Angels & Assholes for December 18, 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               Volusia County Council

This week marked what (I hope) is a bold new beginning for governance in Volusia County.

After the calamity that was the last four years, the good people of this salty piece of land we call home deserve it. . .   

The legendary Henry Ford said that “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” and with such great possibilities on our horizon, there is no time to wallow in the past – or waste any more of our lives pondering ‘what could’ve been,’ or ‘what should’ve been.” 

As one would expect, the last meeting of this iteration of the Volusia County Council was weird – and, as a loyal watcher of this bimonthly shit show, I would have been disappointed with anything less.  

It was the final act of the Théâtre de L’absurde – a performance which reached its dramatic crescendo when Councilwoman Billie Wheeler mysteriously wailed – “We are not corrupt! We are not corrupt! Not a one of us has stepped over the line!” – a strange, almost unconscious parapraxis that seemed to expose a paranoid streak in Ms. Wheeler we had not seen before. . .

Weird, indeed.

I admit, a dark part of me is going to miss these parliamentary train wrecks. 

This final meeting was like watching the circus pack up and trundle away from the fairgrounds, leaving only the stench of elephant dung and horse manure lingering in the air.      

Several people have told me that former Volusia County Chair Ed Kelley is a nice guy. 

I am sorry I never saw that side of him.   

And, when you cut through her self-important aura, outgoing Councilwoman Deb Denys is gifted with a natural cunning and Machiavellian guile that allowed her to play smash-mouth politics with the best of them – truly a formidable force.

But none of that maudlin crap matters now. 

I am giddy with a high sense of anticipation – the thrill of ‘what comes next’ – and a feeling of liberation after helplessly watching taxpayers openly marginalized, abused, and ignored by an oligarchical system that ensures an open faucet of public funds for all the right last names with a chip in the game.      

This week marked the swan song for much of what remains of Volusia’s Old Guard – the Stalwarts of the Status Quo – at least for those holding positions of “official” power in DeLand.   

After years of dedicated service to entrenched insiders – these two perennial politicians who so unashamedly served the wants and whims of their uber-wealthy cronies and benefactors – are no longer relevant to the architectural design of Volusia County’s future.

Trust me.  That is something to celebrate.   

Following the obligatory Deification & Adulation Ceremony, our doddering fool of a County Chair, and the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys, finally shuffled off the dais of power into the dustbin of history.

(I’m not crying, you’re crying. . .)

Unfortunately, the end did not come soon enough, as Chairman Kelley had the opportunity to lord over one more public farce – the “annual evaluation” of County Manager George “The Wreck” Rectenwald and County Attorney Mike Dyer – a hollow exercise which serves as a laughable formality before the pair receive an end-of-year salary increase. 

True to form, the council member’s verbal reviews of their only direct reports dissolved into a meeting of The Mutual Admiration Society – replete with glowing accolades, saccharine compliments, and a brown-nosing fealty that showed how incredibly loyal our elected officials have become to the bloated bureaucracy. 

Look, I like George Recktenwald. 

I think he does a damn fine job under difficult circumstances, with an unflappable style, adroitly answering to seven loopy bosses, while managing to keep their leaky vessel afloat.

That’s a hard dollar. 

I am going to reserve judgement on Mr. Dyer’s work product – our “new” county attorney whose salary already exceeds $200,000 a year – you know, like those we have elected to steward our tax dollars should have?   

Whatever. 

In my view, we have a lot to look forward to.

Following a hotly contested election, a hand-to-hand contest which so brutally exposed the true character (or lack thereof) of many of our area’s ‘movers & shakers,’ we will soon have a core group of elected officials who have made a clear and solemn promise to Volusia County residents:

To return a county government of, by, and for the people – a place where those who pay the bills have an equal, honest, and influential say in the direction of our tax dollars, and our future. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, I thought incoming Chair Jeff Brower showed incredible magnanimity as he stood in the well and formally congratulated Kelley and Denys as they took their painfully slow leave.   

I admire that. 

If I had been bludgeoned like Mr. Brower was during the campaign, I am not sure I could be that high-minded in victory.   

(That’s just one reason I do not run for elective office – because the sight of me swilling cheap champagne from the bottle, while drunkenly screaming, “Don’t let the door hit ya in the ass on the way out!” at my defeated opponent would only lower the bar and sully the decorum. . .)

In addition, Chairman-elect Brower took a bold stand this week in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, vowing to make our century old heritage of beach driving and access a priority after decades of having the venerated tradition used as a cheap inducement for speculative developers.

That’s encouraging. 

Clearly, Mr. Brower realizes the importance of our greatest natural resource to the economic vitality of Volusia County, and, more important, he understands the damage that has resulted from years of mismanagement by a bureaucracy that seems totally out of touch – physically incapable of the quantum change necessary for the revitalization of the Halifax area and beyond.

Councilman Daniel Robins, Councilwoman Heather Post, and Chairman Brower will join a group of experienced elected officials that – I hope – are equally committed to moving forward with a renewed passion for protecting, preserving, and enhancing those things that make Volusia County such a special place.

I add Heather Post to the list of incoming freshmen because, unfortunately, she was never given the opportunity to fully participate in any meaningful way during her first term, as her every effort was belittled, bullied, and marginalized under what passed for Old Ed’s “leadership.”

Clearly, all the important tools are now in the box.    

For instance, Councilman Ben Johnson is a veteran public servant who has proven his commitment to making Volusia County a better place – a true leader, tested in the furnace of law enforcement, with the demonstrated ability to listen to opposing opinions with an open mind and make decisions based upon facts – not politics.   

By any metric, Councilwoman Barbara Girtman is the intellectual superior on the dais – an incredibly bright and thoughtful elected official with a sharp, strategic mind – someone whose refined sense of service originates in the heart – as she remains sensitive to the needs of our underrepresented citizens who are so often overlooked.

In my estimation, the only unknowns are Councilwoman Billie Wheeler and The Reverend Fred Lowrey. 

However, both have proven smart enough to sense the prevailing winds, and they possess the political savvy to know what is possible, and what is not. 

Given the mix of authentic enthusiasm and experience, this has the making of a great team. 

Time will tell.     

Like Mr. Ford said, times of transition always present opportunities, and this is clearly an exciting time for all of us. 

Quote of the Week

“Just to set the record straight, River Bend owes property taxes because a private company leases public land to make a profit. The 1997 court order referenced in The News-Journal article was entered based upon a statute that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2001. The Supreme Court confirmed that public land cannot be used for private purposes (to make a profit), without also paying property taxes.

If Norwood’s company merely managed River Bend on behalf of the city, there would be no property tax liability. The cities of Daytona Beach and Port Orange both run golf courses for the enjoyment of their citizens.

I would be willing, personally, to pay more property taxes in order to keep River Bend open. I hope the Ormond Beach City Commission is willing to consider taking over the operation and maintenance of such a wonderful part of the Ormond Beach way of life. No future county property taxes would be owed by the Ormond Beach city government if they kept River Bend open by running it themselves.”

–Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Letters to the Editor, River Bend golf course can be saved,” Tuesday, December 15, 2020

I respect Mr. Bartlett’s cogent explanation of the terrible (and avoidable) circumstances that have conspired to see the demise of the beautiful River Bend Golf Course. 

In fact, it is difficult to watch.

Many years ago, following my father’s death, a plaque was placed on a fairway at River Bend to commemorate his contributions when the course was being built. 

At that time, my dad – an avid golfer and longtime friend of PGA Professional Lawson Mitchell, who was instrumental in the origination of the course – volunteered to assist in the compassionate relocation of endangered tortoises from areas under construction.

My fear is that once River Bend goes to seed – some well-placed speculative developer will be champing at the bit to churn that prime public riverfront property into another godawful gated community. . . 

Why else would ostensibly smart public officials believe that collecting property taxes on a public amenity – one built on publicly owned property – outweigh the detrimental effect of an overgrown shithole, a civic eyesore, another abandoned golf course, reeking of failure, positioned immediately adjacent to the city’s municipal airport?   

No, once the City of Ormond Beach unloads this prime real estate to the right last name – the property will not sit idle for long. . .   

I could be wrong.  Hide and watch. 

Regardless of Mr. Bartlett’s good thoughts, please do not expect the Ormond Beach City Commission to do the right thing and provide for the operation and maintenance of this outstanding recreational amenity. 

In my jaded view, after tens of thousands in developer dollars were thrown around during the last election, I suspect none of Ormond’s elite elected officials will want to stand in the way of “progress.”    

And Another Thing!

Last week, I expressed my fears about the insidious censorship being practiced by social media monopolies, and some individual sites, which illegitimately purport to serve as community “forums” for the discussion and debate of diverse ideas on the important issues of the day. 

I have a standing policy on this blogsite that all opinions are welcome – especially those that are contrary to my own (because that’s how I learn) – and I have only blocked a small handful of comments that sought to incite violence, used base racial, ethnic, or religious epithets, or made patently untrue personal allegations against others with no supporting facts.   

If you want those types of discussions, the internet is rife with them, but you will not find that vile content here. 

That said, there are some outstanding social media sites that provide an avenue for citizen input on the issues that affect our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast

Never one to shy away from controversial issues, civic activist Greg Gimbert hosts the wildly popular Facebook forum Volusia Issues – a rollicking, no-holds-barred, public soapbox which welcomes a wide variety of opinions, encourages free thought – and always calls the balls and strikes with a real sensitivity for preserving uninhibited debate.

In addition, Mr. Gimbert administrates the Facebook-based Volusia County School Parents Forum – which encourages those interested in our quirky local educational system to, “Post your events, challenges, and victories. Post your suggestions in the areas of curriculum, budget, and staffing. It is time to move past party lines and towards better schools for all of our kids. This forum is the place to gather with good neighbors to do so.”

I like that. 

In my view, we live in a time and place where, for far too long, citizen input in governmental affairs has been limited by small-minded politicians and appointed officials in the halls of power – despotic martinets who prefer to issue diktats from on high – rather than deliberate competing ideas or accept the suggestions of us bumpkins who pay the bills. 

I understand better than most – we do not have to agree

Unlike some in positions of elected and appointed power, I never learn anything in an echo chamber of like-minded people agreeing with one another while cementing their haughty sense of infallibility. 

Sound familiar?      

I encourage everyone to take a stand against this sinister erosion of our God-given right to free and open expression – which forms the very foundation of a robust civic debate – and I ask that you make good use of those open-minded public forums where our First Amendment rights are respected – and protected. 

That’s all for me. 

Angels & Assholes will take a short pause next week while we enjoy this most joyous season.

Thanks to each of you – the loyal members of the Barker’s View Tribe – this has been a banner year for our little experiment in alternative opinion blogging – the most annual activity since we began five-years ago!

I appreciate you riding the river with me. 

Your encouragement and support mean more than you know. 

Have a great weekend, y’all!

9 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for December 18, 2020

  1. Merry Christmas Mr Barker! Thank you for your hard work in bringing us information on this circus we call home. I have learned so much from your blog and I usually even agree with you!

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  2. Golf is very tough to keep going as i watch long time courses in Palm Beach County get sold to builders. Watch the Plantation Oak boy try and get his hands on that property. Last but not least time is running out as Beat Kahli put a sign opening soon one mile west of 95 on 40. Last I heard from my mayor he is studying the traffic,the effect of 10.000 people and the bridge over Hand Avenue that the road turns into a two lane road with a 25mph sign to the river and we were to have a traffic study. I see nothing get done since his spout of bull. Avalon will start breaiking ground in the second quarter and he expects to have people living there in 2022. For me it is very easy I just pack up sell my house that went up 200 thousand since I bought it 5 years ago and move like they do in California and New York. I moved from West Palm to get away from this garbage and I wont live with it because of deep pockets.Watch all the retail and restaurant prices go up because you are not a small town anymore. Add 10 bucks to any restaurant bill in PB County over Volusia because they can. I live off of social security I am not a VP of Goldman Sachs.

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    1. Im sorry your feelings got hurt. We dont do national in VI regardless of if it comes from the left or right. No apologies for straight up removing and blocking gun banners. Admittedly, we have standards and apparently you (whoever you are) didnt abide them. New Years Day Amnesty is coming up. Hope we see you again. Be well, G.

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      1. None of the comments were national and had nothing to do with gun banning. You’re a racist, a transphobe, a bigot and an a**hole. F*ck your sh*tty little group. Nothing was ever accomplished by a bunch of sh*theads complaining about sh*t on a Facebook group ever got done.

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      2. LOL the way Greg Gimbert admits to censoring people and being too much of a snowflake for people who don’t agree with him. Fraud.

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  3. I agree on the River Bend GC – I’m sure the OB City Commission already has a developer on tap ready to rock & roll & ruin it for a development 😦 I agree with Larry Bartlett & we should be able to do the right thing but with the knuckleheads running the City (we DID try to vote them out!), it won’t have a change. Sad. I’m SO happy Jeff Brower won – at least we have good people in County – now if only we could get some good ones in Ormond so I wouldn’t have to move . . . .

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  4. I don’t read everything you write, but this particular piece is exceptional. I see a gob and a bunch of complaining from so many venues, but not much in the solutions area.

    In 1985 I was part of an effort to allow the citizens of Volusia to weigh in on whether the County manager should be retained. It failed due to lack of interest.

    In 1996, We The People garnered enough petitions to restore the sheriff as a constitutional office. That failed due to what I believe to be judicial misconduct and collusion. I copied the trial transcript at the county clerk’s office for review. That was my conclusion. And now many years later we have a constitutional office of sheriff.

    The county council has abused its power since conception. What I remember the reason being to pass the charter, was to rid us of the good ole’ boy’s system. But the replacement hasn’t cured the problem, just new good ole’ boy’s.

    I am a supporter of the republican form of government where we elect the best among our population to represent us. Unfortunately, the best usually want nothing to do with the assignment. This year looks much more promising.

    What I would love to see is some adjustments to the charter that puts pressure on the council to do what is best for the people. In the past, all I hear is vote them out. That just isn’t effective most of the time. Forming the charter review committee with members who aren’t part of the power structure would be a good start.

    My line of thinking for changes would still reside by makeing the manager subject to a vote by the people of Volusia. Whether that would be a straw vote or mandate would need consideration.

    I would love to see the county have more input into how the cities proceed with developing land annexed for development. The comp plan isn’t proving to be the answer as it is being presently administered.

    I believe the council should have the duty and authority to individually visit county facilities for investigative purposes. That would require guideline so that an overzealous council member wouldn’t upset county operations. Presently the charter limits investigations to subpoena for information. That isn’t sufficient.

    The charter is based upon the principles of the administrative state which is a principle reason citizens feel discouraged that government isn’t serving them. The people are disempowered by abusive government power over their lives.

    Just in case it needs to be said, everything stated above needs to be refined.

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