“Lucius Cassius ille quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat identidem in causis quaerere solebat ‘cui bono’ fuisset.”
“The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, ‘To whose benefit?”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
So much of what prompts me to write involves the esoteric shenanigans of local government, or the buffoonery of our local elected and appointed “leadership” – who always seem to pull defeat from the jaws of victory – whose mismanagement and ham-handed subterfuge has left the greater Halifax area a “tarnished jewel,” as our local newspaper puts it.
But this one’s different.
This weekend, we learned of disturbing plan being hatched at the City of Daytona Beach – and the timing and scope of this strange and evolving situation involves all of the elements that raise the hair on the back of my neck – and then some. . .
In the immediate aftermath of the primary election that returned Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry to the throne of power in this increasingly challenged community, lame duck City Manager Jim Chisholm throws a surprise party of sorts, announcing that the municipality is ready to spend between $18 and $24 million for a new City Hall?
Yep. At a time when many are watching their financial lives collapse due to the pandemic, major shopping centers declaring bankruptcy, strategic closures of local businesses, and our area tourism industry on a downward slide, the City of Daytona Beach is suggesting the time is right for a multi-story Taj Mahal municipal complex.
You read that right.
During my long career in government, I became adept at recognizing a good, old-fashioned game of civic Three Card Monte when I see it.
Traditionally, the scam is a classic confidence game, where a practiced grifter takes the ace of hearts and two queens from a deck of playing cards and bends them into a tent shape.
Then, with a skillful hand, the con artist flips them around – betting some unsophisticated bumpkin in the audience that he can’t keep his eye on the money card.
Looks simple enough, right?
But he can’t.
You see, the dealer has mastered the art of deftly manipulating the cards – and to ensure the deception – the swindler employs a convincing shill or two in the audience who distract the rube just long enough. . ., well, you get the rest.
The uninitiated will never guess the right card unless the grifter wants to build your confidence – so you double-down and bet the farm – because that’s the way the scam is intended – to separate you from your hard-earned money without exposing the intricate mechanics of the ruse.
In this variation of the scam – now renamed “Daytona Emerging” – taxpayers are being shown a new City Hall complex, a public/private parking garage, and a mysterious “shovel-ready” apartment building.
One of them represents the “real” reason our elected and appointed officials are looking to spend $24 million in public funds during these desperate times. . .
Now, just try and keep your eyes on the real prize.
City Manager Chisholm, a master illusionist who is retiring in less than six-months, is working the cards, keeping the public guessing on the true motivation behind the scheme, while his adroit accomplices – Mayor Henry and John Albright, chief executive officer of CTO Realty Growth Inc. (formerly Consolidated Tomoka Land Company) – work the crowd, providing just the right diversion in the newspaper.
First, residents are being led to believe Daytona Beach City Hall – a modern 60,000-square-foot, two-story facility built in 1975 and remodeled in 1988, complete with recent upgrades to the roof and HVAC systems – is suddenly “functionally obsolete.”
Now, we are being shown an expensive rendering of a palatial, multi-story municipal complex on property owned by CTO Realty Growth, Inc. at International Speedway Boulevard and North Ridgewood Avenue – complete with the five-story parking garage abutting a new “multifamily building” fronting North Palmetto Avenue to the east.
As we watch the game unfold, many are questioning why the City of Daytona Beach would abandon a perfectly functional building to build an incredibly expensive “new” City Hall – which will not add one dime of tax revenue to the all-important Ridgewood Avenue frontage – in an area slated for a slew of off-the-tax-roll government buildings, to include a massive courthouse complex and county offices north of ISB between Third Avenue and Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard.
Others are openly speculating that the move is necessary to accommodate J. Hyatt Brown’s need for additional downtown office space – essentially vacating the current City Hall building so it can be acquired as a cheap annex for the new Brown & Brown headquarters on Beach Street.
In my view, the true motivation for Mr. Chisholm’s mini-moves are slowing coming into view:
The municipal government wants to spend some $15 million in Downtown Community Redevelopment Area funds to support the profit motive of CTO Realty Group by underwriting a parking garage for the mysterious developer of the proposed apartment complex.
According to an article by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
“Chisholm said the new development would evolve in stages, with the parking garage built first and a City Hall built later. The company that owns most of the Ridgewood Avenue block between International Speedway Boulevard and Bay Street, CTO Realty Growth Inc., has a developer under contract to build apartments on the site but could use help with the expense of a parking garage…”
There is another old-time ruse employed by developers and their shills to ensure needs on both sides of the dais of power are met.
For instance, if a developer is seeking to build a 100 unit residential development, they make application to the county or municipal government listing 350+ units – so that, ultimately, the vote to approve the land use amendment gives the appearance that elected officials are sensitive to environmental and infrastructure impacts – and not afraid to hold the speculative developers feet to the fire.
It’s all horseshit – civic theatrics – a foregone conclusion, where the fate of the project is never seriously in doubt – because everyone who is anyone is in on the ruse, with all players ostensibly getting what they need – including the public, who don’t realize they were never part of the end game.
And this is no different.
In the case of “Daytona Emerging” – we are being baited with a massive new municipal building which is both unnecessary and horribly expensive – while CTO Realty Growth and its customer walk away with millions in public funds to partially finance their private project and guarantee a profit.
Look, I’m not saying that J. Hyatt won’t ultimately assume physical control of the “old” City Hall building (let’s face it, he already has actual control of the government) as Brown & Brown employees begin their move to his publicly supported glass and steel edifice on Beach Street.
However, in my view, this latest confidence scam is being orchestrated to camouflage yet another “business as usual” corporate welfare scheme – and set the precedence for the use of public funds as Downtown Daytona slowly begins its artificial “renaissance” – and We, The Little People, once again line the pockets of all the right last names.
At the very least, these backroom machinations once again beg the question:
Cui Bono? Who ultimately benefits?
Trust me. This one bears watching. . .