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 Citizens for Good Governance
Wait a minute, Barker. Over the line!
Why are you disparaging a homespun group of citizens that are obviously committed to returning quality governance to the cesspool of Volusia County politics?
Because Volusia Citizens for Good Governance is not the down-home grassroots effort County Chair candidate and perennial politician Dishonest Deb Denys would have us believe.
In fact, it is a greasy Political Action Committee formed in the bowels of an out-of-town political hitman’s office just one day after Dishonest Deb was beaten like a gong by her opponent – Jeff “Plan B” Brower – in the August primary.
You read that right.
You probably received a carefully cloaked glossy mailer earlier this week from Volusia Citizens for Good Governance insinuating that Jeff Brower wants to cut funding for law enforcement – which is a bald-faced lie – demonstrably so, since Mr. Brower enjoys the support and endorsement of both the Volusia Deputies Association and Volusia Professional Firefighters Association.
The fact is, Mr. Brower said, if elected, he would propose a 5% budget reduction – excluding funding for public safety.
Did I mention that the Political Action Committee lists Deb Denys as its Chairperson and Eric Robinson as Treasurer?
For the uninitiated, Mr. Robinson is a Venice, Florida-based accountant and political operative who likes to call himself “The Prince of Darkness” for his role as the ‘money man’ behind scores of Florida political campaigns.
As Sarasota Magazine said of Mr. Robinson in a 2017 piece, “Several of those campaigns tarred opponents in mailers with false accusations and hid the names of donors, often land developers and other wealthy businessmen, behind patriotic-sounding, made-up groups such as “Stand for Veterans” and “Working Together for Florida.”
Did I mention that Mr. Robinson is currently being investigated for “potential election criminal misconduct,” in a Sarasota City Commission race?
Because he is. . .
A quick check of open campaign finance records for Volusia Citizens for Good Governance finds that some of our uber-wealthy insiders are neck-deep in what some refer to as the “dark money” swamp.
According to the Florida Department of Elections, Dishonest Deb’s Volusia Citizens for Good Governance received $1,000 from King J. Hyatt Brown – and $2,000 from his wife, CiCi Brown – with contractor P$S Paving handing over a whopping $10,000 to Ms. Denys’ PAC.
There are other interesting members of our civic and economic elite listed as well, but you get the drift. . .
In Florida, no limit exists on the amount that can be contributed to a political committee, so it’s all perfectly legal.
With over $180,000 in Denys groaning campaign coffer, why would area insiders pour thousands more into a PAC?
The deceitful mailer, paid for by Deb’s personal PAC, screams:
“Jeff Brower – Cutting Law Enforcements Budget”
“No Matter the Consequences!”
“Wannabe politician Jeff Brower and his radical followers want to cut the law enforcement budget, leaving our community unsafe and vulnerable.”
I’ve been called worse by better.
But it seems like Ms. Denys is getting desperate.
Is this really because Mr. Brower had the temerity to suggest a $40 million reduction in a Volusia County budget now approaching $1 Billion on Ms. Denys’ watch – a proposal that came with a clear mandate that the reductions not come from public safety – or is something more sinister at play?
Folks, if this doesn’t stink of quid pro quo politics – a pay to play system that all but ignores anyone without the financial wherewithal to buy a chip in the game – then it damn sure has a whiff of the shit about it.
There is a reason Dishonest Deb long-ago sold her political soul in a Faustian bargain she hoped would elevate her beyond even her wildest self-absorbed dreams.
And it has absolutely nothing to do with representing the interests of the citizens of Volusia County. . .
In my view, this race has become a despicable example of just how pernicious crony capitalism through the corruption of our campaign finance system can be when uber-wealthy individuals and their corporate entities repeatedly secure a political return from local office holders.
In fact, it represents a legal return on investment in a system that permits a privileged few to develop financial relationships with potential and current office holders, then obtain direct access to the public trough in the form of preferential tax breaks, infrastructure, incentives, and even direct subsidies for their private projects.
In my view, in exchange for the all-important financial resources and political clout local candidates receive as an anointing from Volusia’s “Rich & Powerful,” our elected officials are expected to perform their role like the bought-and-paid-for chattel they are, whenever an issue directly involving the self-interests and profit motives of their campaign benefactors presents itself before the dais of power.
The result is a slow erosion of the public’s trust in the legitimacy of their own government as they watch transactional politics descend into little more than a Turkish bazaar.
I encourage everyone to review readily available campaign finance reports and draw your own conclusion as to why a two-term incumbent council member turned candidate would be gifted over $180,030 – plus another $24,500 from just seven donors to a Political Action Committee formed and operated by the very same candidate who receives the largesse?
I’m asking – because this backdoor bullshit looks slimy as hell to me.
Please vote Jeff Brower for Volusia County Chair.
Asshole Protogroup Hotel-Condominium
The one thing you can count on here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast is that history will always repeat itself – because our exalted ‘powers that be’ never seem to learn much from it.
Almost two years ago I wrote:
“On Wednesday, we learned that Protogroup – now d/b/a PDA Trading Inc. – owned by Alexey Lysich and his father, Petr, has hired a new general contractor – Gryffin Construction Corporation.
Even with a new contractor selected, given the questions that remain about on-going lawsuits, past performance claims and other issues – we now have no confidence that the same thing won’t happen again a few days, weeks or months from now.
And that could have a devastating impact on a core tourist area clinging to life by what’s left of its fingernails. . .”
In October 2018, the project’s general contractor, W. B. Yates, fled the site claiming they had not been paid for months – something Mr. Lysich denied and was later “settled out of court.”
Now, it is being reported that Gryffin Construction Corporation, who picked up the project following Yates’ abrupt departure, is throwing in the towel for reasons that remain, well, muddy.
And residents are, once again, getting nervous.
In the 2018 piece on this constantly evolving Debacle on the Beach, I mused:
“The original plan called for the convention center and condominiums to be open for business by the fall of 2015, but, like most ambitious projects here on the Fun Coast – from Rock-n-Roll hotels to homeless shelters – months dragged into years and, well, here we are. . .
It was – as our ‘Rich & Powerful’ like to say – the latest, greatest “Game Changer” – the panacea project that would save us rubes from ourselves and cure every ill we face from crippling economic blight to head lice.
Of course, former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey got in on the act and took personal credit for bringing the project to life after he single-handedly negotiated the deal with Mr. Lysich through the aid of a Russian translator. . .
At the time, we read that Mr. Lysich and his family sunk a ton of their own money into the project – which I found most admirable.
After all, most developers would have just thrown some money around the right political campaigns and reaped the largesse of their elected hired hands.
Hell, if Mr. Lysich had played his cards right, I’ll bet Volusia County and the City of Daytona Beach would have thrown enough money at him to more than cover his overhead and reduce his personal liability in the project to a few rubles.
But not Protogroup.
Apparently, they wanted to finance their development the old-fashioned way: By borrowing the money from uber-wealthy foreign nationals seeking resident alien status in the United States. . .
Protogroup was said to be seeking investors under the EB-5 visa program, which some described as “murky, loosely regulated, and prone to abuse.”
Then, the News-Journal revealed some disturbing information that an Alexey Lysich of St. Petersburg, Russia may have been involved with an off-shore bank account in the Seychelles – a practice which is perfectly legal in some countries.
Unfortunately – and I know this is incredibly hard to believe – off-shore banking is sometimes used by unscrupulous people and businesses as a mechanism to launder money, hide assets and avoid the payment of U.S. taxes. . .
But none of that worried our ‘powers that be’ because our collective fears were assuaged when Mr. Lysich said that “…he doesn’t think it’s him, and that it could be anyone because, “it’s a leak.”
He had no further comment about it.
He also said his family has no connection with the Russian government or contact with President Vladimir Putin.”
“Money is money. It’s U.S. dollars that I pay to the general contractor,” he said.”
Except, according to Protogroup’s general contractor, W.G. Yates Construction – they haven’t been paid by Mr. Lysich’s company in over three-months. . .
Well, money being money and all, last week the City of Daytona Beach saw fit to slap a Stop Work Order on the project – effectively putting the brakes on the spires that now sit like a whistling ghost tower – a gray monolithic monument to everything that’s wrong with our struggling core tourist area.
For a few anxious days, Fun Coasters were riveted by headlines such as “Stalled $192 million project causes worry,” as we sat in the shadow of the dull gray skeleton of the half-finished project.
Even our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, felt the need to insinuate himself into the discussion (?) by doing what our elected county officials do best – taking sides in matters that don’t concern them.
According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Old Ed said, “. . .he placed his faith in the statements by Protogroup’s Lysich that contractors had been paid, that a new, yet-to-be-named contractor was in the area and that new permits would be issued soon.”
“I have no reason to doubt that,” Kelley said. “I’d rather be optimistic about it than to say that it’s gloom and doom. I don’t believe they would have gone this far, put this much effort into the project, just to stop right now. Who are you going to believe? If they were paid in advance why would there be outstanding invoices? One of them is misstating something.”
Because – even if only two entities on earth know the facts – as a sitting member of the Volusia County Council, Old Ed Kelley is genetically programmed to immediately side with the “developer du jour” in all matters large and small.
That’s what passes for effective leadership here, folks.”
Don’t take my word for it, ask yourself – What’s changed?
In an October 2018 piece in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by reporter Jim Abbott, the former chairman of the tragically castrated Beachside Redevelopment Committee, Tony Grippa, said:
“The city still lacks an overall strategy as it relates to A1A and the beachside corridor, and this is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.”
At this point, however, completion of the project is imperative, Grippa said.
“It would be absolutely devastating to have, in addition to all the old boarded-up buildings, now a new partially completed building,” Grippa said. “That sitting vacant and empty would really hurt the beachside, optically, economically and emotionally.”
Dosvedanya, Gryffin Construction. We hardly knew ye.
Angel Daytona Beach City Commission
Congratulations to the Daytona Beach City Commission for getting an early start on replacing outgoing City Manager Jim Chisholm.
Many thought that the “process” would consist of little more than asking J. Hyatt Brown which toady he wants to fill the seat – but it appears the elected officials are willing to put some effort, and money, into the search – even if just to camouflage the rubberstamp by influential insiders.
And you can bet your sweet bippy our social, civic and economic elite will have their say. . .
The stakes could not be higher.
Just six months before Mr. Chisholm takes up the rocking chair, this week Daytona Beach officials began looking for the right headhunter to deliver a list of prospective managers for review – tentatively agreeing to use the services of Georgia-based Slavin Management Consultants.
Trust me. There is little an elective body will do that is more important than vetting and selecting a new chief executive – because the wrong choice can have life-altering consequences for the community – real damage that can take years of expensive rebuilding to correct.
My hope is that grassroots civic activists – like Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach – will demand that an independent citizen committee be formed and allowed to participate in the selection process in a meaningful way.
That should include a delegation that will travel to the finalists’ previous communities to meet with residents, businessowners, unions, government employees, and hear the recollections and recommendations of those who lived under their management.
Now is the time for the Daytona Beach City Commission to reverse the power dynamic and more clearly define who works for whom.
In my view, Mr. Chisholm – who will be Daytona Beach’s longest tenured manager when he steps down in March – epitomizes the concept of raw political power.
You do not have to like it – I don’t either – but this is what true authority looks like: The ability to influence the decisions and actions of others to reach a goal.
In my view, the tradeoff for the extraordinary political protection Chisholm has enjoyed for years was often lockstep conformity to the whims of King J. Hyatt Brown – or prominent real estate developers who were granted the go-ahead to blanket the western edge of the city (read: our aquifer recharge areas) with “theme” communities and ghastly shopping centers.
To begin the long goodbye, former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey – who I like to describe as the “managing partner” of our tightknit consortium of Halifax area powerbrokers – was recently quoted in the News-Journal singing Mr. Chisholm’s praises:
“He’s been one of the best city managers I’ve ever heard of or been acquainted with in this area. It’s going to be hard to find someone who has the passion, dedication and knowledge he did,” said Ritchey, who considers Chisholm one of his best friends. “No matter how many projects were going on, he seemed to be on top of it.”
Ritchey said Chisholm did a lot behind the scenes to position Daytona Beach for the improvements over the past decade and “made a mark on this community.”
That is true.
To a point.
Look, I hate to be the proverbial turd in the punchbowl – but I am going to postpone the beatification of Jim Chisholm just a bit longer.
Clearly, Mayor Ritchey is one of those myopic ‘movers & shakers’ who look at the sprawl west of I-95 – and the proliferation of strip centers and outlet malls just off Boomtown Boulevard in “New Daytona” – as the be-all-end-all for the revitalization of the Halifax area – while totally ignoring the blight, dilapidation and destitution of what the News-Journal calls the “tarnished jewel” of our beleaguered beachside.
That omnipresent seaside decrepitude just steps in any direction from the plaza that bears Mayor Ritchey’s name. . .
In my view, the one great failure of Mr. Chisholm’s administration – and the Daytona Beach City Commission – will forever remain their refusal to even acknowledge the malignant blight that has cast a pall over this once vibrant beachside community.
I’m not sure all the faux beach communities and sprawling “lifestyle” developments in the world can erase the indelible mark left by their unwritten policy of strategic rot as a means of lowering property values for ultimate acquisition by all the right last names.
Recently, a dear friend of mine from ‘up north’ – a first-time visitor to our area – gazed out the window as we drove through the core tourist area on A-1-A and quietly asked, “This shithole is the World Famous Daytona Beach?”
To which I sheepishly responded, “Yeah, well, we’re getting a Buc-ee’s you know? That’s a 120 gas pumps you judgmental asshole. . .”
That is the kind of brand loyalty the Convention and Visitors Bureau cannot buy.
It is also why Daytona Beach’s next city manager should have the inspiration, vision, and experience to fundamentally change this challenged community, restore “livability” to our beachside, downtown, and midtown – and craft an environment that entices visitors and investment while supporting current residents and businesses – rather than someone who will merely ensure their political survival by kowtowing to the wants of uber-wealthy insiders with a profit motive.
Quote of the Week
“So those of you that are listening or who may have planned to be here, the second meeting will not be held tonight. We can’t move it tonight due to a technical issue.”
–Our Doddering Fool of a Lame Duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, spinning a five-alarm foul-up by senior staff as a “technical issue,” during what passed for a Volusia County Council meeting, Tuesday, September 29, 2020
According to reports, the reason the final meeting setting Volusia County’s annual budget has been delayed until October 6 – six days after the county’s fiscal year begins – is due to an “error” in a legal advertisement which summarized the county’s budget which ran in The Daytona Beach News-Journal last week.
To their credit, the News-Journal reported that it sent county staffers a draft of the ad for review, which was signed off and approved prior to publication.
Technical issue, my ass.
What Chairman Kelley failed to grasp during his horrendous political career is that quibbling the facts – or outright lying to his constituents – destroys the public trust, creates animosity, and leaves those of us who pay the bills feeling we must constantly untangle the true from a lie.
More important, who in the Ivory Tower of Power is being held responsible for making short shrift of proofing the statutorily required (and expensive) legal advertisement detailing the county’s final budget for taxpayers?
County Attorney Mike Dyer?
County Manager George “Wreck” Recketnwald?
After all this time, Old Ed – nor his protégé and heir to the throne, Dishonest Deb Denys – never understood that when an elected member of the Volusia County Council blatantly lies about small things – people logically assume he or she is hiding and mischaracterizing more important issues.
That is the anthesis of good government and speaks to why Volusia County residents have become so cynical and detached from the process.
And Another Thing!
As you can probably tell from these fustian screeds, I am not an educated man.
I like to quip that the only thing that kept me out of college was high school.
Except, that’s not a joke. . .
As a lifelong experiential learner – the most expensive education one can receive – I learned early not to touch a hot stove twice, and the importance of reading the political tealeaves when anticipating trouble in the cloistered halls of a municipal government.
My only other talent is the ability to smell bullshit like a bloodhound.
From the vantagepoint of over three-decades in public service – I sense the City of Palm Coast is in grave political peril.
Incredibly, just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the foul-smelling Seventh Circle of Hell that is Palm Coast City Hall keeps laying bare the depth of dysfunction and Machiavellian intrigue that naturally result when those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest forget who they work for – and ignore their sacred oath.
And it is clear to anyone paying attention that embattled City Manager Matt Morton is playing a dangerous (and potentially expensive) game of internal politics – or worse.
Earlier this week, we learned in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s explosive exposé on the machinations in Palm Coast that former Compliance Manager Jay Maher – a courageous whistleblower who sounded the klaxon for anyone willing to listen – retired on September 22 after 18-years of service to the citizens of Palm Coast.
Then, in a meanspirited, reprehensible and patently retaliatory move rarely seen outside government (because administrators do not make decisions with their own money – but they feel free to act out with yours) Morton moved to retroactively terminate Mr. Maher – a whale-shit level revenge tactic that cost Maher some $15,000 in accrued leave.
Any other municipal employee feel like speaking out about the festering political quagmire inside Palm Coast City Hall?
I didn’t think so. . .
Incomprehensibly, the Palm Coast City Commission is blissfully content to ignore the massacre happening in front of them. . .
I thought we had state and federal agencies that enforce provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects those who work for the government from vengeful acts when they report the possible existence of an activity constituting a violation of law, rules, or regulations, or mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, etc.?
Perhaps its time for someone – anyone – with the authority to do something about this to get off their ass, tool over to Palm Coast, and have a look-see?
Preferably before the lives and careers of even more public servants are wantonly destroyed in Mr. Morton’s ham-handed bloodletting.
Stay tuned, this is about to get interesting.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!