It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.
Asshole The Downtown Daytona Development Cabal
If you want proof positive that our ‘powers that be’ – you know, those uber-wealthy and politically connected few who The Daytona Beach News-Journal once called our “Rich and Powerful” – could give two-shits about the quality of life of Halifax area residents, just reread Eileen Zaffiro-Kean’s March 2019 article, “Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island.”
In that informative piece we learned that City “leaders” were, “quietly working behind the scenes” to have long-standing deed restrictions removed on downtown riverfront property “…so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”
Apparently, the scheme was so quiet that even “plugged-in community leaders” were left in the dark. . .
The deed restrictions on these beautiful spoil islands are over a century old now and require that the land be held for the exclusive use of the public – forever.
In late 2018, Governor Ron DeSantis and his Cabinet agreed to lift all deed restrictions on 97 acres east of Beach Street – including City Island – so long as the City of Daytona Beach agreed to pony up $8.77 million to the State of Florida.
At the time, state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff and other local legislators vowed to have the public use mandate removed without requiring Daytona Beach to pay anything.
Then, last week we learned that the Florida Cabinet unanimously voted to lift the deed restrictions on a small parcel of publicly owned waterfront land near Halifax Harbor Marina – no strings attached (beyond a paltry $100,000 donation to something called the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund.)
Everything else about the change is clear as river mud – and no one who should seems to know anything about the future of the .41-acre slice of heaven on the banks of the Halifax – a parcel which sits just south of the controversial (and highly desired) City Island property which (I think) is still governed by the public use deed restrictions.
In fact, when the News-Journal questioned members of what I affectionately refer to as The Downtown Daytona Development Cabal – a shadowy confederation of self-serving political insiders with all the right last names and a chip in the game – they collectively sounded like Sergeant Hans Schultz:
“I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know nothing!”
“A few people heavily involved with downtown development, including Brown & Brown chairman J. Hyatt Brown, said they’re not aware of any current ideas or active proposals.”
It is no secret that the Grand Plan for the private development of City Island and adjacent public lands has been in place for years – so don’t expect anyone to ask for your input in the planning or design – because it’s a done deal. . .
That became evident way back in 2017 when Jim Chisholm said publicly, “There is a project looking at land around the ball field. The city owns a lot of land around it. They’re looking at condos, hotels, dining, mixed use. People come in with big ideas all the time.”
“Chisholm said he’s been “in discussions” for seven or eight months on ideas for city-owned City Island property, but there’s “nothing in writing” yet.”
Then, two years later, the News-Journal reported, “…the City Island courthouse site was stirring investor interest, and that Chisholm was talking with county officials about what could become of that courthouse property.”
Apparently, those same “county officials” had no idea what Mr. Chisholm was talking about. . .
At that time, our hapless elected and appointed officials at Volusia County claimed they were ambushed – kept totally out of the loop by Mr. Chisholm – which prompted a terse letter to Governor DeSantis reminding him that the County of Volusia owns City Island – not the City of Daytona Beach.
In my view, it is this complete lack of transparency – or any reasonable oversight by the Daytona Beach City Commission – that allows Mr. Chisholm to run roughshod over everyone.
“Attempts to gather more information about the property on the western bank of the riverfront with phone calls and emails late last week to the city manager, city spokeswoman and city attorney were unsuccessful. None of them responded.”
How can anyone – including Mayor Derrick ‘Il Duce’ Henry and his fellow marionettes on the Daytona Beach City Commission – find this abject arrogance by a recipient of public funds remotely appropriate?
Within hours of learning that state deed restrictions had been mysteriously lifted by the governor’s cabinet, City Manager Jim Chisholm and his public disinformation staff pulled the shade and locked the door, sequestering themselves in the inner sanctum at City Hall – refusing to return calls and correspondence from the working press – adding to the confusion and speculation.
This is what happens when a city manager is permitted to give the figurative middle finger to his feckless “bosses” on the dais of power – and ignore taxpaying residents and the local media with no political accountability or external oversight.
Unfortunately, nothing is going to change for the immediate future.
In my view, this latest revelation adds to the speculation as to why Mr. Chisholm’s services have been retained for another 90-days (at least) as the elected officials continue to drag their clay feet on finding his replacement.
Angel Palm Coast City Councilman Eddie Branquinho
To say Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton’s tenure has been an unmitigated shit show is an understatement.
From rumors of a federal investigation into the loosey-goosey relationship between city government and the private sector – to the very real spectacle of Mr. Morton publicly butchering the careers of any civil servant who raises their head to challenge the status quo – his tyrannical antics continue to erode public trust in City Hall.
In my view, Mr. Morton has now exposed himself as either a weak-kneed Caspar Milquetoast, afraid of his own shadow, or he is actively exploiting our current social and political discord to further alienate the local government from those it ostensibly exists to serve.
Throwing the normal prerequisite of a clear and present threat aside, Mr. Morton has unilaterally authorized the allocation of taxpayer funds to place armed guards on the Palm Coast City Hall campus – and order that all citizens pass through a metal detector before conducting their business inside the publicly owned building.
According to an excellent article in FlaglerLive.com, Mr. Morton mewled, “…the national, political landscape and the climate unfortunately has impacts across the country. We’ve had a few incidents in city hall that seem to have been escalating over the last year, I would call them confrontations. Traditionally we’ve asked staff to de-escalate those confrontations. They’ve gotten to the point where it’s inappropriate for staff to be put in that position of de-escalating. . .”
The January “confrontation” cited by Morton involved a middle-aged man wearing a “Don’t tread on me” t-shirt, who refused to wear a facemask upon entering the building – then stomped around, full of bluster, indignation, and hot air – disobeying a receptionist and bullying a few cowed “supervisors” until two sheriff’s deputies confronted him.
The man was disobedient – not dangerous.
After a brief discussion with the law enforcement officers, he left without incident.
No arrest. No trespass warning. No request for identification.
He just walked off.
How would an armed security guard have ended that “confrontation” any differently – with a double-tap to the head?
Apparently, the dustup – which Morton affectedly called a “situational moment” – occurred just before the start of a Palm Coast City Council meeting – a forum where we have witnessed far worse bullying and bluster. . .
As a result of this chilling act of civil disobedience by some unidentified malcontent with his proverbial knickers in a twist – the good citizens of Palm Coast can now expect their city hall complex to take on all the earmarks of an armed encampment.
Fortunately, Palm Coast City Councilman Eddie Branquinho, a former Newark, N.J. police officer, sees Morton’s gross overreaction as bad policy, one that “…sends the wrong message to the public at large.”
According to the FlaglerLive report, Councilman Branquinho “said he recently got a call from a resident asking him “why do we need security at the door of City Hall. I couldn’t answer the question,” he said.”
Rather than have a reasonable safety and security plan in place for City Hall – one that incorporates appropriate physical security postures and response protocols while balancing the rights of citizens trying to conduct business and participate in their government – for the next 90-days, Morton plans to turn the complex into a super-maximum-security citadel where he and his subordinate bureaucrats can effectively hide behind a phalanx of armed agents, far removed from the pesky annoyance of agitated citizens.
After this three-month “trial,” Morton anticipates the Palm Coast City Council will rubberstamp his expensive and overreaching safety plan – making armed security a permanent part of the city hall experience. . .
Kudos to Palm Coast Councilman Eddie Branquinho for having the guts to stand against Mayor Melissa Holland and other acquiescent elected representatives who immediately rolled over for Morton’s draconian measures.
We need more representatives like Mr. Branquinho – men and women who are not afraid to question the oppressive motivations of tin-pot autocrats who use public funds and fearmongering to insulate themselves from legitimate discourse and debate.
We live in a time when the subjects of the realm are increasingly willing to trade their God-given freedom for a false sense of government supplied “security” – giving over their liberties to the likes of frightened little men like Matt Morton – spineless martinets who exploit political tumult to further drive a wedge between elected and appointed officials and those they serve.
In the meantime, it appears the tail will continue to wag the dog in Palm Coast. . .
Quote of the Week
“It is a sad commentary when the only major concession requested was not by our own (Ormond Beach) commission, but rather by the outside citizens group Dream Green Volusia. Such requests could have included enlarging the buffer along the byway, decreased density/increased lot sizes (which would help save trees, reduce traffic, and increase property values, bringing in more city revenue), reduction of the speed limit, and employing Low-Impact Development methods to land not yet cleared. The commission’s inaction in bargaining was a missed opportunity.
Yet — the city still has the option to chip in a percentage of the funds needed to purchase the land. Compared to previous expenditures – such as $730,000 purchase of the Riverside Church, $1.3 million on a floating dock, and $900,000 for a bait shop — a fraction of the total purchase price of $1.3 million purchase price would be nominal.
Preserving the Loop is an overwhelmingly public mandate, and the 36 acres would provide a nice corridor within this very treasured place in Ormond Beach. Our hope is that the county is able to procure the funds for the land purchase, and we hope the city will seize the opportunity to provide additional assistance.”
–Ken and Julie Sipes, Ormond Beach, writing in the Ormond Beach Observer, Letters to the Editor, “City has ‘skin in the game,” Monday, February 8, 2021
And Another Thing!
They say one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity.
In today’s grim coronavirus-wracked economy, there are a lot of predators and prey out there. . .
This week it was announced that Hard Rock Daytona owner Abbas Abdulhussein recently acquired the beachfront Nautilus Inn for a reported $8 million through his Asante Asset Management, LLC.
For decades, the Nautilus Inn was owned, operated, and meticulously cared for by the DeNure family of Ontario, Canada, who used the property as a base for their successful touring company.
The hotel served as an excellent example of how a well-maintained oceanfront resort hotel with a sustainable business model can build a loyal clientele, and significantly contribute to our local economy, without expecting publicly funded corporate welfare and other “inducements” that negatively impact the quality of life of area residents.
According to reports, international border closures associated with the pandemic have had a devastating impact on the DeNure’s travel enterprise, and “…virtually eliminated the influx of Canadian snowbirds to Volusia County. . .”
Unfortunately, it appears the DeNure’s were forced to get out from under the hotel while the getting was good. . .
It is no secret that Mr. Abdulhussein’s extended transformation of the notorious Desert Inn was not without controversy – primarily surrounding the loss of 410’ of beach driving behind the hotel – a public amenity that was given away by a previous iteration of the Volusia County Council.
The who and why of that regretful public policy decision remains open to speculation – but the issue was recently resurrected when our new Chairman Jeff Brower met with Mr. Abdulhussein – apparently to discuss returning beach driving and access to the strand behind the Hard Rock Daytona.
During a recent discussion with some long-time locals (none of whom have patronized or recommended the Hard Rock as a form of protest), most told me that if the traffic-ban were repealed they would consider it a gesture of good faith by Mr. Abdulhussein, something that would positively change their attitude toward the hotel.
In my view, having the support and word-of-mouth endorsement of Halifax area residents in this challenged hospitality market is good for business.
My sincere hope is that with the acquisition of the Nautilus Inn, Mr. Abdulhussein will refrain from returning for another drink at the well as he sets about rebranding the property.
In the eyes of many Volusia County taxpayers – any attempt to secure additional “inducements” should be met with a vastly different answer from our current county council members.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!