer her detractors during an election cycle – I’d call that a ‘special privilege’ directly related to Deb’s political campaign.
Or am I missing something?
Because it sure looked as if Mr. Recktenwald was attempting to run an uncomfortable interference for Ms. Denys when he gave a cursory glance looking for majority approval.
Anyone who lives on the Fun Coast understands the injurious effects sprawl and unchecked development have had on our sensitive wetlands and over-stressed aquifer – and they can see right through the gauzy disguise of Ms. Deny’s shameless attempts to weaken environmental protections as she pursues her weird goal of luring “space-related” industry to endangered areas of Southeast Volusia and beyond.
Also, I think everyone understands that the absurd “hurt here, help there” wetland mitigation scheme currently in use will ultimately prove to be an ecological disaster.
Perhaps Ms. Denys disagrees. But she should speak for herself.
In my view, if Dishonest Deb wants to stand on her dismal environmental record – marked by brazen posturing, weird photo-op’s, and her never-ending game of musical chairs in dubious “leadership” roles with various political insulation committees – so be it.
But she should simply admit that Volusia County is experiencing unprecedented growth with little consideration to the long-term effects on wetlands or the continuing degradation of water quality in our lakes, rivers and estuaries – then tell us what she plans to do about it.
In my view, it crosses a very bright ethical line when a sitting elected official who is seeking higher office blatantly directs career civil servants – who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – to compile reports and studies that she can use to deflect political flak and criticism.
That is what paid political consultants and campaign hangers-on are for.
In short, if Ms. Denys wants to mount a defense to the withering condemnation of her abysmal record by her opponent – and her constituents – then she should pay for the research without arrogantly expecting Volusia County taxpayers to pick up the bill.
Like Sheriff Chitwood so eloquently said – November can’t come soon enough. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!