Angels & Assholes for January 29, 2021

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               Florida Department of Health in Volusia County

No one has been more hypercritical of the Florida Department of Health’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic than me.

While numerous logistical problems still exist with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine – including the five-alarm foul-up that is the Hunger Games-style “appointment” system that has senior citizens and their worried family members entering the online arena in a futile attempt to secure a spot – my point-of-service experience earlier this week was nothing short of flawless.

After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a place for my 86-year-old mother in the over-the-horizon queue of seniors seeking their first dose, a loyal member of the Barker’s View tribe kindly gifted her an appointment for last Monday’s vaccine distribution event at the Volusia County Fairgrounds. 

We arrived early, onsite by 7:30am, which placed us forth in a growing line for the 9:00am to 10:00am time slot. 

By 8:30am, we were directed to a tent where our appointment was confirmed and a “1” placed on our windshield to denote the number of occupants receiving the vaccine.  Then, we moved a short distance to another location where my mom’s paperwork and residency was reviewed, and a blank vaccination card provided. 

Within minutes we proceeded to one of three drive-thru tents where the shot was quickly administered. 

My mom – who was visibly nervous going in – said she never felt the jab. . . 

After receiving the now completed vaccination record, we were directed to a nearby waiting area where we parked and spoke with a friendly firefighter from the Volusia County Fire Department, who made light conversation while observing my mother for a few minutes.  

We were asked to wait 20-minutes and activate our emergency flashers and sound the horn if my mom experienced an adverse reaction.

From our vantagepoint in the observation area, we saw a long line of vehicles entering the Fairgrounds – all moving along at a steady pace.    

From the moment we approached the gate, everyone we met was incredibly upbeat, professional, and welcoming. 

That sense of order placed us at ease.

During the process, I only saw one vehicle turned away (the truck directly in front of us) and from the one side of the conversation I could hear, the driver arrived without an appointment, which required that the gentleman leave the line.

Now, on February 22 – exactly 28-days from the date of her first inoculation – my mom’s vaccination record will serve as her entry pass for the second dose. 

Kudos to the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County – and the county firefighters, deputies, public protection personnel, and staff members who worked so hard to make this event a success!

After a rocky start, the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County has earned the respect of seniors fortunate enough to win a place in line.

When you receive an appointment for a future vaccination distribution, here are some tips for expediting the process:

Download and complete the required COVID-19 Vaccine Screening and Consent Form which is available at https://tinyurl.com/yy8u7nuy

Arrive early for your appointment. 

I also took the step of printing a copy of the appointment form to accommodate the scanning process – a QR code on the form – and ensured that my mother’s Florida drivers license was out and available for review. 

In my view, if Volusia County can determine a suitable location for an eastside distribution site – one that can accommodate senior citizens who don’t have transportation to DeLand – and determine a better registration system for securing appointments – the process will continue to improve and allow more of our most vulnerable residents access to this potentially lifesaving vaccine.   

Asshole           Volusia County, Daytona Beach, First Step Shelter Board, Votran, etc., etc.

A young woman died early Monday morning. 

She was trying to get to work. 

It would have been her first day at her new job.    

It happened on a dark and foggy stretch of US-92 when she was struck and killed by an eastbound truck, but the contributing factors – the error chain – leading up to this tragic circumstance were years in the making. 

You see, the victim was trying to cobble her life back together, to do that which was necessary to be with her 10-year old daughter again, and she put her faith in the First Step Shelter – a city owned/county funded/committee managed residential homeless assistance program which was built in the hinterlands off International Speedway Boulevard – out near the jail and those creepy motels where the sexual predators live and roam free, out where P$S Paving will be hauling paydirt for years to come, literally in the middle of nowhere – out of sight, out of mind, out of our backyards and away from our gated communities.

Out where no one cares.

On that fateful morning, for no fault of her own, this unfortunate soul fell victim to bureaucratic lethargy and an excuse-based approach government that forced her to cross a busy four-lane highway in the predawn darkness to reach a Votran bus stop.

No crosswalk, no sidewalk, no alternative transportation. 

Now, the finger pointing and “not my yob, man” excuses are flowing from the same elected and appointed officials who ignored the fervent pleas of First Step’s Executive Director Victoria Fahlberg and others who recognized this fatal flaw and tried desperately to seek a solution.   

For instance, in response to this compound tragedy, Volusia County Vice Chair Billie Wheeler mewled in the Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, “Of course from the beginning we knew it would be a logistical problem, but the city of Daytona Beach said they would take care of it.”

How tragic.  How utterly preventable.

Given the asinine nature of the contributing circumstances, it seems no one who should is interested in fixing blame or finding fault.

Inexplicably, Mike Panaggio, who has become the official social media mouthpiece of the FSS Board, took to Facebook this week to scold Volusia County taxpayers on the use of foul language when expressing their abject outrage over this disaster – pat himself on the back for his volunteerism (before saying he doesn’t want a pat on the back) – and publishing a laundry list of commonsense preventive measures that were apparently never considered during what passed for a planning phase.

Whatever.

In the aftermath, I don’t think any of us are ready to hear politicians, transportation officials, and feckless First Step board members yammer about all the things they could’ve, would’ve, should’ve done – or how correcting this long-term negligence has suddenly become a “priority” for those same sloth-like bureaucracies that drug their heels in the years, months, weeks, and days prior to impact.  

Excuses ring hollow now. . .

Remember: We get what we accept.  

Angel               Dr. Charles “Chuck” Duva

After years of decline and decay, it became apparent to anyone paying attention that waiting on local government to “do something” about the abysmal condition of East International Speedway Boulevard – the literal gateway to the “World’s Most Famous Beach” – was an exercise in futility.

As this frustrating eyesore festered – a suppurating carbuncle on our core tourist area – many lost any hope that positive change was possible. 

It took a while to beat the optimism and sense of anticipation out of Halifax are residents – but, over time, our ‘powers that be’ succeeded in crushing our spirit. 

For years, we listened to every incoming Chairman of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce (between giving and receiving fawncy awards and accolades) pontificate on how East ISB was a “priority” – yet the malignant blight continued unabated.

We were shown impressive computer-generated dioramas of what the East ISB corridor could look like if only this, that, or the other could materialize. 

It didn’t.

And residents stopped believing that anyone had a viable vision for the revitalization of our most visible gateway. 

Last February, when civic gatherings were still possible, The Daytona Beach News-Journal held a coffee klatch with area residents and business owners to (once again) discuss the innumerable issues facing East ISB and “Daytona Beach’s core beachside neighborhood.” 

As usual, everyone agreed that the deplorable condition of the area – which the News-Journal described as potentially “…the ugliest entryway to a beach on the entire East Coast of the United States” – was repellant to both tourists and residents alike.   

When the hot air and coffee breath faded – nothing changed.

Then, talk turned to the Florida Department of Transportation’s decision on whether a wholly inappropriate traffic roundabout planned for East ISB and A-1-A would be the death knell for the busiest beach approach in Volusia County. 

Fortunately, FDOT listened to their very vocal constituency and agreed to abandon the potential nightmare of a beachside loop-de-loop – which, for reasons known only to the reigning municipal Monarchy, was originally supported by the City of Daytona Beach against the howls of residents, business owners, and traffic engineers.

Now, it appears Charlie Brown might finally kick that damn football. . . 

According to an informative piece by News-Journal business reporter Clayton Park, local entrepreneur Dr. Chuck Duva – the vision behind the wildfire of commercial expansion along LPGA’s Boomtown Boulevard – is taking affirmative steps to “help spark the revitalization” of the East ISB corridor. 

God, I hope so. . .

According to the report, Dr. Duva recently spent some $1.4 million of his own money to purchase three distressed commercial properties near the intersection of East ISB and South Peninsula Drive – with plans to develop the former Shell gas station into a Key West inspired restaurant and live entertainment venue called “Beaches.” 

The good Doctor isn’t wasting time, either.

“He (Duva) hopes to open Beaches this summer, along with a package store on the corner. His plans also call for refurbishing and reopening the old Shell station self-service car wash on the northwest corner of East International Speedway Boulevard and South Hollywood Avenue. The car wash is a much-needed amenity that is currently lacking on Daytona Beach’s beachside, Duva said.”

I like that.  You should too. 

Look, I don’t know Dr. Duva personally, but he is an impressive guy.

This dude is a homegrown Superman. 

In addition to his investment in East ISB, Dr. Duva is chairman of DuvaSawko, a wildly successful area medical billing and coding company.  He also serves as president of an emergency physicians group called EMPros, and Chair of Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation.

According to reports, Dr. Duva also owns the Gateway Restaurant building on East ISB – an operating eatery and longtime community landmark that “City officials have already begun encouraging” him to demolish. 

Say what?

Suggestions?  From the same Daytona Beach redevelopment officials that have had their heads firmly wedged in their backsides for years?

Jesus. 

Note to the City of Daytona Beach:  Stay the hell out of Dr. Duva’s way as he spends an estimated $3.5 to $4 million on improvements to his recently acquired properties! 

Please – for the love of God – do not “help,” do not “encourage,” do not “suggest,” do not “recommend” – just get out of his way. . .

In a refreshing take on the current state of East ISB and beyond – one which comports with what many area residents have experienced for decades – Dr. Duva was quoted:

“Here’s my problem. East ISB as it is now is an unimpressive gateway to the ‘World’s Most Famous Beach.’ When I bring people in, I’m afraid they will go, ‘Do I really want my family to live here?’,” Duva said. “It shouldn’t be that way. East ISB has the potential to be an outstanding street. I want to be the spark that helps revitalize the area.”

If history proves true, it might take more than a “spark” – the Doc may well need one of those Frankenstein torches to get things going on East ISB – but I wholeheartedly support his good efforts, whatever it takes. 

Thank you for stepping up, Dr. Duva.  Godspeed, sir.

Quote of the Week

“Keeping Chisholm on the job indefinitely will only fuel suspicions that his retirement announcement was just a way of removing the city manager as an issue in the 2020 city primary and election.

More than a few people in the community are impatient for a new city direction and hoping for leadership that is more receptive to the residents’ aspirations and more public in arriving at and setting goals.

The city manager gave the commission a full year to get on with this exercise. If the commission can’t do the job within that ample time, the fault may be less with the quality of the applicant pool and more with the commission’s difficulty in coming to terms with a major management change for the city government.”

–Columnist Mark Lane, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “No standouts as Daytona Beach seeks a manager,” Wednesday, January 27, 2021

I had some thoughts on this issue earlier in the week.

In my view, for far too long the Daytona Beach City Commission has accepted an institutionalized “averageness” from City Manager Jim Chisholm – someone who the News-Journal has acknowledged will not listen, share information, or focus on areas of the city awash in blight, dilapidation, and economic stagnation – concentrating solely on the needs of well-heeled political insiders in return for political insulation.

It is now February, and the elected body is considering keeping Mr. Chisholm at the helm while they finally get around to selecting his replacement.

Say what?

Isn’t there a deputy manager rattling around City Hall who can step into an interim role until a new chief executive can be found?

Doesn’t the City of Daytona Beach have a continuity of operations plan that would allow Mr. Chisholm to meet his announced March retirement date – or do some of our well-heeled political insiders need him to run interference a bit longer as they make one more grab at the brass ring of tax supported “economic incentives”?

I’m asking.  Because something doesn’t smell right here.

Of the twelve finalists selected by Georgia-based Slavin Management Consultants, newly elected City Commissioner Stacy Cantu said, “I’m not too impressed with the top 12 that we have right now,” explaining that she hopes the firm conducts a thorough background check of the applicants.

Me too. 

This decision should not be rushed.

It shouldn’t take another year either. . . 

In my view, now is the time for the Daytona Beach City Commission to get off their ass and down to the difficult job of finding the “right fit” for their challenged and growing community.

Preferably, that takes the form of an independent dive into the résumés, personal and professional backgrounds, open-source information and media reports, education and experience, management and leadership style, internal communications practices, budgeting priorities, prior accountability (was he/she fired from a previous job, and why?), previous evaluations, and interviews with elected officials, department heads, career civil servants, a diverse cross-section of citizens, and members of the business community in areas where the candidate may have previously served. 

This is the most important decision current city commissioners will make during their term(s) in office – and the stakes could not be higher.    

And Another Thing!

In my view, Daytona Beach Police Captain Scott Lee has been a Godsend to the citizens of Daytona Beach. 

A consummate professional at the tip of the spear in the city’s monumental fight for code compliance and economic revitalization. 

Since assuming command of the community’s Code Enforcement and Problem Oriented Policing function, Captain Lee has been widely praised for his fair, but firm, approach to this incredibly difficult role, receiving almost universal acclaim for his efforts to reduce nuisance crimes, and prevent the blight, dilapidation, and stagnation that has gripped much of the city’s core tourist area and beyond. 

And his good work continues to make headlines as more entrenched drug dealers are removed from the community.

In fact, I have spoken with residents and business owners who credit the efforts of Captain Lee and his officers for breathing new life into historic neighborhoods and commercial districts citywide.

Having served in a similar role in a neighboring community, I understand better than most what Captain Lee and his team are trying to accomplish as he carries out the clear directives of the city’s elected policymakers who establish public policy, legislate ordinances, and set enforcement protocols. 

In my view, when it comes to the issue of short-term vacation rentals, it is apparent the Daytona Beach City Commission has adopted a scorched earth policy that bears no resemblance to merely ensuring code compliance.    

In recent months, the City of Daytona Beach’s Special Magistrate has levied draconian fines under a sketchy “Irreparable or Irreversible” interpretation of what is, in my view, an anti-property rights ordinance prohibiting short term rentals outside certain narrowly defined zoning districts. 

Time and time again, property owners are hauled before Magistrate Robert Riggio, often based solely upon an “anonymous complaint” – or the result of an inspector’s search of online intermediaries like VRBO or Airbnb, services who pair persons seeking to rent space with those who have space for rent.

The testimony is boilerplate – with a “sentence first – verdict afterward” feel that rubs residents wrong.

What has shocked the conscience of many is the fact that, regardless of mitigating testimony or evidence, the City Attorney asks for the maximum penalty, while Mr. Riggio feels comfortable levying crippling fines on otherwise law-abiding taxpayers.

I mean, $15,000?  For a vacation rental?

In some cases, the arbitrary haggling between the City Attorney and Special Magistrate during lien reduction hearings gives the appearance of a Turkish bazaar.   

In my view, these property owners are not creating a nuisance condition or allowing their investments to deteriorate into unsafe and unsanitary eyesores – to the contrary.

In most cases, they are crafting a safe, secure, and visually appealing rental space which increases marketability and enhances the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood.

Something the beachside is sorely lacking. . .    

Clearly, punishing Daytona Beach property owners who invest in refurbishing homes and revitalizing neighborhoods has become a lucrative cottage industry of the Daytona Beach City Commission.

In 2019, a judge upheld the City of Daytona Beach’s argument that short-term vacation rentals are only allowed in “tourist zoning districts,” certain community redevelopment areas, and established historic districts.

Now, the elected officials are waging war.   

For perspective, it helps to know that this short-term rental prohibition has been vigorously pushed by elements of our local hotel/motel bund – who somehow feel peer-to-peer rentals will adversely impact their businesses – ignoring the fact many beachfront hotels have been allowed to deteriorate into third-rate shitholes. 

In my view, a free and open marketplace begins with creating a demand – a product or service that consumers want – a situation that creates competition leading to innovation and constant improvement in an environment where fair and equitable regulation and management ensures a level playing field.

If the local hotel/motel industry finds they cannot compete in the modern hospitality marketplace – perhaps they should take a long look in the mirror?

I frequently use peer-to-peer rentals whenever I travel. 

I like the experience – feeling part of the community, meeting new people, and seeing an unfamiliar destination like a “local.”

Because of the personal nature of staying in someone’s home – I always strive to be a good guest and leave the property better than I found it.

Most people do.

If properly regulated, managed, and fairly taxed – I believe the peer-to-peer vacation market can play an important role in the revitalization of our lagging tourism economy.

That begins when local government, and their friends in the hotel/motel industry, stop the strong-arm tactics and permit a level playing field for everyone. 

I find it odd that the same City Commission who repeatedly fails to hold developers financially accountable for delays and gross performance violations on major projects has no problem lashing citizens with massive fines simply for renting space to tourists visiting (and spending money) in our area. 

In my view, the City Commission’s bitter money-grubbing is disturbing, especially when you consider that Volusia County and the City of Daytona Beach are now reaping the benefits of bed tax collections remitted on behalf of the very short-term rentals the City Commission is set on destroying.  

What gives?

As I have said before, local governments must retain the right to enact common-sense rules to alleviate nuisance issues and ensure the health, safety, and quality of life for all residents – and a means to ensure short-term rentals are closely monitored and pay applicable taxes is a given – but property owners should be permitted to market their properties in an open and responsible way without oppressive government regulation.

With tourist development tax funds in freefall, why is the Daytona Beach City Commission working so hard to destroy a lucrative market and revenue source that has been so incredibly successful around the world?

The use of heavy-handed fines that crush property owners is not healthy to our local economy – and there is a bright line between ensuring compliance and ruining the lives of law-abiding citizens already strapped by the devastating financial impacts of the pandemic.   

Mindboggling.  

These are zoning violations – not felony crimes.

In my view, it is time for the Florida legislature to act in the interest of property owners, stop this aggressive fee-grabbing by elected officials openly kowtowing to influential insiders in the hotel/motel industry, and level the playing field statewide. 

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

3 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for January 29, 2021

  1. Mark you are totally missing tso important points about the death of the first step shelter participant:

    Why did the shelter director allow a woman to exit the shelter in pitch darkness without a security escort?
    Why did the director not follow the shelter’s Health & Safety Plan? Or,
    was there not one?
    Where was the Daytona Beach Police official assigned to the shelter?
    Why were not the shelter’s policies & procedures followed?
    Who was in charge of the shelter at 6:30 am and allowed the participant to exit the shelter alone in the dark?
    Where was 24 by 7 security?
    The shelter van driver gets to work at 8:30 am, if the participant had to be to work at 7:30 am, the shelter van driver should have been told to arrive to work at 6:30 am. Director should set schedule of the van driver the day before.

    The shelter director & shelter board of directors are entirely responsible for this so tragic occurrence.
    In closing, we had a potential success story of a shelter participant, not anymore.
    An emergency meeting of the board of directors is warranted with director answering aforementioned questions I pose.

    Like

  2. Excellent column Mark as usual. So good to see Miss Billie starting that safety net to go out and about. It sure gets lonely as we age and now the isolation to preserve one’s life can be mentally challenging as well.

    One area that I have to list my objection to is the Air BNB situation. I’ll only speak to our personal disaster, right in our back yard. When we bought our home we were told the informal HOA here in Palm Coast restricted vacation rental homes. Yet the first home we were going to purchase not only had one next door, but also a guest house that served as a second rental on the same property. The noise was so loud (swimming pool) it sounded like Spring break. We walked away from the home and the seller was beside himself. We waited a few more months before we found a lovely home in the “W” section. So very quiet that you could hear a pin drop. It was December. By May the parties started in the home behind us. Full on, lots of people blasting the radio till midnight. Flood lights shining like a beacon into our windows. They have a swimming pool, so the place stays rented out (wondered about restrictions during this pandemic). Our dogs were barking and more then one vacationer taunted the dogs and/or threw food over the fence. Not sure if it was laced with poison but sure had a bone connected to the meat. Our dogs are indoor dogs, with a nice doggie door to help us out when a walk is just not in the cards. Well that had to come to an end. Nothing like a Plott Hound baying at the partygoers, even inside the house with the TV blaring. I also have concerns that out of state tags, primarily New York, bring undesirable folks. No way of knowing if you have a sex offender or a drug dealer making connections as you would know in owner occupied homes. A call to the P.D. and a slow roll and well I’m sure the Officers have plenty of true crimes to attend to. So much for our quiet retirement, it’s not what we signed up for.

    Like

  3. How can daytona not have a city manager after a year and port orange will be done with a search they just started in december in March?
    Hmmm…someone still lining some pockets there?

    Like

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