The Times They Are a-Changin’

I recently saw a guy on television who carries around a bull alligator like a toddler, attending to his needs as one would a beloved dog, and, for the most part, they seem to be the best of friends – an odd little man and his domesticated reptile keeping each other company.   

That is an illusion, of course, because the relationship is not reciprocal. 

So long as the man feeds the alligator – he will postpone eating the man for another day – and that is the only thing the gator brings to the “friendship.”

An alligator – like many politicians – have very primitive brains. 

As an apex predator, the alligator processes only the instinctual impulses of eating and making little alligators, while politicians focus solely on obsequiously scrambling for the campaign donations that will help them get reelected. 

Oh, and it helps if they look marginally effective to their constituents. . . 

That’s where their relationship with the city or county manager comes into play – and it is important that elected officials understand the nature of that unique association upfront.

I’ve mentioned this before, regardless of jurisdiction, the one constant in local governance is that city and county managers enjoy an incredible level of professional protections that those in the private sector will never know – even when their decisions and behavior are far from professional.

From the vantage point of over 30-years in municipal government, I know a little bit about the perils of political instability.

I have seen good managers demonized and pilloried for trying to do the right thing despite the prevailing political winds – left with no alternative but to resign and ply their often-itinerant trade elsewhere.

Conversely, I have seen some of the most quisling, totally inept assholes ever to worm their way into public management, thrive – at least for a while – as they insulate themselves with the internal and external political protections that come with facilitating the flow of public funds to the private, for-profit interests of well-heeled campaign donors and political insiders.

In a Council/Manager form of government, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government services.  For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments, and administrate the budgetary processes.

The manager also sets the agenda, briefs the elected officials in advance of public meetings, and controls the flow of information and organizational effort that can make or break public policy – and facilitates the individual projects and collective requests of council members or commissioners.   

In turn, We, The People elect the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to serve on a representative body that appoints a manager with (hopefully) strong, ethical, managerial and organizational skills to oversee the day-to-day operations of the government, make public policy recommendations, and assist the legislative function.

Most do an exceptional job – serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.

Others, not so much. . . 

Several communities in Volusia County are preparing for the incredibly difficult and destabilizing task of finding a new chief executive, to include Lake Helen, Port Orange, Deltona, and Daytona Beach.

Did I miss anyone?

In Lake Helen, City Administrator Becky Witte has announced her resignation following a deteriorating relationship with Mayor Daisy Raisler, a near-constant beatdown that left Witte feeling like a “political volleyball.” 

The mess in the quaint community reached its nadir in September when the City Commission agreed to hire a private detective who insinuated himself in the process after reading about the internal strife. 

After meeting with Raisler and Witte, the investigator reported, “there were some technical violations of the city charter and some actions of questionable judgement,” but stopped short of claiming any criminal conduct, or that either party acted in bad faith. 

According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the good citizens of Lake Helen paid the private investigator some $950 “…for additional services including: preparing an analysis of charter violations and errors in judgment, outlining steps to correct managerial issues and preparing “recommendations that will ensure a good working relationship between the legislative branch of government (the Commission) and the executive branch (City Administrator).”

I am clearly doing it wrong – because that sounds an awful lot like what I do on these pages for free. . .

Whatever.

Last week, the most recent iteration of the Deltona City Commission unceremoniously demoted Interim City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper – who took the helm of that leaky vessel when the disastrous reign of Jane Shang compassionately came to an end last January. 

With a trained eye, one could tell all was not well at City Hall – and no one seemed interested in exposing the wounds left by Shang to the cleansing light of day – allowing time for the community to heal in the aftermath of a very contentious period in the city’s relatively short history. 

In March, Cooper asked for a whopping $175,000 annually to provide interim managerial services – an amount which matched what Shang was commanding when she oversaw the shit show that is Deltona governance.   

Instead, the elected officials agreed on $150,000 – with a clause in the contract that provides Cooper a bump to $135,000 should he return to his enviable position as Deputy City Manager. . .

Your guess is as good as mine how that will work out, now that Dr. Cooper has been relieved of duty for performance issues.

Last spring, during a weird telephone interview with the intrepid Wild West Volusia News-Journal reporter, Katie Kustura, “Cooper said he hasn’t yet decided whether or not he’ll apply for the city manager position.”

I found that odd, especially at a time when the long-suffering community was begging for stability – and was willing to pay Cooper $150,000 a year to make it happen. . . 

In short, Cooper blew it.

Hell, Genghis Khan would have been embraced as a positive change-agent by the good people of Deltona in the wreckage of the Shang Dictatorship – and all he really had to do was right the ship and be approachable and responsive to the needs of his bosses on the dais of power.

In my view, if a city manager doesn’t have a burning desire to fill the role, lead boldly, enhance service delivery, be part of the solution and move the community that employs him or her forward with a strong personal commitment – a drive that extends beyond the mercenary goal of self-enrichment and advantageous employment agreements – then, perhaps the Deltona City Commission knew all they needed to know about Mr. Cooper’s motivations in March.   

In my view, the future of the Halifax area is dependent upon who the Daytona Beach City Commission selects to replace retiring City Manager Jim Chisholm early next year.

Like it or not, Mr. Chisholm is the embodiment of near-autonomous political power as he ramrods the wants and whims of King J. Hyatt Brown and other shadowy players – while enjoying the political insulation those powerful forces provide – for a cool $307,000 a year with perks, an annual salary that outpaces any sitting governor in the United States. . .    

I suspect our oligarchical insiders will be working overtime to find a suitable replacement – a real card mechanic with just the right amount of malleability, and the peripheral vision to see which projects are important to the future of the community – and which are best allowed to wither and die. 

Times they are a changing. 

Trust me – the next chief executives in Port Orange, Deltona and Daytona Beach will have more of an impact on our quality of life than anyone we have elected to represent our interests.

In my view, every citizen and business owner has a vested interest in ensuing that their elected officials demand a trustworthy, ethical, and respectful city manager – one who possesses the vision, critical thinking, and proven planning skills necessary for true civic transformation – not another cheap facilitator for the wants and whims of special interests.

Angels & Assholes for November 20, 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.

Angel              Sheriff Michael Chitwood

The art and science of policing is changing at quantum speed. 

In the six years since my retirement, many policies and protocols are unrecognizable to has-beens like me.  Some changes I disagree with, but there is no denying that the manner and means by which law enforcement agencies provide essential services is more effective, equitable and efficient than ever before. 

As law enforcement budgets and operational focus shift to include social services, outreach, and intervention opportunities as a means of transforming the community’s perception of those who serve and protect while broadening core services, Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood is ensuring no opportunity is lost, especially when dealing with the growing addiction crisis. 

The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with the nonprofit Volusia Recovery Alliance, have created an innovative peer assistance program that will put those whose lives have been touched by drug addiction at the scene of nonfatal overdoses, seizing a unique opportunity to encourage others to seek help. 

This program takes advantage of an important moment in time – an addicts near-death experience – that may serve as a critical turning point in the lives of those suffering the devastating effects of addiction by placing trained advocates in that space to discuss treatment and recovery options. 

According to reports, 175 people died of drug overdose in Volusia County between March and October – up from 136 over the same period last year – another horrific byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic which has exacerbated mental health issues and contributed to an increase in suicides countywide. 

Kudos to Sheriff Chitwood, and the Volusia Recovery Alliance, for developing this lifesaving program and bringing hope to local families dealing with this tragic reality.

Angel              Volusia County Council

On Tuesday, during an uber-weird session of the Volusia County Council, outgoing Councilwoman Deb Denys mysteriously donned a facemask before fleeing the dais altogether –  mid-meeting – apparently in a scramble to get tested after she was exposed to the coronavirus by state Senator Tom Wright during a fundraiser the pair attended on Sunday.    

As I understand it, on Monday, Sen. Wright was denied entry to this week’s legislative session following a positive/negative/positive Roshambo-style COVID-19 test in Tallahassee. 

When Denys bolted from the meeting, it gave our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, his next-to-last opportunity to continue his storied tradition of mucking up the works when he called all subsequent votes “unanimous” – even though there were only six council members actively participating in the proceedings. . .

Fortunately, Councilwoman Heather Post rightfully asked that Ed’s blunder be corrected to ensure an accurate record.    

Despite Old Ed’s confused mumbling and fumbling, our elected officials summoned the wisdom to approve a plan to revitalize the former Blair’s Jungle Den in Astor – a once vibrant restaurant/hotel/fish camp on the beautiful St. John’s River – a place that remains a great memory from my childhood.

Unfortunately, the Jungle Den fell into serious disrepair – with dilapidated mobile homes littering the grounds – and untended septic tanks polluting the river as crime became an increasing problem in the area. 

According to the landowners attorney, Glenn Storch, plans call for investing some $30 million to bring the property back to its heyday – with a new hotel, shopping, and world-class amenities – while the former mobile home park will be converted into a seasonal RV camp to eliminate permanent residents – and some 21-acres set aside as a conservation buffer.

The well-thought plan also includes a substation for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

What a great opportunity for Astor – and for all residents of Volusia County – as this once beautiful outdoor resort is returned to its former glory.      

Look, I didn’t agree with everything that happened on Tuesday, but in this case, they got it right.

In my view, the rebirth of the Jungle Den as a profitable area attraction is something we can all take pride in – and a much-needed economic stimulus for our neighbors in beautiful Northwest Volusia.      

Asshole           Palm Coast City Council

“Councilman Corrupt.”  “Councilman Full of Crap.”

Sounds like something out of a Barker’s View diatribe on Palm Coast politics, right?

Unfortunately, that is how far in the dumper things have descended as newly elected Councilman Ed Danko and sitting Councilman Eddie Branquinho squared off on the dais earlier this week – complete  with name-calling, personal insults, and thin-skinned swipes that no doubt set the tone for things to come in this troubled community. 

According to an excellent piece in FlaglerLive.com – your one stop source for news and opinion on all things Flagler County (https://tinyurl.com/y4vq5oux) – things got heated when Branquinho called Danko’s suggestion to return the city’s corona-safe virtual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony to an in-person event:

“Well, I think I am being responsible,” Danko said.

“No you’re not!” Branquinho snapped.

“Yes I am, and I don’t appreciate you raising your voice to me,” Danko said.

“No, it’s my emotion. It’s my emotion.”

“Keep your emotion in Check,” Danko said, continuing to make his case for a public tree-lighting, which was scheduled for Wednesday. He said perhaps the city could organize the event the way it has previous, ticketed events where attendance was controlled. But when (City Manager) Morton spoke of a city staff already stretched–and with more staffers in quarantine or in the hospital than at any point since the beginning of the pandemic–Danko backed off his proposal and withdrew his motion.”

The cheese completely slipped off the cracker when Branquinho accused Danko of accusing him of “corruption” during his recent campaign, something Danko denied:

“I’ve never referred to you as corrupt. Get your facts correct, Eddie.”

“Excuse me. Excuse me. I’m talking,” Branquinho said.

“No, excuse me. You’re accusing me of doing something. I never singled you out. I singled you out?”

“No, but you put me under the same umbrella, and until the day you apologize to me personally right here, or prove that I’m corrupt, because I was part of city hall–”

“I never called you corrupt, Eddie.”

“You will be called Councilman Corrupt by me.”

“You will be called Councilman Full of Crap as far as I’m concerned.”

Wow.

According to the FlaglerLive report:

“Mayor Milissa Holland looked stunned and taken entirely off guard. City Attorney Bill Reischmann looked pained, and at one point intervened to remind the panel of its own rules of decorum. City Manager Matt Morton buried himself in a laptop.

A minute after the meeting adjourned, Branquinho, still on the dais, repeatedly yelled at Danko to “get away from me!” The sheriff’s commander and liaison with the city had to trod toward the men to ensure the clash wouldn’t escalate.

So began the new era on the Palm Coast City Council.”

In an election year marked by allegations that Mayor Holland misused her elected position by intermingling her day job at the Palm Coast tech firm Coastal Cloud with her official role – including suggestions of an active FBI investigation – coupled with City Manager Morton’s bloody massacre of any employee who dared speak out on the civic turmoil – many were hoping the election would bring stability to local government and end this shit show that continues to erode the public’s trust. 

I like to say if you care about good governance in your own hometown, you should care about good governance everywhere – and the City of Palm Coast in in trouble. 

In my view, the continuing debacle in one of our region’s largest communities isn’t good for anyone  – and it’s high time the adults on the dais (if there are any) get a handle on the building Danko/Branquinho feud before their constituents suffer even more embarrassment.  

Asshole           Volusia County School Board  

How does one earn the dubious “Asshole of the Week” award in this space?

Simple. 

First, you lavish an obscene $50,000 pay increase on an overpaid failed senior administrator during an off-the-agenda ambush so no one is prepared to speak against it – while simultaneously singing the Poormouth Blues – and taking some $11 million from reserves to balance a bloated budget approaching $1 Billion.

Then you callously turn to hardworking classroom teachers and staff members who are struggling under the arduous and ever-changing demands of a global pandemic – give them the figurative middle-finger by cowardly declaring an impasse – effectively barring any additional negotiation that may have lead to a fair and equitable pay increase for those intrepid souls serving at the tip of the spear. 

That’s how you do it.   

Quote of the Week

“Maybe we should also look back to Lincoln and his Cabinet of Rivals — recognizing the need for the contribution of all parts of a diverse population. Our Constitution is inclusive, not exclusive. We are all included in the process as Americans who don’t always (often?) agree. Love of country and patriotism are not the exclusive property of one side or the other, but the joy of We the People.”

–Lynn Berg, DeLand, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, “Celebrate our unity,” Sunday, November 15, 2020

And Another Thing!

On Monday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Penny Young-Carrasquillo, Chief Development Officer for the Council on Aging, during her informative appearance on the public affairs forum, GovStuff Live! with Big John. 

It’s easy to forget how many local senior citizens are in need this Holiday Season and the COA is seeking volunteers to assist with their many wonderful programs and direct services which help our elderly neighbors remain active, nourished, and independent.   

At present, the COA is seeking Meals on Wheels drivers to deliver nutritious meals to homebound seniors across Volusia County.  The only requirements are a valid driver’s license, current auto insurance, and a background check which is paid for by the Council on Aging. 

The commitment is approximately one to two hours beginning at 10:30am Monday through Friday.

Schedules and routes are flexible for the convenience of volunteers.   

In addition, Council on Aging is promoting their Adopt-a-Route program that allows businesses, clubs, and faith organizations to adopt a specific route and share responsibility for meal delivery! 

According to the COA, “This is a great opportunity for developing your corporate/civic team while receiving recognition.”   

For more information, please call 386-253-4700 x 239.

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

Meet the “new” plan. Same as the “old” plan.

In my estimation, Tampa-based developer The Framework Group – and our old friends over at CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as the good ol’ boys investment club Consolidated Tomoka Land Company) – have some powerful advocates in the bowels of Daytona Beach City Hall. 

Wow, just imagine if long-suffering residents and small businesses had that same level of support and encouragement in the halls of power, eh? 

One month after being taken to the woodshed by the Daytona Beach City Commission for dragging a half-baked plan into the light of day just six-hours before the elected officials were expected to vote on a downtown apartment project – one that would have citizens reimbursing the developer $10.5 million in property tax revenue – this week, city officials were back with a “new” plan that looked a whole lot like the “old” plan. 

The roll out came with Deputy City Manager/Fire Chief Dru Driscoll essentially serving as Framework Group’s marketing director – singing the praises of the newest iteration of the panacea project in an open memo to his boss, City Manager Jim Chisholm – with claims the apartment complex will, “elevate downtown property values, eliminate blight, have a strong economic impact and possibly become a catalyst for other new development in the area.”

Oh, I could swear that during his presentation last night Mr. Driscoll openly claimed another benefit to the community would be the use of city water to “hydrate workers.” 

Really?  Now that takes some serious huevos. . .

Drink up, fellas!  Time to give something back to the taxpayers, right!

My ass.

According to the “plan,” in exchange for their “reinvestment” of tax dollars, Daytona Beach residents would receive 88 paid parking spaces for a period of 30 years – and thirty subsidized apartments in the complex set aside for “moderate income” (?) residents for five years.

The term “moderate income” was confusing to rubes like me – who see a benefit in incorporating workforce housing in downtown – yet questioned the viability of publicly subsidizing the Joad family in a posh downtown apartment complex. . .

That was not the only bugaboo with the “plan” that bothered area residents. 

Several weeks ago, The Framework Group – through their mouthpiece Jim Chisholm – admitted they could not afford to build the parking garage without some $15 million in public assistance, and many in the community thought it presumptuous of the developer to propose a plan that built in public incentives from its inception.

In my view, the project was wrongly sold as the only viable alternative for the site (it wasn’t) – and many concerned citizens held up the secretive backroom wrangling as a prime example of how certain projects (those involving all the right last names) are ramrodded to completion – while other civic needs are allowed to slowly wither and die (think Main Street, A-1-A, Midtown, etc.).  

On Wednesday evening, several citizens approached their autarchic rulers – and, for 2.5 minutes each – spoke eloquently against the massive giveaway, only to have their concerns denigrated as “hype” and “yellow journalism” by Mayor Derrick Henry as he droned on with another nonsensical, coma-inducing, and horribly divisive diatribe.

It became clear to me that this well-orchestrated farce was a foregone conclusion when those who spoke for the project were not similarly lectured by Mr. Henry. . . 

In my view, Mayor Henry once again alienated those who pay the bills and watch helplessly as large swaths of their community continue to deteriorate under false “catalyst” promises – while the malleable ‘powers that be’ and those shadow groups who control them – throw even more public money at the revitalization of three short blocks between Beach Street and Ridgewood Avenue.

My God.

It was classic Daytona Beach – fits, misdirection, showmanship, and drama – bad Kabuki theater that, early on, included dubious plans for an $18 to $24 million city hall complex.

But no one paying attention really thought Sir John Albright over at CTO Realty Growth would be denied his paying customer – or that The Framework Group wouldn’t get ears-deep in the public trough. . .

At the end of the day, the Daytona Beach City Commission agreed to eliminate the “thirty moderate income apartments” ruse in favor of asking the developer to contribute an undisclosed sum to a yet to be created workforce housing fund and yammered some gibberish about parking spots. . .

Then, just like that, the deal was railroaded through on a unanimous vote. 

I hope this will serve as a stark reminder: There are no “new” plans.

Although the scheme comes in different disguises – they are all variations on the same theme.

The goal will always be to use your hard-earned tax dollars to underwrite the private profit motives of those with a chip in the game – and the needs of We, The Little People, remain an afterthought.

Toot! Toot!  All Aboard!  Take a ride on the Chisholm Choo-Choo!

Hold on tight, folks!  The next backroom deal is right around the corner as developers scramble for even more handouts and giveaways before Big Jimmy disembarks this gravy train for good!

The Bridge Between Expectations and Reality

The front page/above the fold story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal today told of an inadvertent misspelling of “Intracoastal waterway” by some jackleg at the Army Corps of Engineers who mistakenly wrote “Intercoastal” on a marker near the new Tom Stead Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The slip was apparently caught by a retired firefighter living in a condo near the bridge – who is clearly as bored in retired life as I am. . . 

Now, Volusia County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer – the same county engineer who oversaw the bridge project at a cost of $47 million and an interminable delay of over 18 months – will now launch an investigation not seen since the Lindbergh kidnapping to determine who is responsible for the typo:

“Kasbeer said late last week he hadn’t seen the signs, but after he was told about the misspelling he said he planned to get to the bottom of what happened.”

Maybe Detective Kasbeer can expand his inquiry just a tad? (I know. . .)

The fact is work on the bridge still isn’t complete – with cracks in the structure (described as “superficial” not “structural”) actively being repaired. 

You may recall that the concrete cracking followed the mismeasurement of the handrail, followed by ADA compliance issues, etc., etc. – which means Volusia County still doesn’t know how much will be deducted from the contractor’s final paycheck – “That amount is still being resolved. . .”

Whatever. 

The fact this nonsense took up most of the front page (and half of 2A) tells you things are slow in the newsroom. 

We have entered the political doldrums – that natural sense of dysphoria that follows hard-fought political contests as we seek answers and take stock of all we have gained – and lost. 

Just don’t get your hopes too high. 

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I know in my heart things won’t appreciably change, regardless of who we have elected to office. 

That’s not how the “system” works.      

As the excitement of the election season subsides and we try and make sense of things in the aftermath, I am left with a feeling of ambivalence – an emotional hollowness that comes from the knowledge that our lot in life won’t get appreciably better regardless of who we hitched our political wagon too.

If I learned one thing in over 30-years in local government, it is that a change in policymakers rarely equates to differences in service delivery – waste collection, water, sewer, inspections, fire protection, law enforcement – those core essential services we often take for granted. 

That is because so much of the mechanics of government are controlled by department heads who are experts in their field – under the direction of the city or county manager – and, when done right, these public utilities and services are delivered to our homes almost unnoticed. 

Regardless of who we elect to high office, there will be little perceptible change – because ‘them’s the rules.’

Not necessarily a bad thing, either.

This year was different in many ways, as our “leaders” at the national, state and local level took what should have been a public health crisis and turned it into a political football – allowing the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to become amateur epidemiologists – arbitrarily shutting down commerce and quarantining healthy people in their homes using draconian “lockdowns” and “mandates” to achieve a goal they cannot articulate or understand.

Unfortunately, some of our local politicians became intoxicated with their newfound power – and we have been living under a now meaningless local “State of Emergency” ever since. 

In the past nine-months, undermining the constitutional liberties and civil rights of ostensibly free men and women has gained bipartisan support – as an increasingly larger percentage of the population support suspending religious services, placing limits on private gatherings, and even limiting any speech arbitrarily determined to be “misinformation.”

Welcome to 1984.

Now, with dubious virus casualties on the increase nationwide, rather than admit these tactics have been largely ineffective at curbing a community-acquired illness, we hear rumbling of even more drastic lockdowns in the near future – because, when something is proven not to work, most government hacks take that to mean just add more of the same and hope for a different result.

In the aftermath, I am not sure this has anything to do with fighting a virus – and everything to do with further polarizing the American public for purely partisan reasons.

Your thoughts may differ. And that’s okay. . .

But in an era where We, The Little People, are treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed bullshit – it is all speculation.

Traditionally, we could look to the once venerated media for help – but not anymore – they were the first to sell their souls to the Gods of Political Slant and Mediocrity

To those we recently elevated to high office – be prepared for a culture shock as you take your seat on the dais of power – and come to realize how little influence you have over an entrenched bureaucracy and the forces that control it. 

And to those watching from the cheap seats with me – don’t let your expectations exceed our collective reality.

That’s a recipe for disappointment.

What I do know with absolute certainty is that Tadd Kasbeer and his fellow bureaucrats will spare no expense getting to the bottom of the Great Sign Misspelling of 2020 – an endeavor of absolutely zero consequence to anyone or anything – a pursuit that best represents the ridiculous nature of government oversight in this foul age where no one in a position of power is held accountable for anything.

Ever.   

Don’t expect that to change.

Angels & Assholes for November 13, 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.

Angel               Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young

Last week, I watched online as my friend and former law enforcement colleague, Jakari Young, was rightfully appointed the 17th Chief of Police for the City of Daytona Beach.

Well deserved. 

At just 42 years old, Chief Young has worked hard to gain the education, reputation and experience necessary – proving himself, both operationally and administratively – and has now reached the pinnacle of a stellar 19-year career with the Daytona Beach Police Department.

There are few positions more important to the day-to-day life of a community because police officers hold the dual role of law enforcement and public service – protecting, serving, and safeguarding while bringing those responsible for victimizing others to justice.  

As the most visible arm of local government, how a city’s police department is perceived by residents, businesses, and visitors is important to civic harmony and progress.

It is a high-speed endeavor, and only those who have sat in the seat can understand the unique challenges. 

Locally, the job also comes with a wonderful sense of collegiality and friendship from the other chiefs and directors throughout Volusia County who always stand ready to assist and support one another.   

Under the expert leadership of former Chief Craig Capri – who served the community for 31-years with a personal care and concern that proved how much he loved the job and those he served – the Daytona Beach Police Department has become a shining example of diversity, engagement, and community partnership.

From my vantagepoint, Chief Young possesses a strategic mind and sharp intellect, honed by a wealth of practical leadership experience, and he embodies the strength of character and quiet professionalism that instills confidence in those around him.  

I also wanted to recognize the good instincts of City Manager Jim Chisholm, who selected Chief Young without hesitation – a smart move that avoided the always painful “nationwide search” – which naturally creates organizational anxiety and destroys morale, especially when the logical internal choice is as polished and professional as Jakari Young.  

Say what you will about Mr. Chisholm’s tenure at Daytona Beach – he has a true knack for picking outstanding police executives.      

During his touching swearing in ceremony on the steps of City Hall last week, Chief Young said:

“You have a chief who will keep God first in all he does, with the professional courage to make tough decisions, who desires nothing more than to be a public servant and will keep the sanctity of life central.” 

Powerful words from a humble man of service. 

Godspeed Chief Young – and congratulations on this outstanding milestone. 

Asshole           Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Some politicians stick around long after their expiration date – too prideful to step aside – always searching for a vainglorious new way to remain relevant after their natural shelf life.      

Like bad mayonnaise at a sweltering summer picnic, they sit around in their own stench and foul everything they touch. 

Earlier this week, a press release from Governor DeSantis announced that our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, recently received a gubernatorial appointment to something called a “local government efficiency task force.” 

You read that right.

Look, Governor DeSantis isn’t having the best week of his career – but this is over-the-top.

I must be missing something, because a legislative push for a local government task force (HB 7101) died in committee in March – and the State of Florida’s efficiency task force, which meets every four years – finished its work in September, so I’m not sure what this appointment means.

In my view, to mention Old Ed in any context of government efficiency, financial responsibility, or political accountability makes a mockery of the very concept. 

Seriously? 

I have argued that this political hack has not had an original thought since he accepted his first campaign contribution. 

What vetting could Governor DeSantis possibly have done before naming this uninspired hayseed to anything – beyond holding his fetid elective career up as a cautionary tale of the Political Peter Principal in action?

Because he clearly hasn’t taken the time to study any of those hootenannies which pass for a Volusia County Council meeting that Chairman Kelley has bumbled, mumbled, and fumbled his way through for the past four-years. . .

What gives?

Just when Old Ed was handed the greatest defeat of his political life as Chairman-elect Jeff Brower crushed his hand-select successor, Dishonest Deb Denys – rather than shuffle-off to that rotten ash heap of history where perennial politicians go when they are no longer of value – we are told Mr. Kelley will now be responsible for “…developing recommendations for improving governmental operations and reducing costs.”

Really?   

Governor DeSantis has either bumped his head – or he does not realize that this meanspirited dullard couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel. 

Look, there is nothing in Old Ed’s political past that would remotely qualify him to recommend anything – beyond how best to lick the boots of political benefactors and protect the ramparts of a crumbling oligarchical system, like some demented sentry, too stubborn and addlebrained to see his battle has been lost.  

My God.

When is enough, enough?

Angel               Vienna Capital

I want to welcome Los Angeles-based investment group, Vienna Capital, to the family!

Look, I realize I come off like Chuckles the Dunk-Tank Insult Clown in this space – using foul language and hurling slights at those who, in my cynical view, take advantage of our natural resources, abdicate their responsibility to represent our interests, act like officious assholes or interfere with our unique heritage and traditions – like beach driving and access. 

But I truly support anyone who is willing to invest in the revitalization of our compromised core tourist area, using their own money, talent and resources to return the Daytona Beach Resort Area to its past grandeur and support a workforce that relies on our struggling hospitality industry for sustenance.   

This week, News-Journal business editor Clayton Park wrote an encouraging piece on Vienna Capital’s $8.3 million investment to acquire a “controlling stake” in various important aspects of the resort – including “…the hotel lobby, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, the 14-story hotel’s two restaurants, a deli and lobby bar, and 100 guest rooms.”

Clearly, Vienna Capital believes in the potential of both The Plaza Resort – and Daytona Beach – as they look to make substantial improvements to the property and add amenities, such as additional restaurants, a lounge and entertainment. 

According to the report, Jonathan Abraham Eid, the CEO of Vienna Capital, explained, “The whole thing is to bring it back to its heyday and to add value.”

I like that. 

In his article, Mr. Park quoted Bob Davis, CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, who recently met with Mr. Eid. 

“He talked pretty big. He talked about revitalizing Seabreeze Boulevard and wants it to become a hub for entertainment,” said Davis.

“It’s nice to have new ownership with expanded ideas. I like the idea of bringing back entertainment. I have a meeting set up with him and the Mayor when he comes back to town in December,” Davis said.”

Geeze, Bob.  What gives?

I thought you were on our side. 

Why do you have to go and spoil it by introducing our new friends to Mayor Derrick “Il Duce” Henry – who has single-handedly lorded over the most anti-business elected body in the history of the Halifax area – and established a culture at Daytona Beach City Hall that abhors entrepreneurial investment on the beachside and actively drives away small businesses?   

This is why we can’t have nice things, Bob. . . 

Whatever.

Here’s wishing Vienna Capital the best of luck as they become the next enthusiastic investment group to take a bite at this wormy apple that we call The World’s Most Famous Beach.

We need their fresh set of eyes – now, more than ever.

Asshole           Volusia County District Schools

In my view, the callous and reckless nature of how our money was squandered this week should shock the conscience of every Volusia County taxpayer. . .

If you thought things could not get worse at Volusia County Schools – think again.

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting – in a late night “off the agenda” ambush – our elected dullards gifted our “new” Superintendent, Dr. Carmen “Blundering” Balgobin, a whopping 34% pay increase commensurate with what I believe is her illegitimate title (we currently pay her $579.00 per day).

Originally hired to serve as Superintendent Scott Fritz’ Deputy (you know, to fill-in when Dr. Fritz is absent), in September, the VCSB implausibly considered a formal resolution extending Balgobin’s interim status, which included a strange “Whereas” that set the tone for Balgobin’s stomach-turning pay increase:

“Dr. Carmen Balgobin is currently being compensated at a rate of pay below the duties and responsibilities of serving as the District’s Superintendent.”   

Says who? 

Isn’t that what she was hired to do? 

At the same meeting, Blundering Balgobin, in concert with our heartless elected officials, pulled something of a bloodless coup d’état, undermining School Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz as he recuperates from cancer treatment.

With little fanfare, the VCSB simply dropped the word “Interim” from Balgobin’s title – and, just like magic – we have a “new” Superintendent.

And things have been a raging dumpster fire ever since. . .  

At a time when the School Board just transferred $11 million from reserves to balance a bloated budget approaching One-Billion-Dollars – in the face of a pandemic and looming “financial crisis” – those we have elected to represent our highest and best interests thought now was the appropriate time to lavish an obscene pay increase on a ghostlike failed senior administrator?

My ass. 

As typically happens, this weeks VCSB meeting raised more questions than answers.

Did no one on the dais of power realize that Blundering Balgobin’s extravagant bump was far in excess of the paltry salary of most teachers, paraprofessionals and staff – and could have been used during these challenging times to support teaching and learning – you know, the district’s very reason for existence

Is it just me, or did School Board Attorney Ted Doran overstep his role when he actively lobbied for Balgobin’s pay increase – while simultaneously providing political insulation for our elected representatives?

Was $150,000 a year not enough compensation for a foundering deputy superintendent who was simply asked to fill the role as her boss takes medical leave?

And is anyone else concerned about the massive exodus of experienced teachers and staff from the district for “personal reasons”?  

I’m asking, because when you add this latest asinine decision to the long-list of five alarm foul-ups, gaffes, howlers, lawsuits, bloopers, internal scandals, negative press – and the paranoid refusal to substantively communicate with stakeholders – it is apparent our school system is in desperate trouble. 

Fortunately, political novice Anita Burnette trounced entrenched School Board Chair Ida Wright last week, largely on a refreshing platform of “changing district culture by improving communication and making sure educators feel valued; prioritizing spending on classroom needs and tightening spending in administrative budgets; and closing the achievement gap for minority students.”

Amen.

In coming months, it will be interesting to watch as our current elected officials – and their overpaid senior staff – set about beating any sense of independent thought out of Ms. Burnette in favor of the lock-step conformity that perpetuates this culture of malignant mediocrity.

Good luck, Ms. Burnette.  You’re gonna need it. . .

Quote of the Week

“Thank you to all the candidates that ran in 2020 that put in their time to talk with voters about their solutions for the issues we face today!

Win or lose, you gave voters a choice that best aligned with the values of the voters that voted for you. I encourage anyone who cared enough to vote to continue to care enough to get involved in making improvements for whichever issue you care about at the city level, county level, state level, or federal level. Be the change you wish to see.”

–Joe Hannoush, Ormond Beach, former Libertarian candidate for Florida House of Representatives District 25​, Letters to the Editor, Ormond Beach Observer, “A thank you to all that ran,” Monday, November 9, 2020

Well said, Joe. 

Thank you for participating in such a meaningful way – and for running a clean, issues-focused campaign.

We need more of that. 

You brought a touch of class to what is becoming a very dirty, divisive, and unappealing process in Volusia County and beyond.  

And Another Thing!

The essential right of free citizens is the ability to change our leaders, make choices on public policies that effect our lives, defend against limitations on our God-given rights and express our collective will from the sovereignty and secrecy of the ballot box. 

There are a lot of things wrong with Volusia County government. 

Our ability to conduct free, fair, and trustworthy elections isn’t one of them.

Kudos to Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis and her outstanding staff for their hard work and dedication to our democratic principles during the record setting 2020 election. 

In my view, Ms. Lewis and her staff were a trusted anchor during a very turbulent time – always mindful of the importance of preserving the public’s confidence in the system – and the courteous efficiency exhibited during early voting and on election day set a very high bar. 

The Volusia County Supervisor of Elections office deserves the thanks and admiration of all area citizens who participated in our most sacred right of self-determination.

You did us proud, Ms. Lewis. 

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

Move Along, Folks. Nothing to see here…

In my view, the most pressing issue with our modern “system” of governance is that no one in a position of authority is ever held responsible for their actions. 

Not ever.

The very concept of holding the power structure accountable for their acts and omissions is anathema in an age of Cover Your Ass politics, where, for the right price, any irresponsible decision, malfeasance, or error in judgement can be cleaned, polished, and molded into something different.

This week we learned that in July, a former Volusia County School District employee had the courage to file formal allegations of waste and mismanagement with the Florida Department of Education following repeat deadline extensions, change orders, and cost increases surrounding a new finance and human resources software system.

According to an informative piece by News-Journal education reporter Cassidy Alexander, “… the original price tag was $5.2 million for implementation. Three change orders have added $2.2 million to that cost — and that doesn’t count the additional $1 million license fee the district must also pay each year.”

Ultimately, under the management and direction of our All-Stars in the Ivory Tower of Power in DeLand, the implementation of the financial software is expected to cost you and me more than $10 million. . . 

Oh, did I mention that the project is now nearly two-years behind schedule?  Yeah. 

Inexplicably, upon receiving the whistleblower’s complaint, the state Department of Education directed that the Volusia County School Board investigate itself.

You read that right. 

So, the district hired a sharp labor and employment attorney from the mammoth legal/lobbying/consulting firm GrayRobinson – a one-stop government big box store – who took a look and determined the complaint should be dismissed with a finding of “no waste, fraud or financial mismanagement.”

Far be it from me to second-guess, but it appears our detective’s investigative efforts were limited to reviewing the complainant’s timeline of events and supporting documentation, then interviewing a paid “Project Manager/Consultant” – and everyone associated with this expensive debacle with “Chief,” “Director,” or “Senior” before their names. 

The whistleblower refused to participate in the district’s “investigation.”

That’s okay, the senior management team explained everything away quite handily. . . 

My ass.  

In the final report, our intrepid investigator explained, “This monumental task was proposed on an aggressive timeline,” “…against a backdrop of limited staff resources (some of whom are naturally resistant to change) without the necessary institutional knowledge and technology expertise needed for a project of this magnitude.”

In other words, it was not the fault of senior leadership – it was those obstructionist jacklegs and malcontented misfits they hired to serve the district’s information technology needs who screwed the pooch. . .

Apparently, we, the long-suffering taxpayers, were fools to think a project of this “monumental” magnitude could be had for a paltry $5.2 million.

As our learned sleuth deduced, “…it’s typical for projects like this to cost $6-to-$10 million,” lauding the district as, “thoughtful, diligent, and responsive in this process,” including salving our fears with the knowledge, “The VCSB has adjusted its team and methodology to ensure Phase 2 is implemented with fewer issues in 2021.”

I think “implemented with fewer issues” translates to, “We’ve learned from our mistakes – and we promise Phase 2 won’t be the same unmitigated shit show Phase 1 was. . .”

Right.

I was surprised that our detective took the district consultant’s word on the $6 to $10 million estimate. 

However, I was not so shocked that, “…no one interviewed raised any concerns about the cost of the implementation of the Oracle products.”

Nothing to see here, folks.  Simply hardworking senior bureaucrats going about the people’s business since 2017 in a thoughtful, diligent, and responsive manner – two million here, a million there – nothing to be concerned with. 

Now, move along. . . 

According to the News-Journal report, the complainant reported that he was fired from his position at Volusia County Schools after bringing his serious concerns to light. 

Not surprisingly, the scope of the district’s “investigation” did not include a review of allegations related to “…termination of employment or claims of whistleblower retaliation.”

In my view, We, The People, who pay the bills and suffer in silence, simply should not be asked to accept an investigation of the Volusia County School Board and its staff – when the investigator is selected and paid for by the Volusia County School Board.

I’m weird that way. . .

Whatever.

Let this serve as another valuable lesson to any potential whistleblower concerned about waste, fraud, and mismanagement at the massive money pit that is Volusia County Schools: 

Take your concerns and evidence directly to a state or federal law enforcement agency with the power to flash a badge, subpoena records, serve search warrants, and interrogate people under oath!

You would be amazed at what that combination of investigative tools can accomplish.

In my view, the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has, once again, shirked its responsibility and weakened our system of checks-and-balances that protect taxpayers, students, teachers, and staff – and it is quickly losing the trust of those it serves.    

Tragic.  

If you thought things couldn’t get worse – think again. 

At yesterday’s Volusia County School Board meeting in an “off the agenda” ambush –  our elected dullards gifted our “new” Superintendent, Dr. Carmen “Blundering” Balgobin, a massive $50,000 pay raise commensurate with her title (we currently pay her $579.00 per day). 

As you may recall, in September, Blundering Balgobin, in concert with our heartless elected officials, pulled something of a bloodless coup d’état undermining School Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz as he recuperates from cancer treatment.

With little fanfare, the School Board simply dropped the word “Interim” from Balgobin’s title – and, just like magic – we have a “new” superintendent.

And things have been an abject dumpster fire since she took command. . .   

At a time when the School Board just took $11 million from reserves to balance a bloated budget approaching $1 Billion – despite internal warnings of a looming “financial crisis” – those we have elected to represent our interests lavish an obscene pay increase on a ghostlike failed senior administrator?

Did no one on the dais of power realize that Blundering Balgobin’s $50,000 bump eclipses the annual household income of the average Volusia County family – and could have been used to support teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff members – who are struggling to make ends meet on pitifully inadequate salaries?  

Is it just me, or is anyone else bothered by the massive exodus of teachers and staff from the district for “personal reasons”?   

My God.  

Fortunately, political novice Anita Burnette trounced entrenched School Board Chair Ida Wright last week, largely on a refreshing platform of “changing district culture by improving communication and making sure educators feel valued; prioritizing spending on classroom needs and tightening spending in administrative budgets; and closing the achievement gap for minority students.”

Amen. 

In coming months, it will be interesting to watch as our current elected officials – and their overpaid senior staff – set about beating any sense of independent thought out of Ms. Burnette in favor of the lock-step conformity that perpetuates this culture of malignant mediocrity. 

Good luck, Ms. Burnette.  You’re gonna need it. . .

A Shift in Power

Sometimes I am astounded at just how tone-deaf our Halifax area ‘movers-and-shakers’ can be. 

Call it an obtuse insensitivity to what the average Volusia County resident is feeling – or a complete inability to grasp what those trying desperately to eke out a living in this artificial economy experience in a skewed marketplace, where incentives and cash infusions go to some well-connected businesses, while others are allowed to wither and die – and you see just how out-of-touch some “very important people” in our community truly are.   

In his usually cogent piece in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, editor Pat Rice voiced the opinion that newly elected Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower is the one who needs to “mend fences” with the same uber-wealthy political insiders who did everything in their sizeable power to block his election while pouring massive amounts of cash into his challenger’s campaign account – collectively pissing away hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in the worse investment of their lives.

Now, Mr. Brower is the one who should make-nice and mend fences?

My ass.

Despite Mr. Rice’s pathological need to publicly smooch the backsides of King J. Hyatt Brown, Mori Hosseini, Glenn Ritchey, and their cronies at that mysterious camera stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – the fact is, Volusia County voters just sent a resounding message that they are sick and tired of business as usual – and, through their sacred vote – are actively throwing off the traces of pay-to-play politics and the long-standing good ol’ boy network that facilitates it.

Frankly, I find it rich that Mr. Rice, who lightly veiled his active support for Mr. Brower’s opponent in a gauzy attempt to avoid the appearance of bias, believes that our new County Chair should immediately acquiesce to the status quo, and embrace a system where a mega-developer – not those we elect to represent our interests – controls the flow of funding from the state legislature – and gazillionaires feed greedily at the public trough as they pad their private projects with our tax dollars and act like they’re doing us a favor. 

And don’t get me started on that sham known as Team Volusia – which is little more than a publicly funded international travel club for its upper-crust do-nothings – who never met a low-hanging warehouse job they didn’t like. . .

When Mr. Rice mewls about how difficult it is to attract new business to Volusia County – and those elusive “high-paying jobs” that always seem just beyond our grasp – perhaps he should consider that many companies don’t want to locate their operation in an environment where a few well-heeled insiders have suppressed civic, social, and economic progress in favor of private profits, monopolized the political landscape by insulating city/county executives, and skewed the local marketplace for decades. 

“In the end, the county chair is just another member of the County Council. The position’s power is largely symbolic.  And mandates are fleeting.”

I wonder how different that quote from Mr. Rice’s lecture might have been had Dishonest Deb Denys come away from this knife-fight victorious? 

In my view, it is high time that the editor of what’s left of our local newspaper – and those who have used wealth, power, and the privilege that comes when smart people in public office equate the size of one’s bank account with the clarity of their civic vision – comes to the realization that We, The Little People, have spoken.

And that rallying cry was not limited to the Volusia County Council.

In Daytona Beach, political newcomer Stacy Cantu routed entrenched incumbent Rob Gilliland – who never met a massive theme development he didn’t like – and championed the sprawl which now blankets our aquifer recharge areas off Boomtown Boulevard west of I-95.  

Clearly, taxpayers are no longer content to discuss decades-old issues at contrived coffee klatches while our core tourist area and beachside gateway continues to rot – a malignant blight that is repellant to entrepreneurial investment – while established businesses find a way to relocate to surrounding communities who are welcoming them with open arms. 

In Sunday’s News-Journal editorial, “A county faces change,” which was collocated next to Mr. Rice’s piece, our local newspaper opined:

“Brower, in particular, should reach out to groups like the CEO Business Alliance, ensuring the county’s participation on the economic-development team that helps recruit good jobs. He may have run against the local power structure, but as county chair he has a duty to build alliances that work toward Volusia County’s best interests.”

Bullshit.

For far too long the power dynamic in Volusia County has required the peoples elected representatives kowtow before the insiders who hold title on their political future as they obsequiously genuflect before their monarchial overseers, hat in hand, and seek permission before invariably acting contrary to the interests of their constituents. 

Now, it is time for our greedy former ‘power brokers’ to assume their place in line – no better or worse than any other taxpaying citizen of Volusia County – and participate in a true democratic system of governance where massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates no longer rules the day – or influences lopsided policies that control our lives and livelihoods.

In my view, Mr. Rice should understand that Jeff Brower isn’t beholden to anyone but those elected him to high office – and he isn’t required to grovel to special interests – especially those who worked (and spent) so desperately to silence his message, besmirch his character, and protect the status quo.

The balance of power just returned where it rightfully belongs – with the citizens of Volusia County. 

Get used to it.  

“All Glory is Fleeting. . .”

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians, and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him.  Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.  A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

– Gen. George S. Patton

I am a realist – a pragmatic seeker of that which is real and possible – and I tend to dismiss those who live in some chimerical fantasyland where ‘hope’ is the operative strategy. 

For me, genuineness has always been infinitely more fascinating than make-believe.  Perhaps because the truth is such a rare and precious commodity in modern life. 

Even as a kid, I was never frightened by Halloween haunted houses – or mesmerized by the “magic” of Disney World – because I was always poking my head behind-the-scenes, pointing out the rods, pullies and animatronics that most pretend don’t exist in their desire to be willingly fooled and “entertained.”     

My life experience, which includes graduating magna cum laude from the prestigious Institut des Coups Durs, has taught me that things are never quite as good – or bad – as we think they are. 

But it has made me hyper-suspicious of politicians, magicians, and snake oil salesmen (sorry for the redundancy) who spin the truth and use deceptive persuasion, half-truths, and exaggerated sleight-of-hand to create an alternate reality that, over time, we come to accept as fact.

Look, don’t take my word for it. 

Turn on any network news sideshow – or open a major newspaper this morning – and you tell me if anything you hear, see, or read materially comports with known facts? 

In the aftermath of our local elections, I read with interest the pie-in-the-sky goals of some of our newly elected officials – many of whom are about to experience their first sweet taste of unbridled power and influence in the microcosm of city or county government – where the haughty trappings of office and the obsequious fawning of their “new friends” with ulterior motives can be more intoxicating than 101 proof bourbon. 

Meeting those highfalutin goals won’t be easy for most – and downright impossible for some – and they will have no one to blame but themselves.

In a previous life, I once heard a story about a newly minted elected official who was invited to a congratulatory dinner following his election by a prominent real estate developer, and how incredibly impressed the neophyte politician – a service industry worker by trade – was when the wealthy businessman paid for dinner and drinks with a “black” American Express Centurion card.

I thought how easily alliances are changed, ethics compromised, and campaign promises broken when the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker enter this heady new world – where they are finally treated like “equals” and everyone laughs at their jokes – a slippery slope where they are told anything is possible with the right application of the people’s money.  

An ultimately cruel and unforgiving place where they are immediately forgotten, like so much worthless rubbish, when they lose an election and no longer hold value for those once backslapping “friends” who stand at the nexus of public funds and private profit motives. 

Nobody said public service would be easy.

If I were to purchase one gift for first term politicians preparing to take their seat on the dais of power, it would be a hand mirror.

When the time comes – and it will – when the crown lays heavy and the feeling of infallibility overcomes the willingness to listen, when their neighbors are screaming and chippie critics like me are bitching about how they screwed up the difficult calls, when compromising their ethics would be the easiest course, or those times when special interests are lobbying for a controversial policy or perquisite – they could take a hard look in that mirror and remember why they sought and fought to serve in the first place.  

To those who have just ascended to high office, here are some things I learned from three-decades in public life that may help once the euphoria of the big win and well-deserved celebrations have ended.

And its some pretty good advice for anyone who currently holds public office.

Consider it a heartfelt gift from me to you – a primer on “How to succeed in government without really trying”:

Rubber-chicken dinners and galas with haughty awards, ego massage, and goofy accolades are not important – coffee with a concerned constituent is.

Humility and a true willingness to admit honest mistakes – then correcting them – is omnipotent to winning and keeping the public’s trust – because people can forgive those errors and omissions they see themselves making.

The loudest person in the room is not always right.  They are not always wrong, either.   

Your constituents understand that you are human, but they expect and deserve a commitment to the ultimate in ethical, moral and honorable behavior that respects human dignity, obeys the rule of law, and brings honor to public service.

And citizens demand that elected officials hold themselves, and others in positions of power, accountable for their actions – because anything less weakens the system.

It is also important to support career civil servants – listen to their suggestions and recommendations for improving service delivery – and never use them as pawns or scapegoats for political expediency. 

Demand a high standard of excellence from the city/county manager – he or she holds more of the cards than any one elected official – and give the executive the courtesy of frequent, fair, and objective performance reviews so they know where they stand, what you expect, and how they can improve. 

In public service, courage is defined as the mental, moral, and physical strength that sees us through challenges and allows us to do the right thing – for the right reason – and lead by personal example as you make the difficult decisions that touch the lives and livelihoods of those you serve under incredible internal and external pressures.

Find that inner courage – hold firm to your sacred oath of office and core values – and take pride in the fact your neighbors, staff, and fellow citizens have put their confidence in your ability to lead – and your vision for our collective future.

And never lose sight of the impermanence of power and position. 

“All glory is fleeting. . .” 

That is the reality of politics. 

We Won, Volusia!

As I write this, perhaps the strangest election of our lifetime is over, and we still do not know who our next president will be, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

What we do know is that in Volusia County record numbers of informed voters stood firm and let our entrenched power structure know that there is some shit we won’t eat.

And it feels damn good to win one for a change, eh? 

Our County Chair race was a clear referendum on pay-to-play politics – an oligarchical system that for far too long has allowed a small coterie of well-heeled insiders to control our lives and livelihoods through the infusion of massive amounts of cash into the campaign coffers of hand-select candidates for public office. 

In essence, We, The Little People, have been told who (and what) we would be voting for as both the candidates – and the message – were wholly controlled by those seeking to retain their suckling order at the public teat. 

Finally, the blatancy of the manipulation became a sick joke, and many residents became apathetic – almost accepting – of a system that abhorred citizen input and destroyed anyone who attempted to expose the sham.    

In time, the spirit of democracy was slowly replaced by a support system for uber-wealthy insiders with a profit motive.

The depth of the problem became evident when District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post was elected following a hard-fought campaign in 2016. 

Almost immediately, our doddering fool of a lame duck County Chair, Ed Kelley, began the process of beating any independent thought or action out of her – and with the help of Councilwoman Deb Denys and others – we watched as the status quo fought desperately against all attempts to change the self-serving nature of county government. 

But on Tuesday, the overwhelming majority of Volusia County voters sent a resounding demand for fundamental change – and our outstanding candidate, Jeff “Plan B” Brower, a gentleman farmer from DeLeon Springs, stomped across this salty piece of land like a champion – bringing a message of hope and inspiration for a better, more prosperous, future for everyone. 

In doing so, he exposed a skewed system where his politically malleable opponent, Dishonest Deb Denys, amassed hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in corporate campaign contributions – and thousands more in a shadowy Political Action Committee – as our powerful overseers made the worst investment of their lives.

In turn, Councilwoman Heather Post earned a well-deserved return to the dais of power as she trounced Old Ed’s handpicked handmaiden Barbara Bonarrigo – a nice lady who seemed totally out of her element from day-one – clueless about the challenges facing Volusia County families – more inclined to lunch with her party’s upper crust, rub-elbows with wealthy benefactors, and have her picture taken with B-List politicians than get her hands dirty.

At the end of the day, the excruciating heat and withering desperation of the campaign exposed many arrogant perennial politicians for exactly who, and what, they are.

Look, I admit it – I am not very magnanimous in victory.

It’s just one of my many character flaws. . .

However, in my view, Deb Denys was a political monster – a sleazy shill for power-hungry special interests – who represented everything I abhor, capable of turning her back on her constituents (and her party) when it served her egotistic needs or those of her political puppeteers.

I have no sympathy for her.  

Now that she has the stench of defeat about her – I suspect this will mark the end of Ms. Denys ambitious political aspirations – and she has no one to blame but herself – and that addle-brained asshole, Chairman Ed Kelley. . .

Good riddance to both of them. . .

Now, it is up to Chairman-elect Brower, Councilwoman Post, and the other candidates who were elevated to public office this week to hold firm to their high campaign promises, ignore the trappings of office (and the new fawning friends they are about to make) and remember that character counts – and that returning a transparent and accessible government of the people, by the people, and for the people to Volusia County is their sole mandate.     

There is a lot about this election left to unpack and I will get to all of it in coming days and weeks.  

I don’t know about you, but I plan to take a few days off to reflect on all we have gained – and what we have lost – in the aftermath of this strange and brutal election season.

So, absent something extraordinary, I won’t be publishing Angels & Assholes this week.

If you voted this year – the sacred civic obligation of all free citizens – consider yourself a true Angel. 

Thank you to all candidates and voters for participating in the greatest form of governance on the face of the earth – and congratulations to everyone on this hard-won victory!

Godspeed and Good Luck

“The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them. Election day – especially when it’s a presidential election – is always a wild and terrifying time for politics junkies, and I am one of those, too. We look forward to major election days like sex addicts look forward to orgies. We are slaves to them.”

–Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Hello. My name is Mark, and I am a political junkie.

And whenever I look for a clear perspective on politics, I immediately return to the works of Dr. Thompson. 

Say what you will about his personal habits – the man had amazing insight into what passes for modern political contests – and the death of the American Dream.  

I write this alternative opinion blog to purge my civic and political frustrations – which reach a crescendo at election time – and the fact so many of you find them beneficial in helping form an independent opinion on the issues and candidates is both unexpected and incredibly humbling. 

That said, I have no idea how things will shake out tonight. 

No one does. 

The Daytona Beach News-Journal used their editorial space today to calm our fears (and take a final swipe at the Trump campaign) asking that we “get used to” the fact we may, or may not, see the results of the presidential election tonight.

I believe that’s because many states have compromised the system to permit votes to be counted until they get the results they want.

Its why I focus solely on local politics. 

That is where our true fate lies – those we elect to city commissions and the county council – our neighbors who we elevate to high office and entrust in them the power to permit or control growth, spend our hard-earned tax dollars on the infrastructure and essential services that effect our everyday lives, educate our children, police our streets and set the public policies that govern our lives and livelihoods. 

In Volusia County, our system of governance has dissolved into something ugly and different – a Turkish bazaar – where a few uber-wealthy power brokers control everything but the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tide through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates. 

The return on investment is direct access to the nexus of public funds and incentives that ensure the profit motive of private projects – while We, The Little People, are totally ignored, and treated like an annoyance whenever we attempt to participate in our local government.

Unfortunately, Volusia County has been historically plagued by civic apathy.

A feeling among those who struggle mightily to earn a living in this artificial economy, where bought-and-paid-for elected officials tilt the playing field, picking winners and losers in the marketplace with tax supported incentives and giveaways, that they no longer have a chip in the game. 

Because they don’t.

It’s worse in places like Palm Coast today, where voters face the frightening dilemma of choosing between an incumbent Mayor many believe used her elective position for personal advantage – or a former Sovereign Citizen with a wacky past who has never voted in an election before. . .

My God.

Fortunately, in the Volusia County Chair race, we have a clear choice between the tired status quo – a legalized quid pro quo pay-to-pay system – that always favors the wants and whims of political insiders – while shitting on the dreams of families, many of whom have lived at or below the poverty line for far too long.  

That’s why I have so enthusiastically supported the grassroots candidacy of Jeff “Plan B” Brower, someone I believe possesses the vision, integrity and focus to return a citizen-centric government to Volusia County, protect our threatened natural resources, prioritize fiscal responsibility, control unchecked growth, and make good on the tired promise of quality jobs.

To my neighbors and friends, I would like to make a personal appeal. 

I ask that you take a moment from your busy lives and careers to reflect quietly on what transparent and accessible local government mean to all of us.

I believe there remains one fundamental mechanism which will allow us to prevail over the insiders and well-heeled donor class that seem intent on taking our lifestyle and heritage away from us and handing it to outside speculators for backdoor personal enrichment:

It is the ultimate power of the ballot box.

We still have a democratic process that allows one person, one vote. 

I believe that if enough like-minded citizens hold firm to the basic belief that we can control our destiny by electing strong, ethical, and visionary members of our community to high public office, we can once again balance political power and restore transparency, fairness, and the spirit of democracy in Volusia County government.

If you haven’t already – I am asking you to go to the polls and cast your ballot today.

Take a friend with you. Hell, take two.

Vote like your lives and livelihoods depend upon it.

And, regardless of who is ultimately elected tonight, I promise you I will be here to hold them accountable – without fear or favor – stirring the pot, standing up to the bullies, keeping things equal (and interesting), and ensuring that those who hold themselves out for public office serve our highest and best interests – not the mercenary desires of a few wealthy power brokers who, up to now, have controlled our elections with their checkbook. 

Thank you to everyone who participated in our sacred political process – candidates and voters alike.

Now, we wait. . .

Godspeed – and good luck.