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 Dream Green Volusia
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Tuesday saw the successful culmination of a true grassroots effort to save a small, but historically significant, section of the Ormond Scenic Loop from the insult of a developer’s bulldozer – a true labor of love by local environmentalists Suzanne Scheiber and Natalie Piliczak.
And we are all better for their courageous efforts.
To their credit, neither Suzanne nor Natalie took no for an answer – even when saying “oh well, we tried…” and walking away would have been the easy thing to do – and it was a pitched battle against the forces of ignorance to the bitter end.
So, let us give credit where credit is due.
During their campaign to save a 36-acre section of The Loop that was in imminent danger of residential development, Suzanne and Natalie collected over 71,000 signatures and some $26,000 in donations in support of their Dream Green Volusia initiative – which plastered the region with “Defend the Loop” yard signs and bumper stickers as a means of drawing attention to our fabled scenic byway.
Along the way, Suzanne and Natalie were met with every form of political chicanery, base apathy, and opposition from some well-connected groups and elected officials who openly scoffed at their plan.
For instance, last year, Mayor Bill Partington and his pro-development shills on the Ormond Beach City Commission (who annexed the property and approved the developer’s zoning requests) did everything possible to hamstring the bold plan to purchase 76 undeveloped lots from Plantation Oaks developer Parker Mynchenberg to add to a conservation buffer.
In November, Ormond Beach Commissioner Dwight Selby looked down his long nose and tried to take the wind out of the intrepid environmentalist’s sails when he tut-tutted that their presentation at a public meeting, “did not impress him.”
According to a November 2020 report by Abigail Mercer writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “It’s not a priority, it’s not on my radar as something that needs to get done,” Selby said. “Part of it is I’m sort of missing what the point of it is. It’s something that’s going to need a lot more grassroots work.”
Clearly, Mr. Selby is a master of the old “put them on the political gerbil wheel and let them wear themselves out” tactic for dissuading civic involvement. . .
Fortunately, Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower fulfilled a campaign promise to the citizens who elected him when he stood tall in support of Suzanne and Natalie’s vision for conserving The Loop.
Working under extreme time constraints (by government standards, anyway), Chairman Brower demonstrated outstanding leadership in shepherding this difficult proposition to fruition – even as his “colleagues” on the dais of power did their level best to kick the can down the road, “look at other options,” or delay the purchase indefinitely until the whole thing was forgotten about.
On Tuesday, to draw attention to the momentous purchase of the 36-acres (which holds remnant sections of the historic Old Kings Road), unite the elected body, and honor the hard work of Dream Green Volusia and the county staff who hammered out the details – Chairman Brower appropriately placed a “Defend the Loop” bumper sticker in a prominent spot on the dais – something that resulted in a flinty swipe from the horribly meanspirited lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, who inexplicably called the sign “offensive.”
Of course, Wheeler’s first salvo set the tone for what would change a moment of celebration for the people of Volusia County into a “Bash Brower” free-for-all when Councilman Ben Johnson made remarks that this time sensitive, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, could have been handled differently – and the Right Reverend Dr. Fred Lowrey (whose only accomplishment during the meeting was successfully picking the remnants of lunch out of his teeth on the dais) arrogantly fussed that he was going to “hold his nose” and vote yes – even though he didn’t agree with the expedited process.
(I don’t recall Dr. Lowrey having a similar revulsion when Volusia County government squirreled away some $9 million in tax supported Volusia ECHO dollars to fund a skeevy “boardwalk extension” in Daytona Beach – an inside project of mysterious origin and dubious benefit that never got off the ground. . .whatever.)
Ultimately, after much political posturing, moaning, and groaning to dilute Chairman Brower’s proud achievement for the people, members voted unanimously (with Councilwoman Barb Girtman absent) to approve the combination expenditure of Volusia ECHO funds, park impact fees, and private donations to cover the nearly $1 million purchase.
This arduous journey has not been easy for Suzanne Scheiber and Natalie Piliczak – putting themselves out there against the slings and arrows of the forces of mediocrity – but nothing worth doing ever is.
Thanks to their perseverance in the face of withering opposition to the simple notion that we have a moral obligation to protect wild places of historic significance – a portion of this natural treasure has been preserved for generations to come.
Asshole Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald
There is an old English proverb that says, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Unless, of course, you own what passes for a “luxury” hotel in Daytona Beach that received a 410’ traffic-free beach as a cheap spiff from a wholly compromised Volusia County Council – a scheme sold on the premise of “economic development” – and dedicated to the proposition that a private beach theme is more profitable than one covered in taxpaying riff-raff from the neighborhoods.
Except, when it is more advantageous to the hotel’s bottom-line to have vehicles and vendors covering the sand, then Hard Rock Daytona simply petitions their handmaidens in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building and – abracadabra-alakazam – a “permit” is surreptitiously issued by County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald, and, like magic, vehicles return to the Hard Rock’s cordoned off beach once again.
At least until it becomes more profitable to have the vehicles removed. . .
The Hard Rock’s Jeep-themed special event on the sand drew the ire of area residents, not because they are opposed to Jeep Beach Weekend enthusiasts having fun on the beach – but because of the glaring double-standard that exists for certain people and properties – courtesies and accommodations that far exceed those of John & Jane Q. Public.
Perhaps more disturbing, according to Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower, the permitted event came as a surprise to him as well:
“No, the council did not give the Hard Rock a pass. The council was not informed. I spoke to the County Manager and Attorney about 6 PM. This was approved as allowed by a county ordinance the Manager can use at his discretion.
County staff can approve requests from beachfront businesses for special events. They didn’t have to ask the council; they were already given that option. But they should have in my opinion, especially when they public outrage is not hard to gauge.
The County Manager agreed to inform the council in any future request. That is a step. I will review the ordinance tomorrow. An ordinance can be improved.
It was not hard to guess our local population would feel like the Hard Rock was thumbing their nose at them. Letting council know before a permit goes live would allow any council member to speak with the public factually. Many other requests would be welcomed because the business making the request had the beach closed unwillingly. The Hard Rock wanted the beach closed and a great deal of the public have resented them since.
The Hard Rock also asked for a parade through the no driving zone. The County Manager turned that down but approved the static temporary display the ordinance allows. I can’t imagine the negative public reaction that would have resulted in.”
This isn’t the first time Hard Rock Daytona has infuriated citizens by receiving special permission to flaunt the rules – a proverbial middle-finger in the face of area residents who are required to obey the draconian “Laws of the Beach” – or else.
For instance, many remember the debacle in May 2018 during the hotel’s debut soiree as – “…an array of local elected officials and other area leaders” – looked on like proud parents, tear-stained cheeks aglow from their complimentary cocktails, as a professional fireworks display illuminated the shoreline. . .on the first day of turtle nesting season.
You read that right.
Is it just me, or does anyone else have the sense that Volusia County government is still very much under the influence of special interests who remain in the shadows?
Those same influential insiders who, for years, have manipulated the rods and wires through the County Manager’s office and other highly paid senior staff members with “director” or “manager” before their names?
Time will tell.
In my view, the next time Mr. Recktenwald callously ambushes our elected officials with a hot button issue – perhaps he should be asked to ply his trade elsewhere. . .
I realize old habits die hard – but a behind-the-scenes nod allowing vehicles and static displays on a section of our public beach that was essentially walled off against the will of the people with absolutely no notice to our elected officials or the public has a whiff of the shit about it.
Asshole Deltona City Commission
I wrote about the continuing debacle in Deltona earlier in the week, but it bears repeating – because if political assholery had a face – it would look exactly like the Deltona City Commission. . .
On Monday night, our deepest fears for the future of Deltona became reality as many watched late into the night while, one-after-another, area residents dutifully approached their elected officials and literally begged them to disallow zoning changes that would permit a wholly inappropriate zero-lot-line development to be crammed onto 110-acres of environmentally sensitive land near bucolic Osteen.
In fact, the procession went on for hours as nearly 50 concerned residents – augmented by some 30 emails and telephone messages – spoke passionately about the environmental, civic, social, safety, and potential flooding issues presented by shoehorning 189 cracker boxes into a rural area abutting conservation land, long-established ranchettes, and threatened wetlands.
While residents spoke of the quiet solitude of rural life, the joy of hobby farms, their love for the scenic byway that traverses their slice of heaven, and the inherent value of the woodlands, pastures, and unspoiled wildlife habit to future generations – most of their elected officials sat on the dais of power staring back like disinterested gargoyles – seemingly only interested in hearing from the developer’s land use attorney who stood before them with a handful of gimme and a mouthful of much obliged. . .
Following the overwhelming outpouring of opposition from area residents – and the recommendation of their own Planning Board – only Commissioners Loren King, Dana McCool and David Sosa stood with their constituents as the majority voted to sacrifice another slice of Old Florida by caving to the demands of a speculative developer.
I was proud of the courage exhibited by these three servant-leaders and their demonstrated willingness to hold firm to the principles of a representative democracy.
And, like many of you, I was nauseated by the arrogant indifference exhibited by Mayor Heidi Herzberg, Vice Mayor Anita Bradford, Commissioner Victor Ramos, and Commissioner Maritza Avila-Vazquez (who seemed more concerned that she was not being paid “overtime” for the late meeting than listening to the urgent concerns of her constituents. . .)
What happened in the Deltona City Commission chambers in the early morning hours was nothing short of a foul insult to all residents of Deltona – a return to the ‘bad old days’ when gross political alienation led to disruptive protests and a complete loss of the public’s trust in their local government.
To add insult, at the end of a very contentious meeting, Deltona’s Interim City Manager John Peters received a $2,500 pay increase after scoring a mediocre 258.5 on a 350 point evaluation with incredibly difficult metrics like “Individual Characteristics” (“Do you like ice cream, Mr. Peters?” emmmm Yes? “Me too! Two points to Mr. Peters!”) and “Professional Skills.”
Meanwhile, the citizens of Deltona received squat. . .
To quote Commissioner Loren King, “shame” on those craven shills who openly shit on the will of the people, kowtowing to the nonsensical zoning demands of a developer seemingly intent on ruining this pastoral rural setting – forever disrupting a fragile environment and sensitive wildlife habitat – all in the name of greed.
Shame, indeed. . .
Quote of the Week!
“In 2015 Volusia County granted a no drive area to the Hard Rock Hotel under the pretense that it was going to bring economic development to the area.
Well, we all know now that is just what it was, a pretense…..there has been NO economic development as the result of Volusia County Councils actions granting a no drive area to the Hard Rock.
Now, as evidenced by the attached photo the county apparently has granted the Hard Rock a “special permit” to support their Jeep Beach event. If removing beach driving promotes such an economic dynamic, why does the Hard Rock need to put the jeeps on our beach?
Do any rules apply in Volusia County?
I assure you if I drove in that area the Volusia County Beach Patrol would swoop down on me in a minute.
Why does Hard Rock get special treatment?
–Civic Activist Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, as excerpted from an open letter to the Volusia County Council, Wednesday, April 21, 2021
And Another Thing!
After a career in local government that spanned over three-decades, I thought I had gazed into the dark abyss of political treachery – and seen every form of backstabbing and dirty trick known to man.
That was before I became an ardent student of Volusia County government.
Tuesday’s 9-hour marathon “meeting” of that august body proved that cheap political preening and over-the-top grandstanding has now become this bimonthly Kabuki theater’s raison d’être.
The “people’s business” be damned – especially when politicians can showboat and waste more time bellyaching that they don’t have time to accomplish anything. . .
This week, the non-stop political demonization of Chairman Jeff Brower reached its crescendo as that group of loosely aligned stalwarts of the status quo – Johnson, Robins, Wheeler, and Lowrey – took turns publicly humiliating Mr. Brower in that weird passive-aggressive “we really want you to succeed, but…” bleat that lets everyone know they are lying through their teeth.
In my view, things took a more ominous turn when fledgling District 3 Councilman Danny Robins used Chairman Brower’s logical attempt to set a workshop to discuss beach access fees as a launching point for a clearly rehearsed ad hominem attack – angrily reading his carefully orchestrated screed, almost as if it had been prepared in advance (?)
While most of it was lost on me, I think Mr. Robins’ tirade attempted to convince anyone still listening that his suggestions for generating revenue were great – while Mr. Brower’s “bad ideas” (and campaign promises) are a wholesale waste of the Council’s time – then hypocritically decried “bullying” while viciously doing the same to Chairman Brower.
He took a few unprovoked swipes at Mr. Brower’s supporters as well.
That I definitely heard. . .
As “Dictatorial Danny” madly waved his staff or’ the land and pontificated from his lofty perch, I had to take a hard second look at the live feed of the meeting to make certain the political ghost of Deb Deny’s had not resurrected from the ash heap of political has-beens – because Councilman Robins’ unhinged rant sounded eerily familiar to the tactic of “campaigning from the dais” we all came to abhor during the last election cycle. . .
I am not sure if Councilman Robins was playing to a fusty delegation from the “Republican’s Against Virtually Everything Committee of Volusia County” who were in attendance to pooh-pooh the use of earmarked tax dollars to purchase conservation lands – or, if he has simply reached his emotional breaking point just 90-days into a two-year term?
Regardless, he succeeded in royally pissing off many of his staunch supporters – and alienated some extremely active political camps who are now mounting a strong campaign to unseat his surly ass next year.
For the record, I like Danny Robins, and I find it unfortunate that the cheese slipped off his cracker in such a dramatic way.
Regardless, the “angry politician” act is rarely a good look for a recently elected official in the most backward county in Central Florida – especially with an election looming next year. . .
I am not sure who Councilman Robins is taking his marching orders from – but they damn sure do not have his best interests – or budding political career – at heart. . .
However, earlier this week, my lagging spirits were buoyed when we got some great news on the 2022 campaign front when Councilwoman Billie Wheeler announced she would not be seeking reelection!
Woot! Thank God for small mercies, eh?
Look, Ms. Wheeler can mewl and coo all she wants about how “at peace” she is with her decision to depart the political ring – but everyone knows the handwriting was on the wall. . .
When Chairman Brower trounced the entrenched heir apparent for the top spot last November, it signaled a quantum shift away from years of oligarchic rule, and a gradual return to true local governance – of the people, by the people, and for the people.
In my view, the citizens of Volusia County are fed up with the stagnant status quo – staring helplessly from the sideline of a very lopsided playing field – while uber-wealthy insiders haul private profits to the bank using public funds (read: our hard-earned tax dollars) to accomplish it.
All while quality-of-life issues are openly ignored and serious public policy decisions are kicked even further down the dusty political trail.
Unfortunately, we are now seeing Chairman Brower subjected to the same despicable gaslighting that effectively robbed District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post of her first term.
As she begins the long goodbye, I doubt Ms. Wheeler will acknowledge her role in this shameful sabotage of Chairman Brower as she continues her tag team partnership with the equally ineffectual Councilman Fred Lowrey.
Just don’t look for things to change without a fight – or a candidate who cares more about the needs of their constituents than their own craven self-interests. . .
In a clearly choreographed move, last week Port Orange City Councilman Chase Tramont threw his hat in the ring for the District 2 spot simultaneous to Ms. Wheeler’s announcement.
I don’t know about you, but the clubby nature of their synchronized revelations gave me pause.
If Mr. Tramont plans to hitch his wagon to the lackluster legacy of Billie Wheeler – he might want to rethink his campaign strategy – because the voters of Volusia County have had enough of the holdover obstructionism and self-serving arrogance that Ms. Wheeler embodies.
The fact is, I don’t know anything about Mr. Tramont, other than he appears emotionally stuck in his salad days as the BMOC – a high school basketball star who won the big game – and now fits cringeworthy sports euphemisms into media interviews:
“When I was an athlete, I wanted the ball in my hands when the game was on the line because I had prepared myself to handle those pressure situations. So likewise, when it comes to governing, high-pressure decisions are made every single day that directly impact the well-being of my family and loved ones.”
Oh, and Mr. Tramont works for Mike Panaggio – the condescending chief apologist and self-appointed social media mouthpiece for our local donor class. . .
While it would be easy to dismiss Tramont’s service on the perpetually dysfunctional First Step Shelter Board – or question his cheesy “Somebody has to go into the lion’s den,” soundbite – I commend his willingness enter the fray and look forward to learning more about how his positions on the important issues of the day differ from Ms. Wheeler’s dull-witted take on things. . .
Perhaps most important, I will be watching Mr. Tramont’s reaction to the recent revelations brought by former Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin, who exposed serious allegations of coercion in Volusia County’s apparent attempt to extort a reduction in service fees by holding the city’s 24-hour ambulance protection hostage. . .
I hope you will too.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y,all!